Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Landings are successful, Workouts? A big fail.

I've got two days on the AirVenture grounds done. And while I enjoyed spending my days walking around the grounds, looking at planes and talking to people, I have to admit. The post-workday workout? Hasn't been happening. There has been a lot of walking while I'm at the grounds though.

Yesterday I got home late and it was stormy. Had my bag packed to hit the pool, but I was super hungry. So I opted to go home and have dinner first. And today? I got home a bit earlier. But I was just tired. And my feet hurt. So I came home.

I don't have to be the grounds until tomorrow afternoon, so I'm hoping to fit in a swim and either a short run or bike before I head out.

And while the workouts have been non-existent. The airplanes? Amazing. Just look at what's landed in the last two days. And that doesn't even touch the thousands of other planes that are already on the grounds or scheduled to arrive by the end of the week. So many planes. So cool. I'm in heaven.
WhiteKnightTwo - it's the mothership that's going to carry the spaceship that will send people into space for travel. Yes. I used the word mothership in the story I wrote. Kind of neat. But would have been cool to see it with SpaceShipTwo attached to it.

Airbus A380 - Ummm, can you say big? I'm not kidding. This airplane is HUGE! It's the world's largest passenger jet and it holds like 800 people. The folks at AirVenture had to make minor modifications to the runway just so the planes wings wouldn't knock down anything when taxing.

And while those planes are cool. There's still more to come the rest of the week. Exciting. Now. Time to think about sleep so I can get up early-ish and get some kind of workout in tomorrow.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Airplanes make good scenery to ride by

It was one of those one-day weekends that I get every so often after pulling weekend reporter duty.

And I made sure to make good use of my one day off.

I got up, putzed around a bit and then headed out on my bike. I hadn't taken a good long ride in a while, so I wanted to go about 20 miles. When I left my apartment, I didn't really have a plan where I was going, just that I was going and would probably head over near the airport grounds.

It's AirVenture week and planes, pilots and other people have been arriving in masses. Since I live right behind the airport, I hear the constant sound of airplane engines as they make their approach. And I'm not kidding about the constant part. For this week, Oshkosh is apparently one of the busiest airports in the world. Kind of impressive since it basically sits idle for the other 51 weeks a year.

So I left my apartment and headed towards the airport. I was biking straight into a nasty headwind when I was going west and for a second I considered cutting my ride short and heading back home. But there were airplanes. And it was fun to watch them landing as I was out on the road biking. So I kept going. Went around the airport, rode through all the convention traffic near the AirVenture grounds and headed back into town. Hooked up with the normal route I take along the river/lake and made one last loop near the airport - where I pulled over momentarily and just watched a bunch of airplanes come in for a landing - before heading back home.

I think I have a problem though. My bike computer? The part that tracks mileage? I think it's seriously messed up. From the beginning of the ride, I thought it was off, but I thought it was off just slightly. During the ride, I glanced at it every so often and the numbers just weren't matching up with what I've had when I've done this route in the past. When I took my short break, I'd had been out on the road for about 1 hour, 15 minutes. And it told me I had only ridden 14 miles. Now, I know I'm not the most speedy rider there is, but I was pretty sure I was keeping up a better pace than that.

I made a mental note to check my mileage with MapMyRun.com when I got home. By the time I pulled into my driveway, the bike computer told me I had gone 17.7 miles. Not quite the 20 I was hoping for, but I was OK with it. Went inside, logged into MapMyRun.com and plotted the route.

20.5 miles.

I'd say that's a little bit more than the 17.7 miles the computer on my bike was telling me. Looks like I'll be attempting to find the instructions to fix it or else taking the bike into the bike shop for some help.


Like I said, it's AirVenture week. The best week of the summer when it comes to reporting assignments in my mind. And I got lucky this year. A five day work week and all five of those days I'm assigned to the grounds. Lots of aviation for me! That might make workouts a little difficult though. I'm going to try to fit in a swim when I get done tomorrow and hopefully all the walking around the grounds won't kill my legs too badly during the week and I'll still be able to squeeze in some runs and rides.

Because I still have one more triathlon left on Aug. 9! It'll be here before I know it!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The jet's loud, but a moment of silence for the Raptor please

A moment of silence please.

No thoughts of running. Or biking. Or swimming.

