October 30, 2007

The Grey Lines of Ironman

So apparently my previous post created a fair bit of discussion. Nice to see. As the great Axl Rose once said, love me or hate me, at least there's a reaction.

One interesting topic that came up in the comments of the Wishy-Washing of Ironman was the definition of an Ironman. What makes an Ironman?

On the surface it seems like a pretty easy question, but I think there's more to it. Let's take my friend, Kouy, as a for instance. Kouy trained eight long months for Ironman Coeur D'Alene. She pounded the pavement just like the rest of us and splish-splashed in the pool as much as the next person. She pushed her body, stretched her schedule and sacrificed her weekends.

She showed up to Ironman Coeur d'Alene and toed the starting line. The waters were rough that day and she had a tough time getting through. Seasick, hypothermia, dizzyness... somehow she made it through the swim right before the cut-off. She sat in the medical tent until the last minute before she would be disqualified, then got on her bike and rode.

Kouy finished the bike course with only 2 minutes left before the cut-off. It was already a long day but she was determined to finish the race. She head out on the marathon and pushed forward. By the time the clock struck midnight and the official clock had stopped, Kouy still had more than a few miles to go. She kept going. She crossed an empty finish line at about 1am.

To me, she is an Ironman.

I've got another friend who plowed through the swim, trudged through the bike and pushed through the run. Battling fatigue and stomach ailments, she reached mile 14 and couldn't continue. Physically, her body wouldn't move forward. She backed out of the race rather than risk long term disability.

To me, she is an Ironman.

In fact, to me, anybody who has the courage to put in the training and get to the starting line, who pushes through the swim and does the best they can possibly do, that person is an Ironman. Are they an Ironman finisher? Maybe not. You've got to cross the finish line to do that. But an Ironman is so much more than just finishing. It's trying, believing, dreaming and doing. Ironman is starting.

So what's an Ironman to you?

October 18, 2007

The Wishy-Washing of Ironman

I was standing at the counter of the coffee shop. They were unusually slow in their barista activities so there had accumulated a little bit of a line. I was in front. There were maybe four or five folks behind me, no doubt tapping their feet, checking their blackberries and acting curiously antsy despite the fact that they hadn't yet gotten their morning caffeine fix. But that's what people usually do in Los Angeles coffee shops, they act jittery and rushed the moment they step in the door. Caffeine is just an excuse.

It was somewhat of a cold day - or at least cold in terms of Los Angeles standards (keeping in mind that we have very low standards). The temperature had dropped down to a frigid 57 degrees, just cool enough to dust off the light sweater or throw a long sleeve on top of your sun-tanned arms. I was mighty happy that a chill was in the air, reason enough for me to wear my Ironman finisher fleece. Any excuse to gallivant in my Ironman fleece is good enough for me.

Whenever I wear my Ironman fleece, my pride collides with my embarrassment. It all revolves around the back of the fleece. There, stretched from shoulder to shoulder, are eight very large letters, shining forth in bright red stitching. It says: FINISHER.

In my mind, the eight letters mean so much more than the sum of its parts. If you read between the lines of those letters, what it really says is, "Look at me, I'm important. I'm better than you. And, by the way, your mama wears army boots."

Honestly, I just doesn't feel right to cop that attitude. I'm not comfortable with overt arrogance. The fact is, I'm not better than you and I'm not that important (though I'm pretty sure your mama does wear army boots).

At the same time, I suppose there's a fine line between arrogance and pride. The fact is that I am damn proud to be an Ironman finisher. I had dreamed of finishing an Ironman and, gosh golly, I want to share my excitement with the entire world. Being an Ironman finisher makes me feel special. It makes me feel like I joined an elite club. This fleece cost more than money, it cost hard work and perseverance and a fair bit of pain. For goodness sakes, I earned the right to wear this fleece.

