July 31, 2007

15 Random Facts About Me That You Really Don't Care About

1. I can't stand the sight of wet paper towel or toilet paper on the floor. It grosses me out.

2. I love eating fish. I especially love tuna. But I can't stand canned tuna fish. The smell alone makes me nauseous.

3. I like peanuts. I like butter. I like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I don't like peanut butter from a jar. I have no idea why.

4. My left pinkie finger is shorter than my right by about 1/4 inch because I got it slammed in a door when I was a kid.

5. Four weeks after I slammed my left pinkie finger in a door, I slammed my right pinkie finger in another door.

6. My girlfriend's name is Cat. She owns a cat.

7. I'm highly allergic to cats. Fortunately it's only to the four-legged variety.

8. After 12 years of allergy shots, I've finally realized the miraculous powers of Nasonex.

9. Biking is my least favorite sport in triathlon. It is also the one that I suck at the most.

10. In my mind I'm still a fast runner. I have yet to let my body know the truth.

11. When my body admits that I am no longer a fast runner, running will officially be the sport I suck at the most. That's why I'm keeping it a secret.

12. Four years ago, I couldn't swim 50 meters. Today, swimming is my strongest sport.

13. One night fifteen years ago, right after removing my shirt for the first time in front of my new girlfriend, she said "wow". I still don't know if she meant that I had a surprisingly good physique or a surprisingly bad one.

14. For the amount of exercise I do, I have a surprisingly bad physique.

15. I don't use an American Express card because it doesn't make me feel as elitist as it used to.

July 29, 2007

The Other Side Of Pain - or - Vineman 70.3: A Race Report

There's a peaceful place on the other side of pain. There is a point in which the torturous piercing of the knife blade begins to feel good - in which pain is not a limiter, but a driver.

Vineman was tough, that I won't deny. In fact, in some ways it may have been more difficult than last year's Ironman. But suffering walks hand-in-hand with accomplishment so, in the end, I can't help but feel good about it all.

It started for me at about 5:30 am race morning. It had started for Catherine a heckuva lot earlier. By the time I rolled my sorry butt out of bed, Catherine was walking out the door and heading to the start line. The truth is that she had already woken up, eaten breakfast, gone back to sleep, woke up again, went for a short swim, dried off, changed clothes and got ready to head off to the race. Makes me feel more than a little inadequate. The sad thing is, I didn't even have a great nights sleep in the first place.

So with Catherine gone, I had 1 hour before I wanted to get to the race start (my wave started 80 minutes after Catherine's). So I turned on the Tour de France for a little inspiration and delved into my pre-race routine. Mind you, my pre-race routine usually consists of eating a variety of foods that I never eat any other time of the year except before a triathlon. They say to never do anything different on race day, but apparently I thought that only applied to the actual racing.

The nausea kicked in at about 6am.

I didn't really have time to upchuck, so I finished eating, strapped my triathlon bag to my back and rode my bike the mile to the swim start.

As I arrived at Johnson's Beach, I saw a wave of people in the disgustingly polluted Russian River. The caps were purple. Shit, the caps are purple! Catherine's cap is purple. Catherine is about to start!!! Without even bothering to enter transition, I lifted my bike over my shoulder and sprinted across the sand to the water front. I wanted to see her start her race - and I wanted her to feel my support.

Twenty seconds before the start, the announcer announced.

I leaned over my bike at waters edge and screamed with all my might, GO CATHERINE!!! I knew that outburst would cause one of the purple caps to look over and wave at me. I looked for the purple cap wave. Nothing.

Meanwhile, other spectators had turned around to look at me, mostly with a sneer of disapproval from my Who-like decibel onslaught into their ears at such a wee hour of the morning.

Then the gun went off and the purple caps began swimming. Go Catherine!

I hope she saw me, I thought to myself. As we later learned, she didn't. Didn't even hear my bellowing from the sidelines. I'm pretty sure that means I don't get credit for showing up so early. I'll have to check the Good Boyfriend Manual for that one.

I had another hour and twenty minutes before my wave started, so I piddled around for awhile and tried not to think about throwing up.

The Day's Swim Challenges:
* Poorly executed strategy
* Tired arms due to the aforementioned crap-like swim strategy
* Sick to my stomach. Literally.
* Really bad sense of direction

My wave was supposed to go off at 7:58 am. As I tread water in the middle of the Russian River and quietly peed through my wetsuit, I glanced at my watch. 7:54 am.

The main problem with the swim start at Vineman this year was that the swimmers couldn't hear a single peep from the announcer. The other main problem that walked hand-in-hand with the first problem was that the official clock appears to have been running 2 or 3 minutes faster than every other clock in the modern world.

