Friday, July 31, 2009

Life is a blues scale.

"How old would you be if you didn't know how old you were?"

~Satchel Paige

One day, not so different from any other day, you wake up.

Knees are stiff.

Eyes are out of focus.

Back is achy.

It just hurts to be awake.

I think to myself; is THIS how life is going to go from here on out? Wasn't it just a few years ago I could handle just about anything and wake up feeling terrific?

Aging is not easy. And it's funny; we don't really think about aging until we feel it inside ourselves. It makes me wonder about people my grandparents age. The perspectives and the history and experience all conspire in different ways for different people. The aches and pains and difficulties could certainly and for good reason slow you down to the point of not wanting to move, surely. And few would begrudge you that at 85 and older, it might just be that way and it's ok. Society seems to accept it.

Then there are some people who as long as they can move are making the most out of their time; traveling, enjoying their lives. That is what I want to be. Or I don't want to be alive.

I feel like in the last 5 years I have aged so many more years than that. I don't enjoy as much as I used to, in general. I find myself being more negative. I am angry, virtually all of the time, angry. I feel overwhelmed. Tired. Beaten. I loathe going to the lab every day.

How can I be ok with what mediocre results I have when those before me made so much of what I look forward to possible out of sheer hard work, determination, and stamina through difficult times? Am I just weak and undeserving?

How can you possibly enjoy aging when it feels so awful to wake up and look at yourself in the mirror and be so utterly disappointed and unsatisfied with what is looking back at you?

One morning at a time, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Another meaningful blog post!

The Bacone: A cone made of bacon filled with scrambled eggs, topped with gravy and a biscuit!!

Ok, this is tailgating food. Whats not to love?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Jungle Fever

Any time you can stay in a room that has a view of a sunset over jungle mountains behind a palm tree--your life is probably ok.

Bars in front of the palm tree? Probably a bad sign.

Status: Quo

“God may forgive your sins, but your nervous system won't”

~Alfred Korzybski

I haven't felt so unconfident, if that is a word, about a race shorter than a half-ironman for a long time. But here I am, in Pearl City on the majestic island of Oahu, feeling rather tenuous about my first Hawaiian triathlon tomorrow. The Tinman Triathlon, a long running, large triathlon off the beaches of Waikiki that includes an ocean swim of 800 meters, a 40 km bike ride, and a 10 km run.

I have done this sort of distance and much, much longer for 12 years, numbering close to 90, and I sit here feeling extremely underwhelmed about the whole thing. What gives?

A lot of that most likely has to do with the fact that I am in an unfamiliar place, it's ridiculously warm outside (we have to get up at 2:30 AM. It will be 77 degrees already. That in itself is insane) and I don't have the "comforts" of home races. I have spent the last few days hydrating so thoroughly that I am a walking sports drink dispenser. I probably have urine that tastes like Gatorade by now. Yeah, that was uncalled for. Sorry.

My wave starts at 5:30. I think that includes all the people who look like me (male, skinny, shaved legs, beginning to bald) but who will mostly go much faster than me until the run when I plan to demolish the field. And about these ocean swims: I love salt, like salt on my french fries, salt on my tortilla chips, and some nice kosher salt on my medium rare steaks. But I don't regularly guzzle salt water, and that is what I will be doing for 12-13 minutes in the morning while getting my heart rate up to about 90% of max. Mmm, that ought to make the tummy feel good.

And, did I mention that the sun doesn't even rise until 6:05? For you mathematically challenged blog-fans, that's 35 minutes AFTER MY SWIM START. Should I have an underwater LED for safety? A blinky bike light around my head so no one mows me down?

One thing is for certain, I will not be setting any records. My plan is to go easy on the swim, go easy the first whole half of the bike, and then from there on, deposit my muscle and liver glucose stores out on the highways of Honolulu. Hopefully it will be fun. Hopefully there will be no Ironman-esque flat tires.

It could always be worse; I could be at school.

When I think of it that way, I feel like a complete moron. Who on earth would complain about doing a triathlon in Hawaii?

Apparently me.

Anyone seen my cup of salt water?

Novel race gear transportation in Oahu...yikes.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Memory serves me right.

“You never know when you're making a memory.”

~Rickie Lee Jones

That might be one of the more meaningful quotations I have ever come across.

It is scary to consider this. It truly, at least for me, brings home the importance of our actions.

We have our version of memory, but so does everyone else. Their versions may be different from ours, but we have no way to know. Of course we are not in control of how they decide to remember something, but we do have some control over how we handle every situation.

I have gone through my life making memories, impressions, with, for, and about other people. Things I have done and said are indelibly etched into the pages of countless others' life stories. For better or worse, I make memories whether I realize it or not. And that is startling. What stupid, mean, dumb-ass things have I said or done in my life that are now the way I am remembered?