So, anyway, there I was in line at the coffee shop ordering some sort of hot beverage to warm my fleece-covered bones in this God-awful frigid weather. The happy helper took my order and informed me that I may want to get a bank loan to pay for my flavored water. I declined and handed over my Ironman credit card, because in Los Angeles we use credit cards for everything. If gumball machines took credit cards, I'd be spending my days chewing. As for the reasons I use my Ironman credit card, its pretty much the same as the fleece. I earned it, goddammit.

As I'm waiting for the receipt and my expensive cuppa joseph, I casually glanced behind me. The line stretched back into the store, but my eyes stopped at the people who were standing right next to me. It was a man, about 45 years old and slightly paunchy. Overweight might even be a better term. Sure, maybe he jogged a few miles every now and then, perhaps lifted some weights in the gym, but he didn't look like the endurance type of athlete. Next to him was his wife who definitely doesn't exercise - and if she does, it's not working.

The thing that really got me intrigued, though, was the fact that they were pushing their child in a stroller. A yellow stroller. A yellow stroller with a great big IRONMAN logo on the side.

I stared at the Ironman logo, partially in disbelief, partially in an emotional bond. I looked back at the parents, almost expecting to see the Ironman glow in their eyes.

There's no way, I thought. I mean, sure, you don't have to have six-pack abs to finish an Ironman, just look at me, but.... This just didn't feel right. If they had really completed an Ironman wouldn't they at least say something to me? Here I am standing not but 2 feet in front of them, with the big bright red letters of "FINISHER" smacking them in the face. Wouldn't it be natural to strike up a conversation? Isn't that what we do in this exclusive Ironman club of ours? We enter into conversations with other Ironman finishers about random Ironman events.

Which Ironman did you finish? we say to each other. Oh, I hear that's a great event, we inevitably respond. I've always wanted to do that one, we continue. There's an unwritten script that we follow in Ironman introduction conversations. It's required. It's like a secret handshake.

But these people - these Ironman phonies - they didn't even bother to say anything to me. Not a hello. Not a "when did you race that one." Not even a simple smile of recognition.

I turned my back slightly to make sure they saw the back of my fleece. I wanted to blind them with the brightness of my FINISHER stitching. That'll get them to talk. That will weed out the true Ironmen from the posers.

I waited for their comments, but there was nothing.

Clearly they can't be Ironman finishers. I felt disgusted. These people are wannabes. They are stealing the Ironman logo from those that have earned it. Don't you have to qualify to buy one of these baby strollers? Don't you need a finishing time? These people, they're thieves, robbing me of my pride. I can't stand them. I want to rip the M-Dot logo right off of their baby stroller and expose them for the fabricators they are.

I grabbed my coffee and huffed out the door.

What has become of Ironman? I think to myself. What was once a select club of the most fiercely determined athletes, is now just another logo in the marketplace. Do you remember when the Ironman was recognized as the most difficult one-day athletic event in the world? What became of that? Where did it all go to?

As people flock to Ironman events like it's another weekend road race, the power in the symbolism has begun to fade into banality.

Ironman merchandise abounds. There are Ironman bikes, Ironman sunglasses and Ironman watches. Ironman scales and medicine balls and jump ropes. For $1100 dollars you can by an Ironman elliptical trainer on eBay and for only $450 you can pick up the Ironman recumbent bike. The World Triathlon Corporation just announced the new Ironman coffee. I don't know where it's going to be sold, maybe in the Ironman section of Target. Or perhaps it will be next to the Ironman baby strollers crammed onto the floor of REI.

When I raced Vineman 70.3 this year, the finish line announcer was calling people Ironmen. "Joe Schmo," he'd say as they crossed the finish line. "You are an Ironman!"

Wait a minute, you're telling yourself, Vineman is only 70.3 miles. And you are right. But Ironman is no longer a distance, it is an attitude.

Since 1978, the Ironman brand has stood for endurance and passion, dedication and perseverance. It has represented the best and strongest. Ironman is inspiration.

Unfortunately, the great irony of the Ironman brand is that, as participation in the sport popularizes, the power of the brand diminishes. If everybody claims to be "elite," than nobody is.

