July 31, 2006

Ouch! - or - Ironman USA / Lake Placid: A Race Report

Somehow you do it.

You survive through eight long months of emotionally and physically draining segments of non-stop training: hour after hour, day after day, week after week. Thousands of mind-numbing laps in the pool. Endlessly painful hours in the saddle and relentless pounding on the pavement.

And then one day you wake up and you are crossing the finish line of an Ironman race. Just as quickly as it started – poof! – it is done. You have lived your dream.

As we all know by now, Ironman is a journey, both physically and emotionally. And I have to say, it was quite an amazing adventure that Catherine and I had with this Ironman Lake Placid thingy. After all the training, the ups and downs, the good and bad, both Catherine and I not only finished the Ironman USA race, but we did an amazing job, if I may say so myself. And I just did. Not only were we both strong crossing that finish line, but we clocked in at just about the exact times that we had predicted.

So without further ado (and in order to avoid me rambling on in some meaningless, pseudo-philosophical tangent), let me get right to the race details. This is long, there is so much I want to tell you... so please bear with me. I’ll do my best to narrow it down. And I'll toss in some low-brow humor to make sure you’re still awake. So stay with me here. It pays off in the end…

THE PRE-RACE DRAMA

I knew that there were only three things I had to focus on for me to have a successful race. Three very simple things. I like to call them my Ironman Psalms:

* IM Psalm #1: SLOW and EASY. If I kept a slow and easy pace, I wouldn’t burn out. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Silly saying, but catchy enough to work.
* IM Psalm #2: DRINK and EAT. Nutrition could so easily be my downfall. As long as I kept drinking and eating, I would survive.

* IM Psalm #3: STAY POSITIVE. A positive attitude is the key to a successful Ironman. So I plastered on my positive smiley face.

The three Ironman Psalms were my bible for the day. But in Ironman, it’s all about the unknown. The tension and anxiety that oozes from the beginning of an Ironman boils down to a fear of the unknown. It’s a long day, anything can happen. Maybe that wee-bitty bolt on your bike’s handlebars will suddenly break halfway up the hill. There’s always the chance that your stomach will finally revolt against the Gatorade you’ve been training with for months. And what about the feared cramps? Those dreaded cramps.

So as you stand there toeing the line, eagerly anticipating the starting gun, this myriad of doom-laden possibilities courses through your brain. Please God, you pray, suddenly realizing you are not an atheist after all. Let me have a good race.

And then…BANG!
It’s time to go.

But wait, I’ve already gone off on a tangent and didn’t even start my story. See what happens when I’m left to my own? Alright, let’s try this one more time...

Catherine and I got to the race at 5:15 am and, with our bodies numbered, walked into the transition area to remove the plastic bags on our rain soaked bikes and load up the bottle cages with our super special race fluids. Officially, we had been up since 3:45 am when the alarm clocks went off. Unofficially, we’d been up for nearly 24 hours. Show me a person who sleeps the night before their first Ironman, and I’ll show you somebody who’s got a secret stash of Valium.

After giving my bike the once-over, I noticed the valve on my tire was bent and the tire had lost a bit of air overnight. I didn’t want to stress about it so I did the next best thing – I started justifying. It must’ve been the evening’s cold that let the air out, I thought as I pumped it back up and put a valve cover on top of it. The tire will be fine, I tried to convince myself, albeit somewhat lamely. (Lamely?!)

We left the bike area and walked over to our transition bags to stuff in a few extra last minute things. Let’s give my bike a final look-over, I said as we finished with the bags. I’m a bit nervous about that rear tire. We walked back to the bike and as we got there I unscrewed the valve cap. Suddenly it let out a resounding hissssssss. (That hiss, by the way, is officially known as one of the worse sounds to hear right before a race.) Shit! I screamed. Flat tire. Within a second, my adrenaline spiked. Red-lined, to be exact.

Shitshitshitshitshit.

I frantically took out my tools and tore off the flat tire. I ripped out the tube and threw it aside. I reached over to my bike and grabbed one of my two spare tubes and started cramming it into the tire. But wait… I looked at the new tube and it, too, had a broken valve. DAMN!! AAAAAHHHHH!!! I screamed as I threw the tube aside. I reached into my saddle bag and took out my very last spare tube. I started shoving that into the tire as quickly as I could with my hands violently shaking in fear, anxiety and panic. Visions of disaster floated through my mind like seagulls crapping on my brain.

I sure hope I don’t get a flat on the course, I tell Cat maniacally as I scrambled with the wheel. I have no spare tubes left. I’ll be out of the race.

Within a flash, she was gone. Five minutes later she returned holding two extra tubes that she bought for me at the tech station. [Yet another line item on my long list of reasons why I love her.] Here you go, she said as she handed the tubes to me.

Finally the tire was fixed. And with two extra spares in my bag, I felt more comfortable. Disaster averted. No more danger, Will Robinson. I took a deep breath to calm myself down.
[inhaaaale]
[exxxxxhaaaaaale]
Whew!

With the pre-race drama complete, we put on our wetsuits and walked to the swim start.

SWIM
The Days Swim Challenges:
* Random moments of highly aggressive swim violence
* A solid uppercut to the right goggle, twisting and smashing it against my face
* A hefty slap to my left goggle, filling it up with water
* A bad case of the zig-zags. Straight line swimming? I don’t think so.


The Ironman USA swim takes place in beautifully serene Mirror Lake just on the edge of downtown Lake Placid. The swim is an easy out and back that you do twice, broken up by a short little 20 foot trot across the beach.

About 15 minutes before the race start, Cat and I meandered into the water together to do our pathetic little swim warm-up. We started out by floating on our backs to calm the nerves. That, of course, didn’t work out so well. So after 30 seconds we stopped.

Not wanting to tread water for ten minutes, most participants stand around the edge of the lake in the shallow waters until the race start. We decided to follow everybody’s lead and got ourselves over to a large group of people on the side of the lake about halfway back from the starting line. We stood there together as the Star Spangled Banner was belted over the loud speakers.

With the National Anthem finished, we only had a few minutes before race start. Our nerves were at a high. The time had come and there was no turning back. When the announcer called out the 1 minute mark, I turned to Cat, kissed her, wished her good luck, told her I loved her and swam off closer to the front and the middle of the pack where, as it turns out, there was not a single person within ten feet of me.

The nifty thing about the Mirror Lake swim is that all of the buoys are connected by a yellow rope which runs about 3 feet under the water’s surface. So if you are brave enough, you can swim down the center and just follow the yellow rope as if it were a lane line, never needing to look up and make sure you are on course. Of the 2,156 participants, I’d say at least 1,000 thought that might be a good idea. As you can imagine, cramming 1,000 swimmers into a 10 foot width can make for a very crowded, particularly violent swim. Knowing it would get pretty hairy out there, I decided to take it nice and easy and stay in the so-called calm waters about 20 meters away from the buoys.

BANG!

The gun went off and I started swimming. It happens so quickly, there’s not even time to think. One second you’re a regular schmo listening to a crappy version of the national anthem as you stand calmly peeing in a lake, the next second you’re suddenly an Ironman racer. That was surreal - for about three seconds. Then, of course, I had to keep moving forward.

I could see hands and feet flailing all around me, but nobody was touching me. This is great, I thought as I swam along. Take it slow, focus on the form. Stroke, reach. Stroke, reach. I figured I’d hit the pack soon and the pushing and shoving would commence, but after a couple of minutes I was still swimming in my own bubble - nobody laid a hand on me. Stroke, reach. Stroke, reach. I found myself surrounded by slower swimmers so I navigated myself through the open holes. One open spot to another I’d glide through. Stroke, reach. I didn’t really bother to lift my head up and look for the buoys since it appeared we were all headed in the same direction anyway. As long as I saw feet in front of me, I figured I was swimming the right way. So I just kept looking for the open holes. Stroke, reach. For ten minutes I did this, barely a hand pushing me, nary a foot kicking in my face. This is great, I thought. Whomever said an Ironman start is chaos definitely didn’t follow my race.

