Friday, December 25, 2009

My Anti-Christmas Funk

It's Christmas again and I am depressed. My parents are deceased and I have no living siblings. I have no significant other. Friends are busy with their families. Everybody else seems happy. I know that isn't true. Some families hate each other. Some families are poor and don't have enough to eat and can't afford presents. It just seems that the rest of the world is enjoying Christmas but me. So to counter this funk I am listing the things that I am grateful for:

1. A roof over my head. My decor desperately needs to be re-done and is stuck in the eighties, but it is functional.

2. A wonderful daughter. Since my ex doesn't seem to want to interact with her on a formal schedule, I have her all of the time living with me. She is easy to deal with most of the time, intelligent, level-headed and only has her "moods" occasionally.

3. My health is fairly good. I may have my aches and pains and enough health issues to have insurance companies always refuse to under-write my health insurance, but I am healthy enough to do extreme physical things like an ironman.

4. I live in a good climate most of the year. Arizona gets 300 days of sunshine a year and has gorgeous scenery. If you live in a crappy climate with continual gray days and ugly scenery like the midwest, you really appreciate sunshine and mountains. This is why everyone wants to come here to live.

5. The climate makes for good star-gazing. I can't imagine driving two hours to look at stars in a humid climate. There is nothing like getting out in the remote desert or forest to look at celestial objects.

6. I live in a great country. You only have to hear about what people go through in times of war, especially women, in third world countries to realize how good you have it. In America, you can do what you want, say what you want and be what you want.

7. I have people around me who seem to care about what happens to me. I may not have the deep relationships that I crave, but I can get help if I need it.

8. The legal proceedings in my divorce are over with and I don't have to worry about what is coming next. I can go on from here and move forward.

9. MP3 players. What a great invention. You can listen to whatever music you want, whenever you want. It takes the monotony out of housework, makes waiting for a plane more bearable, makes waiting for an ironman to start less nerve-wracking.

10. The internet. I can connect with people with whom I might not otherwise have done and I can blather in blogs like this.

11. Christmas is almost over. I can stop stressing over what presents to buy and how my money is quickly disappearing, stop slaving in the kitchen preparing dinner, and not worrying about putting up decorations for another year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bah Humbug!

The thought of Christmas always puts me in a funk. It starts around Halloween or sometimes even earlier. You go into a store in October for some harmless little item and there it is staring you in the face. A Christmas decoration. The symbol of doom. I usually groan and ignore it.

Immediately after Halloween it starts. It may be 85 degrees outside, but in the store the full Christmas mode is going. The pressure to start buying even if you have no idea what anyone wants. The relentless obnoxious T.V. ads for stupid useless items start. The inane car ads. Who the hell buys a car for Christmas anyway?

Then there's the Christmas music. Some of the worst music ever written. I absolutely hate "Jingle Bells". Even if the music isn't poorly written, once you've heard it a million times, you hate it. It's like nails on a chalkboard. Please make it stop!

About two weeks before Christmas, I finally give into the pressure of the gaiety and send out cards, start decorating and buying presents. I keep my sanity by spending as little time as possible on these activities. If I can order a gift online and have it shipped, I do it. If I can decorate a tree by using fewer ornaments, I do.

There's always the pressure to buy a present for someone when you have no idea what they want. Parents are the worst the buy for. If you pick the wrong gift, you feel like a failure of a human being. Sometimes the person absolutely hates surprises, like my daughter and if you buy something she doesn't like, she lets you know it. Then you feel rejected. Sometimes the person doesn't like the gift, but fakes pleasure at receiving it anyway. You know they are faking it, but you pretend you don't.

Then there's the person who likes the present, but is embarrassed to get it, like they don't deserve it. Mothers often fall into this category. They act grateful, then they put the present away never to be used. You want to please them, but end up tearing out your hair in frustration.

The worst part of Christmas is the expectation that everything will be happy and joyous. It isn't a perfect world with perfect people. The myth is exploited anyway, in the media. When my divorce was going on last year, I saw all the other people with friends, family and spouses that seemed to be enjoying themselves and I felt all the more alone. I felt abandoned and depressed. I came to realize that people aren't always as happy as they appear and that I could create a different holiday for myself. I had to lower my expectations and be realistic about my life. If I had no one to buy a present for me, I could buy one myself.

Despite all things I hate about Christmas, I can still find aspects that are good about it. It's a holiday, which is an excuse to eat a lot of food and relax. People have parties. I may even get a present or two. People are more cheerful and generous. There's good old movies on T.V. that I have seen a dozen times like "It's a Wonderful Life." I am not particularly religious, but the holiday has a spirit of hope and redemption in it. If you peel away the layers of commercial crap, you can find a nice holiday.

The thing about a holiday, especially Christmas when you are older, is that the past is associated with it and the people you knew who are gone. When I was a child, I had aunts who used to come on the train from St. Louis every Christmas. They used to drive us crazy with their eccentricities, but now I would give anything to see them again. Those two were like a moment frozen in time. They would wear the same clothes for 30 years. They had hairstyles from the 1940's. They never bought anything new that they could buy used. They never threw anything out. But still, I miss them. Sometimes you don't realize how important people are to you until they are gone. These memories lay dormant in my mind, but sometimes pop out

Then there's the year that my father died two days after Christmas from cancer. That was over 20 years ago. The shirt I bought him never got worn. That was a dark year. The weather was cold and gray. Maybe that's why the short days of winter in December depress me. My mother joined him last year. I envy people who still have their parents around.

Children bring a different perspective to Christmas. It is more fun when you have little kids around that still believe in Santa. It reminds you of a time when you thought Christmas was magical and mysterious and when you still thought that Santa came through the chimney to deliver presents. They wake up at some ungodly hour of the morning and their eyes get big when they see the presents that have magically appeared under the tree. Everything seems possible to them. However, once they stop believing in Santa, it's like a light is extinguished and the holiday is ordinary again. As an adult, it takes a lot more effort to find the magic. You have to lower your expectations about what it supposed to happen. You have to find out what's out there for you to be positive about and what you can give to other people that's not necessarily at the mall.

So I will try to enjoy Christmas despite Christmas.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What Do Men Want

Now that I am divorced, I look at men differently. I was married for so long that I never really thought much about how I interacted with men. Maybe I should have thought about it more. But if you are married long enough, you sort of go into automatic zone and you don't necessarily examine your relationships to see if anything is wrong or could be improved. You take your relationship for granted.

I am not ready to date, but it might be on the horizon someday. The whole thought of it scares me. But it would be nice to have a man again, but the right man. I don't want a relationship just to avoid being alone, but one that would enhance our lives together.

But right now men seem like alien creatures. I have been told that they are just people. Most of the time they seem normal. But since I have been hurt deeply by one, I have a hard time trusting men I don't know. Then there's always the creep factor as well. You don't know what their hidden agenda is or if they want to take advantage of you.

The psychologist Jay Carter has theorized that women have more power over men than they think. Boys try to please their mothers, and when they grow up and meet a life partner, the man's self-esteem is vulnerable to a woman's opinion of him. Men take criticism more literally and it wounds their self-esteem. They get defensive and disconnect emotionally. On the other hand, if you don't injure their ego, you can get them to do want you want because they want to please you. If you stroke their ego, you have power over them.

The idea of women having power over men is a novel one to me. To me, men seem to have an advantage in physical strength. They earn more money. They are bigger in size and height. But everyone has their vulnerability. Men can get just as hurt emotionally in divorce as women. They just may not show it as much.

I guess I should re-examine my assumptions about men, but right now I don't know what to believe about anything. The way I look at relationships has changed completely. I can't rely on anyone to make me happy, I have to do that myself. Nothing ever stays the same. The good relationship that you thought you had yesterday may be gone today.

Maybe men aren't so different than women. We all want to be loved. Women can be just as strange and nasty as men. My soul mate might be out there somewhere. I just have to figure out this dating thing someday.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What's Next?

I suppose I should be more worried about my major life issues such as what the hell am I going to do with a career that isn't working for me. Instead I am thinking about the next triathlon season. I can't stomach the idea of doing another ironman right away or even a half ironman, so I am going to do mostly shorter races such as sprints and olympic distance triathlons and 5k and 10k run races.

Every race involves pain if you are pushing your limits, but each has a different kind of pain. For me, an ironman race has the kind of pain , where the muscles get tired from working at a medium intensity for a very long time. You aren't breathing as hard as in a shorter race. In shorter races, the pain is more intense, but it doesn't last a long time. You feel like there is a vise pressing down on your chest and you can't get enough air. You are going at the highest heart rate you can stand and it hurts. With the pain, however, comes speed.