Ironman is no longer simply a 140.6 mile event, it is a symbol of determination. It is no longer an endurance event, it is a consumer brand - and one that generates a butt load of money. Ironman is about determination, and now, for a few dollars, anybody can buy in.

We are in the midst of the gentrification of Ironman. Today it is much easier than anytime in history for anybody to experience the Ironman attitude. You don't have to swim, bike or run. You don't have to train for 7 months - to sacrifice family and friends. You don't have to battle the physical pain and emotional destruction. You don't have to bring your body to the very edge and confront the demons burning inside you.

All you have to do is open your wallet.

As somebody who is highly passionate about the sport of triathlon, I want everybody to feel it's power. I want the sense of accomplishment to spread like a virus and fuel the fire of inspiration in all corners of the world. I want everybody to experience the joy of triathlon. At the same time, I want to feel special. I want to be an Ironman elite.

Ironman is a dream.
I hope our dream doesn't get sold down the river.

October 14, 2007

The Fire Inside

For years the only Ironman race I wanted to do was in Kona. It's the grandaddy of 'em all. It's where it all began. If you're going to do one, why not do The One. I had no desire to even consider another Ironman besides Hawaii. It barely even crossed my mind, and when it did, I felt dirty. I felt like I was cheating myself.

I suppose I can be an all-or-nothing type of guy.

Year after year I entered myself into the Kona lottery. I came up with the most creative things to say on my application. I paid the extra fifty bucks for the Passport Club, whatever the heck that is, to make sure I had the best chance of success. The moment I entered the lottery I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I would be accepted. It was not too dissimilar from the feeling of every state lottery participant - that they, for sure, will be the one to walk home with the 40 mill.

But, alas, I came up empty time and again. Qualifying wasn't even an option. I'm not that fast. My only hope is waiting another 40 years and hoping I outlast any other potential 80-84 year old competitors.

After years of seeing my Ironman dreams fade away into a lottery losers mental maelstrom, I finally decided to wave the white towel. In 2006 I gave in, tucked away my ego and decided to race Ironman Lake Placid. Though I may never get to Kona, I would live a life of regrets if I didn't do at least one Ironman.

So I jumped on the proverbial treadmill of Ironman training. My life revolved around the 15-20 hours a week. Swim, bike, run, eat, rest, stretch, eat, sleep, eat, repeat. I became engrossed in the monotony of it all. It was enthralling. I succumbed to the mental energy and nervous anxiety that infiltrated every corner of my life. It was a roller coaster of emotions - an amazing experience in hindsight.

I raced Ironman Lake Placid and finished. It was incredible - one of the best days of my life. When I emerged from the other end, I was an Ironman. I had lived my dream.

I've now signed up for Ironman Arizona and am jumping back upon that treadmill of training. I will, once again, go the distance.

But I have to admit, as I sit here and watch the Hawaii Ironman Championships on my little computer screen, I can't help but feel the energy of it all. The lure of the island and history of the race burns through my monitor and awakens that once dormant corner of my brain. The fire still burns.

I suppose its time to play the lottery again...

(And a huge hearty congrats to all the Ironman finishers! What a race this year, eh?)

October 12, 2007

The Miracle Of Life

It started at the movie theater. It was a couple of months ago and Catherine and I were going to see something or other that is fairly irrelevant to my story. A couple of friends were going to meet us for this celluloid extravaganza, so while Catherine held close guard over the seats, I stood out front to wait for our friends' arrival.

As showtime approached, I watched many a person come through the doors and head into the theater. My eyes were in a daze, staring at face after face, looking for the familiarity of our friends. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I saw a woman standing in front of me, ambling slowly towards the theater door. She was about 60 years old and was carrying a white cane. I looked down and noticed the bottom of the cane was red. I looked up and realized she was wearing dark sunglasses.

Interesting, I thought to myself. I've never seen this situation.

The woman approached the door and handed over her ticket. The usher asked if she needed help and, as she nodded approval, he took her arm and guided her into the theater.