It seems to be a bit like politicians speaking to the press. It might be helpful to myself to be reminded that all of this is going on the record. Honesty is always good policy; regardless of how you may be persecuted for being honest, one thing that memory will never accuse you of is falsehood. And that is powerful in itself.

Intentions are one thing, but being true to yourself, first, is probably the most difficult thing we can strive for. Ego is the biggest wall we as humans must hurdle before we can truly be happy in our own skins and truly approach each and every situation Honestly.

Do we really ever attain this? He who does is truly the champion of us all, for they have little or no fear.

At the instant they happen, memories may not be wonderful. Technically they are memories as soon as they occur, though the information we obtain and life we experience once the memory is sketched alter our perception. It is only through the lens of time and retrospection that we can see the value in them. Good and bad alike. We continually re-use our canvas of memory to paint and re-paint our vision of the past.

For now, I have memories of Grandpa Dick. I try to be objective and realize that I can cherish this stack of memories for what they are. Imperfect, of course, but they are mine forever. He was not a perfect person, and for much of my life my memory of him was one of fear. But that changed as he changed, and I believe the combination makes him even more remarkable in my mind.

I wonder how he remembered me.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What will we become?

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

~Maria Robinson

We are born into the light of the world in the same fashion with which a fighter jet is launched from the deck of an aircraft carrier. Harsh, loud, violent and not yet ready for what is ahead of us. Somehow technology manages to save us early and often.

We bumble through life as only an arrogant, blind creature can, with barely enough sense about us to keep from dying. Soft and fragile in a world of predation and sharp edges, we can not smell, see, hear or feel anything as keenly as the other creatures around us. We have ruled the planet far too long. Our awareness is diluted by our status at the top of the food chain and our comfort there. Our lack of senses allows us to thrive, rather than being forced to assimilate into the world and risk sub-exponential reproduction.

As we grow, what senses we did have as children begin to diminish even more, and the world becomes less like the playground we enjoyed, and more like a giant virtual shopping mall. Our sensory stimulation comes to us in the form of flashing colors and videos of other humans sent through energy waves into our private boxes in front of which we sit for hours on end. We call it work. We are lazy and pre-occupied, and we have forgotten that we came from our world. Instead we create new ways to enhance our distance from reality and consider ourselves clever for making our lives so much easier.

The ultimate irony: Humans believe they are superior because they create ways to escape the world around them. Is this truly superiority?

We focus on what our "quality of life" should be. We worry about how we compare to other people and their stack of things. Our vision becomes our greatest asset as we forget how to smell and hear and feel life. Somewhere this person so alive has become another drone. We are already dying.

This goes on for years. The majority of our time is spent "building" something, but do we ever know when it's finished?

We age. We begin to lose the ability to focus clearly on the stream of media with which we are assaulted, and we turn away. We can not follow the flashing images and words any longer, and we are forced back into the world which we so long ago turned our backs upon. The earth is different than we remember, what little we remember, but we find joy again in simply being.

Perhaps we look around and see things, truly, for what they are. Perhaps not. Perhaps we are bitter. Perhaps we see that even one more day to breathe the smells and sounds of the earth is better than no more days.

And as the shroud thickens, and our consideration of our ego fades, do we remember the tickle of the cold water on our feet, and the smell of the forest? Are we scared because of our frailty? Are we confident because of our humanness? Are we calm?

What will be important when nothing is important?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

So true, so true.

Family, I love to hate you.

"The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they have a common enemy."

~ Sam Levenson

I was sick, having spent the entire previous night heaving my guts out. My leg muscles hurt and I couldn't really do anything at all besides lay on the couch and mope. I couldn't even properly mope.

I decided to call dad, and then, because I hadn't talked to her in a while, I would call my mom.

Insert ominous music here.

Dad informed me how poorly my grandfather is doing, health-wise, now. His condition has worsened so severely that they have begun the process for home hospice care. He has been in the hospital this week and growing increasingly difficult to work with. He is in momentous amounts of discomfort I am sure and, like anyone in a situation of this kind, is sick of the poking and prodding that happens when you are in a hospital for any real amount of time. Dad says the morphine drip did wonders for his mood--when he let them use it.

All in all it was a good conversation with dad, nothing special, but good considering how many years my father and I went without a real, decent talk. Now we are going on several in a row.

So I called my mom. It is painful to even begin to think about it, but it went something like this:
"Hello?" A rather loud, already perturbed sounding voice.
"Hey mom, how are you?"
"I'm fine, how are you?" Already I don't get a good vibe from her voice.
"Oh, I got really sick."I start and then debate how much I really want to say. "I threw up all night and today have a lot of muscle pain and feel generally crappy."
"Oh, wow, what do you think it is, some sort of bug or food poisoning?"
"Yeah, I think it's salmonella."
"Oh, god, where do you think you picked up THAT from?" Again, her voice gives away a lot. If I was wise I would have just said I needed to go and hung up. But no.
"I don't know, I have to think through everything I ate, it could be any number of things."

