Friday, December 24, 2010

Does Pain Change Your Brain?

Chronic stress can effect your brain. It affects the amygdala, which regulates fear and emotion. The cells actually grow larger. The opposite effect is in the hippocampus, which where the cells shrink. The hippocampus helps you remember where you were and what you were doing when something important happened. So with larger cells in the amygdala and smaller cells in the hippocampus, The result may be a generalized anxiety because you don’t have the hippocampus to help you connect it to where you were and what you were doing to make the fear specific. 1

But is pain is a catalyst for change? The human brain is adaptable. When a person is traumatized by an event in their life such as divorce, disease or death, it may move them to make a change in their life. In the face of overwhelming, paralyzing grief, the mind seeks to make something positive out of it in order to relieve the pain. Maybe it’s trying to correct the mismatch of brain cells.

I have found that I had to change the way I viewed the world in order to survive divorce. I was married for 32 years and I was complacent emotionally and financially. I assumed that my husband would be around forever and that he would never cheat or lie. I ignored the frequent trips, the credit card bills that mysteriously grew, and the growing distance between us. I wasn’t happy in my career, but I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t work on my friendships because I had a built in friend, or I thought I did. I had my own interests, but they never seemed to intersect with my husband’s interests.

When my husband dumped me, it was like the earth I was standing on crumbled. The brain cells were really mismatched. I was free-falling with no ground underneath me. I couldn’t eat, sleep or otherwise function. I gradually learned to function on my own, but I had to learn to think differently. Insidiously, through the years of marriage, I equated my spouse’s opinion that I was worthless into my opinion of myself. I couldn’t function thinking that I was worthless, so I had to discard that old notion and form a new opinion of myself.

In order to form a new opinion of myself, I had to do new things, talk or listen to new people and think different thoughts. It’s a long, fumbling process. I would get sucked into the blackness of despair and I would have to pull myself out again. I would feel great one moment, then a negative thought would creep into my mind and I would feel the heavy weight of depression that I would have to fight off again. I guess the brain cells don’t balance out very quickly.

Then there’s the ever present fear. Fear that I couldn’t make on my own, fear that I would will never be happy again, fear that my ex would give me grief, fear that I would never have another deep relationship. The fear can grind you down and make the simplest tasks seem like a big effort. I now have to do everything myself and I don’t always do it well. After a while I began to accept the fact that I just had to do the best I could, even if I sucked at it. I still have to fight my safe keeping side, that doesn’t want me to take any risks or try anything new.

In order to get through all the fear, depression and despair, I learned not to get through it alone. I took support from whomever and whatever I could, whether it was other people, a higher power or books. I now accept that some people lie and cheat and I try to avoid them. I had to toss the thoughts of my inadequacy out of my mind when they come sneaking in. When I thought about how my ex would have thought contemptuously about me, I told him to get out of my head. I have gradually made some peace with my life, even though I am not entirely happy with it. I try seek out opportunity to expand my world physically, mentally and spiritually because I am tired of having a narrow, closed life..
Through the process, my entire perspective has changed. The jolt out of complacency has changed my thought processes somehow. Ever a pessimist, I had to turn into an optimist to a certain extent, so that I wouldn’t lose my mind. Hope keeps you going, despair does not. Pain forced me to be a different person. I don’t know if my brain has different neural pathways now, but my thoughts had better behave themselves, or I will beat them into submission.
. 1. Stress Changes Your Brain, Karen Lurie,

Monday, December 13, 2010

Why I Hate Christmas

I have a bad attitude about Christmas. I hate to shop for presents, I don't feel especially cheery and I decorate only with reluctance. It seems like an intolerable burden. Jingle Bells sounds like a fingernail on a chalk board. I want to run from the room when I hear it. I am not religious, so the spiritual aspect seems to be drowned in commericialism. Endless ads for jewelry and clothes and cars. Who the hell buys a car for Christmas?

It wasn't always this way for me. When I was a kid, it would seem like magic. Santa would land on the snowy roof of our house and come down the chimney and leave presents. Sometimes, I imagined that I could hear him in the frosty, cold night air, where the snowflakes would glisten in the moonlight. I grew up in the midwest, where the winter weather would actually be wintery.

But then adulthood sets in and Christmas loses its magic. You may not have enough money to buy presents. You rack your brain trying to figure out what your mother would want for a present, when she doesn't want anything from you. You feel enormous pressure to do a thousand things in a limited amount of time. You have cookies to bake, presents to buy and wrap, a tree to buy and decorate and cards to mail. On top of it all, you eat too much, don't exercise enough and the days are short. If you live in a crappy climate with daylight savings time, it gets dark at 4:30 and the sun doesn't shine for days.

The Norman Rockwell Christmas doesn't exist. I resent the illusion of happiness and perfection. Sometimes life gives you a wallop and it doesn't care if you were supposed to have the perfect holiday. My father got cancer one year. He lingered long enough to get through Christmas, but he was weak and getting weaker. He never got to wear the flannel shirt I got. He died three days after Christmas. It was sunny, snowy, cold day and the birds were singing. My relatives came, not to celebrate the holiday, but to attend his funeral. It was a shock to me. I knew he was seriously ill and likely to die, but the actual death was an emotional blow. He was a college professor and only 60 and looking forward to retirement. His death seemed wrong somehow.

Then, the joyous holiday family gatherings may not exist. Your family life may not be perfect. You may have a disfunctional family that hates each other's guts. You may have a husband who left you for someone else, making you wonder where your wonderful life went to. Everyone else seems to be happy and having fun but you. You are in a black hole of depression looking out at the world and wondering if the weight of sadness is ever going to go away.

Christmas isn't all bad. If you have a young child, it's like the magic is back again. It's fun to see their wonder at all the sparkley stuff. You watch them try to decorate the tree, but only hang ornaments two feet off the ground. Of course, you have to get your tired body up in the middle of the night to create the illusion of Santa delivering presents. Once they don't believe in Santa, however, the holiday seems more ordinary.

Yet somehow a vestige of the cheer remains. It's fun looking at other people's lights when you don't have to do the work putting them up or pay the electric bill. You get cards from people you haven't contacted all year. You get to go to parties and eat food that other people made. Sometimes you get a present of two. Your memories through the years give you a connection to long gone people that you celebrated the holiday with. When I was a child, I had some aunts visit at Christmas that were a time warp from the forties. I thought that they were eccentric, but now I would give anything to be able to see them again.

So this year I decided that for once, I am going to try not to get depressed about Christmas. I am not quite sure how I will do this, but so far I am doing O.K. You can control your response to a situation to a certain extent. I am not buying into the illusion of perfection anymore and I have accepted that no one is going to make me happy but me. I am alone except for my daughter, but that is my life now. I may or may not put lights up outside or bake cookies. I will not put up inflatable Christmas figures that collapse in the daytime and look like dead soldiers a battlefield.. I will not feel bad that my experience of Christmas is not living up to the hype.

Christmas will not defeat me.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fiesta Bowl Half Marathon

This half marathon was a test to see if could break a 2003 half marathon time of 2:19. That half marathon was my first. Since then subsequent half marathons I slogged through either because they were at the end of a 56 mile bike ride hurtfest in a half ironman or because I didn't have the mental or physical conditioning to go any faster. That was before I became friends with my old friend Pain.

I was pretty sure I could bet the 2:19 time, but I wasn't sure by how much. The plan was to run at a level three, which was I'm uncomfortable, but I can stand it. The question was how long I can stand it and if I can keep my pace at that level, which was about 9:30 minutes per mile for me. I had done it in training, but not for thirteen miles. It was new territory for me. I had never gone that fast for that long before.