It seemed odd to me, a blind woman coming to watch a movie. Or, rather, to listen to a movie. I'm not sure why it stuck with me, but it did.

Fast forward a couple of months and I'm driving down the road headed somewhere that is, again, completely irrelevant to my story when I see a 20-something girl crossing the street. But not just a regular 20-something, a blind 20-something girl. Dark glasses, standard white cane with the red tip - you know the story.

The young blind girl alone wouldn't necessarily spark my attention. What got me gawking was the fact that she was smiling, arm-in-arm with another 20-something girl with another white/red cane and another set of dark sunglasses. It was, literally, the blind leading the blind - and having a good time in the process.

Seeing those two, smiling arm in arm, made me realize why it all struck me so intensely. I suppose it can be summed up in one word: fear.

Blindness, in my mind, would take my life away. I love movies, I love reading, I love the endless senseless beauty that envelopes the minutae of life. When I go running, I drown myself in the God-like elegance of the green leaves, the towering trees. I find spiritual solace in the comfort of the soft blue sky. What would be of life if this gift of sight were robbed of me? How would I possibly survive?

I'm terrified to live in a world of darkness. Scared shitless to float through an endless black sea of nothingness.

So to see a blind woman go to the movies, and to witness two blind girls happily strolling the streets... well, in my mind it might as well have been a surreal sketch from a Salvador Dali scene.

But as I sit here and write this, I realize how desperately and drastically wrong I am. I suddenly think of Charlie Plaskon, 62 years old, blind and racing the Hawaii Ironman in Kona this weekend. I learn about Sharlene Wills, 59 years old, completely visionless, 40 marathons under her belt and many more to go. I amaze over the C*Different foundation. My heart melts when Ray Charles plays and suddenly I sit here singing a Stevie Wonder song in my mind.

Blindness is not a disease, nor is it necessarily a detriment. The sightless are not afflicted, they are not the weak ones. It is me. Us. The disease is ignorance and judgment. The disease is callowness and an unwillingness to reverse the paradigm of life. Maybe the blind ones are the gifted - the souls who can experience life on a higher level. And maybe me.... we who can see but still don't believe in the miracle of life, the strength of humanity....maybe we are the true weakness.

October 08, 2007

A Trail Of Crumbs

Some people can exercise all day without a craving for solid food. I’m not one of those people. After two hours on the bike I desperately need something to chew on or else I'll end up eating my biking gloves. And since I stopped wearing biking gloves, I can only assume that my fingers are now in danger.

I ingest my fair share of Power Bars, but man cannot bike on Power Bars alone. Pretzels, fig newtons, trail mix – the cravings can be quite varied, so on the long rides I try to bring a few different items with me.

When I raced Ironman Lake Placid last year, I brought so much food, I couldn't even carry it all. I crammed as much as I could into my Bento Box and then stuffed even more so tightly into my jersey pocket that it started falling out along the bike course. I felt like I was the lead character in a crazed endurance remake of Hansel and Gretel.

I’m determined to avoid that problem at Ironman Arizona. Fortunately, I think I’ve already figured out the solution…

This photo is courtesy of these people.

October 05, 2007

Around The Hamster Wheel - or - My Elliptical Marathon: A Quasi-Race Report

Training for a marathon is challenging when you have achilles tendinitis.

Perhaps the early stages of training might be manageable; the weeks when your schedule tells you to run just a few miles here and there. Being so far away from race day you can probably even spend a few weeks out of your running shoes. Maybe log in some quality time with the physical therapist to make sure you are healed properly. Ice, stretch, massage, electric stim, rinse, repeat.

It gets a bit more difficult as time marches on. When you're plagued with achilles tendinitis five weeks before race day, decisions become more rushed. The mental masochism begins the moment you see "20 miles" listed as your scheduled weekend run. You know that just 20 feet of running turns into unbearable pain, yet still you try to manipulate your mind to justify the agony. But there is no escape.

Maybe you haven't questioned how you'll make it to the end of the marathon, but you definitely wonder how you'll make it to the start.