And just as quickly as that thought hit my brain, I looked down and saw a yellow rope right under me.

Aaaww shhhit…

You know that feeling when you run a red light. Maybe you’re driving five or ten miles per hour above the speed limit, too fast to stop when the light turns red, so you have to blow right through it on a wing and a prayer and a sickening feeling of impending doom. Maybe your life doesn’t quite flash before your eyes, but the movie reel is definitely queued up and waiting. It could all end in a matter of seconds and there is nothing you can do about it.

That was my feeling when I saw the yellow rope. Impending doom.

I braced myself for impact. Two seconds. Five seconds. Seven seconds. Nothing. I thought I was safe, I had avoided the collision. That’s about when it happened.

An arm reached out of nowhere and belted me across the jaw. I looked up only to see a wall of kicking feet one or two inches from my face. I was being pushed by people on my left, punched by people on my right and somebody behind me was starting to swim right over my body. I turned my head to breathe and swallowed a vat of Mirror Lake. I tried to slow down but it was impossible, the pack just kept swimming forward. It was a stampede. I realized that if I slowed down I’d get pushed under the water and swum over by the 1000 people behind me. I couldn’t go to the left or right because we were packed like sardines and the only way I could speed up was to swim over the 1000 people in front of me. There was no escape. I had visions of those kids in Cleveland who got trampled at The Who concert in the 80s. I don’t want to get trampled and killed like I was in Cleveland. I don’t like Cleveland. I don’t even like The Who! HELP!!!

Realizing the reality of my situation and the futility of thinking about Cleveland at a time like this, I entered survival mode. My Stroke and Reach turned into something more like a Punch and Block. As each arm hit the water, I’d throw it in front of my face to ward off the kicking in front of me. And I started kicking my legs harder to push off the people coming up behind me. I was no longer a swimmer but a fighter standing on the ropes, blocking the non-stop barrage of punches. Stroke, block. Stroke, block. I pushed forward as aggressively as I could. Stroke, block. Hit, punch, push, kick. Stroke, block.

Finally, the violence abated.
Suddenly nobody was in my way anymore.
This is some fucked up shit, I said to myself.

I focused on my swim again as I moved further away from that yellow line. Maintain the flow, I told myself. I got back into the groove. Stroke, reach. Stroke, reach. All I have to do is just keep swimming, I told myself. Just keep swimming until they tell me to stop. And so I did. And it felt great.

I finished the swim in 1 hour and 8 minutes, about 9 minutes faster than I expected and completely relaxed, not a pinch of fatigue. I was ecstatic. Holy cow, this is turning into a great day already.

I unzipped my wetsuit, jogged over to the “peelers”, lay down on the ground and –WOOOSH! – it was off. I got up and started the quarter mile jog down the carpet, through the throngs of cheering, screaming, yelling spectators. I hadn’t gotten but 50 meters down the chute when I heard my name being called over my left shoulder. I turned around to look back and saw my mother and step-father jumping up and down, waving and screaming my name, smiles stretched across their faces. I was wet, it was cold, but my heart warmed up at the sight of them. I wanted to stop and go back to them. I wanted to tell them that I had a great swim, that I was so happy with my time. I wanted to let them know that I loved them and that it meant so much to me to see them standing there and yelling. But there would be time for that later – I continued my absurdly long jog to T1.

SWIM TO BIKE TRANSITION
The Men’s changing tent was a cross between absolute chaos and an afternoon tea party. Half the people were dumping their transition bags on the ground, tossing miscellaneous stuff out of their way, throwing on their riding gear and running out the door. Then there were the others – like me – who were just trying to move quickly and confidently while staying calm, cool and collected. I reached into my transition bag and took out my bike shorts, arm warmers and the other few items I needed. How was your swim? I asked the gentleman sitting to my left as I changed into my bike clothes. Pretty good, he said, nice warm water out there huh? And we chatted it up as we calmly changed into our biking clothes and quickly went on our way.

BIKE
The Day’s Challenges:
* Rear derailleur rubbing against my spokes whenever I climbed hills (and there were a lot of hills)
* Saddle sore, also known as butt chafing, during the last 40 miles.
* The usual sore, painful back
* Tired legs
* A whole lotta peeing


The Lake Placid bike ride is deceptively challenging. It is a two-loop course that’ll kill ya on the second loop if you don’t take it easy on the first loop. The first 30 miles are a triathlon racers wet dream, highlighted by a 6 mile downhill where you can reach speeds of 50 to 60 mph, and 10 miles of flats where you can pound forward pretty smoothly. Mile 30 is when the uphill really begins. There’s the three mile climb up to Wilmington, the rolling out-and-back to Haselton and then the 9 mile climb back to Lake Placid. In truth, it sounds a lot worse than it is. After having trained on unrelentingly steep and excruciatingly long canyon climbs, these were a piece of cake. The Lake Placid climbs are not that steep and are far from unrelenting. To the contrary, they are continuously spotted with easier or flatter parts to allow for recovery. What they call a 3 mile climb to Wilmington is really just a 1 mile hill with a few rollers. Same with that 9 mile climb, it’s just two 1 mile hills with a bunch of rolling climbs scattered throughout. That said, if you don’t take it easy on the first lap, those last 25 miles will eat you up and spit you out like a wee little hors d’oeuvre. Many people warned me of this, so I repeated to myself the first of my three Ironman Psalms: Slow and Easy. And I took it VERY easy. People were passing me throughout that first lap as if I were riding backwards. But I just kept telling myself to stay slow, stay positive (Psalm #3) and, hey, while I’m at it I should have something to drink (Psalm #2). All I have to do is finish. If I stick to the plan, that’s what I will do.

So I piddled along. And I wondered where the hell Catherine was. I figured she’d pass me by now but I hadn’t heard hide nor hair of her. Did she have a rough swim? Is she OK? I tried to not let these thoughts drag me down. I kept pedaling in my sea of concern. Finally, at the out and back around mile 40, I saw her riding towards me and looking pretty damn strong. I breathed a sigh of relief. How are you feeling? I yelled at her, wanting to stop and hug her. Wanting to tell her I loved her and congratulate her on us getting this far. Great! she screamed back as we quickly rode beyond shouting distance. And I smiled a smile that started at my heart and extended to hers. How sickeningly, beautifully poetic.

By the 52 mile mark I hit the last big climb before downtown. Lo and behold, I was still feeling pretty good. I was keeping it slow and easy, drinking and eating continuously and, hell, I was as positive as a goddam meadlowlark in a field of friggin flowers. As I climbed the hill I looked up to see my family yelling and screaming at me. A sight for sore eyes. Seeing them got me even more energized and I Lance Armstrong-ed my way to the top of that hill like it was a speed bump. Alpe d’Huez, my ass.

One of the best parts of the Ironman USA race is riding your bike through the thousands of cheering, yelling, screaming spectators lining the roads through the town of Lake Placid. It is mayhem, but mayhem in a good way. The energy elevates you.

As you weave your way through the enthusiastic throngs, you know what its like to be a superstar. I heard my name announced from the loud speaker, and the crowds cheered louder. And so I curved along those streets like I was the Tour de France winner (without the steroids, of course). With each turn, I picked up the pace and rode the energy, trying to soak it all in. As I passed by Mirror Lake I saw Cat’s family, jumping up and down, waving and yelling my name. YEARRRGHH! I screamed back at them, too swept up by the crowds to dribble out anything coherent. They probably thought I became retarded after that first bike loop. For a second, I thought I did too.

