January 14, 2006

A 60% Chance Of Rain

Morning Workout
4 hours 20 minutes
Heart Rate Zone: Aerobic (Zone 1) / Lactate Threshold (Zone 2) [all at a cadence of 90 rpm]

Random Comments: In retrospect, the ride went very quickly. In actuality, I think I blacked out for most of it. Shock does that to you.

A marathon, they say, begins with one step. What they don't say is that the first step is really the easiest. In fact, the last step across the finish line is pretty damn simple as well. It's the steps you take in the middle, particularly between miles 18 and 22, that are significantly more challenging. I'd venture to say a better quote would be, "A marathon begins with one step and ends with one step. As far as the steps in the middle, well, you're on your own, bucko."

Similarly, today's bike ride started off very easy. That first proverbial step was a piece of cake. And the end, the last pedal stroke home, was also pretty exhilirating. It was really the four and a half hours in between that had me mumbling conversations with the Grim Reaper. I’ve been on a lot of painful and challenging bike rides before. I've been in bad bike accidents, been hit by cars, fallen over cliffs, injured my feet, legs, arms, hands, wrists, fingers and face. But I've had few biking experiences as painfully challenging as today. Which makes me believe that Ironman couldn't be all that bad after all.

When I left my house this morning, it was a nice, balmy 55 degrees outside with overcast skies and no winds. Wearing my shorts, jersey, arm warmers and gloves, I met up with Catherine and we jetted out onto our ride. It started off with overwhelming beauty, as the orange and yellow glow of the rising sun reflected off the ocean. I mean, it looked a bit apocalyptic, but in a beautiful sort of Armageddon way. We reveled in this beauty for the first thirty minutes of the ride. Then, of course, it started to rain. I had heard that there was a 60% chance of rain but...well... I live in Southern California. It doesn't rain in Southern California.

It began with a light drizzle. A few minutes later it started building ever so slightly until we found ourselves amidst a steady downfall that didn’t seem to let up for the rest of the four hours we were out there. It's like the frog in the pot of water. If you throw the frog in the lukewarm water, he does just fine. Then you slowly, ever so gradually, raise the temperature and the frog doesn't notice a thing. That is, until the water is a bubbling, brewing cauldron and the frog boils itself to death. Welcome to our ride.

It’s very exhilarating to exercise in the rain. I love running and biking in the rain. It’s so refreshing and mentally cleansing. It feels great. At least it feels great for the first two hours and fifteen minutes, as I learned today. Somewhere around two hours and sixteen minutes into the ride, things took a turn for the worse. Phase one of my demise began when we stopped for a quick pee break. It wasn't the stopping that was the problem, it was the starting up again. You see, my heart rate had dropped down while I was in the Porta-John. When I came back out and got on my bike, suddenly my body realized how drenched my clothes were. I was a walking waterfall - arm warmers were like wet noodles on my limbs, the jersey was sticking to my body in a bad polyester type of way, the socks were all but destroyed with water and mud, and the shorts were so damp that every time I made the slightest movement on the saddle, a puddle would engulf my privates. Still, I dealt with it, cracked a few jokes and continued our ride.

Shortly thereafter, Phase 2 set in when I lost all feeling in my feet. Ten minutes later, my hands went numb. Then, woops, there goes the arms. And the butt – can’t feel the butt anymore.

The truth is, the first few minutes of numbness were kind of good, in a way. I mean, I was so damp and squishy from the downfall, the numbness kind of negated it all in a “sweep it under the rug” type of way. Suddenly I forgot about the sponges in my shoes that once used to resemble socks. I even forgot about the super-soaked maxi-pad between my legs that used to be the padding in my biking shorts. In a way, my physical numbness really led to my mental numbness. At this point, it was nice. The bad side of this is that the numbness became a bit challenging when I had to stop at red lights. Without feeling in my feet, I had a tough time flipping my ankle out to unclip from the pedals. Each of the three times I had to stop were three times I came dangerously close to kissing concrete. As for Cat, she could unclip from her pedals, but her feet and legs were so numb she didn't have the strength to push her shoes back into the clips.

It was around three hours into the ride, with the wind blowing the rain into our faces, that things suddenly took a turn for the worse. I’m not sure what the actual stages of hypothermia are, but I’m fairly sure I hit an advanced stage somewhere around this three hour mark. Right after we stopped for more liquids, the shakes began to set in. It started with my hands. I still couldn’t feel them, but I could see them shaking. Then it worked itself up my arms. And descended down my legs. And in a flash it shot up my spine. My upper body looked like it was in anaphylactic shock as my teeth were chattering like a group of lonely old ninnies. I tried to maintain a firm grasp on the handlebars, though they had become soaked and uncomfortable. I didn’t think I could make it home. I just wanted to curl up on a couch somewhere – anywhere that had a fireplace would be fine. But as I surveyed my options, I realized there was only one: pedal myself back or freeze my ass off.

Through the rain, the wet, the numbness, the shakes, the pre-hypothermic pain, I focused on keeping my feet moving in circles until home was in my sights. I don’t even remember most of that last hour – I think I blacked out part of the way back.

The moment I got home, I ran into the shower. I turned the hot water up to the maximum. I could see the water beating on my body, but had no feeling. I could see the smoke rising from the shower, but couldn't tell the water temperature. And then slowly the blood started flowing back into my extremities as my hands, legs and feet began to thaw. Thawing, in case you don't know, is very painful. Surprisingly painful. It hurts. It itches like all hell. It’s really fucking annoying. I stood in the scalding shower shouting in anger and pain. With each thawing moment, it became more uncomfortable and my shouting became louder. "STOOOOOPPPP!" "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!" I tried to soap myself, but with no feeling in my fingers I coouldn't grasp the soap and continually dropped it each time I tried to lather. I tried to shampoo my hair, but couldn’t bend my fingers to open the shampoo bottle. So I stood there. For about ten minutes I stood in my lame paralysis, wondering if I was singing my skin from the heat of the water.

Ironman can’t be any worse than this, I thought. It can't possibly be worse than this. There isn’t a lot one can do in a day's exercise that is worse than this.

I got out of the shower, put on jeans, a long sleeve t-shirt, a sweatshirt and then wrapped my big warm robe around me. I sat on the couch shaking violently. I made soup to warm myself, and shakingly tried to bring the spoon to my lips.

A few minutes later the shaking subsided.
I survived.

Now here we are down in the San Diego area. Tomorrow we run the Carlsbad Half Marathon.
It’s supposed to be a cold morning with a 60% chance of rain.