One of the biggest mistakes I made in racing was assuming that I could have speed without pain. I would run hard, but not go over the line into where the real pain would start. I assumed that I shouldn't push that hard and that my lack of natural ability prevented me from doing better.

This assumption changed when I was training for my second attempt at an ironman. My coach recommended that I work on shorter races to improve my ironman speed and gave me some insane workouts. It took me a while to realize what I could do. Going as hard as I could was a new concept to me, but I found that it worked. I could break barriers that I thought I couldn't. Before I could only run 10 minute miles in a 5k. I found I could now run about 8:34 miles, something I could never do before.

I will never be very fast. But what is fun to me is in breaking those barriers and seeing how far I can go. I can't do this if I am slogging through long workouts necessary for half and full ironmans. I just get tired and can't work very fast. My speed plateaus and doesn't improve. I am happy with my past season this year, but once I got into training for my longer races, my fast speed stopped improving. My best 10k race was in March and after that, I never ran as fast. My bike speed improved over long distances, but my fastest speed stayed where it was after May. I want to see where I can go again.

Eventually, I will do longer races. I want to do a half marathon at the end of the year because I think I can break my old record in this. I may do an ironman in 2011. It took everything I had to finish Ironman Arizona a little before the midnight cut-off, but maybe with time maybe I could finish another ironman like St. George, which seems like it would be much harder than Arizona.

For now, though, I am recovering from this year and dreaming about the next. And wondering what the hell I am going to do with the rest of my life.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ironman Arizona Race Report-Part III

I dismounted my bike and hobbled to the change tent. Normally to do a fast transition, I would have ran or at least walked fast, but my legs felt like blocks. The volunteers helped me change and I struggled to put on my compression socks. I let someone bandage my elbow, though it didn't make much difference at this point. It was really hard to get moving. A slow 9:28 transition.
I started the run walking, grabbed some food and finally got my legs running. The sun was an orange glow on the horizon. I had fantasized before the race about the run being where I shine, but the reality was that it was a survivor slog. I could have done a run-walk combination, but I didn't think it would be fast enough. I walked a lot of the aid stations just because it was easier to eat that way. There was still a lot of runners out on the course just trying to get through the marathon. Most of them didn't seem like they doing much more than a jog.
I didn't really think much about how long I had to run. I wanted to make sure I hit the 10:15 p.m. cut-off and the midnight cut-off. If you hit the 10:15 cut-off, they let you finish the last loop even if you don't make the midnight cut-off. The run course is three loops. Each loop goes over the Priest bridge, the Mill Avenue bridge and the Rural Road bridge(twice). There are some difficult areas mentally to be running alone in the dark. Priest and the lake sidewalk from Priest to Mill is desolate and boring. There are signs put out there for some lucky people to encourage them, but I didn't have any. The river bed is dry is this area and there is nothing to look at, except maybe some rabbits running around in the dark. The cement sidewalk is hard on the feet. You see the Mill Avenue bridge in the distance and it is always a relief to reach it. You climb a small hill to get to the bridge.
At least on the bridge, you can see the lights reflected on the water. The train bridge has a nice display of pink and blue lights when the train goes over it. You can hear the announcer in the distance saying "you are an ironman" for the lucky people finishing up. I still have another five hours or so. I go over the bridge and run back to the lake path. There are people to cheer us on. I try to thank people who do. An ironman is a long time for a spectator to sit and watch. They do provide a distraction from the pain. I keep wondering which is more painful-this or the c-section I had. I think the c-section is, but not by much.
I run over the Rural Road bridge and run along the lake path again. The sections under the bridge smell slightly of sewage. I then go up the road to Papago Park. It's strange at night. The generator light shines on a strange rock formation. Then I have to climb Curry hill. This is tough. I usually run up it, but it slows me down. Other people are wimping out and walking. Then it's down to the lake path again and through the Marina. The aid stations pick me up. The one under the bridge has a pirate boat and music. The one by the marina by my tri club also has music and a western theme. It helps me to get through the dark sections further on. I go back over the Rural Road bridge to the lake path and start the second loop.
So far, I am doing O.K. I have no nutritional issues and my pace is slow, but steady enough to get through the course. I think I must have been operating on mental power. It's hard even now to imagine how I got through this run. I kept thinking about going fast enough to get in by midnight or sooner. I had about a 20 minutes cushion.
I finished the second loop. When you start a loop, there is a left turn-off for the finishing chute. It's tough mentally to go by this, especially later at night. You know most of the people are done and you are still out there alone in the dark. At least I had made the 10:15 cut-off by 25 minutes. Another small victory. I was pretty sure by this time that I was going to make it. I finally ran into my iron sherpa, and he had made me a sign. It picked me up a little and made me smile.
Going down the lake path from the Mill Avenue bridge, I saw my coaches(pictured below). They kept tabs on all their athletes for the entire seventeen hour race. I had about five miles to go at this point and an hour and a half to do it. They told me to run as much as possible. I picked up the pace a little. The goal is being an ironman was within my reach. I went around the dark path again and I finally had about a mile to go. I couldn't really sprint at this point because I had nothing left. Someone shouted to be "go be an ironman".
Finally I reached the turn-off for the finishing chute. In contrast to the dark run course, this is brightly lit. I had finally made it. Two years of training, heartbreak, and hope finally realized. I thought I would be weepy, but I was too overjoyed. The crowd in the stands gets rowdy this time of night and I had a blast high-fiving them. The announcer gets out of his box and riles them up. I heard my name and "you are an ironman". Now I know why I wanted this so much.
This is a high like no other. It's a place where you tested your limitations, overcame them and accomplished something that you thought you never could. Where you withstood you doubts and ventured into the terrifying unknown. Where you have endured boredom, pain, frustration and exhaustion to transform yourself into a different person. Where your mind drives you forward when your body is failing. It's an incredible power to find in yourself. It makes you feel invincible. It's a special race.

My coaches that some how got
me trained for this race despite
my limited athletic ability.
I look like crap, but who doesn't
after seventeen hour.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ironman Arizona Race Report: Part II

I escape the clutches of the med tent and I try to hurry through transition. It's a good thing I have volunteers to help me dress. I am fumbling around and not real clear-headed. I am still cold, but functional.

I get out on the bike course and find my heart rate is sky high, but I am not getting much speed. When I hit the false flats, I can't seem to go more than eleven m.p.h. It feel like shades of the first ironman race I attempted where the wind was howling and I wasn't getting any speed no matter how hard I tried. If I couldn't speed up, I would not be able to finish the race.

In my distraction, I veered over to a bunch of orange cones and promptly crashed. Someone was nice enough to stop and help me. My bike and I were O.K., but I had some road rash and I banged my shoulder pretty good. My shoulder would hurt the rest of the race. I finally got to the top of the turn around and I started pushing the pace going downhill. Luckily the winds were with me and I could make up some speed. There was a lot of illegal drafting and passing on the highway, but I was too slow to have that problem.

There weren't many bystanders on the highway other than at the aid stations, so the ride was kind of tedious a lot of the time. Once in a while I would see a guy peeing on the bike. One guy impressed me because he managed to whip it out and pee off to the side. I stayed well back of these people. I was utterly tired and miserable. Usually the first loop you are supposed to feel good, but I felt terrible. I was exerting a lot of energy, but not getting any power. As I was heading back into town, a guy with a microphone on a motorcycle asked me why I was doing the ironman. I couldn't really think of anything clever to say. Hopefully, I won't be on camera anywhere.

I got done with the first loop in about 13.6 m.p.h., which was too slow. I still had a fighting chance if I could go faster. It was nice to come into the Mill Avenue area because you knew that another loop was done and there were people to cheer you. It picked you up so you could endure the highway again.

I picked up the pace going out on the second loop and I was shocked that I had some actual speed. I figured that when I had a cold core, blood wasn't carrying enough oxygen to my muscles. It was a relief. It was like night and day from the first loop. I was pretty sure by the time I got to the top of the turn around that I would be able to make the three o'clock cut-off. A small victory.

I finished the second loop about 2:35 p.m. I was on new ground now-an actual third bike loop. Most people were coming into transition about this time. The highway was getting more and more deserted. I felt O.K. climbing again, but I was ready to get the bike over with. The shadows were growing longer and the light was turning orange. I beat the four o'clock cut-off by 20 minutes. As I was going downhill, I saw people still desperately going uphill trying to beat the cut-off, including one guy on a handcycle. I hope he made it.

