January 30, 2007

Sir, Yes Sir Would Be Just Fine

"Whatsup, bro."
That's the first thing the Salvation Army guy said to me this morning.
"Later, bro."
That's the last thing the Salvation Army guy said to me this morning.

You see, I'm a bro. Sometimes I'm a dude. A few times I've even been a brah. Mostly, though, I'm just confused.

But wait, let's take a step back here for a second. Let me create the image...

I am 39 years old, just a Peckinpah short of 40. For better or worse, I look a bit younger than I actually am. From what I'm told, I apparently look like I'm in my late 20s or early 30s, that age where people still care about whether a movie is rated R or NC17 or whatever other acronymic categories they have for movies these days. (Acronymic... you like that one, don't you? I knew you would.)

I maintain one of those cliche Hollywood two-day beards, primarily because it helps me look like I'm closer to my early 30s as opposed to an age where I'd be carded at the aforementioned R rated movies. Though my hair is starting to grey around the edges, I'm not falling short in the hair category at all, unlike some of my high-foreheaded peers. To the contrary, I've got a lot of hair on my head.

Like a few of today's youth, I keep my hair a wee bit longer than the close-cropped corporate cut. I don't look like a surfer by any means, but I probably would stand out in the conservative cubicles of Proctor & Gamble.

So here I am, rapidly approaching middle age, yet am still referred to by such puerile monikers as bro, brah and dude. Part of me is somewhat offended when people call me these names. That part of me just wants to whip out my ID and shove it in their face, all the while screaming, I'm 40-frickin years old, kid!! DON'T CALL ME BRAH! I'M NOT YOUR BRO! HOW ABOUT SIR? WHAT'S WRONG WITH SIR?! HOW ABOUT A LITTLE GODDAMN RESPECT HERE?!?!?!

Of course the other part of me is completely happy to maintain it's youthful nature. Hell, if these youngsters consider me a part of their culture, I should feel happy. Elated even. Maybe I'm younger than I think. Maybe these back pains and slow-to-get-out-of-bed mornings are a sign of my spriteliness, of my extreme athletic ability, and not an indication that I'm two steps away from being able to park in the Handicapped Zone.

So when the Salvation Army guy bid me farewell this morning with a heartfelt "Later bro," I started realizing that this was the new form of being carded. Instead of "you look young, can I see your ID please?" our society has narrowed the interchange down to a simple "Whatsup Brah".

Even though I feel as if my life is already halfway over and that I have already worked for more years in my past than I will probably work in the future, I suppose I still feel as if I have some sort of connection to youth. After all, I'm a bro. A dude, even.

So I suppose that next time I am in the supermarket and the check-out person says to me, Would you like help out with your packages, sir? My proper response should probably be something in the realm of, No worries, brah. I got enough kid left in me to carry twice as many packages.

Later, dude.

January 29, 2007

The Case Of The Too Small Speedo

I don't want you to think I dislike old people. First of all, that's not even remotely true. Second of all, that's a statement that would come back to bite me in the ass faster than I could strap on a bullet-proof ass protector. Third of all, I'm getting older every day and I'm sure I've got a pretty good chance of turning into the same type of old person I make fun of.

I suppose the truth is that I am sometimes just in wonder of certain things that elderly people do. Like, for instance, the way many of them act like complete anti-social wackos.

Let's take this morning's swim as a fer instance. I'm piddling around in my lane doing my long Aerobic swim. The lane next to me is reserved for what they tend to call "leisure" activities. What that means is that, in order to be allowed to recreate in that lane you must provide one of two things. First, you can show a photo ID indicating that you were born sometime around the turn of the century (any century turning is accepted). Otherwise you have to bring a note from your doctor with visible proof that you are suffering from one or more of the following ailments:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis
  • Full paralysis of at least one limb
  • Partial paralysis of at least two limbs
  • IQ no greater than 36
  • Fluent in any Eastern European language (or Sanskrit) with absolutely no comprehension whatsoever of even the most basic terms in the English language.
So, as I said, I was minding my own business in the lane next to the leisure lane when I noticed a somewhat older gentleman approach. This so-called gentleman was clearly ready to do his laps as he strode across the pool area proudly clad in his one-size-too-small Speedo with a blue swimming cap covering his head and swimming goggles firmly strapped across his mustachioed face.

Expecting him to jump into my lane, I was pleasantly surprised when he dipped into the leisure lane. As I continued on with my laps, I noticed him standing on the end of the leisure lane stretching out his arms and going through his checklist of workout preparation techniques. In the process of this preparation, a very old, very Russian couple climbed into the leisure lane and started doing their walking-cum-breastroke activities. It became clear that Small Speedo guy was quickly incensed. I stopped my swimming for a few minutes - I had to see how this one played out.

Can you move over to one side of the lane? Speedo guy yelled at the Ruskies. The couple peered back at the goggle-clad wonder with a look of confusion in their eyes.

Would you pleeeeease move to the other side of the lane so I can swim!? he yelled again not quite as friendly as the previous time yet adding a bit of hand gesticulation to help get his point across.

The Russians clearly would have none of this. You go somevere else! the old many screamed back. Vy you can't svim dair - or dair!! he yelled, pointing at the other lanes.

