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Monday, August 24, 2009

Never say Never Again

"NEVER AGAIN!" were the first words out of my mouth when I arrived home on Sunday after a grueling day of biking, driving and mis-adventures. I told Liz to record these words and play them back to me if I decided to sign up for the LiveSTRONG Challenge Ride again. The 2009 Philly LiveSTRONG Challenge Ride was a tough day that started out on a sour note. I woke at 4:45 am after a fitful four hours of sleep. The day was hot and humid at 5:30 am. By 6 am when I arrived at Sue S.'s, things weren't any better. She was just as tired, if not more so, and was not looking forward to the day's 70 mile hilly ride ahead of us. Murphy's Law prevailed providing us with several mishaps in 20 minutes. Sue's garage door system failed and the door wouldn't close. Sue manually tried to close the garage door and jammed her fingers between two panels; her hand was trapped in the garage door and she was screaming in agony. I was strapped into the car passenger seat and couldn't unhook myself fast enough to help her. I leapt out of the car and tried, unsuccessfully at first, to pry the doors apart. More screams. I got her hand free but she needed ice and her house was locked - the keys were no-where to be found. Fortunately I had a frozen water bottle which we used to ice her fingers. After a half hour of running around trying to locate keys and phone and fetching ice and medicine, Sue realizes she can't bike nor will she be able to drive to the start of the event; I'll have to drive - on the Schyulkill - aka '76, the big highway of my driving fears. It was truly a do or die kind of moment, but I did it. Stopped at a gas station first and then onto 76 and out to Conshohocken and Montgomery County. My first time driving on the Schuylkill was perfect at 7 am on a Sunday. Good initiation because the highway wasn't congested and I could figure out how to merge in the tame morning traffic versus attempting a mid-day/mid-week drive in snarling traffic. By 7:45 am, we already had several adventures and I should have taken it as an omen.

8 am: The start of the event, all of our Margaritaville or Bust Teammates at the bike start lines. Sue is unable to bike but plans to hang out for the day. My one other biking buddy, Susan B., is planning on riding 100 miles, but we figure we would ride the first 40 miles together. I should have known then the day wasn't going to follow my script. Susan B. and I start out fast, too fast for my pacing. I expend energy early that I should have reserved. There are hills, mountains almost, at the start and they don't let up. We get separated a few times; I witness wipe outs and spills around sharp turns; there are more flat tires and bike accidents along the first 21 miles that I lose track of how many SAG Vehicles and Police that have driven past me.

At mile 20, the scenery is beautiful and the country roads are cool and serene. I feel mostly mellow. Fellow cyclists are friendly and considerate. There are groups of people along the sides of rural roads cheering for us. One woman is standing outside of a huge old farmhouse, clanging on a triangle bell, wishing us a good journey. The first 20 plus miles are not easy but the rolling roads feel welcoming. Then I hit the woodlands.

11 am: Into the woods, the air begins to get thick and muggy. My knee is beginning to throb. Cyclists, experienced riders from the looks of their muscled and toned legs, are starting to dismount and walk up the hills. No one is talking; other than the birds and locusts I can only hear the heavy sucking sound of air being pulled into our mouths by the gulp-fulls. I, like the other cyclists around me, sound and feel like an asthmatic. My head and face are hot and flushed, and I'm only at mile 25. Somehow, I make it another 10 miles to the next rest stop in Barton, PA. Time to rehydrate, grab a bite to eat and regroup. I see a few folks on my team and chat, but like many riders, we all just want to get onto the next leg of our ride, so no one lingers for long. I hit the road again, biking past cornfields and dairy farms. The scenery is no longer enjoyable and I'm not entranced by the pretty farms with their lush green fields. Instead, I'm dreading the next descent because I know that along with a swift down hill 35 mile ride will be a difficult 8 mile an hour climb up the next hill. My stamina waning, my mind heads into some dark territory. I start thinking about Sue's injury and her not being on the ride. Susan B. is a stronger and better rider and went ahead of me hours ago. I'm riding on unfamiliar roads, nearly out of water. Panic sweeps over me like a sudden storm, dark and brooding. I pull over, sit along the side of the road and cry. Fellow riders slow down to ask if I'm okay, but how do you explain that while yes, I am okay, I'm also a wreck? I felt weak and alone, unsure of my ability and unable to figure out what to do next. I tried to pedal again but the hill is too much for me. A woman whom I've ridden past and chatted with a few times earlier stops to talk to me again. She makes me take my helmet off, pours cold water over me, and flags down a SAG Truck.
At mile 42, I'm spent. Joel, from Bike Line - Valley Forge, pulls his SAG Wagon over, loads my bike into the back of the van, and takes me to the next rest stop.