My long runs in training had sucked for the most part. Long runs are supposed to be run slower, but I couldn't even make the minimum heart rate I was supposed to be at, which was 137. A two hour run in Phoenix in August just plain sucks. At this time of the year, I would have to get up at dawn, which was fivish, just to make it bearable. It was still 85-90 degrees out. I just don't run that well at dawn. My body just doesn't want to move. I am tired and hot. On one run, I saw bats flying around, which confirmed to me that I was up way too early.

As the fall wore on, the weather got better, but not the runs. Out of six two hour runs, only two were decent. One time I was sore from a race and it hurt to even move. Another time I was sick and had no stamina. Finally by November, I knew I had to push in order to get to the level that I wanted to be. I finally got up to the heart rate level I was supposed to be at, but the pace was only eleven minute miles for two hours.

So this race was a great unknown. The conditions were great. The course is flat and it was cool, but not cold. My plan was to run at level three, which was about a 146-153 heart rate for me.

First mile was 9:45. That was not great, but acceptable. My heart rate monitor read 207. Damn! It was obviously not accurate. I tried putting spit on the chest reader to fix it, but it didn't work very well.

Miles two-five were a 9:30 minute per mile pace. At this point, I could still do math in my head. There was mile markers for every mile, so I could figure out what pace I was going at. I don't have one of those fancy GPS watches, so I have to go low tech.

By the 10k mark, I was down to 9:34 minutes per mile. This was getting tedious. But it was going well and I was actually doing this. I was excited and bored. My body felt O.K. at this point. I was eating gels which taste like flavored phlegm to keep my energy up. I only use them when I am running, because it is hard to eat anything else.

By mile seven, my ability to multiple 9:30 minutes by seven was wavering. I was passing my the mile markers and thinking I was still losing time. It was more confusing because the time on the clocks was race time and not the actual time that I went over the start line. This must be the black hole of half marathons, like mile four of a 10k. You are far enough to feel crappy, but it isn't close enough to the finish that you feel encouraged.

By mile ten, I was at 1:35. That was easy to multiply. It was awesome because I had never run ten miles that fast. I braced myself mentally, because now it was time to speed up and meet my friend Pain. Of course my heart rate monitor was reading 88. I had to go on how bad I felt to gauge my effort. At least I was closer to the end.

It really hurt to speed up, but I was actually able to. If you pace a race right, you should be able to speed up at the end, but usually it takes a lot of focus and pain tolerance. I just wanted to be done at this point. The path went under a road, then up and did it again. These were the only real "hills" in the course, but I hated it. These last 3.1 miles were really seemed to go on forever. I passed people just for the distraction. It's fun to pick off people in a race.

My multiplication skills had failed at this point, so I just kept running hard. It wasn't 5k hard which is "I wish I was dead" heart rate zone, but my heart rate was in the 160's-170's, which is my "I just want to stop" heart rate zone.

I finally hit the finish line at 2:04:09. The last 3.1 miles I averaged 9:12 minute miles. I felt like I had been hit by a bus and couldn't breathe, but otherwise I felt wonderful. It wasn't even fast enough to place in my age group, but I didn't really care. I had done what I wasn't sure I would be able to do and it was an exhilarating high. I felt happy, something I haven't felt in a while. My life may be falling down a black hole, but for the moment I could forget about fear and doubt and depression and just bask in the moment. It's a high that probably a lot of racers seek, but you don't always get it with every race or even with more than a few races over your lifetime.

The high will probably be over in a few days and I will be sore as hell tomorrow, but right now I don't care. Everything went right for a change. I broke a barrier, and maybe someday I can do even better. I'll have bad training days and races that go miserably wrong. But it's still fun to chase the high.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ironman Arizona as a Volunteer

As a volunteer, I get to immerse myself in the spectacle and spirit of the race while foregoing most of the physical discomfort. Last year I raced and suffered hypothermia from the swim and a hurt shoulder from the bike crash. I was uncomfortable and somewhat miserable the whole race. It was a small price to pay for the sheer joy of crossing the finish line. This year any discomfort a racer would experience was multiplied by hail, wind and cold weather. I was thankful that I wasn't trying to brave such conditions as an athlete. The volunteer have to brave the same conditions, but at least we could take a break or leave when we wanted to.

My first shift was at the Phoenix Tri Club run aid station. I got there about three o'clock in the afternoon, in time to see Chrissie Wellington, the eventual women's winner dash by. I appointed myself the cookie distributor. At this hour, the faster people were out on the course and didn't seem interested in cookies. The scantily clad "police women" were at the head of the line of volunteers, and the volunteer captain, who looked like a dead ringer for one of our notorious local law enforcement hacks was shaking his night stick and admonishing hapless runners. The Club had built a "town" and had various police props. Hopefully, it was a welcome distraction for people struggling to get through the run.

I found out that I got rather cold just standing around. I was looking forward to my shift at the finish line, where I could at least move around. It was fairly decent as long as the sun was out, but as it set, I got colder. It made me feel even colder to watch the hot runners pouring water on themselves. I wished I was running just to warm up. Then it rained. It was annoying. I watched the parade of runners. As the evening wore on, there was less running and more walking. The runners took on a dazed look. I talked to people I knew in the race and gave one a hug. Some people I knew were going to walk most of the marathon. I have walked most of a half marathon in a nightmare half ironman and it isn't fun.
I was next to the people handing out gatoraid. A runner would take it and then throw it on the ground and we would sometimes get splashed by it. We would have to pick up the empty cups. In addition, occasionally someone would toss a used sponge that they had been stuffed down their top. These were disgusting to pick up. I found out later that they were being recycled by the volunteers, which is even more disgusting. Imagine squeezing water out of a used sponge on your head. It was a germ-a-phobe's nightmare. When you are racing many hours, personal hygiene isn't really a priority. Unclean hands picking up grapes or oranges in a common tray. I hope these racers had good immune systems. I wasn't going to eat this stuff, that's for sure.
Despite the discomfort, the hard work and the uncleanliness, it was fun. We had music going and it felt like a party. An ironman has an indescribable atmosphere. It's joy and pain and exhaustion and celebration all rolled into one. My feet hurt and my legs ached, but I was glad to be out there handing out cookies.
I left to walk to the finish line. Away from the aid station, the sidewalk in bathed artificial orange light and it seems bleak. I pass runners going the other way and I try to stay out of their way. I make my way across Mill Avenue bridge and it seems a lot warmer than by the marina. The buildings across the water reflect light in the water. It's quiet on the bridge, but I soon approach the chaos and noise of the finish line.
The finish line is a great place to observe the reaction of a racer. As finish line catchers, we line up and take turns holding a racer steady, so that they can get their timing chip off, get their medal and t-shirt, have their picture taken and be guided to the exit. As they cross the finish line, the announcer says "you are an ironman!". Sometimes the racers need medical help, sometimes they are perfectly lucid. Most are kind of dazed and distracted and want to see their family or friends. Some are overcome with emotion and can't move. Most can't find the exit. This year they had the bonus of Chrissie Wellington greeting them with a hug until midnight. I was impressed that a pro would come out after racing all day just to greet age groupers. I watched people's look of surprise when they realize she was there. It was priceless.
I had a twinge of envy when I saw happy people crossing the finish line, but only a small twinge. I had no desire to do an ironman this year and certainly didn't have the motivation to gut out the bad weather this year. I shuddered when I looked at the cold lake, remembering my miserable swim last year. It takes a lot of mental fortitude to endure the discomfort of an ironman and I didn't have it this year.
However, I did remember what it was like to cross the finish line. I remember what it was like to suddenly hit the brightly lit final chute and high five the spectators. I remember what it felt like to finally achieve something that I had been working for for years to achieve. This year, it was an indescribable joy and exhaustion that I was vicariously picking up from these racers. It permeates the air, from the racers, to the announcer, to the spectators to the volunteers. You don't have to have even ever raced the event to pick it up. You don't have to race fast to pick it up. The later the finish, the louder the crowd and the more enthusiastic the announcer.
I don't know if I will ever race Ironman Arizona again, but I will definitely volunteer again. Free happiness. What could be better?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pre-Ironman Arizona

I am anticipating having fun volunteering for Ironman Arizona. I don't know why I can't stay away. I have raced or volunteered every year it has been in existence, except one. I regretted skipping that one year even. I did a local bike ride instead and it wasn't nearly as fun. I have to admit it-I'm am Ironman Arizona junkie.