This was the point I thought I'd be nice before we found ourselves in the Cold War, Part Deux.

Excuse me, I said to the Speedo King as I moved closer to the lane line buoys. That lane is usually reserved for leisure activities but you are more than welcome to share my lane if you like.

He looked at me and harumphed. Well, he spat, I....uh....um....arrrrrrrrrgh.......uh...I guess they're right.
And then slowly and somewhat reluctantly, he dipped under the lane line marker to join the lane I was in.

Situation resolved, I thought. I've done my good deed for the morning. And just as I was about to continue my workout I heard him begin to speak.

Um....uh.....how much longer long you going to be swimming for?

Odd question, I thought, but I'll play this one through.
I've got about 1200 meters left, I replied. But you're more than welcome to use that side of the lane.

So you'll be a long time then, huh? He persisted.

What the hell?! I thought to myself. Does he have a problem with me? Does he just have a problem with people in general? Does he expect to come swimming at a crowded YMCA and have the entire pool to himself?

I suppose I will be, I said. Again, you're more than welcome to share the lane if you like and I'm sure it'll work out just fine.

He harumphed some more but I couldn't have any of this. As he was about to say something else to me, I pushed off the wall and continued my swim.

When I finished the 50 and returned to the wall I noticed Sir Speedo wasn't there any longer. I looked around for him only to notice that he had moved two lanes over to share a lane with somebody else.

Was it me? What did I do wrong here? I was baffled. I looked at my bathing suit to make sure there were no gaping holes or offensive markings. Nope, nothing. I thought about my stroke to assess whether I was spastic enough to cause a lane-partner physical harm. Nope, feelin' pretty fluid.

Whatever, I thought. I finished my workout.

As I was back in the locker room drying myself off and getting dressed to leave, Speedo man walked in and headed towards his locker. As he walked over, he passed by another man's open locker, reached down and took the sitting stool from in front of that locker.

Hey! said the Open Locker guy. Why did you take my stool!? Aren't any of those good enough for you? he continued as he pointed to a pile of about 10 other unused sitting stools.

Ease back, fella, Speedo said. I didn't notice your name etched on this particular stool.

Are you kidding?! the guy responded. It was right in front of my open locker with my stuff on it!

And so, just as suddenly, I realized that it wasn't me. It wasn't the Russians. It wasn't the lane lines. It was a need to have the world revolve around him and his little Speedo. It was selfish and self-centered and the feeling that everybody else is in the wrong. It is attitude. And not just any attitude, but a bad attitude. An unhealthy, unfriendly attitude.

How do people get through life like this? It seems to me that when your own personal luggage is filled to the brim with so many suitcases of anger, that you'd end up missing out on the joys of life and living and happiness and harmony.

You can share my lane or not, it doesn't matter to me. But do me a favor, leave the attitude - and your eensy teensy teeny weeny little blue Speedo bikini - somewhere far away from the rest of us who are trying our best to keep on smiling and laughing and enjoying our life moments.

January 24, 2007

The Madness Of Morning People

I love getting up early in the morning but I have a hard time considering myself a "Morning Person." This little hypocracy has plagued me for awhile. It's made me wonder what a so-called Morning Person really is.

I've always imagined that in order to be a Morning Person it is required that one be cheery in the AM. I'm not cheery. No, in the morning I'm quiet. Very quiet. I'm also fairly gruntled (it's too early to be disgruntled, I start off with gruntled and see if it develops into its dis-ed brethren later in the day). Sometimes I'm even angry. Stay away from me those mornings.

Sounds like I'm definitely not a Morning Person, huh? That's what I thought too. Yet the more I over-analyzed this whole concept, the more it all became clear.

Back in my youth, I probably was an Evening Person. This is much different than a Night Person. A Night Person shines well after the midnight hour. An Evening Person only has to be at their peak from, say, seven PM to eleven thirty, or so. Evening was definitely my time.

But as I grew older, I just had no interest in staying up late anymore. These days I strive to have my eyes closed and nose a-snorin' by 10pm.

So what with the early to bed, there goes my Evening Person street cred. So one day I all of the sudden decided I was a Mid-Afternoon Person. Whenever I'd go running at three or four o'clock, it was as if I had rockets shooting out of my ass. So I guess I had figured out that I hit my peak somewhere between lunch and the pre-dinner snack. Give me a race that starts at three o'clock, I'd tell anybody who would listen to me, and I'll kick all sorts of buttock. Of course there is rarely a race that starts at three o'clock, so I was pretty safe from having to prove such buttock kickedness.

However, somewhere along the way my Mid-Afternoon Person started taking mid-afternoon naps. It's tough to claim your true right as a Mid-Afternoon Person when you're snoring on the couch.

Around the same era I started getting up early in the morning. I don't know why I started doing this though I'm going to assume it had something to do with going for a run before work. Somehow at sometime, setting the alarm for somewhere between five and six stopped sounding crazy to me.

What I quickly realized was that being up and out during the early morning felt wonderful. When I'd go outside in the early morning hours for a run, it was completely peaceful. It's tough to find that elusive peaceful feeling here in the hustle and bustle and bruhaha of Los Angeles, so when I discovered that it lurks quietly in the wee hours of the morn, well.... I'm sure you could imagine my elation.

