Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Artistic Inspiration Trumps Training

My training is so inconsistent lately that I have very little news to report, but here's a quick overview followed by something else I've been doing lately that I feel like blogging about.

On the injury-front, I've been working hard on healing my hamstring tendon and strengthening other muscle groups with the goal of no more hamstring problems. Ever. There's still a long way to go. My relentless pursuit of squats and bridges and planks is - I think - finally forcing my glutes to take the workload off my hamstrings. My latest revelation is that when I focus on good form while running, I can ward off the hamstring pain for a progressively-longer time. I managed 11 miles two weeks ago and 14 miles on Saturday without serious pain. I might be willing to celebrate when it gets up to 20.

January sent me onto the bike trainer where I've slowly worked my way up to 3:35. Riding long on the trainer is a bigger struggle this year than it has been in the past. One of the reasons may be that I'm trying to ride too hard. Sunday, I focused on keeping my heart rate low which seemed to alleviate some of the struggle. Swimming - although inconsistent - seems to be the one thing I'm NOT struggling with.

When I look at the big picture, the problem has been getting more than one workout a day. There are two main reasons. The first is that my [regular] job has me working late on weekdays and weekends. Not because I'm slow, but there's just a LOT to get done and only one programmer (me). We just hired another so I'm hoping it will help with the workload in the future.

The second reason is that I've recently been hit with inspiration to create new fine art prints. As an artist (or someone who wishes she could be a working artist), I have learned one thing: never f*ck with inspiration. If my art were a source of income, I'd probably suffer from debilitating artist's block 80% of the time. But when uninspired, all I do is flip the switch and running, biking, and swimming become my physical and mental outlet for stress. So, when the rare event of true inspiration happens, I must follow it. It's not like I even have a choice. And I have absolutely no control when and where it happens. All I know is I have to drop everything and "get it out" to avoid becoming agitated, edgy, and losing sleep.

My latest print was inspired by an iPhone photo I took of a bunch of snow-covered trees in University Circle - the "museum-university-hospital" area of Cleveland. I don't know why, but I felt compelled to take this particular photo from the fourth floor window of my workplace (the Cleveland Museum of Art). And then I felt compelled to turn part of the photo into a three-color block print. Strange that I didn't want to do it any other way - not as a painting or etching or drawing. The image just appeared in my mind as a three-color block print. This is usually how these things happen.

Early last year, I bought some new printmaking material called Clear Carve - it's "transparent" linoleum made by Richeson Art. It's billed as "easy to cut" and doesn't require the design to be transferred to the linoleum block because you can put the design underneath as it's see-through.

I cropped my photo to the size of my purchased linoleum block, played with colors in Photoshop, and got to work. Here's is a photographic progression of the process - how I carved the block and printed it. It was done using a "reduction" process - which basically means the same block is used for all the colors - each color is carved away and the next is printed on top of it. There are several layers of ink on the finished piece, but it has a very nice, almost embossed, relief quality to it. The paper I used is the best all-cotton machine-made paper you can find on the market these days - it's called Stonehenge and it's made by Legion Paper. I use it almost exclusively for all my printmaking projects.

Here is the original photo -- thanks to the Cleveland weather, it was pretty much a black and white scene (although taken with color). For the print, I chose and added my own colors to it:


The first color (actually the first two colors, the other one being white) was a light pastel orange, here is the linoleum block and the printed color:


The second color was a blue-green. To some, it looked finished at this point (because most of the tree shapes were carved) - I have always been very precise in carving linoleum, but this new Clear Carve stuff was a more difficult to work with because the "carved" pieces don't break away nicely, so I was expecting some major issues ("easy to carve" isn't how I would describe it, as I have several v-shaped scabs on my fingers after stabbing myself several times with linoleum cutters), but was happily surprized with the result after this color:


And the final color was an almost-black with violet added:


I made only ten prints. But I was very happy with the result, and I'm already working on another one with the other piece of Clear Carve that I bought.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Be The Change...