The first year I volunteered, I worked gear bags. The organizers make you put all the stuff you need for the bike in one bag and the run stuff in another bag. You grab it when you go through to the change tents. It was enough to drive you crazy trying to keep thousand of bags in order and try to find them quickly when people need them. But it was fun to help people go through transition and some people actually bothered to thank you. An added bonus was checking out the nice derrieres of the male pros that ran through.

Also fun was the women's change tent. It was exciting to help the eventual winner of the women's division. You saw all kinds of reactions from people depending upon the time of day. Some people were dazed from the swim or from fighting the strong winds on the bike course. You would dump their gear bags out and it took them a while to decide what they needed. Some people just breezed through. Some people needed medical attention. People who didn't make the bike cut-off would just sit down and cry. You could try to help them, but you really couldn't take away the pain of not finishing after all the emotional and financial investment in training for the race.

One of the most fun volunteer positions is finish line catcher. When a racer comes staggering over the line, two people support them by holding their arms. They give up medical gloves for this so that we don't have to actually touch these people. People are usually rather gross and sweaty after racing 140.6 miles. We guild them to get finisher shirt, medals and pictures and then hand them off to their friends or relatives. Some people are alert and don't need much help. Some people scream when they cross the line, some people cry, some are quiet, some are talkative and most are joyous. Some people are incoherent. Some people are so emotional that they don't move and we have to urge them along. Sometimes they take it out on the volunteers and hug us. It's fun to watch and rather moving. The people who are collapsing, I usually let someone else help them to the medical tent, because I can't hold them up.

As the night goes on, the flow of racers gets slower. The finishing chute goes by bleachers filled with people cheering. The crowd bangs on the bleachers and people high five the racer heading to the finish line. The announcer says "you are an ironman! as the racer goes to the finish line. Late in the evening, the announcer gets off his podium and works up the crowd. The music is loud, the crowd is noisy and it's a total party.

So this year, I am working a run aid station and the finish line again. I can't wait.

Empty bike racks awaiting bikes.

People enjoying the brisk 61 degree water in the pre-swim in Tempe
. Town Lake.

Swim stairs and Mill Avenue bridge looking east.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Amica Tri Race Report

This was another start in the dark race at Lake Pleasant again. You get up in what seem the middle of the night, drive in the dark and set up in the dark. A flashlight was quite useful. This race was set up different than the Prospector race, however. For one thing you had to hike up a hill to use the restroom. Would it have hurt to put one port a potty near the transition area?

Once it got lighter, I could see the lake was choppy. ARGHH! There must be something about this end of the lake that sucks in all the wind. The triathlons I have done in other parts of the lake were never this choppy. I knew this swim was going to be a lot of work. I was regretting my decision to do the olympic, rather than the sprint race. I was recovering from being sick and I really didn't feel enthusiastic or energized for racing.

I got in the water and it was like a tree exploded in the water. A ring of wood bits lapped the dock and the debris even went out to where we had to tread water at the start. I had to sweep it away with my arm to get beyond it. I felt calm, but I didn't think I was going to enjoy this swim. The water was mercifully warm.

We started the swim. I had to spit wood bits out my mouth and finally got beyond the wood debris. The water wasn't as bad as my October swim. I breathed and swallowed water from the slapping waves, but I wasn't getting thrown around as violently. The swim seemed to take forever. I think the course was mis-measured, as it often is in olympic triathlons and that it was long. It took me 51 minutes and I was really glad to get out of the water because that swim was NOT enjoyable. I was tired. At least I finished before the sprint race started. I went up the ramp to transition and of course everyone was gone. It's a depressing feeling to know your swim was so slow that everyone finished before you.

I stumbled through transition and rode my bike out unto the empty bike course. The first part was a series of short steep hills. I was beginning to wonder if I was lost. I was on the turn around when the sprint pros rode past me. It's always a sight to see someone rides a bike well. I always wonder what it would be like to be able to ride fast. It wasn't happening for me on this bike course.

I ride to the main road and there were more riders on that part of the course. I was waiting to feel enthusiastic about bike course and the surge of energy and joy just wasn't there. I think I left it in the swim. If you have a tough swim it affects the rest of the race. The climbs and descents were longer than the first part of the course. I was doing alright but I wasn't inspired to ride REALLY hard. It was a lot of effort just to climb the hills. There weren't a lot of people to pass to so I could put in a surge of speed to get by them.

I finish the relatively short 2o mile ride intending to fly through transition. Instead I had a clusterf**k of massive proportion. I run down to the end of the rack and search frantically for my stuff. After about five minutes of this consternation, I figure out that I'm searching the wrong rack and finally get to the right rack. I couldn't believe that I had made this rookie mistake. Maybe all the blood had gone from my brain to my legs. I felt really stupid. One of my longest T2's ever. I was going to stop at the restroom, but I decided to gut it out instead to make up some time.

The run I decided I would fight for. I was aiming to try and finish it in 62 minutes, which wasn't great, but it would be faster than I have done in an olympic tri run all year. The initial part goes downhill for about two miles, so you can gain speed on that part. I had decent miles descending. I saw the pained look on people's faces going uphill. I would be soon joining their pain. Unlike the bike course, the run course had more people on it to pass. Some of them were walking, some limping.

I got to the turnaround and started the ascent at about 29 minutes. I had to push harder to keep the minute per mile time down and I was doing decent for a while. It was getting warm and I had abdominal cramps. My heart rate was fairly high. I finally got to the top of the hill and started descending. I was trying to pick up speed. I was hoping it was downhill to the finish line and I could make up some time lost climbing the hill. One cop said "it's all downhill from here". He was cruelly mistaken. I got to about mile 5.5 when my heart rate was climbing and my legs tired and there was a enormous hill. It wasn't really all the big, but any hill would have been huge at this point. I was finally reduced to walking in discouragement. This course was beating me up.

Finally, it was downhill after negotiating a short stretch of unwelcome rocky trail. Final run time 63:50, which was better than the previous Lake Pleasant triathlon. This course was actually tougher because it had more hills and it was one of the toughest 10k's I have done. I had a sense of satisfaction from gutting out a tough run. The whole triathlon took about 3:34 with the T2 fumbling. I was wasted with the energy it took. It felt like a 3.5 hour sprint race without the speed.

I ate the cold pizza. I wasn't terribly hungry because the race was so strenuous. Last year, they had pancakes, which was awesome. I missed those pancakes. I was the only one in my age group, but they didn't call me or any of the women in the 50-54 age group either, for an award. An age group award is meaningless anyway, if you are the only one, but it was a little annoying.
The race organizers just didn't seem to be trying as hard this year. It was an O.K. race, but I miss FLAT. I wanted to P.R.(personal record) in a half iron and it didn't happen this year because the Tempe Town Lake burst and there are very few half irons as "easy" as Soma. Lake Pleasant just doesn't cut it as a race venue for going your fastest. It's all you can do to survive the humbling hills and the choppy lake and it's slow going. The sensible stay away and you are left competing with really fast people, so you end up near the bottom of the standings. You feel like you are inadequate, when really it takes a lot of strength and stamina just to finish the race.