The memory of the pain I felt is already fading. My quads hurt, my shoulder hurt and my butt hurt. I knew this race would be difficult, but I was giving all I had to make it. Normally you bike in an aerobic zone in order to have energy for the run, but I was going a little anaerobic to beat the cut-offs. It was taking a lot out of me.

As I passed a 109 mile marker, I realized that I was going to exceed the most distance I had ever done in one day on a bike. I was also going to beat the sun-set, and the 5:30 cut-off. I had broken barriers and was on my way to becoming an ironman.

As I came into transition, I saw my coaches cheering me. We have been on a long journey together, from the despair I had not finishing the last time to the joy of soon accomplishing a goal I had been chasing for two years. You don't complete an ironman on your own and they were some of the people that helped me along the way.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ironman Arizona Race Report-Part I

The day dawned cold. I dressed as warmly as possible, but I had to take off my outwear and put on my wetsuit at some point. I donned my wetsuit and jumped in the water. It was shockingly cold. It was 62 degrees, which was four degrees colder than the last 4000 meter swim I did in the lake. I made my way to the northern part of the field of bodies. I kept telling myself the water wasn't cold. The gun went off and the bodies surged forward.

I felt O.K. for a while. I kept telling myself that the water wasn't that cold. The sun was coming up and shining where I had to sight. I sighted off of the Rural Street bridge. I could see the orange light on the buildings on the bank when I turned my head to the side to breath. It was kind of pretty in a cruel way. The buildings seemed different than the last time I did an ironman swim. At least they didn't seem to go by so slowly as the last time I was in an ironman.

It was getting harder and harder to ignore the growing cold of the water. It was sapping the energy out of me and I had to stop and rest frequently, more so than my other long swims. It seemed to take forever to get to the turnaround, but not as long as the first race I did. My swimming didn't feel easy, and it was an effort to keep my stroke long. I could see the buoys now and I just tried to get to each one. I was very uncomfortable.

At some point my legs started shaking. I had never been this cold in a swim before and it was scary. I was damned if I was going to quit the race at this point voluntarily, but it felt like it was getting out of my control. I kept moving even though I was exhausted. If I got tired and rested, I got even colder. At one point, I caught someone's draft for a minute. I could only see the bubbles, but it helped.

Finally, I saw the turnaround for the exit. Usually at this point I can put some speed on. I was incapable of that. I finally got out of the water in 2:05. It was better than my last ironman race swim, but worse time than my 4000 meter swims.

I got my wetsuit stripped off and I started walking to transition when a medic snagged me before I could get away. I was fairly coherent, I thought, but I probably looked like crap. Luckily they were much better than the California half ironman medics and I got warmed up fairly quickly. They put warm saline bags under my arms and neck and got my wet shirt off. I shivered violently for a while, but I felt better after a while. I still lost about 10-15 minutes, something that I didn't plan or want to do.

This was one of the most difficult open water swims I have ever done and the day was just starting.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Two Days, 22 Hours

In two days, 22 hours I will at the start line or to be techical, hanging out near the Mill Avenue bridge in the cold water. Two years of training, races, expense and hope. Countless hours riding my bike to the edge of exhaustion and despair in the wind, heat and cold. Pushing myself to run into pain. Swimming countless boring laps in the pool. Somehow coming out better for it.

In contrast to my first ironman attempt, I can't wait to do this one. Instead of feeling like I have only half a chance of finishing, I feel like I have a good chance, barring unforeseen circumstances. I feel more rested, stronger and optimistic. Somehow my second attempt at the race also has more emotional meaning. The pain that I went through with my divorce needs to released and extinguished. The connections that I made with people as a result of that pain will carry me through each mile. I will occasionally travel to the dark places in my mind and my body will hurt. But my heart will feel lighter.

My bib number is 2846. Follow me on

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tempe Town Lake 4000 Meter Open Water Swim

This swim was not what I would call a lot of fun. The first ironman type swim I did last year was exhilarating because I was scared to death and I conquered my fears and proved to myself that I could do it. The second ironman swim I did last year was actually in the race and was long and exhausting, topped out with a 15 m.p.h. headwind just when I was finishing and really tired. The third swim I did this year in October was a lot of work, but there was scenery and I had energy throughout the entire swim. This swim was in murky green 66 degree water and the only thing you really had to look at were bridges and cement walls. The swim was four 1000 meters laps, so you had the same ugly stuff to look at at least four times.

The first lap was crowded. Actually the first, second and third lap were crowded because the lap was a rectangle that was near the wall. I employed my strategy of not wasting energy trying to avoid people, but just letting them run into me. Still, people running into me made me cranky after a while. I would get into a rhythm and then someone would disrupt it by crashing into me. Of course by the second lap all the faster swimmers, which were everyone, was lapping me, so I would get passed more than once by the same person.

My energy level for the first two laps was good. I had done a fair amount of 2000 meter open water swims, so it was what I was used to. I hit a warm patch of water at the turnaround and it really felt good. Both laps took 30 minutes.

By the third lap, however, my energy was draining out of my body. I felt like I was in the fourth mile of a 10k where the race had been going on long enough that you are tired, but you still have what seems a long way to finish. I was getting cold and the six hour bike ride I did the day before had used up my energy. I hit the turnaround. Too bad-my patch of warm water was gone. My arms didn't seem to have a lot of strength, so I just tried to keep them relaxed. At least most of the people had finished so it was less crowded. I was concerned about slowing down, but I did the lap in about the same time as the first two. It just felt a lot worse. I thought that I really hated swimming this long. It wasn't a good attitude, but I really didn't want to be doing this anymore. I HATE swimming.

By the fourth lap I was really really tired. It's a little disconcerting to be that tired in a body of water. I knew I could finish, but my alertness was waning. I seemed to be out there alone and the water was smooth. Coming around the turnaround, there was one person ahead of me. Maybe I could draft off of this person. No, she was going too slow even for my infinitesimal speed. I actually passed one person.

Finally I got near the end. I couldn't figure out where the hell to go. My brain was shutting down. I swam to the guys waving and I had a hard time trying to make my legs work. Somewhere before the swim exit, I was rewarded algae mustache. Luckily, no fiends with cameras were lurking nearby to capture this special moment.

I was disoriented for a few moments when I got out. A touch of hypothermia-I had a hard time getting my body to listen to my brain. I tried to walk and staggered. I tried to talk and mumbled. Fun stuff. Final time was 2:02, which was about the same time that I did in the warmer, less tiring Lake Pleasant swim.

The swim served it's purpose as a training swim for Ironman Arizona. I should be happy that I swam the same time that I did in the previous month, even being tired. Still, it's frustrating when everyone else swims faster. I would love to swim the distance in even an hour and a half. Two hours is just too long to be in the water period. It's part of racing an Ironman, but it still sucks.

I always have the fantasy that onetime I will have a dream swim where I will exceed all my expectations. Most of the time they end in disappointment. I am past the stage where I just swim to get through the swim, but I never seem to swim fast no matter how hard I try. I long to be like the other swimmers that fly by me and who probably never had a swim lasting two hours. Slow swimmers know about endurance and going long. We just don't get much credit for it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Destination

This week marks my last long training workouts. My last long run of almost three hours was Tuesday. I felt good for about 1 1/2 hours before I started feeling crappy. Today was my last long six hour bike ride. I felt decent for almost four hours before I started struggling. I still kept my speed up until near the end. Tomorrow is my last long swim of 4000 meters. I have evaded the deep feeling of exhaustion that I have gotten in previous weeks, but I know it is out there.

All these difficult workouts makes me wonder what the real thing is going to be like when they are all put together. If my long runs are miserable, what are they going to feel like after 112 miles of bike riding? What is a 112 mile bike ride going to feel like riding hard like I have been doing for it for 90 miles? I can only hope that the race atmosphere, the adrenalin of actually racing and the preparation I have been doing for the last two years with carry me through. Occasionally, I get a feeling of energy that seems to come out of nowhere and I feel powerful and fast. I also hit low spots where I feel my body aches and the energy seeps out of my muscles and I can barely keep going.

At this point the training is about done and time has run out to do much more. The mental demons have to be dealt with but I am ready otherwise.

Whatever happens at the race, the process of training has been amazing. The old cliche is that it's not about the destination, but the journey. It sounds trite, but it's true. In preparing for this race I have gotten P.R.s in 5k and 10k races, P.R.ed in olympic distance triathlons, qualified and raced in a world championship, gotten through some difficult races and in general have increased my run, bike and swim speed.

For a otherwise untalented athlete, it's empowering to do things that you never thought you could do. You learn to tolerate the pain of testing your limits in a race and learn to love it. You learn to endure the boredom of training when you don't want to. You resist the urge to quit when you are tired and hurting. You resist the depression that hits when everyone else has finished a race and you're still out there alone with an hour to go.