Don't get me wrong, I was rarely ever singing and dancing down the early morning streets like some long-forgotten outtake from Singing In The Rain. As I said before, I'm not a happy morning person. I am that person that can feel the peaceful serenity of early morning without having any desire to yelp for joy.

So now here I am waking up at the wee hours and fighting the labeling of being a Morning Person. And I suddenly realize that there are no more times of the day left for me. By process of elimination I must really be a Morning Person after all.

This past Sunday my body naturally woke up at 5:46am. I had not set the alarm - I didn't need to. My body just knew that it wanted to get up. I'm told this is what happens to us Morning People.

One of my favorite customs on Sunday mornings is to go to Starbucks at about 6am with the other Morning People (though they seem a lot more cheery than me). I get a nice warm cuppa so-and-so, then sit outside with my NY Times, read and relax. Around this time of year it's still dark outside at that hour and, if I must admit, rather cold. As a result, there are rarely any other people up and about. Even the most hardcore Morning Person gives these mornings a second thought. Hell, the birds aren't even awake yet. In my mind, though, it is about as peaceful as one could possibly get in Los Angeles. Us Morning People, we like the peace and quiet of nobody else around.

As I sat there reading the paper, I would oftentimes look up and soak in the serenity of my surroundings. As the sun began to rise above the treeline, the sky inevitably turned a fiery orange. The birds started chirping and the early morning dog walkers shuffled by, led by the eager sniffing of friendly, wet dog noses, anxious to fetch a tennis ball, chase a squirrel or lick an unsuspecting baby's face.

By 8am the world has awoken, the sky has brightened and Starbucks has gotten busy. That's my cue to leave and go back home. Which reminds me of a quote us Morning People like to say:

I like to get all my living done before 8am because after that it seems less like living and more like just putting up with stuff.

But back to my story...

I don't shower before I go to Starbucks on Sunday mornings because, let's be real here folks, why shower at 5:30 in the morning just to go get a cup of coffee and read the paper. On top of that, I usually go for my long runs after the Starbucks adventure and Lord knows nobody showers before a long morning run. Especially Morning People.

This past Sunday, however, was a rare weekend rest day with no workouts on the schedule. So without the run to break things up, somehow I missed the point where I was supposed to take a shower. Next thing I know, Catherine and I are running around town conducting our daily activities. Before I knew it, it was nearly noon and Morning People definitely don't shower around noon. It was far too late by then - I missed the shower window.

As we walked down the street towards the store for our first errand, I looked in a store front and saw my reflection. My hair was all over the place in a wonderful display of chaotic bedheadedness - a true display of Morning Person-osity. The highlight of it all was a fairly large, two-inch lock that was sticking out from just above my right ear. I played with it for a while, pushing it back and forth. It was fun. It was like a weeble - it wobbled but always came back to the upright position. I tried to tuck it behind my ear but every time I did - KaPOINGGGGG! - it popped right back out again. Weebles wobble but they don't fall down.

Oh well, I thought. I don't mind if nobody else does. And I can't imagine anybody else will, as long as I don't thwack them across the face when I turn my head.

Fast forward a couple of hours and Catherine and I are walking through Barnes & Noble, searching out a gift for the birthday party we're committed to that evening - a party that will undoubtedly be filled with dreaded Night People. Oh, those fearless Night People.

We're minding our own beeswax, meandering through the Fiction aisles when I notice a twenty-something fellow coming up to us, looking all uber-hip with his ruffled hair and MTV-like duds. He was staring at me as he approached. This can't be good.

Excuse me, he said as he stopped us somewhere between Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

He looked at me.

I noticed your hair, he continued as I thought about the horn protruding from my upper ear. I work for the Calvin Klein Salon and I'd like to offer you a free haircut.

I was stunned silent. First of all, what's he doing hawking his wares in a Barnes & Noble. Second of all, talk about a crappy way of attracting new customers.

No thanks, I'm not interested, I replied as we began to walk off, me feeling a wee bit coiffure insecure. But I'll consider that an insult, I said.

Actually, I didn't say that last part, mostly because I didn't think of it fast enough. But I should've said it - and intentions are half the battle. (Yeah yeah, that's not an official saying, but I'm sure there is some Intention-related saying out there that I should quote but I just can't think of one).

The thing is, I found the entire sales pitch quite funny. And Catherine found it down right hilarious. As soon as the initial shock of the exchange wore off, we snuck into the Biography aisle and, hidden there between Georgia O'Keefe and Theodore Roosevelt, we laughed ourselves silly.

Sometimes us Morning People get a little bit fuzzy after the sun rises. We can't always be expected to get rid of our bedhead or pillowface amidst the overwhelming anticipation of being outside before anybody else. Sometimes, we are so serene from the peaceful early beginnings of a day, that we just don't care what other people think. And so, by the time we're in the public eye, it's really too late to make a difference.

I suppose that's one of the many benefits of being a Morning Person.
Lucky me.
I can't wait to get the club handbook and find out what other benefits this Morningness has in store for me.

January 22, 2007

Digging For Freedom

I'm not one for too much political commentary here on the lifestyle-cum-triathlon blog, but sometimes I just can't help myself. And one of those times is apparently right now. Fasten your seatbelt please.

