Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Invisible Bicyclist

I've mentioned before that I love to ride my bicycle, even if my area isn't very encouraging to cyclists and biking. If I have an errand to the credit union, the book store, the craft store, or especially the library, I'll frequently get on my bike and pedal there. Today was an especially good day to bike to the library; not only is the weather beautiful, the road in front of the library is undergoing major construction and is down to one lane in some places. Why bother with the hassle of driving there when I could ride?

Now, I consider myself a fairly cautious rider. I always ride with my helmet and use hand signals. If the speed limit on a road is more than 30 mph, I ride on the sidewalk. I keep my eyes open and slow down when I cross driveways, because people are usually focused on the road, not the sidewalk. When I cross a road, I always wait for the signal, and if it's a major road I get off my bike and walk across. Sometimes people see me, slow down, and wait for me to cross an intersection/driveway before they turn in. Sometimes they blow by without even seeing me, chatting on their phone or staring at the road.

Today was the usual mix; I saw enough people completely ignore me that I had my usual morbid thoughts: geez, what if someone did hit me and I broke a leg? Could I get around? Could I teach class on crutches, or heaven forbid, in a wheelchair? I was feeling annoyed enough that I was thinking of posting on Facebook when I got home: "Diane wishes people would look at the crosswalk before plowing through intersections."

I was riding south on a major road (45 mph) and came to a red light at an intersection with a minor road (25 mph) leading into a sub. I stopped my bike just short of the road, so me and my bright blue bike would be visible to the traffic on the minor road. As their light turned yellow, someone pulled up to the light, right next to me. I waited for my walk light to turn, looked again to make sure the car was stopped, and proceeded into the intersection...

... whereupon the bastard pulled forward and ran me down! Luckily I saw him and jumped away from the bike, but he knocked the bike down and kept going enough to get one of my pedals caught under his bumper. He finally stopped, backed away from my bike (which I had to hold onto so it wasn't dragged by the pedal), and stopped to check on me. I was shocked and he was shocked, but luckily I hadn't been touched by the car. The bike's chain slipped off, but otherwise it was working fine, too. I told the guy no harm, no foul, and we went our separate ways. Among his apologies was "I've never done anything like this before." I nodded, but this was what I felt like saying:

IDIOT! It only takes the FIRST time!

I also felt like saying:

HEY MORON! It's called a CROSSWALK for a reason!

You're supposed to stop at the big fat line, FATHEAD!

Sigh. I've thought some more about it, and what I really wished I could say was something to all the distracted drivers who find me and my bright blue bike invisible: It only takes one time. Hmmmm, I think I feel a letter to the editor coming on....

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Out of Miasma

My title today is a little bit of a pun; the definition of miasma includes "a heavy vaporous emanation or atmosphere," while the pronunciation sounds like "my asthma." (Both words comes from the Greek.) And ever since I was diagnosed with asthma back in my teens, it's often felt like my lungs were filled with a heavy vaporous atmosphere. When I have an attack, I struggle to get air in and out of my lungs; my breathing becomes shallow and it feels like the air I do take in doesn't have any of that tasty oxygen that we're all addicted to.

There are three things that can set off my asthma: heat, humidity, and exercise. The latter has always been a problem, especially because I was never very athletic as a child or teen, unless there was a pool involved. I also discovered in my twenties, thanks to a stress test that ended with me passing out, that I have a little quirk that leads to a huge drop in blood pressure whenever my heart rate gets really elevated. In other words, if my heart starts beating really fast, I pass out. This is an autonomic nervous system thing, unrelated to the asthma, because a really interesting medical test involving a tilt table and some adrenaline got the same result. I don't have to take any meds for this, but as a result I'm really aware of any light-headedness and haven't had any fainting episodes in the past 15 years or so.

You can see, though, that I've had plenty of reasons not to take up running. Exercise heavily, and I start wheezing. Exercise really heavily, and I could pass out. Add to that a history of wonky knees, and I just never wanted to go there, not while I could swim or bike or do tae kwon do instead. Still, I was frustrated by my lack of stamina, especially while fighting. Even when I take my wheezer (ie, asthma meds), I struggle with my breathing. I wasn't sure how I could change this.

A few months back, I found inspiration in an unlikely place. I was writing something new for National Novel Writing Month, involving a character who overcomes her shyness, in part by getting involved with a fundraising triathlon. While I was researching what might be appropriate times for teens to run a 5K, I came across a website whose title was interesting: the Couch to 5K Training Plan. I looked through it and it looked like something I could do. The first week of training only involved running for 60 seconds at a time. I thought I could do it, but did I want to? That's when things got a little weird. You know how some writers say their characters get away from them and do things they don't expect? Well, mine never really do that, but Annabel (my character) was posing me a challenge. As I kept writing her story, it was like she kept saying, "If I can get over my shyness to make friends, get involved at school, and even get a boyfriend, how come you can't try running?"

I decided I could try. I started the Couch to 5K program in December and took it slowly, a couple weeks on each level. I started out using a kitchen timer to track my intervals and eventually got a cool GPS watch to tell me my pace and distance. I ran two or three times a week throughout the winter—yes, even in cold and snow—and eventually managed to put together a three mile run. TSU and I registered for a 5K race that I knew would be on flat terrain, and on a cloudy Saturday morning we drove out to beautiful Belle Isle. And this is what happened:

Yeah, that's me running. Actually, that's the end of the 5K, past the 3-mile mark and heading into the home stretch. At this point I could see the finish line and the timer. I finished in 32:33 (well under my goal time of 35 minutes), but more important, I ran a steady pace the whole time, a constant 10:30 minute mile. I felt pretty good when I finished—more than good, pretty super awesome.

I'm still running a couple times a week, and will probably try another 5K soon. Am I a runner? I don't think so, because I don't really enjoy running and I'm not very good at it. It's helped my stamina a little bit, but I'm never going to attempt a marathon (my ankles ache to think about it). I'm just a person who runs and is stubborn enough not to give up. Thanks, Annabel.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Photo of the Week--5/17/10

We'd been taking photos of Boy chasing pigeons all over Europe and realized that we didn't have one taken closer to home, which at the time was London. Trafalgar Square had what seemed like the largest pigeon population per square foot in all of Europe (at least before the ban on feeding them was enacted in 2003, after we moved back home). It was a scandal that we didn't have a photo of Boy terrorizing the extremely fat and lazy Trafalgar birds. So on one of our frequent trips to the city, we made sure to bring along our camera. You can see there was scarcely room for him to chase pigeons, and they didn't really care to run anyway. But at least he gave it a try, and we got the shot.