So you become a regular member at your local gym. You think about jogging in the pool. Maybe you even give it a shot. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. By the time the clock hits twenty minutes you are about to go insane. The boredom is unbearable. So you get out of the water and sit in the jacuzzi and convince yourself that the heat and bubbles are more therapeutic anyway.

You come back later in the week with the intention of going on the treadmill. Maybe you've even gotten so far as to convince yourself that it will create less impact on your legs. It will be good for you as long as you can go slowly, you tell yourself with shaky confidence. Just take it slowly. But you quickly realize that's a really bad idea because the achilles starts hurting before you even turn the damn machine on.

As you turn away in frustration, you notice it from afar. It's as if the moment you lifted your head up, the sounds of a heavenly choir echoed through the exercise room. The light bulb of an idea flashed so brightly you nearly blinded yourself with enthusiasm. You think you've figured it out, the solution that could be your ticket out of this. Your ticket to a successful marathon.

Say hello to the elliptical machine.

You walk over and touch it. You slowly reach your hand out to caress the mechanism's long arm. Your fingers curl around the heart rate sensor with emotional tenderness. You step one foot cautiously onto the platform and realize there is enough resistance to lift you up and put the other foot in place. You smile. You finally have it all figured out.

And so your indoor training begins.

You do your speed workouts on the elliptical. Twenty minutes of higher intensity isn't so bad when there is no pounding on the legs. In fact, it almost feels good. You plug out some 5 and 6 milers on the machine. A quick 40 minutes and it's done. The iPod gets you through most of it. You almost begin to enjoy it.

Then the weekend comes around. The schedule calls for thirteen miles. For days you have mentally prepared for the challenge. You psych yourself up. You load up your iPod with all the best entertainment and make sure you grab a bottle of your favorite electrolyte fluid.

You step on the treadmill with anxious anticipation and begin movement. Your feet go around and around, arms pushing and pulling incessantly at your sides. You are revolving endlessly on a hamster wheel. Going nowhere fast.

An hour and forty minutes is what it takes. You can't believe it. An hour and forty minutes you spent on the elliptical. You feel like you should get a medal. Some type of award. Maybe a plaque in the hallowed hallways of the YMCA. At the very least, a pat on the back and a free diet Pepsi.

But just when you thought you've succeeded, you suddenly realize the road continues on. Thirteen miles was a rest week. It was a gimme. You look at the following week's schedule in horror. The Saturday workout stretches it's arms out to choke you. It makes fun of your 13 miles. 18 miles it says in bold red letters. 18 miles.

You repeat the distance softly to yourself as if the words will make it less intimidating. 18 miles. But it doesn't work, the fear engages. 18 miles? 18 miles?! 18 MILES!!!

How can I do this? It isn't possible. Will my legs give out? Will I go insane? Will I collapse from boredom?

Throughout the week, the anxiety creeps quietly amidst the spaces between your bones. It tickles and taunts you. It unnerves you at the most inopportune moments.

But somewhere around Thursday or Friday, the anxiety meets it's foe. A switch gets turned. You flip the script and suddenly the anxiety is no longer a limiter, but a driver. Suddenly your faith is stronger than your fear.

You get to an empty gym on Saturday morning, a row of silent elliptical machines await. You lift one foot on, grab the arms and pull the rest of your body on top. With a deep breath, you begin...

* * * *

2 minutes, 1/4 mile: Has it only been two minutes? Every painful rotation of the hip flexor feels like my bones are being held together by rusted hinges. Since when did I transform into the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz? And where's my damn oil can?

8 minutes, 1 mile: One thing I've learned about my body since I got plagued with these nagging lower leg problems is that it takes me a full 20 minutes to warm-up. Unfortunately, this knowledge doesn't help. It's only been 8 minutes. This sucks. My achilles feels tender. My hamstrings are tight. My calf is a piece of wood. I slow down the pace to something just short of making the machine stall.

26 minutes, 3.5 miles: I suddenly notice the pain is gone. Heart rate is hovering around 140, resistance at 6. Legs are moving in circles fairly quickly. Achilles feels good. Woohoo!