1:30 pm: Upper Frederick Fire Department rest stop. I drink a lot of water and ice myself down. Doctors are on hand to treat people for leg cramps and heat exhaustion. They are offering anti-chafing lotions and Ben-Gay rub downs. I take one for by this time, my left knee is in a lot of pain. The medic diagnosis my knee issues and advises that I get an appointment with a specialist soon - I tell her that I've already been diagnosed with arthritis, it's a chronic condition made worse by my cycling. There are "bubbles" in my knee joint. Great! Another bad sign of the day. More water, some rest and after a half hour or so, I feel revived. Maybe it's the camphor fumes, or just getting a lot of water in me, but I am felt strong again. I made a pact with myself, to try to ride to 50 miles and figure the ride out from there. Several people tell me that the worst is over but there are still many more hills to climb. I take solace in the fact that so many riders are feeling the effects of the heat and humidity and the endless hills, it's not that I am weak or inexperienced. Sometimes the conditions are too much for even the best of riders.

3:30 pm: Heckler Plains Farmstead -

I kid you not! This was the first rest stop out and the last rest stop before the finish line. I push into the last rest stop - giving it all of my energy having biked 55 miles. As I park my bike, an experienced and long-time LiveSTRONG rider chats with me. I'm sure he can see I'm in bad condition. I'm not as far gone as I was at mile 42, but I'm heading to loopy-ville again. He takes me to the medics and they talk to me, lead me to the cots under the pine trees and make me lie down. Vitals are taken, ice is given and a ride is procured. A minyan of angels has come along to get me home.

I'm heading back in the SAG wagon having given it my best but I don't have another hill climb in me.

4 pm: Back at Montgomery Community College which was the starting point, the SAG drivers, Ally and Tom, let me out of the van several yards away from the bike channel so I could cross the finish line. Crossing the finish line feels wonderful, like something out of the Tour de France Stages. I survived and finished, doing what I could with the best of my physical ability. I raised over $800. I rode over 55 miles, mostly by myself. I biked alone but with the spirit and help of so many unknown cycling "friends" and supporters. Never again? Hopefully not, but I hope that whatever my next ride may be, I don't have to bike it alone.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Food Finds: Zucchini Squash Blossoms

If you are wandering though your local farmer's market, be on the look out for zucchini or squash blossoms. Two summers ago when we were in Spoleto, Italy, I had these terrific squash blossoms that were cooked fritto misto style - aka lightly battered and deep fried or sauteed in olive oil. Delicious? Si! Healthy? Non! When I returned home, probably a good ten pounds heavier from all the gelati and fritto misto, I started Weight Watchers and stopped seeking out all things battered, covered and smothered. Last summer, I came across squash blossoms at the Head House Farmer's Market down off of 2nd and South Streets, and have since fell in love with them all over again.