So I just decided to be happy about the run. The triathlon season is over for me. Next year awaits.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Last Triathlon of the Season

Tomorrow is my last triathlon of the season. It will mark the 10th year I having been doing triathlons. My first one was the Desert Grande in Casa Grande in November of 2000, which was a pool sprint. I had no training plan, other than the one I made up, and the only bike I had was a mountain bike. I was totally clueless. I had no one to support me or to cheer me on. I felt kind of tired and loopy during the run. The feeling of accomplishment was a high, though, and after this race I was never the same.

My race tomorrow is at Lake Pleasant again, which is a tough venue. It is the same transition area as the Prospector race I just did, but the course is more spread out and it isn't endless loops. The run and the bike are still very hilly. I don't expect great times and I am adopting the same attitude I had at the Prospector race, which is go hard, have fun and don't worry about the crappy results.

I always have a feeling of dread and anticipation before a race. Will things go wrong? Will I race poorly? Will this be the best race ever? Until I actually start the race, my nerves wear on me and I can't stand it. There seems to be a thousand things to do and things to remember to bring. It doesn't help that I have to get up at god awful hour in the pitch dark when I am half asleep and drive somewhere in the middle of nowhere. There are always the long porta potty lines when you urgently need to go or worse yet no porta potty near by when I need to go NOW. You have to drag a mound of equipment from your car to transition. Sometimes you freeze waiting around for your wave to start. Yet somehow it is worth it when you finally get to start.

So I am hoping that this race is a fitting mark to the end of the season and my ten years of doing these crazy races. I am hoping that there will be food left by the time I finish. I am hoping I won't be dead last. I am hoping I won't get a flat tire. (Praise be to the tire gods). I will be sad and relieved that I am going to put my wetsuit away until next year in a lonely, dark corner of the closet. With it, I can also put away the unpredictable anxiety of swimming in open water that sometimes makes me panic. Until next year.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Prospector Triathlon Race Report

I know if a race has Lake Pleasant as a venue, the race is going to be difficult. The landscape around the lake is hills, with some being rather steep. You can't get down to the lake without going down a slope. The lake level varies and the shore can be rather rocky.

The race had an Olympic or sprint distance option and I foolishly elected the Olympic(1500k swim, 24.8 mile bike, 10k run). Most people I knew who were doing the race were doing the sprint version, which was half the distance of the Olympic. They were long gone before I got done.

Since the lake is far from my house, I had to get there in the dark. It wasn't too cold, but it was breezy. Breezy is not good for a swim nor the bike. Breezy is bad. I could tell that the wind was whipping up the lake a little, but the transition was on a bluff overlooking the lake. The race was delayed because they were setting up the swim buoys. Originally, the Olympic distance swim was supposed to be one lap, but they changed it to two. I soon found out why.

I got in the water and it was warm. I had a wetsuit on anyway because I get cold easier and because I am a crappy swimmer and it helps me float. Anticipating the start is the worst part. You don't always know how the swim is going to go and sometimes to goes BAD. We started off. I started slow because I don't want to get all out of breath and panicky. Sometimes I do anyway. I started swimming and the water started getting choppy. REALLY choppy. By the time I got to the first buoy the chop was at least one foot waves. I was getting slapped in the face with water. This was not good. I stopped and treaded water and considered bailing on the race. It wasn't really an important race anyway. There weren't any kayaker near by, so I collected myself and kept going. Swimmers were going by me and making the water worse. I pondered the absurdity of the lake conditions. It was almost humorous. I was swimming merely for survival. Good swim technique was for pools.

I finished the first lap and thought "I have to do this again?!". I thought that this was going to end up being a really long swim. At least the water was a little less choppy by the boat ramp. I went around again. I had to resort to sighting less, keeping my head down and breathing out forcefully so that I didn't inhale water. I was very happy to get done with the swim. There were actually people getting out of the water with me. Usually I end up swimming alone because everyone else has already finished.

I thought that my time on the swim would be bad, but it was 35:43, a time that I never thought I would swim any Olympic distance swim in. My thought would be that the course was short. I was not complaining, though.

Going from the lake to transition involved going up a long climb on a rocky slope. There was carpet set down on the rocks, but it still was very bumpy and uneven. I decided to walk up it.

I fumbled through transition and hit the bike course. It was four laps of unrelenting rolling hills. I am glad I got my bike tuned up. My shifters were getting a work out. My pace was anaerobic. I would go eight miles per hour up the hills and descend at thirty. By the second lap I had ceased caring that my race time would really suck and just went with the terrain. I got the hang of using the downhill speed to help maximize the speed up the following ascent of the next hill. It took a lot of focus.

I finally rolled into transition to start the run. I had the requisite potty break because I can't pee in my wetsuit and lost two minutes. The run went down a 4-6 % grade hill and then went up it. Then you got to do it again. I tried to take advantage of the downhill to bring up my run speed, but it was hard to get my legs to turn over. There wasn't much life left in them. I hit the turn around and then started back up the hill. Some people were walking, but I didn't have to resort to that YET. I was kind of enjoying the suffering. I hit the turn around and went down the hill again. The downhill didn't seem all that helpful at this point. At least there were people behind me and I wasn't last. Usually I end up being by myself near the end of the run and wondering if I had vanished into some alternate universe where no one else exists.

I started the final climb and I was ready for this race to be over with. I had no illusions of having a great run time, but merely trying to limit the damage. I finally saw the dumpsters that were just before the turn at the top of the hill. People were still slogging down the hill, obviously in discomfort, but not giving up. I tried to pick up my pace, but there wasn't much life left in my legs.

I finally hit the finish line about 3:34 after I started the race. I wasn't thrilled about the time, but I refused to be depressed about it. I was happy just to get done with the race, since it was so difficult. I usually don't have a problem finishing a race, but doing it well, at least what I consider well, is another matter. Doing a race on difficult terrain takes away your control to a certain extent because you can't go as fast as you would on easy flat terrain. It seems purer racing in that way because you are in the moment, racing for racing's sake and not worrying about mere time. In the process, you have to redefine what is "doing well" even if it really sucks by other people's standards and you end up on the bottom of the race standings. At least, that is what I try to tell myself. The whole point of racing is testing yourself to see if you can pull something out of yourself that you didn't know you were capable of. Achieving a fast race time is icing on the cake and you don't always get the icing. At least I don't.

So I went to pack up my stuff in the transition area, where most of the bikes already gone, taken by their owners who had long gone home. At least there was still food left, which was being swarmed by numerous bees. I was sweaty, crusted in salt, had bike grease on my legs and I was feeling really groddy. But I still felt good. I went back home where the terrain was flat to collapse.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Blahs

Maybe it's the heat, maybe it's overtraining, maybe it's depression, but I have lost my enthusiasm for training and racing triathlons. I have been doing triathlons for ten years and I am long past the stage where I want to do every race in town. I have done most every venue in town at least twice, with some like Tempe Town Lake 15 times. Having the Tempe Town Lake dam burst and let all the water out didn't help, because my "A" race, Soma when with it. I have gotten really picky about what race I do.

If a race involves a nonwetsuit swim, I won’t fly to do it unless it’s Ironman Hawaii. My swimming is so slow and I don't need the humiliation.

If a race involves a nonwetsuit swim, I won’t do anything longer than a sprint because the swim is takes as long as an Olympic anyway.

If a race involves hot weather, I won’t do anything longer than a sprint and the run will suck because heat exhaustion tends to slow you down.

If a race involves flying, I won’t do it unless it’s a national or world level race or an ironman or a really great half ironman. Airlines seem to think that bikes are people, so they have to charge as much or more for flying a bike as a person would be charged for flying first class.

If a race involves driving more than two hours, it had better be a primo race.
Three hours drive is too much for a so so race. I don't like driving and having a crappy race to top off a crappy drive.

If a race is a half iron or longer, it had better be well organized and supported because I am going to be out there for a LONG time.

If a race is an Xterra, it has to be a sprint race. I don’t have the energy to do long mountain bike rides in training because they are much harder than riding a road bike.

