For the first 37 years of my life, I had the swimming talent of a one-winged egret. I could get from one side of the pool to the other, but not without a whole lotta frustrated flapping and general mayhem.
I remember the first triathlon I raced back in 1992. It was one of those nifty backwards races where you run first and swim last. The pool swim was only 400 meters, but it might as well have been 400 miles with the way I was swimming. In fact, I hasten to call it swimming. Flailing might be better. Not waving, drowning.
It felt like a good two hours before I finally reached the end of the swim. I was breathing so hard I wouldn't be surprised if somebody made a mad dash for the defibrillator, just in case my ventricular valves took a turn for the worse. My arms were so incredibly tired, I couldn't even lift myself out of the pool. I tried but, egret-ably, I ended up splashing back into the water.
Assuming that nobody was allowed to help me get out, I figured I'd spend the rest of my life in that pool. I cringed at the thought of the finger wrinkles I'd have to live with.
It took two people to link their arms under my shoulders and hoist me out of that dreadful water. I collapsed on the grass and laid there for awhile, wondering if I'd ever be able to lift my hands again. It was fairly dramatic in my own mind.
Over the next 10 years, my swimming didn't get a heckuva lot better. I managed to swim a little further, but it wasn't any prettier.
In about 1999 I took a swim lesson at the YMCA. You gotta love the YMCA. I won't go into details about the swim instructor I had, suffice to say, I question if he knew how to swim. After watching me splash about the pool for a few minutes, he said "your swimming looks good. Keep it up."
Excuse me? I must have water in my ears. I thought you said that my swimming looks good.
Oh, you did? Don't take this the wrong way but, umm, are you by any chance blind? I mean, like a bat? Can you see anything at all? Because my swimming does not look good. My swimming looks like shit. I know that and I can't even see me swim. I can't believe I'm actually paying you for this.
I walked out of there partly in a huff and partly with an inflated ego. After all, the swimming instructor told me my stroke looked good.
I soon took to ocean swimming. A couple of Friday's each month, a few friends and I would do a one mile jaunt. My friends were fairly decent swimmers, always leaving me in the dust. They'd be breezing along ahead of me, only to have to stop and wait for me every few minutes. I'd finish those swims in a frustrating 40 minutes. It was horrendous. I pushed and pushed but didn't go anywhere. I couldn't keep this up.
Somewhere around 2003 I decided enough was enough.
I called up my coach, Tony, and told him I needed to learn how to swim. Teach me, I said. Great, he replied, we'll do one lesson.
One week later I met Tony at the local park for my one hour swim lesson. At the park, you say? Yes, the park.
There at the park Tony put me through all sorts of arm movements and head turns. I inhaled and exhaled and practiced moving my shoulders in circles. He had me lay down on the baseball bleachers and flail about like I was in the water. But I wasn't. I was on the bleachers.
See how your right arm is moving like that, he'd say every now and then. Do the same thing with your left.
Sure, Tony. Whatever. Where's the water?
Finally he said an hour was up, the lesson was done. Whaaa?!?
What the hell am I paying you so much for? I complained in my best cheapskate tone of voice. I ask you to teach me how to swim and we don't even get in the water?! This is meshugas! (It seemed appropriate, in this instance, to throw out the one Yiddish word I knew even if I wasn't sure about the context.)
Trust me, he said. This is going to help you.
A few days later, it was Friday. Time to hit the ocean. Same one mile swim with my same friends. The swim started off just like it always did... we jumped into the ocean and swam out to the end of the pier before taking a right hand turn and heading north for one mile.
As we started heading north, something seemed different - it was me. I was actually keeping up with the fastest of my friends and it didn't seem difficult. In fact, it felt great. I kept pushing harder and going faster and it still felt wonderful. Soon I looked up and scanned the water for everybody else. I didn't see them in front of me. Lo and behold, they were behind. Holy cow! I kept swimming. Ten minutes later I looked back and saw them even further back than they were before.
What the hell is going on here?! I didn't quite know, but it felt so good.
A few minutes later I reached the end of the swim and climbed onto shore. I looked back to see my friends still swimming towards me. I glanced at my watch to see my time. Holy moly. I looked back in disbelief. 30 minutes. 30 MINUTES!?! In one week I had cut 10 minutes off my mile swim time. TEN minutes? You hear me?!?! This was huge. H-U-G-E HUGE!
As my friends came up on shore they were incredulous. Holy shit! one of them said. What the hell happened to you?!
I...uh....ummm....err....I'm not sure. I shrugged my shoulders and looked at my watch again, still in a bit of disbelief.
And then it hit me. My lesson came flooding back to me. I remembered myself sprawled out on the baseball bleachers, stroking and kicking and flailing. And I remembered Tony's voice - do that with your left arm, he said. Your left arm.
My left arm, I uttered to my friends like a crash victim emerging from shock. My left arm. I haven't been using my left arm. I started swimming with both arms today. Both arms! I used my left arm!!
My swimming took a huge turn that day - the fateful day that I suddenly realized I could swim faster if I push with both arms. That day was the moment when swimming suddenly emerged as one of my stronger sports. In the next few years I worked harder on my swimming and got better. I improved my stroke and streamlined my body. I shaved another 3 minutes off my time and even won an age group award in my first open water swim race.
I've achieved results beyond anything I could imagine. And it all goes back to that one day in the park where I flailed like an idiot on the baseball bleachers. It's amazing what can happen in the oddest circumstances when you put your whole body into it.
September 29, 2007
For the first 37 years of my life, I had the swimming talent of a one-winged egret. I could get from one side of the pool to the other, but not without a whole lotta frustrated flapping and general mayhem.
Posted by j. at 11:30 AM
September 27, 2007
I just came back from the chiropractic active release physical therapy hooohaaa doctor. I'm a cynic when it comes to physical therapy - none of it works. Stretch, ice, massage, electric stim. Why do I have to pay somebody to do this? Would it be cheaper for me to just get a butler? Then at least he can also cook me dinner and lather my hair when I'm in the tub.
Anyway, the achilles doesn't feel like it's getting any better, so I'm still stuck with the elliptical for another week. Big run planned for this Saturday. You read about my last elliptical experience? Stay tuned.... I think it might get uglier.
Posted by j. at 5:24 PM
September 25, 2007
I know a guy who used to be in Special Ops. The Special Operations sector of the US Army (or "Special Ops" for people like me who want to sound cool) is a group of highly trained masochists who have the responsibility of putting themselves in harms way and doing things that most normal citizens believe only happens in Tom Clancy books and Tom Cruise movies.
You probably also know of them as the Green Berets, though I'm not quite sure if they actually still sport the highly fashionable beret. I can only imagine that a beret might fall off while you're parachuting behind enemy lines in the dark of night with missiles whizzing by your earlobes. Then again, I've never claimed to be a headwear specialist.
So this guy I know, his name is Tony. Really super-nice fellow, but kinda crazy. Not crazy in a push-a-shopping-cart-filled-with-empty-boxes-and-yell-random-things type of way. His version of crazy extends more to the push-yourself-beyond-the-limit-and-enjoy-it kind of way.