Journey aside, I still want the destination, which is the finish line. I want to test myself and find out that I was stubborn enough to tough it out through the pain until the end. I want the bright lights and cheering. Nobody cares about how slow or fast you did the race because every finisher is a winner. I want a reward for all the exhaustion, pain, exhilaration and boredom of ironman training. I have waited a long time for it and the time is now.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Amica Sprint Tri Race Report


The first challenge of the day was trying to find my way through the freeway construction at five in the morning. I had my coffee, but my brain couldn't handle the complexities of figuring out alternate routes. Those construction signs fly by so fast. The ramp I wanted to take (west bound?) or did the sign say eastbound? was closed. I finally got on the freeway to get to the other freeway and the ramp to the other freeway was closed. This is too much at this ungodly hour of the morning. I hate driving to races when it's dark out and I'm half asleep.
I wasn't really nervous since I have raced here before and the race was relatively short. The charity newbies were however. I don't know why a charity would pick this place for a new triathete. The terrain at Lake Pleasant is very hilly and difficult for me, let alone a beginner. Just because the race distances are relatively short, it doesn't mean that they aren't difficult.
Amica was sponsoring this race, so of course the announcer plugged them as much as possible. My impression is that they really weren't familiar with the area. The host hotel was in Carefree, which is a long haul for any locals. They had bus service from the hotel, which I doubt had many riders. They had the expo up in Carefree, but an optional packet pickup in Scottsdale. I don't know why they think I would go all the way up to Carefree if I could go to Scottsdale. If I was an out of towner, I probably would have stayed at a cheaper place in Peoria, which is much closer. All in all, however, the race seemed fairly well organized.
The racers were a mixture of the charity newbies and some very competitive types. Although I only saw him running out of the water from the swim, Jarrod Shoemaker was there, a former Olympic triathlete. He came in fourth.
The swim seemed relatively short to me-750 meters. The water was a little chilly but not too bad. The first leg had us swimming directly into the sun, so it was difficult to see the first turn buoy. I tried to sight off of the mountains, but they all looked alike. I tried to push the pace, but I didn't really get going until halfway through the swim. This is the only sprint tri I am doing this year and it is hard to get up to speed in a short time. Total time was 24 minutes which is about average for me and slow for everyone else. Upon exiting the swim, you have to run up a steep ramp to get to transition. After being horizontal for 24 minutes, trying to run up this ramp about gave me a heart attack. I ran up most of it before I gave up and walked.
I fumbled through transition. With a wetsuit, I usually struggle to get it off. When the water is cold, I usually cannot seem to hurry enough to get my bike stuff together. Putting socks on wet feet is not easy.
I have not ridden this course in a race in a while and I forgot how mean the hills are. Big hills. They required a high effort just to get a piddlely 14-15 mph. They make you work for your low speed. At least I had newbies to pick off to pass by. I think I rode faster just for the fun of passing them. It didn't matter if they were riding mountain bikes and wearing sneakers. They had to be passed. This is where all the painful hill repeats and intervals that I have done all year have paid off. Suddenly you are channeling power through your legs that you didn't know you had. The feeling is exhilerating.
Getting into transition, I got confused and forgot where I was supposed to rack my bike. I think all the hills fried my brain. I was thinking about what I was doing at the moment and not anticipating what I had to do. The blood finally got to my brain and I got my run stuff on. I didn't lose that much time but I was aggravated with myself.
The run was as brutal as the bike. Coming out of transition, you had to run up a steep hill. I couldn't get any speed in my legs. The first mile was done in about 10:40. The second mile was worse-10:50. Everyone of course was on the way back. Not many people I could pass even if I had the energy. The turn around came at the bottom of a hill. I thought as I was running down it I have to run back up this thing. Damn! I ran up it( I wasn't going to walk for anything) and finally the downhill came. At last! Now I finally speeded up. Downhill is good. Downhill is fun. Run time was 31:16. I wanted to try and get below a ten mile per minute pace, but the hills demanded their price and I couldn't pay.
Total time with the botched transitions was 2:11. This race wasn't a priority race for me, just a warmup for the Ironman Arizona. I felt decent on the terrain and it was a fun challenge. On to Ironman!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Comments on Chuckie V's Post

I liked the recent post of Chuckie V's blog( because I have found out the hard way that his comments on ironman training are true.

  • "Train for your worst possible day, the one you hope to have". My first ironman attempt was the worst possible day. I wasn't prepared for a twenty five m.p.h. head wind nor ninety plus degree heat. Usually I can do much better in racing than training, but ironman is an exception. My long bike sessions weren't fast enough in training to beat the bike cut-offs and my bike speed was worse in the race. You can't fake quality of training in an ironman race.
  • "Train to overcome self-doubt and to slay your inner demons." It takes a lot of faith to attempt an ironman-faith in yourself and confidence that events will work out. When you get to dark spots in your training or the race itself, the self-doubt creeps in and it tells you that you should quit, that the pain is too much or that you are not talented or trained enough to get through the race. If you mentally train yourself to resist the voice of self-doubt and weakness that you know will come in a race, you are better equiped to deal with it. You do what you mind tells you to.
  • "Train for adversity, as adversity is omnipresent on Ironman day". Things go wrong on race day that you can't predict. Your tire goes flat, you get sick to your stomach. You get a 20 m.p.h. headwind on the bike. You get dehydrated and overheated. If you keep your cool have the will and stubborness to go on, you will.
  • "Train to want to be done". Train to want to be done at the finish line, not in the middle of the bike or during the run. Resist the urge to quit.
  • "Train to suffer". In shorter races you know that the pain won't last too long, even if you are slow. An ironman race has or seems to have vast amounts of time that you linger in pain especially if you are thinking about how long the race is instead of what you need to do at the moment. You have to tell yourself that the pain is temporary and deliberately focus on the moment.
  • "Train for lock-up, as excessive eccentric loading is the name of the Ironman game". When your muscles seize up after racing for twelve hours, you have to know how to deal with it.
  • "Train to gut it out". Ironman isn't for pussies. Your mind has to be in it for the long haul. You have to really want it.
  • "Train the gut". You have to eat in training the way you will eat in the race or else you will get some unpleasant surprises. Even so a nutrition plan may fail anyway. You have a 30% chance of your nutrition going wrong. Not practicing nutrition will make that percentage higher.
  • "Train to resist fatigue". Fatigue is a given. Proper training can help, but if you don't have the mental grit to resist it, you quit.
  • "Train for pain". Pain is your friend. It teaches you to be strong. Pain is inevitable in a race. You get cold in the swim; your butt, legs and back hurt in the bike; your feet and legs hurt in the run; you get tired, thirsty and hungry.

I have become well acquainted with pain. In my two year journey to actually finish an ironman, the swim and the bike have been my obstacles. The swim is an obstacle because I am too slow and it doesn't leave enough cushion for my slow bike. The bike is a obstacle because it isn't fast enough to make up for the slow swim to beat the cut-offs. My coach's strategy to remedy this is training hard on the long bike sessions instead of staying in an aerobic zone most of the time, like most people. This strategy has resulted in me having some truly miserable bike training. Riding hard and "fast" is not my normal state on a bike. I have really fight to ride like this. My muscles do not like riding hard. They like moseying along. Hence pain has been my unwelcome companion. It appears on a god-forsaken barren ugly stretch of the Bee Line highway, which is the bike race route. It appears when I am fighting to maintain speed against a headwind. It appears in the fourth hour of a six hour bike ride. My legs scream to stop and my feet hurt and I can't find a bearable way to sit on the bike seat.

Yet I know this pain will be useful. The race may or may not as bad as the training. I remember the last race, where I fell behind on the bike time-wise and I knew that I wouldn't finish the race after the first of three laps. I remember the frustration of not having the power to maintain the speed that I needed to against the wind and the heat. If I train through the pain, at least I have a fighting chance against the elements and the time limits. I remember that frustration when pain comes to visit me. It gives me power or at least what I hope is power. Pain is temporary. Finishing is forever.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lake Pleasant Open Water Swim

Yesterday I did my first 4000 meter swim of the year. I haven't done any swim approaching this length in open water or the pool for eighteen months. There's a reason for that. I am slow. It takes me about two hours to do a swim of this length. It is tedious in a pool. Unless I am training for a ironman I have no motivation to swim this long. In open water unless you are trained for it, swimming this long can be an ordeal, because there is no faking an effort of this magnitude. Shorter swims you can get away with being undertrained, but if you are not comfortable in open water or if you lack good swim technique, getting tired in a long swim the middle of a body of water can be terrifying.