If a race is an Olympic or longer, it had better have food by the time I get done. Again, I am out there a long time.

If a race involves a pool for the swim, I am not interested. The fear of drowning makes the swim more interesting.

If a race involves swimming during the run, I’m in unless it’s cold outside.

If a race consistently has water in the swim below 62 degrees, I am not doing it. I nearly drowned doing Ironman Arizona when it was 62 degree water. Some people(mainly from cold climates) don't think that 62 degree water is cold, but I get cold easily and I swim slowly.

If a race has boring scenery, it had better be flat.

If a race involves southern California and an ocean, I’m there.

If a race involves altitude, it can’t be longer than an Olympic, has to be a decent race and my time will invariably suck. Lack of oxygen does not make for a good race.

If a race involves a cold water swim, I will invariably end up in the med tent with hypothermia.

If I train for months for a race, someone invariably will do much better than me on minimum training, usually a beginner.

Having said all that, I can hopefully summon some enthusiasm for my upcoming fourth Lake Pleasant race. There's is always the hope that a race will bring out the best in you, that you will fly through the race on a high and that you will feel a sense of acomplishment when you get done.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Saguaro Lake 2000m Open Water Swim

There are several types of people that do these competitive open water swims. You may be a natural swimmer who is really good and thinks nothing of swimming vast distances without a wetsuit. You may be a newbie who couldn't swim straight to save your life and who panics at the thought of swimming more than 500 yards. Or you may be the type who grudgingly does the swims for training purposes, so that you can get through the swim to get to the good parts of a triathlon-the bike and the run. I am in the latter category. I don't mind leisurely open water swimming if I am in a wetsuit and have some assurance I am not going to drown. Swimming in a race or open water event is challenging at best for me and I have no illusions of doing well, since I typically am at the bottom as far as time goes.

I sometimes have illusions that this time I am going to do really well, but the illusions usually disappears when I actually get in the water and start swimming. It's one thing to do sprints in the pool, where you can hang off the wall if you get tired, another thing in the open water where there really is no where to rest unless you hang off a kayak. Once you start doing that, your race is done. You may finish the swim, but the time will really suck.

The swim had wetsuit and nonwetsuit divisions for 1000m, 2000m and 4000m. Some people swam all three. Some people swam 1000m and 4000m. I had a hard enough time just doing the 2000m with a wetsuit. It was 1000m loops which not only was boring, but psychologically difficult. At least when you are doing one loop, you can think about just swimming from buoy to buoy and not think that "I have to swim this loop AGAIN?" UGH! I am going to lose my mind!

So my division started and as usual, I watched everyone in front disappear. The water wasn't too bad, but the swimming didn't feel easy. My goggles were fogging up and it was hard to see. I had almost made the first turn around when lots a people passed me. I couldn't figure out where they all came from. Then I realized-THEY HAD LAPPED ME. Wonderful. All I could do was keep on moving. I turned into the sun and couldn't see any buoys. I had to sight off the kayakers because I didn't really know where to swim to. Lovely. I pondered why people actually like doing this. I really wasn't enjoying myself.

Finally I hit the first lap. Of course people were getting out because they had finished. It would be so tempting to quit, but I swam on. There were a lot less people now.

This swimming site has the misfortune to be near enough to a marina that any passing boat creates waves. The water was getting really choppy. It's not like the ocean where the waves are rhythmical. It slaps you around and is unpredictable. I have learned that if you stop to rest in such conditions and put your head up, you end up breathing water. The best thing to do is to keep your head down and keep going. It is really tiring because you have to stroke harder to fight the waves. I kept imaging someone on a waverunner gleefully dashing by just to see me suffer.

I turned into the sun again and blindly headed for the end. My goal was to finish before the 4000m wetsuit people started, but I didn't quite make it. I didn't envy them having to swim in this choppy water, but some of them will probably finish sooner than I am finishing my 2000m swim. I was getting slapped around pretty good by then. I finished before the 4000m nonwetsuit people, when was pretty decent for me.

It is sometimes pretty difficult to stand up after a long swim after being horizontal. You had to negotiate slimy rocks to get to the steps to get up the bank. I felt really unsteady and a little dizzy and really glad to be done with this swim.

It's always difficult for me mentally to do open water swims and finishing one is always a small triumph. I basically suck at swimming and I don't like being away from shore and not being able to stand up and rest. Getting through the discomfort and physical exertion make me feel like I have power over my environment. Excelling in the activity, I guess, is left up to other people.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I Did a Green Run 10k

I wasn't really expecting much out of this race. Last year I did it in 58" and something. Most of it is on a flat dirt trail, which doesn't make for a lot a running speed. It's natural desert north of a canal. The 10k is a two loop trail, so you have to run by the finish line on your second lap.

I did a twenty minute warm up and felt really unenergetic. The temperature wasn't great for running-high seventies, but I had run in worse. It was going to be a lot of mental work to get psyched for running hard.

Both the 5k and the 10k started at the same time and there were of lot of kids in the race. I think it's great that kids are racing, but they tend to start out fast and then fade. I certainly didn't want them in my way. Apparently, the fastest runners didn't either, because the director made an announcement for the kids to step back so that they didn't get run over. Yeah, right, you five minute per milers just wanted them out of the way.

We started off. It was kind of crowded. I didn't have the adrenalin rush that I usually have and my heart rate was fairly slow. The first mile went by at 9:15, which wasn't too bad. I had to scoot by a few people and try not to get bogged down in the sand on the trail. The second mile went through a grove of trees, which kept the temperature down and I finished that one at the 18:12 mark. An improvement. Maybe this race won't suck as bad as I thought.

The halfway point went by the finish line and I think the race clock read 27:06. I felt really uncomfortable, but the pace was decent. I didn't have the stabbing pain I usually get in my right side chest. My heart rate wasn't as high as it usually is. It was starting to get warm and I was pouring water on myself at the aid stations. The fourth mile in a 10k is usually a dark hole of despair. You are having to maintain or pick up your pace and it's far enough from the end that you know you still have a while to suffer. I wasn't feeling the mental let down, but I had to focus on keeping steady. The fourth mile went by in about 36:12.

The fifth mile was less shady and the temperature was starting to rise. I picked off people to pass just to keep my mind off of my discomfort. I played jackrabbit with a kid before I finally dropped him. It's always satisfying to pass kids. By now my discomfort had increased and I just wanted the race to be done. I had increased my heart rate and tried to increase my pace for final push. Fifth mile was 45:09.

Finally the sixth mile! Only it was marked five. I knew it was wrong because I was back near the finish line, but it made my oxygen deprived brain think for a moment that I had another mile to go. This race seemed endless.

Final time was 56:09, which was the same exact time I had on a previous 10k elsewhere earlier this year. Freaky. I was happy about the time, considering that dirt slows you down. 10ks are a little more forgiving than 5ks. You have more time to make up for mistakes in pacing. You can't run as hard as in a 5k, so the pain is less intense even though it lasts longer. The older I get, the harder I have to work at to be "fast" and it doesn't always work out that way. This race I was happy just to be where I was.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

I Pulled the Trigger

I signed up for Ironman Canada on August 30, the day after the race. This race will bring challenges that Ironman Arizona doesn't have. It's out of the country, a five hour drive from Vancouver or Tacoma, the weather is unpredictable and the bike leg is much tougher. I am going alone, so I will have no support. I have to get my bike there, which is a pain in the butt. But the scenery is supposed to be beautiful and the crowd support is excellent. I will probably be fighting the cut-offs again and possibly hypothermia if it rains. It's expensive and getting a hotel room was immensely difficult since they all seem to have been booked up the day after the race.