Just a moment of silence for the F-22 Raptor, which will no longer be made after the Senate rejected additional funding for the fighter jet.

Sigh. The Raptor. An amazing aircraft. One I've had the chance to see with my own two eyes the last two summers at EAA's AirVenture (which starts Monday, but the Raptors won't be coming this year).

Just take a look at just a tiny bit of what that fighter jet is capable of doing.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Scheel's Sunset 5K Race Report

The number keeps getting smaller. And I like it.

I ran the Scheel's Sunset 5K at Sunset Park in Kimberly, Wis., on Friday night. It's part of four-day community festival and this was the third year I ran the event.

Since the run was at 6:30 p.m., I headed up to my parents' house on Friday afternoon and dropped my stuff off there before heading over to the park around 5:30ish. While driving over, the dark clouds filling the sky looked unfriendly and eventually it started raining. Oh, and did I mention it was like 62 degrees? Yeah. Great weather for mid-July.

Anyway, got to the park, waited out the rain in the car, debated whether to take my iPod with me (I did) and eventually met up with my sister-in-law and The Rugrats. We headed into the park, picked up our race numbers and T-shirts and waited for the race to start.

Like I said, it's part of a community festival and there were about 500 runners/walkers participating this year. It's a nice little 2-lap course through the park the surrounding neighborhood. This year they changed it up and reversed the direction. So instead of running up a long, gradual hill towards the finish line, you were immediately greeted with a steep incline moments after the starting line (still, nothing compared to High Cliff).

I didn't have many expectations for the run. But knowing I had just clocked my fastest 5K time on Sunday at the end of the Trek Women's Triathlon, there was a part of me that was hoping to turn in a sub-35 time.

The national anthem was sung and the starting gun went off. I started running. The hill greeted me immediately. Wasn't too bad. Just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Got to the top of the hill and turned off into the neighborhood. The pack of people was starting to thin out a bit at this point, so I settled into a nice steady pace. Felt good. Passed the one mile marker around 10:40. Not bad.

Remember how I said it was cold, wet and dreary out? Well add to it humid. The pre-run rain left it kind of humid and as a result my sunglasses were fogging up terribly. Yes, there was no sun so I didn't really need the sunglasses. But I like 'em. It's like my safety blanket. I wear my sunglasses all the time. Even when I'm driving down the highway, with my windshield wipers on.

So the humidity was making them fog up. I was nearing the park and knew my Mom would be standing somewhere around the finish line. My plan was to try to hand off the sunglasses. Another little uphill. There she was. Camera in hand, Rugrats cheering me on. I took the sunglasses off, handed them off to a surprised Mom and kept running.

Halfway done. Even managed to make it through the first lap before the lead runner broke the finish line tape.

Second half of the run went pretty well. Passed Mile 2, glanced down at my watch and saw about 22: 45. Still not too bad. Had slowed down a bit, but I'll blame that on the hills. Kept running.

Soon I was on the last stretch of road in the neighborhood with just the little hill into the park and the finish line. Kept running, tried to pick up the pace a bit. Passed a girl or two. Got to that last little hill and kicked it into high gear.

Sprinted up the hill and to the finish line.

35 minutes, 3 seconds.

Just missed my goal for a sub-35 5K, but I'll still take it. That's a total of 2 minutes, 2 seconds that I've shaved off my 5K since April.

Yes, it's not quite the 31 minute, 56 second 5K PR I set on this same course back in July 2007 - in the midst of my half marathon training - but the number is going down and getting to closer to where I was before The Monster decided to invade my head. My next stand alone 5K is in late September, maybe by that point I'll be back to pre-Monster pace. Or at least another minute or two faster.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A year can make quite a difference

The thought of 16 minutes, 42 seconds is still swirling around my head.

In a way, I almost still don't believe it. I mean that's a good chunk of time to shave off. That's almost a half-hour TV show without commercials. That's almost like finishing the triathlon without stepping foot in the water.

16 minutes, 42 seconds. It's a lot of time.

And it's the time that I shaved off this year. I almost can't believe it.

But then I stop to think. And it doesn't seem so unrealistic to me. Because I'm a different person than I was a year ago. I'm almost back to the person I was in late 2007.