This type of crazy makes sense because out there in the Special Ops world, there is no such thing as quitting. If you suddenly decide mid-mission that you don't want to continue on, tough cookies. If you quit, you not only put yourself in danger but you put your entire team at risk.
I can only imagine that one of the main personality characteristics of a top notch Special Op-er is the ability to keep moving forward when every bone in your body screams for you to stop.
Tony's got some crazy stories about his days in Special Ops. Truly nutty stories about laughing in the face of fear and danger. But Tony left the military quite a few years ago and channeled all of his physical prowess and intelligence into adventure racing, which I reckon is a much better way to channel the energy than, say, becoming a contract killer. Tony is now one of the top adventure racers on the international circuit
Tony used to be my triathlon coach. He put me through some of the most grueling workouts I've ever experienced. There were runs that were so tough I'd practically throw up in the end; Bike rides that were so demanding I could barely lift my legs for days.
I used to meet with Tony once a week for these sessions. In retrospect, it seems like I was volunteering for electro-shock therapy - like I was actually paying somebody to beat the crap out of me and then showing up seven days later for more of the same. In actuality, that pretty much sums it up. Then again, sometimes that's what it takes to get you focused.
One of the best parts of my training back then was hearing Tony's stories. At the end of a particularly painful session, he'd reward me with stories of his military past. Tony, you see, was about as close to Mission:Impossible as I will probably get.
He's the guy that parachuted in the dark of night into the middle of the ocean, then swam to the coast, behind enemy lines, and crept into the remote building to rescue the hostages and sneak them out to safety. He was that guy.
Tony was in the first Gulf War before we even knew we were fighting a war. Two days before we ever heard of Shock and Awe, he was scrambling through the sands with his troop of men in the dead of night, scouting for land mines and enemy hiding places to make it safe for the rest of the military to thunder in and kick ass.
Tony was the guy that radioed back to the troops with the "all clear" sign, only to be stuck smack in the middle of the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air as he and his team hauled ass back from across enemy lines before the bad guys caught up to them.
As you can probably imagine, he's got a lot of will-power and focus, this Tony fellow. When there's pain, Tony pushes through it. And as a coach, that's what he teaches his minions.
I owe a lot to Tony. He taught me how to focus and face the pain. When things get bad out there and I don't think I could possibly go on for another step, I hear his voice in my head pushing me further. And that's what gets me to not only take another step, but to take it harder and faster than the previous step.
All this was a tremendous asset this morning on the elliptical machine.
Elliptical machine? you're asking incredulously.
Remember those achilles problems I was having at the SOS? Well guess what.... my doctor told me that I can't run for at least two weeks. It's a case of achilles tendinitis which isn't that bad in the scheme of things. That is, if you hadn't had plans to run the NY Marathon six weeks hence.
Who needs to train for a marathon anyway. It's only 26 miles, right?
I feel like I should get a medal for my elliptical workout this morning. An endurance medal. I was on the damn thing for an hour and forty minutes! Can you believe it?! What kind of mindless retard can numb his brain long enough to stay on an elliptical for an hour and forty minutes without going absolutely crazy, maybe even speaking in tongues. Me, that's the answer. I'm the kind of mindless retard.
I don't know if anybody else has ever used one of the YMCA's elliptical machines for 110 minutes straight. I'd imagine most people might hang themselves somewhere around 80 minutes. That's where it starts getting tough. And that's about where I heard Tony's voice coursing through the grey matter in my aforementioned mindlessly retarded pea brain.
I'm not sure what I heard him say, all I know is that one minute I would give anything to get off the silly machine and the next minute I realize that I'm pushing harder and faster than I had all day. And it was starting to feel good!
30 minutes later I finished and I was damn proud of myself when I stepped off that stupid thing. Proud that I completed a mentally challenging workout - and one I didn't think I'd be able to finish. I always get proud when I accomplish something I don't think I could do. Isn't that somewhat the definition of pride - the feeling of pushing forward when everything else is forcing you to fall back.
I suppose that's what it all comes down to. Through all of the training, all of the hill repeats and sand sprints, the pain and self-induced nausea, Tony didn't teach me how to run faster or push harder. He didn't teach me how to buckle down and bear the pain.
He taught me how to break through the mental chains that confined me and to be the absolute best person I could possibly be. Tony taught me how to be proud; to smile at the end of the day. And I suppose that's a lesson that is worth any amount of agony.
Posted by j. at 6:04 AM
September 21, 2007
September 20, 2007
I've been racing for over 25 years. I remember my first race very clearly. It was the Minuteman 10k in Westport, CT and I believe I was about 12 years old. I ran the entire race with my mother. We came in last. The only thing behind us was an ambulance and a group of volunteers who really really wanted to go home.
Despite the poor showing, I realized I loved running and ended up racing in many more events over the years. Lo and behold, I managed to get a bit faster and never had to run from the ambulance again.
In 1992, when I was arguably at the peak of my running career, I decided to give it a go at my first triathlon. It was an incredible experience, so I tried another. That second one was even better, so I kept going.
Now here I am with nearly 3 decades of racing under my belt, 15 of which have been primarily focused on multi-sport madness. I've been lucky enough to have competed in over one hundred events, some of which were pretty darn amazing. In fact, it seems that the older I get, the more incredible my racing experiences. Perhaps I'm starting to stretch out of my comfort zone a little more and sieze the opportunities in life. Carpe Triathlon, and all that crap. Or maybe I'm just learning to appreciate the journey. But I suppose that's a philosophical brick wall that we can drive into at another time. Either way, the experiences keep getting better.
So as I surf the waves of elation in my post-SOS state of mind, I've started thinking about which have been my most incredible racing experiences. Honestly, it doesn't require a bunch of thought because the answer pops into my mind immediately. Without a doubt, it's been Ironman Lake Placid and SOS
Having just finished the SOS, people have asked me a lot of questions about it. Is it hard? Is it fun? Is it like an Ironman?
The truth of the matter is that the feeling I had at the end of both races was somewhat similar. If we watch the video tapes in slow motion, I'm pretty sure that I gave the same caveman yell and a similar dorky fist-pump as I was cruising down the finishers chute at both races. That all comes from emotion. As any sports-loving homosapien male knows, there are different fist-pumps for each emotion. When you see the same fist-pump in different instances, it equates to the same feeling.
However, fist-pumping emotion aside, the overall experience at both Ironman and SOS was quite a bit different. Each one was a completely different journey. I've put quite a bit of thought into this and I think I've finally figured it out. Here's my explanation...
Ironman is like surviving a car crash. It can be somewhat of a horrendous experience with an extreme amount of pain. The trauma may even cause you to forget large blocks of the event. But in the end, you are ecstatic to have emerged on the other side and you feel like you are a better person because of it
SOS, on the other hand, is like really good sex. You're smiling and laughing and sweating through the entire thing. In the end, you're far too tired to move a muscle, but you're really hungry and just can't seem to wipe the smile off your face.
