April 28, 2008

My Own Private Ironman

First of all, I apologize.

I know, I know, my Ironman Arizona race report is looong overdue. Like crazy long overdue. Like I may as well start writing a race report for Coeur d'Alene at this point (exceptin' for the fact that I'm not racing Coeur d'Alene. In fact, I only recently learned how to spell it correctly.)

To be honest, I've been traveling like a fool since the race and have been in non-stop meetings.

At least, that was my initial excuse. I was going to tell you that about a week ago but then, as time went by, I realized that the excuse was running thin (though no less true... I'm not back home until next Monday if you really want to know.)

In all reality, it takes me an unbelievable long time to write a race report. As you may know, I tend to ramble on with my writings. When it comes to race reports, I don't just want to talk about the course and how slow/fast I did it (mostly slow), I want to be able to share my true experience and my feelings. True experiences take time.

That was my second excuse. I actually bought into that one as the true reason until I realized that it doesn't entirely cover everything. Which leads me to the real reason I am a wee bit delayed in sharing my Ironman Arizona race report with you, my wonderful peeps.

You see, Ironman Arizona opened my eyes to me. It revealed my greatest strength and my strongest weakness. It laid bare the true essence of who I am.

Unfortunately, I have yet to figure it out.

You know that feeling when you recognize that something really big and super important just happened, but you can't quite figure out what it was? Take the movie "My Own Private Idaho" as a for instance. I saw that movie when it came out, decades ago. I think about that movie a lot because I know, without a doubt, that it revealed a deep-seeded philosophy of life that reflected upon everything in existence. I just have no friggin clue what it is. In fact, I don't even know why they decided to call it "My Own Private Idaho," but I have a pretty good hunch that, whatever it means, the title selection is brilliant.

This is exactly what my Ironman Arizona race report situation is like. There is something big in here, something that will reveal my entire character and alter the very course of my existence. I keep talking about the race, writing about it, digging in further to my race report and my experience out there in the desert. I am so very close to figuring it out. So very close to having this gosh darn race report complete.

Rest assured, whether or not I get there, I'll share it with you soon.

April 23, 2008

A Better Chance For Kona

So I'm sitting here at the airport in Birmingham (which is not Binghamton, despite my east-coast-centric tendency to call it that) and I get into this conversation with Chris. You don't know Chris. I mean, you might know Chris but I'm not sure, I don't have access to your Facebook page to figure out who you are and aren't friends with. If you don't know Chris, you should. On top of being an extremely nice guy, he's also quite funny. Chris is a triathlete and, from what I can gather, a fairly fast one.

So anyway, I'm sitting here at the Binghamton airport, browsing on my computer when I notice over there at the Ironman eBay auction that a slot for Kona is going for over 30 thousand dollars.* Thirty Thousand Dollars?! I say out loud to all who could hear me, which pretty much consisted of Chris (not a big airport out here in B-town). He too thought it was ridiculous.

That's ridiculous, he said.

And after a moment of thought in which I could actually see the cogs of his brain churning, he continued. I would never pay to get into Kona. Not even through the lottery. The only way to get into Kona is to win a slot at a race, otherwise I wouldn't feel like I earned it.

I was silent. Almost embarrassed. After all, I’m slow. I’m not going to qualify for Kona unless everybody in my age group comes down with hepatitis (A, B or C) the day before the race. My chances of racing Kona happen to be the same exact odds as my chances of winning a slot in the Ironman lottery. That’s my only hope. Naturally, when Chris expressed his feelings about the matter, I couldn't help but smirk in the type of way that says, ummmm….awwk-waard.

I shifted in my seat in the same uncomfortable way us people who never bring home medals tend to shift in our seat when the conversation comes around to how fast everybody else is.

It was just about then that Chris began to backpedal.

I mean, that's only how I feel, he said, implying that if I wanted to cheat my way into the World Championships, it was my prerogative to be an outcast.**

All of this got me thinking a little bit about my history with the the Triathlon World Championships. For well over a decade, my triathlon goal was to race Kona. Period. That was it, end of story. The only race I wanted to do was the Hawaii Ironman. If I could just do that, I told myself, I’d be happy for the rest of my life.