But somehow it makes me happy. I have a race that I am excited about and a goal to work towards. The fear of not finishing will probably make me work harder in training and I might find strengths that I didn't know I had. That's the siren lure of Ironman, when you go beyond what you ever thought possible, against difficult odds, through sheer mental power. It takes away a lot, but it gives back more.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Getting Lost In Boston

Boston is a really cool city, but it is the bad driving capital of the United States at least. There is probably some third world cities that are much more terrible to drive in. At least there aren't cattle and goats to dodge while driving and I can read the few street signs that there are. I had the good fortune to visit Boston on vacation on a trip up to Vermont. If I hadn't been driving further on, I probably would not have even rented a car.

Bostonians give the excuse that the roads were originally cow paths. This excuse doesn't cut it. They could straighten the damn streets out if they wanted to. And why do lanes suddenly disappear on the freeway without any warning? Why does a street name change three times in the space of a mile? And why do they not label their streets. You can go down a street for a mile through numerous intersections and not know what street you on because there are no signs.

The worst thing is the rotaries. You have a split second to pick which street to go down, and if you aren't sure, most likely you pick the wrong one and wander for hours trying to get back to where you were supposed to go. I attempted to go from my hotel to my cousins house, which was a ten minute drive of five miles and it took me half an hour, with a lot of directing from my cousin because I couldn't figure out where I was or what direction I needed to go.

This is like my life right now. I am not sure where I am going and I keep wandering down dead end streets and going the wrong way. I may have a map, but it doesn't help, because I don't know where I am. I have choices about what street to take, but I am not sure which one I should choose to get where I want to go. I rely on people to help me go down the right path, but I still have to do the work and it's hard and stressful.

Psychologists call this the "process". When your life falls apart like with a divorce or a death of a family member, you have to regroup emotionally and get through the pain to a new life. You have a bewildering amount of decisions to make and it's terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. You struggle through the deepest despair and occasionally experience great joy. Pain forces you wade through the quagmire of anger, self-loathing and indecision to get to a new place. Sometimes you drive badly and in the wrong direction in a really difficult city to travel in.

Even though I in blundered through Boston, I somehow got to where I was supposed to be, with the right directions. I made it to my cousin's house and I made it home. I am hoping that I will find the right direction in my life eventually and not get lost in the cowpaths.

And may I never drive in Boston ever again.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mountain Man Race Report

I have done this race before, so I knew it would hurt. There's an Olympic distance and a half iron for the truly insane. The swim is a 1.5k in Lake Mary, which looks kind of like a mud hole, but the water is fairly warm(70's) for the 7,000 foot altitude. The 24.6 mile bike is an out and back and has a nasty hill before the turn around. The run has an even nastier hill that climbs for 1.5 miles on the 10k run. It makes you hate your very existence.

It had rained heavily the night before, so I had to drive through fog. This is not something I do very often in the desert and it was un-nerving. You have to get to the race site early because the only parking is on the side of the road and it has to be off the pavement. The side of the road being soft and muddy makes you wonder if you are going to need a tow truck to get your sedan out of the mud. I actually got a spot near transition, which I blundered into trying to see in the heavy fog.

There was fog on the lake, which made me wonder if I would have to swim through the stuff. Swimming at altitude is hard enough without dealing with that. Luckily it burned off, though it was still misty. The water was mercifully warm and smooth.

I jumped into the lake and when the wave started, I immediately went into oxygen deprivation. I have swum in high altitude races before and it isn't easy. You can breath at a certain rate in swimming and it isn't enough oxygen. If you settle in to a relaxed pace, you can get enough air to ease the crushing weight on your chest, but it isn't easy and it involves being uncomfortable. If you are not relaxed, it is a nightmare of hyperventilating, thrashing around and feeling panicky. I wasn't moving that much, but I couldn't get enough air. I had to resort to hanging off the kayaks of the people who are supposed to keep you from drowning. Usually if you have to resort to this, you know your swim is going to really suck. I would swim a little, then get tired and start panting. It was ugly. As the second wave of men came through, I caught a draft off of them and it was a little easier. I started swimming towards the distant buoy, which I couldn't see. It was frustrating because I didn't really know where the hell I was supposed to go. It would have been nice to have more than three buoys for a 15k swim. Without the buoys, you feel like you aren't making any progress. At least when you are swimming by them, you know that you are actually going in the right direction.

After an eternity, I finally reached to second buoy. I knew that that was most of the swim distance. I started swimming faster and felt O.K., because I really wanted to be done with the swim. Staggering out of the water, I realized I really need to pee.

I blundered through transition. After being horizontal for so long, my brain was foggy and it was hard to get my bike gear on. Of course, hardly any bike were left. I wanted to pee, but the porta-potties were outside of transition, inconveniently located behind the exit. I hoped for maybe something on the bike course.

The bike course starts out slightly downhill, then starts climbing, then REALLY climbs. You get to the Morman Lake turnoff and think you are almost done, but you have three more miles. The big hill I usually do at eight miles an hour going up and thirty seven miles an hour going down. I see all the people going the other direction that swam faster than I, but I do manage to pass a few people on mountain bikes. The scenery is wooded lakes and mountains with wild flowers on the side of the road. It takes my mind off my painful bladder. There is no where to pee unless I go off into the woods. I try not to think about it.

I reach the turn around in 53 minutes, which is slower than last year. This leg of the race is probably going to suck as well. There seemed to be a head wind, which didn't help. There are actually people behind me, but not many. At least I made up a little time from the swim.

Coming back is much easier and takes about 40 minutes. I could have used a few more of those 37 mile per hour hills. I actually manage a flying dismount, which involves taking off your shoes while you are riding and swinging your leg over the bike. I run into transition wondering where the hell I am going to pee.

I run out and the run is slightly downhill. I slog through a mile and finally see a porta-potty before the big hill. THANK GOD! It's hard running with a full bladder. I waste two minutes(yes, I timed it) and finally I feel lighter. I start the painful process of running up the hill.

As I go up the hill, I see a guy bent over. It turns out that he is urinating without bothering to hide it. I was envious. If this was one of those fancy ironman races, he would be penalized, but nobody seems to care because they are in their own world of pain. I thought it was funny. It was probably the highlight of the run.

I finally make it to the top and start running down the hill. It is good at first because it's not running UP the hill, but by the bottom of the hill it has become downright annoying. The last few miles are fairly flat, but my legs hurt and I had a bad side stitch by this time. I was really irritable and depressed. If anybody had gotten in my way, I would have probably yelled at them. I tried to speed up the last mile, but my legs were toast. I could speed up my cadence, but I had no power. I was used up. I was relieved to hit the finish line that seemed to never come.

This race put me in a cranky mood. It was twenty three minutes slower than last year. I was hoping to do as well or better than last year and it didn't work out. It was painful and hard. The suckage factor was pretty high. You always hope that you will do well, but reality doesn't always work that way. Things go wrong. Your energy fails. Your training isn't enough to overcome the obstacles. Next time I do a really hard race I am going to try to stay positive. I am also going to figure out where the hell I can pee.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fourth of July Four Miler Race Report or Freaking Fried on the Fourth

This race would be classified under "it seemed like a good idea at the time." I wanted to keep up my running speed during the summer and short races are a good way to do that. I didn't do all that badly, but I underestimated the aftereffects. Normally, running at any level even early in the morning in the summer in Phoenix is challenging. In June, the temperature at dawn can be in the low seventies. Later in the summer, it can range from high eighties to low nineties, which is why the area in such a hell hole in summer and Phoenicians leave town in droves to escape the heat. The day of the race, the low at dawn was 82 degrees. I ran a 5k two years ago when it was 89, so I thought it wouldn't bother me. Much.

I got to the race site and did a twenty minute warm up run. I was hot already. I wasn't feeling all that great. My stomach was a little upset and it didn't like the fact that I was running. Maybe the gazpacho I ate yesterday wasn't friends with my digestive system. The race is at the Rio Vista park in Peoria, and the run follows the New River and Skunk Creek flood channels. "Creek" and "River" are only part time designations. Most of the time, these water systems are mere trickles, if that. The trail system is mostly flat with some up and down to connect with the streets. It wasn't too bad looking, with enough trees to make it look like a park, but not enough to provide much shade.