I came up with New Year's resolutions, but I'm going to call them "Second Half-century resolutions" because this is the way I want to live.

Here they are:
  1. Stop giving a sh*t what other people think.
  2. Say f*ck 'em, and do what makes ME happy (thanks for this one, Ron).
  3. Laugh out loud for no reason (or, more likely, for EVERY reason).
  4. Create more art.
Happy New Year! to anyone who still reads my blog.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Multitasking

I may be quiet these days but I'm certainly not idle. My training has taken a backseat during the holiday season because of personal commitments and also to try again to heal my injured hamstring tendon with modern medical procedures.

Thus, I had my third PRP shot about a month ago and it was more painful than ever. I was in agony for several hours and then sore for several days afterward. The good thing about the pain is that it probably means my doctor hit the "right spot" with the injection. The bad thing about the pain is that I couldn't use any anti-inflammatory methods to make it go away because the inflammatory response is exactly what we wanted (more blood = healing).

After Thanksgiving, I jumped into my yearly design and printing of Christmas cards. This year, the design dictated the choice of methods -- the colors were very flat and bold, and the design was very hard-edged, so I chose to attempt a hand-cut stencil with screenprinting once again (after 10 years of lino-cuts). Unlike usual, the screenprinting process started out great with color registration working well. Then after printing three colors quickly and without incident, I botched the last color and the whole thing almost ended up in disaster.

Here are some photos of the process.

I started out by putting all the stencils on one screen
which was great until the last one with the largest print area
(stencil in the foreground). By that time, the screen tension
had decreased, causing ink to bleed under the stencil.


The first color (smallest area) was red. It took about an hour to print 106 cards. My husband Jim and I measure the time we spend on each color in terms of number of albums that we listen to while printing. Red was a one-album color. I think we listened to a Counting Crows CD. Red also had a near-disaster as I tried to fix one part of the stencil and accidentally stuck my exacto knife right through the screen itself. Lucky for us (and unusual), it held up until the last card was printed.



The second color was yellow. Yellow was also a one-album deal. I think yellow was printed to OK Go.



Third was blue. The blue was a two-color blend, and surprisingly, NOT a disaster as expected (because any time you mix two colors in real-time during printing, something goes horrifically wrong). Blue was also a one-album color - I think it was Travis's "Where You Stand."


And finally green. It took two tries, and two stencils, and two screens. And several albums. Too many to be sure. Here's the can of green and the wrecked first screen which I just tore off the frame and threw away because it had already become a victim of the exacto-knife faux pas.



And... the finished product. It took an additional cut stencil and a brand new screen to get through the green. We lost about 20 cards and about 20 more were barely salvageable. The design is based on the Tree of Life window/sculpture that is part of the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.


My other art project of late was a new drypoint print that I wanted to make to give away as part of a Facebook "pay-it-forward" post I made in early 2014. I decided to try out a new very thin plastic plate made by Akua that I bought earlier this year. Here is the plate and the finished print, titled "Scenes from the Towpath: Fitzwater Bridge View."




Friday, October 31, 2014

The Importance of the "Glory Days"

My "Glory Days" gang
I have a running friend who used to declare: "You're only as good as your last race."

Granted, it was mostly in jest, but sometimes I actually used it against myself to support my claims of unworthiness - to bolster my my argument during the times I saw myself as a complete failure in my sport of triathlon. My claims are usually met by my husband Jim cursing the ground that said friend walked on, declaring that this was a complete fallacy, and: "Why do you even listen to him?!?" But I want to point out the following: according to this declaration, one can never hang his/her hat on the "Glory Days."

And yes, I mostly agreed with that sentiment... until yesterday.