We talked back and forth about how I should take care of it a few more sentences, then it was quiet.

"Grandpa Dick is going into Hospice. " Wait for some reaction. Finally she said something.
"Oh, that's too bad."
"Yeah, he isn't doing really well, his lung cancer is really advanced." I say a couple more things about it I don't remember now.
"Well, he is pretty old, so that's the way it goes." This is already sounding bad. Loving confrontation, I continue.
"Apparently this week dad says he has been in the hospital and has been pretty belligerent with the doctors, but I think that's normal." This was the beginning of the end of this horrible experience. One moment later and I wished I never would have called.

I am going to leave this here. I don't even want to regurgitate what was said beyond this point.

Sorry to leave the audience hanging, but this is just another sordid episode in the battle everyone I have ever met has had with my mother. And its title as a movie would be something to the effect of:

"You owe me"


"What have you done for me lately"


"I have never been treated well, poor me."

I have had it. I am officially finished being judged, being the subject of passive aggressive self-fulfilling guilt trips, being told how much has been done for me and how unappreciative I am, and blamed. It's over and you know? I don't care anymore that it is my "mom" because there are plenty of people in the world who DO care, and treat me like a human being and don't hold things over me to be used later.

So Mom, have a good life and be careful how you treat people. Although I doubt you will ever let anyone get close enough to you to worry about it.

Some day, you will be alone in your world of hate, facing the end of your own days, swamped in judgment and feeling sorry for yourself... and then, well, I hope you are happy, finally. Because no one will be there to tell you you are wrong when you use your last words to once again blame the world for your faults.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Ironman: Part Four

"There's no such thing as bad weather, just soft people."

~ Bill Bowerman

Ironman: It's not about facing your fear, its about challenging it to a footrace... and WINNING.

I was weary, but oh, so happy as I jogged into the transition tent. In the morning, when I left the trauma of the deep, dark lake-o-doom, the tent was dark, extremely crowded, and just makes you feel crazy. You feel like there is no way you will:

a) Leave wearing the appropriate gear--that you own
b) Leave having placed your swimming gear into your bag

But somehow it happens and you run off to fetch your bike and enjoy 6 hours of pain. I mean pedaling.

As opposed to the "morning transition" the "afternoon transition" is pleasant. It's quiet, bright, warm, and I am SO 'TARD HAPPY to be off the freaking bike that I am the worlds happiest kid on Christmas. I love everyone. Unfortunately, not everyone shares my enthusiasm (when you feel terrible nothing can make you smile) though I think they appreciate my smile.

I hope.

I found a seat in the middle of the tent that was very open, and set about my business:

-Off with helmet.
-Off with bike shoes.
-Off with bike shorts.
-Off with glasses. Wait, those have to go back on, better start making a different pile...always room for Virgo.

Now, dump out the run bag.
-Put on running shoes.
-Put on running hat.
-Put the glasses on. Yeeeeeah.
-Grab fuel belt of life saving juice.

NOW GO!! Creak, creak, creak, as I slog out of the tent. It's such a great day.

It was very easy this time to transition, and I was out in a couple of minutes. It seems after that point I always wish I would have enjoyed sitting there "transitioning" more... how weird. It is a fleeting, good, SITTING moment. The volunteers make it happen, and I kinda miss them a little.

(It took me a mile of running to remember I did not want to be wearing my arm warmers any longer, and I slipped them off and balled them up, planning on tossing them to the girls as I ran past. Which I did. And surprised the HELL out of them.)

Later, in the rain, I would dearly miss those arm warmers. Aaarrrrrrr....

The sun was behind clouds, this time, and I did not stop for any sunscreen (or leg rubs, which I received impromptu last Ironman). It was a decent temperature outside at this point, and I left the tent feeling reasonably well for how HARD I had pedaled. As I pushed into the first little out and back west of the park, about a half mile into the marathon, I was relieved. My training WAS good after all; after that hard of a bike ride, when I got finished and handed my bike off I was certain that my run would be doomed to a half marathon walk. It is one of those things where you start running and within a few steps you know.

You know if you are going to RUN the marathon or SURVIVE marathon.

Today, if I was going somewhere... I - WAS - RUN-NANG!!!!

I told myself, as I began the marathon, that I wasn't going to take anything from the aid stations until 10 miles, or if I had my own liquid left, 13 miles.

I had eaten and hydrated well enough on the bike, and I had my fuel belt with the same mix of Sustain (from Melaleuca) in 3 flavors that I had trained with. I also had clif Shot blocks with caffeine (my secret marathon weapon) and Endurolyte tabs just in case. My plan was to finish the fuel belt bottles by halfway through the marathon, and if I for some reason went dry too early before I reached the special needs bags (where I had full replacement bottles), I could supplement at the aid stations. But O wanted to avoid the weird stuff this time.

My last Ironman I overdid the cookies and coke a bit. Heh...

