so you know, this is a piece I wrote that appeared in Triathlon Life magazine in July 2009. i thought you'd like it
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In 2006, Beth joined Team in Training to prepare for her first triathlon. That’s where she met Lawrence Fong, her Team in Training coach.
Six months later, Beth participated in that first race. In an effort to reduce her confusion in transition, Beth had taken chalk and wrote her name on the ground right in front of her bike rack. As she was out on the course, her then-boyfriend Lawrence snuck into transition and under her name added the words, “…will you marry me?”
Though Beth was ecstatically surprised, the proposal was inevitable; Beth and Lawrence were destined for each other. Lawrence, with his gentle, caring soul is the perfect compliment to Beth’s vibrant personality. They calm each other and seamlessly connect like two pieces of a puzzle.
They had initially tried to keep their interest hidden behind the veil of professionalism in their Team in Training relationship. But when true love comes knocking, you have to answer. Within weeks they were dating and within months they had moved in together. They both knew this was forever.
Forever is much more than fictional fairy tale endings. The true essence of forever is not about the months and years of happiness; forever is about surviving those days and seconds that test our fortitude. It is about the sudden, unexpected challenges that fray the thread of life to its very core. Forever is about pushing forward, no matter the cost.
That’s where forever began for the Fongs: In transition, after Beth’s first triathlon, when her coach proposed to her with a piece of chalk.
Beth said yes and exactly one year later they were married.
Beth and Lawrence are the model of multisport. She is an accomplished cyclist and runner, with marathons and triathlons under her belt. Lawrence is a Cat IV cyclist, has done over 30 triathlons including Ironman Arizona and Ironman Florida and, as a side-hobby, has been coaching triathletes and runners since 2005.
Lawrence and Beth are also active members of the Los Angeles multisport community, putting on weekly training events and organizing numerous group activities, oftentimes through Lawrence’s role on the LA Tri Club’s Board of Directors.
On the evening of November 5, 2008, barely six months into their marriage, Lawrence kissed his new wife, said “I love you” and went out to an LA Tri Club Board meeting. Mid-way through the meeting, Lawrence excused himself to go to the men’s room. When he didn’t come back, someone went to check on him. They found Lawrence on the floor of the bathroom, a fractured skull, a crushed cheekbone and blood coming out of his ears and nose.
They called 911. That was about the time things began to get worse. He started vomiting and bleeding profusely. He was becoming incoherent and fading quickly.
Beth got the call immediately. Nobody knew the severity; she assumed Lawrence would be alright. Lawrence always turns out alright. She rushed to the hospital.
Beth arrived at the emergency ward as Lawrence was being brought in. He was conscious but incoherent. She tried to talk to him as he was rolled away but he didn’t respond.
Later that evening, Lawrence Fong slipped into a coma.
There are many questions about why this happened to Lawrence and what caused it. He is 36 years old, fit and healthy. Rumors quickly spread of a stroke, blood clot, bad fall, random attack. But, alas, there are no answers. It could be anything. “I just wanted to know why,” Beth said. “At least then it would give me something to be mad at.”
In that first night, Lawrence underwent brain surgery as the medical team struggled to determine the cause of his accident and battled for signs of a positive outcome.
Within 24 hours of the accident, as Beth’s world stood on the edge of surreal, she was told that her husband was brain dead. Barely six months into her marriage, Beth Fong found herself encouraged by doctors to remove her husband’s ventilator – to pull the plug and forget forever.
But from tragedy, miracles emerge. Lawrence and Beth gave a lot to the multisport community and when word of his accident spread, the multisport community began to give back. On that first night of the accident, nearly 50 athletes held vigil in the hospital waiting room throughout the evening. And when word spread that Lawrence was considered brain dead, the multisport community refused to accept it.
As Beth was brought away to rest, two triathletes in the medical field took the initiative upon themselves to make calls and pull strings. A few hours later, through the miracle of multisport connectivity, Beth learned that Lawrence was getting transferred to UCLA Medical, one of the nation’s leading neurological trauma intensive care units; a place where they don’t make rash decisions about killing forever.
Within days triathletes had set up a charity fund for Lawrence and Beth called Fongstrong (www.fongstrong.com). T-shirts were made, wristbands were sold. There was a Fongstrong aid station at Ironman Arizona. Signs and donation requests appeared at races throughout Los Angeles. Within weeks of the accident there were bike rides to benefit Fongstrong and Fongstrong charity runs were held in Los Angeles and San Francisco, collecting nearly $15,000 to help support Lawrence and Beth.
And despite the fact that they weren’t allowed to see Lawrence, masses of people remained in vigil in the hospital waiting room. Through all hours of the day and night, the multisport community stayed together to comfort, pray and support. They brought food and games and smiles and hugs. From a sport driven by individual competitiveness, they proved that the true heart of multisport is about true heart.
All the while, Beth spent her days and nights at Lawrence’s side, wondering if she’d ever have the same husband again. Doctor’s instilled doubts of whether Lawrence would ever emerge from the coma. They questioned whether he would ever be able to live his life without a ventilator. There were uncertainties of his short-term memory; whether he’d even remember his wife.