Naturally, I signed up for the lottery every year. Of course I paid the extra fifty bucks for the super-special access that supposedly gave me a better chance of winning a slot (in addition to the “premiere member” discount at the Ironman store, which I still have yet to use). Every year I woke up on lottery day with nervous anticipation, knowing for certain that my name would be on the list. I didn’t pay that extra fifty bucks for naught.

The disappointment usually sunk in the second time I looked through the list and didn’t see my name. The first time I scanned the list I figured I just looked at it too quickly and missed my name. But the second time, when I read every single letter of every single name, that’s when I realize that another year has gone by without me in Kona living my dream. Some years I didn’t even bother to do any other races.

It’s a sad existence when you sit around waiting for your dreams to knock on your door instead of walking outside and grabbing them yourself.

One day, after many years of lottery disappointment, I finally realized I had two choices: I could wait forever for something that may never happen, or I could go out and race an Ironman.

I did IM Lake Placid in 2006 and IM Arizona in April 2008. I had an incredibly exhilarating experience in 2006 and a dramatically challenging experience in 2008. I trained hard for both and understand the sacrifices one needs to make just to get to the starting line.

I was na├»ve back in my pre-Ironman dreaming days. I have now lived my dream and understand what being an Ironman really means. For us that will never qualify for Kona, Ironman is more than just a world championship. I’ve come to believe that, in the same way an Ironman is a celebration of your torturous training, getting that lottery slot for the Hawaii Ironman is a celebration of all the Ironman racing experiences you’ve done before. It is the pinnacle of the Ironman life.

Which leads us smack into the wall of my hypocrisy.

As I was sitting there with Chris, I couldn’t help but think of my friends who put their names in the lottery year after year in hopes of going to the Big Show, just as I did years before. I thought of the ones who refuse to do any other Ironman race, who barely even race triathlon anymore, who barely even workout, but still vie for that treasured lottery slot.

I began to judge them. I imagined how much I would despise them if they got into the Hawaii Ironman by just signing up, when so many others, like me, are out there slogging through endless training, grueling races, making sacrifices and giving it their best shot in tough conditions with no chance of every qualifying. The people who race other Ironman events, they sign up for the lottery with blood, sweat and hope. They know the dream, they’ve been there. They have tasted Ironman and know what it means. They get the credit. Yes, the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.***

As for those others, those that hope beyond hope to hit the jackpot, the ones who dream of accomplishing their dreams without any effort. Frankly, it makes me sick.

Call me a hypocrite, call me an elitist nitwit, call me what you will, but dreams don’t come easy in this world. I’m very much in favor of the Ironman lottery. After all, we are the only sport in the world that enables any shmo to race side-by-side with the world’s best athletes. However, there are so many shmo’s already in line that have made the sacrifices, that have been chasing the dream, it only seems fair that we’d get a better chance to reach it.



* Editor’s Note: the slot actually sold for over $45,000
** Editor’s Note, Part Deux: Chris didn’t mean any of the conversation in a judgmental manner. I just make him sound that way. He’s actually an open-minded guy
***Editor’s Note, Number C: That last part is a Theodore Roosevelt quote. I didn’t make it up, I just wish I did.

April 20, 2008

Post-PartIM Depression

As you can very well see (and as some of you have pointed out), my race report from Ironman Arizona is overdue. Unfortunately, one of my many faults is the length of time it takes me to write a race report. The longer the race, the more time it takes.

Trust me, I'm working on it. Hopefully it'll be worth the wait.

Suffice to say, I no longer have to walk with crutches and I think the antibiotics are working.

In the meantime, I'm out in Tuscaloosa, Alabama right now at the Triathlon Olympic Trials and I have to admit it's pretty darn awe-inspiring. You know that lump in the throat and the watering in the eyes that we get watching the Ironman Championships every year? Well, same thing happened to me at the Olympic Trials.

At first I was confused. I thought maybe somebody through tear gas into the crowd. But that didn't make sense so I quickly ruled out that theory and figured I must be choking on a bit of food. But I soon realized I wasn't eating anything.

Could this possibly be tears, I thought to myself in the most manly way possible.

Sure I may cry watching the finish of an Ironman race.... but watching an Olympic distance? I don't think so.

But, lo and behold, I couldn't help but wallow in heart-wrenching awe while I watched the rays of joy emanate like missiles from Julie (Swail) Ertel as she held the finishers tape high above her head reveling in her confirmed spot on the US Olympic Team while at her feet, Sarah Groff, the third place finisher, lay fallen on the ground, motionless, exhausted, defeated.