Last year I did a 2.4 mile swim, which is 200 yards shorter than 4000 meter, before Ironman Arizona and I hated every minute of it. I got tired, cold and it was pychologically totally uncomfortable for me. It was beneficial, however, because when it came time to do the ironman swim I was much more confident I could do it.

The swim this year, I was nervous, but once I started I felt in control. I kept up a steady effort and I didn't get the desperate tiredness that I did in the swims last year. The first two 1000 meter loops I did in about 30:30". At this point the swim was still enjoyable. The water was smooth and clearer than what I usually swim in. I could not only see my hands, but swimmers passing by me as well.

In the third loop, the wind was picking up. I saw a pack of swimmers bypassing the turn buoy. I thought to myself I guess I will be a dork and actually not cheat. The lake was getting choppy and I thought it was because of all of the cheating swimmers passing me, but it was like that in the fourth loop when everyone had finished and I was swimming mostly by myself. By this time, the swimming was just becoming a lot of work. I finished this loop in 33". I tried not to think about being the only swimmer out there when everyone else was finishing.

The fourth loop there were swells and chop. Who would have thought there would be swells in a lake cove? I was really tired of swimming by now, so I picked up my pace so I could get the swim over with. There were a few shadows darting by me, but not many. Finally I could see the end. You were supposed to swim up a small lane, but by now my brain was befuddled and I just went over the rope. It took me a minute to try to stand up because the bottom was rocky and my legs wouldn't work. This loop took 27". Total time 2:02". This is an improvement on my ironman swim time, because subtracting the time for the extra 200 yards, it would be a sub-two hour swim.

I thought I was last, but amazingly there were two people behind me. I get frustrated with swimming in general because I put a lot of time into improving technique, endurance and speed and I'm still slow. More efficiently slow, but still slow. People are by nature competitve and when you are always on the bottom you take it personally. I guess if I wasn't slow I wouldn't have as much motivation to improve. I have to be happy with cutting minutes off my time and no longer having the heebee jeebeeies everytime I am swimming in open water.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Birds Rule

I have always loved birds ever since childhood. My neighbors had a birdfeeder and a birdbath(heated in winter), that our family could see outside our kitchen window. We saw cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, robins, nuthatches, tufted titmouse and plenty of squirrels.

When I got married and got a house, our backyard had an amazing variety of birds visit. The midwest is a major flyway for birds migrating north and south. I first got into birding when I happened to look at some birds in my trees and I was amazed to see that they were bright yellow warblers. I have been hooked ever since. I saw all kinds of strange birds in that yard. Onetime I had a Woodcock visit for a few days. This is a really peculiar looking bird with a long beak.

Arizona has its own version of unique birds-roadrunners, hummingbirds, quail, burrowing owls, peach-faced lovebirds and one of the largest wrens in the world-the cactus wren. One of my favorites is the vermillion flycatcher, which a small brilliant red bird. My yard always has resident mockingbirds, Gila woodpeckers, Abert's towees, Anna's hummingbirds, cactus wrens, doves, thrashers, verdins, quail, occasional Lesser goldfinches, kestrels, and white-crowned sparrows, so I have learned to recognize birds by sight and/or sound.

I love the challenge of seeing a new bird and trying to figure out what it is. They never look like the picture in the bird guides. It makes my day to discover a bird I haven't ever seen. If you go out with hardcore birders they will stare at a bird for twenty minutes trying to figure out what it is. The more drab the bird, the harder it is to identify. Some types of birds are nearly identical, so the only way to distinguish it is figuring out its behavior, range, tail shape or some obsure marking on its body.

Most people probably do not share my fascination with birds, but I think they are missing a lot by not noticing what is around them. They are part of being in the moment. When I am doing something boring like driving, watching hawks soaring in the sky takes me out of the mundane world. When I am riding my bike or running, they amuse me with their behavior or their vocalizations. They add immensely to the richness of the world. If you are somewhere with many birds, the singing makes the place feel more alive. They chirp, twitter, croak, buzz and warble. Some are ugly and obnoxious, others breath-takingly beautiful. They hop, run, creep and soar. Watching and listening to them brings me joy. I don't know why more people don't notice birds. Birds rule.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dark Places

There sometimes comes a moment in long endurance training where you feel like utter crap. Your body is telling you to quit, but you know you have to keep going. Usually it is deep in the session when you still have a long way to go and you are in pain and running out of energy.

I started out my 91 mile ride feeling good. I knew I had to ride hard for six hours, but I blocked that out of my mind. My plan was to ride the ironman route all the way up then do shorter loops so that I went up the hill three times. Again it was windy like last week, but the wind was more out of the east and a little lighter, so it wasn't as bad. It got worse as the day went on and I was still fighting it riding downhill.

By the time I hit mile 60, my feet hurt, my rear end hurt, my neck was still and my thighs were burning. I would stare down at the road in a trace trying not to think about how boring the road was, how tired I was or how many miles I had to go. My goal was to keep up a certain pace, but I was fighting to maintain it. By the time I was ascending the hill a third time, my mind was going to dark places. I told myself it's like a race-the good feelings and the bad feelings don't last long.

I recently was reading a book by Eckhart Tolle entitled "The Power of Now". He says that the "pain being" tries to assert itself over your spiritual side, which means that unhappy thoughts in your mind try to keep you from feeling at peace. Instead of living in the moment you are thinking negative thoughts. This "pain being" took over my mind because I was so physically uncomfortable. I felt like I had to resist it because it was going to visit again sometime in the race and I had to be ready for it.

As a defense, I finally told myself about mile 74 that I was going to fight the urge to slow down. I made a game of trying to maintain my average speed for every mile until I reached my goal. It distracted me somewhat and the fact that I was nearly home helped. I made my speed goal for the whole 91 miles.

I think getting through an ironman race is about pain tolerance through mental fortitude. The mental fortitude you get from yourself and from the people that support you. The mental fortitude you get from getting through a tough training session. The mental fortitude to keep going when you body is screaming for you to stop. Mind over matter so that you can defeat your demons.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Paying the Ironman Dues

There comes a time when the ironman training starts getting really tough, when you confidence falters and when you just wish the training was over with and you had your life back.

This week I started I started with heavy volume again after tapering off for my Duathlon race. All I want to do besides train is eat and nap. The rest of life I am just going through the motions. Work barely gets done, the house is a mess and the yard has had a hard summer.

It's the price you pay for doing an extreme endeavor. At this point in training six hour bike rides, three hour runs, 4000 yard swims are the norm. It's only about four to six weeks of the whole training cycle, but it leaves you energy for little else. You get really cranky because you are so tired. If you are lucky, you don't get sick or injured.

Sunday I rode the Bee Line race route for five and a half hours and it was miserable. I hadn't done a long bike in a month and my legs hurt. My bike rides have been going fairly well, but this day the wind was howling from the south west, the same direction that the highway goes as it goes south. Riding uphill was deceptively easy. Going downhill, I found out why. The wind was blowing straight up the highway and it was more effort riding down than up. Usually you can fly going downhill. Riding southwest and west was a real effort. I told myself that at least I am getting the training even though I am going slower than hell. It's the kind of riding experience where you curse the wind and you just want it to be over with. I was really tired and I hurt.

Tuesday I did a two and a half hour run on the IMAZ run course. I also had not run long in a month and it was surprisingly tiring. Each lap of the run goes over three bridges(one twice) and there is also a significant hill to run up. It was a lot of cement to hurt my feet and some areas are utterly monotonous. I can see that this run would be challenging, even without a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike before it.

Even this misery has an end. I only have three more six hour bike rides and two more two plus hours of running along with the shorter workouts. I have maybe four 4000 yard swim workouts. Then it's a taper and hope that I did enough. Forty-five days and counting.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Duathlon Worlds Race Report

This race was my first foray into "elite" racing and it turned out to be quite a different experience from the local races I have done before. My athletic ability is not "elite", but I got lucky and managed to qualify for this race. I have never raced a duathlon of this length, nor have I raced anywhere but Arizona and California. The race was held at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., which had a huge area of land around it. This part of Concord is dominated by the Speedway, a huge mall and lots of chain restaurants. Southerners are a friendly breed. I
found that to be refreshing and helpful.