How much time do we have? somebody blurted out from the middle of the river.
Four more minutes, I said as the warm flow trickled down my leg.
I don't think so, another swim capped water treader responded. I think we have less than a minute.
Less than a minute? I asked in disbelief. How can that be?
I think somethings off with the timing clocks, another voice came from somewhere behind me.

And just as the entire wave became immersed in conversation about the space-time continuum of Sonoma Valley in hopes of figuring out when the starting gun will go off, the starting gun went off.

Nobody moved.

I can only surmise that we were all in a bit of shock, not quite realizing that the sound we just heard was a starting gun. Perhaps we were even thinking it might be some unfortunate Canadian Geese in their final death throes. But wait, we must've realized in unison, there are no Canadian Geese in Sonoma in July. Everybody knows that the mating rituals of the Canadian Geese would have them flying into cooler climates during the summer. Besides, they're primarily east coast denizens, so they'd have to have flown pretty far out of their way to get here.

Somewhere amidst all of this geese-like group think, we came to our senses and started swimming.

The start of my Vineman race is to swimming like Ultimate Fighting is to patty cake. It was as if the entire wave of 70+ people were playing musical chairs - the music had just stopped and the only thing between the one remaining chair and the other 69 people was me.

Hands, fists, legs, arms. It was a smackdown. And it was a mad rush. Everybody was sprinting. Pushing. Hauling ass. I told myself to calm down, settle into my groove. But the energy was overwhelming. So I got caught up in it. I sprinted. I pushed. I hauled ass.

Around about 300 meters, I hit the wall. My shoulders had had enough - and I still had 1700 meters to go.

My goal in this swim was to take it easy for the first 1000 meters, pick up the pace for the next 500, then give it all I got for the last part. Clearly that plan didn't work out so well. Time to go to Plan B.

Unfortunately I didn't have a Plan B. So I just slowed down the pace a tad and tried to keep moving forward as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

There's a point in my tough swims when my body has had enough and wants to quit. The beginning of the Vineman swim wore me out, but it wasn't until about 800 meters into it that I felt like crying. I don't know if you've ever cut up a bunch of jalapeƱo peppers and then rubbed your eyes without washing your hands. The eyes don't start burning immediately, instead the burning builds. At first its a bit of discomfort, then just as quickly it is excruciatingly painful. You can wash your eye, put ice on it, but the fact is that it's just going to continue to sting and frustrate you until it fades away. You have to learn how to deal with the pain - or not be stupid enough to rub your eyes in the first place.

Understanding that I was stupid enough to sprint the first part of this race, I spent the rest of the swim trying to learn how to deal with the burning jalapeno-in-the-eye pain. So I tried to stop fighting it. I tried to work with the pain and befriend it in any way I could. I focused on keeping a steady pace and moving forward. That seemed to work.

I was in my zone about 200 meters after the turnaround when I first felt something smack my feet. I don't like things smacking my feet when I'm swimming. It freaks me out. Then I felt another smack. OK, now it makes sense. Some schmuck is drafting me. And he's swimming too damn close to my legs so just about every other stroke - thwack! - his hand is smacking my feet. Thwack! How annoying.

I kicked my feet harder. You want to swim close to me, punk? How about a heel in your forehead? You think maybe you'll like that?!

I kicked with all my might. Of course all that did was tire me out even more. Thwack! Thwack! He kept hitting my feet. I eased up on the kicking and tried to strengthen my stroke and speed up my pace. I actually thought I'd be able to drop the guy that was drafting off of me. I gave it all I had. In fact, I probably gave a bit more than I had. After 100 meters, I had nothing left. So I slowed down, and Mr. Thwacker-man swam on by.

OK, I thought, two can play at this game. I reached deep down inside and pushed myself a little harder until I reached Thwacker-guy's feet. I started drafting off his sorry ass. I could feel myself moving more effortlessly. Who's the thwacker now, bitch?! Suddenly my shoulder pain didn't seem as bad. This is great. 100, 200, 300 meters. I latched onto him like a leech.

I knew we were approaching the finish line so I decided to look up and assessed the situation.

I saw the final buoy, that was the good news. The bad news is that the buoy was not where it should've been. SHIT! Thwacker had swum me right off course. The buoy that is supposed to be on my left is now far away on my right. Very far away. Practically behind me. Apparently I'm swimming behind Mr. Magoo.

I stopped, belted out a few choice four letter words to nobody in particular, then hung a sharp right turn and swam the 30-esque yards back to the buoy.

All in all, I finished the swim in a respectable time. I think it was 32 minutes and some change, which knocks off about 4 minutes from my best Vineman swim finish. So I got myself a course PR. And that ain't nothing to be ashamed about.