Every Greek tragedy (and quite a few Italian ones) played itself out in the Olympic Trials.


OK, I can't talk much longer. I've got a race report to write.

April 15, 2008

Ironman Hell-izona

As you may know, I just raced Ironman Arizona. This is not my race report.

My race report will give you the gruesome details of all the course, the race and the experience. Suffice to say, if I had to sum up Ironman Arizona 2008 in one word, it'd be this: fuckingbrutal

I'm sure my race report will wax poetic about all sorts of hidden emotions I have yet to uncover, but I guarantee you, any words I use will be just loquacious dilly-dallying around that single concept. Fuckingbrutal.

As I hobble around on my crutches, like a war-torn semblance of the man I used to be - a bruised and battered body covering like armor the piercing pain of accomplishment - I am trying to find some form of meaning from this experience.

There are lessons to be learned, that is for sure. I just don't know what the hell they are yet. In the meantime, if you're looking for some extra bedside reading, you might want to peruse my Ironman Lake Placid race report. That was the first Ironman I did. I will be referring to it. Arizona was my second. There is a big difference between your first Ironman experience and those that follow. Nobody warned me about that. I never knew.

Details will follow shortly after I recover from this post-traumatic stress nonsense.

April 12, 2008

Eat The Hot Dog

Ironman Arizona is tomorrow. Wow.
I can't help but wonder, as I sit in my hotel room, how the heck I got here. It seemed like the decision to race Arizona was so sudden and thoughtless. As if somebody asked me, would you like a hot dog for lunch? And at that moment in time, a nice warm hot dog actually sounded like a great idea.

Now here I am, six months later, and it's time to eat the hot dog. Truth be told, I might be just as happy with a turkey sandwich. However, apparently I already ordered this hot dog and prepared all the fixings for the hot dog and now I've got to eat this hot dog and there's really no way to change the fact that the hot dog is tomorrow.

Last night I reached the pre-Ironman stage of restlessness, anxiety and doubt (RAD, for short). I know it's going to eventually merge into serenity and powerlessness (SAP), I just hope that happens sooner rather than later.

I've been reading a variety of articles about racing tips to make sure my plan is solid - and then convincing myself that, despite what I've read in the articles, my plan is solid. I've also been re-reading some of my old posts of the Ironman advice I've given to others and realized that it might be time to take some of my own medicine. So what I'm going to do is segue into a revised post from awhile back about this feeling I'm feeling right now. This over-whelming palpitation of fear and excitement. The ferocious rumbling of anticipation and dread. I remember this sensation in the pit of my stomach, wondering whether it is butterflies of amazement or tremblings of disaster. Oh, if there were even a way to know the difference.

I know that later today I will be solemn. When I walk through the Ironman village I will still wonder how I got here. Whether I did enough. Whether I am prepared.

I did.
I am.

Ironman is a fantastic voyage. It is the defining crossroads where your biggest dreams meet your darkest nightmares. It is the one day where everything that is good and everything that is bad square off in the ultimate challenge. The classic battle of good and evil. White Spy vs Black Spy.

I have traveled down that road. I remember how it feels.

And when I wake up on race morning, I will prepare myself like I've done time and time before at all those triathlons in my past. There will be anticipation in the air, but it will be more relaxed than I think.

And when I stand on the beach amidst the thousands of participants, the thousands of spectators, the hundreds of volunteers, the National Anthem being sung over the loudspeaker, I will look out into the waters before me and realize, once again, I am standing on the precipice of my future. My new life hangs before me.

The starting gun will go off. And it will be surreal.
And then I will begin to race my race, the race I've been preparing for all of these months. And I will do it right - I will race my race the way I want to race. I will do it. Because that's what I've been preparing for. And that's what I'm ready for.

The hard part is done. I may not believe that now, but I will when I am standing on the other side of the finish line. The Ironman is a celebration of what I've already done. It is a celebration of who I've become.

So I've tried to remind myself of the 28 pieces of Ironman advice that has helped me in the past. First, there are 14 random things I'd tell first time Ironman racers. And then there are 11 things Ironman racers will tell you before your first race all of which seem true now that I've been down this road before.

But all of this boils down to what are arguably the three most important things that got me through my first Ironman and will get me through my next. These are them...