Yesterday started out as an ordinary day. I got up, went to work, came home, started making dinner... and was just about to sit down to eat when my phone rang. It was buried somewhere, vibrating away. I would have let it go to voice mail, but Jim went digging for it. Before he handed it to me, he looked at the caller-ID, looked at me, and said: "Debbi Kilpatrick-Morris." I grabbed the phone immediately, afraid that I when I put it to my ear, Debbi wouldn't be there because she had been diverted away... to voicemail-land.

To my delight, she WAS there. Her first words: "I was expecting your voicemail." I don't know if that meant she wanted my voicemail or if it was just a statement of fact, like, "it rang so many times, surely the voicemail will pick up." She was obviously unaware of my frantic phone-grabbing-and-answering.

Why does this all matter?

I guess it starts with this: I don't have the opportunity to talk to Debbi much, but she is an integral part of my past.

And it goes back to the beginning: Debbi was my running inspiration from the day I first heard her name (this was well before I became a triathlete). At that time, all I knew - all I wanted to know - was running. In the late '80s and '90s, Debbi was one of the best runners in the U.S. She ran in three Olympic Marathon Trials, finishing 6th - an alternate to run in the Olympics - in 1996. That same year, she won the US Women's National Marathon Championship in Houston. And, perhaps most importantly, she was (is) a Northeast Ohio native - a local girl.

Being the hero-worshipper that I am, meeting Debbi was beyond anything I could imagine. RUNNING with her was, well, something I could never even dream about (or comprehend). But one day, in late 1997, when I started running on Saturday mornings with the Cleveland West Road Runners, I was invited to run with a group starting early from a different location. Debbi would be there. The scene that Saturday morning was chaos - a near-disaster in my as-yet-to-be-nicknamed-Disaster-Magnet existence. Strangely enough, I can't even recall the details. It involved my car - either not starting or not being able to navigate a snow-covered driveway hill. What I DO remember was frantically waking Jim up to help me. I remember panicking - and probably hysterically crying - I couldn't dare miss this. I may never get a second chance. "I'm running with Debbi Kilpatrick today! I have to get there!" Yeah, I made a big fat scene, man. At 6am.

But that's how I felt. And I made it just in time. And I never regretted it. Because knowing Debbi has been one of the great things that has happened to me in this life. Not because she was a great runner, but because she is a great person. She proved to me that it's ok to put people on pedestals - that they can and do live up it. She proved to me that injury is not the end - and showed me how to never stop trying. During the years we ran together, her career as a runner was in decline because of a chronic hamstring injury. Yes. That's right. A hamstring injury. Similar to what I'm currently dealing with.

I call those days - the days I ran with Debbi - my running "Glory Days." She inspired me to work harder. To train smart. To race smart. To rest hard before races. And to shoot for the Olympic Trials. And after I qualified, she even threw the send-off party (in 2000).

I remember stretching myself to my limits to hang with her on hill repeats and muddy bridal trails. I remember being in oxygen debt for all 20 miles of a 20-miler, wondering in who's universe is this "conversational pace"? I remember comparing where our legs got got muddy (she always had mud where her heels hit the inside of her legs). I remember sitting in freezing cold water in a wading pool to lessen the pain in our legs after those ridiculously-hard long runs. And I remember one of my fastest-ever 10K races with Debbi right on my shoulder, actually letting me set the pace, coaching me through the turns ("run the tangents"), and, of course, blowing me away in the final mile. I still loved her, even for that - it taught me the importance of having a finishing kick. And until yesterday, the biggest compliment I ever got was when one of her friends mistook me for her while I was running in one of our local hilly-workout locations.

I admired her so much and was so thankful for our friendship that I made sure I was involved in planning and throwing her first baby shower. I even personalized the invitations with a drawing I made just for her:

The original drawing for Debbi's baby shower invite
All of this only begins to explain why I didn't want Debbi to "go to voicemail." Its been many years - more than a decade since we ran together. One of the last times we ran together, I remember her son being fast alseep in the running stroller. Yeah, now he's in high school. When I do get to see her, it's usually a gathering of that "Glory Days" group of runners at someone's 50th or 60th (70th? 80th?) birthday party.