I turned the corner and rode in front of the Olympic Arena, where I saw my father and step-mother waving and screaming with smiles on their faces. Should I stop? I thought for a second. Should I slow down and let them know that I’m feeling great, that I’m having a wonderful day? But no…. I waved at them as I tossed my arm warmers to the side. I zipped around the last corner, and just like that, the crowds dissipated and I was back out on my second loop.

I took physical inventory and realized that the stomach wasn’t doing great. I needed solid food in me. I took a bite of Powerbar, but that didn’t do the trick. Suddenly I heard something hit the ground behind me. Whaaa?! I felt my back pockets but could sense nothing missing. I looked back, but saw nothing. Suddenly another rider pulled up alongside me. Were those your pretzels that fell on the ground? he asked.

Shit. I said as I reached back to my shirt pocket only to realize they were missing. Yeah, I guess they were, I said.
Damn, damn, damn, I thought. I could really use those pretzels.

Do you want some of mine?, he calmly asked as he rode by my side.

Huh? Um… uh…I stumbled on my words, a bit taken aback. I wanted his pretzels badly. In a normal world, I would’ve jumped over and strangled him for those pretzels. I would’ve ripped the pretzels out from between his very teeth. But I wasn’t in a normal world, and I’m not much of a strangler. Or a teeth ripper. Instead, I felt guilty. I didn’t want to deprive this racer of his pretzels.

No thanks, I said. I have Fig Newtons. I’ll be fine with those.

No really, he continued as he quickly opened up his bike bag, pulled out a plastic baggie of pretzels and handed them all to me. Take them, he said.

Wow…thanks, I replied in relief, shock and gratitude as I grabbed the bag from him.

They’re honey oat pretzels, he yelled back as he rode off into the distance.

Honey oat pretzels?! I thought to myself as I rode along the street holding the bag. Are you fucking kidding me?! I HATE honey oat pretzels… Ever since that time I gorged on a bag until near nausea, I’ve despised the damn things. But, alas, I needed solid food to settle my stomach so I opened the bag and took one in my hand.

As I took a bite of the pretzel, the heavens opened up, the Lord’s Choir began singing and angels danced a happy jig on my shoulders (or was it a tango?!). At this point in this moment in this place, these pretzels were the single best morsel of food that I had ever tasted in my life. Wow, I said out loud. I ate about three more pretzels. Wow. Soon my stomach calmed down. I decided to save the rest of these tasty little treats for later.

I’m not going to say the rest of the ride was uneventful, but I will spare you the gruesome details. Suffice to say, my legs were tired, my back was tired and I had to pee every 30 minutes. However, I kept it slow and easy (Psalm #1). I kept eating and drinking (Psalm #2) and, godammit, I stayed positive (Psalm #3). And I finished the bike in 7 hours and 11 minutes, about 20 minutes faster than expected. As if that’s not enough, I was only 2 seconds slower than Catherine’s bike time! What’re the odds.

BIKE TO RUN TRANSITION

The moment I rolled into transition a volunteer took my bike from me and started rolling it back to the bike rack while I ran to the changing tent. As soon as I got into the tent, yet another volunteer came over to me, asked me if I wanted help, then took my transition bag and dumped it all on the ground in front of where I was sitting. As I changed my clothes, he sat holding my bag and waiting for me. And this is where we take a brief moment to give a shout-out to all of the Ironman volunteers who go above and beyond the call of duty for the athletes. I wish I could hug each and every one of them individually. Instead, I’ll just loft out a hefty, hearty THANK YOU, and continue on our way out of the changing tent.

RUN
The Day’s Challenges:
* Blister on my small toe, left foot
* Random, oftentimes excruciating pain in right foot
* Legs that were tired as all hell
* Seemingly non-stop peeing
* Apparently some serious chafing in the nether region, which I didn’t realize until later.


An Ironman race is really about the run. More specifically, it’s about the last 10 miles of the run. The swim and bike are just warm-ups for the marathon. Fortunately, I love running.

The moment I walked out of the changing tent and crossed the timing mat for my marathon, the crowd was going crazy. They were yelling louder than I’d heard them before and the cowbells were in a clanging frenzy. A marathon begins with one step, and my first step was right onto Cloud 9. This is amazing, I thought. I feel like the winner. I realized how ironic that thought process was about ten seconds later when the race leader passed by me and turned into the finish line. All of the screaming and yelling suddenly made sense - and it had nothing to do with me. Oops.

The IM USA run course is not that bad. In fact, it's quite gorgeous. It’s a two loop course through tree-lined, river-lined roads, with two out and backs. You pass through downtown a total of four times. Think of it as shaped like an “L” where downtown Lake Placid is at the point where the two lines meet. There are only two major hills on the course (well, since you do them twice, let’s call it four major hills) and they’re right in a row as you head back into town (Miles 10 and 11, 23 and 24). They’re short, probably only a quarter mile long, but they’re steep little feckers and if you don’t have any legs left or if you’re not keeping that ever-so-popular positive attitude, you’ll quickly learn to really hate these hills.

Remembering Ironman Psalm #1 (Slow and Easy), I started my marathon at a piddlingly slow shuffle – a pace that I felt confident I could hold for 26.2 miles. I also made the decision to walk all of the Aid Stations (they were spaced about a mile apart). That 10 meter walk not only ensured that I took in enough fluid and foods (Psalm #2: Eat/Drink), but it also gave me a little reward for not having walked since the last Aid Station (Psalm #3: Stay Positive). So off I went, piddling along like Winnie The Pooh on an Amazing Adventure. From Aid Station to Aid Station I shuffled, never thinking of the full road ahead of me. To borrow the words of E.L. Doctorow, racing an Ironman is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but somehow you can make the whole trip that way. My Ironman headlights only extended to the next Aid Station, yet I knew that this would get me through the entire race.

I hit the first turnaround at mile 5 and felt great. As I started heading back towards town I saw Catherine running up the street towards me. Good Lord she looked great! We ran towards each other in the middle of the street with our arms outstretched. KISS ME! I yelled as we ran into each others arms.

We’re doing great! I said as we embraced. I love you!

And off we went. I headed back to town as she continued up towards the turnaround.

The race number you wear during an Ironman has your name on it. It’s one of the best parts of Ironman racing. As you run through the crowds, you get a non-stop barrage of people cheering you on by name. You wouldn’t believe how much that drives you. Every time you hear your name, it picks you up and makes you stronger. And as you hit the last hill before entering downtown Lake Placid, the cheering pulls you up like an emotional chairlift. And though it’s incredibly steep, you somehow find yourself going faster at the top than you were at the bottom. So by the time I started the flat two mile out-and-back next to Mirror Lake, I was running on clouds. And when I saw my family (and Catherine’s) at mile 10, frantically screaming for me, I felt such warmth and pride. My father started running up the sidewalk at my pace, asking me how I’m doing.

I’m feeling pretty good, I yelled back, somewhat surprised that I was able to yell so coherently. My legs are really tired, I continued, but I’ll get over that.

You look great, he screamed. Keep it up!

I soon hit the turnaround and headed back into town when I saw my sister standing there waiting for me. I’ll run with you for a half-mile, she said as she started shuffling along with me.