1. SLOW and EASY.
Go slower than you think you should. Lots of people will pass you in the first 125 miles of the race. But if you take it slow and steady, maintain a consistent pace, you will be smiling through the last 15 miles and feeling strong while those others are cramped, tired and struggling to walk as they stand crying by the side of the road.

2. EAT and DRINK
You've done the work already. Your body is ready; you are in shape. The only thing standing between you and the finish line is consistent nutrition. Know how much you need to consume each hour, and do it. Nutrition will be your best friend or your worst enemy. It's your choice. Make it your friend.

3. STAY POSITIVE
This is arguably the most important of the three. You will go through a rollercoaster of emotions throughout race day. Through it all, stay positive. In the worst of times, stay positive. When your body is tired, your legs unable to move another step, don't give up. When you get to mile 130 and every atom in your body wants to stop. Don't. Let your mind take you to the finish line. Stay positive and you will get there. The mind controls the body, don't let your body control your mind. Stay positive, and you will be an Ironman with a smile.

One more day. One more race. One more adventure.
It's time to eat the hot dog.

See you on the other side,
J.

April 09, 2008

Tempe-rature

I leave for Tempe tomorrow. In four days I'll be racing Ironman Arizona. There's a lot of nonsense bouncing off the walls of my cranium. Here are a few samples...

1. The weather: This morning I went to Accuweather.com and typed in "Tempe, Arizona" only to learn that on Sunday, the day I'm racing Ironman Arizona, the day I'll be traveling 140.6 miles under little-to-no shade, Tempe will be suffering from a 24 hour heat wave. Though temperatures this week are in the 80s and temperatures next week are expected to be in the 80s, temperatures on Sunday are supposed to reach 98 degrees.

2. Chicago Marathon: Due to unusually hot weather, one person died and 50 people were sent to the hospital at the most recent Chicago Marathon. It was only 88 degrees.

3. Sweat: Here's a little known fact for you, sodium melts at 98 degrees. When we sweat, we lose salt from our body. When you lose too much salt, you can suffer from hyponatremia. At it's most extreme, some of the symptoms of hyponatremia are seizures, coma or death, all three of which I'd rather not experience on my trip to Tempe. I've done a lot of online research and can't seem to find anywhere that lists a symptom as "Ironman PR". That said, if sodium is melting at 98 degrees and the air temperature outside is 98 degrees, that means the moment the sweat comes out of our pores, the salt dissolves. I suppose it's the heat equivalent of peeing outside in sub-zero weather. I'm not sure what it all means, but if the words "coma" and "death" are involved, I'm pretty sure it can't be good.

4. Fever: The average temperature of the human body is 98 degrees Fahrenheit. A change by more than about 1 degree indicates ill health. Again, I'm not sure what this means during the Ironman race, but it's probably not going to be listed in the "positive" column.

5. Calves, not the 'moo' kind: My doctor told me to apply heat to my calves before doing any exercise. That will loosen up the muscles, he said, and reduce the risk of injury. I'm hoping that the ridiculously hot outdoor temperature will be the equivalent of continuous heat on my calves, in which case, my fear of not being able to run the marathon just ratcheted down a notch. Let's put that one in the 'positive' column.


More to report when I get to Tempe.

April 05, 2008

The Fear of Fear

I am driven by fear.
Fear of pain. Fear of failure. Fear of not living up to my lofty expectations of life.

Fear isn't cast down on me, I am not a victim. My fear is a part of me. I am fear. It is me.

My fear is subtle. It doesn't stalk me or hound me or jump out of the closet like a banshee. My fear does not wear a hockey mask.

My fear is a foe and a friend. It is my worst enemy and my closest companion. It is an obstacle constantly blocking my way, challenging my courage, trying to break my will. It is the debilitating weakness that bolsters and buoys my strength. My fear is my fortitude.

Fear ties me down and lifts me up. It is the hamster in the cage that spins the wheel that creates the energy that makes me go.

I fear long and strenuous workouts. I'm scared to start; petrified of the possibilities. I don't know if I can get through. I question whether I can bear the pain. I doubt my very ability to survive.

I read my past like a book, the endless stories of success. But all I feel are the spaces of weakness hidden like cowards between the words, behind the truth. My fear makes me blind.