Then, a few months ago, out of the blue, she texted me about getting together - and brought her son, her daughter and a friend, and mother-in-law to my workplace - the Cleveland Museum of Art. We met for lunch and a stroll through some of the galleries. I would have liked to take the rest of the day off and spend it with them. I was very impressed with her son who is interested in everything and incredibly bright. I texted her afterwards to let her know she has a near-if-not-genius level kid on her hands and I loved her approach of exposing him to many different experiences, including art. I must have said more, because it was one of the reasons she called me yesterday.

So the conversation began with great advice about hamstring rehab (again, passing on her wealth of knowledge) and then an admittance of not being exactly why she called. She called to thank me for something I said at the museum that day.

I must have mentioned the lessons I learned during my own soul searching for a career - that in choosing a path, we need to consider our interests in addition to our skills. My parents and teachers did only the latter in pushing me into an engineering degree - because I was excellent at math and science and, of course, I'd could "make a living" as an engineer. I wanted to study astrophysics - a theoretical science - but in the end, terrified of disappointing everyone, it was easier to foreclose on what my parents wanted and pursue a skills-based career. The result? Seven years after landing a job as a wind-tunnel test engineer at NASA, I left in search of an art career.

Debbi was calling to thank me for that advice... that she should consider her son's interests in addition to his skills in helping him choose a path for higher education. Whether it was true or not, she felt she and her husband were "pushing" their son in a certain direction based on only half the information. She's changed that approach and wanted me to know how big an influence I was.

But there was more... the trigger to call me was a reaction to a Facebook post I made after a bad race. Something about being a failure. She wanted me to look at things differently - to realize I had succeeded in other, more important, realms. And then she said something many MANY people have said to me in the past, and for the first time in my life, I actually HEARD it. She said:

"Jeanne, do not tie your sense of self-worth to your athletic achievements."

And just like that... my perspective changed. Forever. How do I know? Because a great weight was lifted off my shoulders. I've heard this phrase said in so SO many different ways, but I continued to do exactly that - judge myself by my performance in my last race. Assume that the only reason people will ever "like" me is because I'm a good athlete. It's just. Not. True. Hearing it from Debbi was the snap-out-of-it wake-up call - it was important enough that she went out of her comfort zone to tell me.

The Glory Days may be past, but we CAN hang our hats on them. We were young and we didn't "get it" at the time, but they didn't make us better people because we were great athletes. They made us better people because we learned about our strengths and our weaknesses. We learned how to approach life daily with everything we have. We don't remember the splits. Or how many time we won races. What we remember are the smiles. The shared joy. (The shared misery.) We have the stories - of those hours and hours grinding out miles together in all weather conditions. We have those friends for life. Friends we always look up to - who will always have an impact. Friends who know exactly what we're capable of.

And that's why they're the Glory Days.

Pre-Olympic Marathon Trials 2000,
with two of the greatest athletes I've ever known:
(left) Peggy (Fortune) Yetman and (middle) Debbi Kilpatrick-Morris

Saturday, October 18, 2014

It IS What You Make it: 2014 Ironman Kona Race Report

It's a struggle to figure out what to write about my race in Kona that hasn't been written before because I seem to be plagued with disastrous races in Hawaii and this was my fourth time there. Because I wanted to thwart disaster this time, I knew I had to do some things differently. I trained differently. I mentally prepared differently. And I raced differently. And yet, the result was the same - actually, it was worse in terms of overall finish time and place. What was different this time was my attitude.

First of all, I never expected to be in Kona this year. My age group win in Ironman Coeur d'Alene was a bigger surprise to me than anyone who knows me. I even considered giving up my Kona slot because it was not in the original plan for 2014. The plan was to get my hamstring tendinosis healed and my body healthy enough to be a major contender in my new age group (50-54) in 2015.