Which is better, a car crash or sex? Well, sex...obviously. Duh.
Fortunately, not everybody has experienced the great lure of the SOS, it's still a small town race. Trust me though, like sex, once your body recovers from the SOS, you just want to do it all over again. It's that good.
But the fact is that so many of us are mesmerized by the car crash. After you step through the fire and come out the other side unscathed, you're driven to walk through a hotter fire and do it faster. It's the great lure of Ironman.
Which I suppose is where I am right now. Breaking away from my post-SOS cuddle and preparing myself for Ironman Arizona. It's gonna get ugly
Carpe Car Crash.
Posted by j. at 7:00 AM
September 17, 2007
People think I’m crazy. You’re crazy, they say to me.
But I don’t listen to them because I know they’re wrong. I’m normal.
It all started a few years ago when my sister decided to move to Gardiner, NY, two hours outside of the Big Apple. Gardiner is one of those small hamlets that would actually be quaint if it were big enough to have a downtown.
With only 5000 people, it nestles itself at the foot of the Shawangunk mountains in the lower Catskills. A haven for rock climbers, mountain bikers and off-road runners, Gardiner is somewhat of a smaller version of an outdoor-man’s paradise – as if Colorado were crammed into 30 square miles.
Meanwhile, zip over to the other side of the country and her younger brother (that’s me) had been gallivanting about for well over a decade in the sprawling concrete metropolis of Los Angeles. He had taken to this thing called triathlon, an activity that few people in the family really admitted to understanding. But he’s in California, they’d whisper quietly to others in their cocktail party confessions. You know those Los Angeles people, they do some really weird things. He’s a little crazy, that kid.
So when said sister saw an article in the local Gardiner paper about a race called the SOS (Survival of the Shawangunks), she thought it sounded pretty nutty. Maybe even crazy enough for the triatha-something brother in California.
You should do this race, she said to me somewhat jokingly, in the same way somebody might say, You should try going over Niagra Falls in a crockpot, that sounds like fun.
That DOES sound like fun, I responded with weird and crazy wide eyes.
That was the end of that conversation. At least for the next five years.
Fast forward to 2006 when my sister decided to do her first triathlon. Like many others before her, she learned to love the sport and was hooked. She started racing triathlons like they were going out of style – a sprint this weekend, an Olympic that one. I can’t believe you’re doing so many races, I’d say to her. You’re crazy!
Next thing I know we stumble into 2007 and I get a call from my sister telling me she wants to race the SOS and would I be interested. Huh? I mean…. Hell yeah!
And so we signed up.
I ask you, who is the crazy one now?!
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the SOS, let me give you the quick rundown. Officially it’s called a “triathlon”. In real life, it’s probably a cross between a triathlon, an adventure race and the movie Alive… but with fewer plane crashes and significantly less cannibalism.
It starts with 30 miles of road biking. That leads to 4.5 miles of trail running which segues into 1.1 miles of lake swimming. After that you’ve got 5.5 miles of more trail running and another .5 miles of lake swimming. As if that’s not enough, toss on another 8 miles of trail running, another .5 miles of lake swimming and then cap it off with a .7 mile trail run that might as well be considered mountain climbing.
It all sums up to 30 miles of biking, 2.1 miles of swimming and 18.7 miles of running. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that there is only one transition - right after the bike ride. That means that you run with your swim gear and you swim with your run gear. Yes, that includes the shoes.
Crazy, huh? Maybe even a little weird – but in an intriguing kind of way? I thought so too.
Keep in mind that all of this takes place under the incredibly scenic backdrop of the Shawangunk Mountains at the foot of the Catskills, right in the heart of Gardiner where, if you remember what you read 30 seconds ago, my sister currently resides.
I had run on these Shawangunk trails during previous visits to my sister’s house and knew fairly well how gorgeous the area was. If nothing else, I knew the race would be an extremely scenic experience and as the date approached my excitement increased.
I have to admit that I don’t usually look forward to races with excitement. The nervous energy and anxiety usually pin any potential excitement to the floor and pummel it with wedgies and wet willies to the point in which the excitement doesn’t even want to come out and play anymore.
For some reason, this race was different. I was honestly excited about doing it. I smiled at the thought of it. Maybe it was because I knew the course was so gosh darn pretty. Perhaps it was because I couldn’t wait to swim in the pristine, fresh water lakes as opposed to the soiled, petrol-tasting salt waters of LA. Or maybe I was just looking forward to gallivanting on the scenic, winding mountain trails instead of dodging deranged drivers on the smog-filled, highly trafficked city roads of home. Either way, when Catherine and I flew out to Gardiner on Thursday, I wasn’t too nervous.
After a couple of days playing with my nieces (who, for the record, are the cutest things this side of puggle puppies), I still didn’t feel like I was about to embark on a difficult journey. However, there’s nothing like a pre-race athlete’s meeting to energize the anxiety-ridden animal from within. Saturday night’s mandatory meeting did just that. Which led me to the inevitable restless sleep on Saturday night. Which awoke me at 4:45 the next morning.
OK, time to bridle that anxiety. Let’s get to the race report...
The Day’s Bike Challenges
The beginning of the SOS is a little weird. I’ve done many a triathlon in my time and the pre-race ritual is always the same. You do the Dead Man Walking shuffle to the transition, slogging through the nervous energy that permeates the air like pepper spray, then you stake your claim on the bike racks, pee on the edges so everybody knows its your territory, lay out your belongings and all the time keep your head down in focused nervousness. You probably smile at a few racers, maybe exchange a couple of pleasantries, but it’s mostly a pre-battle zone. Having a conversation with somebody before a triathlon is more often than not seen as an invasion of personal space – like when those crazy Europeans stand three inches from your face while they speak to you. We just don’t do that in America.
But as I said, SOS is different. The pre-race energy at the start of the SOS is somewhat akin to a local Turkey Trot, except with a lot more super-fit folks. Like a small town Sunday morning coffee klatch, the beginning of the SOS seemed like another excuse for everybody to catch up on small town politics. It was a social gathering, a tea party on wheels. I have to admit, it was a bit weird and somewhat comforting at the same time. So while my sister intermingled with the masses like she was the Mayor of the Shawangunks, I just stood around and tried to act relaxed.
I’ve never been to a multi-sport race that had a bike start. It was a bit weird in a fun sort of way. Rumor has it that the SOS may be the only race sanctioned by USA Triathlon that starts with a bike.
Since they limit the field to 150 people, there were only seven waves for this race. So there we were, a few minutes before 7am, the fog still settled on the surrounding farms and 150 people all dressed in lycra, straddling their bikes in the middle of the street. If this was the first sight aliens saw when they landed on earth, they might very well get back in their UFO and hightail it outta here. Truthfully speaking, I wouldn’t blame them.
I was wave number 6: men 40-44. We were the second to last group to go out, which made me happy. I like starting in the back of the race, that means that there are more people ahead of me at any given time and less people to pass me by and make me feel slow. Being in the back makes me feel fast. I like feeling fast - even though I'm really not.