I walk to the pool, I climb on the bike, I step on the pavement. In the first step, the first stroke, the first moment - I am fear. I am free falling. I am a BASE jumper, soaring from the highest bridge. No parachute, no net. Nothing but my will to survive; learning to fly.

I start by playing mental games. To reduce the strain and quell the fear. I count my laps backwards. 23, 22, 21... I break down my effort into minuscule goals. Just swim to the other side of the pool. Run to the end of the block. One more mile. One more step. One more second.

These are the things we do to fight the fear.

And soon I become so engrossed in the process, so mired in the moment, the fear begins to dissipate. It weakens. I absorb the energy and charge faster, stronger, harder. I force the fear to cower in the corner. And there comes a point in every day in every workout when everything changes. When the mental games to quell the fear, reverse. When I am no longer fighting the fear, but it is fighting me.

From whence I was the servant of fear, I emerge the master. I increase the strain. I push myself to go further. To go faster. To go harder. I incite my mind and challenge my body. The adrenaline warms and simmers and boils as I strive for every second to be better than that before. I am king. I am power.

I conquer the fear.
There is no fear.

And as I finish the swim, the run, the bike – as I take the final step across the final moment of my adventure – I emerge the victor. I am brightened by an eternal glow.

And as I stride towards my home, shoulders back, head held high, I am proud of what I’ve done. I am success. I am the conqueror. And though I can sense the growing pitter-patter of fear’s feet following close behind, waiting to jump once again upon my back, I don’t fear fear.

Fear does not hold me back, it pushes me forward. My fear is not my limiter, but my driver. It is my engine. It is my mirror. It is my friend. I embrace my fear, for my fear is me.

April 01, 2008

A Psychosomatic Semblance of Sanity

My grandfather is dead. No need for condolences. I mean, you can condole if you want, but I'm not telling you he's dead so you can give me sympathy. I have a long list of other things that I would tell you if all I wanted was sympathy. We can get to that later.

My grandfather was a gentle man with a strong character. He had great fortitude and a strength of mind that commanded respect. He was a loving and tender man. In some mysterious ways he was always the controlling force in any room, despite the fact that most of the time he remained silent, content to just be listening.

My grandfather had 9 siblings and lived longer than any of them. Which, if you know my grandfather (which you don't, but I'm trying my best to explain if you'd just stay focused), is amazing. When God was handing out the "sick" genes, somebody must've slipped on a banana peel and spilled extra into grandpa's basket. He was a magnet for disease. I think he may have gotten every sickness ever invented, and then some.

His heart wasn't so strong, so he got a pacemaker at an early age. That led to numerous open-heart surgeries and bypasses and other reasons for ridiculously sharp objects to be slicing and dicing around his chest cavity. He conquered just about every form of cancer known to man. He had allergies and sinus headaches. There are at least five doctor's who are putting their kids through college, thanks to my grandfather's fragile constitution. You're welcome.

As far back as I can remember my grandfather was always in and out of hospitals. In fact, there are no videos of me as a baby because my grandfather was in the hospital for the early months of my life. Apparently he was the only one who knew how to work the video camera. (As if a video camera is so difficult to figure out. Could it really have been more challenging than pressing the "record" button?! I guess it shows you how mechanically inclined my family is. It's a wonder we can even tie our shoes without some technical support.)

But there's one thing my grandfather always wanted - and that was to live to see the millennium. He was born sometime in the early 20th century and wanted to live to see the clock turn over to the year 2000. He was a very determined man so, of course, he accomplished his goal. And, of course, he was in the hospital when it happened.

On December 30, 1999, just two days before Y2K did absolutely nothing to a nervous world, I got the call that my grandfather was going into the hospital. Yes I was concerned, but the truth is that the incident was equivalent to, say, you telling me that you're going to the market for pork rinds. I'm concerned you're eating pork rinds, you shouldn't do that. It's not good for a healthy heart. But the fact is that you go to the market on such a regular basis, I know you'll be back and it'll be ok, though maybe you'll be a modicum less healthy than you were before.

You probably think I'm going to tell you that grandpa died there in the hospital on January 1, 2000. That would be poetic, but it's not the truth. My grandfather should've died many times before, but he wanted to live through to the year 2000 and he did, if by nothing else than sheer determination. He saw the turn of the millennium. He got out of the hospital, and was happy. He saw all his children and grandchildren and was happier. He bounced back, as he always did.

Later that year, he went to the hospital again and never came out.

[That's a very long set-up to my story so I'm really going to do my best to not ramble on. Though telling you I'm not going to ramble on is an example of me rambling on. OK, enough already.]

In many ways I am like my grandfather. I am often silent, pensive, aware. I say some of the same things he used to say. I am stronger of the mind than of the body. I am determined. And, unfortunately, I'm sickly.

Of all the damn genes in the family lottery pool, I ended up walking away with my grandfather's sick gene.

Since I was a child I've battled sickness on a regular basis. When I was five years old I got pneumonia and was sent to the hospital. (As it turns out, two floors below me was my grandfather, who got sent to the hospital at the same time for some sort of heart something or other. My family would go up and down the elevator, splitting the visiting hours between the two of us.)

As I grew older, I came down with all the basics. Chickenpox, mono, you name it I got it. My allergies were horrendous. I also seemed to be prone to breaking bones. As I reached the high school years, it was like I had a perpetual cold. My entire schooling was spent sniffling, sneezing and feeling run down. The fever would come on about 3 or 4 times per year and knock me out. If my high school yearbook had a category called "Most Likely To Get A Highly Infectious Disease," I would've won that one hands down.

But I've always been athletic and have always tried my best to care for my body. As I get older, I suppose I've gotten more accustomed to the fragile nature of my attraction to sickness. Spirituality has started creeping into my life. I've dabbled in yoga, meditation and have sauntered down various streets of serenity. I've become fascinated with the minds power to heal the body. Sometimes I figure my mind may be my only hope.

Emotionally, I'm a relatively even-keeled person. But, like anybody else, I get nervous. Athletically, this most often happens about 2-3 weeks before a race. The longer the race, the greater the internal pressure, the stronger the stress.

Which brings us to Ironman Arizona. In case you haven't been counting, its less than two weeks away. I'm deep in taper mode right now. My training has been going well, all things considered. I've proved to be so much stronger this ironman training than my struggles leading up to Ironman Lake Placid.

My swimming has been better than ever. My biking is spot on. My running is infinitely better than it was for Lake Placid. My body is ready. In fact, dare I say that I've even been looking forward to the race. Especially the run. I want to see what's going to happen on the run. Back when I was training for Lake Placid, I couldn't do any runs faster than 10 minute miles. It was frustrating. I cursed a lot. It was the slowest I had been in my life. I think I cursed every moment of every step. I ran out of curse words to say so I'd just focus on one and keep repeating it. A curse word per mile - that kinda sums up my Ironman Lake Placid training.

These past months have been different. On some runs I've averaged 8:30/mile or faster. My speed runs are in the 6:15 to 6:45 range. The long (14+ mile) runs are around 9 minute mile averages, with a few 8:30-8:45s thrown in for good measure. It makes me happy. It makes me think I may be able to get the speed back that I had when I was but a young whipper-snapper. It makes me almost excited for the Ironman Arizona run.

In true sickly fashion, about 2 months ago I came down with a brutal case of the flu. I get the flu every year, like clockwork. In fact, we've now got an arrangement, the flu and me. It doesn't try to sneak up on me anymore. It just pleasantly knocks on my door. I open up and welcome it in. We have a cup of tea, maybe some crumpets, and then I let it have it's way with me for a couple of weeks. Shortly thereafter, we part ways with a handshake, a smile and a "see you next year, give my love to the wife and kids."

Since I recovered from this year's flu, I've been plagued with this crazy post-nasal drip. Sometimes that happens to me. Whenever I go biking or running I cough and cough and cough like I'm hacking out a lung, an intestine and maybe even a pancreas (assuming it's possible to cough out a pancreas, I wasn't real good at biology). The coughing is annoying - not just for me, but for everybody else around me. It forces me to stop and lean on the side of the road like I'm dry heaving. But there's nothing to heave. Just more coughs. And maybe a pancreas being jiggled loose.

Add on top of that this flu-ish feeling that's been coming on for the past couple of days. More than anything, it's frustrating. I really don't want the flu again - especially this close to my race. About 20 miles into this weekend's 80 mile ride I felt the fever coming on. I slowed down and thought of turning around. But I kept going, easy and steady, and made it through. Hopefully that won't come back to haunt me.