Since the pathway was fairly narrow at the start, they started us in waves, with the five minute/mile people being first. I couldn't believe the amount of five and six milers, but it turned out that there were quite a few fast people there. I started out with the nine milers. As I got going, I could feel the heat building up. It was like hitting a wall. My first mile time was 8:50, which was what I wanted to run. Strangely, my heart rate wasn't raising much. Usually, my 5k heart rate averages about 165 and the adrenaline of racing makes it rise quickly. I wasn't sure I could keep up this pace.

The second mile was about a 17:20. There were ramps to go up and down. I tried to keep my speed up going up and take advantage of the down ramps by going faster. I tried to pass the kids because they deserved to get dropped. I was fairly cranky by this point. My stomach was holding up, but I didn't feel great. Probably no personal records this race. I passed a boy about 10 years old, who passed me, who I passed again. I'm not sure if I beat him.

Mile three was about 27 minutes, so I had lost some time. Only one more mile to go. It felt like one mile too many. I poured water on myself to try to cool off. Usually, the last mile, I see my quicker run cadence paying off. I pass people with slower foot strikes who don't seem to be moving all that much faster. I try to pick off people to pass just to get my mind off my discomfort.

I push the last mile because I wanted to go faster and I know the discomfort will be ending soon. It is really hot by now, with no breeze and running feel awful. I see the bridge to cross to get to the finish line, but it seems to take forever to get there. I finally get my heart rate into the low 170's and try to think positive thoughts. The last mile was an 8:40 pace. Finally, I finish in 35:40, which at least is a sub nine minute mile pace. I was glad that the race was over. I was glad I had enough fitness to be able to push the last mile and run it faster than the previous three miles. I placed third in my age group. I have found that it becomes easier to be competitive in my age group once I hit 56. I don't know why. Do women give up running when they reach my age? Do they come to their senses and not race?

The race had a nice holiday vib. Some people had dressed up in flag fashion and one lady had decorated her walker in sparkly garlands and flags, which I thought was cute. The race organizers had grilled hot dogs and hamburger, which took me a little while to be able to stomach since it was still technically breakfast time and my stomach was still giving me problems. But it was "free" food and of course I had to eat it. One needs protein to recover from a race, after all.

The bad part of the race was the recovery. Racing in heat is much harder to recover from. The recovery from Xterra race I did in June took me almost two weeks to feel like I wasn't totally exhausted. This race, I was sore and tired until the following Friday. I was also burned out mentally and depressed. I like pushing my limits physically, but this was verging on not being worth it. I have to function in the real world after all, and I was dragging myself around with no energy or motivation to do anything. No energy to work, no energy to do the many annoying chores that I have to do, no energy to face the blast furnace that is July in Phoenix.

Next time I decide to run in the heat, shoot me. Or at least make a sacrifice to appease the gods of "Too Hot to Run Even Remotely Hard Without Feeling Like Crap for Days".

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More Things I Learned on the Road to Divorce(or from It).

It's been over a year since I was officially divorced on June 5, 2009. To commemorate the wonderful event, I looked back on what I journaled about last year. What I noticed:

1. The pain persists, but it loses intensity. You mourn what you think you lost, but you accept that it's gone. The expectations that you had for an easy, happy life are gone and you have to create your own happiness which is a lot of work. Without the delusion, you have to work on the reality of your relationships.

2. The anger persists, but it fades away. You don't excuse the bad behavior of your former spouse, but you accept that he or she is a douche and you are better off without that person. Some people are on their own path to douchiness and won't change. Anger takes energy and living in itself is exhausting.

3. You gradually gain some optimism that your life someday will be good, even if there is no sign that that is going to happen. You have to have faith in the process of healing, otherwise you don't have the courage to move on. I don't know if I will ever be happy, but I am working on it.

4. You gradually get back some self-esteem. It takes a lot of work, support from others and therapy, but you end up feeling better than when you were married. Whatever your spouse thought of you doesn't matter anymore. You expand your world, try new things and learn to trust yourself.

5. Doing everything around the house by yourself sucks, but you end up accepting your incompetence. My garbage disposal wasn't working until I read the manual to find out that their was a reset button on the bottom. Problem fixed. The pool pump hasn't been back washed in two years. Maybe I will pay someone to do that.

6. There is still the vast divide among you and people that seem to be happily married. I still marvel about the people in their own happy world with me on the outside looking in. It doesn't bother me as much as it used to because I know things aren't always what they seem to be.

7. The negative feelings persist, but you acquire tools to fight them. You step back from your emotions and ask yourself why you are feeling that way. The emotions may not go away, but at least you are looking at the cause and maybe thinking in a new, more positive way.

8. Healing takes time. Everyone heals at their own rate. I feel like I haven't come along fast enough, but then I had a bad day last week, which reminded me how paralyzing depression is. Sometimes depression is an unwelcome guest that pays you an unexpected visit. You have to come out of it in order to gather your energy to face the difficult things that you need to do.

9. The world is still scary, but you gradually gain a little more confidence in yourself to deal with it. Until last year I had never traveled much by myself outside of the state, but I gritted my teeth and got out there. It wasn't fun, but I did it. The world seems to be going to hell and the economy still sucks. I don't know if I will be able to take care of myself. I have to suck it up and try.

10. All the stuff you neglected while you were married come back to haunt you. Lack of friends, lack of investment in your career, lack of investment in yourself have to be dealt with. You have to go out in the world to re-build these things and it takes time and energy.

11. All the childhood issues that you have come out again-fear of abandonment, neediness, fear, rejection all rear their ugly heads. Your inner child is unhappy and needs to be dealt with. You have to grow up and it's painful.

At least I am in a better place than I was last year. That give me hope that the demons will go away, the inner child will shut up, and the pool pump will fix itself.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Deuces Wild Xterra Race Report

Sometimes races are difficult to the point that no matter how much you train, all you can do is get through the race. Xterra races usually fall into this category. The swim may be like any other triathlon, but the bike and the run require strength and technical skill. Riding and running up a steep hill are HARD. A lot of times these races are at locations with altitude, which adds another challenge. You are exerting yourself physically, but without enough oxygen.

Deuces Wild Triathlon is held in Show Low, Arizona with an altitude of about 6000 feet. It's actually an Olympic and half iron on Saturday, with the Xterra on Sunday. Some people are insane enough to race on Saturday AND Sunday. It's held at Fool Hollow Lake.

You would think that the weather at 6000 feet in June would be cool. You would be wrong. It was hellaciously hot in the afternoon. To make matters worse, I decided to try camping. I was hoping to camp at Fool Hollow Lake so that I wouldn't have to drive around a lot, but the campground filled up early. It is the nicest campground in the area. Instead I ended up camping at Show Low Lake. It turned out to be party central for a group of people. I didn't get a whole lot of sleep Friday night. The partiers fell asleep, then the birds started singing at 3:45. Normally, I like hearing birds, but I just wish they wouldn't start so damn early in the morning.

Saturday, I got up and had a hard time convincing myself to run. Altitude makes me feel crappy the first day. I felt better when I was running, but it was really beginning to get warm. I was planning on doing the bike pre-ride, but I was doubtful about doing the whole thing in the heat. I decided to jump in the Show Low Lake to cool off. It felt great and I was even shivering a little when I got out.

It turned out that the pre-ride was too hot. I lasted about 30 minutes, then turned around with some other people when I started getting heat stress. It turned out that the worst of the ride was what I missed. I ended up getting a lot of surprises on race day.