The race day started out drizzly. I didn't race until 3:35 and transition didn't open until 2:00, so I walked around the mall with my relatives. I went back to the hotel, stressed over my equipment and squeezed into my uniform. The pros were finishing up their bike section while the age groupers watched. We watched them through the fence.
The start line is on the racetrack. My wave (45+)was the third wave after paratriathlon and men 50+. When our wave started, I tried to keep up with the rest of the crowd, but I soon fell behind. My strategy for this race was not to use up all my energy on the first 10k, so I could do a decent job on the last 5k. My heart rate was supposed to be in the 160's, but it ended up mostly in the 170's.
The diagram below shows the complicated route. What it doesn't show is that the ramp to the outside of the track goes sharply down, then sharply up, the turn around to the top of the map goes downhill, then uphill, that the bridge going over the highway is steep going up and down.

This run was really crowded. The young guys
were in the last wave, so they could mow all us older people down. They would pass me with as little room as they could spare. I was mesmerized by some of the running style. One guy had almost no vertical motion whatsoever. It looked like his feet barely touched the ground.
I got done in 57:43. Not great, but O.K. Getting into transition, I found out that I wasn't supposed to check in my shoes and helmet. A stupid mistake. It isn't a race without something going wrong. When I got onto the bike course, it was crazy with people and the roads were wet. Riding fast on a technical course with lots of turns in the
rain is a new experience for me. I don't get to do it much in the desert. Again the map is deceptive in depicting the course. The ramps to the outside of the speedway are steep going up and down. As you approach the area near the tunnel under the highway there is a sharp turn. As you go under the highway, there is a 10-12 percent grade hill-just enough to really hurt. There is also a steep hill as you approach the dirt track. The section around the dirt track is mostly flat, but with a lot of turns. It was weird to go through the rain-soaked parking lot with no one there. The most treacherous part was coming back under the highway. You went down the 12 percent hill with a curve on the bottom going through the narrow tunnel. This scared me. You end up circling the track. The track surprisingly is not flat. You climb, then go downhill. The track has 45 degree embankments. I can't imagine racing a car and driving that embankment. I have to admire the skill of these race car drivers.

By the time I got to the second lap
of the bike, the rain was coming down steadily. My bike computer wasn't working at all, so I just went by my heart rate. I was cautious on the first lap because I was trying to avoid crashing and trying to stay out of the way of the riders going 25mph. Again they would pass with little room to spare. I was beginning to wish I was in a women's only race. The second lap it thinned out. By this time, it was the over 60 crowd and me. I had room to take the corners faster. I passed a 60 year old and then she passed me. These older racers are tough! I kind of found it annoying. Being by myself, I got the feeling I get sometimes when I am racing by myself-that I am lost and not going the right way. I figured most people would get done in two hours and I would be my myself. The curse of being slow. Finishing up inside the speedway, it was starting to get dark and the lights were on. The rain was driving into my eyes. I got done in 1:29:14.
The last 5k, the rain was coming down hard. My shoes were soaked and you couldn't avoid the rivers of water. My pace fell off and I was down to running ten minute miles with the older racers. I didn't really feel any pain in my legs, but I had no power. I had a hard time running up the ramps and bridges and at one point had to walk for a few seconds. When I was running over a bridge, I saw the paratriathlete wheeling her chair backwards over the bridge. I didn't feel so bad. I can't imagine what courage it would take to race a wheelchair in the rain. Finally I got inside the speedway to run to the finish line. Usually I don't smile when I finish a race, but I was so happy to see the finish, that I couldn't resist. I finished the run in 32:22. I felt a sense of accomplishment just finishing this race.
I usually learn something every race I do. This race I learned that you do the best with what you've got. If you are not an elite athlete, you race as hard as you can and hope for the best. I learned that local races are sometimes limited in complexity and competition. Local races are more fun in that people are more relaxed, but sometimes the course doesn't challenge you mentally and physically as in other places. This race I always had to be alert to what was coming instead of zoning out. It would have been nice to have more crowd support, but it was pouring rain. I also learned I could race my bike in the rain(though not as fast) and survive. I learned that a task that seems overwhelmingly difficult can be accomplished one small step at a time. Confidence is always a good thing. And so are bragging rights in doing a World Championship.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Duathlon Heebie Jeebees

I am getting stressed about the Duathlon I am doing in North Carolina on the 26th. The WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP Duathlon. I guess being in a World Championship would imply that you are some kind of elite age group athlete. I did a qualifying race, but there were only eight in my age group and I placed fifth. Placement rolls down to six places. Two people declined to go, so I am going. I didn't run or bike all that fast and yet I am going to this Championship.

Planning the trip was a major exercise in logistics. Do I take the bike on the plane, do I ship it, do I try to re-assemble it myself when I get there, etc. Even the plane trip was a lot of planning because I couldn't get a decent fare unless I connect in Atlanta. Connecting trips from Phoenix range from six hours to almost nine. The race headquarters hotel was like $200 a night with a non-refundable deposit. The governing board for triathlon USAT, didn't seem to think that cost was an issue for the athletes. They are sponsoring a pasta dinner for $30 each. The uniforms were around $200. I either had to bring my bike on the plane for $175 one way or ship it for about the same price.

Despite all this hassle and cost, I think it will be ultimately worth it. I am not the sort to compete at higher levels and I lucked into this one. I was worried about being last, but not everyone there is going to be in perfect form. People have had injuries and other circumstances that happened to them that will challenge them when they try to race. I haven't been able to pull off a "dream" race in a while where I wildly exceed my expectations. All I can do is try as hard as I can even if it isn't up to other people's levels. It's the experience of racing at that level that I am after. Probably being around people that are excellent athletes and being in championship will motivate me to do better. Plus it's probably going to be like a big party like a lot of races. Some people are serious, but some people are just there to have a good time.

I hate the days just before a race. I get tense and irritable. There are a million things that go through your mind-what if I get lost on the course(a distinct possiblity on this course), what if I have a flat tire, what if my bike gets lost in shipment, what if I miss my connecting flight, what if I get lost on the way from the airport, what if I get sick. A lot of things you can't control and you just have to deal with them as they come. You have to have faith that things will be O.K. You especially have to have faith in yourself.

I WILL do this. I WILL have fun. I WILL KICK BUTT.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Green Run 10k race report

With my duathlon two weeks away, I decided a 10k race would be a good way to prepare. I have to start out the duathlon with a 10k so it seemed like a good idea. The race is put on by the Arizona Road Racers in the Reach 11 Horse Lovers Park. It definitely smelled like horses. The 10k is a two loop run on a mostly flat dirt trail in the desert. It's rather low key with a mixture of a few hard core types and mostly recreational runners.

My reach goal was to beat my 10k personal record, 55:31. That quickly fell by the wayside when I ran the first mile in 9:15". Maybe the next mile will be better? Nope-9:15 also. I told myself maybe for the first loop, I could beat the last 5k time I had on this course. No-29:08 on the race clock as I ran by. At least I passed the guy running with the stroller. It was getting hot by this time. It was 84 degrees at dawn. I don't know what it was now. I tried to keep my cadence up since I wasn't getting much power out of my legs. I felt stronger than my last 5k, but my heart rate kept going up steadily and I wasn't running much faster than 9:15"/mile. I didn't have the stabbing pain in my ribs that I usually have when I am running fast, but I was pretty uncomfortable. By the fifth mile my heart rate was in the 170's and I usually train in the 150's for hard runs. Then my intestines started to rebel. I don't think my body likes to run this hard in the heat. I started getting bad cramps. I had to slow way down and blew most of the gains I had in the second lap. I was toasted by the time I hit the finish line and had no energy for a final push.

Final time: 58:47 with 53/108 female. My conclusion is that you are not going to be blazing fast on a dirt course in the heat, let alone P.R. I think when you are running on soft dirt, you lose some of the power of the foot pushing off, so you exert more energy trying to make up for it. That's my excuse anyway. Heat and dirt. I pushed it to the limit, but the speed wasn't there. The fun in racing, though, is trying. Once in a great while you do something extraordinary that you thought you could never do. You try to beat yourself and sometimes you do. Most of the time you don't, but I would rather take a so-so day of racing over staying home.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Switching training modes

I am temporarily switching from ironman training with lots of volume but less intensity(uncomfortable for a long time), to shorter and more intense workouts(shorter and more agonizing) to get ready for the World Duathlon Championships in two weeks. Gulp! It's a weird switch to do in the middle of ironman training and a little disturbing because I am losing time for building volume. But I can't very well pass up a chance to be in a WORLD Championship.

I am not ordinarily big on duathlons. I suck at swimming, but it is easier than running. But chances are that if a qualifier involved swimming I would never qualify. I like mountain bike duathlons but they are hard to come by. I raced in the World qualifier as a training race because it was local. I placed sixth in my age group, but three people dropped out and there I was. It sounds cool at any rate and you get to wear a uniform with your name on your butt like the pros do.