While I mostly support the local seasonal farmer's markets, I've also been disapointed with them too. Don't get me started on the local Philadelphia farmer's market - some vendors at the South Street Market are so over-priced, over-blown and crowded, with g#d forgive me - idiotic families with SUV-Style Strollers and over-grown dogs clogging the aisles of the very narrow passage way of the Head House Shambles. Gawkers, talkers and posers all standing about and turning what ought to be a delightful Sunday Market into a shopper's headache. But I digress. There are a few stands at the farmer's market that seem to have fair prices (but $5 for organic eggs? WTF? ARE YOU PEOPLE FOR REAL? Why not take my friggin' wallet, empty it out and return it to me after you're done robbing and pillaging me). Um, yeah, I'm having a few issues with the local markets these days. But I love my Lancaster County CSA organic produce share, so it's all good.

Anyway - back to the topic at hand. I bought some zucchini that still had the blossoms attached. I lightly sauteed them in a non-stick pan with a small amount of olive oil, a bit of garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper. Molto Delicious0! You don't need to batter them, stuff them with cheese or deep fry them. Keep the cooking method as simple as you can, use extra virgin olive oil, a non-stick pan over medium heat and season with salt and pepper, maybe a sprinkle of Italian seasonings and you're set. The squash and blossoms are very tender - they don't need a lot of heat or cooking time. The blossoms have a light floral taste - a bit sweet, a little earthy and very subtle.
Sauteed Zucchini and Blossoms Ingredients:
  • 6 to 8 Zucchini with Blossoms Attached, or Petite Zucchini, Patty pan or Summer Squash and Squash Blossoms
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon Dried Italian Seasonings
  • Non-Stick Saute Pan
  • Tongs or Spatula
  1. Wash the zucchini and squash and blossoms gently in cold water and pat dry. If the squash is thicker than an inch around, slice them up the center, splitting the squash in two halves, but stopping just before you reach the end. Since the squash I bought still had the blossom attached, I kept it intact.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a non-stick saute pan over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Work in batches and gently add to the pan the squash and brown on one side about 2-3 minutes. Carefully turn the squash and brown on all sides another 2-3 minutes. Continue cooking the next batch of squash and blossoms in this manner, adding more olive oil as needed.
  3. Before removing the squash and blossoms from the pan, season with the dried Italian seasonings, salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve hot immediately.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Baby you can Drive my Car

Sometime around the New Year, I wrote an entry response to a Q&A information-about-myself -related post. It was a series of questions, both fun and probing, allowing me to find something to blog about and to generate some good ideas and thoughts to share. Two of the questions were "What Did You Do In 2008 That You Never Did Before?" and " What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?" Naturally, the things I wrote the most about were my triathlon experiences and about my lack of driving skills. Consider these musings significant again though with a different outcome. 8 months into the current year and I've completed my second triathlon; learned to swim better, run longer and faster and I'm learning how to drive. Actually, I am on my way to getting my driver's license. I earned my driving learner's permit; I have had several professional driving lessons; I have driven on highways, free-ways and City Streets; I can parallel park, and I am just beginning to feel comfortable driving at 55 to 65 miles per hour. It may seem unusual to many people that a 42 year old woman is just now learning to drive. Fact is, for years I had no incentive or reason to want to learn. Then there were years of my growing driving phobia that consumed me. If if were not for the upcoming birth of our baby, I'm not sure that the real motivation would have ever seized hold of me. Liz, however, would have seized hold of my throat had I not gotten myself behind the wheel and driving soon. A momma-to-be has little patience for her partner who still needs to be carted about. The baby being pushed about in his pram is one thing, but a 42 year old Baby Huey is quite another.

Driving is kinda fun! Now if I could only get over my hesitancy about driving on 676, The Schuylkill and Kelly Drive...I keep repeating to myself, I swam in the Schuylkill, I've biked far and wide, I dropped over 70 pounds, countless morons have their licenses...
Other motivating factors for me are being able to rent a Philly Car Share or Zip Car cool ride; someday driving a vintage classic; perhaps one day having my own car or (g*d save me) a scooter! WhooHoo! "We're going riding on the Freeway of Love in my Pink Cadillac..."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Throw back Meal - Salmon Cakes