After the singing of the national anthem that sounded like it came from somebody’s four year old daughter (andprobably did), the clock struck 7am and the first group rolled out. With only 1 minute between the start of each wave, it wasn’t long before the clock clicked over to 7:06. Time to go. With a blast of the air horn, I rolled off toward the sunrise with my 23 other 40 to 44 year old friends. Giddyup.
Though SOS is primarily an off-road race, the bike is all on paved roads. It starts with 10 miles of flats to get the legs warmed up which is quickly followed by the rolling hills. After 15 miles of up and down, you suddenly stop going down. The final 5 miles of the ride are all uphill. Crazy non-stop uphill. The type of uphill that makes you realize the first 25 miles were just a warm-up and you sorta wished somebody told you to slow down long before you got here.
Many times throughout the ride I found myself staring off into the surrounding scenery. It was a gorgeous morning that was just coming alive. We streamed along endless rural roads that weaved in and out of farmland and forest. Ahead of us, the sun was rising over pumpkin patches, vegetable fields and towering rows of seven foot sunflowers.
I tried to keep a steady pace on the bike ride that edged just a little bit out of my comfort zone. With only 30 miles of riding, I knew I didn’t have to hold back too much. At the same time I had a long day ahead of me so I didn’t want to go all out and blow up on the run.
One would think that the pre-race coffee klatch mentality would cease upon the blowing of the starting horn. Nope. Since the starting times for each wave were so close together, the beginning of the ride was somewhat of a pack mentality. Moments of focused racing were interspersed with periods of socializing. More than a few times, another rider would be coming up to pass me on the left, only to stay by my side for a mile or so, introduce himself and share in the beauty of the scenery. It was very friendly. And very weird. We're not used to such overt race-time friendliness in California. We've got PRs to achieve.
By the time I got to the rolling hills, the group had begun to spread out. And when I say spread out, I mean that in the upstate New York, most rural sense of the word. At about mile 15 I realized that there was nobody in my site. Though I knew I was on course because I kept following the arrows, I couldn’t see a single biker anywhere in front of me. I turned around to see who was on my tail. Lord knows, there must be a bunch of people right behind me. Nope. Noone. The only person I could see riding behind me was at least a half mile away.
Now THIS is a race! Damn I feel fast!
Soon enough I hit the bottom of the 5 mile climb. One minute I’m biking solo through the rolling foothills of New England, the next moment I’m riding towards the heavens with a line of people stretched up ahead of me.
Fortunately, I’ve been doing a lot of uphill speed work this year to make up for the lack of running speedwork. Somewhere along the way of my training, I’ve actually become a more confident and stronger climber than I’ve felt in years. As a result, I was kinda looking forward to this part of the ride.
I knew if I just picked a steady cadence and maintained an even effort slightly above my comfort zone but short of having a coronary, I could fly up this hill. So I relaxed my body, shifted my gears to an easier ring, channeled my inner-Lance and pedaled my little butt off. Up, up and away in my beautiful Kestral (if you say that properly, it has the same rhythm as “balloon”).
I passed a few people immediately on the lower slopes of the climb. As the hill got a little steeper, I got a little faster. Soon enough, I caught up to a few more folks. My legs felt relaxed, my body focused. The gasping and hacking of others just fueled my energy to push forward. With each person I passed, I picked up the pace.
Within about two miles I saw my sister in front of me. She was moving at a steady clip and looking pretty good. She’s a good rider, my sister (and a better runner). If it weren’t for the long climb, she would have dusted me on the bike. But in a few minutes I reached her side.
How are you doing? I said as I pedaled up to her.
There you are! She responded with a smile. I was wondering where you’ve been!
After a few words of encouragement, I picked up my pace again and breezed up the hill.
I must’ve passed by at least 20 people in those 5 miles of climbing and by the time I reached the top, I was feeling excited about my ride and ready to tackle the rest of the course.
I hit the timing mat, dismounted my bike and stumbled towards the jumping screaming wonderfully supportive cheerleader that I like to call my girlfriend.
If you’re thinking that the SOS transition is like a regular triathlon with secure fencing and bike racks and assigned areas, think again. One requirement of racers on the SOS is that you have a “handler”. The handler’s responsibility is to handle all of your crap. They get to the transition area before you finish your ride, lay all your knick-knacks on the ground, grab your bike from you when you arrive, lead you to your gear, then take the bike and all the remaining gear and get the heck outta Dodge while you are finishing the race.
Since Catherine is already accustomed to dealing with my crap on a daily basis, she made the perfect handler. When I got off the bike, I just meandered over to the yelling, effervescent jumping bean, she quickly grabbed my bike from me and led me to the little area she carved out among the masses of transition towels. I switched shoes, swallowed some endurolytes, grabbed some gels, gave her a kiss and I was gone.
Time to run.
Bring it on.
The Day’s Run #1 Challenges
The moment I started to run I could feel something was wrong. My achilles was tight. Too tight. Rubber band about to break type of tight. It was the one part of my body that had me concerned before this race. So, naturally, it was the one part of my body that decided to act up during the race. The last thing I want to do is rupture my achilles. I had already promised myself that if the pain got too bad, I would stop and forfeit the race. I’m not ready to sacrifice a running career for this.
Unfortunately, I’m really not a DNF type of guy.
So the moment that the achilles started aching, I slowed down the pace to my usual excruciating-pain-shuffle. It seems to be one of my standard paces these days. Within minutes I was being passed by many people. All those I had zipped by on the last hill of the bike were running by me like I was sitting on the ground. It was aggravating. I felt like sitting on the ground.
About one mile into the run, my left calf started tightening up. SHIT!! I was already limping on my right leg because of the achilles, now I started limping on both legs. It’s tough to limp on both legs. When you limp on one leg you look like you’re in pain. When you limp on two legs, it just looks like you need to go to the bathroom.
I stopped to stretch and looked for something to lean on. But out here in the middle of the woods, there’s not much to stretch on. So I just kept a slow and steady pace and tried not to think about how much of a long, frustrating day I had ahead of me.
All of the SOS runs take place on mountain biking / cross country skiing trails. Most of the trails are packed dirt with a whole bunch of rocks thrown in for good measure. Every once in awhile you’ll hit a part that is loose shale. Those parts are usually on sharp turns during steep downhills, which is nice.
The first few miles of running are a gradual uphill. The “gradual” part kinda changes at mile three.
There are three hills on the SOS runs that are steep enough to actually have names. When you actually have to name a hill, it usually means it’s gonna hurt. Mile three was the introduction to Cardiac Hill.
Cardiac Hill is a bitch. Not much longer than a half mile, it’s the type of steepness that sucks the energy out of you pretty quickly. You think you can run it, but you’re wrong. You can’t.
Somehow I managed to make my way to the base of Cardiac Hill without crying. As I started up the lower portion, I suddenly heard my sister’s voice behind me. I knew she’d catch me on the run, but I didn’t think it would take this long.
This is your conscience speaking, she said. Don’t blow yourself out on the run.