Then on December 9, 2008, despite all odds, Lawrence began to emerge from the coma and the multisport community breathed a miraculous sigh of relief. And on December 24, Lawrence and Beth celebrated their first married Christmas with a nod. There were no presents, no tree with glimmering lights, no carolers on the porch – there was simply a nod. A nod from Lawrence that indicated, for the first time since the accident, the he understood. He had his mental capacity. There is no better Christmas gift Beth could receive.
In the months to follow, Lawrence embarked on a slow and grueling road to recovery. In April he began to speak, then he began to eat and slowly he began to remember. Despite all odds, Lawrence Fong once again emerged.
There are still no promises on how much Lawrence will recover but every day he proves that the determination of a triathlete and the support of a multisport community can exceed all expectations. Doctors assumed he’d never come out of the coma. They said he would never speak. Never eat on his own. They said Lawrence Fong would never walk. But in early May, when Lawrence took his first small step, they suddenly realized the stubborn determination of a lifetime triathlete.
And as Lawrence and Beth continue their long and fateful journey down the road to forever, they’ve recognized they are not alone. With every step, and every breath, an entire multisport community is cheering them on. Forever.
August 21, 2011
so you know, this is a piece I wrote that appeared in Triathlon Life magazine in July 2009. i thought you'd like it
Posted by j. at 6:34 PM
July 23, 2009
You've heard it already, Lance Armstrong and RadioShack have joined forces to create a new team: Team RadioShack. They'll be whoring out Lance's celebrity to raise money for the LIVESTRONG Foundation.
I think that's great for the cancer kids. Lance is doing wonders in the world of cancer research and, despite his ego, he should be knighted for his efforts, or whatever the heck we do here in the United States that is equal to knighting. Medal of Valor? Nobel Prize? Purple Heart? Free Fries With Big Mac?
But seriously... RadioShack?! Since his bout with cancer, Lance has actually been portrayed as somewhat of a classy guy. I mean, aside from the whole cheating on his wife and acting holier than thou, he's been a fairly respectable person who seems to be trying to do something good in this world.
RadioShack is not a brand I associate with "classy" or "respectable" - or even "trying to do something good". In fact, I don't really associate RadioShack with anything but rundown, overpriced and lame. (Which, I guess are probably adjectives others would use to describe Lance but that's a whole different blog post.)
Didn't we all expect the announcement to be about Team Nike LIVESTRONG? Isn't that the no-brainer? I mean, does it take more than Lance making a phone call to Nike? If Lance Armstrong dials 1-800-IAM-NIKE and says, "Give me $30 million, let's start a team," isn't the obvious answer, "OK".
30 million is nothing for Nike. I'm guessing they pay more than that on sweatshop lawsuits every year. They probably have 30 mill in petty cash for lunch.
So why RadioShack? Why does one of the most recognized athletes in the world partner with one of the worst retail brands in the United States? Here's my theory....
We all know Lance has a big ego. To accomplish what he's done, you almost kind of have to. It would be naive of us to think that his ego wasn't involved in the negotiations for this. My bet is that Lance and his team approached every big, sexy brand they could think of - from Nike to REI, FedEx to Ben & Jerrys.
I'm also thinking that he walked in with a pretty hefty idea of what should happen. Like maybe Lance gets to pocket a few tens of millions in sponsorship dollars every year. And perhaps the partner probably has to donate a big chunk of their yearly sales to the LIVESTRONG Foundation. And what if Lance and his team have creative control and decision making powers of what they do and where they go and how they accomplish their initiatives.
That all seems like things he would ask for. Which means, here's the pitch:
Lance Armstrong wears your company name on his back. In exchange, you give him millions, you donate most of your revenue to his foundation, and you do what he says you should do.
I can't imagine that any of the aforementioned big sexy brands would think that's a good deal. It's a ridiculous deal. The only one who would go for a deal like that is a company in very dire straits who needs all the help they can get.
Which leads us right to RadioShack. RadioShack's stock price over the past ten years is like a black diamond ski slope. There's a whole lotta down.
The company is hemorrhaging. And Best Buy is beating them up and stealing their milk money on a daily basis.
It doesn't help that RadioShack has limited product and what they do have they overcharge for - like the $3 cable I needed that cost $35 dollars (and that I ended up buying on eBay for 49 cents). And it probably doesn't help when members of the Board of Directors are found guilty of child pornography.
My girlfriend and I have had bets on when we thought RadioShack would go out of business. But, alas, they now are going to sleepaway at Camp Lance.
And it all makes sense. Because, really, what else are they going to do? Everything they've tried over the past 10 years hasn't worked. (As far as I can tell, the only things they've tried are changing the CEO, changing the logo and using a vacuum cleaner on the store carpets). Hell, if they gave away 90 cents out of every dollar for this Armstrong deal at least they'd still be making 10 extra cents - and for a company that is in the crapper as much as RadioShack, 10 cents ain't so bad.
In actuality, it's kind of a smart move for RadioShack. They have such a terrible brand image and they are losing customers on a daily basis, they need something to make them cooler. And what better arbiter of cool than Lance Armstrong, Mr. Cool himself.
After all, look what he did for the US Postal Service. Since they tore it up at the Tour, I've looked at my mail in an entirely different way.
My question is whether and how this will work again. RadioShack, in one word, sucks. Lance has dug the bottom of the barrel for this partner. I'll continue to cheer for him at races, I'll continue to support LIVESTRONG, but there's no way in hell I'm paying 35 dollars for a 3 dollar cable - even if it is painted yellow.