But then again, I had very different goals in 2007, my first Ironman. This time, I stuck to the plan because I wanted to RUN the marathon. I passed through the aid stations, with their tasty looking assortment of foods and beverages being offered, and instead sucked down half a bottle of Orange Sustain. I popped in a Shot block and sucked on it for a mile. I felt tired, as I should, but good. I felt ready to run.

The other part of my plan was simple but more difficult. 9:00 minute/mile for the first 3 miles, and then steady 8 minute miles as long as I could after that, and if I was really doing well I could throw in 7:30 here and there. Just like training. I had my heart rate monitor/watch on and was tracking my time. I had been through this so many times mentally that I had the times memorized, and even had "contingency" times memorized. And I was sort of in between at this point.

I ran along, passing so many people it was shocking. I was not running fast yet, but as I ran back by the transition area in the park, realizing Brian indeed was not right behind me, I had already probably passed 50 people in the first mile. They were walking out of transition, these same people who had ridden the fighter jets on wheels past me earlier. Interesting.

As I started into and through downtown Coeur d' Alene, I saw Jan and Shawna on the sidewalk, totally unprepared for my arrival. I lobbed the arm warmers at Shawna who screamed with surprise, and they started cheering for me instantly. I love the marathon leg--I am always running so much faster than the people around me (at least through the first 18 miles).

To LOOK better really does help you FEEL better, I think. That is, if you can see yourself. So much of this thing IS mental, after all.

Case in point:
A guy who I caught up to and was about to pass was doing the same thing I was at the big corner at the end of the main street in downtown: looking at his reflection in a big store window as he ran past. We saw each other doing it, and he beat me to the punch by saying "FORM CHECK! Yep, I look GOOOOOD!!" It was hilarious.
I told him "The most important thing in this IS looking the part, after all. Keep it up!" And I ran past him. It was a joke, but it is kinda true. You can control a lot by imagining yourself "looking like a pro" just like the Golf ads on weekend cable television say.

Bounce bounce bounce. I felt so bouncy and strong. Like, if I have enough energy to run like this, I owe it to all the people who DO NOT to run as fast as I can.

I sped out of town, imagining myself running like a pro, trying to do all of the things I tell Jan to do when she works on her running. I don't really have to think about them except for during Ironman, when I am tired and have heavy legs.

As I trotted along past the 5th mile, I watched the runners around me. I felt out of place as they plodded and walked. I realized how now my bike riding was the lagging sport of the three. It used to be my (gulp) swimming...

(Insert "shocked hero" music here.)

I saw startlingly few "runners" out there. At mile 8 I started seeing the difference between "first lappers" and "second lappers". The seconds lappers are on their way to the finish and are just flying along, in momentous amounts of discomfort, but really running hard. The first lappers, like me I suppose, are in less discomfort but just hanging on for dear life to get through the first lap.

Jan really needs to see this--I think she would really take heart to see that it is true: if you can run the end of a triathlon that is longer than a sprint, you really are doing pretty good.

I saw how many people pushed too hard on the bike because now -- I was making the fighter jet sound as I ran past them.

I will never stop the rain by complaining...

The turn-around east of town is 2/3rds of the way up this evil hill that goes around a lazy right swooping turn. Its a tough hill to ride a bike up, and during the marathon its really tough. When I got to it during the first lap, I felt ok, but wondered if I could actually run up this thing. I started at the bottom by shortening my stride a little, staring just in front of my feet, and increasing my cadence. I forced myself to lift my knees a little--just like in practice. I started increasing my cadence a little more. I pushed off a little harder. Hey, this is going pretty well, I thought to myself. I was passing people like crazy--most everyone around me had started walking. I was feeling pretty good about things, and starting to think it was going to be a relatively easy run, all things considered.

Remember what I said about feeling cocky at Ironman?

That's is PRECISELY the moment the rain really started to come down. It had been sprinkling off and on, and the wind was really whipping, but it had not yet hit that point of making me want to stop running, point at the sky with my extended middle fingers and start swearing at the top of my lungs. At least not until that moment. And believe me, the thought crossed my mind.

"BRING IT ON!" I think is what came out of my mouth, followed by a few more words. Stupid rain. It wouldn't have been so bad if it weren't for the 25 mph gusts coming off the lake. It was really getting chilly out there. And dark, I couldn't believe it was only 3-4 in the afternoon and it looked so dark.

I was at mile 10 and holding 8:30 per mile pretty steadily. It didn't really hurt so much, but it didn't feel good. It just... did.

People started showing up in space blankets. The steam from the chicken broth out on the course started to make me feel like it was winter time. Everyone was looking miserable, like a cat being dunked into a cold bath. I was no exception, and my legs were tired as I rolled back into town. I wanted to look good when I passed Shawna and Jan. One foot in front of the other.

I see Brian as I run down the long, slow hill. He looks good. He is jogging. He asked if this was my second lap, and I think he really must need more blood to his brain because his math is REALLY bad. And then I say "No, no way!"