When I stepped up to the starting line at the 2008 Chicagoland Danskin Triathlon, it was six months after I learned The Monster was living in my head. Six months after living through an entire month that I honestly don't remember much of. Six months of treatment. Six months of lost energy. Six months of watching my fitness go down the drain. Six months after stepping on the treadmill for the first time after learning about The Monster and struggling through and almost dying while "running" a mile.

But even with all of the obstacles I faced, I still put the time in at the gym and got myself ready for the triathlon. I swam. I biked. And I even ran. I got myself ready for race day, not to finish with a super speedy time, but just to finish. To prove to myself that The Monster would not win.

And I did it. I swam. I biked. I ran. I was vivacious, just like Sally Edwards told me I would be. I crossed that finish line and I admit, I was half dead. I didn't have an ounce of energy left. But I was proud of what I did. I proved to myself that I could still do it and The Monster would not win. And I made others proud. I could see it in my Mom's eyes, tears glistening in the corners. She admitted to a few weeks ago that at that time, when I crossed the finish line that day in July 2007, others probably thought I was one of the cancer survivors, because that's what I looked like.

I was a survivor. Not of the cancer variety. But of The Monster variety.

Fast forward to last weekend when I lined up for the same race.

A year later I have beaten The Monster. He's no longer living in my head and I no longer have to take the medicine to get him to go away. I'm back to running regularly without dying, and have even started to increase my mileages a bit. Still biking - at faster speeds - and still swimming. But now, instead of feeling completely drained everyday, I have energy.

I keep going. I want to keep going.

I feel good when I finish. Just like I felt good Sunday when I crossed the line. I finished strong and could have kept going. And this year? I didn't look the cancer survivor part either. I look like me. The Badgergirl that existed in the fall of 2007 before The Monster took up residence in my head.

When I think about all of that, it doesn't seem so unrealistic that I shaved 16 minutes, 42 seconds off my time from last year. Because even though I'm the same person, I'm a different person. I'm a Badgergirl without The Monster in my head.

Guess it goes to show you a year can make quite a difference.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Trek Women's Triathlon - Pleasant Prairie, Wis.


That's what I was told I would be on Sunday as I entered the water moments before the Trek Women's Triathlon started. A brilliant swimmer. A brilliant biker. A brilliant runner. And a brilliant triathlete.

I was ready. Donning my green swim cap, I was ready to return to the site of my first triathlon. A year older with two triathlons worth of experience under my belt. I was ready to tackle this tri and put up a smaller number than last year.

When I lined up at the swim start with the rest of the women in my wave, Sally Edwards, a former Ironman master's world record holder and the event's Chief Inspiration Officer, was waiting for me with her hand held out, ready to give me a high five.

As we stood there in the water, waiting for the gun to go off, Sally told us that our word was brilliant. We were going to be brilliant swimmers, bikers, runners and triathletes. And we would have a good time while we were doing it.

With those words running through my head, the countdown began. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Go!

The Swim - 1/2 mile
Wanting to avoid the inital chaos of the swim start, I positioned myself towards the back of my wave and off to the side. Good choice. I was able to get into a decent swim groove fairly quickly. It sounds fairly simple - a straight 1/2 mile swim across Lake Andrea to the swim exit. But swimming in a straight line? Proved to be much more difficult that I remembered. Yes, there were some flags - white - and a yellow fence marking the swim exit, but when you're a half mile across a lake and swimming, it was kind of hard to see.

Somewhere around the midway point of the swim I realized I was completely off course. Heading to the shore, but unfortunately it was the wrong shore. So I paused. Got my bearings. Found the exit and started swimming again. Happened a few other times, and my swim was most definitely not a straight line, but eventually I made it to the exit.

I got out of the water, pulled my goggles off my head and promptly almost did a head first dive into the sand. If not for throwing my hand out to catch myself, I would have ended up with a face full of sand instead of having my hands and knees covered in sand. Bet ya any money the race photographer caught that graceful move on film.

Transition 1: Swim to Bike
Since I was covered in sand, I took a few seconds to wipe off my feet and my hand. Luckily my transition spot happened to be right by a grassy boulevard, so I had a little bit of extra room and a concrete curb to sit on while I put on my shoes. Threw on the shorts, tank, socks and shoes. Strapped on my helmet and grabbed my sunglasses and bike and I was off.