The Day's Bike Challenges:
* Sore lower back
* Endurolyte holder that fell off the bike
* Still with the nausea

Without question, biking is my weakest sport. It also happens to be my least favorite sport. Which is a shame since it is the sport that takes the most time in this whole triathlon game.

One thing I've realized, though, is that if I don't push myself to the limits, if I just ride nice and easy the entire way, I tend to go faster and feel better about my results then the inevitable crash and burn that accompanies the limit testing.

Fortunately, the lower back pain I had as a result of my bad swim form combined with the need to throw up, sucked all the "push to the limit" desire right out of me.

The Vineman bike course is a beautiful route the curves in and out of incredibly picturesque vineyards. After 5 miles of flats in the beginning, you begin a fairly technical rolley-poley section that has you shifting gears continuously for another 10 miles or so. Around mile 23-ish, everything becomes flat again and you've got a good 20 miles of head-down, aero-tucked flying, until you stop like a brick wall at Chalk Hill. Not too long, but at a 15% incline, Chalk Hill is a quad buster. But not to worry, because after Chalk Hill it is primarily flat to the second transition.

In terms of my biking plans, I decided to take it easy for the first 23 miles and then push the pace a little harder on the flats and into the finish. And guess what? It worked!! Sure the back situation helped me take it easier than expected through the "take it easy" section, but who's complaining? In fact, I've gotta be honest with you and say that this ride, though not a PR, was just about as good as it gets for me in terms of 56 mile bike rides.

The downside of that is that there's no drama and no stories for you. Just a good solid bike ride that had me hitting transition in about 2 hours 54 minutes.

The Day's Run Challenges:
* Calf pain
* Seering quad pain
* The heat. Oy, the heat
* And by the way, my stomach isn't any better

The run was the wildcard of the day. I hadn't run more than 7 miles since April. In fact, I hadn't really run at all since April, except for a few excruciatingly slow and short shuffles over the past three weeks.

I had no clue if I could even make the 13.1 miles, much less do it in a decent time. On top of that, the Vineman run course is a non-stop series of hills. Though they may not seem huge in a car, thirteen miles of up and down can really tear apart the legs.

Oh, and it's hot. Brutally hot. It is "make the bad man stop" type of hot. Try 99 degrees on for size. There is no shade for the middle 5 miles of this run, so the heat bares down on you like your own personal sauna with no off button. It hurts bad.

My strategy was basically to ignore the hills and ignore the heat and just keep moving forward. I was going to take it nice and calm until the turn-around and then, assuming all of the legs felt good, I would pick up the pace slowly on the way back and give it all I had for the last mile or two.

Unfortunately things went a bit awry about 1/2 mile into the run when my legs started feeling like taut violin strings. I'm a fan of the violin as much as the next guy, but there's a time and place, and this ain't either.

I stopped on the side of the road and stretched out my legs as the world passed me by. After a couple of minutes I started walking. But I'm really not a good walker, and I don't have anything to prove by walking 13.1 miles through the hills of Sonoma, so I figured what the hell - and I started running again. Albeit, very very slowly.

I shuffled down the road, up the hills, down the hills, past the cows, the goats and the horses. I sucked down each gel shot hoping it wasn't the one that put my stomach over the edge. I hydrated and rehydrated so I didn't get dehydrated. And somehow I made it to the turnaround.

The sun was beating down with a pretty forceful hammer. The aid stations were running out of water. Even the most fit runners were walking the hills. But not me, I am muy macho. I continued moving.

Around about mile 7 I decided to stick with my strategy, so I picked up the pace a little bit. It hurt, but I could cope. So when I hit my mile 8, I picked it up again. My legs were getting more tired. The hurt was compounding. The hills and heat were sucking the energy out of me. So, naturally, I picked up the pace again.

Every move became more difficult. I didn't want to stop at an aid station to drink the fluid for fear of not being able to run again. So I kept moving.

Around about mile 11, after running up and down well over ten hills, my quads staged a protest. That's enough, I heard one of the say. Yeah, screw him, I heard the other one agree.

I barely remember any moments when my quads were in such pain. They seemed seconds away from seizing. I had visions of me lying in the middle of the street, not having the energy to even walk the last two miles to the finish.

I can't go out like this. I don't want to go out like this. But the pain.... I realized that I had two choices. I could walk and succumb to the pain. Or I could pick up the pace.

So I picked up the pace.

I spat in the face of pain.

As I said before, there's a peaceful place on the other side of pain, and somewhere around mile 12 I found it. Where the ripping and seering and suffering coagulated into springs under my feet. It pushed me forward faster and harder. With every step, the pain fought back and grew exponentially. But my eyes were focused, my mind at peace - I embraced the agony and vaulted forward. One step after another, faster, stronger. And then suddenly....