I see Mark Kendall as I go into town. He is walking. I am surprised. Always being a great buddy, he cheers me on, pats me on the back and tells me I am looking terrific. I feel for him and hope he can recover soon enough. I pick up the pace a little into town, probably to 8 minute miles. I know I can't hold this long, but I am really itching to get this over with now. My hands are pretty numb and I am missing my arm warmers, which I wished I had not thrown away. But I can't stop now.

I turn the corner into downtown... I start looking at the people lining the street, hoping to spot Jan and Shawna, knowing I have to be on the lookout because I always see them before they see me. I am flying along, much much faster than the people around me, and I realize I am being cheered on by the poor rain soaked spectators. I throw my right fist into the air, A-LA Jeremy Gerking Ironman Canada at the beginning of the bike leg, and get a round of screams. I love this shit.

Still no girls.

I ran into the park and slowed-up a little. "I have to ease up or I am done." I tell myself. I settle back to probably an 8:45 pace as I go through the little turn around west of the park. I swear I should have seen Jan and Shawna. Oh well, they were probably on the other side of the street. I will catch them on the way out. And that will force me to keep running strong through town. Don't want my cheerleaders to see me mopey.

Looking back on the situation, now, I realize just how miserable I was in that rain and wind, and how much I was looking forward to seeing them out there for a boost. That is NOT to say I would be upset or angry if they weren't, because I know firsthand from all of the Ironman watching I have done just how hard it is to keep track of the times. But on a totally selfish and personal level, I really wanted to see Jan.

Ironman is a pretty selfish thing, you know.

I made the turn and started back towards the park. As I hit the first bank of Honey Buckets I felt my tummy tell me it was time for a break. I had only stopped once to pee on the run so far, but my GI was feeling less than thrilled at my pace and had started complaining about it. Of course the potties are all full, and there is a line. I have to pee pretty bad, I realize now that I am standing there, and I know I can't hold it too long out there. Crap, what to do...

I decide to press on. I stop at the special needs bag hand off and pick up my bag. My fingers are completely gone. Useless. Somehow I manage to do what I need to with the help of a volunteer. Its amazing how you do not realize how far gone your mind is until you have to SPEAK to someone, and then at that moment you hear your own voice you think "oh man, I am really out of it!"

New bottles all around, fresh Aquaphor for my under arms, and I am off. Oh, man, stopping was not so good for my legs. There was a really big alarm going off in my head now, that one that says "YOU IDIOT! What are you DOING OUT HERE?? You can't do this!!!"

There WILL be a fight for your soul before this is over.


Even though you know its going to happen, its still awful when your body starts to tell your mind that no matter how determined you are, it ain't gonna go down so easily.

I ran through the park. Raining harder. As I pass the beach of the swim start I remember to give the swim a mental "fuck you". Ha. I felt a smile on my face as I realized that, like in 2007, I had arrived at the realization that I was going to finish this thing. It was much less satisfying this time, but it was still a relief. I decided to pick up the pace through downtown, and resumed my Jan watch.

No Jan.

I hoped she and Shawna were all right. I hoped they just had retreated from the rain because I knew Jan did not have rain gear. I suddenly felt horrible for her and wished we had prepared better for the weather. Now I really wanted to finish faster, to make sure she was ok. My legs told me it wasn't going to be that way, and I held my pace. Oh well.

I stopped at the first aid station I come to and grab a chicken broth. HOLY SHIT that is tasty stuff, and WARM. It feels really good going down and I decided that will be revisited later. It is amazing how much better that made me feel. I ran a bit faster, bumping it back to 8:30 per mile.

I passed Mark Kendall. He gave me a big pat on the back and cheered me on. He was wearing a space blanket, like almost everyone else. Only us real psychos were still running without any sort of protective gear. I didn't care, I was on the Ironman survival run mission 2009.

I don't remember a lot of the rest of the marathon, to be honest, up until mile 21. I kept running, and I managed to maintain 8:30 to 8:45 per mile, somehow. I was really hurting, but this was a test. This was not just a race I wanted to finish, I wanted to GO, this time. It was a test of my will, and a test of just how much I could push it. I could not run faster, I don't think, but I could maintain. I don't remember--I had the blinders back on and was staring at the ground 15 feet in front of me.

I remember passing the cemetery right when we turn into town, and all the motivational signs people made on the lawn across the street. I never saw Jan's , but I looked for them even this time, backwards and over my shoulder, as I ran by. I am still a little sad that she put all that effort in and I didn't get to see them. I ran by and around the corner, expecting to see Brian at any moment.

I passed mile 21. I was ecstatic. I was going to make it, and I was going to run the entire marathon--my first and most important goal. I decided to walk through the aid stations as a reward, and it was OK at that point. I didn't care what it did to my time anymore. I would run and then allow myself to walk just a few steps every aid station for the last 4 miles.