Posted by j. at 3:40 PM
June 19, 2009
Let's face facts folks, I labor over race reports more than I do over the races. The fact of the matter is that I say the same basic thing in all of the reports because I have just about the same basic experience in all of the races. So to save us all a heckuva lot of time and heartache, I present to you J's Official All-Encompassing Industry Approved Generic Race Report For All Races Past And Hence.
Oh, and it's in graphic form because we all like pretty pictures and they're much quicker to read. (click the image to see it bigger)
Posted by j. at 4:40 PM
June 14, 2009
June 12, 2009
Today in America athletes across the country are being tortured. We are forced to race in unsavory conditions. We are commanded to relieve ourselves in unnatural environments that breed disease and discomfort. We are plagued with itchy bottoms and rash-laden undersides. We must put an end to this.
You know what I'm talking about people - I'm talking about 1-ply toilet paper.
Countless Port-a-Potties at thousands of races across the country are stocked with millions of these useless rolls of flimsy fabric. These despicable spools of sandpaper. We are forced to towel our tushies with this trash. To scrape our backsides to smithereens. To give ourselves a faux cleaning and pretend it feels fine.
And then to compete with that post 1-ply feeling?! To run? To bike with a tortured tussy?
We must stand up to this persecution. We must fight together. We must not take this any longer!!
The suffering of the athletes asses must come to an end! Our butts have had enough!
Help us stop this barbaric trade of 1-ply toilet tissue. Please sign the below petition and help set our tushies free.
Live 2-ply or die!
Who's with me?!
sign your name on the x:
Posted by j. at 6:55 AM
June 09, 2009
There’s something I really like about racing. I mean, there must be something I really like about racing, right? I’ve been racing triathlon for 17 years now and if there isn’t something I really like about racing then, well, I’d probably need to reevaluate my entire life. And I just can’t bear the thought of having spent 17 years doing something I don’t like, so let’s just assume that I really like racing. Now all I need to do is figure out why.
I get nervous before races. I think I always have. Hell, I get nervous before workouts. But maybe that’s what I’m drawn to. Maybe the part of racing that I really like is facing my fears and conquering them time and again. Then again, maybe it’s the pain. Maybe I’m addicted to the pain of pushing myself to the limits. Pain will set you free. With all this pain, I should be eligible for parole any race now. Maybe, though, the reason I really like racing is just about the competition. I’m a competitive sort who likes doing challenging things and doing them well. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m just trying to be the best that I can be and racing let’s me do it.
Whatever the reason, I clearly haven’t figured it out yet. Yet as I grow older, it seems my racing centers on a mission to better understand myself. As if there were hidden meaning in triathlon. As if triathlon were an ancient scripture written in some kind of archaic language and I’ve been spending the past 17 years of my life trying to translate the darn thing into words I can understand.
After finishing Ironman Arizona last year, I purposely took time off from triathlon. I had 6 glorious months of doing practically no exercise. I realized that it’s so gosh darn easy to be sedentary. There’s even something fairly comforting about it. You should try it sometime. Seriously, it’s fun. I wrote a lot, I read, worked, ate, cooked and became intimately familiar with the feel of the couch and the tactile intricacies of the remote control. I learned to read 0-9, pause, play and power in Braille.
Then, alas, I got the bug. It starts with a bike ride, maybe a run. That leads to a dip in the pool and a sudden realization that the physical condition you’ve associated yourself with over the past year has morphed from Ironman shape into more of a Squishyman. So you make a commitment to exercise more. Then you figure you should get a coach to get you on track. And now that you have a coach, doesn’t it make sense to select a race to train for? And next thing you know….The hamster is back on the wheel and it’s like you’ve become reacquainted with a long lost friend.
Catherine just registered me for the Bonelli Olympic Distance triathlon. Or the BOD, for short. It was this past Sunday. It’s an Olympic distance race, but you probably figured that out already. It’s the first race I’ve done in 14 months and it’s probably my only multi-sport race en route to my main event of the year: SOS (Survival of the Shawangunks).
I wasn’t really nervous for the days that fed into Bonelli. I like to think that I’ve gotten over the nervousness of racing but that’s bull-hocky. The truth is it’s all about avoidance. I've realized that method kinda works well for me. I don’t think about the race until I actually get there. As a result, I don't start caring until I show up on race site at which point I start caring quite a bit, whether I want to or not.
A couple of days before the race, my coach had me set out my goals. All in all, I just wanted to focus on having a good day. My last racing experience was arguably the most physically challenging day of my life, and I wanted to exorcise those demons.
My goal at the BOD was to go not too fast on the swim, not too hard on the bike, not too crazy for the first half of the run and save it all for the last few miles so I could push beyond my limits, grab pain by the throat and punch him to a pulp. I hadn’t expected any PR at this race – I’m not in great shape and didn’t want to disappoint myself. I set the over/under at 2:45 and silently bet that I’d come under.
There was nothing unusual about the pre-race activities at Bonelli. Cat and I got there early, we set up our transition areas, picked up our chips and race numbers, went for a warm-up run and did all the things we needed to do. We looked for our friend Josh (aka Super Fast Runner), saw our friend Jen (aka Super Fast Swimmer) and saw our friend Kevin (aka Super Fast period). Soon enough, it was time to get in the water for the pre-race pee and be on our way.