I turned around to see her smiling, pink visored face approaching. I figured I’d do my best to keep up with her on Cardiac Hill but after 30 seconds I realized that the effort was unnecessary. Apparently so did she. So we walked.
It was nice to walk with my sister up the hill. It made me feel like we were really doing this race together, as a family. If we were both crazy, at least we were crazy together. For the past couple of years we’ve raced St. Anthony’s together, but with more than 20 minutes between our starting times, we really don’t see each other until the finish line. It’s not really “racing together” if you’re never racing together.
As we peaked Cardiac Hill, my sister and I started running again. Depending on the day and time, she can definitely be a faster runner than me and this was one of those times. It was a flat 1 ½ miles until the end of the run and I struggled to keep up with her. Soon enough, I realized my idiocy. (This is where you get impressed that I’ve actually evolved enough to recognize when I’m being stupid). I needed to save my legs from destruction, so I pulled back the pace as she moved off into the distance.
One mile later, I reached Lake Awosting, which marked the end of the first run. Let’s go swimming, shall we?
The Day’s Swim #1 Challenges
* umm….nothing really
Once I got to the swim start, I saw my sister standing there. I know I’m a faster swimmer than she is, so I figured I wouldn’t see her until later in the race.
I climbed through the trees and got myself to a rock at the edge of the lake where I could sit down and remove my shoes and socks in peace. I have terrible balance and the last thing I’d want to do is crack my face open by trying to remove my shoes while standing up. That’d just be embarrassing.
Once I got my shoes off, I tucked my socks into the toes of the shoes, shoved my shoes into the back of my shorts, slipped on my swim cap, wrapped the goggles around my face, stepped in the water, bid farewell to my sister and I – ka-BAMM!! - I was off.
The Lake Awosting swim was nothing short of miraculous. First of all, it was 72 degrees. No complaints are allowed in 72 degree lake water. Complaints are only allowed in water that is 68 degrees or below. This is just a well-known fact.
On top of the refreshing temperature, this is a fresh water lake that is as clear and clean as Evian. There are no fish in this lake. No algae, no critters and no insects. Since there is no swimming allowed in it for most of the year, there is no trash or waste in this lake. With no boats, there is no taste of gas or oil. It is clean and pristine. I’d imagine that the Virgin Mary would approve of this lake, had she been competing in the SOS. When you get a little water in your mouth during the swim, it tastes more like Crystal Geyser than Shell. No gas, no oil, no scum, no algae. Just water. We don’t get a lot of this in Los Angeles.
I knew I’d be able to make up a lot of time on the swims, especially this long one. I’m a fairly decent swimmer and have the endurance to hold a rapid pace without tiring myself out too much. Since sneakers float, having them crammed in the back of my shorts didn’t slow me down in the slightest. I sighted for the far end of the lake, streamlined my body and kept my arms rotating.
I’d love to give you all sorts of stories about what happened in the swim but, honestly, nothing did. I swam and I swam well. Within a few minutes I started passing people. Then I zipped by a few others. And soon I found myself streaming by so many who had blown by me on the run.
It was fascinating looking at all the swimming styles. Some were wearing wetsuits that they no doubt had to carry for nearly 19 miles of running. Others had dry bags that they pulled like pack mules on the swim. Some others didn’t bother to take off their shoes (which doesn’t make much sense… it’s like swimming with a parachute), and others didn’t bother to take off their socks (which, again, doesn’t make much sense. If you’re removing the shoes, does it really take that long to remove the socks too?)
My arms felt wonderful, my body relaxed. In around about 29 minutes, I emerged at the other end of the lake, feeling pretty darn good about the entire thing.
I climbed up on to the lake side, pulled the shoes out of my shorts and sat on the grass to get myself dressed again. After wringing the water out of my socks I put them on, slipped my feet in my shoes, downed some liquids and Endurolytes at the aid station then was on my way for another run.
Whoooeeee. This is kinda fun!
The Day’s Run #2 Challenges
* cramping in the left leg
One of the things that really got me nervous at the pre-race meeting was all the talk about cramping. You’re going to cramp, they said. Everybody does.
I don’t look forward to cramping. To be honest with you, it kinda scares me. I don’t like knowing that at some point my body is going to start hurting a lot and there’s nothing I can do about it. Maybe I’ll be different, I convinced myself. Maybe I’ll be the one person that doesn’t cramp.
And maybe I’ll win the lotto while I’m at it.
The moment I started running after the first swim, I realized how great I felt. The swim really flushed out a lot of the pain from the previous run. My legs felt loose and relaxed. The calf pain was gone as if it never existed. The achilles still had a bit of a twinge to it, but nothing I couldn’t deal with. This is great! I said out loud with a smile as I picked up the pace.
The first two miles of the second run are all uphill. You pretty much climb straight to the peak of the mountains and look down thousands of feet to the lake from which you just emerged. As I started my way up the climb, I was feeling pretty positive. All of the sudden, the day was turning around. DNF?! Did I ever even consider DNF? Silly me.
About a quarter mile in there was only one person I could see in front of me, and he was only about 20 feet away. We had been going at the same pace but all of the sudden I started catching up to him. Suddenly he stopped. As I passed him by I could hear his grumblings…. Fucking cramps, he said.
Sorry about that bucko, I thought to myself. Good luck with those cramps. Really, good luck. No cramping for me. I’m the no-cramp guy. I’ll be in the history books for not cramping. You’ll hear about me later.
And on and on I went, yapping about in my head about how he was shit out of luck and how I don’t cramp and how I’m so muy macho and how silly he was to even think he could run faster than me and …
And that was about the time my left leg cramped.
It wasn’t much of a cramp, but it was bad enough. As I had said before, my legs felt all loose and relaxed as I ran up the hill. But then all of the sudden, my loose relaxed left leg turned into a concrete slab, just like that Gargoyle on the top of the building in Ghost Busters. You know, the one that goes back and forth between being a man-eating monster and a piece of stiff rock.
I let out a little yell. Maybe even a cuss word, though I can’t be sure. I slowed down my pace and waited, knowing that there wasn’t much I could do. Thoughts of DNF creeped back into my head.
Within 30 seconds, though, the cramps were gone and I was billy-goating my way up the hill. DNF? Did I mention those letters? I must be nuts.
There is an aid station at the top of the hill. The aid station is on the edge of a very large rock. The other side of the rock is nothing – it drops off to reveal the rest of the world in all of its splendid glory. Wherever they sell postcards of the Shawangunks, I’d imagine this is one of the photos.
As I stood at the aid station and guzzled down some Gatorade, I stared across the great expanse of the country that lay before me. It was breathtaking. I felt like I was in an a Runner’s World ad. Maybe even a Gatorade commercial. Then I started wondering why I was doing all this modeling for free. This is ridiculous. I need to call my agent and renegotiate.
I soon snapped out of my Hollywood fog and decided to continue on with my race.