I feel as though I've been cooking in a time warp. For some reason or other, I had a can of wild salmon on hand -must have read about it somewhere that it's good for you, better, in fact than canned tuna; salmon is full of good fats and omega 3's. So the other night I knew I needed to prepare a Temple/Shul-friendly protein option for my daily lunch. It's the continual struggle to balance my healthy eating habits with the Kosher rules of my workplace. It really is too bad that I'm not a full-on vegetarian, meal planning would be so much easier for work. Since I remain a pescatore, carnivore and omnivore I don't see I'll be changing my animal protein ways any time soon. Don't shoot me with a blowdart - it's just how I am. Back to the point, I wanted to make salmon cakes with the canned salmon - a definite throw back to my childhood days. Funny thing is, my mom didn't make them back then - I did. One of my earliest cooking memories is of making salmon cakes. I had this yellow Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library box I found somewhere, with file cards in categories: "Gifts From Your Kitchen"; "American Classics"; "Come for Coffee" and my favorite, "Entertaining on a Shoestring." I still have the recipe cards, though it's not the original box from my childhood - it's from Liz's family's collection. When we found the box, all the cards were in order and one was still in it's original cellophane packaging, never opened. We still laugh about this, as the cards were, "Men's Favorites". Apparently, Liz's mother did not feel compelled to make these man-pleasing treats.

The old recipe calls for using I'm sure, high-fatty stuff like left-over mashed potatoes and breadcrumbs and mayo. Recalling the better salmon cakes I used to make when I worked at Andro's in the Reading Terminal, I knew there was a more gourmet version I could use. Keeping them healthy was/is my main concern.

If you have some fresh salmon - by all means, add it to the canned salmon, it makes the end product taste so much better. We used to use the salmon scraps from whole sides that I would break down into smaller portions. Adding the cooked scraps to even the best canned salmon will make the salmon cakes taste fresher. Fresh lemon juice and zest also add a bright flavor. These salmon cakes were baked. There's less mess, fuss and fat to worry about. For easier handling, I used a small, 4 ounce spring loaded ice-cream scoop to form my cakes. After I scooped the salmon, I placed the rounded mounds into seasoned flour to dredge and pressed them down into patties.

Salmon Cake Ingredients:
  • 1 Small Can Wild Salmon (about 7.5 ounces) - Drained and bones picked over
  • 1 Medium Carrot - Washed, Peeled and Finely Grated
  • 1 Celery Stalk - Finely Minced
  • 2 Small-Medium Red, White, Gold or Purple Potatoes - cooked with skin on to fork tender OR 1/4 Cup Left-over Mashed Potatoes
  • Zest and Juice of 1 Lemon (about 1/4 cup of lemon juice)
  • 2 Tablespoons Parsley - minced or 1 Tablespoon Dried Parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
  • 1 Egg - lightly beaten
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Paprika (optional)
  • 2 Tablespoons Oil for cooking - Olive, Canola, or Vegetable Oil
  • 1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour -seasoned with salt and pepper - for Dredging
  1. Prheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a sheet tray - line with parchment paper, aluminum foil or a silpat. Coat the lined tray with oil, spreading the oil over the entire lined tray. Set aside.
  2. Add the drained salmon to a large mixing bowl. Mix in the grated carrot and minced celery.
  3. If using the cooked potatoes, smash them, with skins on, and add to the salmon mixture; otherwise gently fold in left-over mashed potatoes.
  4. Next, add in the lemon zest and juice, Dijon mustard, egg, salt, freshly ground pepper and paprika. Mix together to bind and incorporate, but do not over-mix.
  5. Scoop out the salmon using an ice cream scoop and dredge in seasoned flour - gently pressing each mound down into a patty. Place the salmon patties onto the prepared sheet tray. When all the salmon cakes are made, bake for a total of 25 minutes at 350 degrees; flip the salmon cakes over to brown both sides, after 15 minutes, and continue to bake for the next 10 minutes.
  6. Makes 8 four ounce salmon cakes. Serve hot, warm or cold. These will taste great with a side of light sour cream and cucumber, ranch dressing or honey mustard.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


