Friday, May 30, 2014

My First Triathlon

I forget when I first came across this graphic, but it’s always made a lot of sense to me. For a long time, I was afraid of getting outside of my comfort zone because I was afraid of failure. But failure happens anyway, and doing things that scare me sometimes turn out really well.


So this year, I made a goal to complete an Olympic-distance triathlon (1.5 km swim, 40 km bike, 10 km run). Even though I’m a strong swimmer, swimming in open water terrifies me. Cycling is sometimes fun and sometimes scary. But I can run! Not to mention the logistics and gear and training for three sports instead of just one. On the way to this goal, I signed up for a super-sprint triathlon at Cedars of Lebanon state park, which was a 200 yd (pool!) swim, 10 mile bike, and 2 mile run. I figured it would help me get my feet wet, literally.


True to form, May weather in Tennessee is notoriously unpredictable. In this case, a cold front moved through so race morning was in the high 40s. The water temperature was 71 degrees, not too bad, but I was more concerned with getting onto the bike wet. And waiting for the start was a little chilly. Fortunately, my friend Kelly kept me company and helped me set up my transition area as well as lending me a race belt.

Despite the individual start, I quickly started passing people in the swim. For someone used to the order of a competitive swim meet, this was entirely different. The whole swim portion went by very quickly, and I was out of the water and into the first transition.


I threw on my jacket, helmet, sunglasses, and bike shoes. I must’ve looked a little out of it because a bike rack mate asked me if I was okay, though really it was a thrilled look. This was fun! It took me a few miles to feel comfortable on the bike. I’d forgotten that the jacket I grabbed was tight in the shoulders, so I felt constricted at first. Since the course was two five-mile loops, I got to hear my parents cheering for me as I came around both times. I definitely was passed more than I passed, but I tried to keep calm and do my own race. I ended up biking faster than I anticipated anyway!

Into the second transition, I stripped off the jacket and ditched the helmet and sunglasses but had to sit to put on my shoes (quick laces next time!) before I headed out on the run. I quickly realized I couldn’t feel my feet because they were so cold. I also felt like I was running through molasses even though I passed some people who had blown by me towards the end of the bike. The out-and-back run course meant I got to see Kelly heading towards the finish and cheer for another friend I’d made at the start. The run finished up a long steep hill with people non-ironically cheering at the top that we were almost there. (Side note: It is not funny to tell a marathoner at the 10 mile mark that they’re almost there.) Ran through the finish line and received a medal, which I felt weird about. Final time: 1:04:17. Since my goal was to come under 1:15, I was happy about that.


Triathlete! The more I analyzed the race, the more I came to the conclusion that everything went about as well as I could’ve hoped, even despite the colder-than-usual weather. I felt strong and capable from the swim to the run and finished 8th out of 29 in my age group, higher than I usually finish in run-only events. Next up is a slightly longer sprint before my scheduled Olympic in August!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

April in Paris

The last time I traveled to France, I was 16 and with a large group of Methodists. Needless to say, this trip had a slightly different focus. Of course, we saw churches and museums, but we also had leisurely gourmet lunches and drank a lot of wine and walked a lot.


Our first full day, we opted for a super-touristy bike tour. Unexpectedly, we were the only Americans; everyone else was Australian! This was a great way to see all of the highlights and absorb some of the geography. It was fun, but not something I would need to do again. I didn’t find our tour guide to be very knowledgeable despite having grown up in Paris, or at least there were several discrepancies between what she told us and what I had read online and in books.


The next day I scheduled a walking food tour with Flavors of Paris. Lisa, our guide, led us through Saint Germain-des-Pres and we stopped in boulangeries, chocolateries, a store that specialized in olive oils and goods from Provence, and a few other places. She also told us about the history of the neighborhood, showed us the oldest restaurant in Paris, and the cafes where Hemingway and crew would hang out. We had a wonderful time with Lisa, capped off by a stroll through the Marche Saint Germain-des-Pres and a cheese plate with some wine.


We then took advantage of the evening hours at Musee d’Orsay (hint: Most of the museums have evening hours a couple nights a week if you want to avoid the peak crowds). Since our dinner reservations weren’t until 9:45, this gave us plenty of time to enjoy the art and digest from the food tour before heading to Verjus for dinner.