It's a 10k run, 40k bike and a 5k run on a race track in Concord, N.C. It's like a reverse olympic triathlon but instead of swimming, you are running a 5k. A true painfest. When I raced the qualifier in February, the switch from the 3.1 first mile run to the bike felt like someone had wacked my legs with a stick. When I got done with the race I felt incoherent from the exertion. Duathlon are HARD!

At least it gives me a break from ironman training. Instead of riding a bike six hours on the Bee Line Highway, I will be running and riding my ass off in North Carolina. I don't expect to win anything, but it sounds like a fun thing to experience. Maybe I will see some cute guy in tight spandex flying by me. Maybe it will be something great to remember when I am back to spending numerous hours biking and when my feet are tired from three hours of running.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mind Garbage

We all have useless, sometimes destructive thoughts and emotions swirling around in our heads. Quite often we don't think about what we are thinking about. I have been reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Some of his theory comes from Eastern philosophy, which I don't quite understand, but he posits that the mind and the involuntary thoughts in your mind keep you from being fully conscious in the present and from being at peace with yourself. You "derive your sense of self from the content and activity of your mind," which can cause you pain.

If what I have read in books is true, then the state where there is a gap in the mental stream is not easy to achieve. In Eastern religions they spend many hours meditating to achieve this state. The state can also occur naturally when you are totally absorbed in what you are doing so that time and thought slip away. It's like the flow state you achieve when you are creating art or music or in athletics when your exertions become effortless and enjoyable.

A way to break out the the emotions and thought patterns that cause you pain to become aware of what your mind is doing. If you keep thinking the same thought or emotion over and over, you step back and ask yourself why you are thinking or feeling it. If you break the thought pattern and realize that you are not your thoughts, then the emotion or thought has no power over you.

I don't know how easy or practical these theories are, but I do know that if you think about what you are doing instead of reacting automatically, it can be beneficial. I do know that it helps to get your swirling thoughts out of your head either by writing or talking to people to get a more realistic perspective on them. When you are under extreme stress, like going through a divorce, you go crazy with worry, anger and all kinds of negative emotions like low self-esteem. You react with irrational anger, which can back-fire on you. If you examine your negative thought patterns and try to understand why you are thinking that way, you can break through the toxic mind garbage and begin to think and act more positively. It takes a long time and you still have to feel the emotions to move beyond them.

Before I went through my divorce, I never thought about the crap I was telling myself in my mind, that I wasn't good enough or rich enough or talented. Dealing with the crap has become a matter of survival. I have to function on my own and find a way to feel relatively peaceful, and deal with the anxiety, depression and loneliness, otherwise I would lose my mind. I have no use for the old garbage and it has to go.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Boredom on the Bee Line

I am not a fan of the Ironman Arizona bike course. It's a three loop route out and back that goes past Arizona State University, the Tempe Marketplace, and some really butt ugly scenery on highway 87 that includes a shuttered golf course, a gas station, some industrial areas and a large dump and usually some type of roadkill. The top is semi scenic, but since you are climbing a hill, you are busy suffering and don't care.

One of the advantages and curses of living in the same area that you are racing is that you get to ride the bike course. Over and over and over again. It's there, so it has to be ridden. I don't know how many times I had ridden it. I have ridden it when there was no wind(once). I have ridden it when there were wild flowers on the roadside. I have ridden it when the wind was howling and the temperature was in the 90's during IMAZ in April last year. I have ridden it enough to have some really bad memories of fighting myself and the weather and the terrain and the race cut-off times. I have ridden it knowing that my goal of finishing an ironman was shattered even when I was riding as hard as I could.

Last Sunday I rode up the hill with the intention of seeing if I could maintain a goal pace. Supposedly, the theory is that riding an ironman bike leg, you need to maintain a moderate pace so you have enough energy for the 26.2 mile run. I guess it's a good theory, but it doesn't work for me because I ride too slow. My choices are either ride a moderate pace and miss the time cut-offs or ride harder, make the cut-offs and hope I have enough energy left for the run. I am using the latter option.

So when I rode up the hill, I rode a pace that was harder and faster than what I had ridden in the past and not a recommended ironman pace. I kept thinking that I was not going to let this hill beat me again. The dump smelled. There were a few hardy souls also battling the hill. It was hot and humid and there is no shade. I rode a decent pace, but my legs hurt, my butt hurt and I was wasted by the time I got done with the ride of 62 miles. I am not sure I can sustain this pace over a 112 mile bike ride.

When you are riding a long traing ride by yourself, your mind goes into a numb state so you don't go crazy with the monotony. During a race it's different. You have other people to distract you doing various things like passing you, getting in your way so you have to pass them, spitting peeing, and occasionally saying encouraging words to you. You have to do a juggling act to get food and drink from the aid stations. Time flies because you are busy getting through the race. By yourself you only have a desolate, ugly stretch of highway to look at with the occasional mountain in the background. During my longer training rides last year, I would ride up the hill two or three times. Time would drag because I faced rides up to eight hours. I just wanted the ride to be over with.

You always hope you are training hard enough, that what you are doing is the right pace and the right amount of mileage to do well or at least finish. You hope you have enough mental stamina to get through the dark places when you think that all is lost or that you can't go on. So you ride where you don't want to ride, in weather that you don't want to ride in, farther and faster than you want to go in hopes that it is enough. So I will ride this highway until I conquer it.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Getting Dumped

One year ago on this date, my husband dumped me. He walked into the house after being away most of the summer to announce that we no longer had anything in common and that he needed to live by himself for a while. What he didn't say is that he needed to live with his girlfriend of the last three years. At the time he didn't have the courage to say that and lied about there being someone else. He said it was him and not me.

He moved his stuff out while I was out of the house before he even told me he was leaving. I later found out that he was afraid of how I would react, even though I am not a vindictive or angry person.

I was totally blindsided. I thought that perhaps he was unhappy, but that he was going through a phase. I thought that he would never betray me and that the frequent trips and absences were a need to find other friends. He had seemed to lose interest in taking care of the house and the dead grass seemed like a reflection of our relationship. I had never been dumped before in my life and my husband was my first and only love. I felt like the ground underneath me was yanked away. What I thought was my safe and sheltered world was shattered. For a while I couldn't eat or sleep. I was in shock. He went from a person I loved and trusted into a cold and distant person.

I thought that the marriage might be salvageable since I didn't know that he had a girlfriend, but our one attempt at marriage counseling was a failure. He was flippant and said that he hadn't loved me for a long time and that I had never done anything for him. I was devastated.

When he moved out, I was stuck taking care of the house even though we both owned it and I felt like I was left on my own. I resented the fact that I was responsible for paying both mortgages and all the repairs. The pool turned green and I had to get someone to drain it and replace a pump and acid wash it. A storm knocked over three trees and I had to pay someone $900 to remove them. I had garden irrigation problems and had to pay large sums of money to have the system repaired.

He filed for divorce in October. I was able to convince him to do a collaborative divorce, which means that you pay large amounts of money to work with a team of lawyers, divorce coaches, child experts and financial experts to come up with a settlement so that you don't have to go to court. Luckily it worked out and we got legally divorced in June. However, it was still a difficult process for me. We met with our coaches and I got to ask what I wanted of my husband. That's when I found out about the girlfriend. I was stunned. It boggled my mind that he hadn't brought this up before, especially when we were trying to decide about arrangements for my daughter. I also later found out that he had used a large amount of our home equity loan and some of my inheritance to fund a condo in China with his girlfriend. I was stunned at my naivete. I should have been watching our finances much more closely. I was angry, then depressed.

To cope with all of this emotional upheaval, I turned to whomever and whatever I could. I went to a therapist and a support group. I told almost everyone that I interacted with what I was going through. I got medication for the depression that weighed me down so much that I was exhausted. I did activites that I had neglected, like getting out more, taking an art class, joining a tri club and writing a blog. I had already been participating in interests like astronomy, triathlons and art. I am grateful that I had some interests that gave me an emotional center. The emotional pain that I am still experiencing is motivating me to do things that I should have been doing all along. I think I would be still stuck in a rut if my husband hadn't dumped me.

I still have a long way to go. I still have to find a way to financially support myself. I still have friendships to develope. I still have to grow emotionally so that I would be ready for another relationship and not be dependent on another person for my happiness. I still have to develope confidence that I can function on my own.