My Danskin SheRoxTri mentor, Sue (yes, I know, yet another sporty woman in my life named Sue/Susan), emailed her mentees regarding our past weekend's triathlon. She called us Wet Tri Rats. Indeed - I still feel like I'm trying to dry off. Well, not really, but the after-effects are still apparent. My bike needed some TLC - the chain and gears were a bit rusty from the rain and it required cleaning and lubricating. As for the women in Sue's mentoring group, out of 21 women - 5 did not attend the event; 5 finished with official qualifying times; 9 of us finished with "Unofficial Times"; 2 women did not get to finish and were still on the bike course when the race was canceled due to lighting and flooding. I've been thinking a lot about the race - how much more difficult it actually was than I anticipated because of the weather. It took a full day to recover - I was physically and mentally exhausted on Monday. I suppose hosting a barbecue after and eating and drinking myself silly had no bearing on my exhaustion...

I've had a few days to reflect on my accomplishments and to find my finish time - 1 hour 58 minutes and 34 seconds. I finished in under 2 hours, surpassing my goal of finishing within 2 hours, and surpassing my last year's finish of 2:27:58 - completing this year's triathlon turned duathlon 30 minutes faster. Granted, I am guessing/hoping I could have completed the swim in 30 minutes. If the road conditions had been dry, I might have biked the course in 50 minutes. As for the 5K run- I'm sure I would have had the same pace; my run speed is between a 12.5 and 13 minute mile even on my best days. This year's race was a memorable experience. Sue and the weather forecasters all mentioned that we received 4.5 inches in an hour. So much for thinking this race would be easier without the swim. We had to swim through two runs and the bike ride! Sue's comment on our weather conditions summed it up perfectly; "In my 10 years of racing I have never seen weather like that during a race. I did an entire Ironman in rain, but not one thunder clap or lightening bolt..." Wow! Now I realize that I took home more than a cool medal, tech t-shirt and wet gear. I also took home the immense satisfaction that I completed what I set out to do admirably under adverse conditions. Rock On!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Apple Beet and Bleu Cheese Salad

Part of our weekly CSA farm share produce has been delicious organic beets. Our recent produce box yielded two kinds of beets - Chiogga and Detroit Reds. I love beets and could eat them just about every day. They are mostly good for you -I say mostly because they are high in sugar and if you are watching your sugar intake, then eating them and my salad is not something you want to do every day. This is an old stand-by salad that I used to make weekly when I worked at the Reading Terminal Market for Andro's Fine Foods. We made some beautiful food at this place and I have many recipes from both Andro's and Jill's that are still in my rotation of cooking recipes. Here it is - easy and delicious and the perfect year-round salad.

Apple Beet and Bleu Cheese Salad Ingredients:
  • 1 Bunch Beets - about 4 or 5 Medium Sized Beets - any variety
  • 1 Granny Smith Apple - peeled and medium dice
  • 1 Small Red Onion - julienne
  • 2 Celery Stalks - medium dice
  • 1/2 Cup Parsley - roughly chopped
  • 1/2 Cup Toasted Walnuts - coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 Cup Bleu Cheese Crumbles

For Dressing:
  • 1 & 1/2 Tablespoons Molasses
  • 1/4 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Dry Mustard
  • 1/3 Cup Olive Oil
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper - to taste
  1. Wash and cook the beets. The beets will taste better if you roast them, but it takes longer and requires turning on the oven! For this recipe, I boiled the beets until they were knife tender in a large pot of water - about 45 minutes. Cool the beets and after they are cool enough to handle, remove the skins. Cut the beets into 1/4-inch thick quarters. Add them to a large mixing bowl and set aside.
  2. Peel, seed and dice the Granny Smith apple. Add it to the cut beets. Don't worry about the apple turning brown, everything will become "beet red" from the beet juice.
  3. Add the julienned red onion and diced celery to the apple and beet mixture. Toss gently to combine.
  4. Make the dressing by whisking together the molasses, balsamic vinegar and mustard powder. Add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Continue to whisk and slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the dressing is emulsified. Taste and adjust seasonings with additional salt and pepper. The dressing should taste sweet and tangy, but not too sweet or oily. Add more balsamic if needed or a bit more oil.
  5. Pour the dressing over the apple, beet, celery and onion mixture and toss to combine. Before serving, add in the parsley, toasted walnuts and bleu cheese.
  6. Serves about 6-8 as a side salad. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cherry Limeade Iced Tea

