July 03, 2006

It's Steeper Than It Looks

Morning Workout
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.
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.