Incidentally, after nearly 2 decades of this nonsense, I finally figured out that you don’t actually have to get into the water to pee. The pee doesn’t soak through your wetsuit at all. I can just stand there on the beachfront and pee my pants silly without a damn person knowing. That's the great thing about this sport, you never stop learning.
SWIM (1500 meters)
The day’s challenges:
* Masses and masses of flailing limbs flailing in my way
* A couple of fear-inducing gulps of water
Our Super Fast friend Kevin is racing Ironman Couer d’Alene in two weeks. The BOD was his last hurrah before that race. I’m going to start in front, he said to me before our wave went off. I want to get in the middle of the mess and try to replicate an Ironman start.
Good on ya, I responded in my best Australian.
Of the many things that I really like about racing triathlon (none of which immediately come to mind), one of them is definitely NOT getting punched in the face while swimming. So you can imagine my surprise as I found myself standing next to Kevin at the water’s edge while we awaited the starting scream (I don’t think they could afford a gun).
In hindsight, I’m not quite sure why I started up front. I suppose there was a part of me that thought I could just hold on to Kevin’s feet and get a free-ride throughout the swim. That didn’t workout, I lost him within the first 15 seconds. Maybe I thought I was a decent swimmer and I didn’t want to get caught in the hullabaloo of the hullabalooers who usually zig-zag their way around the course. Some day I will learn to accept the fact that I’m actually one of those zig-zagging hullabalooers. But until then…
The scream went off and we ran into the water. One can argue that the feet went into my face as I entered the water while another can say that my face made a beeline for the feet. Either way, feet met face from stroke one. Welcome back to racing.
I tried to keep my cool and get into my groove but in reality I was pushing a little harder than my groove. I desperately wanted to get beyond the mauling masses and find some clear water.
Here’s the good news, sometime over the past couple of years I’ve gotten much better at swimming in a straight-ish line toward the buoys. Here’s the bad news, most people already swim in a straight-ish line. That means there are a whole lot of arms and legs in the straight-ish line from buoy to buoy. It makes it really tough to escape from the violence if I wanted to stay on track. Punch, kick – I tried to relax and focus on my body rotation – push, slap – every time I had to change course I tried not to lose my mental momentum – smack, smack, smack. I looked up and saw I was at the first buoy.
It began to thin out a little as we made our way through the remaining 1000 meters. I tried to draft off others feet but I kept choosing people that were much faster than me. After a few attempts I decided not to waste any more energy and continue on steadily at my pace.
About 500 meters before the finish I saw three women zip by me like I was swimming still. I knew one of those was Jen, our Super Fast Swimmer friend. Go Jen!
A few minutes later I reached the beach. I looked down at my watch: 25:25. OK, not close to a PR but better than I expected. Not too shabby. I struggled up the sand – which, may I say, was a much harder struggle than I expected - and went into transition.
You’d think by now I’d be able to take off a wetsuit. Something about my arms, it just doesn’t work. As I was running to transition I started to pull the top of my wetsuit down but inevitably it got stuck on my forearms like it always does. I couldn’t get loose. So there I was, running through transition, my swim cap and goggles hanging from my mouth and my arms firmly locked in the wetsuit like a manacled escape convict from the Open Water Swim Penitentiary.
I got to my bike, spat out the swim gear and pried my arms from the damn wetsuit. I began to pull it off my legs but got in a whole world of kerfuddle with the left leg. The wetsuit got stuck on my left calf and just wouldn’t budge. I pulled, pried and pushed but nothing was working. I stood on one foot in my best killer cobra stance and jimmied, and jimmied again, then jimmied some more and soon all the jimmying set me free.
Well that sure wasted a lot of valuable energy.
I strapped on the bike shoes, plopped on the helmet and I was on my way. Let’s go for a ride, shall we?
BIKE (24.8 miles)
The day’s challenges:
* Deflated ego
* Hungry like the wolf. Actually, so hungry I could eat the wolf
The bike ride at the BOD starts with a hill. Not a big hill or a dramatically steep hill, just a little piddly thing. Maybe 50 meters long and 4 or 5% grade. But when your legs are tired, your heart rate is spiking, your adrenalin is pumping and you’re really embarrassingly inept at getting your feet clipped in, that little anthill seems like Everest.
I threw one leg over the bike, clipped in my right pedal and pushed off. I tried to get my left foot clipped in, tried tried tried…. No good. I stopped.
People were passing me like it was no big thing. Jumping on their bikes and flying up the hill.
OK, big breath. Focus.
One more time.
I pushed off with my right foot and aimed my left foot for the clips.
Clip, clip, clip.
All I wanted was to clip in.
GET IN THE GODDAM CLIP!
My bike started slowing down as I was rolling towards the hill. People were zipping by me. I couldn’t get my foot in. I was getting frustrated. I was beginning to fall over. Starting to fall. I'm going to fall. Going to crash. I put my foot down and caught myself. Screw this, I said. I climbed off the bike and ran to the top of the hill.
As I got to the top, I moved to the side of the road and began to mount my bike. As I was lifting my leg up, an 11 year old on a hybrid bike came flying by me. Good job! he yelled.