Fortunately, the rest of the run to the second swim is all downhill. It twists and winds through canopies of trees, opens to panoramas of beauty and delves into endless fields of forest. The descent is steep enough to allow you to gather the speed of a gazelle, but gradual enough so you don’t end up slipping on the rocks and breaking your leg and being that one lame gazelle that gets eaten by the hyenas.
As soon as I started running again, it felt great. Beyond great. It was incredible. No, it was beyond incredible. What’s beyond incredible? Whatever it is, that’s what this was. I was an off-road maniac, zipping like wildfire through the forest of turns. I smiled. I laughed. I had chills stream up and down my spine. I may have even started singing songs out loud. You know I'm really happy when I start singing songs out loud.
Wow, I said to myself a few times between stanzas.
That’s all you can really say during this incredible experience. Sometimes three letters is all it takes to express the emotions.
Within about one mile of running in solitude, I finally saw somebody in front of me. He was moving along at a pretty good clip – somewhere in the sub-8 minute mile range - though I was going a little bit faster. Soon enough I caught up to him.
Man, isn’t this incredible? I said as I approached.
He looked at me with the same glean in his eyes that I could imagine was exuding from mine. This is AMAZING! he responded.
We got to talking, this chap and I. His name is Dave. Dave is from New Jersey. He has done three Ironman races (including Kona in 2006. Lottery.), but, like me, this was his first SOS.
I’m not sure if Dave was trying to keep up with me or if I was trying to keep up with Dave. Either way, we kept picking up the pace as we got lost in conversation. Faster and faster we went as we yammered about the beautiful swim, the gorgeous trails, our previous racing experiences and all sorts of miscellaneous jabberwocky. Soon enough, I realized that we were practically sprinting.
I thought I should slow down, but it felt great. I kept going.
Wow, I whispered quietly to myself. Wow.
A few miles later, we reached Lake Minnewaska and the bouncing, screaming encouragement of my wonderful girlfriend.
I thanked Dave for an incredible run.
Time for swim number 2.
The Day’s Swim #2 Challenges
In some ways the second swim reminded me a lot of the Ironman Lake Placid swim. Like Mirror Lake, Lake Minnewaska is ½ mile long. It is also the same 70+ temperature, the same clean and clear water and the same beautiful setting – a mountain lake wrapped in the down comfort of beautiful green trees. More importantly, like Mirror Lake, there is a rope down the center of Lake Minnewaska for swim direction. All you’ve got to do is follow the rope. When it ends, you’re done.
Sounds easy enough, right?
Here’s the problem, I’m not a very straight swimmer. In fact, my swimming is somewhat akin to a drunk sparrow. I should be flying straight, but instead I’m weaving and wobbling all over kingdom come and it’s somewhat amazing that I don’t end up face first in the trunk of a tree, or , at the very least, into a big orange buoy.
One would think that having a rope right down Broadway would help keep me on track. If it were only so easy. After five minutes of drifting about like a runaway train, I saw another swimmer going at what I guessed was my pace. Maybe I’ll draft off of him, I thought to myself as I pushed towards his feet.
For the next five minutes I stayed locked in this guys wake. I really don’t have a ton of experience drafting on the swim, so I assumed that the fact this seemed so easy was normal. I was putting out very little effort and had to keep slowing myself down so I didn’t grab his feet. But I’m drafting, I reminded myself. It’s easy, but I’m probably going a lot faster than I normally would.
Soon enough we reached the end of the swim. I looked at my watch. 15 minutes. Whaaa?! FIFTEEN minutes?! It was at least a minute or two slower than I expected. Slower than I know I can do on my own. Maybe Mr Drafter wasn’t as fast as I assumed. Maybe I should’ve passed his slow ass way back in the middle of the lake when I first thought of it. Maybe I really need to let this go and start running. I've got bigger things to worry about.
The Day’s Run #3 Challenges
* tired legs
I took my time putting on my wet shoes and socks. Knowing that I had a long run ahead of me, I wanted to make sure I didn’t get any loose rock or lakeshore debris stuck in my feet. Eight miles of pebbles in socks can turn into more pain than I really need at this point in my life.
The first mile of the third run takes place on the only paved road of the run. Unfortunately it is an extremely steep hill of the down variety. It’s the type of steep where you almost have to swerve back and forth, slaloming your way to the bottom in hopes of maybe saving your knees to run another day.
Though I’m not a huge fan of running down these incredibly steep hills, I will freely admit that it’s much worse when you do it in wet shoes and socks.
I’ve got these fancy Teva shoes that dry out in about two minutes of running. They’re so great, that when I run on trails (post-swim), I can’t even tell that they are wet. What I discovered is that when you run on a steep, paved downhill in these wet shoes, the feet squish and slosh and float around like fish out of water. It’s kind of like running down a mountain on a Slip n’ Slide. Maybe fun for a 10 year old. Not so much for me.
Once you reach the bottom of the hill, you hop back into the forest and onto 7 miles of scenic solitude. The first part of the trail weaves its way along the side of a babbling brook. I saw only one person running here. It was a woman, and when I passed her by she was complaining about her knees. Clearly she didn’t do any Slip n’ Slide training.
As I ambled along the creekside trail, I quickly became mesmerized by the soothing sounds of dribbling water, only to look up and realize I was sailing in solitude down a flat path with nothing in sight but an endless tunnel of trees.
I’d imagine that this part of the run could be viewed in one of two ways. It could be a frustrating venture, struggling through the endless tedium of unchanging scenery. Or, you could engross your mind in the soothing sounds of the rustling trees and the silent peacefulness of the pitter-pattering of your feet. I opted for the latter – the pitter patter - and had a grand old time running through the forest.
I smiled, I sang, I remained in awe of the senseless beauty. I laughed out loud when shivers of joy flooded my body. I couldn’t see a single person in front of me for as long as the path stretched forward. I looked behind me. Not a soul.
This must be heaven, I thought. When I die, I am going to be sent to a long trail in the woods for me to run on in peace. I don’t think I’ve died yet, but this is probably what it looks like.
I tried to keep a steady pace that was, again, just out of my comfort zone. My legs were definitely tired at this point but I knew I could keep this up without a problem. Then, completely out of the blue, at around mile 13 of the running (mile 4 of this run), my body decided it didn’t like what I was doing anymore.
It didn’t even bother to give a warning. Nothing like “hey, bucko, we’re about to pack it in in a few minutes, you might want to come up with a Plan B.”
In an instant, my knees started hurting, my quads started tightening and everything else felt like it was teetering on the edge of disaster. You know that game where you build a tower of little wooden pieces, then you pick the wooden blocks out one by one and the person that loses is the one who picks the last block that makes the tower collapse. Well, here I was at mile 13 of the run and I suddenly felt like I was one block away from total collapse.
I slowed down a bit and tried to let my heart rate come down and my muscles recover. It was too late for DNF, that didn’t even cross my mind. I tried to separate myself from the pain and focus on the beauty of my surroundings. Maybe that will help. Pretty trees. Fields of grass. Scenic path. Focus, focus, focus. This is heaven. I love this. Focus. No pain. No pain. Focus.