32 minutes, 3.87 miles: Somebody just turned on the fan. It's a nice cool breeze. I open my mouth and look up towards the sky as if I'm soaking in the sunshine. But I'm not. I'm inside a room with no windows, no sunshine and no view of the sky.

41 minutes, 5.2 miles: The iPod is blasting an album by Brand New, my favorite running music. I'm feeling good. I'm bouncing to the music. I'm mouthing the words to my favorite songs. I might even be singing the words, I'm not sure, I can't hear myself. Either way, I've suddenly become the people that I make fun of. I pick up the pace and shift the resistance up to level 8.

49 minutes, 6.3 miles: I'm putting in more effort, grooving to the music. I feel like I can keep this up all day. I look down to see my heart rate: 149. Ooh, that might be a little too hard. I slow down... kinda. Sorta. Not really.

51 minutes, 6.55 miles: I'm not hungry. I feel pretty good. But realize I should eat something if I'm going to keep this up. I glance over and notice fellow ellipticalers on both sides of me. Damn. I hesitantly reach into the bottle holder on the elliptical and pull out a Hammer gel. I sense the man on my right peeking over, no doubt wondering what kind of fool brings gels to an elliptical workout. I'm wondering the same thing. I try to remain calm. I quickly rip the top off the packet with my teeth and try to conceal my embarrassment. I can feel them watching me. I can sense their eyes rolling. I just have to get through this quickly. I keep my eyes forward as I chug down the guey substance. I swallow too fast and begin choking. [cough!][hack!] I shove the empty gel packet into the bottle holder and grab my fluid. [ckh-uuuuh!] Must drink. [hack!] Must stop coughing. [kuh!!!] Don't want to bring attention to me. [cough!!] Too late, they're looking. I swallow my fluid but it makes matters worse. I stifle a cough [co-rrmmmph!] and clear my throat loudly and macho-ly. Whew. That did it. I take a big breath. Well that clearly didn't quite go as planned. I stare forward and stand tall. I don't want to meet their eyes. I don't want them to know me. I want to squirrel into a little corner and curl into a ball.

1 hour, 7.4 miles: There's a 60 minute time limit on the elliptical machines. I'm fast with the ATM, a speed demon on a punch clock. The moment it tells me my workout is over, my fingers fly. I punch the buttons with laser-like dexterity. Clear, new exercise, manual workout, weight, time, resistance, GO!! I don't lose a beat, I'm still moving, still keeping the rhythm. A boy on his hamster wheel. I am elliptical, hear me roar.

1 hour 23 minutes, 10.3 miles: My mind is starting to fade. I stare at the clock. This is boring. The seconds inch forward. I swear that the clock seems to be slowing down. I tap on the digital timer to make sure it is still moving. Of course it is, it's digital.

1 hour 30 minutes, 11.2 miles: I am listening to a podcast of Babe Ruth giving his "Farewell to Baseball" speech. His throat is beyond gruff. It sounds like every word out of his mouth is an effort that may kill him. I'm starting to feel that way about the elliptical. Around and around my legs go. My mind is numb. I'm staring incessantly at the wall.

1 hour 41 minutes, 13.05 miles: I passed last weekend's workout length. Woohoo! The legs feel good, though the body is definitely tired. Achilles is getting a little tight. I start counting the specks of dirt on the wall. I lose count after 17 and start again.

1 hour 43 minutes, 13.2 miles: It's that time again. I look behind me to see if there's anybody I know working out in the gym. I don't know why I look for people I know. They are the last ones I want to see at this point. Of course, the moment I see somebody I know I quickly turn my head back. I hope he didn't see me. Please God, don't let him have seen me. I reach into the water bottle holder and pull out another Hammer Gel. I hold it close to my chest, firmly encased in my hand so nobody will know. I quickly rip off the top of the packet with my teeth like Tom Hanks eating that mini-corn in the movie Big. Swift, small and smooth movements. I quickly swallow the gel. Swift, small and smooth. Please God, I say to myself, don't let them notice me. I can feel eyes piercing through my back. I can sense them laughing at me. I hide the empty gel packet and slowly push forward.