Sometimes it’s the small things that make a race better. It’s the surprisingly comforting taste of pretzels at just the right time. It’s the stranger who yells “You look strong! You look like a runner!” It’s the random spectator sitting silently on the side of the road - as you look straight into their eyes you can see their heart and are instantly overwhelmed with the pride and awe they have for you. The comfort of my sister running by my side, the release in letting her know how I was feeling (blister on left foot, right foot in serious pain, legs tired, but I’ll manage), the companionship, even for just a brief few minutes – it meant the world to me. As we got back to the family she peeled off to the side. I’ll see you in 13 miles! I told her as I continued back out of town.

I’d like to say that the last half marathon was uneventful and, for the day or two after the race, I’d have said it was. But the reality is that it was far from uneventful. It was extremely painful. When I got to the mile 14 Aid Station, I’d nearly had it. I didn’t know how I was going to keep running. I didn’t think I had any energy left in me. As I walked the 10 meters of that Aid Station, I looked for anything inside of me that would keep me moving forward. Anything whatsoever.

My race started there at mile 14.

There’s a poem by Walt Whitman called O Captain! My Captain!. That is how the poem starts, with those words, O Captain! My Captain! It’s funny how so much meaning can be put behind such simple words. For months, those four words have reminded me of Catherine. They remind me of the way she motivates me, inspires me and awes me. Those words drive me. And every time I say those words, I can feel Catherine next to me, pushing me forward. It encourages me.

And so, as I walked through the mile 14 Aid Station and searched for any speck of inspiration to keep me positive, the words immediately flowed out of my mouth.

Oh Captain! My Captain!, I said to myself. And a hint of energy surged through my body as memories of our tough training sessions came to mind. Oh Captain! My Captain! I said louder as I reminded myself that I was stronger than this. Oh Captain! My Captain! I repeated as my legs started running again. Over and over again I uttered those words. I said them silently and I said them out loud. And each time I repeated them, I felt Catherine next to me. And it lifted me off the ground. It drove me further.

I miraculously made it to the mile 18 turnaround and started heading home. I did a physical inventory and immediately sensed the reserves dropping rapidly. I needed some serious fueling at the next Aid Station if I didn’t want to hit the wall. And I really didn’t want to hit the wall.

I plugged along, around corner after corner, desperately looking for that Aid Station. What seemed like never-ending miles, was really just a half of a mile, but it lasted so goddam long. Finally I saw it – the Aid Station loomed a few steps in front of me. As I approached the Gatorade table, I stopped to down a glass then moved on, solely focused on the food. Fig Newtons, bananas… I needed food and I needed it bad. I drank more water and grabbed a banana. Suddenly, in my delirium, I saw Catherine on the other side of the street. A sight for sore eyes, for sure, but all I could focus on was getting food in my system.

Hi honey! she yelled at me. I glanced over at her in a daze. I wanted to speak but nothing came. I need food, I thought. Must eat food.

You’re heading home! She screamed.

I must say something, I told myself. I must say something.
We all are! I yelled back. Then turned around and continued on my quest for food.

We all are?! What the hell did that mean?! What I meant to say was We are both doing great. We are both going to make it and we are both headed home right now.

We all are?! How lame. I continued running, the thought of my retardness (yes, retardness) keeping my mind occupied for the next couple of miles. Or at least until mile 20 when it felt like I broke my right foot.

My foot had been hurting for the past 10 miles, but it was right before the turn back into town that it turned to hell.

SHIT! I yelled as I slowed to a near stop. What had progressively felt worse and worse finally felt like a bone chip on the outside of my foot. I hobbled along for about 20 feet, desperately wanting to continue running. I didn’t want to walk. I can stand the pain, I told myself. Just keep moving. Step, limp. Step, limp. As I turned the corner towards the hill, I looked up. About 50 feet away was a man with one leg who had been racing in front of me the entire day. Here he was, at mile 20 of the Ironman marathon, running smoothly with one real leg and one plastic one. As I looked at him moving smoothly, I couldn’t help but be inspired. There’s a saying that goes something like this...

I used to complain about my shoes until I met a man with no feet.

How apropos, I thought. If I’m going to complain about my hurt foot, I told myself, I need to do it to the guy who’s only got one leg. That’ll show me. After all, here was a man with one foot who was doing just fine. What right did I have to complain? So I shut my trap and remembered Ironman Psalm #3: Stay Positive. I moved towards the center of the road where I could run on flat pavement, and I sucked it up. I can deal with this, I told myself. And so I picked up the pace.

As I reached the last hill at mile 24 it was mayhem. Hundreds of people had lined the road and they stood there slamming on their cowbells, screaming in their bullhorns and smacking on their clackers. In fact, that sentence would probably be more impactful if it were written in Dr. Seuss-speak. Let’s try again…

As I ran up the hill, hundreds of spectators ranged and clanged their double-flanged cowbell-thwackers, they smacked and clacked their yikkety-yackers while they screamed hip-happy hoorays into bullhorn-blasters. They drew me up that hill, pushing and pulling me faster and faster. And my heart grew three sizes that day.

And when I made the left hand turn at the top of the steep hill, only 2 miles from the finish, and I saw the line of thousands looking down on me, clapping and cheering and yelling my name… right then I knew.

I did it.
Tears welled in my eyes as I high-fived my way up the hill.
I did it, I said aloud. I did it.

And as I made the last right hand turn for the out-and-back, I saw Cat’s brother and nephew standing there, smiling at me, cheering for me. I did it. I ran up to them screaming as hard as my lungs could scream and slapped them high fives as hard as I could slap.

I did it!!

I picked up the pace even more as I headed out to the turn around. I reached into my back pockets and threw away all the miscellaneous foods I wouldn’t be using anymore… the extra gel packs, the endurolytes, the honey oat pretzels. Oh, those wonderful honey oat pretzels. I hit the 25 mile turnaround and started the final mile towards the finish line.

I did it.

I was desperately looking for Catherine. She must be right behind me, I thought. I want to share this with her. As I neared the final Aid Station, I didn’t see her. As I reached the crowds again, I still didn’t see her. Finally, as I ran down the slope towards the final turn into the Olympic Oval, I saw her on the other side of the street.

Cat! I yelled above the crowd. We did it! We did it!

I turned the corner towards the Olympic Oval and ran down the first straight away. I wanted to soak in the enthusiasm of the crowd, to feel them all. I wanted to share this feeling with everybody. I reached my arms out and floated on their energy. As I neared the end I looked in front of me and saw my father and step-mother straight ahead, cheering me on. I high-fived dad and took the final turn into the Olympic Oval and the cheering masses.

This is it.
I did it.

I didn’t want to forget this moment, the people, the energy, the sight and sounds of it all. I closed my eyes and ran.

As I came around the final turn I saw the finish line in front of me and all I could do was jump up and scream. And scream. And scream. And let out all of my pride, my pain, my fear and accomplishment. I wanted to scream loud enough that the entire world could hear me. I did it!

I DID IT!!!

I saw my mother and Catherine’s mother standing right in front of the crowds, about 20 meters from the finish line. I ran over and gave my mother a kiss. I did it, I said.

I did it.
I am an Ironman.


* * *

You’ve probably heard it all before ad nauseum, the philosophical ramblings of the inner-meaning of Ironman. That it is a test of who you really are. That crossing the finish line will change what you perceive to be life’s obstacles. That it is a metaphor for how you live your life. Honestly, I don’t know if I have experienced all of those feelings yet. They are sneaking into my consciousness, but not yet fully there. Perhaps in the weeks or months to come, I will look back on my first Ironman experience and regurgitate all sorts of drivel about the race’s parallels to the sufferings of humanity, until I find somebody who is actually comatose enough to listen to me. In the meantime, I’m happy to be proud. And I am extremely proud. I’m proud of what Catherine and I accomplished over the past 8 months. And I’m damn proud of what Catherine and I accomplished on July 23rd, 2006.