I ate a handful of cookies, too.

I couldn't control the emotions after this point. I looked at my watch, it said I was at 10:55 total time... So close, I realized, so close. Does the time even matter in a race like this, really?

I was laughing and joking with people on the sides of the streets cheering. I felt wonderful and terrible all at once. Typical.

I saw Brian, two turns before my finish. He looked tired, but determined as always. He was just heading out for his second lap. I walked by him and slapped him on the shoulder and told him that no matter what, he had to finish, because it would be the greatest feeling he has ever had. He assured me he would, probably a little wierded-out by my sudden End-Of-Ironman emotion, but he appreciated it, nodded and smiled, and told me good job. "Go finish!" He yelled at me as we parted. He was having a long day, but he learned a lot, I think, and really enjoyed it.

Finishers left, First lap, right. I GO LEFT!!!

I made the magical turn to the left for FINISHERS ONLY and ran up to my favorite corner on earth.

I made the corner, and it was PACKED with people, standing in the freezing cold and rain. I was all alone, this time, there was no one around me. I didn't think it was possible after 2007 to enjoy the finish more, but now I know I am wrong.

I cruised down the hill, waving my arms like a madman, pumping my fists. I dont know what I was doing, I was so tired, and so overwhelmed and happy. I really felt like this was a world apart from Ironman 2007 in terms of how hard I pushed and how much I overcame.

The finish chute in front of me. Tears in my eyes. So crowded compared to 2007, and it feels so much more alive. Slapping as many hands as I can reach. Pumping the fist. I see Shawna on the side and slap her hand.

All pain disappears.

I got to the finish line and stopped, and then leaped across it as my photo was taken. I landed with my arms in the air and looked at the sky, rain falling into my eyes.

I did it. Again. And this time, I really feel like I deserved to hear the words:

Aaron Moss, you are an Ironman.

Ironman: Part Three

You mean I still have to ride 50 miles???

That was my grim realization when I started riding after my second flat tire at Ironman. I mentioned in Part One how quickly the complexion of the day changes. This is not to say I was suddenly feeling awful about life, it was just that stark, cold slap in the face by reality saying "wake-up".

What was worse, I had not even ridden out of town to the hills yet. Gulp.

I must say, here, that there is a very important distinction regarding the hill climbing in 2007 and in 2009. See, a few weeks ago, I finally got smart. If you go back and read about the bike ride in 2007 you will notice my comments about the gearing on my tri bike being poorly suited to hill climbing. It is a big gear time trial bike.

A few weeks before Ironman, after doing a 110 mile ride in the heat with over 4000 feet of vertical climbing, I decided enough was enough. I bought a new Shimano Dura Ace cassette. My old cassette was an 11-22 (I know, and I waited 9 years to change that???) and the new one is an 11-25. I swear that I have never felt such love for 3 gear teeth in my life. It is WONDERFUL--compared to what it was like. It still is not a granny climbing gear, but let's be honest--it is nice to climb a hill in the saddle without fear of falling over backwards because you can't actually keep the pedals turning over.
End Digression

So there I was riding north, feeling ok, the wind at my back, occasionally looking at the watch. It was cloudy; the wind was gusting now to the point that I was fearful of being shoved off of the road at times when I was crouched in my aero bars. My legs felt very heavy. The burning was not my issue, it was that heaviness. Out at Hayden Lake the hills started, and the heaviness was a big problem.

I had been playing the passing game with a big 43 year old kahuna named Tom who was riding a beautiful black Cervelo P2C with deep dish Carbon Zipps and a "who's who" of finer carbon components scattered about his ride. Essentially, his bike was worth more than my car(s). It made the sound of an F-18 when it passed me, roaring down the hills. (As happened with so many people, he would pass me on the downhills and I would inevitably lurch by him on the hills. The old game of Gravity vs. Efficiency.)

One hill in particular is up above the lake after you have been swerving around, just before you head away into the country. Its a very steep, sustained climb that is really punishing. Here is the difference between the first lap and second lap--I didn't even remember climbing it the first lap!! I turned to Tom, looking deep in personal anguish and disbelief (as was I) and snorted "Tom, why does it have to be like this?"

He gave a sort of grunt and replied very plainly as he glanced back at me briefly, "We paid a lot of money for this pain."

That was it in a nutshell. We volunteered and the course delivered.

I trudged past him, up to the top, which actually turns out is a false top, and littered the countryside with expletives inappropriate for this forum.

Behold! Vanilla Thunder hath Vanish-ed!!

When I made the FINAL turn around on the bike and was heading back around the long swooping, gradual uphill turns, I fully expected to see Brian RIGHT there, still, clinging about 10 minutes behind me.

But I didn't.