I was listening to the always entertaining CNN radio and heard some political commentator talking about how Bush is committed to winning the war in Iraq. They were saying, in much nicer words, how he clearly must have his head up his ass to not clearly see or hear the reality of the situation. By committing an extra twenty-something thousand troops to the battle, it means he is focused on staying in the Iraq war until the very end.

When I heard those words "until the very end" that seemed to strike me as peculiar. When is the end? I thought to myself. Will somebody please tell me when the madness is supposed to end?

As I continued down the path of "until the very end," I was immediately reminded of a wonderful quote that seemed to make sense of it all. I'd like to share that quote with you. In fact, I'd like to share that quote with our fearless president...

You've hit the bottom when you decide to stop digging.

Think about that one for a second.
[one mississippi. two mississippi.]

Now read it again and ponder once more.....

You've hit the bottom when you decide to stop digging.

OK, got it?

You see, what this all means to me is that the increasingly terrible war is over when we decide to stop making it worse. We've hit the bottom and we keep digging out another bottom. And digging and digging. And all the digging we do keeps putting us in a bigger and bigger hole. And now it's just gotten plain ridiculous. Too many people are dying for reasons that are unknown to me. We shouldn't even be in that damn country in the first place!

Of course, as it turns out, the more I started thinking about this digging concept the more I realized this fine little analogy fits in with sports after all. Especially in the world of long-distance triathlon. How quaint.

You see, in such sporting events its the power of the mind over the body. When your mind is telling you how tired you are and how you can't possibly go on.. remember this quote. Say it to yourself.

You've hit the bottom when you decide to stop digging.

Then, once you've said that (out loud, if possible), make the decision to stop digging. Turn that frown upside down, buckaroo. Make the decision to enjoy yourself, to experience the tiredness and have it be a good experience. Smile and congratulate others. Be nice and gracious and suddenly you may realize that you are no longer at the bottom of the hole.

You've stopped digging.
Now if you could only figure out how to get us the hell out of this Iraqi nightmare, that would be helpful too.

January 18, 2007

My Troubles With Breathing

I have trouble breathing. It creates quite a few problems, this breathing trouble.

I haven't told you this before because, well, I didn't want to get you all worried and concerned. I know how sensitive you can be. Actually, the truth is that I've spent the past years trying to ignore the fact that I have trouble breathing. Unfortunately, it's too hard to ignore anymore. Apparently oxygen is important for survival and it just plum feels like I don't get enough of it.

I can breathe just fine through the mouth, if that makes you feel better. The breathing problems I have are through my nose. It gets to be at its worse at night as I lie in bed. It's as if somebody jammed a couple of plugs up my nostrils while I wasn't paying attention.

I don't know if you've tried this before, but sleeping with your mouth open isn't easy. First of all, your mouth gets pretty dry very quickly so it's important to have a large bottle of water by the bed. However, you get to drinking so much water to satiate the parched mouth that you have to go take a wee-wee once or twice throughout the evening. Of course walking across the cold floor of the bathroom tends to chill your feet a good ten or twenty degrees so by the time you climb back into the warmth and comfort of the bed and snuggle up next to your girlfriend, she moans and groans and pushes you away as if you just shoved a couple of ice cubes down her underoos.

You starting to catch on to the problem here?

Now let me throw a wrinkle into the story. Here's the wrinkle: when I exercise, I've got no problem breathing at all. In fact, while I run or bike I can breathe through my nose as if I never had any problem at all. Interesting, huh?

I thought so too.

Naturally, with such terrible breathing problems and tremendous questions, I decided to go see an Ear, Nose & Throat specialist. Nice fella, this ENT. Then again, I suppose you need to be nice in order to get people feeling comfortable while you shove all sorts of gadgets and trinkets up their nose. My favorite part (and I say that with the utmost of faceciousness), was when he blasted some sort of liquid substance up each nostril with a little device that seemed to resemble a small but rather powerful insecticide sprayer. Don't blow your nose, he told me after blasting the DDT into my brain. I wiped the drippings away with a tissue as it started to burn its way into the membrane.

Can you breathe any easier, he then asked in what appeared to be a very serious tone.

Uhh...no, I replied, wondering whether I should leave it at that or launch into a rampage about squirting what feels like a toxic substance into my nasal cavity and how it feels like its eating through my sinuses into my brain and everythings going numb and didn't they do something like this in that movie Marathon Man that got me so freaked out I had to close my eyes and turn away.

But I just left it at Uhhh...no and figured he could fill in the rest.

He sat down in his chair, scribbled something onto his little file and then looked up at me. Did you race a full Ironman? he asked in somewhat of a disbelieving tone. This one took me by surprise. Until I looked down and realized I was wearing my IM USA fleece. Yeah, I replied. My girlfriend and I raced Lake Placid this year.

Wow, he said as his face lit up. That's pretty impressive. I just started riding bikes a few months ago.

I could see the smile slowly stretching wider across his cheeks and a glint of excitement fill up his eyes.