I finished.

I gave it all I had at Vineman. I had a fairly respectable time (5:45), much better than I expected though not quite a PR. But I battled. I went to war, I fought the demons of endurance and prevailed.

Oh, and by the way, I didn't throw up.

July 25, 2007

On The Edge Of A Gun

Gunshots can change everything in a millisecond. One moment your life is moving forward as it did the day before and the day before that, and the next moment - BANG! - you've tumbled off the edge of a hairline trigger. Everything you ever knew has changed.

One year ago to the day, Catherine and I were standing waist-deep in a tepid lake in upstate New York. It was 6:58am. Nine months of training, of unbearably long bike rides and degradingly painful runs, of increased frustrations and spiraling nerves - it had all culminated in that single moment.

Standing silent on the edge of a lake.


In a gunshot, we closed our eyes and took one step over the edge into the black abyss. And just as never-ending seconds flow into the rapid passing of a day, we emerged as Ironmen.

Exactly one year later, I stood on the edge of the Russian River. I looked upstream and delved back into my soul. Three hundred and sixty-five days after the gunshot, something has changed in my deja vu experience. Life is the same in a subtly different type of way.

The Vineman race report is coming, but as I battled through the weekend, I couldn't help but think back on my time looking down the barrel of the gun.

Congratulations to all the Ironman Lake Placid finishers. I'm proud of you.

July 22, 2007

Vineman: A Race Analysis in 8 Adjectives

Well I managed to squeeze out some sort of wi-fi connection out here in the middle of nowhere and thought I'd give you the update. After all, I know you've been sitting on the edge of your seat, biting your fingernails until their raw and trying to calm the churning in your stomach all in anticipation of my Vineman analysis.

Just so you know, this ain't it. So keep the stomach churning.

I suppose this is a preview of things to come. Cause Lord knows that I'll be writing a race report that is far too long and just short of funny, like I do for all the other races I torture myself with.

In the meanwhile, what I thought I'd do here is give you a quick overview of today's Vineman half-Ironman adventure. In 8 adjectives. Here you go.

Can't Complain

(I'm not sure if that last one is actually an adjective, I flunked that part of English class.)

OK, that's all I got for you right now. Time to order the pizza.

I'll fill in the nouns and verbs at another time.

July 19, 2007

Vineman or Bust. Hopefully Not Both.

Catherine and I are leaving for Sonoma at 6am tomorrow morning. It'll be a nice 6 or 7 hour drive. Actually, I take that back, the drive is pretty dull. Come to think of it, it's butt ugly. At least until we get to Santa Rosa. Either way, I don't think there is any Internet access up in beautiful Guerneville, California. Which means we won't be able to communicate until next week.

Will you remember me when I come back?
Will you wait for me?
Or will you end up sleeping with that whore again the moment I get in my car and drive off into the sunrise?

Don't forget about all the special times we had.

See you soon.

By the way, I don't think I told you about my new coach. I highly recommend them. Especially if you have low self-esteem.

July 18, 2007

Dear Diary

Wednesday night, 9:37 pm.
July 18th (or thereabouts), 2007

Dear Diary,

Are you there? It's me, Margaret.

Actually, I'm not Margaret. That was a joke. For some reason the first thing that came to my mind when I started writing to you tonight is a Judy Blume book title. I'm not sure why that came to mind. I never even read a Judy Blume book, though she sure can write a title. Truth be told, I was always more of a Hardy Boys type of guy. Never even bothered with Nancy Drew, the little hussy. Though sometimes I wish I had given Nancy some time of day since she always seems to be referenced in the New York Times crossword puzzle. I never know the answers to those questions.

But I digress. Which makes me digress from the digression. Is it possible to digress when you've never actually 'gressed in the first place? If I haven't ever gotten to my main point, how can I move away from it? These are the things that keep me up at night. That and writing to you, Diary. I should really be asleep, I've got a race in a couple of days.

You're probably already fed up with me, dear Diary, aren't you? It's ok, you can admit it. It's probably why we don't communicate so much. You just don't seem to understand me. Mostly because I'm a human and your a book. We speak different languages. Actually, I speak English and you just kind of sit there in silence. Come to think of it, you're not really a good friend after all. Dear Diary, you selfish git.

I don't know why I bother with you anymore, but I'll give it the ole college try. Maybe we should start again. OK, let's do that.

Wednesday night, 9:48 pm (give or take).
July 18th-ish (still)

Dear Diary,

I'm back. I mean, I didn't really go anywhere but.... nevermind. You're not going to answer me anyway.