Really? Has it all come down to this? An 11 year old on a hybrid is encouraging me to continue? I wanted to scream at him. FUCK YOU YOU LITTLE PUNK I wanted to say. But I didn't. I just glared at the back of his helmet as he rode on by. That oughta show him.
I mounted my bike, clipped myself in and pushed forward. Within seconds I caught the 11 year old. I was feeling pretty good and needed to make a point so I passed him without worry. That’ll teach him, the little whipper snapper.
In another ¼ mile we hit the first hill. I’m not much of a hill climber. Before we got halfway up, the 11 year old on the hybrid passed me by. He didn’t say a word, he didn’t need to. By the top of the hill he was out of my sight. I never saw him again.
11 year old: 1
Old guy: 0
The Bonelli bike course is three loops. It’s a fairly hilly course. There’s one really big downhill in the beginning of the loop and another towards the end, but the rest of the loop is a whole lot of up. As I said, I’m not much of a hill climber. Within the first mile, it seemed like half the race passed me by. It’s demoralizing. People on mountain bikes wearing sneakers and pedal cages were dusting me. There were points where I was embarrassed to be on my bike.
But it’s ok, I told myself. I haven’t raced in 14 months. I haven’t really ridden my bike that much over the past 14 months. Things can only get better.
My goal was to do the first loop slowly and pick it up for each loop. I tried to stick with my plan and stay slow. I got through the first loop without incident and cranked just a little harder as I began round number two. I was starting to feel better. The road had stretched out and I was no longer in a bunch of riders. I wasn’t really passing anybody but at least not as many people were passing me.
At about 3 miles into the second loop I looked behind me and saw a guy on a hybrid approaching. I kept my pace, kept focused. Within a minute he passed me by. He was wearing sneakers. Pedals with cages. That’s ok, I told myself. He’s clearly a strong rider. At the next downhill I passed him but seconds later, as we hit another uphill, I looked behind me and he was right there. Right behind me. Drafting.
Uh, excuse me… drafting is illegal.
As I was nearing the end of the second loop, I heard somebody yelling behind me. Something about “love of my life.” Something about “there he is.” I turned around and it was Catherine! Catherine!! Hello Catherine!! She was looking mighty strong, mighty good, mighty inspiring. She was sailing up the hill like it ain’t no thang. We exchanged a few words and then she was off into the distance.
I got back into my game with renewed effort. I began the third loop and tried to pick up the pace just a wee bit more. I didn’t want to go all out – I wanted to save at least some energy for the run – but my plan was to push a bit harder this time around and I was going to stick with the plan. So I pushed. And I pushed. And a few miles in I looked behind me again. The guy on the hybrid was still there.
Oh, for godsakes. LEAVE ME ALONE!
For the next 5 miles, I went mano a mano with Mr. Hybrid. He’d pass me, I’d pass him. I’d push harder and he’d be right there. I wanted to drop him, I wanted to be free. I wanted my ego back. I couldn’t beat him on the hills but I knew I could get him on the straight away. So on the last flat area I dipped down into my aero position, tucked in my head, rounded my shoulders and pushed with all my might. I didn’t look back, and I didn’t see him again.
I finished the third loop feeling tired but ready to run.
As I rode into transition I saw Catherine just running out. OK, she’s only about 2 minutes ahead of me. Not a problem. I might be able to catch her.
It’s not really the running that I find the hardest in a triathlon, it’s the starting to run. Starting to run requires a whole heap load of mental effort.
I got off the bike and was just plain tired. I put on my socks and slipped on my shoes. I took a deep breath, said something sarcastic to the person next to me (which happens to be part of my ritual to overcome the mental drain), and began to waddle out of transition. It didn’t take me long – maybe 20 steps – to realize something didn’t feel right. My socks. Damn. I got to the timing mat and pulled to the side of transition. Removed the shoes, removed the socks, put on the socks, put on the shoes, ok, enough stalling. Nobody's gonna save me. Let’s get this over with.
RUN (6.2 miles)
The day’s challenges:
* So much pain.
* No strength in the quads whatsoever
The Bonelli run is a lollipop course, as they say. It’s basically a loop but with a short little out and back in the middle. About ¼ of the run is off-road on trails through forests and even over a creek. The rest is on roads or sidewalk as we wind through the state park.
My goal was to start off easy, pick it up by mile 3 and then kick it on home in the last 2 miles. I definitely started off on goal. I was going easy. Super easy. I used to actually like the feeling of getting off the bike and starting to run. I used to be able to start the run at a pretty rapid pace. The rubber legs seemed natural. Well, those days are long gone. My legs felt like concrete blocks. Each step was a strenuous effort. 6.2 miles seemed like an eternity.
But there was no turning back so I tried to stay centered and focused on where I was not where I was going.
The funny thing about not enjoying a run is that in any given second that can change. After about one mile in, I noticed that I had picked up the pace. Maybe by mistake, maybe just to get the darn thing over with. I was passing people and very few people were passing me. My legs weren’t feeling great but my heart rate wasn’t redlining. By two miles in I suddenly realized that I went too fast too soon. Yes I could probably keep this pace until the end, but I had no more gears, this was it.
I made the commitment to not slow down. I told myself that if I could just hold this pace I’d be fine. I kept going. I kept passing people.
Three miles in my quads started getting really weak. I started wishing I actually had leg muscles. I started making promises to somebody that I'd get into the gym and lift. I held the pace and kept going.
