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.