As I turned the corner I saw another aid station in the distance. OK, that might help.
I stumbled into the aid station and stopped. There was nobody else in sight, just me and the volunteers. I had some Gatorade. Some water. I ate a banana. Then another. A couple of Endurolytes. A gel. More water. Some Gatorade. Was I hungry or just stalling? I’m not quite sure. But this is a free buffet, right?
After I had stuffed myself silly, I decided to give running a go one more time. Lo and behold, fuel seemed to be what I needed. As I began to jog down the path towards the next swim, I noticed my knees felt better and my body felt more in tune. Granted, everything was still tired, but at least it wasn’t hurting. The tower had been rebuilt.
So I picked up the pace a little and kept moving forward.
In about five minutes I heard another runner approaching. I looked back, it was Dave. My Run #2 buddy. And he was moving along at a fairly good clip. As he neared me, I did a little soul searching. Can I keep up with him? Do I have enough in me to pick up the pace for another three miles? How deep can I dig?
How you doing?! He smiled as he reached my side.
Pretty good, I replied happily. But there’s no way in hell I can keep up with you this time. (I suppose that was my decision). Have a great run, I continued. See you at the finish.
That was the last I saw of Dave during the race.
At mile 15 (mile 6 of the third run), there is only one thing that separates you from the final swim and the finish. It’s called Godzilla.
As I mentioned before, there are three runs that are brutal enough to have special names. Godzilla is one of them. Godzilla is a two mile uphill. It’s a big brutal monster that keeps swiping at you and trying to break you down.
As for me, I’m not so much scared of monsters.
At the pre-race meeting, somebody who had competed in SOS before suggested that I walk Godzilla. Most people walk Godzilla, he said.
Well, with only three miles to go in this race, I’m apparently not most people. If you know me, you know that I like myself a good hill to run up. Godzilla was no different. I tucked my head down, took a big breath and started to climb. It was brutal. I struggled up, one step at a time. Half way to the top, I thought of walking.
Walking?! I suddenly heard my mind arguing with my body. Why the hell would you want to walk?! Keep running you wuss!!
So I listened. In the end, Godzilla’s bark is much worse than his bite. I reached the top and was feeling pretty darn good about it, thank you very much.
As I hit the flats I saw a man sitting in the middle of the trail and heard the roar of screams from up above. I turned my head up towards the skies and saw the top of a mountain. Is that the finish line way up there? I asked the man.
Yep, he said. You’re almost there. Take a left into the woods, don’t trip on the roots and run to the lake. Good luck.
Left in the woods? Whaaaa?
I looked around for the path to run down, the path that would take me to the final swim. But I couldn’t see any path. There was nothing but trees. I looked on the ground where his fingers had pointed. Suddenly I saw an arrow leading directly into the woods and over tree roots. Don’t trip on the roots, he had said. I suppose that means this is the way to go.
A free-form forest sprint after 18 miles of running. Crazy, but fun. I scrambled through the trees for the couple of hundred yards until I finally saw the final lake stretched before me.
The last lake. The last swim. Almost done.
Let’s frolic in the water one more time, shall we?
The Day’s Swim #3 Challenges
* some more of those damn leg cramps
The last swim takes place at Lake Mohonk, which is right in front of the incredibly scenic Mohonk Mountain House. The Mohonk Mountain House is one of those exclusive resorts that has probably been nestled here in the woods for well over 100 years. It is an enormous structure that towers above the Shawangunks in all of its splendid beauty. After traipsing through the woods, conquering monsters and battling the body, it is an awe-filled site to then stumble upon the monstrosity of Mohonk.
Like all of the other swims that I had done, I quickly tucked my shoes/socks into the back of my shorts and started on my way. And, like all of the other swims I’d done, there weren’t that many people around – but I ended up passing all those that I could see.
Lake Mohonk is nothing different than the other lakes. I suppose at this point in the race you get somewhat jaded.
Oh, another pristine lake? What’s the big deal. Clear, clean water? Whatever.
Needless to say, I pretty much enjoyed the swim. Though I was struck with slight leg cramps a hundred meters from the end, I made it across without too much issue.
The one thing that is significantly different in the Mohonk swim than the others is the end of it. Whereas the other swims end on the shallow shores of the lake, the Mohonk swim pretty much dead ends at a stone wall. Actually, it’s less of a stone wall and more a pile of boulders that you have to climb over to get out.
I heard of quite a few people that were so tired by the end of the swim, they had to stay in the water for a few minutes before finding enough energy to pull themselves out. Fortunately, my arms weren’t that tired, and my cramped legs had recovered, so I popped out of there as quickly as I could and put on my wet socks and shoes as rapidly as possible. Less than a mile to the finish. Time to get this adventure over with.
The Day’s Run #4 Challenges
* leg cramps
* I forgot to bring my climbing rope
The last run is fairly short, only seven-tenths of a mile. The first tenth of a mile is relatively flat, as is the last tenth. It’s really the middle half mile that you need to worry about.
Remember that I said there were three runs that were steep enough to have names? Welcome to Skytop.
This last run is the type of hill that is difficult to walk up, much less run. The slant is so steep, you have to lean forward to keep yourself moving. In ½ mile you climb 300 feet. To put that in perspective, it’s like climbing to the top of a 30 story building. But before you do that, why don’t you bike 30 miles, run 18 miles and swim 2 miles. Great, now go climb a 30 story building. Good luck.
Oh, and if the path is too difficult to run up, you’re really going to be pissed when you realize that it’s so steep in the end you’ve got to lift your tired, burning legs up a flight of oversized stairs. Yeah, you’re definitely not gonna like that part.
My legs started cramping before I even got to the real incline. I guess in a way that helped me to relax a little bit because I had to slow down to flush them out. No bother though, soon enough the pain of the hill out-shadowed the pain of the cramping.
I had dreams of really pushing myself to the limit on this hill. In retrospect, I realize I did push myself to the limit, I just didn’t realize that my limit would be so gosh darn slow.
This run to Skytop was, without a doubt, the most challenging, the most brutal, the most unrelenting run I’ve ever done in any race at any time in my life. After three minutes of climbing, I was gasping all sorts of nasty words under my breath. I dared not look up, for fear of realizing the trail continued on. And by the time I thought I had absolutely nothing left and may just crumble onto the ground, I reached the stairs.
It’s less than 10 stairs, but it takes all the energy you can muster to get up them. Though it might be cliché to say these are like the Stairway to Heaven, they are. Remember, nobody said the stairs to Heaven were easy.
But once you reach the top and lift your eyes from the trail to see what lies ahead, you realize you are standing on the top of the world.
It’s an incredible, awe inspiring feeling that chilled every bone in my body.
Skytop is the peak of the Shawangunks. It overlooks everything. It overlooks Mohonk and Gardiner and New Paltz. I didn’t have my glasses on, but I think it overlooked Paris and Beijing and Kona as well.