After Coeur d'Alene, there was a major restructuring. I decided to train more seriously for Kona, and for the first time ever, I bought a 12-week training plan - an advanced program from Dave Scott. As a self-coached athlete, in retrospect I probably stuck too close to the plan and didn't adapt it for my needs, strengths, and weaknesses. However, by the time I toed the line in Kailua Bay on October 11, I felt I was in THE best athletic shape of my life. I had dropped about ten pounds and was finally feeling lean and strong. I felt like I finally deserved to stand among all the amazingly fit athletes there (this was a new feeling for me - in the past, I have felt out of shape and that I didn't belong).

Everything else in my life was in less than stellar shape. During the last three months, my stress levels had reached an all-time high. With a full-time job and a worse-than-usual construction-ridden daily commute, I struggled (and usually fell short) of getting the prescribed 19-21 hours of training per week - and I was stressed out about that. My workload had increased and I often worked late and had to get on my trainer after 8:00 pm - which meant riding until after 10pm and skipping valuable time for eating and sleeping. My work stress was at an all-time high because I was (and still am) doing the work of about three developers (if you don't know, I'm a computer programmer by trade).

So yeah, I was in the best physical shape of my life, but I was an emotional mess and mentally frazzled.

Checking the bike in.. after getting the coveted Cervélo shirt
I truly believed things would fall into place - both physically and mentally - when I tapered. And overall, my body did start to feel rested and I was less stressed (once we got to Hawaii - let's be real), but I had worrisome pain in my hamstring that worsened as I tapered more. I convinced myself it was normal. Athletic friends reassured me this was normal during a taper, so I ignored it. But something wasn't right, and even during the easy days of running, riding, and swimming in Kona, things were far from perfect. The hamstring pain just would not go away. But I refused to believe it would become an issue.

Pre-race in the King Kamehameha hotel
So race day came and there were many things about it that went well. Although I had trouble falling asleep, I still managed to get about three hours of shut-eye (that's three hours more than usual). I didn't panic when it took me about a half-hour to get through body-marking because of inefficiencies in the way they were doing it. I was able to get to the bathroom with time to spare and I was also able to get a wide-left spot on the swim start. But most of all, I was able to remain in good spirits throughout the morning and the day.

But I'm too mentally exhausted at the moment to write up a play-by-play of my race. If you've read anything about Ironman Kona this year, you already know that swim conditions were less than ideal (i.e. the swim was rougher than usual and therefore slow) and the cross-winds on the bike have been quoted as "the worst they've been in the last 15 years."

For the swim, I was about five minutes slower than expected. But, because of the rough water, you know I had a blast in the bay that morning. Right up until I climbed out of the water, I was actually expecting a time of about an hour. I was surprised and a little bit disappointed when I saw 1:05 on my watch as I ran to grab my transition bag.

On the bike, everything seemed to be going well despite the horrific cross winds (starting around 20 miles into the bike leg). My nutrition was good (timing was the only issue because it was hard to take my hands off the handlebars because of the wind). By the time I hit mile 90 - where I dropped out in 2012 - I still felt things were going well, albeit slow.

Starting the bike
It was in the last two hours of the bike leg that I realized things were, indeed, NOT ok with my left hip and hamstring. I started feeling pain and weakness on my left side, and all I can attribute it to is having to fight the crosswinds. This was never an issue in Coeur d'Alene as the wind was either in our faces or at our backs and rarely from the side. My left hip joint still has some kind of mechanical problem that still fails in the presence of side-forces (as we assumed in 2012). And my biggest fear was that major damage had now been done.