It is selfish, I suppose, to say/feel this, but I was happy I didn't see him. First I was happy because it meant I had not fallen off my pace too much. Second I was happy I did not see him because it may have meant he got smart and held off the pace a little, given the crazy gusting winds out there. I didn't yet consider the third possibility, that he was having problems. Later, when I was riding into town, that thought occurred to me. I think I had had enough problems for us both, and maintained that he had just slowed down for his own benefit.

I saw the sign for 100 miles. 12 miles left. I mean... 12 MILES LEFT!!!! How awesome is that?? I swear, no matter how hard you train for this bike ride, and how well or poorly it goes, there is no better feeling than getting finished with the Ironman bike leg. You can not help but instantly feel better.

Of course I still had 12 very windy miles left. And it was DI-RECTLY into the southwest wind. Of course. How else would it be today?

I decided to go for it back in to town. I knew I couldn't hold the fastest tempo I wanted to, but I could push a little, spin faster... do something to feel energy in my legs which at this point were not energetic. I increased the tempo just a touch and started passing some of the people who had been with me. When we rode back on to the last long straightaway towards the "roundabout of tire-death" I really pushed it, getting up "on the rivet" and feeling my quads burn a little.

Soon there was a large opening in front of me. It was odd. I looked behind me and there, to my surprise, was a string of about 8 cyclists drafting off of me. They were not wheel to wheel, but they were definitely not legal, either. But this is Ironman and you have to be pretty damned blatant to get a card. So there they were. I chuckled--this is not how I saw myself from the inside, but apparently I was worth drafting off of. Or maybe I just smelled pretty.

I couldn't hold the pace all the way in. Some of the little ups and downs were too much and I backed off--unleashing the flood of fast 40 and 50 year olds behind me. It was amazing the whooshing sound it made as they all glided past, legs enormous and chiseled, bikes at least 3 times as expensive as mine. What a fashion show.

I just held on enough into the last small out to really stomp on it before rolling into transition -- where I was just disoriented enough that, when I got off my bike, I started running it back to its rack. DOH! In Ironman you just hand the sucker to the volunteers and they usher you directly into the tent.

The volunteers quickly corrected me, I felt stupid, and then happily scurried in moderate amounts of discomfort to what feels like heaven to me: the transition tent.

The GOOD part of my race was about to begin. Finally.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Ironman: Part Two

"We have made it to the starting line. In this moment, the probability that we will do the event reaches 100 percent. The hundreds of things that can go wrong leading up to an Ironman have been cleverly averted, and the thousands of things required to get to the start are all now officially history."

~Mitch Thrower

You must UNLEARN what you have LEARNED...

We are taught early on that if something hurts--don't do it.

Somehow we forget these early, simple lessons during Ironman.

Leaving the water of Lake Coeur d' Alene was a moment of mixed emotions for me.

A) Ridiculously happy to be out of the water (what would ya do with a drunken sailor)
B) Terribly disappointed (and still am, I realize now) in myself for not slaying that swimming dragon.

Maybe the third time is a charm.

Based again on previous experience, I brought arm warmers and mittens for the start of the bike ride. The arm warmers did not slide easily onto rubbery wet post traumatic swim arms. Oh no. The first of many many wonderful volunteers to help me throughout the day managed to maneuver the appendages into the sleeves. It was remarkable.

And then the gloves. Oh, dear...

These are not aerodynamic, fancy-pants cycling gloves. Oh no, these are cotton knit gloves from some race back-east that appear from a certain distance like the gloves permanently adorning Mickey Mouse. I used to think they were silly, maybe Mickey is just a smart sonofabitch.

Anyway, I left transition on my wonderful old blue bike feeling much better than 2007-- albeit nervous, now, because this was the "meat" of the race for me. I can do well on the bike, but this year was a big test for me. I had trained very hard for the bike portion, working more hills, more centuries, and as a result I felt stronger than I ever had. I wanted to really hold 19 mph on this ride, really, really wanted to, so that I might have a shot at breaking 11 hours overall. I have huge faith in my running ability, but this year on the bike was new territory.

It was amazing as I rode away from town, finally able to see beyond the blinders of the swim trauma, the difference between the cyclists I was with in 2007 and this year. Much better cyclists this time around, men and women, and much nicer bikes. RIDICULOUSLY nice bikes. And leg muscles popping out all over the place.

I set off at my best warm-up pace, and wasn't shivering after 6 miles. That was definitely an improvement this time around. I settled into a group of very quick cyclists who were riding a pace that was on the verge of being fast enough for my race pace, but I knew I wasn't ready to push it yet this early on (about 12 miles) in the bike.

I forgot about that after my first flat tire. Yes, first. It was mile 15ish of the bike ride. There is a little traffic circle just north of town, and I was heading around the round-about when I felt my rear wheel go slushy around the corner. Oh no. I know that feeling. Please, not a flat. Please please please please please.

I looked at my rear wheel as I swung around and straightened out. Flat as a pancake.


