This past weekend, we took on one of the most challenging tests of endurance and strength. We traveled across the country with our two-and-a-half year old.
This was not Max's first airborne rodeo. He's been to Tucson (travel is all fun and games until your 7 month old projectile vomits in the lavatory), Hawaii (lucky for me I was doing the ironman which meant Chris was solely responsible for the Ironman of 9 hours of flights holding a 15 month old), Seattle (where Max proved his genetic predisposition to endurance events while pulling his own suitcase around Sea-Tac at midnight after a 4 hour flight) and this past weekend to San Diego.
Can you combine training, travel and a two-and-a-half year old?
Better yet, should you?
Not unless you go equipped with two secret weapons: grandma and a season's worth of Caillou episodes downloaded on your iPad. Lucky for grandma we remembered her but unlucky for us we forgot the iPad.
It's been 3 years since I've been to San Diego. The last time I was about 20 weeks pregnant with Max and enjoyed some sun and fun. Fun being going on runs in the sun while finding corners of parking lots in DelMar to take a pee in every 5 minutes. Prior to that, I had gone to San Diego several times for training. Memories of climbing Palomar, the widow maker (Via Capri up Mt. Soledad), hill repeats in Torrey Pines, the canyon run, fearing you'll be shark bait in LaJolla Cove. This time I wanted just a few days of sun, riding and family time. The catch being that training could not and would not get in the way of having fun with the family.
The first day out there was rough. We were running low on sleep, I caught a cold from Max (I never used to get sick but a kid changes everything, even the best immunity). We spent some time in DelMar, at a playground overlooking the ocean. Then Max collected shells on the beach. With it being such a long day, I settled for a short run through the UCSD campus. It was surprisingly unscenic and I almost took out an entire bus stop of college students so nose deep in their smart phones they didn't see me blazing down a hill towards them.
Man, times have changed. Remember when we used to have conversations?
The next morning we headed out to the San Diego Zoo. The grounds are beautiful and the zoo is a reasonable size that you can easily explore on foot. Max excitedly pointed out rare finds, shouting "Bus! A bus!" After a 20 minute walk to the elephants, he enthusiastically screamed "Rake! Poo poo! Rake poo poo!" Forget the jaguars, he was thrilled to identify things common to his habitat. Poo poo and buses.
After the zoo, we headed back for Max's nap. I'm quite the stickler about Max's schedule because it recharges him with rest and gives us adult time! And thanks to grandma were able to spend adult time on our bikes doing an easy ride along the coast. For all of the interruptions from stoplights and cars, you really can’t beat riding alongside the ocean!
The next morning we had a fabulous cup of coffee at Bird Rock. I willingly readdicted myself to coffee during this trip! We went to the park at the La Jolla Rec Center where Max played in the sand box. Then, we headed down to LaJolla Cove. Max loved the sand while we loved the backdrop of the ocean and the seals. Pretty much any place that had sand was a hit with Max.
Afterwards, we drove up to Mt. Soledad and I had flashbacks of climbing it along Via Capri. It’s much more enjoyable by car! I had great pleasure in pointing out to my mother the driveway where Brad cracked during the climb and then had to start “checking mailboxes” (a term my mother completely understood after watching someone try to bike up the hill by my brother’s house in Seattle!). Max gave his best effort at trying to knock down the flag pole at the top of Mt. Soledad while I just enjoyed the view.
During that day’s nap time, we met up with a few of our Ragbrai friends who live in San Diego. Joe, my favorite Ragbrai friend, the guy I most want to be next to or behind in a paceline. And Dr. Nuts who finally graduated into real life and a job after what seemed like twenty years of med school. We were also joined by the future Mrs. Dr. Nuts, Kim. Kim is a phenomenal rider and just all around sweet gal. This ride was glorious and proved to me that good friends are knowing you can hop behind their wheel no matter where you are in life, fitness or the world and know that you are in a good place. It’s a feeling of complete trust and satisfaction to follow the wheel of a good friend!
We headed out to Del Dios, winding our way through some citrus groves nestled somewhere in Rancho Santa Fe. The pace was easy and I gladly took my spot in the back of the line to enjoy the scenery and sun. But it's always that moment when you start thinking "this pace is too easy" when someone makes a break. Chris jumped, took off up the hill, I said a few Hail Mary's and went for it!
It's been a long time since I've jumped so hard that my legs and heart burned with the pain of pushing out watts far beyond my fitness with only that animal instinct of chase, hunt pushing me forward. When I go on riding trips like this, I ride without regrets; I push, suffer and go after it. And above all I follow this rule: do NOT make eye contact with the power meter. Ride now and ask forgiveness of your legs later! Take risks!
We regrouped and then made our way to Del Dios. I knew it was a long steady climb which is what I seem to do best. I found a great rhythm and soon realized I was climbing ahead of everyone. That feeling was powerful and kept pushing me! To me, the scenery was amazing – a long road surrounded by smaller mountains and Lake Hodges below. We had a tailwind and other than the sound of some cars passing, it was absolutely quiet. The climb wasn’t long but I climbed well. Alas what goes up well doesn't go down as quickly. I was outdescended partly from size and more so by fear (hey I haven't ridden outside since September) and spent a good deal of the miles back riding alone watching a line of Chris, Joe, Matt and Kim disappear further ahead of me.