Food and beverage inspiration can come from many sources. Our best friend, the divine Jen Check, came down to visit us this past weekend, to watch me in my 2nd triathlon - the Danskin SheRoxTri. Whenever Jen comes to visit, it's always a cause for a celebration or party. Add in my triumphant completion of a difficult triathlon turned duo-athlon and you have even more reasons to celebrate. Jen stopped at Sonic on her way into Philadelphia and bought a Sonic Cherry Limeade. I love Sonic and the only one in the area is at least 1/2 hour away by car. It's not a place I think about going. Sonic is more of a vacation guilty pleasure for us. If we are in the Southwest, we go to Sonic for the drinks and the sheer 1950's nostalgia. The food is okay, it's more of the experience that I like. As for the drinks, Sonic definitely wins big over all fast food enterprises. Our Colorado cousins will often make Sonic drink runs just for the great concoctions. So inspiration for my version of a cherry limeade iced tea was brought on by Jen Check and the need to have a signature drink for our post-triathlon barbecue celebration. Don't know why I didn't think of this one sooner - it's far better than the syrupy version you can get at the drive-in and you can customize it with Rum, Vodka or Tequila! Boom! Drink Up!

Cherry Limeade Iced Tea Ingredients:
  • 8 Black Tea teabags
  • 8 Cups (2 quarts) Cold Water
  • Juice from 4 to 6 Limes - about 1 Cup of Lime Juice
  • 1/4 Pound of Bing or Black Cherries
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
Equipment needed:
  • 3 or 4 Quart Pot to boil water
  • Juicer or Reamer
  • Cherry Pitter or knife
  • Gallon Pitcher
  1. Bring 2 quarts of cold water to a boil and steep in the 8 black tea teabags for 15 minutes. Remove and discard the teabags and allow the steeped tea to cool.
  2. If using fresh limes, roll them whole on a cutting board to break up the membranes before cutting them in half - this will yield more juice. Juice the limes and add the juice to a large pitcher, preferably a gallon sized pitcher. Discard all but 3 or 4 lime halves. Add the juiced lime halves to the pitcher. Set aside.
  3. Pit the cherries and cut the pitted cherries in half or quarters. Add the cut cherries to the lime juice.
  4. Dissolve 1/2 cup sugar in the cooling tea, this way it will dissolve faster. Otherwise, if you prefer not to have a sweet tea, skip this step. You can alternatively make a simple syrup by heating equal parts of sugar and water together until the sugar dissolves. Cool and set aside, allowing your guest to add as much or as little sweetener as they desire.
  5. Once the steep tea has cooled, dilute it with 4 to 6 cups of cold water, depending on how strong you want the tea. Add the cherry-limeade mixture to the diluted tea. Taste and adjust sugar as you need - making it sweeter if you prefer. Remember that the best way to add sugar to a cold beverage is to dissolve the sugar first - turning it into a simple syrup.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Triathon Struck by a Storm