I don't know if I told you this, Diary, but I've got a race on Sunday. It's the Vineman Half-Ironman up in Sonoma Valley, California.

What's that? You say I told you already? That I should get on with my story already? Well aren't you just the rude obnoxious twit. You sure have an attitude problem. I really don't know why I hang out with you.

Say again? You don't know why you hang out with me either? Well hell, at least we finally found something we have in common. So maybe you can do me a favor right now and shut your trap so I can get on with my story.

So anyway, Vineman. I'm feeling pretty good about the race. And when I say I'm feeling pretty good about the race, I really mean that I haven't thought about it enough to make myself nervous. I try not to think about it until it gets closer. A lot closer. Like when I'm in the water right before the gun goes off - that's a good time to start thinking. Cause when you're standing in the water you can pee in your pants and nobody will know.

Just in case you've been locked in a dresser drawer for the past few months and haven't been paying attention, I've been plagued with calf and hamstring issues since April. I finally ran on the road two weeks ago, which was the first time since that St. Anthony's race. It hurt and I stopped a lot and I piddled along at 11-12 minute miles, but I suppose I should rejoice in the fact that I was able to run in the first place. Look at this... this is me rejoicing.

If I had to think about it, I'd say the rest of the race could be pretty good. I'm feeling like I could PR in the swim. I'd be shocked if I don't. My swimming really has taken off this year. There's a remote chance I could even PR in the bike. That'd be a treat. At the very least I will probably still finish the bike in a respectable time, barring any unforeseen unforeseeables. The run though... that's the wildcard. I'm not looking forward to walking 13 miles through Sonoma. I'm a really bad walker. I trip over my feet. It's embarrassing.

So I guess that's my point Diary. The run. I suppose if I were to ever ask you for anything, it would be to send me good thoughts for my Vineman run.

Why should you send me good thoughts? Is that what you said? How about maybe because I actually speak to you. Maybe because I pretend to be your damn friend day after day. Maybe you should send me some goddam good thoughts because I don't light a match to your feeble little pages and throw you in the trash like the sorry excuse for a therapist that you pretend to be. Did you ever think of that? Maybe that's why you should send me good thoughts, you thankless schmuck.

What was that? You want me to be nice? Positive thoughts breed positive actions? What the heck does that mean?

Oh... OK. I get it.

Good night, diary.
I love you.


July 17, 2007

We All Have To Dream

I had a great ride. My legs were loose, I felt like I could go on for ever.

As I flew up the hills I could feel my body in tune like a well-oiled machine. It was as if every muscle of my being was in complete synchronicity. Tour de France sensations were seeping through my veins. I was Lance. Or maybe even Rasmussen.

On the flats I was in the ultimate aerodynamic tuck. I may very well have been zipping between the air molecules - nothing could hang on to me. Nothing could catch me. No matter how fast I went, I wanted to go faster. And I did. I did it so effortlessly.

I looked down at my heart rate. 138. Still relaxed, still easy. I smiled.

Not just a smile - I laughed. I screamed. I love this. I LOVE THIS!!!

Then the alarm clock went off.
I opened my eyes a slit and looked over. It said SOS, which seemed appropriate.

Or maybe it was 5:05.

I rolled out of bed and crammed some oatmeal down my throat. I got dressed and muddled my way outside. I hoisted my tired legs onto my bike and pushed ever so slightly forward.

My ride sucked. It was dreadful. Horrendous.
I'm a much better athlete in my dreams.

July 12, 2007

Buy A Bigger Bowl

I remember racing my first 10k and not having any fathom of how I could run one step further. 6.3 miles was impossible.

I did my first Olympic distance triathlon and couldn’t imagine how people completed anything longer.

I did a ½ Ironman and knew without a doubt that there was no way in hell I could ever race twice that distance.

I did an Ironman.
And I felt wonderful at the end.

We are interesting animals, us humans. (Yes, I know we’re mammals, but let’s not split hairs on this one right now. You’ll make me lose my train of thought.) Most of us can only imagine what we already know. Sure we can pretend to muddle about other things, but true imagination is different. Imagination has one foot in reality. In the confines of our human brains, imagination has boundaries.

We live in a box that we call reality, trapped on all sides by boundaries and categories. And for most of us that box defines the limit of our imaginations.

We leverage our life experiences as a means to stretch our imagination. Like a theme from the Truman Show, day after day we travel down the same road, until one day we dare to imagine a different route to a different destination.

As athletes, we are given the opportunity to dream on a regular basis. We strive to go faster, harder, stronger, longer. We dream of beating this time or conquering that course. And when we focus on the dream, when we set out a plan, suddenly the dream is in the realm of reality. It is within our box.