1 hour 53 minutes, 14.4 miles: My mind is still numb. I'm not sure the gel worked. Wasn't it suppose to energize me? It's not working. Maybe it expired. How long ago did I buy it?

1 hour 58 minutes, 14.9 miles: I'm listening to a podcast of Nelson Mandela's speech right after he was released from jail. I don't understand most of what he's saying, his accent is too thick. I keep listening anyway. In my head I keep singing that song "Free Nelson Mandela" by The Specials. Free, free, freeee...Nelson Man-delllll-aaahhh. I want to be freed. I've been staring at a wall for nearly two hours. I'm pretty sure the Geneva Convention has rules against this.

2 hours 2 minutes, 15.2 miles: I'm either entering a diabetic coma or I've just gotten into a special zone. I can't quite tell the difference at this point. Maybe the gel just finally kicked in. Either way, I'm feeling a rhythm again.

2 hours 10 minutes, 16.25 miles: My body is a bit tired, but it's mostly from my mind. My eyes stare blankly into the distance as my legs uncontrollably spin in circles. I feel like Jack Nicholsen in "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" right after the lobotomy and just before the big Indian guy suffocated him with a pillow. I glance over my shoulders for pillows. Or big Indian guys.

2 hours 12 minutes, 16.5 miles: I start having a spiritual experience. I feel like I'm on LSD, or as close as one could get without ingesting any drugs. My eyes are closed. I start getting flashbacks of Ironman Lake Placid. Images come zooming in front of my eyes. A tsunami of emotion floods my heart. I start feeling the bodily pain of that Ironman bike ride. I've reached behind the smiles. My heart is flooded. Nelson Mandela finishes his speech. Apparently there is no more apartheid. I want to cry.

2 hours 20 minutes, 17.5 miles: I emerge from my spiritual awakening to notice a woman on the elliptical to my right. I don't remember when she arrived. She is staring at me. I don't know why. She thinks I'm crazy. I can tell from the glare of her eyes. I try to remember if I'd been talking out loud during that little journey of mine. I think I may have clapped at the end of Mandela's speech.

2 hours 32 minutes, 18.6 miles
: I try to add up my mileage but my brain doesn't seem to be working properly. In three attempts I come up with three different distances. I average them out and realize I must've passed 18 already. I decide to keep going for reasons I have yet to understand.

2 hours, 45 minutes, 20.2 miles: I reach 20 miles. I'm proud. My body is a little tired. Achilles is tender. There is a weird tingling in my right calf, I've never felt that one before. I should stop. But I don't. What has happened to me? Do I actually enjoy this?! Have I really been on this godforsaken machine for nearly 3 hours?! My legs keep spinning in circles. I turn on a podcast called "Podictionary" and listen to the definition and etymology of the word "crater."

2 hours, 49 minutes, 20.7 miles: I reach in the water bottle holder for my last Hammer Gel. I realize in ancient times that the water bottle holder would have been called a crater. I don't much care. Most people have already left the gym, I don't bother to hide my gel behavior anymore. I'm too tired, too bored. I tear off the top of the packet with my teeth like a rabid pack of hyenas tearing the flesh off the decaying carcass of a fallen gazelle. I suck down the Gel with fury and guzzle what's left of my fluid. I would pound my chest like Tarzan but I don't have the energy. Besides, I'd probably fall off the elliptical.

2 hours 55 minutes, 21.5 miles: I'm listening to a podcast of Robert Kennedy's speech right after Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. I envision somebody shooting me near the end of a marathon.

3 hours 10 minutes, 23.6 miles: My iPod battery dies, just like Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm left with just the voices in my head for the rest of this journey. I keep saying the words "I have a dream..." over and over. I can't make it disappear.