You can say that it took me thirteen hours twenty two minutes and forty six seconds to live my dream. But that wouldn’t be the truth. In reality, it took me thirty-nine years and seventeen weeks to make it all come true.

I am an Ironman. And whatever that may mean in the grand scheme of things, I don’t yet know. But I went the distance.

I am an Ironman and nobody can ever take that away from me.

“Oh Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done.
Our ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won.”

July 27, 2006

Ironman USA Recap Is On It's Way

I have so many things to say about the Ironman USA race. However, I am on vacation in Lake George right now getting massages and going tubing and laying by the lake and eating to my hearts content... so you'll have to wait until I am back next week to hear all of the things I want to say.

Patience. That's the virtue we will practice this week.

July 24, 2006

July 22, 2006

The Adrenaline Alone Could Kill Me

Tomorrow is race day. Ironman USA 2006. When the sparrows start singing at seven o'clock, Cat and I will be venturing off on our 140.6 mile journey, a celebration of the training that began some seven months ago. (Wait a minute, did I say "when the sparrows start singing"?! That's retarded. I meant to say, "when the gun goes off".... umm...same thing).

It's been raining all day today which has gotten me into quite the funk, and not the good George Clinton type of funk. We spent the afternoon outside in the pouring rain for about 4 hours trying to finish all the final things we need to do and by the end of it all I was drenched, freezing and really angry. If there is a Superman up there, I hope he makes the rain stop for tomorrow. Pretty please.

It is 7:00 pm right now. 12 hours until start time. And a few minutes before I crawl into bed. I'm sure the 4am wake-up will be here in just a couple of seconds. And then it's go time.

I'm scared.
I'm excited.
I'm scared.

July 21, 2006

What Goes Up, Must Lead To Lake Placid

Morning Workout
BIKE
1 hour easy spin on the course

Random Comments: T minus 2 days. We are registered and as ready to race as we'll ever be. Cat and I just finished driving the bike course. What with all of the hills, I'd have to imagine that driving the course is much easier than actually biking the damn thing. They say "what goes up must come down" but according to my calculations, the Lake Placid Ironman bike course may very well prove that wrong. That said, there are no big 7-mile canyon climbs like Cat and I are accustomed to training on. Rather than severe climbs, it seems that this race course just continues to roll its way uphill until you're finally at the top and have to do it all over again.

As we near race day, the tension is definitely building, as is the excitement. I'd imagine the melancholy will kick in tomorrow. Then the anxiety, fear, pain, disbelief, enthusiasm and overjoy. In that order.

Look Both Ways Before You Cross The Sidewalk

It's Thursday night in Lake Placid (T minus 3 days) and this Ironman thingy seems to be comin' on pretty quickly. The body is feeling pretty good and the mind, well, the mind is on its own little rollercoaster ride: excited and confident at one moment, scared and doubtful the next. So mostly I really try to stay in a state of avoidance. It works so much better for me. As long as I don't think too much about the race, I'm doing fine. I'll have enough time to think about it on Sunday.

So here I am,only three days before the race and, in a complete first for me, I've so far survived the taper. No serious back pain, no twisted ankle, no broken bones. All seems to be going fairly well. Until today's life threatening scare, that is.

Cat and Iw ent for a bike ride this afternoon followed by a swim on the race course. No problem, right? Right...

I finished the swim a mere 10 minutes before my massage was supposed to begin. Needless to say, once I got out of the water, I stripped off my wetsuit and started briskly walking the 200 feet back to the car to change clothes. I was looking straight ahead at the car as I walked, my mind focused on my tight timetable, when I caught a sight out of the corner of my eye. I glanced to my left only to see a Port-a-Potty moving very quickly towards me with no clear intention of slowing down. You can imagine my surprise as the Port-a-Potty closed in like a speeding train while I stood there, deer in the headlights-esque. In a more klutzy reenactment of some random scene out of Die Hard, I sprinted out of the way, just a foot or two short of being completely Port-a-leveled. I breathed a sight of relief as I turned around to see the toilet brush passed me, blindly driven by the tractor and driver whose sole purpose was to make a Port-a-line by the lakeside for the pending Ironpee.

I tried to regain my composure and casually walk the rest of the way to the car as if nothing had happened. I looked up and two athletes were walking towards me with a snicker on their face and an "I'm SO gonna tell this story to my friends" look in their eyes.

Guess that woulda been a pretty sad way to DNF, I said as I walked by them.

Yeah, they replied with a smirk. You gotta watch out for those killer Port-A-Potties.

July 19, 2006

Eleven Things Ironman Athletes Will Tell You Before Your First Ironman Race

1. Trust your training.
2. Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.
3. The six months of training was the hard part. The race is just your celebration of the past few months.
4. Regardless of whether you’re having a good day or bad day, enjoy and treasure the experience. That’s what really matters anyway.
5. Be grateful that you are lucky enough and healthy enough to have the ability to do this.
6. Train hard, race easy.
7. Just think of it as a long training day.
8. Don’t do anything different on race day than what you’ve done during training.
9. Take advantage of the aid stations.
10. You’re going to have a tough time on the run, everybody does. All you have to do is keep moving forward.
11. Trust me, it’ll be worth it in the end.

July 17, 2006

Fountain Of Youth, My Ass.

Morning Workout (T minus 6 days)
SPINNING CLASS...
45 minutes

...RUN
20 minutes
Heart Rate Zone: Lactate Threshold (Zone 2) and Steady State Threshold (Zone 4)

Random Comments: Well, I guess this is it. Six days until I de-flower myself at Ironman USA. In 7 days I will have crossed over to the other side, no longer an Ironman virgin. If all goes well, and I fully expect that it will, I'll have joined the elite group of masochistic buffoon's who like to think that traveling 140.6 miles in one day is actually a healthy endeavor.

I hate to break the news to y'all, but it's not. Racing Ironman distances is not the fountain of youth. Au contrare, mon ami, it's probably more like the Fountain of Hip Replacement.

But I guess that's not the point. The point is that in 1982 Julie Moss showed the world the true meaning of "the battle of the human spirit." As she miraculously crawled across the finish line in Kona, a nation of triathletes were born. I am one within that Triathlete Nation. It was Julie Moss's will to survive that drove me to where I am now: six days short of Lake Placid. And you know what the funny thing is? Julie Moss didn't even win that race - she came in second. And I'll bet you all the money in my murse that at least 9 out of 10 of you can't give me the name of the woman who beat her (without looking it up first, that is). And therein lies yet another point (apparently I'm full of them today): Ironman is not about winning. It's only about crossing that finish line. Everyone who finishes is a winner.

At least that's what I keep telling myself.
Cause I fully expect to cross that finish line and I fully expect that I won't be anywhere near winning anything. And I'm pretty damn positive that I'm going to be pretty damn overjoyed with myself just for finishing. As a matter of fact, let me give myself a little practice pat on the back right now. [pat][pat]. Yep, that'll work out just fine.

So Cat and I fly out in the morning and we'll be in Lake Placid the next day. I'm scared. Excited. Petrified. Anticipative. Reluctant. Mortified. Eager. When it comes down to it, I've pretty much got the entire emotional spectrum covered. I just watched the Ironman Lake Placid video on YouTube and that seemed to calm me down a bit for reasons unbeknownst to me.

Now I need to pack. So I bid ye farewell.
I thank all of you for supporting me (that is, if there's anybody out there actually reading this crap). My next words will be coming at you from Lake Placid, which I can pretty much guarantee will be filled with some level of anxiety. See what you've got to look forward to?