Roast asparagus from Poitou, house trofie pasta, pesto, pea vines, pine nuts, egg yolk, and brioche at Verjus


The next day we visited Notre Dame, and all of the tourists made me stabby. As someone with an interest in church architecture and history, it was maddening to not be able to enjoy it slowly and reverently.


As it was raining off and on, we were happy to head to our lunch reservations at La Tour d’Argent, an institution with beautiful views from the dining room. The service made upscale places in Nashville look like McDonald’s, and it wasn’t a surprise to see photos of John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton eating at La Tour d’Argent. The food, the view, the wine…everything was exquisite.

Amuse bouche and Kir royales.


Coffee service with mignardises.


View of the Seine and Notre Dame from our table.


Even gray and rainy days in Paris are marvelous since all I wanted was to sit in a café, drink wine, and write depressing poetry. I kept singing Debussy’s setting of Verlaine, “Il pleut dans mon coeur comme il pleut sur la ville.” Since we hadn’t had enough of the tourist throngs, we navigated ourselves to Sacre Coeur in Montmartre.



The church is marvelous, totally different from Notre Dame and yet just as beautiful if not more so. And, of course, the views from in front of the church are fabulous with the city laid out in front of us.


Again, we took advantage of the evening hours at the Louvre. It’s huge and overwhelming, but I was happy to see some of the things I didn’t get to see at 16, particularly the Sphinx and the Code of Hammurabi. I had a Bible nerd moment in the Ancient Near East hall before we moved on to the Grand Hall. While Joe paid reverence to the Mona Lisa, I took in the enormous painting of the Wedding at Cana across the room.


Our last day in Paris was unscheduled, so we slept in, went for a run along the Canal St. Martin, and went back to Saint Germain-des-Pres to do some shopping. The caviste from our food tour had recommended some jazz clubs, so we had an early dinner at Pierre Sang for the 7 pm seating. I would highly recommend this experience. It’s a steal of a deal, chef’s choice, and the staff makes you guess the flavors.


After our dinner we traveled to Sunside/Sunset for the 9 pm jazz concert. It’s one of the original jazz clubs in Paris, and I was reminded how many African-American musicians spent time in Paris due to limited opportunities in America. While we saw a French quintet, the act downstairs was a jazz musician from New York.


It was a fitting closure to our time in Paris before hopping a train to Burgundy.

Arc de Triomphe from the Champs-Elysees


The top of the Musee d’Orsay from the Tuileries

2014-04-25 18.33.05

Locks on the Pont des Arts

2014-04-23 10.40.54

Saturday, May 10, 2014

France Trip Food & Wine

2014-04-22 16.52.19

Planche Mixte at a wine bar near the Place de la Republique that we stumbled upon looking for our first food in Paris. When our lovely, charming waiter brought this out, our eyes nearly jumped out of our heads. Then he came back with a different basket of bread and told us to eat one of the cheeses with butter and that bread.

It might have tasted good because we were starving and in Paris and eating charcuterie at a café, or it might’ve just been delicious anyway.

2014-04-30 17.50.29

After a 30 km bike through the vineyards, we earned a bottle of wine in Beaune while we watched people go by.

2014-04-30 20.06.39

Burgundian specialties: oeuf en meurette and escargots.

2014-04-29 08.46.54

Enjoying a bottle at our bed & breakfast on the vineyards in Nantoux.

2014-04-26 11.31.06

A simple café crème at a nearby café.

2014-04-26 12.08.02

Cidre from Brittany at Breizh Café, to be consumed out of bowls.

2014-04-26 12.30.08

Buckwheat crepe with onion confit, gruyere, tripe sausage, and an egg at Breizh Café.

2014-04-24 11.03.04

Macarons at Laduree.

2014-04-24 15.39.22

Bonbons at Une Dimanche a Paris

2014-04-24 16.08.21

Choux waiting to be filled to order.

2014-04-24 16.51.22

All different kinds of goat cheese.

2014-04-24 16.58.15

Bleu cheeses.

2014-04-24 17.13.52

Our cheese board and wine following our food tour with Flavors of Paris.

2014-04-23 11.47.30

Beautiful pastries.