However, I found out that there are people out there that can help me get though the process of healing. People who validate me as a worthwhile person. I found that I have the strength to muddle through life. I have a sense of optimism that maybe I can accomplish what I want accomplish and that the world is once again open to me if I keep moving forward. "If you're walking down the right path and you're willing to keep walking, eventually you'll make progress." (Barack Obama).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why Alzheimer's Sucks

The symptoms of Alzheimers in the early stages is insidious. You talk to the person on the phone and he or she repeats the same question three times. They get lost easily. They can't remember appointments. You don't want to believe there is anything wrong. You ask if they are O.K. and of course they say "yes". Their friends say that they are "losing it".

The first definite hint that something was wrong with my mother was when a banker called and said that my mother was withdrawing large amounts of cash, but not remembering why they needed it. I flew from Arizona to her home in Indiana to find out what was going on. When I knocked on the door, she answered it, but forgot that I had told her I was coming. The person looking back at me did not seem like my mother. There was a deadness about her personality and she had a blank look in her eyes. She was at times agitated and hostile. She couldn't unlock the door and didn't understand what the big emergency was.

I found out that she could no longer handle her financial affairs nor live alone. She had unpaid bills, unpaid property tax, a totally disorganized checking account register. Even her kitchen was disorganized. She made no effort to cook when she used to like to feed me. She was basically living on peanut butter. I don't know if she was taking her medication. I found out that she had locked herself out of the house several times. She claims to have seen a man in the house. At dinner, she would set places for people that were no longer alive.

Living out of state, I felt the only option was to take her back with me. There was no one here to take care of her and if there was, I wouldn't be able to easily check on her. She didn't want to leave her home, so I had to lie to get her to go with me. I found out later that this is a standard tactic with Alzheimer's patients. You do whatever it takes to get them to do what is in their best interests, even if it means lying. You can't reason with them because they have no capacity for judgment.

The caretaker role never suited me. I felt stressed because I didn't know from day to day what her behavior would be. I felt incompetent and uncomfortable. It seemed wrong somehow to go from respecting and obeying your mother to controlling her life. I admire people who can take care of a Alzheimers patient in their house. Most people don't have the training to care for them and they never get a break from the stress. I was a basket case having my mother in my house. She went for a walk one time in hot weather and got lost and the police found her three miles from my house.

I ended up placing her in an Alzheimer's facility. They arranged them in cottages with other patients at their same level of functioning. It was a nice place, but my mother would still complain about going home. She would threaten to get money from the bank to go home even though she didn't know what state she was in. I felt guilty about it for a long time until I realized that since she lacked mental capacity to take care of herself, she no longer had the choice as to where she could live.

The disease progressed slowly. She could still walk around and do activities, but eventually that stopped. After a while, she no longer recognized me. She didn't talk much or do anything and she wasn't much aware of the world around her. She lost the ability and interest to eat. In her last days, she stopped eating and drinking entirely. Luckily, she didn't linger long in that state.

When you have a loved one with Alzheimer's, you start mourning them early. Their spirit leaves early on and you are left with a shell of a person that used to be someone you loved. Memories are what makes life meaningful. Originally, my mother loved socializing, working and walking. She had a soft spot for animals and loved to watch birds. She had a strong attachment to the house she lived in for 40 years. Alzheimer's took all that away.

Nothing is fair in life, but Alznheimer's seems especially unfair. If I had to die a slow painful death, I would still want my mind intact. I hope they find a cure, because Alzheimer's sucks.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Swimming into the Sun, Riding into the Sun

Being the geek that I am, I looked the sunrise, sunset and moonrise, moonset times for Ironman Arizona on November 22, 2009.

Sunrise: 7:06 a.m.

Sunset: 5:22 p.m.

Moonrise: 11:46 a.m.

Moonset: 10:36 p.m.

Awesome Sunset

The late sunrise means that the pros will start in twilight and the age groupers before dawn. I will be swimming into the sun, which is nothing new, but kind of annoying since you can't see where you are going. If I swim into the south shore of Tempe Town Lake, I know that I am off course.

I have no hope of finishing before sunset or even moonset, but I hope to finish the bike portion before the sunset, otherwise I am toast and I won't be able to continue to the run.

Running in the dark will be strange, but I probably won't be alone, at least on the first lap of the run. I suspect it will be the darkest part of the race both figuratively and literally, but I think if I make it to run I will be happy anyway because it means I have a chance to finish.

When you are racing a ironman time both weighs on you and disappears. It disappears because you are so into the moment trying to keep going that you aren't aware of the passage of time. You are too busy thinking about swim mechanics, bike cadence, nutrition, how your body is doing that time flys by. At the same time, if you are slow, you are acutely aware of the time cut-offs. Since I am a slow swimmer AND a slow bike rider, my times are tight. I have to rush through transition after the swim and hope my bike fitness has improved enough that I can beat the cut-offs and go onto the run. The run is an unknown. It's where some people slow down if they have trashed themselves on the bike or shine is their pacing was right. The race can fall apart or come together for racers. Some people stagger through, some people actually run. I don't know how well I will run, but at least if I beat the bike cut-off, it will be one barrier down to finishing.

So hopefully, I will be riding into the sun before it disappears into the earth.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


It's a 102 days until Ironman Arizona. Already the doubts are creeping into my head-is my bike training enough to make the cut-off, am I going to run fast enough to make the finish line at midnight, do I have the stuff to tough it out though the hard parts? I have been trying to ride the longer rides(about 53-56 miles) at a harder pace. The heat keeps sucking the energy out of me, slowing me down.
On my last ride, I climbed up to Fountain Hills. The landmark fountain pictured above shoots water 560 feet into the air. It wasn't running when I rode by it, but I did see a herd of Javelina(also pictured above)-babies and adults crossing the street. I always thought the fountain was kind of silly in a desert and not particularly attractive. I thought the juxaposition of native wildlife and suburban sterileness ironic. No doubt the pigs liked the water superficially imposed in the desert. Developers insist on doing this in Arizona-putting midwestern-like housing developements with green golf courses in the middle of natural desert habitat. At least in Fountain Hills they didn't bull-doze the entire desert like some places in Phoenix.
Anyway, they don't call it Fountain Hills for nothing. To even get to it I have to climb a giant hill. Then you climb more hills to get into town. At least the town has nice parks with restrooms and water. By the time I was riding back I was wasted, my legs hurt and my butt was sore. And the total distance was only about half of that of an ironman bike ride and I didn't ride particularly fast. Hence the paranoia.
I guess part of the training involves faith. Faith in the process of training, faith in yourself that you can do it, and faith that everything will turn out alright. Faith that chases the demons in your head telling you that you can't do it. Faith that keeps you going when you are miserable, hurting and in a dark place. Faith that you will achieve what you always wanted to achieve.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Whining About Summer

Unlike the rest of the country, this is the worst time of the year in southern Arizona. The sun barely peaks over the horizon, and the heat is slamming you into the ground. It's regularly been at 90 degrees or above at dawn for the past couple of days. The water in pools is like bath water, so swimming saps the energy out of you. Riding a bike is tolerable for two hours after dawn until the road starts wafting waves of heat and the sun burns your skin with it's heat. Running, you start out with no energy and you heart rate goes up as you get slower and slower. As a way of distracting myself, I have decided to rate my workouts on a misery index from one to ten. One being the workout is "easy and pleasant" and ten being "get me an ambulance".

1. Thursday run-four seven minutes intervals at level four or freaking hard. I would give it an eight or "I really don't want to be doing this". The temperature was 90+ degrees, I had no energy and when I finally got into the supposed heart rate zone it really hurt.

2. Sunday four hour bike ride at a moderate hard pace. Also an eight. My route went uphill and then went really uphill. I kept up a good pace until near the point of turn around when I started to get light-headed and weak. This is not a good thing when you are 28 miles from home and it's getting really hot. Luckily the route back was mostly downhill. Any uphill by this time was making me really cranky. I was mostly in survival mode and to hell with speed. I picked up the pace when I got close to home because I wanted to get the hell out the heat.

3. Monday 90 minute bike ride with hard intervals and swim-seven or "this sucks". I had to give up on the swim because I was still wasted from the bike ride Sunday.

4. Two hour "run". This was an eight. I had to stop at every water fountain I could find. And every restroom. It was one of those days. My guts were cramping and sweat was pouring down my legs and I got slower and slower. I like running north-south because there are more shadows, at least in the early morning. Unfortunately, I have to go uphill coming back. I think the vultures were eyeing me.

Sooner or later the high pressure system that parks over the southwest for weeks on end is going to move on. It will cool down eventually to 100. In October. Ironman training is supposed to hard and to test your resolve. I just hope I don't melt first.