Around mile 100, I started to ponder the upcoming marathon. Depending on whether things continued to go downhill (they did), I had to make a decision getting off the bike:
  • try to run (possibly limp) the whole marathon, potentially cause more damage, and/or have to drop out
  • walk the marathon and secure the finish
Starting the run
When I got off the bike, the pain in my hamstring was excruciating and I could barely take a step forward. It started to work itself out during the long transition run - it was enough that I was able to get somewhat of a running gait going out of transition. But I was was having trouble taking normal steps with my left leg and when I saw my husband Jim, I let him know I was in pain.

I shuffled along for the first few miles, making sure to attend to nutrition at the aid stations. During this time, I was also fighting with myself about whether it would be better to stop and walk the marathon. Because it was much less painful, I knew I could finish if I walked. At mile 8, I saw Jim - he said he was there to convince me to walk the marathon. There was no reason to keep running because I wouldn't catch enough people to get on the podium anyway, and thus, it was better to avoid injury and finish. I knew he was right and I was terrified of losing another year to injury. After a panicked "am I going to disappoint everyone?" mental struggle, I made the call to walk the rest of the marathon. It would take a while, but at least I would get the medal and not feel empty handed on the trip home like last time. Besides, it might even be fun.

Once the decision was made, everything got a little easier. And, surprisingly, everything got a little more fun. I now had nothing to prove. I made a conscious decision, one of self-preservation. Seriously, why risk my next season by being stubborn? And now I knew I would finish. It was up to me to make this thing whatever I wanted to make it.

So I started taking in the scenery. And I found my smile. I watched people surfing in the waves. I laughed with the people at the aid stations who thought I was suffering (I wasn't). I walked with other athletes while they were struggling. Sometimes I jogged a little. I met a man named Tom who was retired from the Navy and lives on Oahu working in sports medicine. I met a woman from the Netherlands who qualified in Sweden and was having serious cramps in her calves. I met a woman who had to ride the last 60K of the bike in a single gear because she was having mechanical problems with her derailleur. After she told me she was from South Africa, she and I discussed a documentary called "Searching for Sugar Man" about an American musician named Rodriguez who sold millions of records in South Africa (go figure, and on a side note, if you get a chance, WATCH the film, it's an amazing story). Before sundown, I saw a stunning rainbow looking west on the Queen K. And probably the most incredible thing that day, I took in the elusive green flash while watching the sunset on my way down the road to the Energy Lab.

Finish chute
Once it got dark, it was less fun, and it even got a little tedious, but I arrived at the finish line, smiling, well after 13 hours, with my worst time ever in an Ironman. But I finished. And I think (hope) I avoided a serious re-injury to my hamstring. And I learned something new: it's NOT EASY to walk a marathon. I have terrible chafing from my triathlon shorts and blisters on my feet in places I never had blisters before.

All in all, I'm at peace with my decision. I'm not happy about it, but I accept it. It's not the race I wanted to have. It's certainly not the race I trained for. Hopefully, I can regroup and deal with all of that in the coming months. I certainly would NOT have been able to deal with another next-season-ending injury. I did that in 2012-13, and I'm not in a hurry to do it again. I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid.

And despite a sub-par race, Jim and I had an amazing time in Hawaii once again. We visited the island of Oahu this time - the weekend before the race. Going to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial was an emotional highlight of this trip. My father was stationed there in the later years of WWII (he was one of the young men who enlisted in the Navy as a result of the Japanese bombing). He had never been back there, even to take my mother, and I hope that in going there, his spirit was finally smiling on me and I could be at peace.

Here are some photos from our trip.

In Honolulu and around Oahu:

There's a lighthouse on the flip-side of Diamondhead


Looking down the beaches from the Halona Blowhole
Hanauma Bay

Beaches on the North Shore of Oahu:





Waikiki Beach:

Morning shot - looking toward Diamondhead
Statue of Duke Kahanamoku

In front of the Royal Hawaiian


Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial:





Road to the Sea Beaches on the Big Island (green and black sand) -
it took us over an hour to drive 6 miles on this road, but the
beaches were incredibly beautiful and worth the drive:






And an amazing sunset: