Friday, October 05, 2007


Maybe sometimes we can't control the way we look to others. But we can control the way we respond.

I got onto the MT 25 to downtown and rode quietly down Pacific Ave. When we stopped at the front of the University of Washington Medical Center a man got on the bus and was definitely disabled by something that resembled cerebral palsy or MS. He seemed unable to voluntarily move his legs such that walking was extremely difficult for him. His face was slightly contorted while he spoke. He was black, walked (obviously based on my description) with a cane, carried a neck brace and wore the typical hospital bracelet. He had strange ticks and involuntary spasms.

The bus was mostly full and the front seats were completely full. When this man walked on no one moved. The lady seated next to me got up, and in a clear voice told the people at the front of the bus that they were supposed to vacate those seats for disabled riders. They didn't move when put on the spot, but instead looked uncomfortable and nervous.

The lady next to me insisted he sit there, next to me. He resisted saying he would stand but she fairly ordered him to sit. He did, right next to me.

I had the thought; I felt uncomfortable and felt that pang of "why do the weirdos have to sit next to me?"

He started talking to me. I felt bad for him that no one let him sit up front, and I had a feeling everyone on the bus besides that woman who gave up her seat for him thought he was "weird" and would not want to talk to him, so I listened and smiled at him. I felt bad for him and I felt bad that at the same instant I felt somewhat annoyed that he was talking to me.

And I have to write about it now because of the impact it made on me.

I didn't get his name. I wish I had. He was at the hospital because he had surgery on his back about 5 weeks ago and was in for a follow up. His speech was slurred and forced and took effort to decipher. This was, I found out, because he had nerve damage. I asked him what happened to make him have back surgery, and he told me a remarkable story that I wasn't prepared for.

He was working at Fred Meyer and fell, cracking the ball part of the femur in his right hip joint. He went for surgery to have the fragments of bone that were floating in the joint removed. Somehow the surgery left metal fragments in the joint that calcified over time and started pointing and pushing into the sciatic nerve. As a result he had what he referred to as a "permanent stroke" symptom: the slurred speech and even less control of many functions that already was terrible. I should have recognized it before he told me. Anyway, he said his surgery 5 weeks ago which was to remove those fragments. It turned out during that surgery, however, the surgeons saw that removing some of the fragments would potentially injure the nerve permanently because of how much they had grown into the cavity. Therefore they removed a few fragments at that time and would re-evaluate and decide later on what to do.

I could sense his intelligence from the way he spoke, but it was obviously masked because of the disability. I imagine most people never got to see this, and never gave him a chance at all.

I asked him where he was going. He said he was going downtown to catch a bus to take him to Everett, but that no one would help him figure out where to catch that bus. He said he would ask the bus driver again but she wasn't nice. I imagined the bus driver's response was probably annoyed and judgmental, as they are to EVERYONE. Granted, they deal with a lot of people who aren't disabled but annoying and manipulative, such that the people who really need help suffer the wrath of the driver who had been through the whole day. I told him I didn't know anything about buses to Everett but I did tell him a couple of streets that had large bus stops and might be of help.

He said he had been there since 9 AM and was hungry and hadn't eaten. He did not look like he had much, if any money. This was confirmed when he said he just wanted to get back to the mission in Everett and have some food. My heart really sank to think I was going downtown to eat expensive food at a nice restaurant downtown in excessive amounts. He was going home to a mission and maybe a sandwich.

He was very uncomfortable and I could tell he was frustrated.

He said he didn't care what it took, he was sick of the pain and sick of feeling the metallic cold through his body that the pressure on the nerve caused, and the doctors didn't listen to him. Instead they just gave him Oxycodone, a pain killer with opiates. He reached into his pocket and took out a prescription of pills they had just filled for him to show me. He said he sometimes had to sell a few of them to get money for food.


I asked him if anything had happened to hold the surgeons accountable for leaving metal in his hip and putting him in a more disabled state than he needed to be and he said he couldn't afford a lawyer and as a result how would he do that? I didn't have an answer. He said he trusted in God to take care of him and that some people had it much worse than he did. I couldn't imagine that I could have that kind of perspective in his situation. He had a legitimate beef with life, but he still saw that other people had it worse. When it comes to religion, I don't think the same way, but I can understand the way people turn to God when they have nothing else. At least its something to hold on to.

He put the pills back in his pocket and we didn't talk much more for a while. He struggled up toward the front of the bus, nearly falling because of his difficulty walking, and asked the bus driver where to catch the certain bus. The bus driver angrily told him she didn't know, that she had already told him that. The bus stopped where I was getting off in downtown, and she yelled at him--YELLED--to get out of the way for people. I shot her a seriously dirty look and patted the guy on the arm and told him I hope he could figure it out. He said thanks and waved. I thought that was the last I would see of him. However, he got off the bus and started walking, if you can call it that, through the crowds asking people where he could catch the 510.

Everyone--EVERY one--ignored him. He started approaching specifically black people and asking them, but they ignored him too. I thought he was going to cry, to be honest, as I watched him stand there in the crowd. I ran over to him, and, being down here early, told him to walk with me and I would try to help him figure it out. He smiled and I felt like I had done, finally, something worth my breath for the first time in my life. People actually gave me the weirdest looks as I walked next to him and tried to talk to him.

I can't say I know a single thing about how it must be for him, but in that moment I grew a brand new hatred for human beings. I already hated them quite a bit.

I told him to look at the big bus signs where the stops are located and see if he sees the 510. I realized, though, that the 510 is a different bus line, through a different organization, and was going to be difficult to find. He said he just wanted to get "home."

Finally I had to head in a different direction but I knew he had to keep heading in the same direction we had been walking. I tried to get him to listen and HEAR what I was telling him about where to look, but I don't know if he heard. I shook his hand and told him I was sorry people were so mean, but not to let it get him down. I told him he was better than most of us. He thanked me profusely and struggled away.

As he walked away I saw him approach three women at another bus stop. They turned hastily away, avoiding him. They must have thought he was a homeless beggar or drunk or something. He walked toward them again and I heard him asking where could he find the 510 bus, and again they moved uncomfortably away. And then a police officer on a horse, of all things, came over and, leaning down from the horse's back, said something I couldn't hear to the man, who held up his arms in question and I heard him say "I just wanted some help finding my bus, man! Maybe you will help me? Where do I catch the 510?" I think it was the saddest part of the whole thing when I next heard the officer say, leaning up straight and firming his voice; "I best think you ought to just head away from here as fast as you can."

The disabled man I had gotten to know just a little bit to be a genuine, hungry, tired, intelligent man could have gotten angry, or cried, or made a scene, or anything. You know what he did? He stood there, put his arms down, and said "God bless you." Then limped away.

Maybe sometimes we can't control the way we look to others. But we can control the way we respond.

Sleepy Time

"I never get enough sleep. I stay up late at night, cause I'm Night Guy. Night Guy wants to stay up late. 'What about getting up after five hours sleep?', oh that's Morning Guy's problem. That's not my problem, I'm Night Guy. I stay up as late as I want. So you get up in the morning, you're alarm, you're exhausted, groggy, oooh you hate that Night Guy! See, Night Guy always screws Morning Guy. There's nothing Morning Guy can do. The only thing Morning Guy can do is try and oversleep often enough so that Day Guy loses his job and Night Guy has no money to go out anymore."

~Jerry Seinfeld

I can relate.

Responsible Guy was hanging out with the ever enticing Night Girl.

Night Guy showed up and kicked Responsible Guy in the teeth.

Morning Guy was depending on Responsible Guy to keep Night Guy in check, but it seems Night Guy and the fiendish Night Girl stay up too late together having good times.

Morning Guy now is jealous of Night Guy and Night Girl's interaction and plotting the demise of Night Guy by giving Day Guy headaches and lack of focus to get things done well. Day Guy then ruins the party by pre-empting Night Guy and going to bed before Night Guy and Night Girl have their fun.

The best part is Night Guy can't even function even when they do stay up late.

The only problem is there is NO Morning Girl.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Getting Through.

"Restlessness is discontent - and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man - and I will show you a failure."
~Thomas Alva Edison

The goal is not to be the best, but is it really up to me to decide that? Is there a difference in my own journey between just to finish and to finish leaving some impression upon those that remain that something, someone, special just passed through?

The goal is to finish. But can I truly just finish?

At Ironman to just finish was special... but I know I will be going back.

This is different. There is no going back.

It has grown obvious to me that work ethic does not determine success where I am. It has grown apparent that my own success may not be up to me entirely; two things that go against every fiber of who I am. I refuse to believe that in this world I am not responsible for my successes, my failures. If I work hard and do what I know to be right, I will succeed.

Therefore, the equation I have always lived by, my own recipe, no longer holds true. I can not, in this realm, rely on physics as I know them, but instead am sort of bound to the tides of wherever this is and will forever struggle with fighting against the current which is counter to my own truths or to succumb to the truths of "now" until it dispenses me where it sees fit.

I thought I knew the truth about things.
The truth may, in fact, be schedule dependent.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Volcano Pictures

Without further adieu, see for yourself the madness that is the Wilderness Marathon at the top of Kilauea, HI. The pictures just do NOT do it justice. The most noticeable effect witnessed in person but unclear in the pictures is the steepness of the hills. At mile 22, for example, that sucker was probably a 10% grade for 2 more miles. That's fun.

Most of these were taken from a disposable camera I took with me during the run. One of the people I met in the middle of the thing was kind enough to take a pic of me at mile 14.5, which is a few down there. Jan and her dad also took a couple at the very beginning and at the very end.


"The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic."
~Oscar Wilde

Watch closely, you will actually see me cross the line at Ironman CDA 2007. Ah, watching that makes me want to sign up RIGHT NOW for another one... but I promised to wait until 2009...

It is what it is... What is it?

"They misunderestimated me."
~George W. Bush

Its fall. Thats what. I misunderestimated its effect.

I forgot how fall felt until this morning when it was on the verge of raining, cold and dark.

In some parts of the world fall is pretty and colorful, with changing leaves, "indian summer" (whatever that means) and gradualism. It means the gardens will begin producing a new bounty and the evening air will hang heavy in the early setting sun's red glow.

In Seattle it means ick. And get out your trusty rain-proof everything.

It means keeping plenty of towels in the garage for wiping dog feet.

Fall means another 10 months until summer. The beginning of going to work in the dark and going home in the dark.

Fall means its time to dust off the bike trainer in anticipation of garage riding for months.

Ok, this is a really bad view, I admit. Fall brings good things also. It brings another season of Seahawks football and more importantly, tailgating with the crew. Seahawks football brings its own set of ulcers and frustrations also, but we wont dedicate blog time to that, right now. Fall means marathon training for the hilly, chilly and wet Seattle Marathon. I think thats fun. Its fun getting done with it.

Fall means Oktoberfest beer-a-thons all over the northwest.


I dont know, its hard for me to paint it in a positive light when I love hot weather, beaches and 4:30 AM sunrise. I love swimming after coffee at 7 AM followed by running the mountains at noon and more swimming. I love seeing the sun rise beyond the cascades and Husky Stadium on my bike ride to work at 6 AM. I love summer. I can not lie.

But if it weren't for the 10 months of ICK, perhaps I might not enjoy summer quite so thoroughly every minute of every day.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Plate Champion

“A big man is always accused of gluttony, whereas a wizened or osseous man can eat like a refugee at every meal, and no one ever notices his greed.”

~Robertson Davies

On friday I turned 30. I did something extraordinary on my 30th birthday to mark the occasion. It was my first foray into competitive eating, sort of. I became a SushiLand "Plate Champion."

This is truly an American art--overeating for the sole purpose of saying you overate... The feat of becoming Plate Champion involves consuming, in whole, 30 plates of sushi in 90 minutes. 30 plates means at least two pieces of nigiri-style sushi over rice per plate, or 60 pieces of sushi. Maybe this doesn't sound difficult to many of you out there, and indeed, for me, it was not as hard as, say, Ironman. But at 25 plates my body began to negotiate with me when it came to swallowing.

Body: You think you are going to really swallow that mouthful of salmon, rice, wasabi and soy?
Gluttony: Yes.
Body: Go ahead and try.
Gluttony: (chewing, chewing, chewing, chewing...still chewing...) So you have a point.
Body: Tell you what, dumb-ass. I will let you swallow HALF of a bite at a time, and only after you mix it with some tea and chew each HALF bite for approximately 5 minutes. And you will accept this deal or barf.

I turned 30. I ate 34 plates. I am a Plate Champion. Not only that but I set a new record for our department at school, the former record being 33 plates. I actually finished 20 plates in about 45 minutes. It was nuts.

I got a t-shirt and photos to prove it. Its really not something to be proud of, but somewhere on the edge of reason I tell myself that this might decrease the amount of wasted food that might have otherwise populated the garbage. It might be partially true. Maybe.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Debunking Health Myths

"There's lots of people in this world who spend so much time watching their health that they haven't the time to enjoy it."
~Josh Billings

No, there are no hair growing herbs.

No, Rosemary does not cure toenail fungus.

Yes, several components of some red wines have been proven to lower blood pressure and reduce risk of heart attack while boosting your anti-oxidative state.

Ever had questions like these? Ever seen the stupid, cheesy, almost-too-dumb-to-not-believe ads online promising health miracles?

A few of us at UW Pharmaceutics have decided to provide the public who can find us with a way to find out the truth about these things. We would love to hear your health myth questions.

Please give it a shot, its free. Tell your friends, too; we want to spread the word and help people become informed about these false/misleading/unusual promotions and messages.

Discuss Debunking Health Myths

I hope to see some questions soon. We will provide any information we can to set the record straight!

Saturday, August 04, 2007


“Many people hear voices when no-one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up on rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing.”


I sit down for the fifth time and wonder where the witty commentary went. Why, it truly is possible to sit and stare at this device, fully eager and prepared to write, and then find that when the time has arrived to fill the blank space--its inevitably the hardest thing on earth to accomplish. Just one word?? Something?

A myriad of excuses clot my thinking into a jelly-like, brownish-blue glob that gets stuck somewhere between my brain and my fingers. Nothing happens. I stare. I fidget. I convince myself of something or other that prohibits me from communicating the written, or typed, word. No matter how much I want to, its stuck in me for yet another day.

I havent written about the marathon yet. Why? The classic response that I hear emanating from my own mouth is "I didnt have time." That there is a load of hooey. I have a million thoughts about the run across the lava, in the middle of nowhere, at 4000 feet with 182 other freaks of nature, but sitting down and writing about it feels impossible. Ironman was SO overwhelming, SO amazing I couldnt wait. It was like a bomb going off inside of me. The only thing about Ironman was that it took almost 13 hours to complete and was really a novels worth of emotional and physical extremes. The marathon was certainly a rare and wonderful event that many people will never experience (fewer than Ironman for sure) and yet its not so pressing for me to discuss here. How strange, because I truly loved doing it and cant wait to share.

Writers block. I think that is what I am experiencing. Wealth of ideas, lack of motivation to clarify them as written words. And boredom with the sound of my own "voice."

One of the things I love about blogging is the fact that a few degrees of separation are all that exists between most of the world, out there, and this blog. Its creepy how many people are just one, two or three clicks from being right HERE, reading this crap. And it really is. Some one once asked TS Eliot if college professors stifled budding writers. He replied that they do not stifle enough, and that there are many a best seller out there that did not have to exist if along the way some poor author had, indeed, been stifled.

Some of us stifle ourselves, I suppose.


Saturday, July 28, 2007


"If you set a goal for yourself and are able to achieve it, you have won your race. Your goal can be to come in first, to improve your performance, or just to finish the race - it's up to you."
~Dave Scott

Just finished my Wilderness marathon! Talk about rough. There were more hills in the last 7 miles than I could even begin to describe in a short offering. Instead, I will post my results:

23/185 overall

2/7 in my age group

My first ever placing in a marathon---and what a marathon in which to do that!!

Soon my pictures will be developed (I took a disposable camera with me) and will post those.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Chi Hawaiian Running

"Most people run a race to see who is fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts."
~Steve Prefontaine

Sunday I am racing the Wilderness Marathon, not shown in the picture above... thats Jan's Dad running with me on the "Sugar Cane Road" between Honaunau and Kaelakakua. A fun 4 mile jog over rolling hills through a battlefield desert in the lava. Super cool, super hawaiian thing to do if you are a runner.

Lava java on Ali'i drive has wireless internet for the customers!!

Hawaii is an incredible place if you know how to take advantage of what it offers--and understand how its offering it. This sounds weird, I suppose, but the truth is its not "touristy" in the way you might consider Mexican resorts or the Caribbean. You are best off getting a car or having sturdy cycling legs and getting OUT. Just follow a road and inevitably, without exception, you are in for a super adventure/treat. Everywhere here has its own story, even the trees. Every bay has a drama, every wind you feel is thoroughly ensconced in local lore, every time it rains it has a special name. How can I write a feeble blog entry to encompass this sort of depth? Its impossible. In lieu of this I will write my stupid little diary-esque vacation entry for Sunday.

Sorry; this is incredible poor writing.

The morning is like awakening in a cool greenhouse; the mist delivers a bouquet of aromas just as you might expect in a flower shop, but with the softest feeling air anywhere on earth. My earthly experiences are rather limited, however, but this has been corroborated by much more well traveled individuals than I. The air is soft. Its easy to breathe. In Seattle, the air is cool and not soft. Its difficult. And the rain is hard and cold, the air smells not of a flower shop; perhaps the cheap Vietnamese restaurant next door. I like Seattle, but Hawaii is truly a place to live.

Saturday. Dinner with Lee and Wendy Maxwell.

Saturday we went out to dinner with, of all people, a man who worked for my grandfather in the mill he owned 30-40 years ago. This was on Oahu, of all places on earth. It turns out that he and Jan's dad have been friends since high school, where they both went to the same high school I went to. Again, its a small planet. We sat on the Honolulu port eating dinner and drinking good beer and watched the cruise ship load up with passengers and watched tugs of all shapes and sizes motoring in and out with their barges. Some container ships floated in and the tugs maneuvered them deftly into place as if they were toys of a few dollars weighing a few pounds, not the hundreds of thousands of ton 400 foot long million dollar behemoths they indeed truly are.

Sunday: fly to big island

Jan's ankle is doing so well that she was hobbling without the aid of the unsightly and gangly metal crutches. She is doing really well, in fact, given the previous entry to this. WAILING in PAIN in the middle of a rugged mountain trail, if I remember accurately. Today, Monday, much better. Smiling and hobbling. So well, in fact, that we went snorkeling yesterday. I helped her into the water and even thought of a nifty little way to keep her footses from sinking toward the coral below--water wings around the ankles. Yep, floaties of yellow which, when inflated around her ankles, allow her to effortlessly snorkel without the pain and potential of further injury from fins. And a double bonus--in the snorkel-busy waters of Kona, its easy to spot her in a crowd.

My first Hawaiian snorkeling adventure was splendid, replete with wildlife to the tune of my first in-person green sea turtle swim. He just floated along there with me, looking at me over his shoulder, flying underwater with those little hydro-wings. So cool. Unbelievably cool. I laughed like a little kid as I clumsily splashed along trying to keep up. I had a great time until I got kind of chilly.

After we were finished snorkeling, finishing up with our run to meet Jan and the car at the marine preserve Kealakakua or something like that, we ended up at the place known as "The Coffee Shack" pictured above. Seriously cool place!! Stand at the edge of the lenai and look out over the coast below, where we just came from. You can see a line through the desert and lava that is the Sugar Cane Road, and its so far down there its hard to believe thats where you just were. The railing of The Coffee Shack sports those small Jam containers like they serve you at Denny's with your toast. They are all open and the geckos line up on those railings and eat the jam out of them like funny little dogs. Its hilarious to see these WILD animals behaving like this. Truly unique--where else on earth would you see this? This place also has heavenly pies and Kona Coffee right off the bush.

Its interesting in Hawaii; everyone in this particular area seems to have a coffee plantation, regardless of whether its 100 acres or 3 coffee plants. I could go into business, here. Damn the government and their tax laws!!!

We wrapped it up, drove back to the hotel/rooms and washed up, ready to head out for dinner. Dinner produced another fine culinary treat dispensed by Hawaiian favorite, the marvelous L&L Drive in. Loco moco, anyone? No, this time I dined on fried Mahi. Yumm-o.

We ended the long day at Island Lava Java on Ali'i drive, sitting out on the famous Ironman Triathlon street reminiscing about past races and Jan and her dad talked about their previous times in Hawaii. They have been here so often and know it so well, its amazing. For me, its a hugely steep learning curve as I try to assimilate and remember and enjoy everything I can in this short vacation. The coffee was delish and the free muffin basket came around at 10 pm, of which we all partook. That was our morning snack today, Monday.

So I am finishing this up on Tuesday night, unfortunately. I wish I could both express the activities we enjoyed or didn't enjoy in both an informative and well written way, but now, I am on vacation, and the attitude seems to have enveloped even my blogging. How it is. Enjoy.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Aloha, mainlanders! Now break a leg!

"A lot of people are afraid of heights. Not me, I'm afraid of widths.
~Steven Wright

That is not a random quote, mind you.

On a narrow trail with slippery clay instead of dirt and twisting, tangling, gnarled roots every single step--width is very important if you are carrying a 140 pound sweaty person on your back. You might not think 140 pounds is very heavy until you have to carry it a few miles after already having run that few miles in 85 degree temperatures up hills and down slopes, looking down to the left at a hundred foot cliff. No pressure.

Its not always you run into serious trouble, but vacation is as good a time as any. The first day of this vacation I was fortunate enough to be tested in basic wilderness survival. Garnett and I were running up ahead maybe 100 yards over an extremely rugged trail that was, indeed, clay/soil. At one particular overlook, from where you can see two distant jungle ridges of the mountains of Oahu, I heard a yelp, and then what I thought was laughter. I hoped it was laughter. I turned and walked toward the noise. Not laughter. Crying. WAILING. SERIOUS, PAINFUL WAILING!!! Oh shit, I kept thinking. Oh shit, not out here in the middle of this crazy trail. Not out here where there is no road, no help.

Yes. Out here in the middle of nowhere it happened. There was Jan, frozen in pain ad in tears, me sprinting as fast as I could over the treacherous muck and roots toward her. The adventure was about to begin, and it taught me a lot.

Over the next hour and some, I learned the value of keeping cool in a very, very dangerous situation. I learned how valuable resourcefulness is. I learned the value of being fit. And I learned that I am capable of pretty amazing stuff. BESIDES Ironman.
Jan was going into shock, most likely as a result of the stress of the situation combined with the extreme pain she was experiencing and the fear of where it happened and its ramifications. She was unable to walk or even hop. It means she must be carried. I was the only one strong enough to carry her. So piggy back she went, for a long distance back toward the car. When I got really tired (I was doing a quick pace with 140 pounds on my back) Garnett (Jan's father) and I used a large stick on which Jan set and put her arms around our shoulders. We carried her along in sitting position until our hands and arms were so tired we needed a rest. Then we would do piggy back on me for a while. At one point Jan got dizzy and said she felt sick, and wanted to pass out and throw up. Maybe not in that order. She turned pale greenish and her pupils were different sizes. Aaron survival tip #1 : Don't let the patient pass out in shock while stranded in middle of nowhere. Only thing worse than a sweaty, slippery person who can't walk is a sweaty, slippery person who can't walk and is unable to hold on. Or even talk or breathe for that matter.

At the very beginning my main mission was to make sure Jan was calm and she focused on staying positive and on completing the task, which was getting back to the car. I didn't have any clever solution and I was sort of counting on Garnett to come up with some way to get us out of this jam while I used my ninja calming skills to quiet the injured girl. Poor thing; she was in a pathetic scared place.

We got out, never fear. We got out and my arms and legs hurt like never before. I think this may have been more difficult than Ironman because not only was it physically the most difficult thing I have ever done, but instead of having to tame the demons of my own head, it was the demons in Jan's head. That's a horse of a whole different color.

We spent 3 or more hours in the emergency room on our first day in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. The girl sprained her ankle but it wasn't too serious. We all know how crucial our legs are for silly things like walking, so needless to say its not going to be an easy vacation. And Jan won't be able to run next weekend in the crater race she registered for.

Thats life. Its actually Saturday now, when I finish this, and Jan is hobbling around on her own, with crutches. In the house she manages without them, which makes me a little nervous...

We went swimming today, also. It was at a really interesting beach whose name escapes me. I will post pictures about that later but the long and short is I seriously want more beach time. Hawaii is beautiful, especially when you get out of the car long enough to sit and enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ironman: Who knew?

This post could also have been titled:

Ironman: Great for Physique, Bad for Hair.


Did I Do That?

Yes, I did that.

It took me a long time to start this. I struggle with finding adequate words to encapsulate what has so fantastically changed me as a human being forever. When someone asks me how Ironman went, a series of thoughts flash by like a matrix which finally will allow me to answer based on: who is asking, how much do I think they really want to know, how much energy do I want to invest in trying to describe this Magnum Opus to them, etc. Finally, after these microcalculations reach convergence, some sort of answer emerges. Inevitably my eyes fill and I choke, regardless of the length and depth of my description.

Writing about it is different. Here my problem is one of expression and quality of perspective. How do I impart to you reading this the how and why one day has altered the course of my existence, forever?

It was mile 60ish of the bike ride.

I eased into my easiest gear, which on my triathlon bike is not so easy, and lurched up yet another hill. I remembered it from the first loop; started steep, looked like it was going to level out, finally steepening again to the then-invisible crest which ended in an awkward right turn that flung down a nice, gradual 8% slope into a set of s-curves. I thought, momentarily, and for the 500th time that day, how nice it might be to have watched this from the safety of my desk at home. That thought quickly passed as I worked my way through the field on the hill and realized that, although my spirits weren't as great as they could have been, I was passing people every hill climb. That does a lot to boost the spirits.

One of the people I passed was the man who started to seem like he was following me, or like my new best friend on the bike. I thought I might be imagining him, for he was ever-present. He was 48 (as noted from the left calf) and his name was Jimmy. Our bibs at Ironman have first and last names on a separate number, so the throngs of spectators can confuse demoralized swim-survivors during the early minutes of the bike ride by yelling out your last name. Jimmy wore an entire LSU Tigers Tri-suit of purple and gold. It might have been bike shorts and a jersey. These are the little details that don't permeate on Ironman day. I did note, however, that Jimmy wasn't the fittest looking guy out there, but he was biking well. Anyway, I slowly passed Jimmy on the hill for probably the 8th time. I looked over and I said with a grin "Hey Jimmy, here we are again." I couldn't help loving this banter.

"I am too old for this!" Jimmy replied after shaking his head when he saw me again.

"I am too young for this!" I shouted back over my right shoulder to him. I knew that in a matter of time we would be going down hill and he would pass me, yet again. When this happened I yelled over to him "You big guys always pass me on the downhills."

"And you skinny twerps always climb too fast." We both laughed and he motored on ahead, the sweat visible on his legs now. We were all beginning to feel a little warm. We were all sick of the hills, sick of the 18 mph head wind every time we turned south toward town, sick of Gatorade, sick of being on the bike. We were sick of it together, and it was wonderful. That's the ironic beauty of Ironman.

It's amazing I slept at all.

When the alarm went off at 3:45AM on June 24th, 2007, I hesitated for a moment. Could this really, finally, be the day? I had been training and preparing and waiting for so long--is it really time to go do this thing? I leaned over and kissed my wife and got out of bed. I was immediately struck by how much I wanted to do Ironman just to get it over with at that point. This wasn't a very good motivation, so I thought about the excitement I felt picking up my race packet and doing the pre-race hype festivities. I looked at my bracelet and imagined it bashing in the impending waves. A giant knot emerged in my gut. I decided not to think about waves right then and went about my over-thought morning routine, which wasn't a routine for me yet. I noticed I was shaking as I sliced our 100% whole wheat english muffins in half and inserted them into the 4 slot toaster at the hotel. One other sleepy triathlete was slouched in the corner over a bowl of fruit loops. I wondered about her, later, during one of my darker moments in the lake.

Jan was wonderfully patient with me as I bumbled around with all of my stuff and took up all the extra space in our tiny room. Between my antics and the dog, I was imagining how big a coffee she would purchase later while I raced. We ate the same thing we always did before our 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 hour rides: muffins with peanut butter and jelly. I added cottage cheese and some mandarin oranges during the last week, and I am glad I had. The ironman's properly trained body is a powerful food eliminating device. Within a couple of hours I was already hungry again, and I hadnt even gotten into my wetsuit yet.

Dog walked, bottles stowed, car loaded, the three of us headed toward City Park. As we drove, the trees started dancing and debris was flying into the air. Wouldn't you know it, the wind actually got WORSE race morning?? Arrival at the swim start only served to worsen the effect. My stomach may have fallen, but it was still far above my heart which seemed to reside deep in the tip of my big toe, hiding. The lake was seething with a dark, angry temper this race morning, and I knew I had to master it. I had no idea it would be one of the scariest events of my life. The wind was whipping the water off the top of the white caps that were cresting 20 feet from the beach. The boats and kayaks beginning to line the course looked like even they were having trouble navigating.

I was praying the 2299 other suckers would soften the blow in front of me. They were looking at me thinking the same thing, wishing I weighed a lot more.

I volunteered for this? AND paid??

Ironman morning is an interesting time. There really isn't that much to do, but you have to get there early to avoid the hysteria. This leaves the average nervous wreck athlete such as myself plenty of time to calm down, or get more nervous. I decided to spend my time walking back and forth from the car because I forgot my sunscreen, had too much to carry, etc. Bullfrog--this is the best kept Ironman secret ever. I highly recommend this for any long distance multi-sport event that begins with being tossed around in a lake-sized whirlpool tub with 2200 other screaming nut-jobs, when the average sunscreen might get washed away. Not Bullfrog. Anyway, I did my due diligence, did my dookie, and acted calm as long as I could. It was when I finally didn't have anything else to do that I realized I needed to turn my back on the whole thing for a moment. Jan and I walked to a deserted park bench north of the transition area and I stretched and she took pictures. We joked and I pretended to be ok. I saw her well up in those pretty eyes a few times as she looked out at the transition area or the lake, and I knew she was as scared for me as I was for myself. I had a hard time not shedding some saline myself. I didn't fully know what was going to happen, all I knew was I would be ok back on dry land.

It was time to head to the water. I gave Jan a HUGE hug and kiss and enjoyed it immensely, as this was goodbye for potentially a long time. With some tears in my eyes, I dropped off my dry-clothes bag at the transition area, then wandered to the beach with the parade of other Iron-wanna be folks in our super suits and got ready for my warm up.

My warm up in the 4 foot beach break.

Then the voice started coming over the loud speaker telling us NOT to warm up. Apparently it was SO bad and loud from the waves and wind they didn't want dead bodies floating around BEFORE we started swimming...

Next time, Smart Guy, stay in the BACK!

I spoke with a nice man, Donnie, on the beach as the music droned on over the din of waves crashing 10 feet in front of us. Donnie was paranoid to the extent I felt over-relaxed--and that's really saying something. He warned me about so many things that I thought he was nuts, but it took only about 15 meters of "swimming" that morning to make me realize he wasn't so far off his rocker after all.

I have been in a fist-fight. I have swam in rough, cold, ocean water. Even swam around in Lake Samish near Bellingham in January.
The swim of Ironman CDA in 2007 was by far more brutal and scary than any of those experiences.

I thought I had followed my best friends instructions well enough. Jeremy told me "line up IN BACK, left side." In retrospect, if I had to point out one mistake I made on Ironman day, my failure to pay attention to where I was in space when the riot known as the "swim leg" started would be where the finger pointed.

The first lap was a blur of being pushed under water, smacked on every part of my body with amazing force, kicked, elbowed, grabbed, molested and cried on. It created my new image of what hell would be like. Imagine 2300 athletes lined up in a space about 50 yards deep and a quarter mile wide. Then imagine that all of the people in that quarter mile wide area being condensed into a space about 30 feet wide. That is an under-exaggeration of hitting the first turn on the first lap of the swim. The only positive thing I can glean is that the sheer fear of being annihilated gave me the motivation I needed to swim the first lap in probably PR pace for me. Of course, we surfed back in on the breaking waves, after making the turns, so it took an eighth of the time to get back to the beach as it did to get out.

I could describe the inhumanity of the swim, the cannibalistic mayhem, to greater extent-- but it makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it.

During the second lap, AKA "The 1.2 Mile Swim that Would Never End", I gulped so much water that I literally threw up 3 times while bobbing in the lake. At this point I realized how tenuous our position is as feeble, skinny folks on Ironman day, and I thought of quitting. That went away quickly. Quitting would not happen this day. Drowning, perhaps, throwing up, definitely. But not quitting. I didn't consider it again for the rest of my race. I bobbed there, getting pushed and swam over, gagging, and thought of the girl in the kitchen at the hotel eating Fruit Loops. I wondered for a moment if I would notice any colorful, soggy cereal bits floating past me. Seriously, that is the kind of mental detritus that happens out there. Just ask anyone who has done Ironman.

Peel me, Heal me.

My arms were strips of leather by the time I got back to shore... I did it!! I got back to shore! It was a delirious, cold, overwhelming experience all on its own. To stand up at the big swim exit arch was probably the most under-expressed happiest moment of my short life thus far. It was under- expressed because I was numb in brain and body, and I was mindlessly following everyone else up the slope towards the transition area. But it was a momentous victory for me, because my largest fear was behind me. The one part of this day I couldn't really train for was that mass swim in those waves. And, 10 minutes slower than originally planned in an excruciatingly long 1 hour 25 minutes, I finished. Not too bad. But I was in a serious fog, and cold.

The Peelers were waiting in force just up the beach on the grass, and unleashed their mastery of wetsuit removal upon me, leaving me laying on the ground, shivering, not quite sure of what to do next. Thankfully, yet another kind volunteer steered me in the direction of some long lines of plastic, colorful bags... Oh yes! I remember now, I am supposed to find my swim to bike bag and then change for the bike ride. And what's more amazing, I loaded the bag myself. This is exactly the thought process I experienced. Ironman is fun, I kept telling myself, but not in a happy, cuddly kind of way. Our brain's aren't meant for it, and the thought patterns kinda go haywire.

I entered the big transition tent and found myself in an alternate universe. I was freezing, bewildered, nauseous, and staring into a dark, cold, humid chaos. Yes, I used chaos as a noun. Rows of chairs covered by bodies in various states of nastiness. Clothing, grass, goop, bike stuff, bags and body parts flying in every direction. Yet again I am forced to admit that if it weren't for some wonderfully selfless volunteer I may not have made it out---with bike shorts on. But I did, and when I was ushered out of the tent, still freezing, slathered with sunscreen, and jogging to my bike--everything seemed better. I started to feel like I belonged on land, again. I took-off into downtown with a pack of about 15 people immediately surrounding me. I was riding way too hard. I remembered my training instantly and slowed to what appeared to be a crawl compared to everyone else through downtown. I sipped my beverage in the aero-bottle and just shivered and pedaled along, all the while becoming a little more clear in the head. I saw Jan a few blocks out of transition and smiled at her. She was a sight for sore eyes. I felt a little better.

The truth is I didn't get comfortably warm until 40 miles into the bike ride. I was shivering violently the first 25 and nearly stopped and got off the bike to warm up. I decided I would just keep pushing on, pedaling like I would in my training, probably 14-15 mph, sipping little bits of my Sustain sports drink. I kept shivering, and it was so bad sometimes that my arms were coming off the aero-bars. I was a little nervous that it would never get warm and that all of my energy was going to maintain 37 degrees celsius internal body temp. If I rode harder I might warm up, but I might be using up energy. If I ride the way I practiced I would have ample energy but maybe freeze the entire time...

Race your plan. Best advice EVER.

As simple as it sounds, people don't often have the discipline to do just that.

The sun was out and I was cruising down the twists of the Hayden Lake road system. It was beautiful outside, and amidst the forests, twists and turns the wind was hidden and the sun thawed my frozen joints and skin. I was being passed by people left and right, and it wasn't even mile 45. I let them all go on ahead and paced myself carefully over the hills. I knew in my mind that this was going to determine how the rest of the day went-- this first 60 of the bike, and I thought it was a no-brainer. Stick to the plan, race strong for 12-plus hours or go with the people passing me out of immediacy and potentially ruin everything you worked for. Yoda taught me well and reminded me "You may be fit, but you are not a Jedi yet. Stick to your plan, young Skywalker."

The immensely satisfying thing for me was just how fresh I felt going up the hills at that point. These were tough hills. I couldn't go fast before the internal "BEEP BEEP BEEP" intesity-o-meter went off, but I could go indefinitely at the pace I practiced. I thought to myself, as I watched some of the cyclists who had screamed past me already falling back during these hills, that maybe things would change for me over the next 50 miles. Who knows in this thing. But something inside told me that it wasn't going to.

Of course this is Ironman, so these wonderfully confident, soaring spirits disappeared rapidly when 3000 milliliters of pee collected in a bladder designed to accomodate 250 and I just passed a potty stop. For those taking detailed notes? Skip a bathroom break during the bike ride at Ironman if you really want to be in a bad mood. That turns things right upside-wonky real fast, don't ya know. I was the whiniest sonofabitch in my own head, at that point, until the first turn-around at mile 53. At that point I found a little side road with some easy trees nearby to serve as my rest stop. This is not recommended, by the way, but I considered it an emergent situation. I laughed while I relieved my aching bladder, now most likely resembling a deflated beach ball. It felt sooooo good to get back on the bike without that extra 15 pounds of fluid.

I rode easy back into town. I was beginning to loathe the idea of having to ride this all again, but realized at the same instant that I was slowly but surely having the best day possible. No problems of real consequence. No road rash. No mechanical problems. Eating and drinking. The head wind was a little troublesome going back south into town and again out east, but I again took it easy. My particular plan was 16ish mph for the first 56, then 17ish for the second 56 IF I felt ok. I rode these speeds so much in training that I didnt have a speedometer with me, but I knew when my speed was correct. In town I rode by a screaming Wife and Gerking family, which really made me feel great about things. I felt fast, which was nice for a change. My legs were a little tired, and somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered feeling like this in some other long bike rides and wondered if I had enough left.

You are what you eat. I hope Granola and Sustain are fast triathletes.

I was plenty hydrated, as evidenced by the 5 pee breaks I took on the bike ride. I had a nice system for fluids; my aero bottle up-front received pure water at aid stations and on my bottle containers behind my seat I kept triple-strength Sustain (from Melaleuca in case you want the best sports drink around). I would ask for a bottle of water at every aid station and fill the aero bottle part of the way and then reach back and add some Sustain until it tasted like I was used to. In this way I only carried two bike bottles and my aero and could control my salt intake with fluids before I resorted to my Endurolyte tablets. I didn't dig into those until mile 101. I ate two granola bars early in the ride; one at mile 35 and one at mile 50. I read somewhere that if you feel good: EAT. You will need it and its not often you feel good during Ironman. So I did. I ate a Clif bar over several miles. I followed the food with water. I even snagged some bananas and some yummy Chocolate Brownie Powerbar chunks. I was a well fed Ironboy. But the hills were starting to take a toll.

You might remember how I said the easy gears on my tri-bike are not so easy. This makes the hills we were riding very much more challenging. The gearing on my bike allows me to cover much more ground per pedal stroke than those around me, but the effort required to get the pedals around is quite large. I started to feel extremely fatigued at mile 70 and I started hearing funny things from the devils in my head. It became a challenge just to climb average hills and I debated whether or not I should charge up them just for the sake of getting them over with. This idea didn't win me over, thankfully, and I plodded along with the same group of cyclists until something extremely miraculous occurred. I remember it started when I stopped to pee for the last time on the bike, at the base of this hill--the last real hill we had, in fact. I asked the girl who was holding my bike (its amazing, the volunteers will hold your bike for you while you use the Honey Bucket and they actually will gather anything you ask for from the aid station) if she could collect a couple of PowerGels and a bottle of water, which she said she could. I thanked her a few too many times and did my business. When I came out, I felt pretty rotten about the state of my legs and having to try to suffer through a marathon. Thats when it started.

I realized I hadn't gotten to the marathon yet, and I put it out of my mind. I took the gels and water and ate one of them followed with a couple swigs. I put the other in my pocket. I stretched my glutes and hammies for a moment and then mounted my bike to head up the hill. Here is the amazing part: I felt completely different. I literally flew up that hill, as if it wasn't a hill and my bike was not gear-challenged. I decided not to tempt fate by pushing it, as I had already seen how quickly Ironman puts you on your ass for testing it, but it struck me heavily that perhaps all was not lost. I held a little higher tempo on the hills than I had the whole previous 80 miles. At mile 101 I rode up a gentle slope, not even a hill, really, to my friend Jimmy who gave me a hard time by telling me I really shouldn't play with myself in the bathroom so often. As much as I wanted to comment on his gravitationally enhanced racing belly, I remained silent and focused, and kept pedaling past him. Of course he was spurred on by my sudden energy and passed me when it leveled out. This time he didn't get very far.

We came down some curvy downhills back towards civilization. On a particular, slight uphill which came around a corner into a very long, level straightaway, I put my foot on the accelerator. It was a perfect moment for me. It was as close to art as I have felt on a bike ride. I had been patient until mile 105 and now it was time. I knew it. Jimmy disappeared behind me and I heard him say "Come back here!" I reeled in cyclist after cyclist that I had seen in the young miles of the bike ride and I seemed to be getting stronger with every stroke. I didn't push the speed more, but instead held a nice aero position all the way into town. I was flying through town and smiling the entire way. My Ironman race had arrived. As I pulled into the transition area I saw Gerking, climbing like a monkey on a wall, and he saw me smile. It was a terrific moment that will stay with me for a long while: I knew it right then, I was going to finish this thing.

Not so fast, soldier.

I looked up at the sky and measured the angle of the sun over the horizon. I hadn't worn any sort of time-keeping instrument and had absolutely no idea what my time was. I didn't care so much, but I was in a rough spot and needed something to pull me home. I needed a goal to shoot for that would continue to lift one tired foot in front of the other. I decided that I was going to finish before the sun set. I had about 30 degrees of sky left to work with. I estimated that would take at least an hour and a half for the sun to set, and I could finish before then.

I was walking. It was almost mile 22. I had been reduced to not only walking the aid-stations, which I did the entire marathon up to this point already, but also walking every other half-mile. I jogged for a while and caught up to a man also walking. I slowed and walked with him at mile 23, when I noted for the first time by way of a reader board that I had been racing for 11 hours and 57 minutes. "Its amazing how we have been out here for so long already, and here we are this close to the finish, and we can't seem to run!" I said to him, chuckling. Our walks both looked pretty convalescent at this stage.

"You are telling me." He looked at me and smiled in return. In Ironman its never really about you against everyone else, its you against yourself. And I loved sharing these moments with some of my fellow athletes.

I offered him my hand and introduced myself. "My name is Aaron. I don't know what you think, but I think we should jog to the bottom of that next hill and then see how we feel again."

"Yeah, that sounds ok." He chuckled. "I was thinking about that, too. Jes' needed some motivatin'."

As we jogged together, we had what I call the "Ironman Fireside Chat" which involves a short introduction and exchange of biography between two athletes doing the same thing at the same time for the same sorts of reasons from amazingly different backgrounds, and was repeated thousands of times during each event. I started thinking about all the people who were going to be walking and jogging over the same ground I was now jogging, but still in hours to come. I wondered what kept them going, what was their "reason." In the dark they would persist as long as they were allowed. They were the inspirational athletes, I thought.

At the bottom of the hill, my companion told me to have a good run and slowed to a walk. I slowed and shook his hand again and thanked him for helping me. Ironman showed me courage, showed me kindness, and showed me teamwork--in a sport that isn't supposed to involve teams. A short while ago I was smoking-fast toward mile 21, looking at potentially a 3:45 marathon. Two miles later I was walking, hurting, looking for that reason the get me running again. And I smiled because I was going to finish. Walking or jogging, heck, even crawling, nothing was going to stop me.

When you feel good, its fun.

I dropped my bike off to the great volunteers who were always smiling and so happy to do everything for you, and jogged over to my bike-to-run transition bag. I had just ridden the fastest 15 miles at the end of a 112 mile ride ever and my legs felt remarkably fresh. I was in terrific spirits and joked and smiled with everyone around me who gave me the opportunity. I saw a lot of other athletes not having good days and I tried my best to give them a reason to smile. I know, though, that when we are suffering nothing helps. Especially staring down the barrel of a loaded... marathon.

I entered the transition tent and cheerfully greeted me helper monkey, yet ANOTHER wonderful volunteer. He grabbed the bag from me and insisted that he do this for me. At that moment I thanked him for being there and for his kindness, and although I felt good, I bet there were a lot of folks NOT feeling good who needed him more than I did. Anyway, he dumped the bag and helped me sort through it, even fixing my race belt for me. As I was taking off my bike jersey who should run in the tent but my friend Donnie, who I chatted with on the beach. I laughed loudly and gave him a hug. "DUDE!" I yelled at him. It was like making it up the beach at Normandy with my best buddy who also lived through it. "Its great to see you here!"

"Wow, I am glad you made it out of the washing machine!" His exact words, no shit. "I couldn't believe that business! And you had a good bike ride, yeah?" He was grinning from ear to ear as he took care of his T2 business.

"It was according to plan, and finished better than I could have ever imagined. Now I am excited to run, can you believe it? What are you shooting for, 4 hours on the run?" I winked at him. I was giddy, truly, at this moment. I figured that you don't feel this good during Ironman too often, so I needed to enjoy it.

"I don't think so, boss. But I hope it works out for you, my man. See ya out there, Aaron."

I ran out of the tent to where a team of women volunteers were smothering us nasty, stinky, sweaty, tired athletes with sunscreen. It had gotten warm out there and running in the sun was on tap. I stopped and one of the women gave me a nice little rub-down on my legs, which I asked her to continue for a moment. She did, bless her heart, and it felt goooood. Next thing I know, I am running through a narrow chute lined with people just above the beach where the most awful swim on earth took place several hours earlier. I looked at the water, now calmer than it was while I was suffering in it, and thought, "I did it. You can't stop me now."

I passed the Gerkings again and tried not to run too fast. I wanted to make it to mile 18 as well as I could and then see what happened. I had run enough marathons to know that I don't really "feel" it until 10 miles or so. This was the beginning and again, I needed to race the way I trained. Jeremy told me I looked great, but I thought he may have been just being nice. I did feel pretty peppy, though, and hoped it would last. That thought sure did occur a lot that day.

The aid stations were amazing during the marathon. It was a buffet of drinks and foods. I opted to start slow and just sipped Gatorade the first 5 miles. I hadn't settled in, yet, and was scared to have that much fluid sloshing around in my belly. After mile 5 I started sucking on the bottles I was packing in Jeremy's race belt, which I enjoyed much more than the Gatorade. I felt terrific and decided to push the pace. Not a huge jump in effort; still within the plan. It was really getting warm so I started taking sponges and inserting them in my hat. That was nice.

My legs kept on feeling better. I drank more, and was holding it down, and even peed a few times. I think I was doing about 9 minute miles and holding steady. I was passing so many people it was unbelievable. There were a couple people running by me, and they were REALLY fun to watch--as if they were out running a 10K or something. I walked through every aid station, talking to people, enjoying a beverage, and started stretching every 3 miles after mile 10. I ran back into town, which was about mile 15 or so, and passed a guy who I had met in the pool recently. I hate to admit it, but I felt proud of myself and then immediately felt bad for my pride when I jogged passed him, because he had seemed so fit and was a dominating swimmer, and was already reduced to walking. Perhaps he would be jogging past me in a while. My wife was there on the east side of town with the dog, and it was really a pick-up to see them. I pushed the pace, probably up to about 8 minute miles, which was definitely NOT in the plan. Was this a mistake? I don't really know. I felt good, my goal was to finish, and it was pretty clear that I could finish. How soon would I finish? That was subject to debate.

I screamed through town, with spectators commenting on how strong I looked. Whether they meant it or not didn't matter. I imagined they did. I was running past an awful lot of tired triathletes at this point, and I still had 10 miles to go. On my next push through downtown I started to feel my strength dwindle just a little, but I still thought I was fine. I saw the Gerkings again, and Jan was there cheering loudly. I loved seeing them on the course. Once through town I stopped to walk at another aid station and definitely noticed something different. It was mile 18. I made it to the end of my race plan...

I slowed down considerably and jogged up to a woman who looked remarkably fresh. Her name was Andrea and she told me it was her first Ironman, and she was just on her first lap. She was radiant--she just seemed too happy, as if we were jogging around the park on a warm Sunday afternoon. I told her I was on my second lap and looking forward to getting done. She said she hoped she looked as good on her second lap. I smiled at her, and told her "...looks can be deceiving, but thank you." Her watch beeped and she told me it was time for her walk break. I admired her planning and her discipline, and continued to run on alone amongst the others running alone. It wasn't until I was on my way back in that I noticed she only had one arm.
If anything, Ironman teaches us humility.

A little help from my friends.

The same guy who I had seen run past me four times during the marathon was only about 20 feet in front of me. I increased my speed, now walking briskly. That's Ironman. I caught up to him at this particular corner just east of town, at about 24.5 miles into the thing. The Ironman Fireside Chat ensued. His name was Eric and he was a teacher/track coach from Oak Harbor, WA. As everyone seems to, during Ironman, we felt we had a lot in common at the moment. Maybe we did or maybe not--it didn't matter. What mattered is that we were each, to each other, an anchor. I anchored to him and him to me.

"I was thinking about running from mile 25 in, man." I said to him. We then rounded a corner at the water's edge and about 200 feet in front of us was the mile 25 sign. My heart did a back flip at being so close to the finish, but then sank as Eric replied,

"Well you are in luck, thats about in 15 seconds." He laughed and slapped me roughly on the back. He said he just wanted to finish in 13 hours or less. He said now he definitely would.

"Damn," I said. "I thought I had more time than that." I laughed and told him if he didn't start running now, it may not happen. He started to jog and so I reluctantly jogged with him. He jogged at a little quicker pace than I felt comfortable and I told him I might now be able to hang the entire way. It immediately struck me how incredibly stupid that statement was, because when, during Ironman, are you very comfortable?

"You WILL stay with me, man. Come on now."

An amazing thing happens at the end of Ironman. Eric and I ran together, steadily increasing in speed, until this intersection I had gone by 7 previous times during the day. The intersection has these cones and chalk words on it. The far right says "First lap, stay right." The far left says "Finishing Stay Left" with an arrow to the left. I had looked at that stupid writing all day feeling like I was never, ever going to "stay left." I told Eric my little story and he agreed, saying he had similar thoughts during the day. He thanked me for giving him the motivation to keep running. I couldn't prevent the tears that ensued, and neither could he.

"Aren't we a dandy pair of Iron-men??" He said to me, smiling.

The final turn of our almost 13 hour day was now 15 feet in front of us. Everything we had worked for, individually, over the last 4 or 5 months-- or maybe more-- had been building to THIS moment. The thought hit me hard and I was overwhelmed. We had been through enormous, cold, dark, nauseating waves filled with violent, swirling athletes; 112 miles of cold and then hot temperatures climbing hilly country roads in the wind on the bike; and now this roller-coaster marathon that would never end. The turn was now at our feet and I said to Eric, "Are you ready for the most amazing moment of your life?" I was smiling from ear to ear.

"Absolutely. This is going to be amazing." And with that, we turned the corner and looked straight down to what had to be heaven.

You could hear the announcer from mile 25, but it was too far, still, to feel good. After 139.4 miles, that one little 1.2 mile stretch felt like a thousand miles and a lifetime away. But then you turn that final corner and nothing matters.

Through the whole race the spectators crowd narrow paths for us to ride or run through. At some points, we could hardly see 20 feet in front of us with the crowd around the bike lane, cheering and waving their arms madly. The final stretch into the finish chute is different. We turn the final corner and look a quarter mile down this street where the onlookers are on the sidewalks, and to our eyes, the street looks about a mile wide. You feel like you are on stage, running slightly downhill, towards this concentration of light and noise. It is like running to heaven through a perfect dream. The screaming, the voice over the speakers, and the light all wait for you if you just can get there. The whole day they were there, but we couldn't acknowledge them. It was there during the swim, it was there during the hills, and during my desperate stops for cola in the aid stations at mile 22 of the marathon. But only now can I acknowledge it.

The flood gates open as I run down the final stretch toward the finish chute. My eyes flood with tears and I shake my clenched fists in the air. I did it, I tell myself. I did it. In that brief time I think about Jan and the time and energy she spent to help me get there. I think about the rainy rides and the early mornings and the miserable days she put-up with. I think about the swim and how hard it was. I really did it and I did it with help from wonderful people.

Jeremy appears on the side a few hundred feet before the stands, which are packed with spectators. It is incredible and breathtaking to see this. I have waited years for this moment, and watched others experienced it many times, anxious yet scared to try. I dreamt about how it might feel--and my expectations fell far short of reality. As I ran toward the glow and energy, I realized it was going to be over too soon, so I slowed and let the people in front of me get through the chute and across the line and try to enjoy it longer. My legs were numb and my heart was pounding as I entered the grandstands filled with screaming people. This is it, I tell myself. This is what it's about. The lights got bright in my eyes, and I was the happiest man on earth when I heard "Aaron Moss, from Kenmore, Washington--YOU Are an Ironman." Nothing else matters.

I am an Ironman.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I am an Ironman.

"Aaron Moss, YOU are an Ironman!"
~The official "voice of Ironman" as I crossed the line.

I did it. Its over. Its 9:45 PM and I am showered and feeling probably as lousy as I can ever remember, but its hard to feel bad because I am so ecstatic. I had to get online and let people who might read this know.

With a total time of 12:44:something, I finished. I finished healthy, almost in tears, and happy. And fucking tired.

I love Ironman volunteers. There should be a special award given, like the Oscars or Emmys, to the best volunteers. Ironman has the best volunteers on the planet, hands down. They made my race possible.

The swim was the hardest hour and a half of my whole life. I have never EVER swam in waves that big---even the ocean. They even gave us the option of skipping the swim and doing a duathlon because it was so bad.

I will write a full race report later.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ready...or not. Its time.

"To follow without halt, one aim; there is the secret of success. And success? What is it? I do not find it in the applause of the theater; it lies rather in the satisfaction of accomplishment."
~Anna Pavlova

Its 2:30 PM on Saturday the 23rd of June. I am in Starbucks typing away, enjoying an "Antioxidance" Odwalla drink, trying to quiet the demons in my mind. And they are loud, with megaphones and freakin' lazers on their heads.

The jitters have disappeared more rapidly since I have left the race central area, where the tension is thicker than a nice mouse intestine slurry, 2:1 PBS to tissue ratio, of course...

Tomorrow is it. The big show. Now. There has been so much build up for so long and THEN the build up of this weekend; the meetings, endless lines, bike things, tune-ups, rests, meal plannings, numberings etc, that I am all Ironmanned out.

I just have to run the darn thing. So here goes. I am as ready as I can be.

The next thing I write will be my race report. Cheers. Thanks to everyone for your help and support. Loves.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Eve of the Eve...

"Peace is not only better than war, but infinitely more arduous."
~George Bernard Shaw

Its 9:!5 and we just got back to the room after the MANDATORY Race Meeting. Yikes, that was a huge confusing waste of effort. I wont even go into details. I will instead go to bed because I am going to need my energy come Sunday.

Its been four and a half months of building up to this point, and I have heard everyone else's theories, stories, myths and advice and its time for me, now, to develop my own. I am scared, and thats ok. I have a quote on my desk at school that says courage is not the absence of fear, but merely the choice that something else is more important than fear. That applies now more than I could have hoped.

I viewed the bike course which is, to say the least, a beast. A hilly beast.

Peace is more arduous than war. I spent four months finding peace on my bike over long miles of hardship. Will I find peace on Sunday or will it be war?

Till tomorrow. Have to get my bags and bike race ready.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I am an Iron-Virgin.

"All those who believe in psychokinesis raise my hand."
~Steven Wright

Today was great.
Woke up at 7, ate a nice little breakfast, got the car loaded with swim stuff, bike stuff and dog stuff, headed to the race start and proceeded to freeze my ass off in 3 foot swells. Holy moly. I suppose it wasn't too bad. After about a half mile it felt ok; my brain was too numb to complain or feel nauseous from gulping down about 15 gallons of yummy lake water. Mmm.

My brave wife tried out her brand new wetsuit for the first time. Needless to say this was probably not the best occasion for a first time wetsuit try out open water swim session, but I assured her "it only gets easier."

After I got me land legs back, we hopped on our bikes and rode the run course, turn for turn. Beautious. Its perfect. I predict that I will be miserable for 26 miles. However, I will be much less miserable on this course than I would be on many other marathon courses. And, if I play my cards right during the 112 miles before that, I could potentially have a great run. It truly is sweet.

After all the exercise it was time to get my race packet. I stood in the line for about 40 minutes before I got into the STRING of tents, inside of which non competitors are not allowed. I peered nervously into the tent from my distant line-bound perch, but could make out nothing. When I got in the tent they had, after a few short forms, someone sit me down and chat with me, all while assembling my packet, about my Ironman/Triathlon experience...yeah. This was a little weird in that Job Interview feeling. I found myself wondering if maybe they werent going to buy my story and deny me entry or something. But no, on my way with chip, cool Ironman bag and official shiny Ironman wrist-band. Now its official: I am an Ironwanna-be.

Well its 8 and that means its bed time. Later, yo.

yes, made my reservations for Saturday dinner. The best part? Its at 4 PM. HA!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Arriving in Ironmanland

"I never set out to be weird. It was always the other people who called me weird."
~Frank Zappa

You know you are in an Ironman Town when...

...the 6 people in the line at the hotel's front desk in front of you try, and fail, to get rooms that same night and have been to every other hotel in town with the same result.

...the price of a $55 dollar room is $89. For one weekend out of the year.

...all of the cottage cheese, cream-hair-removal products, and bottled water are sold out of the "convenience marts" nearby, because no one knows there is a supermarket just three blocks away.

...the average body fat % drops to below 10% one weekend during the year whereas normally its 25%.

So its Wednesday night and I am in Coeur D' Alene, ID. Ironman is Sunday. I am nervous, but more tired than nervous. It was a long drive from Seattle and its hot. Very HOT.

Tomorrow morning I will be up at 7, down to RACE CENTRAL at 8:30, swimming by 9. Then a ride around the run course and then packet pick-up and perusing the expo. Should be a good day. I cant wait to go to sleep. We brought much of our own food so it will be easy to handle the morning affairs, for a change. Nothing like being an over-prepared Virgo.

Till Tomorrow.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Its Coming Down to This.

"Those who are warriors can master anything, but first they must master themselves."

4 months I have been training, but the build-up has been happening for 7 years. in 1998 a few of my friends did Ironman and every year since, with the lone exception of 1999, someone I know has competed in an Ironman event, somewhere.

I run out of fingers and toes before I am finished counting all the times some of these folks have urged me to "go long," but the truth is we are the only ones who know, inside of ourselves, when the time is right. Its startling to many when a person is so steadfast about something, some think its fear and others laziness. But I knew, all these years, that I wasnt ready. Until 2006.

I have been training non-stop since the first weekend of February of this year, but I really count the 9 previous years of triathlon as integral training as well. Without that background in humility, triumph, and tradition in the sport of triathlon I would not have finally been ready to jump in to the big dance. Ironman Coeur D Alene 2007. So I signed up.

I havent really written about this occasion much until today, for reasons I cant wholly describe. Some people who actually have read this might think its not a big deal. That is absolutely the farthest thing from the truth. Mainly,I feel it is the intensity of the situation I have placed myself in doesnt leave much emotional energy left each day to write about it. Its a very difficult thing for me to place into words. I have been so focused on this, Ironman, that the idea of stopping to spill my emotions and thoughts about it here on this blog feels like a "leak" of some of that powerful emotion that I have been riding toward June 24th, race day. Some people might believe I am making too big of a deal out of this.
I don't.

I have seen great and not-so-great Ironman days. The funny thing for me is, they all looked great. The miserable and the triumphant all are victory, as long as the finish line was crossed. I have trained for 4 months and taken thousands of dollars and hours for preparation and training. I am now a zen- master of my physiology at this point, with the exquisite ability to sense what my body is craving at a particular instant as well as how to suck every bit of energy from my starving muscles over the course of 12 hours. I believe that I owe all of the people I have counted on so heavily for this last 4 months to have a great day.

And, more importantly, I owe myself.

So I havent written because I did not want to "leak" any of the power and emotion I have been building up. And I see it as power. I do not see my emotional build up and focus as a "weird" thing or as dangerous, because I have kept it positive and constructive. I see this emotional build-up as one of the necessary ingredients to a successufl, maximized race day. I have not written, but the mental, physical and emotional journey has been relentless and incredible and wonderful. I feel on the brink of tears just thinking about the path I have traveled in 4 short months. To describe it would have taken the magic out of it, because you can not describe this sort of thing. You can not, absolutely can not, understand it fully until you experience it yourself. Period.

Surely it has been a balancing act; walking the tight-rope between training and overtraining. I became ill just after my biggest week of training, 2 weeks ago. Actually, I probably caught the virus DURING that week and it manifested the following week. I heeded the instructions of physicians, friends and heros and "took it easy for a week." I eased back into a sort of scaled-back training (we are less than 2 weeks out) trying to undo my sudden over-taper without killing my race day. The result is I feel better than ever today, 10 days before Ironman.

After the race I do not know what to expect. I cant even bring myself to think about post-race yet. It doesnt exist.

I do not even know what to expect when I stand in the water next to 1999 other freaked out, emotional, nervous wrecks waiting for the canon. But at that moment I know I will think back and remember seeing my beautiful wife in the swim lane next to me so many days, and think of her with me during so many bike rides of the worst weather I have ever ridden in. I could always look back and see that familiar cadence and that beautiful smile no matter how nasty the weather was, how many hours it took. Without complaint, without pause, she has been as relentless a training partner, coach and companion as she has a supporter and wife. She will be with me as I slip into the water beginning my day and I might feel a little sad that its coming to the end of the journey. I am more thankful than she will ever possibly know for the last four months we have had together. I know it wasnt easy to be with a wanna-be Ironman, and I love her for her constant effort and unselfish support.

Maybe I will think about all the times I have watched my best friend, Jeremy, going through this exact experience on his own race days. Even though I havent trainined with him this year, I feel closer to him than ever having gone through this. Now I have a little bit of insight into just how tough, how disciplined and how driven he is. He has always been a hero of mine, and now I feel, a little, like I understand him better: I am in awe.

So the countdown has begun. Its hard to think about anything else, really. I am nervous and excited and yet sad all at the same time. Jeremy described Ironman as like your birthday and christmas and at the same time the worst day ever all at once. Yikes. Awesome. Yikes. Awesome. I have certainly eaten enough for five families over the last few months, and I am looking forward to getting back to some normalcy, for sure. First I have an Ironman to do. I hope, I sinerely hope, I can stick to my plan well enough such that I can experience my day. I want to live it, not just get through it.

Thats it until sometime after.