The Bike - 12.4 miles
The bike course took us out of the park and onto Kenosha County roads. Once you made that first left hand turn out of the park, you were greeted with an uphill climb over a railway overpass. Last year I think I struggled. But this year? That overpass - and the handful of other hills that were on the course - were nothing compared to the cliff road I tackled at High Cliff last month.

I felt good on the bike. Passed a good number of folks. Felt like I was making pretty good time. I glanced at the clock on my bike computer and based on an estimation of my approximate start time, I was posting a pretty decent time a few miles into the bike. But I wasn't going to let myself get too consumed with the time.

I kept pedaling. Kept passing a few folks. Remembered to eat the fruit punch package of Jelly Belly Sport Beans that I had shoved into the pocket of my tank. Even managed to open the package and not crash on my bike.

Soon the overpass that started the bike course was looming in front of me again. I tackled the uphill, passed one or two people and got ready to ride into the park and hit the road for the run.

Transition 2: Bike to Run
Quickly racked my bike, not once but twice. First attempt was close to my spot, but actually wasn't. So I unracked and re-racked my bike in front of my transition spot. Unbuckled the helmet, grabbed the visor, had a quick swig of water and I was off.

The Run - 3.1 miles
I had flashbacks to High Cliff when I felt like I was making good time and then completely died on the run. I was mentally ready for the concrete feeling to take over my legs.

It never happened.

My legs felt good. The run felt good. From the beginning until the end. About a quarter-mile in, I saw my Mom standing near the fence. I smiled. Waved. Kept running. The run went around the lake I had swam across a little over an hour earlier. I passed the swimming beach and hit the first water stop about a mile in. Grabbed some water, contemplated walking through the water stop, but I still felt good. So I kept running.

Somone had thought ahead and set up a sprinkler around the 1.25 mile marker. I watched as some women choose to run around it to avoid getting wet. Me? I ran right through it. It felt refreshing. Shortly after, there were some very nice looking firemen standing guard at the turnaround. The shouted words of encouragement. I said thanks. Then I was on my way back along the lake, about 1.5 miles from the finish line.

I kept running. Came upon a girl who looked like she was struggling. Gave her some words of encouragement. She thanked me and started running with me. We ran side by side for a little bit before she had to stop for a walk break.

I passed the second water station. Grabbed some water and a bag of Sport Beans. Tucked the beans in my pocket, drank some water and threw the rest over my head. The finish line was in sight. Just run around the swimming beach building, a curver or two and then the straighaway to the finish line.

I was ready to cross that line. Not ready to be done because I was tired. But ready to kick it into high gear and cross that line full of energy and fresh. Show that line who's in control.

My pace got quicker. The crowds started getting fuller. People were lining both sides of the path, making it seem like the finish line chute was much longer than just the fencing near the flags. Bent down to give a little boy a high five. Followed that up with an adult high five. Kept running. Still strong.

Then the finish line chute appeared. And Sally Edwards was standing there. I heard my name come over the loudspeaker. Sally held out her hand, greeting me at the finish line with a high five.

I'd like to think it was the strongest one she got all day.

I was done. I'd conquered the Trek Women's Triathlon. I felt good. Felt like I could keep on running. But I got my medal, grabbed some water and went to look for my Mom. She eventually found me in the chaos of people and I grabbed a post-race bagel before checking out the race results.

If I didn't feel so good, I would have thought I was seeing a typo.

There next to my name was a time. A time that was almost 17 minutes faster than the time I logged last year at this event. Needless to say, I was estatic.

So let's look at the numbers, shall we?

2009 Trek Women's Triathlon
Swim: 20 minutes, 35 seconds
Transition 1: 5 minutes, 20 seconds
Bike: 45 minutes, 41 seconds
Transition 2: 2 minutes, 32 seconds
Run: 35 minutes, 26 seconds
Total: 1 hour, 49 minutes, 37 seconds

For comparison, I finished the 2008 event (known as the Chicagoland Danskin Triathlon) in 2 hours, 6 minutes, 19 seconds. That's a difference of 16 minutes, 42 seconds. Woah. What a difference a year makes - but I'll address that idea in a different post this week.