Luckily for me there was an aid station right there, and I rolled up to it. I coasted to a halt and set about changing the tube. My land-legs had really just started to arrive after that horrid second lap of the swim, and I wasn't even close to warmed-up. I had been hovering around 18 mph, and felt ok with that, but the wind was starting to intensify from the southwest. Basically, my legs were not feeling great yet, and it was obvious that the weather wasn't going to be on my side today.

I checked the rim, rim tape, spoke nipples, and tire. I got the new tube in and was ready to inflate. I screwed the CO2 cartridge into the nozzle and put it onto the stem and PSSSSSSHHHH that sucker emptied without going into the tube. Don't even think about asking me HOW that happened! Oh crap--only one CO2 cartridge left. I decided that it was too risky to use it, since I would be without for the remainder of the lap, and went to walk to the other end of the aid station where they had a pump. Successfully inflated and ready to roll, I took off.

Total time lost: 5:25. Panic set in. It shouldn't have--5 minutes is NOTHING. Heck, 10 minutes. But this is where the bad things are going to happen, at the most insignificant times. I felt rushed for some reason after that flat, rushed and pressured, like I needed to push. I got back on my bike and hammered.

My legs were burning, burning more than they should have been. I cranked on, telling myself this was Ironman and I didn't train so hard to "just finish." I know, I know... but at the time, that kind of logic makes sense for some reason. Maybe its a blood flow to the brain issue.

My legs burned and I kept on, knowing full well I was going too hard. The wind kept getting harder. I couldn't eat yet, my tummy wasn't too happy with me. I was able to drink plenty, however, and at mile 35 sucked on a couple caffeinated Shotblocks which felt good, convincing me to just try eating. I did, eating half a Clif bar, and WOW did I feel better. It's amazing how we can trick ourselves so easily, right in our own brains.

The legs burned, and I ignored it. I was holding a pretty good pace, but I couldn't go as fast as I trained into the wind, which seemed to be coming from everywhere, but I maintained the fastest tempo I could hold. I was riding with a couple people who looked to me like as soon as they got off the bike, they were bound to walk a long way.

The hills were relentless, and occasionally we were even lucky enough to go downhill into the horrible wind, which resulted in having to pedal downhill more than usual to maintain speed. That is a wonderful way to suck extra energy! And it hurt. A lot. I went through town again and saw my cheer team, and smiled and waved to them. Jan and Shawna were screaming at me as I raced by, and I felt better. I didn't feel so alone at that moment. Out there on the bike, when everyone is hammering into a wind that is relentless, it feels a little lonely for some reason. Quiet and hard and alone all together. (Seems like an REM song.)

I went through the special needs pick up at Higgins point, just east of downtown, and grabbed my bag = two extra tubes and two extra CO2 cartridges. Just in case. At the time I did not even consider the possibility of getting another flat, but I was sure happy I had that extra bag out there.

I saw Brian Kirby a.k.a. Vanilla Thunder a bit behind me after I made the turn and I screamed at him and put my arms in the air. It makes me feel better when I cheer for people out there. He was hanging on to me pretty good, I hoped he wasn't going to hard but from the looks I guessed he was. That or I was going a lot slower than I thought. It didn't matter, really, because I sure couldn't go any faster!

I actually felt at that point like I was getting used to the hurt, the pushing. The wind was at my back heading north out of town, and I came to that roundabout where I got the flat tire. My stomach knotted up a little as I headed around it, even, remembering just a couple hours previous what I had spent my time doing.

And then it happened.


Oh dear lord. SERIOUSLY??

I felt the characteristic "bump bump, bump bump, bump bump" of a deflated front tire and I pulled over. Un-be-fucking-lievable. No way. I had to be dreaming.

I laughed--what else could I do? It was just going to be that way today. I looked at my watch and realized that I would have to finish the bike ride at 7 hours in order to be under 11 hours for my whole race. It was mile 50ish, and I was at 4 hrs. I tried to do math. Could I really average 22 mph the rest of the way? Nope. Not even close.

My heart sank a lot right then. I would be lying if I said I didn't shed some saline quietly to myself. But then something happened.

I sat up and got my shit together, breathed a few times, and remembered the training rides in the rain when Jan had her rash of flat tires.


I remembered the really long hard ride that wiped me out just a few weeks ago.


I remembered the swim, just a few hours ago, and how I thought the same thing then but overcame and finished still.

I thought about my Ironman 2007.


That made me smile. Here I was, sitting on the Ironman course, angry because I might not break 11 hours. When I thought about it that way, it seemed hilarious and stupid. I bet there were 2000 people out there who would give their left arm to finish around 11 hours!! It was a very important turning point, mood-wise. I felt better. I changed my tube. I chatted with some volunteers. I ate a banana. I got on my bike and started again with the leg-killing pace, into the wind, feeling like this is what I was supposed to be doing, regardless of the time I would achieve.

Sitting there I fully expected Brian to go whizzing merrily by me. Thankfully (for him) he did not.