Oh...and for the record, I don't carry a murse. It's just that murse is a much funnier word than wallet.

July 16, 2006

Courage Is Knowing The Fear And Doing It Anyway

Morning Workout
RUN
1 hour 10 minutes
Heart Rate Zone: Aerobic (Zone 1) and, not that I wanted it, Lactate Threshold (Zone 2)

SWIM
3000 meters
Main Set: 3 x 1000 meters with 1 minute rest in between

Random Comments: The bags are packed. The bikes are shipped. The training is done. Guess all that's left to do now is show up.

I can do that.

My first Ironman is 6 days, 15 hours, 29 minutes and 17 seconds from right now. Umm...6 seconds. now 5.... now wait... 2. It's coming closer and there's nothing I can do to stop it. Not that I want to. I mean, part of me does. The part that is scared shitless, to be specific. The part that has rising levels of anxiety everytime I think of the start, the distance, the unknown. That's the part that wishes it had the time-stopping remote control at the press of a button. But apparently Adam Sandler has his hands on it and I'm not quite sure where he lives. So I try not to focus on the fear, doing my best to steer my mind to the excitement. That's a healthier emotion anyway.

I live in the moment and enjoy the ride. I visualize myself throughout the race. Feeling good, moving smoothly. And I think of the finish line, and me crossing it. Of me becoming an Ironman, achieving my goals, living my dream. And I gotta tell you, I am excited and eager. And completely petrified. But they tell me that's normal.

I'm normal. Go figure.

So right now, I can't wait for the race to start. Cause I know all I have to do is move, breathe, eat, drink.
That's all.
Move, breathe, eat, drink.

I can do that.
I can do this.
I know I can.

July 13, 2006

The Bully And The Retard

Morning Workout
RUN
20 minutes
Heart Rate Zone: Lactate Threshold (Zone 2)

SWIM
2000 meters straight. Well, not counting the 11 times I had to stop to get the water out of my goggles.

Random Comments: Catherine summed it up best: Whenever you're swimming in a lane with three people or more, there is always the Bully and always the Retard. The Bully is that overly-aggressive swimmer forcing his way upon others as the annoyingly naive Retard remains oblivious to the pool politics as he cluelessly frustrates all around. The question is figuring out who is who.

I usually don't go swimming at 5:00 on a Friday and last week's swim made me remember why. Of the 20-odd lanes, only three of them were available for non-swim team folks. Which led to three extremely crowded lanes. I stood on the edge of lane two, mentally preparing myself for the plunge as I watched the chaos of the lane's three swimmers crowd the water with their back and forth.

Standing on the edge next to me was a 60-something fatherly-like fellow. He too, seemed to be preparing himself for the crowded lane as he stood there in his wee-bitty Speedo, the grey hair on his chest matching his finely combed coif. I was moving slowly that afternoon, not eager to get in to swim. It seemed Mr. Grey felt the same way as we stood there silently, side by side, in a pre-swim quasi-meditation. Suddenly, though, things changed.

As Mr. Grey started walking backwards away from the lane, I turned my head to see where he was going. And just as suddenly, he started a quick sprint and, as his toes touched the edge of the pool, he vaulted into a effort-filled jump and, floating in slow-motion through the air, he tucked himself into a ball and - SSSSPPLASH!! - cannonballed right into the swimming lane.

Clearly I realized very quickly which one of us lane-mates was going to play the Retard.

As Mr Grey started swimming away, I eased into the pool to commence my workout and began to take inventory of my lane mates.

Let's start with Mr. Grey. It took me a few minutes to figure out what the hell he was doing. His swimming style was some type of overly zealous mix of the breast stroke and the butterfly, all done underwater. I guess you'd call it the Underwater ButterBreast, which sounds eerily like a holiday meal gone wrong. So Mr Grey would ButterBreast himself across the 25 yard lane and then stop and rest right smack dab in the middle of the lane, all stretched out on the side making it pretty damn difficult to turn around without smacking into him. Yet as each person tired to squeeze by, he didn't move. Cluelessly naive, The Retard didn't move.

My frustrated focus on Mr Grey, though, soon got sideswiped by another guy in the lane who either had the worst swimming form in history, or he had multiple sclerosis. I'm still not sure which one it is, but he was flailing about like a dog with three legs. I'm hoping he just had bad form or I'd feel really crappy.

The other two swimmers in the lane were quietly doing their business, swimming quite slowly but with little event or fanfare. As for me, I was clearly the fastest swimmer there, having to sprint past the unbearably slow Mr. Grey and the Flailer about every other lap. With so many people there, I'd have to rush around, nearly cutting people off as I tried to hit the wall and push off before anybody got in my way.

And so Cat's maxim had once again proven itself true. Five people were in the lane. Three of them were minding their own business. And then there was Mr Grey acting as the Retard, and me, the Bully.

But life can sometimes change so quickly. And what we thought was heads soon becomes tails.

Within thirty minutes, Mr Grey had left the pool along with all but one of the slower swimmers. And just as quickly, a very tall, very streamlined chap hopped into the lane all decked out with his swim bouy and paddles. And let me tell you, he was flippin' fast. Really fast. So here he was in the 25 yard lane, zipping back and forth so quickly it made me look as if I were treading water. And everytime I'd get to the edge of the pool, he'd charge in front of me and do his flip turn as if nobody else were around.

Every once in awhile as I sensed him nearing me, I'd push with all my might to get to the edge of the pool and turn around before he got there, inevitably getting within inches of his flip-turn.
I was getting frustrated with him cutting me off and, at the same time, feeling like the inadequately slow person in the unusually fast lane. And so it came to be, that my role changed so dramatically. Where I was once the Bully, I had now become the lane's Retard as a new Bully took the helm.

It's the constant, ever-changing politics of swimming. Next time you're you're out there at the pool in a crowded lane, go ahead and assess the situation. You'll see... amidst all the exercise, there's one person playing the over-aggressive Bully and the other the annoyingly naive Retard.

If you don't recognize both of them, you can bet you're the missing one.

July 12, 2006

Spinning = Biking Like William Hung = Singing

Morning Workout
SPINNING CLASS
1 hour. Really, 45 minutes. The 45 minute hour is Spinning's equivalent to Psychotherapy's 50-minute hour. [insert spinning-psycho joke here]

Random Comments: With our bikes on a truck to Lake Placid, most likely somewhere in the middle of the Mojave Desert at this point, Cat and I were relegated to Spin Class this morning. Oh joy. Here's my take on it all: Spinning is to biking like William Hung is to singing.

In case you've been cryogenically preserved over the past few years, William Hung was a contestant on American Idol. He got kicked out after the first round but, miraculously, became a star anyway. William Hung's singing is so incredibly bad it's funny. But it's not your regular ha-ha funny. It's more funny like "I'm laughing, but I feel like I'm laughing at the retarded" type of funny. He's a car crash, the William Hung, and it's tough to avoid the car crash when you're driving by. And somewhere within your Hung experience, you realize one of two things is going on: either he's too stupid to know everybody is making fun of him, or he's the smartest guy in the room.

Spinning in Southern California is kinda like that. It's either quite geeky and borderline retarded to be indoors on a stationary bike when everyday is essentially nirvana-like weather outside, or it's the smartest thing to do for your body. At this point, we still don't know.

People who go to spin class regularly consider themselves serious bicyclists. People who bicycle seriously, look at spin class people as buffoons. Needless to say, only a week and a half away from doing an Ironman race, Cat and I felt a bit awkward and somewhat elitist walking into Spin Class this morning.