An added feel good moment dealing with numbers? The time I clocked for the 5K run - 35 minutes, 26 seconds - is my fastest 5K time this year. If that's what I can do at the end of a triathlon, think of what it could be if I'm just running a 5K? Guess I'll get to see on Friday when I tackle the Sunset 5K.

Overall, I'd say it was a good day. No wait. Take that back. It was brilliant.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I've come a long way in a year

I went back to the scene of the crime today. Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, where I finished my first triathlon last year.

The triathlon has a different name. But it's the same course. Sally Edwards is still there. And I was there.

It was triathlon number 3 for me. And I shattered last year's time - by just shy of 17 minutes!

But I've been up since 4 a.m. (And yes, it's still dark at that hour). And my bed is calling my name. So check back tomorrow for a race report!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fox Firecracker 5K Race Report

My Fourth of July started off with a bang. Literally.

Well as much of a bang as an alarm clock can emit at 5:45 a.m. A time I don't usually see during a work week, much less on a national holiday. But it buzzing. So I got myself out bed.

Because it was time to run.

I was registered to run the Fox Firecracker 5K in Kaukauna on the Fourth of July, a race organized by the local triathlon club. Last year was its first year and I wasn't able to run it since I was working. But I had the day off this year. So I ran.

They started with a kids run - I watched my niece and oldest nephew run their hearts out for an American flag and a piece of string cheese shaped like a firecracker - and then we were directed to look to the sky.

There was a small plane circling high above and then three skydivers jumped, falling to the ground with an American flag in tow. After they landed, there was a salute to those Americans who serve our country, complete with a gun salute and the playing of "Taps" (during which I almost teared up, thinking of the funeral I covered a few years ago for a young man who was killed in Iraq) and then the singing of the national anthem.

I was ready to run. But I couldn't yet. The race director told us to keep looking to the sky, directing us to look to the southeast. I did. And soon I saw, and heard, why.

A pair of Blackhawk helicopters were approaching from the distance. They did a flyover, twice. And you could see one of the pilots leaning out the side, waving at us runners.

Then the gun sounded. The run was beginning.

At the start it was chaotic. Lots of walkers who didn't quite understand they should have started near the back of the pack left me weaving in and out of people, trying to get around the groups of people who decided to walk seven across. A little frustrating for the first two blocks or so.

But the crowd thinned out eventually and I could settle into a decent pace. Just me. Running bright and early on the Fourth of July.

Of course, within a quarter mile that pace was lowered when I approached the first of many hills that I would be running up. It was a long gradual hill, nothing even close to the cliff road at High Cliff a couple of weeks ago. But still it's a hill. And considering I live in the City on the Water, which is completely flat, it was challenging.

But I kept putting one foot in front of the other and soon I was at the top. Then the first mile marker was staring me in the face. And the first water stop shortly after. And then I was running downhill - the plus to hills, what goes up must come down. Granted once I was at the bottom of that hill I had about a block before another one was greeting me. Repeat another three or four times and that was the final two miles of the course.

While running, and cursing the hills, I came to the realization. There is no such thing as a straight or flat street in the entire city of Kaukauna. Not so fun to run. Oh well.

Near the end, as I was running over the Veterans' Bridge and could see the finish line arch on the other side of the river, I was starting to get a little tired. And almost stopped to walk for a minute or two as I approached the - final - uphill portion on the course.

But I refused to stop and walk. Seeing the other runners on the course - including some military members who ran the 5K outfitted in all of their combat gear - I knew I didn't want to stop. I wanted to finish this by running the entire way, no matter how much it was starting to hurt.

So I kept running. And suddenly I was running downhill, towards the final turn into the chute leading to the finish line. And all of a sudden, with the crowds lining the chute, I realized I had a little bit of gas left in the tank. So I kicked it up a notch of two and sprinted the final stretch, which was a little less than a quarter mile.

I crossed the mat, got my American flag and some post-race food - including a slice of apple pie, which I gave to my mom.

My time ended up being 35 minutes, 36 seconds and I was finisher 731 out of 1,153. Yes, that's a bit slower than what I've been running in my neighborhood, but considering the hills I had to deal with, I'm pretty pleased with my time.