It was about at this point that he began to tell me how he bought himself a hybrid last year and started riding on it in hopes of losing weight. And how he lost 50 pounds over the past 4 months from riding his bike. And how he goes on 20 mile rides four days each week and shoots his heartrate up to 85 or 90% of his max for at least 15 minutes of the ride. And how he's been going for hour long rides on his trainer two to three days a week as well and jacking his heartrate up there too. And how when he finishes he's dripping with sweat and his wife thinks he's finally gone off the deep end. But how he loves biking so much and wants to do more and just started looking for a new bike because he doesn't want to ride his hybrid anymore, he wants to get a real road bike so he can go a little further and faster and be more fit and less fat. But he doesn't know anything about road bikes and he's not getting good customer service at the bike shops and on and on he went about this and that and one thing and another while this toxic DDT like substance was burning its way into my face like I shoved a handful of Vick's VapoRub up my nose and stuck my head into a pail of BenGay.

I tried my best to make a bit of biking conversation but, honestly, it was just starting to feel a little uncomfortable.

Finally we got back to my nose.

Here's the problem, Dr Biker Guy said. You've got a deviated septum and it's restricting your breathing. There are also little flaps in the nose that help people breathe. When you do exercise those flaps shrink in order to allow more air into the lungs. However, after you exercise (and especially at night) they tend to swell up as the blood starts coming back into your nose. Because you don't have a lot of space up there, when that swelling occurs you will have more trouble breathing.

He ended up putting me on some nasal steroids with the hope that it will help clear the pathway for the oxygen. In exchange, I told him about how impressed I was with his dedication to biking and how I hoped he would continue living the healthy lifestyle. I told him how amazing I thought it was that he lost 50 pounds and that he really needs to keep that heart rate down a little more so he doesn't get injured and lose the biking career entirely.

And through it all I could feel his excitement building, as if he wanted to jump on his bike right there and then and go off for a ride. And just sensing that excitement got me all inspired. So I suppose that's what this is all about, the contagiousness of it all.

The inspiration in inspiration.

As I walked out of his office, he thanked me, all rosy cheeked and happy.
I thanked him, toxic substances dripping from my nose.

Then I paid, scheduled a follow-up appointment and left.

It was a physically uncomfortable visit and my nose is still burning four hours later. But, you know what? He's inspired and in a funny way so am I.

I can't wait to go back and hear about the exciting progress my good ole doc has made with his new passion for biking.

Maybe next time he won't try to sandblast my sinuses.

January 15, 2007

Stories I Didn't Tell

I've been having a lot of trouble lately trying to figure out something somewhat worthwhile to write here (assuming that I've ever written anything worthwhile in the first place).
(Which we're going to assume I have, whether you like it or not).
(At least I have thought some of the things I've said were worthwhile, even if you haven't).
(Oh, and my mother once said she thought something here was kinda worthwhile too).
(So maybe it only takes one or two people to prove that something is worthwhile).

Over the past few days I actually started writing a few different things down that seemed, at first glance, fairly promising stories. But when I got halfway through my cheeky little anectdotes, I realized I was just regurgitating a bunch of crapola that was leading absolutely nowhere. So I quit.

For instance, I was going to tell you about how I met Julie Moss and heard her talk about the infamous 1982 race in Kona that sent shockwaves through the world of sports and motivated a generation. It motivated me too, so it was really neat to meet her. But that story really didn't end up going anywhere interesting.

Then I was going to tell you about the speech by Peter Burwash, the former tennis player, current motivational speaker. Peter reminded me of all sorts of wonderfully inspirational quotes throughout his talk. Things like Prefontaine's famous one, To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift. Or US Olympic Coach Herb Brooks' perennial classic, Great moments are born out of great opportunities.

But alas, that story seemed to stall pretty quickly as well.

Then, as I was clutching for straws, I decided to tell you about this morning's 5 mile run through the ice and snow-filled streets of Colorado in the 6 degree temperatures (14 without the windchill). But that didn't seem to go anywhere either so I kinda decided to give up.

Then as I lay in bed I had one of those tremendously painful foot cramps. You know the kind - the ones that emerge from the arch and build in pain until it feels like your toes are curling into your heel. I quickly sat up in bed and moaned fairly loudly as I tried to stretch out my foot to help dissipate the pain.

For some reason, as the pain started subsiding, I began thinking about this mornings run once again. I suppose it was a memory of the pain - the biting chill of the wind searing through my face as I trudged up the icy hill. The faces of the drivers in the passing cars, staring at me in awe and disbelief, as if I had gone off the deep end to be running in this weather. My cheeks had frozen, my lips were numb, my fingers locked in a clenched position. The only way I could tell that I wasn't drooling was from the lack of icicles dripping from my chin.

As I had walked through the halls of the hotel this morning, heading for the doors to the frozen, blustery tundra, people looked at me as if I were nuts. Tell me you're not going to run outside, one of them said. You're crazy, another muttered. I smiled as I opened the doors.

There is a point in the early stages of exercise where it becomes refreshing. Somewhere past the turnoff to refreshing is the exit to pain and discomfort. And if you can make it past that pain and discomfort, you'll arrive at exhiliration. It is the silver lining of sport where we surrender to the depths of our being and face ourselves in all of our truth and honesty. It is the ultimate high. My run this morning was painfully exhilirating.

And so as I reflected on that run it led me to another Prefontaine quote that seems so relevant. He said, A lot of people run a race to see who is the fastest. I run to see who has the most guts.