Our bodies are controlled by our minds. Nobody ever won without first daring to dream that they could. So we push ourselves not as much to the limits of our body, but to the limits of our imagination. Assume you can never finish an Ironman, and you never will.

Let’s call it the Bannister Effect.

In a world that believed in the limitations of man, Roger Bannister dared to imagine. He imagined that he could run a sub-4 minute mile, a feat that was far beyond the collective imagination of the time. Yet once he stretched beyond these mindless limitations and broke the 4-minute barrier, the floodgates of imagination were let loose. Just as suddenly, many others dared to imagine within the expanded Bannister walls. And just as quickly, dozens of others ran faster than a 4 minute mile.

As triathletes, it is up to us to challenge ourselves and stretch the limits of our minds. As we do, so our bodies will follow.

In a funny way we are like goldfish – we will always expand to the size of our bowl. No matter how big the challenge set before us, we will find a way to succeed.

Think you can’t do an Ironman?
I think you are wrong.
Buy a bigger bowl.

Dare to dream. Dare to peek outside the confines of your imagination. Stretch out your arm and put your hand through the fire. Grab hold of the other side and pull yourself through.

I promise, you won’t get burned.

July 10, 2007

Running With One Eye Closed

I am standing on the corner of the intersection stretching. It is 12 minutes into my 28 minute run. This is the third time that I've run on the road in the past week. It is also the third time that I've run on the road in the past 2 and half months.

The calf pain has turned into hamstring and quad pain. Today my hamstrings are like taut violin strings - I can practically hear the plucking of pain with every step. It's a sad, somewhat discordant song that's called "Vineman is 2 Weeks Away and You're In A World Of Trouble."

It's a chicken and egg thing, Mark Allen told me. The calf injury may have caused the hamstring pain or the hamstring pain may have caused the calf injury. Or maybe you're just chicken - go have an omelet and call it a day.

He didn't actually say that last part, I added it for comic effect, despite the fact that it's not real funny.

For the past 6 weeks I've been running - and I use that term very loosely - on the elliptical machine and the treadmill. Mostly on the elliptical. You meet very interesting people on the elliptical. Like the Israeli woman who was teaching the Iranian woman how to speak Italian. It sounded like a UN meeting without those translation headphone thingies.

90 minutes on the elliptical is tough. It's more mental stamina than anything. My grandfather would say that it builds character. My grandfather is dead. He had a lot of character.

Compared to exercising in the great outdoors, training on the elliptical is like running with one eye closed. By the time I was able to run outside, it was as if I finally figured out how to open my other eye. Suddenly I saw the world in all of its three-dimensional vibrant beauty. I didn't want to go back to the elliptical. I didn't want to close my eye to the world again. I don't like living in two dimensions. I'm really a multi-dimensional guy.

I was supposed to do a 90 minute run today, but the thought of spending an evening at the gym made me ill. Once I've seen the world with both eyes open, there's no turning back. I'll just do a slow 60 minute run outside, I convinced myself. Somehow that'll be better for my legs.

The calf started hurting after 6 minutes. So I stopped and stretched. Two minutes more of running and the hamstring started getting tight. I stopped and stretched again.

I realized that sixty minutes on the road is maybe a bad idea. So I turned around and headed towards home. Which brings us back to where I am right now, on the corner of the intersection, stretching.

Everything below my hips hurts, with the possible exception of a couple toes. Everything above my hips is tired from yesterdays massage, with the possible exception of my ears. Which I suppose leaves me with a few random body parts that are still working. For some reason it makes me feel like the naked guy on the Operation board game.

I'm stretching my left hamstring when I look up and see an elderly man approaching. He's out for a pleasant stroll. He looks friendly. He looks like he'd be a wonderful grandpa. The man is holding a handful of flowers. It seems like he may have ripped them up from somebody's garden. I try to see if there's dirt under his fingernails but can't tell. Maybe he's giving the flowers to his sweetheart. Isn't that special. I wonder if he's got a lot of character, like me.

Our eyes meet.

Good morning! I say.

He looks at me in an odd way and doesn't respond. I quickly pick up on the fact that this is because it is 5:30 in the evening.

It's not morning, I blurt out. It's not. I'm so used to it, this.

My words don't make sense to him. They barely make sense to me. But for some reason I continue.

I'm not morning. It's evening. I mean, it's evening. I'm not... I didn't mean.

I notice that the elderly man starts walking a little closer to the wall, a little further away from me. I've dug myself into a huge hole of dork, and it's best that I just shut up and put down the shovel. But I don't always do what's best, so I try to dig my way out.

I take a big breath and try to muster up something intelligible.

How are you doing? I said as if I hadn't been insane a few seconds prior.