3 hours 18 minutes, 24.7 miles: I start singing songs to myself. Out loud. I begin to count the specks of dirt on the wall again but get bored by the time I reach 7.

3 hours 26 minutes, 26 miles: All of the sudden I feel great. Has it only been 3 hours and 26 minutes? I think to myself. This is wonderful! I can do this all day! I pick up the pace and increase the resistance. Level 8. I push harder. The adrenaline is pumping, the excitement brewing. I'm going to do a marathon!! I scream to myself. A marathon!

3 hours 27 minutes, 26.1 miles: Ouch! A pain shoots up my achilles. I reduce the resistance back to Level 4 and slow down my pace.

3 hours 28 minutes, 26.2 miles: I did it!! I DID IT!!!! I did a marathon on the elliptical!! I slowly stop my legs from moving.

I stand motionless on the elliptical and smile. I wait silently for the throngs of cheering fans. I want balloons and streamers and bleachers of people shouting my name in unison. I want sports reporters and the Guinness Book of World Records and TV cameras scrambling to get the best close-up. I slowly turn my body around to greet the masses. There is only a semi-decrepit 92 year old, silently struggling with the quad machine on the other side of the room.

I step off the elliptical and balance myself on rubbery legs. I wash the sweat off the elliptical, grab my belongings - my iPod, my water bottle, my used packets of gu - reach down, pick up my bag and hoist it over my shoulder.

I grin.
And then the grin becomes a smile.
And the smile becomes a laugh.
And the laugh screams through every part of my body.

I walk silently and proud, out of the gym, out to the rest of the world.

October 02, 2007

....And He's Still There

This story is going to sicken you.

There is a 42 year old woman who lives a few blocks down the road from me. She had some work to do on her condo so last week, instead of hiring a bunch of overpriced tradesmen, she decided to save some money in the true Los Angeles way: she drove down to the corner and got a few Mexican day laborers to do the work for cheap.

I'm guessing that the work went well, she saved a couple of pennies and life went on.

Fast forward to this past Thursday night. The woman comes home at about 10pm to find her house ransacked. And the burglar was still there.

But wait, it gets worse. Much worse.

As she entered, he attacked her, beat her and tied her up. For the next four hours he repeatedly raped her and sexually abused her in ways I'd rather not know. Finally, at two in the morning, he took her cash, credit cards and car keys. He jumped in her convertible Mercedes and got the heck out of there.

The woman was soon able to get out of the ropes and have a neighbor call 9-1-1.

Here's where it gets a little more freaky...

The cops caught the intruder earlier today. A 17-year old Latino driving a convertible Mercedes through the streets of Oxnard stands out like a sore thumb. Yes, he is 17 years old.

Even more, this kid was one of the same men who the woman had hired a few days earlier to help her fix her condo. And though on first glance it seemed as if he had scouted out the condo and went back to rob the valuables, that's wrong.

He hadn't been scouting out the condo, he had been scouting out the condo owner.

He had showed up in the condo on Thursday morning. Sneaking in through a doggie door, he waited, lurking inside the home all day while the woman was at work. Time enough to sit around and contemplate what he was going to do. Time to make decisions. Time to back out. Unfortunately he didn't. 12 hours later she came home and he attacked.

He has raped, beaten, robbed, and stolen from this woman and Lord knows what other charges will be leveled against him.

Here's the catch: he is underage. And he is an illegal alien.

So tell me, how quickly do you think he'll be walking the streets of Los Angeles again?
Now tell me, what's your position on immigration?

October 01, 2007

A Boy And His Elliptical

You may be wondering what happened with me and the elliptical this weekend. I'm going to let you know. You'll probably even enjoy hearing about it. It may make you laugh and say things like, there is something really wrong with that child. Or perhaps you'll wonder how my parents screwed up to create a human being like me. Maybe you'll just make sure to lock your doors extra tight at night in case I get loose.

Either way, you'll have to wait. I'm not going to give you the story right now, cause I don't have time. But it's a-comin.

Oh, and my hip flexor doesn't hurt nearly as much today. Thanks for asking.