How apropos I thought. It took guts for me to continue running in that weather this morning. It was as much about exercise as it was about survival.

Naturally, this got me thinking about Julie Moss. Her Kona finish is the true definition of guts and survival. Of willingness to put it all on the line; to commit every ounce of every part of your being towards accomplishing your goal.

As Julie talked the other day and reminisced on those final moments of that miraculous Ironman experience, she referred to it as a turning point in her life. As she lay on the ground, virtually lifeless, a mere 20 meters from the finish line, she experienced complete surrender for the first time. In so doing, she discovered the untapped space within her. When I let go of the things I thought were important, she said, I suddenly realized the things that are important.

And just as quickly, all of the meaningless stories that I wanted to tell you have morphed into a meaningful adventure.

Thank you for bearing with me.

January 10, 2007

Mind, Body & Sanka

The training season doesn't start with a whimper or a grumble. It doesn't even start with a shriek, shout or caterwaul. It just starts.

One day you're sitting at the Christmas table trying to shove that last piece of pumpkin pie down your face to fill the one remaining air pocket in your stomach, and the next day you're waking up before the sun even thinks of rising so you can squeeze in a 7 mile run and 2500 meter swim before most normal people flick on the switch of their coffee percolator.

Assuming there are people out there who still percolate. Which in this day and age is probably doubtful.

In fact, there is nothing percolatory about the beginning of the training season at all. There is no gradual permeation. No passing slowly or seeping through. Sticking with this horrendous coffee metaphor, I'd have to say that the start of the training season is nothing at all like Sanka. If anything, its more like espresso. Quick, fast, and a heckuva wake up call.

Having been sick for a fair part of the holiday season, I didn't do much working out. Basically none. I think I may have run 5 times in the past two months. That's what we call "none" in the triathlon world.

But, ahoy, in comes January and there's no time to look back - it's a brand new training season! So I do what I do during every training season: I wake up in the morning and look at my schedule. Lookee here, Sparky, its the first week of January and I'm supposed to squeeze out a 70 minute run. Oh goody.

A normal person would pshaw or maybe even harrumph at the mere suggestion of this workout. Seventy minutes?! they'd say in their most rude and sarcastic tone. Let's try seven minutes and work up from there.

But not me. I'm not a normal person.

Me... well, I look at that workout and think, Hmmm, that doesn't sound too bad. Then I shove my over-squished tuchus into my dusty running shorts, lace up my shoes and waddle out the door.

And somewhere around minute 40 of this refreshing, albeit slow, hour long jaunt (I cut it 10 minutes short - at least I'm sane enough to do that), I started thinking about the power of the mind.

There's a book called "Body, Mind & Sport" that I've read twice and really want to quote here. But I can't think of any quotes from it so let's pretend I just said something really profound. Wow, you may even be saying to your computer screen. That's one profound mofo.

The truth is, as you can tell from my non-existent but overwhelmingly profound quote above, the tremendous connection between the mind and the body is a huge asset in the world of sports. And it is one of the most important assets in long-distance triathlon. As you're out there struggling, tired beyond belief, ready to pass out at the next step, oftentimes the only thing driving you forward is your mind. When that goes, you're toast.

This is a good thing for me, because physically I am more on the Olive Oyl side of the fence than the Popeye side. I'm not winning any strength contests. However, I'd put my will-power and mental strength with Stephen Hawking as opposed to, say, Rainman. (Though I am an excellent driver). I sometimes feel like my only advantage in the sport of triathlon is that pain actually makes me stronger. I'm crazy like that.

I built up my mental stamina back in my idiotic early running days where every workout was a speed and distance fest. I'd run until the pain was too intense, then I'd turn around and run home even faster. It was tough but it was also incredibly exhilirating.

Fast forward a decade or so and here I am racing long-distance triathlon. Over the past few years it's been either half-Ironman or Ironman distance as the key races. Preparing for those events requires a fair bit of training time. Yet no matter how extensive you train, you'll still most likely push yourself to your physical limits on race day. Nobody ever said it got any easier. It just becomes a test of your mental limits.

I suppose in that way it's a little bit like torture. When all physicality has gone by the wayside, all we've got are our thoughts to keep us alive.

So anyway, back to my 60 minute run as the first workout of the year. Around about 40 minutes into it I realized that my body felt good and that I could probably go on for awhile. I also realized that had I started the day by fearing this workout and convincing myself that I wouldn't be able to do it - well, I probably would've lived up to that expectation. But with a few solid years of long-distance triathlon training under my belt, I've become used to pushing the limits of the mind power.

"I can do it" has turned into a fine mantra. "Don't quit" seems to work just as well. "Just do it" is a little cliche at this point, but still has its moments. "Go," though incredibly simple, has always been one of my favorites.

It's so fascinating how a few simple words can stoke the fires of the mind and help overcome slight physical discomfort.

Don't get me wrong, I definitely try to listen to my body. But there comes a point when you need to realize if the body is just whining and moaning and being a big baby, or if it actually has something important to say. If there is one thing I learned from my past year of Ironman training, it is that my body can be the biggest complainer around. My body has been the boy who cried wolf far too many times. In response, my mind has learned to be the fearful gym teacher that yells at the boy. Stop crying you little wuss! Go! GO!! And though the sad, pathetic little boy may begin to despise the powerful gym teacher - we all know he's going to have a lot of respect for him later in life.