When you lift your eyes and see you are on Skytop, you know you are done. You have Survived. The pain begins to clear. The row of onlookers begins to cheer. And as you stretch to the finish line that beckons in front of you, suddenly you forget that you are tired. You forget that you have cramped. You forget that your body may not have really enjoyed the entire journey. But you have, and that’s pretty much all that counts.
I screamed in joy as I reached the crowd. They clapped and cheered and made me feel like a hero. I saw Catherine - my bouncing, screaming, loving cheerleader - and ran to give her a kiss. I was happy. Ecstatic. My body wanted to finish, but I had too much fun to want to stop. I flew effortlessly the remaining 100 feet to the finish and crossed the line with a smile that stretched across the Shawangunks.
I survived. I am a Survivor.
It was a tremendous adventure, the SOS. A truly incredible experience. Without a doubt, this bike-run-swim-run-swim-run-swim-run was the most amazing race I’ve ever completed.
Sounds crazy, huh?
Posted by j. at 8:19 AM
September 13, 2007
It is 7:00 on Thursday morning right now. I've been up since 5:30 and figured I could use the time to crank out some of the SOS race report. It's been taking quite awhile to write it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don't have a tremendous amount of time to spend on it, so I try to cram in a few minutes at night and some early morning hours. Secondly, it seems to be turning into a novel. I'm really trying my hardest to keep it short, honestly I am. But as we all know, I'm not real good at the short story. Toss on an eight-stage event and all of the sudden I need to start finding an agent and publisher.
Catherine just left for a 16 mile run. Who runs 16 miles on a Thursday morning?! It seems so odd to me. Long runs are for weekends, not Thursday mornings. Then I remembered that we are running the New York Marathon in less than 2 months. Uh-oh.
The funny thing is that I can't imagine myself running 16 miles all at once right now. It's not because my body is physically sore, it's not. My problem is all mental. Sure I can do a race that has 18.7 miles of running. In fact, I just did one four days ago. But for goodness sakes, that run was split up with some refreshing swims. 16 miles without stopping?! Hell no. Even worse, 26.2 without stopping?!
I decided to reward myself this week with rest. No exercise at all. So far it's been working out well - I've made it four days. But, honestly, I don't know how long this will last. I'm not a good rester.
There's a marathon ahead that apparently I just started getting nervous for. And then I've got this Ironman thingy.
I can see the carrot in front of me. I keep swiping for it but it's just out of reach.
I guess I just need to go a little harder.
Posted by j. at 8:08 AM
September 11, 2007
I am a Survivor!
...and so damn happy about it. What a tremendous, tremendous adventure...
You may have heard me screaming when I reached the finish line way high up on top of the mountain, as the sound of my voice echoed off the millions of acres of valley below. That was me... very happy.
The SOS (Survival of the Shawangunks) race report will follow shortly, but I just needed to unload a bit of my yippee-kai-yay on you right now. Wooohooo!!!!
Posted by j. at 10:22 AM
September 08, 2007
Catherine and I are in upstate New York right now, just outside of New Paltz. My big SOS race is tomorrow, which I believe is my main race for the year if I'm not mistaken.
Yesterday, Catherine, my sister and I took out the mountain bikes and rode the 18+ miles of trails that will be the run portion of the race. To use Catherine's words, "it's crazy beautiful." And it ends at Mohonk, which is crazier beautifuller.
It should be a good time. That is, if it doesn't rain, like is forecasted.
Posted by j. at 4:42 AM
September 05, 2007
I wrote this one a few months ago but never posted it because I never finished it. I'm posting it now... maybe you can finish it for me.
Right now Catherine and I are in the middle of the speed portion of our training program. However, what with my calf injury and not being able to run, my running speed pretty much is relegated to indoor training. The alarm clock has become my starting gun, and the distance between the bed and the bathroom my track.
The extent of my speed work begins when that starting alarm goes off. I hop out of bed and shuffle off to the bathroom in what I can only hope is a faster split than Catherine's. Of course, even though her legs are tired from her grueling bike rides and runs, she still manages to inch me out at the finish line. I can't even medal in the bathroom dash.
Truth be told, I wish I was able to do the real speed workouts on the track. It's been so long since I've been able to do a full period of speed training, I forget if the pain and nausea is a good or bad feeling.
But since I can't participate in the fun run sessions, my coach suggested that I do an extra speed workout on the bike each week. I can't say that I love the grueling bike speed sessions as much as I love the running speed work, but I suppose limpers can't be choosers.
Tuesday's bike work was a tough one. Picture this: four 6-minute repeats at maximum speed, followed by four 1-minute repeats at miximum-er speed, followed by throwing up in my mouth.
I decided to do that speed session on my trainer because apparently I'm a glutton for punishment. (Alright alright... the real reason is that I had TiVo'd an extra episode of The Wire that I desperately needed to watch.)
Per the suggestion of my coach, I decided to toss on a second speed session this week. I did that one this morning, which is probably why I feel sick right now.
Unable to stomach the thought of another painful set of four 6-minute repeats like I had done two days earlier, I decided to do a whole crapload of one minute repeats instead. All uphill. One minute hard, thirty seconds rest. One minute hard, thirty seconds rest. And I continued these shenanigans until I ran out of mountain to climb.
It took thirteen of these one-minute all-out pushes to get me to the top of the hill. My legs were screaming for mercy like a million little daggers were placed in each pore. My breathing was hectic. Like a lizard in a flea farm, my tongue was lashing out for any extra molecule of oxygen to satiate my burning body. It hurt. But here's the funny thing - my heart rate never really got above 168 the entire time.
I coasted back down the hill to recover a bit until I ran into Catherine. She was just finishing her workout and needed to do a few more 1-minute repeats. What the hell, I thought, I'll do them with you.
So I turned around and started pounding up the hill with Catherine. One minute all-out, thirty seconds rest. One minute hard, thirty seconds easy.
We were moving pretty rapidly but the odd thing was that my legs felt relaxed. Even though I was keeping track of the time, wasting extra oxygen to call out the 15 second intervals, it wasn't as tough as my previous repeats.
And just as I was convincing myself that I was a stronger rider than Catherine, I noticed my heart rate was leveled at 168.
168?! I just rode up the hill at 168 and nearly puked out a lung. Now here I am at 168 feeling like I'm strolling through the park. How can this be? Tell me it isn't true.
I started tapping my watch and holding it to my ear like they do in movies to make sure it's working correctly. Never mind that it's a digital watch. I held it closer to my heart to make sure it was recording all the beats. I looked down at it again: 168.
And all I could think of was the amazing power of the mind. The power to make my life harder than it needs to be when apparently that suits me - and the power to walk through the park of pain without worry.
I've thought about this ride quite a bit since then and have philosophized ad infinitum about the minds ability to control the body - to create suffering and stimulate release. As I'm struggling through a grueling race, inches away from crumbling to pieces, I step back with my mindseye and ask myself who is controlling me, the body or the brain. And the answer is inevitably the same. We are products of our own mind. We have created our own world in our own image. We live in our own matrix. And I think I'm ready to try the blue pill.
Posted by j. at 10:52 AM