You get a certain geeky, borderline quality of participants in Santa Monica spin classes. I guess if there's a saving grace of it all, it's that the people watching is tremendous. There was the woman on the bike next to Cat who was drinking a large cup of Starbucks coffee as she pedaled. There was the spinning instructor who was literally yelling at us to be more relaxed. It was like a drill sargeant trying to teach you how to meditate. And of course, what's a Santa Monica spin class with out my favorite spinning people: the prima donnas that come into class 10 minutes late, hop on a bike and spend a half an hour pedaling like a bat outta hell, oblivious to anything else going on in the room, including the instructor's directions. Then about 5 minutes before the class ends, they stop, get off the bike and walk out, as if they were so important they couldn't spend the last remaining 5 minutes with the class.

And as for the music that was playing this morning? I still have a headache...

I miss my bike.
___________________________________________________________________

July 11, 2006

11 Things They Don't Tell You In Triathlon School

Eleven Things They Don't Tell You In Long Distance Triathlon School

1. No matter how much you like the taste of your hydration fluid, the simple thought of consuming another drop of it will make you feel severely ill halfway through the race

2. For any race with an in-water start, the time of day your wave goes off is directly proportional to the amount of pee in the water.

3. No matter where you start and no matter how many people are starting with you, you're gonna get hit and kicked at the beginning of the swim.

4. The best way to learn how to pee on your bike is to pee on your bike.

5. While your peeing, you might want to move a water bottle out of the way so there's at least one that is still safe to drink from.

6. If you read at night and you're training for your first Ironman, don't read a book about racing Ironmans (like, for instance, "Becoming An Ironman"). Even if you think it's motivating you, it'll keep you up all night and give you nightmares.

7. Twelve hours before a race, don't listen to any music you don't want circling in your head like a pack o' hungry vultures.

8. Whether you brush your hands across your feet or not, if you run across transition in your socks, you will get pebbles in your running shoes.

9. You want to go hard on the bike, I know you do. Trust me... don't. Save it for the run.

10. Body Glide isn't just for swimming. Don't be bashful - reach down your pants and rub a little in the private areas, it'll save you from some really painful chafing later on.

11. If nothing else, when you cross the finish line always make sure you smile.

July 08, 2006

This One's Definitely Gonna Scar

Morning Workout
BIKE...
60ish miles
Heart Rate Zone: Aerobic (Zone 1) + Lactate Threshold (Zone 2)

...RUN...
12 miles
Heart Rate Zone: Lactate Threshold (Zone 2)

...STUMBLE IN NEIGHBORS YARD AND STAND SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE OF THEIR SPRINKLER SYSTEM
5 minutes
Heart Rate Zone: Cardiac Arrest minus one beat

Random Comments: As far as I'm concerned, I'm only as good as my last major workout. Which doesn't say much for my self-confidence right now. Last week Cat and I plugged through a 118 mile ride, 2.4 mile swim and 19 mile run. Sure there were some challenging parts of it all, but when all was sweated and done, it was a pretty good set of training sessions. In fact it was so good, I didn't realize until Sunday night that we'd almost done the entire Ironman distance. Had I called it quits then, everything would've been fine. Go out on a high note, they say. I should've left that weekend with a proud Thank You, Good Night. Don't forget to tip your waitresses.

Unfortunately last week wasn't the final major workout before Ironman. That took place today.

Today's training session was a repeat of one we did a few weeks ago: 4 hour bike ride + 2 hour run. I went into the session with a pretty good attitude. Hell, after the 139.4 miles we did last weekend, these six hours should be a breeze. That, perhaps, is where the trouble started.

One must learn to respect the bike and the run. You must know that somedays they will tear you apart and squish you like the wee little bug that you are. Perhaps I did not revere the bike and the run as much as I should've. Perhaps I would've been better off if, say, I made an effigy to the bike/run and participated in a meditative prayer prior to the workout. Perhaps then I wouldn't have found myself laying flat on the ground, unable to find the strength even to speak, and a few slight movements away from disgustingly emptying my stomach through the same orifice from which it got filled.

I've had better bike rides but, then again, I've had worse. The toughest part of today's ride was trudging up the 7 mile climb on a pair of legs that barely had the strength to move. Ever so slowly I went, one pedal revolution after another. Every few seconds I'd look up at the ominous mountain in front of me and see the road zig-zagging into the distance. That's a really depressing sight. But, when all was said and done, I finished the ride without disaster (Unfortunately I can't say the same for Cat who, after smoking my ass up the hill on her tired, painful legs, hit the proverbial wall about 20 miles from home and needed a Mountain Dew infusion to get her going again.)

We started the run and, like usual, Cat was a bat out of hell. Within a quarter mile I already couldn't keep up with her so I decided to save my energy and fall back. To tell you the truth, I'm not quite sure what I really saved - I'm not sure if there was any energy there in the first place. My legs were plodding along like concrete blocks. No matter how hard I willed them to move faster, they couldn't wouldn't and didn't. It was only about 45 minutes into the run when I realized that what little life I had left in me had been sucked right out. I had no energy to continue. No will to move forward. And I hadn't even gotten halfway through.

Yeah, I thought, this one's definitely gonna scar.

The last 3 miles of the run were arguably the toughest three miles I've run in a long time. I did everything in my power to keep one leg moving in front of the other. I argued constantly with my mind to stay positive and focused. It argued back. And it was pretty convincing.

I was dehydrated. I had used up all of my energy and all of the reserves - then all of the other reserves I keep hidden behind those reserves. About one mile from home Cat appeared behind me, bouncing along like she had all the energy in the world. OK, I said to myself, my only hope is to hang on to her. I dug in deep - really really deep - and found a piece of energy that must've been hiding behind my intestines or something. I gave it all I had for that last mile to keep up with my bouncing girlfriend. And somehow, someway, I made it back home. I'm not sure how, it's kind of a blur at this point.

That's when I stumbled aimlessly into the neighbors yard and stood in their sprinklers. It felt like a little piece of heaven.

That was our last major workout before Lake Placid. It's done now.
Next stop, Ironman.
Hopefully it'll go a wee bit better than today.

July 07, 2006

Weekends Don't Count Unless You Spend Them Doing Something Completely Pointless

Evening Workout
SWIM
3600 meters
Main Set: 4 x 600 meters off 30 seconds rest.

Random Comments: I have not been writing a lot lately. In fact, it seems it's down to 2 or 3 times per week. I apologize. It isn't by choice. Believe me you, the time I spend writing these meaningless stories for nobody to read but me are some of the most joyous moments of my day. Here's the thing though, for some reason my days all of the sudden seem overly packed.

Maybe it's the 7-9 hours of training on Saturday and Sunday that have me scrambling around during the weekdays to try to keep my head above water. Maybe it's the fact that I'm just so gosh darn fatigued during the day that I'm not as productive as I used to be. Maybe it's because I'm juggling time spent working on a corporate consultancy client with time spent selling off my record company with time spent looking for a new career. Next thing I know, it's 5:30 and it's time to go to the pool or the gym. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom.

And let me tell you, the Tour de France and the World Cup sure aren't helping matters either. That's not even to mention my growing crossword puzzle addiction. And the fact that it's so damn hot by my desk area that it feels like I'm working in a kiln, that probably sucks out of me what little life is left to suck.

So anyway, I don't seem to be getting as much done as I used to. But I'm trying to change that. So thank you for bearing with me.