The man looks at me and smiles in that grimacey type of way that you do when you're not sure if the other person is about to pull out a number two pencil and stab you in the shoulder. I notice he grabs hold a bit more tightly to his flowers.

He quickly walks by and disappears around the corner. I glance around me to make sure nobody else is looking, that there is nobody behind me who is going to stab me with a number two pencil. I'm all alone.

I take a big breath, turn towards home and continue the painful process of jogging back. It's a beautiful evening. But maybe I'm not yet ready for outdoor running.

July 09, 2007

The Finish Line Is A Mirror

We live in a world of time-clocks and stopwatches, where the movement of the second hand defines our days. Like an outtake from a motion picture, there seems to be a time-code forever scrolling across the ankles of our lives.

We are slaves to the clock and ruler.

A 2 hour ride.
A 50 minute run.
Heart rate, 142.
Get to work by 9.
2 hour meeting.
60 minute lunch.
Clock out at 5.
45 minute dinner.
Finish by 9.
Set the alarm for 6.
8 hours of sleep.

Wake up, reset the stopwatch.

Time rolls on and we move forward with the passing seconds. We analyze ourselves by the minutes we spend and how we weave them into the complex fabric of our lives. We define ourselves through time.

I am 40 years old.
I’m a 9 minute miler.
A top 35% finisher.

I am time. Time is me.

Or is it?

As athletes, it is so easy to define ourselves by the finish line. We too often assume that we are as we are defined by the time-clock.

But we are mistaken. The finish line is not what defines us. The finish line is not a destination nor a definition, but a reference point. It is merely a symbol of who we are and how we live our lives, it is not the answer. What matters is not what the clock says when we stop, but what happened during the minutes it took us to get there. The finish line, in this sense, is simply a mirror.

Time means nothing. Not of who we beat or how fast we went. A stop watch cannot define us. The finish line is not an indicator of our strength or weakness, nor courage or fear. It does not decipher what is good and evil, happy or sad. The finish line can’t say if I’m friendly or mean. It does not make us us.

It is the road that matters. The path we take to reach our goal is proof of the person we are. So as we run and move and watch the clock, we need to remember to take a step back and look not at the numbers at the end of the day, but at the effort in our actions. We must look at how we did what we’ve done and ask ourselves if that is the person we want to be.

Do you always tend to take the easy route or do you lay everything on the line? Do you conserve your energy and harness your strength to ensure you reach the destination with the least amount of effort? Or do you put your life on the edge and rip open your soul for the distant glimmer of an intangible dream?

Do you know when to stop or do you barrel forward into the darkness? Do you train and plan and plot every minute of every moment or are you grasping voraciously into the future?

At the end of the day, are you smiling or crying?

It is how we do what we do that makes us be us. There is no time clock, there is no finish line. All that exists at the end is a mirror, continually reflecting what lies within our being.

So run fast, run slow - it means nothing in the end. You are not me, nor I you. We are not the finish line, it is us.

July 05, 2007


I don't remember if I told you this before, but this September my sister and I are racing in an event called SOS, which is quite a fitting name for this extravaganza. SOS stands for two things as it relates to this race. The most literal translation is Survival of the Shawangunks. The less-literal translation is "are you f***ing crazy?!?!"

The Shawangunks are a group of mountains in New York just south of the Catskills. Which reminds me of an interesting but completely useless fact for you. Back in the early 20th century, a whole gaggle of Jews and their eastern European brethren made the Shawangunks a posh summer get-away. Not far from the Brooklyn bagel shops, but far enough to feel like you were in a different world, it was a perfect place for family resorts.

Well, things were going well for the resort owners but they knew it could get even better. So they decided to make some changes. A group of these folks decided that the Shawangunk name was far too difficult for all their immigrant clientele to spell and say, so they made the executive decision to change the name of the region. Better marketing, they thought. After much discussion, they opted for a much more catchy name: "the Catskills".

For some reason, though, the resorts in the area just south of the current Catskills didn't buy into the whole name change thingy. They stuck with Shawangunks. Clearly not the marketing masterminds behind that decision. Which is why you've probably never heard of these mountains.

What with the name change, the new improved Catskills area became hugely popular while the Shawngunks faded off into the distance. The Musicians and entertainers of the Catskills and Poconos were becoming stars practically overnight while the confusingly named Shawangunks faded into obscurity. Next thing you know, people still can't pronounce Shawangunk but over there in the Catskills Jennifer Grey is doing nasty things with Patrick Swayze on the dance floor.

Fast forward 100 years or so and all of the Catskills Jews have resettled in Los Angeles and turned that place into the new Jewish entertainment hub. Meanwhile, the mountain climbers and outdoorsy folk have overtaken the Shawangunks. Which leads us back to the SOS.