You see, mediocrity is easy. It doesn't take a miracle to stand still but it takes a mind of steel to keep moving forward.

So as another training season ramps up, we wave goodbye to mediocrity as it fades away into our rearview mirror. What lies before us is a bright - and sometimes painful - future filled to the brim with opportunity.

Which reminds me of a quote (finally, an actual quote!): Every cell in my body would love to settle for the simplicity of mediocrity and status quo. It's the easy way, the painless way. But status quo isn't where growth takes place. And status quo isn't where dreams come true.

As for me, I've got a few really big dreams.

Keep on tri-ing.

January 06, 2007

Statute of Happy Limitations

I'm confused. This happens to me every year.

When the clock turns midnight on December 31st, bringing in the new year, it is natural (and somewhat expected) to yell out a hardy Happy New Year to all those surrounding you. When you wake up the next morning, it is de rigeur to call family and friends and wish them all a Happy New Year as well.

A few days later you'll go back to work and see all of your business colleagues. Of course, you need to greet them with a Happy New Year, right?

So tell me, when does the madness end? What is the statute of limitations on Happy New Year?

It seems that everybody is entitled to one - and only one - Happy New Year. Heaven knows you wouldn't wish a friend Happy New Year on January 2nd then grant them another Happy New Year on January 4th. That is just a flagrant misuse of the Happy New Year greeting and begins to border on awkwardly retarded.

However, it doesn't seem right that you absolutely NEED to wish all your peers their single Happy New Years greeting. It is not required that everybody get their own personal Happy New Year. But my question is, where and, more importantly, when is the dividing line between New Year greetings and a good ole Hello, How are ya?

What if you see a friend for the first time on January 5th? Is it OK to wish a Happy New Year then or is it too late? I just ran into an acquaintance this morning while walking down the street. Of course, the first thing out of my mouth was a booming, boisterous Haaaappy New Year!! Yet before the "ear" even left the comfort of my lips, I began to wonder if it was already too late to say this. A feeling of slight discomfort crept into my greeting leaving the "Year" of "Happy New Year" hanging in the air like a limp, wet noodle.

The fact that she smiled and wished me a Happy New Year right back made me think that I was still in the acceptable time limit. But what about tomorrow, or the next day? What if people are still wishing Happy New Years in February?! When does this madness stop?!

Perhaps it just quietly morphs into Happy Valentine's Day, a holiday greeting with a very defined term limit. I dare you to wish somebody Happy Valentine's Day on February 15th. It just doesn't happen.

In the meantime, let me wish you all a Happy New Year before it gets too late.

January 03, 2007

The Agony of Defeet. And Deback. And Deneck. And...

My deepest apologies for being MIA over the past couple of weeks. Truth be told, I got a bit engrossed in the ho-ho-ho of the ho-ho-holidays. In fact, as a special homage to Sir Claus, I've put on a bit of weight and grew a beard. (Well, maybe not exactly a beard, but it was pretty creative facial hair nonetheless. Creative enough for Catherine to be calling me Jean Claude for a few days. Use your imagination.)

I am back in the flow of things now though. Honestly, I'm happy to be typing this because it is somewhat relaxing being that my fingers are just about the only part of my body that doesn't hurt.

You see, Catherine and I drove back from Mammoth Lakes last night where we had spent a lovely three days in the snow celebrating the New Year. Mammoth, in case you aren't aware, is a skiing/snowboarding paradise during the winter and a mountain biking/fly fishing/hiking mecca throughout the summer bloom. Obviously, I opted for the skiing/snowboarding festivities during this time of year.

Which leads me right into my current state of pain...

A few years ago I used to do a little bit of work with K2 Snowboards, arguably one of the leaders in that crazy knuckle-dragging world. The folks over at that fine company had a propensity for sending me lots of neat stuff like snowboards and clothing and backpacks and the sort, even though I told them I don't snowboard. I had piles of K2 gear sitting around my place.

For years I had every intention of learning the sport. I mean, I had all the gear, I just needed to learn how to use it. But, alas, whenever I got myself to the mountain, I couldn't resist but hop on a pair of skis. Good ole reliable.

That all changed two years ago. While spending some time up in Tahoe, I decided to spend a day giving this whole snowboarding thing a shot. I'd start with a lesson. So I called the mountain the night before and scheduled a slot for me in the early morning group lesson.

I got up at the crack of dawn and headed over to the mountain. Smartly dressed in my hipper-than-thou snowboarding pants and my coolest-guy-on-the-block snowboarding jacket, I walked over to the base of the mountain and laid down my far-too-expensive snowboard with the fresh boots and trick bindings. I buttoned up my shiny black helmet and after finagling my brand new wristguards out of their carrying case, I strapped them onto my arms.

I was ready - and damn I looked good.

There were six of us in the snowboarding lesson. There was me, the old guy in the expensive get-up, and five pre-teens in much more relaxed but clearly much hipper clothing. I felt a bit awkward but, hey, they were only kids. I had years of life experiences on my side.