At four miles in I got to the out and back. As I neared the turn-around I saw Catherine. She was less than 30 seconds in front of me. Catch me honey! she screamed. You can do it!
Screw you, I thought. You want me to catch you?! How about you slow down and wait for me, whattaya think of that idea?! I have no leg strength anymore. I can’t go a single second faster. I’m not going to catch you, it’s not physically possible.
And somewhere amidst all this angry rambling, I noticed that I had picked up the pace dramatically. Super-dramatically. If I was doing 9:15s or 9:30s in the beginning, I was probably at a 7:15 or 7:30 pace now. It hurt. A lot. My heart was working so hard I think I started smelling smoke. I couldn’t talk, gasping for breath. Legs were about to collapse. I wanted to stop on the side of the road. I wanted to stop. But I kept pushing harder. Up the hills, down the hills. I pushed.
I saw Catherine. And then she was closer. And closer. And by mile five I caught up to her.
My plan was to catch her and run in together but just as I came by her side she pushed me further. Keep going honey, she said. Push it in, push it hard. You can do it.
And so I did. Somewhere, somehow, I found another gear. I didn’t want that gear, it hurt too much to be in that gear. I didn’t have the strength to get to that gear, there were no leg muscles. But it was beyond me at this point. So I picked up the pace, went into the goddam gear and dealt with it.
The last mile hurt a lot. You know that pain that hurts so much you think you’re going to pass out? This wasn’t quite there but it was really really close. And the only thing to do at that point is dig within yourself and ignore the pain. The only thing to do is focus on one thing. So I focused on the finish – each step got me closer. Each step brought me past another person. And just as the pain was approaching it’s maximum threshold… I finished.
I'm done. Over.
* * *
I don’t want to say this was an overwhelmingly enjoyable race, mostly because it wasn’t. But at the same time it wasn't that bad.
I don’t want to say I was really happy to get back to racing because there was a lot of frustration and demoralization. But at the same time it wasn't that bad.
In a really weird way it was good. It was good to be back, good to give it my best shot. And the further away I get the better it seems.
And here I sit, suddenly finding myself thinking about what race I should do next.
The hamster is back on the wheel.
I suppose this is just what happens when you really like racing.
Posted by j. at 10:26 PM
May 13, 2009
Last year this time I emailed you regarding your "Buy A Bigger Bowl" inspiring me. I thought you would take pleasure in knowing that I completed my first half ironman distance triathlon this past Saturday at Panama City Beach.
I kept your article in my closet, and read it at least once a month to help keep me motivated. I was thrilled with my time... I read lots of articles telling me how to physically train, but few that help with the mental side of training.
Posted by j. at 9:59 PM
April 15, 2009
April 12, 2009
Just as I was finishing up my bike ride today I came to a stop light and saw another bike rider waiting for the light to change. She was wearing a Specialized biking helmet. It was white and clean and everything looked good. Everything except for the logo. The "I" and the "Z" were fading away.
Nothing like a good laugh to end a grueling ride.
Posted by j. at 2:33 PM
April 01, 2009
Just when you think everything is going along nice and fine - all smooth and such forth - one day you find out that you really don't know your girlfriend at all. That day happened to be tonight, while Cat and I were driving back from the grocery store.
In one of our regular type of normal conversations, I asked Cat what type of Pop Tart she'd be, given the opportunity to actually turn oneself into a Pop Tart. Strawberry, she replied without hesitation. No frosting. Toasted, well done.
Strawberry?! NO frosting? Who is this woman?!!!! Somebody please return my girlfriend.
There was stunned silence. I didn't know how to respond. I felt awkward. Like when you are on a first date and you think it's going really really well so you excuse yourself to go to the bathroom and a few minutes later you walk out of the bathroom completely buck naked, feeling all sexy and the like, only to find out in a surprising and humiliating sort of way that the date isn't going that well after all.
Well what kind of Pop Tart would you be? she asked me.
Blueberry, of course, I replied. With frosting. Straight outta the box.
Again, stunned silence.
BLOOO-BERRY?! she exclaimed in quasi-horror, quasi-shock and quasi-disbelief, like quasi-modo.
Yes, blueberry, I responded in my most calm Pop Tart type of voice. Us blueberry Pop Tarts, we're a very calm breed.
Oh, and by the way, I continued, I'll be eaten around the edges first, completely removing, chewing and swallowing all edges before eating the middle part.
As if the conversation hadn't reached it's bottom point already, the eating tactic didn't help.
That's not how a Pop Tart is eaten, Cat informed me. I take a bite of the crust, then a bite of the inside, then a bite of the crust... and on and on.
Sometimes in a relationship you get into these uncomfortable conversations where you recognize that anything either person says is just going to make matters worse. However, you don't want to abruptly change the subject for fear of coming across as insensitive, uncaring and just plain shallow. It's somewhat of a Catch 22. We'll call this one a Pop Tart 22.
Ummm....how about those cinnamon Pop Tarts? Cat asked me in what was clearly a filler question. A segue to less stressful, non-relationship-killer conversation.
Cinnamon?! That's not a Pop Tart. Even if the Pop Tart people made a Cinnamon Pop Tart, they're wrong. Pop Tarts don't come in Cinnamon. I refuse to answer that question.