The SOS is an 8 stage race. Bike-run-swim-run-swim-run-swim-run. And if you think that's bad enough, wait'll you hear about the transitions. There aren't any.

Actually, there is one. You're allowed to have one friend take your bike from you at the end of that first stage and hand you your running gear. From there on out, you're on your own. That means you run through the trails with your swimming gear, and you swim through the lakes with your running gear.

Yes, you swim with your shoes. Then run with those same shoes. Then swim again. Run. Rinse. Repeat.

I suppose it makes this event part adventure race, part triathlon, part really really tiring.

The total distance comes out to about 30 miles of biking, 18.4 miles of running and 2.1 miles of swimming. Aside from the biking, the distances are a heckuva lot closer to Ironman than anything else I know. Which elicits one specific response in my mind: Uh-oh.

This race, which is sandwiched in my season between the Vineman 1/2 Ironman and the NY Marathon, is the race I am most nervous for. So what better way to calm my nerves than give the course a good ole test run.

As it turns out, I'm out here in the Shawangunk area right now. I love when things work out like that. My sister and I decided to wake up at 5am this morning all eager to do the first run/swim leg of the course. Fortunately the rain hadn't started when we woke up, so we quickly drove out to the bike transition and set-off.

The first swim of the SOS race is in a beautiful lake tucked into the Shawangunks. The only way to access this lake is via a 4+ mile trail. No cars allowed. So we set-off a running.

In a matter of seconds, we were gliding through the middle of a forest expanse that would make Bambi jealous. Little foofie bunny rabbits were hip-hopping down the trail in front of me as the rustling of birds flittered about in the trees at my side. Even a turkey jumped out from the bushes at one point and gobbled its way down the path.

It was so serene and so beautiful, I was about as peaceful as I could possibly get given my slow pace and continual stopping to stretch my legs. I was happy. Within 40 minutes I had climbed to the top of Cardiac Hill (mental note, that'll be a killer come race day), turned a corner and was awash with the beautiful vision of the 1 mile lake stretched out before me.

In a few minutes we had run around the lake and got to a rocky out-cropping that enabled us to easily climb in. And climb in we did.

The water was around about 68 degrees. Cold enough to feel a little chilly, but warm enough to not need a wetsuit. And it was clear. Crystal clear. It seemed that not a drop of dirt had ever fallen in this lake. No algae, no trash, no foul taste. It was like swimming in a bottle of Crystal Geyser. Dorothy, I don't think we're in California anymore.

We swam for about 1 mile before we arrived back at the rock outcropping and were able to get out and dry ourselves off. After a few chomps of a Clif Bar we headed back down the 4+ mile trail to the car.

It is safe to say that I was happy. Excited even. Because somewhere between the little bunnies hopping, the crystal clear swim and the fresh air coursing through my lungs, my fear of the race turned into anticipation.

Somehow I realized that I can't wait to spend a beautiful summer day jogging through the Shawangunk trails, easing up and down the mountains, cleansing my body in the Shawangunk waters and playing happily with the mindless serenity that attracted all those Czhechoslovakian German Jews to the area back when the name Henny Youngman meant something.

July 01, 2007

The New New News.

Catherine and I swam the Pacific Open Water Challenge this morning. It was a 1 mile swim in the Pacific Ocean off of Long Beach. Neither of us felt like we had a great race. In fact, we felt like it sucked. We were hurried and anxious and didn't get any warm-up whatsoever. The first time my face hit the water was after the starting gun.

The water was a bit choppy and the taste of gasoline in the Long Beach Bay made me feel like up-chucking. I pushed as hard as I could and felt like giving up halfway through.

However, I just looked at the final results online. And guess what...I came in 3rd in my age group. Sure there were only 11 people in my age group and yes, there were only 66 men overall. But I came in 3rd. Never in my life have I come in top 3 in a sporting event.


This is a new thing.
It feels good.
I feel change. And it all seems so apropos.
Because today is Sunday, July 1.
Today something different is happening.
It is a a new day.
It is a new week.
It is a new month.
It is a new moon.*
I have a new Ironman to conquer.
I have new inspiration.
There are new beginnings.
There are new stories.
We need a new blog template.

This time around, it should all be a little bit easier to swallow.

*Please note that it is not really a new moon today. It was a full moon last night and this morning. Which is close to a new moon. Same concept, but "full moon" doesn't quite work as well as "new moon" what with the mac-daddy word flow I had going.

*Please note, Part Deux, Catherine also came in 3rd in her age group!!! Woooohoooo!!! Aren't we just the Top 3 couple for a change.