Well, the day wasn't boring. Our local new station, Channel 6 (WPVI) called the weather on Sunday, August 2nd - Storm Struck. It was an apt phrase and completely summed up the day's weather. My 2nd triathlon in the 2009 Danskin SheRoxTri was a wet affair. The highlights: The Triathlon went on and I survived the entire event in the rain. I had energy left over. Thousands of women participated in the rain. At least 7 of my friends came out to watch the event. I accomplished my goal of finishing the triathlon in about 2 hours time, down about a half-hour from my 2:27:58 finish last year. The low-lights: The swim portion was canceled due to thunder, lightening and unsafe river conditions. The race was delayed by at least 35 minutes. For more than an hour before the planned start, no one knew whether or not we would swim in the Schuylkill River. We didn't find out until 8:05 that the swim was cancelled. It rained a lot - constant drizzling and alternating hard rains capped off with a massive down pour at the end.
The Triathlon became a Duo-athalon - Run 1.5 miles - Bike 15.5 miles - Run 3.1 miles. Even after the race started, the storms became so severe that the race officials had to cancel the finish - two and a half hours after the start; many women did not get to finish the bike course or their 5K run. Luckily, I crossed the finish line at about 2 hours and 29 minutes into the race - though I don't know my finish time since I don't know what time I actually started. The vendors, masseuses, food stands and prize awards ceremony were rained out and probably swept away by the flooding, down pours and mudslides. The road course conditions were terrible - humid and oppressive air for both runs, wet roads and tire spray-back on the bike course. Our backs and shirts, shoes and socks were completely skunked - that is, a line of dirt and mud up our backs and all around our legs and feet. I saw at least 6 bike wipe outs and two ambulances carting women away on stretchers. I witnessed one woman in a neck brace. Coming out of Fairmount Park there is a large downhill road leading to Strawberry Mansion Bridge. Bikers unfamiliar with this area or uncertain of their biking skills were falling and sliding, crashing into the sharp corners and curves. It's dangerous under normal conditions, add wet roads and oil coming up on the surface, nerves and adrenaline and you have extremely dangerous conditions. For me, this part wasn't so scary. I have ridden and trained for two seasons in hot, cold, dry, and wet conditions and I bike this course often. I was in my element on the bike portion. As a matter of fact, I feel given the weather conditions, I excelled at the bike ride. If the roads weren't wet, I think I would have done even better than I did. I'm guessing my time was about 1 hour on the bike. Without the rain and wet streets I might have clocked the bike portion in about 50 minutes. The most bizarre part about the bike course, heck even the whole race - it was eerily quiet. Last year I remember women were chatting a lot with each other. This year, we were silent, concentrating on staying upright and ahead of the impending downpour. Five minutes before I finished my second loop, the rains came again, filling my shoes with water and slowing the bike ride down considerably.

As for the runs - the first run felt great. Running a mile and half was fairly easy. Making myself remember to save energy for the next two "legs" of the race proved trickier. I was very disappointed not to have been able to swim. Running 1.5 miles doesn't compare to swimming in the river, upstream for 1/4 of a mile and downstream for the next 1/4 mile. I would have liked to know how I would have fared in the swim portion. I trained for the swim, I learned how to swim more efficiently and I knew what I wanted to do once I got in the water to conquer my fears, find my rhythm and remember to breathe properly. The week leading up to the tri I was very nervous. Since I knew I could do the triathlon and I knew I could finish, I was mostly nervous about how well I would perform. The night before and up until the start, I was still anxious. When we got word we wouldn't be swimming my relief was a mixed combination of feelings. Disappointed not to test my skills. Relieved that I wouldn't have to get in the over-flowing river. Worried that the tri was now somehow not as "legitimate" since it became a duo-athlon. Confident that I would do better than I did last year. By the end of the race, having to perform under such adverse weather conditions I realized that the 2009 and 2008 events could not be compared. They were so completely different and I am such a different athlete, in better shape physically and mentally. This tri was harder given the weather and all the rain. I had to run more and find and reserve my energy resources. I had to remind myself to take it easy while biking so I wouldn't become a casualty too. Plus I had to save some leg power for the final run. I still can't run a solid continuous 3.1 miles - I power-walk about 1/4 of a mile. However, I did my sprint to the finish, once again finding deep within myself some jet-power fuel to propel myself across that finish line just in the nick of time before the rains came and shut down the day. Rain is a powerful force that can hinder any and all athletes.