OK, I gotta go take a nap.
__________________________________________________________________

July 03, 2006

It's Steeper Than It Looks

Morning Workout
RUN
1 hour 15-ish minutes
Heart Rate Zone: Aerobic (Zone 1) + Lactate Threshold (Zone 2)

Random Comments: Happy Independence Day!! There are many wonderful things about the 4th of July, not the least of which is the day off from work, the smell of hot dogs on the bbq, the rockets red glare and oftentimes bombs bursting in air (especially if you're North Korea and you happen to be testing some long-range missles). Today is also the annual running of the Pacific Palisades 4th of July 10k. This year was the 20th anniversay of the extremely hilly extravaganza that always attracts thousands of locals Angelenos all eager to get out there and spend a perfectly good run complaining about the heat and hills. I decided to make this 10k my 1 hour recovery run. Smashing idea, if I say so myself.

For me, the best part of this year's 4th of July 10k experience was around mile 1 when the 11 year old girl zipped by me like I was sitting in a La-Z-Boy. Yeah, that didn't bruise my ego too much. The bruising really occurred about 30 seconds later when I was passed by the 8 year old boy who trotted by me effortlessly. The little punk. I'm not sure, but I think he even snickered and sneered at my Team Ironman shirt as he faded into the distance. I did everything in my power to maintain my snail-like pace instead of rushing to catch him, including the continuous repitition of my self-affirming mantra, reminding myself that this was just a recovery run and that there are pretty good odds I'd be able to smoke the little shit if we went head-to-head in an Ironman race.

I never saw him again for the rest of the 5 miles.

Needless to say, I finished the 10k without major incidence, only to realize that these kids passing me by were just out on a warm-up run for the Youth Triathlon. As it turns out, Cat and I had volunteered to help out the Youth Triathlon, and ensure the safety of the children. (Of course, what could I do if a certain 8 year old got mistakenly cold-cocked during the bike leg...)

Cat and I were relegated as safety officers on different corners about 1/2 way through the bike ride. Cat was positioned at the top of the big hill. I was further on, about halfway down the hill. Please keep in mind that the competitors ranged in age from about 7 years old to 14 years old. Most of the kids were riding bikes that were far too big for them, and at least one of them still had training wheels on.

With that in mind, let me tell you about this hill. It's steep. Though only a quarter mile long, I'm guessing I could easily hit about 35 mph going down this baby, just to give you a little perspective. Now picture this: About halfway down the descent is a manhole cover smackdab in the middle of the road. Due to previous earthquakes or just plain idiotic engineering, the manhole cover was situated on a bump in the road that rose about 7 or 8 inches off the ground. This is exactly the location that I was stationed to maintain safety.

Let the anxiety commence.

Picture yourself as a 7 or 8 year old trying to balance yourself on your parents bike. Perhaps you just learned how to ride a bike a couple of years ago and don't have a tremendous amount of practice. Now imagine you unexpectedly hit a pretty steep hill and are going a lot faster than you feel comfortable going. You're out of control already. You don't want to turn because you may fall and you're hesitant to slam on the breaks because that'll just increase your fear. So you go straight down the hill, your face dead-locked into a fatalistic stare. Now imagine you see a big bump so close in front of you that you don't have time to react.

Kids were actually catching air over this thing. They'd hit the bump and the bike would leave the ground. A couple of young-uns hit the bump and immediately lost control, handlebars shaking like the front tire were about to fall off until, miraculously, they managed to stay on the saddle and get to the bottom of the hill.

The moment I saw a few of these kids pass by, I immediately turned on my cell phone. This is gonna be ugly, I thought. I'll probably be calling 911 pretty shortly. So I stood in the middle of the road and kept yelling things like, "Watch out for the bump!!" and "Slow down!!". Apparently it worked. Kids jammed on their brakes and frantically skidded around the manhole cover. Still, my blood pressure was rising with each near miss as I imagined cracked heads bouncing down the boulevard followed by enormous lawsuits and really angry parents swinging golf clubs at me.

And then somebody yelled....

Biker down! They screamed from the bottom of the hill.
Biker down!

Awww shit....
I turned around to see a 10-year old girl at the bottom of the hill, laying on the side of the road about 100 yards away from me. I threw down my water bottle and sprinted to her side. She was laying in a pretty deep puddle, tears welling in her eyes and a big ole' scrape bleeding on her knee as her purple bike lay twisted by the roadside a few feet down. She tried to get up and get going. Take it easy, I said. Don't rush, just sit down a little longer and relax.

She sat there in the water with tears in her eyes. But now I'm going to lose, she heart-wrenchingly squeaked out.

That about did me in. Here I am with a fallen 10-year old, I've told her to stay seated in the puddle until she feels better and all she's concerned about is losing the race. You're doing great, I said. You're not going to lose. C'mon, let's get you up onto the curb, I said, realizing that she probably shouldn't be sitting in this puddle in the first place.

I helped lift her up, picked up her bike and twisted the handlebars back into place. Alright, I said, you ready to get going?

She nodded and sat on the bike.

You stop and let me know if the bike doesn't feel right, OK? I told her. If somethings wrong, I'll fix it for you.

OK, she nodded in reply.

As she started pushing away she kept swerving, not having the energy to get going.

Let's try this together, I said as I put my hand on her back and pushed her down the road. In a few seconds she started getting her biking legs back and I let go of her as she pedalled on.

And then she took off.
And she was gone.

I turned around and started walking up the hill as the last cyclist (the one on training wheels) came by. Cat was walking down to meet me. She grabbed my hand as we walked back to the car together.

Wow, she said. Your hands are really clammy. Are you OK?

I don't know, honey. I don't know if my heart can handle this anymore.
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Star Spotting Of The Day: Elizabeth Berkeley, you may have seen her in the movie classic Showgirls but I know you used to watch her every week in Saved By The Bell. Go ahead, admit it.

Location: Coral Tree Cafe in Brentwood, California

What She Was Doing: Eating lunch with her brother, a talkative and seemingly friendly chap who apparently was in from Michigan.

In Hindsight, It's Not So Bad At All

Saturday Morning/Afternoon Workout
BIKE...
118 miles
Heart Rate Zone: I averaged in the aerobic (Zone 1) area but was really all over the place, especially climbing the 7 mile hill in 105 degree weather.

...RUN
1.4 miles
Heart Rate Zone: Aerobic (Zone 1)

Sunday Morning/Afternoon Workout
SWIM
2.4 miles in the open water

RUN
18 miles, give or take
Heart Rate Zone: Aerobic (Zone 1) + Lactate Threshold (Zone 2) (plus in and out of Aerobic Conditioning (Zone 3) throughout the miles where there was no shade and a 95 degree sun with a chokehold on my lungs)

Random Comments: As I sit here on the couch and assume my position as Monday Morning Quaterback (I may have thrown y'all with that football reference on a triathlon blog, but please try to do your best to keep up with me), I realize that the past weekend was probably the most challenging two days of training that I've ever had. I'm not saying it was the most challenging workouts - I've run further, I've swum harder and I've biked more guelling-er in my past. But put them all together and, by golly, you've got some tired legs.

That said, the distances were done within a 48 hour time period so it's not as if it were overly overwhelming. Like, say, if I had to complete it all in 17 hours, as a fer instance. Secondly.... oh wait... I was going to say for secondly that the distances weren't even Ironman length. But, yumpin' yiminy, I just realized that the Bike and Swim were, in fact, IM length. It was just the run that was 7 or 8 miles short of a marathon. Well, zip dang, that shur is good to know. If that's not a boost in confidence, I don't know what is.

So this week is now a rest and recovery week, which bleeds right into the two week pre-race taper that starts next Monday, which is most often the time when my back completely gives out, or I fall down and break a wrist or twist my ankle or some sort of other subconscious physical mishap that is a clear reaction to the stress of an upcoming race. Perhaps its time to start up that meditation practice again. Or live in a bubble. I always liked that movie anyway... Johnny-boy in his most challenging role.