Besides, that's almost 1 minute, 30 seconds faster than the 5K time I posted at the Oshkosh 5K in April. I'll take it.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Today we celebrate our independence

The Blackhawk helicopter landed. The Fox Firecracker 5K was run. Throw in a 14-mile bike ride and you've got my morning.

And that's why I don't feel one ounce of guilt being completely lazy the rest of the day, enjoying all the food, fireworks and good times that go along with 4th of July celebrations.

I hope everyone enjoys their holiday!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Apparently tennis and radio do go together

There was a first for me today.

I listened to a tennis match. On the radio.

I grew up playing tennis, played in high school and still pick up my racket on occasion, although I wish I stepped foot on a court more often.

I love it when the Grand Slams come around, especially Wimbledon. It was the tournament that first made me fall in love with the game - watching Andre Agassi win his first Grand Slam title in 1992.

But since I don't have cable, getting a chance to watch Wimbledon was difficult. During the week I'd time my lunch break at work and park myself in front of the big screen TV in the break room. Or I'd be following the live results on the Wimbledon Web site when I was back at work. I'm lucky this weekend, NBC does decide to broadcast the men's semis and the men's and women's finals.

And since I was off work today, I was ready. Ready to park myself in front of my TV this morning and watch Andy Roddick take on Great Britain's Andy Murray - and the heavily pro-Murray crowd - for a chance to play in the Wimbledon final on Sunday.

One problem. NBC wasn't airing the match live. ESPN was, but let's not forget that no cable thing, and NBC's coverage would start at noon. But I didn't want to wait. I knew Roddick was playing right then. At 10:30 a.m. I didn't want to wait another hour and a half.

I jumped on my computer, did some looking and realized that Wimbledon's Web site had a free radio feed of the match, but no video feed. Hmm. A tennis match? On radio? Kind of reminds me of listening to a NASCAR race on radio. Hard to imagine.

Listening to the commentary was better than nothing, so I hit play. The commentators weren't bad. Real British accents and you could tell they were a bit pro-Murray. But still. Listening to them? You could hear the excitement in their voices. Got a feeling for how great this match was.

In the end the match was determined with a fourth set tiebreak. Big serves from Roddick, well placed shots by both guys. But Roddick ended up pulling out the win, earning his place in the final.

Sigh. I missed it. Yes, I could have watched the tape delay NBC was showing. But at this point I knew how the match ended, thanks to the radio guys, and it was too nice out to stay cooped up indoors. So I didn't watch it.

I'm happy to see Roddick back in the final. After a couple of rough years, it looks like his game is back to the level it was in 2003 when he won his only Grand Slam title - the U.S. Open - and 2004 and 2005 when he faced Federer in the Wimbledon finals. Actually his game looks better. It's not just about his big serve anymore. He's got the ground strokes, the volleys, the serve, the patience and shot making skills. A more complete game.

So you can bet I'll be up early Sunday morning, waiting for Roddick to take on Roger Federer in the final. Because getting a chance witness history - with Federer going for a record breaking 15th Grand Slam title - and to watch Roddick - live - is something I can't pass up. The early wake up call is worth it.

"I can play some tennis sometimes and not many people were giving me much of a chance at all. I knew I could stay the course, that I had a shot."
Andy Roddick in a post-match interview

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

June reading recap

June was a fairly good month for me reading-wise. I'm not sure why the numbers jumped. Yes, I had a week off during the middle of the month, but I didn't spend a lot of time reading that week. Who knows. All I know is that pages were turned and words were read.

I finished five books and 1,507 pages in June. That brings the year's total to 17 books and 5,959 pages. That's still behind last year when I had finished 24 books and 7,984 pages. Oh well. At least with 17 books finished and another six months left in the year, finishing 40 books doesn't seem quite so impossible.

So what'd I read in June? Have a look:

The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity by William P. Young
Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde
No Limits: The Will to Succeed by Michael Phelps
Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty

I admit, I'm usually not a big fan of series, since they require you to read books in order and it's almost impossible to just stop reading them in mid-series. But I find myself sucked into two series at the moment, the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde and the Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty. I've enjoyed all of the books I've read in each one so far - yes, even the high school dramas in the McCafferty books. But the end is near in both of them. Only one more left in the Jasper Fforde series (although another one is planned to be released in 2010 apparently) and just three more Jessica Darling books.