Later that evening, we went to a mall in La Jolla. I know – a mall! But when you have a kid, your night life options are very limited. The mall was actually a great find – it was an outdoor mall with plenty of fountains, a play area and these crazy egg-shaped wicker chairs that Max had way too much fun lying inside. This is what I love about California – everything is outside and when you’re outside, it doesn’t matter how much noise your kid makes!
The next day I took the morning to myself to do a long run and short ride while Max, my mom and Chris went to Del Mar for some more beachcombing. I went to Penasquitos Canyon. Of all the times I've run here I've never seen it so green. The trail has just the right amount of hills and flats, rocks and packed dirt. It was bustling with people! Families hiking, novice mountain bikers. I say novice because it’s never a good thing when you’re running uphill, look up to see a mountain biker who’s looking down at you saying oh shit! I felt good at times and slow at others. But above all I kept reminding myself to enjoy running at such a beautiful place while it lasted.
After the run, I rode back from the canyon to our hotel. This meant the ride started with a moderate climb up Black Mountain Road. My legs were so tired from running, it took me 7 minutes to go up one mile! Then to get back to the hotel I had to ride up Torrey Pines. This was the hardest recovery ride I've ever done!
When I got back, Chris went out to ride with destination Stone Brewery. Grandma, Max and I drove the scenic route up the coast into Escondido. Stone Brewery was the brilliant idea of Dr. Nuts, a place we could drink outside and let Max run free. The grounds are beautiful. You're basically in a small wooded area with a stream, rocks and open grassy patches. To my Illinois friends, this is called “green space”. It is not paved and there is not a Target next to it. Not surprisingly there were many parents there doing the same: sitting in a chair drinking while the kids ran free! I had a delicious stout and then one of my favorites: Oskar Blues Deviant Dale’s! Max had a blast and insisted on tasting everyone's beer, including that of strangers, "I try?"
The next morning was our last day in San Diego. But a delayed flight that was pushed back to 4 am arrival in Chicago gave us permission to call up the airline and beg for a flight the next morning, explaining there was no way we could travel that late with a toddler. It worked and they waived all change fees!
We spent the morning at the Quail Gardens, a small botanical garden with a cute children's area where Max played in a sandbox and a small stream. It was perfect for him and we got more time outside in nature which is so important to me, especially coming from deep winter on Chicago! What you don’t know is that in my next life, I’m going to be a horticulturist and make a habit of trying to visit the local botanical garden or arboretum any time I travel!
During nap time, Chris and I headed out for one last ride. The plan was Del Dios through the Elfin Forest but about 2 hours and 45 minutes into the 2 hour ride (see below) we found ourselves a long way from the start, with Chris bonking and rush hour approaching.
I should mention that about 20 minutes was spent with Chris trying to take a picture of me in front of the Elfin Forest sign where I didn't look fat. What can I say, no one should wear white spandex before race season begins.
With 45 minutes to go, it might as well have been 45 miles - of hills and many, many stoplights. I have never encountered so many stoplights on a ride. In the first 6 minutes of our ride, we were stopped by 6 stoplights! We were so ready to be done that even Chris suggested we call a cab. I told him, "Oh just take a gel and shut up!" We were both tired and pushing the pedals became a lot of work. At times like that I try not to think, just put steady pressure on the pedals and ride as fast as you can back to starting point. Never mind that you are behind by 1 bottle of fluid or that you ran hard yesterday. Just push. This is where breakthroughs come from, a place of freedom, risk and not over thinking it. Forgot how you feel and just keep moving forward! I dropped Chris on the final hill and he said that's my girl, beating me!
We left the next morning. All in all I feel like we managed to blend training and vacationing fairly well. I wasn’t sure how it would go – traveling with a kid is stressful enough let alone adding training stress. A huge thanks goes to grandma who made it all possible! My mom is one of the most selfless, generous people I know. Most importantly I felt like we were all able to give Max a proper vacation without letting our wants get in the way. And that’s the most important thing to me. Sports can be a very selfish, time consuming endeavor. I agree that we all deserve our own time to pursue our interests but I also know that there will come a time when Max is in school most of the day. So this time, the time before he’s 5 years old – I will never get that time back!
When we landed in Chicago, Max looked out the window of the plane and said “all gone mountains?” Sadly, yes. But I left my road bike with Dr. Nuts and Kim which means I have a really good excuse to go back out there in the near future for more riding. And considering I came home to snow on my lawn on the first day of spring, that trip might need to be sooner than later!
If anyone is ever looking to go on a trip that blends family and training – go to San Diego! We’ve always been able to ride from our hotel along with accessible running and swimming. Though I didn’t swim, we stayed only 2 miles from UCSD which has a fantastic masters program with 3-4 practices every day! There’s some nice running along the beach too and the beach by DelMar is perfect with the sand and then a great playground up on the cliff. Staying at a hotel with a kitchen means you can avoid the over-price of eating out and stay in a consistent napping routine. It can be done!