The class started with a few basics, like glide down the mountain for five feet and turn right. The five little whipper-snappers went down like they'd been getting secret lessons from one of those pot-smoking Canadian Olympians. I despised them immediately. Finally it was my turn. As I started sliding, all seemed to be going just fine for the first second. It started going to hell around second two when my ass hit the ground so hard I thought I broke a cheek - and I'd imagine those are tough things to break.

I got up and tried again only to fall down immediately with a hefty thump as my face embedded itself directly into the snow.

The next two hours continued on at the same rate. The little pre-teen feckers picked up snowboarding like it was second nature. As for me, I was that guy. You know the guy - the one with all the gear that doesn't deserve it. The one who sucks at his sport so badly, he should immediately donate the thousands of dollars of merchandise to a better candidate.

You've seen that guy. You've passed him on the hill on your worst day of climbing. He's the one struggling and huffing and puffing as he rides on top of his ten thousand dollar Pinarello with the fully Campy Record set-up. He's the severely overweight guy sporting the latest T-Mobile kit as if it were handed to him by Jan Ullrich himself - and it probably was.

After a couple hours of humiliation, my snowboard lesson ended and I went to a bigger slope to spend a few solitary hours tumbling down like a misguided snowball. It hurt - mentally and physically. And then, just as I was about to finish the day, I had one part of one run - a mere 15 seconds of joy - in which everything worked out perfectly. Lo and behold, I was snowboarding.

Just as the smile reached both ears and the wahoo! left my lips, I fell over and bashed my face in the snow again, knocking the wind out of me and probably causing at least a mild concusion.

When I got back to my friend's place that evening, my body and pride crushed to a pulp, I took off all of my spankin' new K2 clothing and gave it away to my friends. Fuck this, I said as I struggled against the pain to remove my jacket. I'm done with boarding. I'm going skiing tomorrow.

So now here I am, two years later, and I think I've finally recovered from the pain of that first snowboarding experience. I figured I'd give it another shot this year up in Mammoth. Why not. Hell, I'm a damn Ironman! Snowboarding should be a piece of cake.

I woke up on Day 1 and put on my slightly older, but not quite overly embarrassing snowboard clothing. When I got to the mountain I took a couple of slow easy runs down the baby slope. And guess what? I remembered something! Sure I was falling here and there, but I was moving. I was gliding and carving turns and...it felt great! I was snowboarding! Woohooo!

Perhaps I got a bit overly cocky a little too soon - perhaps I just got lucky early on. By the third run I had had enough with the baby slope and kicked it up a notch to the intermediate run. That's about the point where everything went to hell.

It wasn't just the falling that got me, it was the not remembering how to turn right. Yeah, I was doing fine with the turns on the baby slope, but I was like a different person after those first two runs. All of the sudden I forgot how to turn right. I could turn left all day. Hell, I could turn left until the cows come home, get slaughtered and made into burgers for dinner. But the moment I tried to turn right? Ka-BAM! - I'd smash into the snow. I kept trying to practice my right turns, I kept watching other people, trying to soak up any knowledge I could. But it didn't work. Left, no problem. Right, face plant.

It sucked.

I suddenly realized I was Zoolander on a snowboard. The embarrassment, the discomfort - it came crashing back like the broken sphincter I first experienced two years ago.

By twelve thirty that day I was so frustrated with my inability to make a right turn, that I got to the bottom of the hill, threw off my board, and marched into the lodge with a huff. I stampeded to the Lessons counter and, realizing there were no more group lessons that day, demanded in a pathetic begging type of way, that I get a private lesson that afternoon.

I'm sorry, sir, the nice little Peruvian girl said to me, but we don't have any more lessons today. You can take a lesson tomorrow morning.

I harumphed, but I don't think she heard me. So I met her gaze and harumphed a little bit louder, just for effect. Then, with a mumbling of a thanks but no thanks and an awkward smile, I trudged away.

As I lay on the couch that evening, I could feel the pain building. The quads were burning, the joints didn't want to move. The wrists hurt so much I couldn't take my socks off. Hell, I could barely hold a fork. My spine felt like it got compressed from it's long winding form into a little inch of bone that was piercing my lower back. My neck and shoulders hurt when I lay down, when I stood up and when I was sitting. Other than that, they were fine.

The next morning I woke up and the pain had worsened. Screw this, I said. I'm not going to waste my last day on the mountain destroying my body. I'll focus on the snowboarding next time. Today, I ski.

So, once again, I went back to ole reliable. And with my old but still almost stylish ski clothes and my Ironman backpack strapped on my shoulders, I hit the slopes. And it was a blast.

About mid-day I was riding up the gondola when the guy sitting across from me saw my backpack. Did you race Ironman? he asked.

Yeah, I said. I did Lake Placid this year.

Wow, he replied. I signed up for Arizona this March. I'm missing a training weekend to be here, but how could I possibly pass up a good day of snowboarding, you know?

Yeah, I said, as if I really knew what a good day of snowboarding was like. As if I would actually opt to miss a training weekend to go snowboarding. As if I had an inkling of understanding of what he meant.

I am determined. Someday I will become a snowboarder. Maybe not this year. Maybe not next. But it will happen at one point.

In the meantime, maybe tomorrow I'll be able to hoist my leg onto my bike without this soaring pain.