Right about this time we arrived home, which was a perfect excuse to change the subject.
Hopefully tomorrow all this Pop Tart talk can be swept under the toaster.
Posted by j. at 11:35 PM
March 03, 2009
Years ago I used to go running in the mornings with my buddy Jay. Both Jay and I are from small-ish towns on the east coast; towns big enough that you don't know everybody who passes you by on the street but small enough to feel like you do. So when somebody does pass you by on the street, you tend to say something to them. Like "hello."
Jay and I both live in Los Angeles now and, as I said, we used to go running in the mornings. We live in Santa Monica which is about as small town-ish as you can get in Los Angeles. There are tree-lined residential streets and kids and families and local shops and people who you think would be friendly in that small town type of way. And when we'd run in the morning, Jay and I, we'd often see other people out on the street. Maybe they were running, or walking, or taking their dog out for a stroll. As we passed them by, we'd both tend to say something to them. Something like "hello." Or sometimes even "good morning" (though it usually came out as "mornin'" which is a much more Andy Griffith way of saying things)
The odd thing about the Los Angeles crowd is that, more times than not, we never got a response. Sometimes we'd get a murmured "mornin'" in return (though in less of an Andy Griffith tone and more of a Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino tone). But more often it was either a blank stare or just plain completely ignoring us. It baffled me. It baffled both of us. It baffled us so much that we decided to make a game out of it. We called it "Being Friendly."
I'm sure you can probably guess how the game went, given the name. But just in case, here's what happened... whenever I (or Jay) went out for a morning run and saw somebody else on the street, I'd blurt out a very happy "Hello!" or "How are you!?" or even "Good Morning!!" And then I'd wait for a response. I'd wait to see if there was a smile, a nod... even a chhat-ptewie in my general direction.
But, alas, there was nothing.
Maybe they think I'm crazy for being so nice, I thought. So I tried to tame down my greeting. But still, no response. I tried different words, different tones, different intonations. I tried saying hello far before I approached and tried it just as we were passing. I tried wearing lighter colored clothing, then darker colored clothing. I ran faster, then slower. I shaved, showered and combed my hair. Still, I rarely ever got a response.
After about a year of this, Jay and I had enough data to file our conclusion: people in LA are not friendly. And this "Being Friendly" game was just that... a game.
19 years later, or more specifically, last week, I was forced to question this hypothesis. You see, I was out on my Saturday bike ride and got six waves.
There's this unspoken rule among cyclists - actually, it's not quite a rule, more of a recommendation... There's this unspoken recommendation amongst cyclists that when passing by another cyclist you acknowledge them in some way. Even if you're riding in different directions on the opposite sides of a four lane thoroughfare, you still acknowledge.
Everybody has their own form of cycling acknowledgments but there are three major categories we all fall into: Nodders, Finger Lifters and Wavers
This is arguably the most popular form of cycling acknowledgment, probably because it's so gosh dang easy. It's also, arguably, the safest form of acknowledgment, primarily because you don't have to risk smashing your face into the ground by lifting your hands off the handlebars. Basically, it entails meeting eyes with the approaching cyclist and nodding your head at them, like you're in a James Bond movie and giving some sort of secret code to the card shark before you pull up to the poker table and win all the money from the bad guys.
The Finger Lifters
Finger lifting is not a highly popular form of cycling acknowledgment, primarily because it's tough to notice. Then again, maybe it is popular and I haven't noticed. Either way, it's kind of like a wave but without lifting your hands off the handlebars. The finger lifting only occurs with one hand. If you lift fingers from both hands at the same time, it's less a form of acknowledgment and more like a pathetic version of the Macarena. Proper Finger Lifting is most often accomplished by using the hand closest to the opposing rider (usually the left hand). Finger Lifting can be done in a number of different ways. It may be only one finger that is raised - this is usually the pointer finger, hence the name "Pointers" for those that utilize this method. You can also give the two finger salute ("Peacemakers"), three fingers ("Treys" or "W's"), four fingers ("Thumb Hiders") or all five fingers. Either way you do it is fine. Most likely the other person won't see you acknowledging them anyway, so whatever makes you happy.
The Waving method of cycling acknowledgment is pretty straightforward. Basically, you lift one hand off the handlebar and wave. This is, by far, the least common form of acknowledgment, especially in LA. Getting a Wave is the cycling equivalent of meeting a stranger for coffee and having them hug you when you walk up. It's warm, personal, friendly and oftentimes a bit off-putting.
Like the many forms of hugging, there are different types of Wavers. On the one side are the slightly subtle folks, who lift their hands only a few inches above the handlebars and send over a cold, heartless salute. On the other hand, there are the overly excited folks who throw their arm high up in the air and wave their hand frantically as if they'd been waiting their entire lives just to see you ride by on your bike.
I usually don't pay too much attention to how people acknowledge me when I'm out there on the bike. I tend to mix and match the different forms of intra-cycling communication depending on my mood and don't really give a hoot one way or another what other people do. In fact, it's so varied out there on the road, that I rarely pay attention to how people acknowledge me unless something weird happens.