More importantly, I can't run. Two weeks ago I was doing a track workout and halfway through my 800 repeats, my calves stopped repeating and started cramping. I stopped, walked, stretched and tried to do a slow warm-down, which pretty much turned into me sitting down on the track in frustration as people ran around me and wondered why I was being such a numbnutz. Since then I haven't been able to run at all. The three hour run I had on the schedule for last week lasted all of 2 minutes and 35 seconds before the pain took over.

I've been going to physical therapy. Electric stim, ultra sound, massage, ice, stretch, blah blah blah. You know the drill. I've been doing my runs on the elliptical and started pool jogging this week. Two weeks out from Ironman - the Ironman where I was really looking forward to running - and I can't even dash across the street without cringing in pain. And even if I could dash across the street, I'd be doubled-over on the other side hacking out some pretty important internal organs.

The crazy thing in all of this is that I don't feel stressed anymore. People ask me if I'm nervous or anxious. No, I say in a calm tone with a hint of "what do you mean?" attached to the end, just for good measure.

You see, I've been racing triathlon for about 16 years and have just about reached a point where I'm almost starting to notice some patterns.

There are a few things that seem to happen to me on a regular basis during the weeks leading up to my races. First, I feel like I'm getting sick. You know, fever, run-down, all-I-want-to-do-is-lay-on-the-couch type of sick. Secondly, my legs stop working. And when I say "stop working" I mean that I get a debilitating injury. It's normally the calf or achilles that puts me out of commission for a couple of weeks. On top of that, even if I could actually go for a run, I sometimes come down with an annoyingly rambunctious cough that limits me from doing any exercise whatsoever. Then there's the surprising symptoms behind Curtain A. I never know what they're going to be. One year it was a slightly sprained wrist. For another race I came down with such incredible back pain the days before, that I was left completely incapacitated. I literally could not stand up the day before the race. I had to spend the entire day laying flat in bed or on the floor.

When all of this happens, I tend to do what any normal person would do - I freak out. I get frustrated. I complain. I get angry. I get short-tempered. Then, somewhere in there, it slowly transforms into a sort of serenity. I start recognizing that I can't change what I can't change. It is what it is. Which is apparently where I am right now.

Miraculously, come race day everything usually feels fine. Sure the calf may not be as strong as I'd like it to be, but I can still go the distance - whatever the distance. More importantly, the back doesn't hurt (I PR'd that race), the legs don't give out, the coughing stops (I PR'd that race too). It's as if some TV preacher reached out his miracle-making hands, touched my forehead right before the starting gun, uttered some speaking-in-tongues gobbledy-gook and, kla-pooooie, I was relieved of all my ails. Constant miracles (which might be a good title for the book I'll never write about my racing experiences).

After the race, the symptoms never return. The coughing is gone, the back feels fine, the legs are perfect. Through it all, I come to realize these seemingly real problems are psychosomatic reactions to stress. And I realize that the power of the mind never ceases to amaze me.

Fast forward back to today. And I can't help but wonder if these injuries, this sickness, this cough - these symptoms that feel so real... are they? Will they just miraculously go away again or, this time, this year, do I really have these health problems?

Yes, looking at the patterns that emerge again and again in my pre-race history, I can't help but think that all of these problems are in my head. I can't help but wonder if I really pulled a muscle in my calf or if it's a psychosomatic reaction. I can't help but question whether or not this cough will magically dissolve the moment I toe the starting line.

But here's the problem, if it's all a psychosomatic reaction, then I can't possibly be as relaxed and calm as I'm feeling now. These reactions must be from stress. There must be a ball of anxiety growing inside me that is filtering pain throughout the various limbs of my body. But I feel normal. I feel relaxed. Which leads me to a fear that this feeling of serenity might be a farce.

After all, there are only two ways to explain all of this. Either my body is really and truly falling apart and my mind is staying in the peaceful sense of serenity that I've been hoping to achieve. In which case, it's going to be a painful, coughingly frustrating Ironman.

On the other hand, maybe it's my mind falling apart behind the scenes. Maybe my body is just a victim - an outlet for the hidden fear that shoots with a silencer through my veins. And all this serenity hooey that I've fooled myself into may just be some sort of psychosomatic semblance of sanity that helps me survive.

I suppose I'll figure out the answer when I get to Arizona.
It is what it is.