Last week something weird happened. It started with the first person waving at me. The way they were smiling and throwing their arm about, even though they were four lanes over, well, I figured they must've known me personally. So I started giving that wave and smile that you give to people you're friends with. I started to yell "How are you?!" over the sound of traffic in the way you do when you're happy to see them. And just as I got out the "How ah..." and just as I was mid arm shake, I realized I had no clue who that person was. I mumbled the rest out in a bit of shame. I wanted to wave and acknowledge, but I didn't want to look like a fool in the process.
A few minutes later I got another wave. Then another. Soon enough there was even another.
What the hell is going on?!
I normally don't count the waves of acknowledgment that I receive on a ride, but by the time it got to four I knew something was crazy. Maybe the planets have gone kerflooey. You know, maybe Mars is in Uranus or something like that.
And when I got to the fifth wave of the ride, I figured I was being punk'd. I looked around for Ashton Kutcher but couldn't find him. (actually, I was looking for Demi Moore, specifically, I was looking for Demi Moore in "Striptease", but I didn't find her either.)
When the sixth rider to wave at me went by, I knew it was a special day. I knew that times had changed. Los Angeles had suddenly became nice and pleasant. And after 19 years in this place, I realized I can finally stop playing the game "Being Friendly" and I can just live it.
Posted by j. at 5:30 AM
February 19, 2009
I know you've been wondering about this and it's probably been keeping you up at night. I really don't like you staying up so late, you need your beauty rest. I mean, you're beautiful just like you are, but a little more sleep will do you good. What I'm trying to say is..... oh, fuddy duddy. Never mind. Let's just get on with it.
J's Official Top 10 Favorite Accents of All-Time
10. An Italian person speaking English when they really don't know how to speak English, but they sure try their darndest, don't they
9. A true, hard-core Brooklyn or Bronx accent that can only truly be spoken by somebody who has never left Brooklyn or the Bronx and has no plans to
8. Elmer Fudd
7. A southern drawl on a supermodel. This is a tough one because the same southern drawl can be quite a turn-off when emanating from the wrong person. There's a visual element that is very important in southern drawl appreciation.
6. Tweety Bird
5. Canadian and/or Minnesota accent, but only when they say words like "aboot" and "eh"
4. A British accent on any child, boy or girl, between the ages of 4 and 8. The younger the better.
3. An Australian accent on any super beautiful woman (and sometimes a super-cool man)
2. A true Red Sox loving, Yankee hating, Patriots adoring, Celtics fanatical Boston accent, with a specific appreciation for the Southie. Wicked cool.
and the #1 accent of all time....
1. Two words: The Proclaimers
Posted by j. at 4:40 AM
February 15, 2009
Some bodies are made for endurance athletics, yours isn't.
That's what the doctor told me last week. Thirty years of endurance sports later, and I'm finally informed that my body isn't made for this crap. Thanks for the short notice, Doc. Had I had this information earlier, I probably could've saved myself about $50,000 over the past years in coaching expenses, entry fees, travel and doctor bills. Had I been informed of this tidbit of knowledge, maybe I would've spent the last thirty years of my life sitting on a couch eating pizza and drinking beer rather than chafing my ass on an uncomfortable saddle. Perhaps I could've been sleeping in every morning. Maybe I would even have stopped reading all of these silly magazines.
And maybe had I had this knowledge, I wouldn't have spent 18 months straight training for long distance races. Maybe I wouldn't have tweaked my body in unnatural ways. Maybe I would've actually not been an idiot.
The body has a great way of telling you that it's had enough, the good Doctor informed me. When you start hurting, consider it a message from your body.
When I start hurting?! I hate to break the news to you doc, but I started hurting 20 years ago. Just about the time my eyes open in the morning, that's when I start hurting. The hurting begins the moment I step out of bed. It happens when I walk. When I sit. Thanks to me mistakenly shoving my fingers into my spinning gears, it even hurts when I type. Hurting and endurance training are the same thing, Doc. There is no difference. Ironically, the only time the hurting dissipates is when I'm exercising. The only way to stop the hurting is to continue moving. Ah, don't you love Ironman irony!?
Your MRIs show tendinitis in both calves, he says. This is from overuse. You should take a rest from running, he tells me. Cut down at least 50%.
Let's see, 50% of a three block run is 1 1/2 blocks of running. That oughta be fun. Can I just do it in my pajamas and then climb back into bed?
But seriously doc, you don't have to be concerned about my running, because earlier this week I mistakenly walked into my coffee table and broke two toes. There'll be no running, there's barely walking. It hurts to put on shoes. Oh, also, I nearly forgot to tell you. Since my toes were broken I went on the elliptical machine instead of pounding the pavement. Something about the elliptical messed up my right calf. There's a big ole knot right there in the middle of the leg that feels like somebody took a hunting knife, wrapped it in barbed wire, sprinkled it with Tabasco and jammed it into my leg. And every day they sprinkle a little salt into the wound.
I'm limping on both legs. No road running, no elliptical. So I tried to go pool jogging. But, again, no need to worry doc because the pain in my calf and the two broken toes make even pool jogging a torturous activity.
Yes, I could give up running, Doctor. But how would you feel if I suggested you give up medicine? Running keeps me alive. It's my lifeblood. Cycling and swimming? They're just a way for me to try and not get injured while running. Lot of good that did.
How about we compromise. Maybe I'll just go really really slowly and let's see what happens.
Wait a minute... I owe you HOW much?!
Posted by j. at 4:44 PM