Race day night was even worse that Friday. Late partiers, dog barking, car alarm and what not contributed to another lousy night of sleeping. Hopefully, I disturbed the partiers when I got up at 4:30 a.m., but I doubt it. Loud partiers deserve a special place in hell.

Race day, the weather started cool, but rapidly got warmer. I was a little warm in my wetsuit. The water was fairly warm. I had on a full wetsuit anyway, since I thought the water would be too cool for a sleeveless.

Swimming in altitude requires a strategy on not starting out too hard. If you start too hard, then it's difficult to make up the oxygen deficiency because you can't pant when you swim, so you end up hyperventilating to try and make up the deficit. I started out slow and didn't go much faster. I was able to go at a steady rate without having to stop and pant. Others in the back of the pack with me weren't so fortunate from the amount of moaning and groaning I heard. I have been there. It isn't much fun panicking in the middle of the lake. I though the water was a little nasty. It was cloudy with algae and it had a boat fuel smell. I finished in 28 minutes.

I started out the bike leg by falling in the first mile. The trail goes under a highway underpass, which is a lot of loose dirt and rocks. Then you head into the woods. Riding in the woods is a new experience for me. The dirt and rocks seemed the same as the desert, but the trees cast shadows on the trail making it hard to see all the hazards. There was the usual rocks and dirt to try and manuever through.

The first obstacle is a four foot fence that you have to lift your bike over and then climb over. The trail gradually ascends to a water tower. You turn right and try to make a descent of a steep rutted drop. I went down this cautiously because there were some deep trenches to trip you up. You actually go on a paved road for a while, then into the dirt. The climb goes up gradually through burned out forest, then turns into the trail from hell. Climbing up a steep hill on a mountain bike is hard enough. Add some rocks and it is doublly difficult. They also threw in some giant logs to crawl over or under. I ran out of energy and oxygen before I could make it to the top. I ended up walking, which I hate. I think these races would be a lot more fun if the bike leg was shorter-by about seven miles.

You get to the top and then have the problem of getting down. The descent had areas that scared the hell out of me. Part of the difficulty of mountain biking is the fear factor. You see a steep descent and you have to decide if it's doeable or if you are risking bodily injury by attempting it. It's like skiing, where you get to the top of a steep descent and then freak out. I erred on the side of caution, maybe too much. But when you are tired, your skills levels go down. By this time I wanted to be in easier terrain and my knee was hurting. It seemed like the trail was going forever. Having not ridden the trail, I didn't know what was ahead.

I got to the only aid station, which was less than halfway through. I was getting worried because I had already ridden 80 minutes. They told me the way back was much easier and it was. The trail lets out on a forest road, which was downhill and a breeze to ride. Then you go back the same way you went out with a final push up to the water tower. I made the hill yesterday, but I was out of gas at that point and walked. There is a steep descent and I chickened out on that as well. It was probably rideable, but I was out of ride. You go through the woods and then have to climb over the fence again to get back to transition.

By the time I started the run, I was exhausted. I had hoped to actually race the run, but it wasn't to be. The first mile features a hill called the Eliminator. It lived up to it's name. The first mile took me fifteen minutes. I hoping it would get better. I was pouring water over myself and stuffing ice down my bra because it was really hot at this point. Faster people have no idea how bad it gets on the run in the heat when you are slow. I made up some time after the Eliminator and was going fairly well, then tripped. Wet shirt covered with dirt. Wonderful. How Xterra.

I got to wash the dirt off later on the trail. The scenery was pretty when you ran over the dam. There were cliffs to the left. You ran down to the water and then had to wade into the water for 25 feet. It was shallow, so I just waded. The water felt really good. You come to a second water crossing which is chest high. I ended up swimming the last 15 feet. Swimming in running shoes is awkward. They fill up with water and weigh down your legs. I got out the water and sloshed to the finish line. Total time was about 3:50. I was well down in the standings, but second in my age group because there were only two of us. We get credit for showing up.

I am glad I did this race for experience, but I am not sure if I will do it again. The races are well organized, but they are tough. Maybe too tough. Even though I did my best, I felt like the trail was conquering me rather than I conquering it. It's nice to have a challenge to see what you can accomplish even if you aren't quite up to doing it really well. If I always stayed in my comfort zone, I would be bored. Maybe I will try the road Olympic. When it isn't hotter than hell. And NO camping.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tempe International Race Report

It has been so long since I had done an "easy" triathlon race that I had forgotten how it was to race without numerous things going wrong. No hypothermia, heat exhaustion, numb feet, forgetting where your bike is racked in transition, no horrible swim, no bike mechanical problems. Even on a flat course, a sprint race isn't necessarily "easy" if you are pushing yourself hard. You can't catch your breath because you are working at a high intensity level. However, some sprint races are harder than others. Last year I did a sprint race at Lake Pleasant. There were hills, more hills and yet more hills. It wasn't a race where you went at a steady speed, because you had to fight the rolling hills. I wasn't really in sprint mode(hard and fast) because I was training for Ironman Arizona, which is more long and moderate speed training.
The swim was mercefully wetsuit legal and short. It was a 400 meter course. I was prepared to swim without a wetsuit, but I wasn't prepared to like it. I have had many miserable panic-striken swim in Tempe Town Lake. Without a wetsuit, I use a lot of energy trying to stay calm and I get tired. I hate the feeling of being tired and out in the middle of the water with no place to rest. The lake had these tall cement walls that make you feel like you are in a dank tunnel. Usually the races have you swiming straight into the sun, which is right over the horizon, so you can't see a damn thing except hapless people trying to swim straight. This particular race was west of a bridge, so there wasn't that problem.
Since the swim was so short, I decided to go at a moderate steady pace. It worked well. The wetsuit made me feel secure and the swim went fairly quickly. I was working hard, but I could still get enough air. I was done in 11:50, which isn't great for the rest of the world, but good for me. I actually get past some bodies. I struggled up the stairs. The volunteers in the race don't help you, unlike every other race I do in this lake. I ran into transition and actually got my wetsuit off fairly quickly. Usually, I am so cold that it takes forever. I get on my bike and take off.
The weather was still delightfully cool. Last year, I did the olympic course and it was very hot by the time I got on the course. I passed what look liked younger people who were in previous waves. A sprint tends to attract newbies, so at least I am faster than some of them. I kept up a moderately hard pace, but I didn't try to go too hard. This race seemed to be going entirely too smooth. I kept wondering what was going to go wrong. I caught myself in time not to veer into an orange cone. I did that last year and crashed and injured my shoulder. The bike course went up a few short hills, so it seemed a little slower than the races I have done where you just circled around the lake for a million times. The average speed was about 16.4, which was kind of slow. I have been training on the mountain bike more and I think it has slowed me down a little. A small price to pay for variety.
I managed a flying dismount without incident and ran into transition. I actually knew where my stuff was, though it took me a second. I got into my running gear and took off.
I wanted to run hard and I did. The challenge of running after a swim and a bike is not slowing down. You get really tired sometimes, but I still had energy. You legs feel weird and it takes a while to get them going. I managed a 9:15 minute mile the first mile and a 8:57 the second mile. The last part of the 5k goes up a hill and some stairs so that you can go back over the bridge. I tried to pick off people to keep going. My chest felt like it had a crushing weight on it. The weather was still thankfully cool. Finally I hit the finish line in 29:12.
It was nice to actually do a race that FLOWED. Some races are such a struggle that it's all you can do to finish them. Everything will go wrong and you have to cope with it and move on. Sometimes you get lucky and everything works. All you are doing is fighting yourself. And having fun.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

What Should I Do With the Rest of My Life?

Ever since I was dumped by my now ex-husband and my world was turned up-side down, I have been re-assessing everything in my life. My possessions, my house, my finances, my emotional state and especially my career. I am an attorney, but my first career was in commercial art. In the 70's and 80's, that meant pasting type on a board to make an label, ad or brochure ready for printing. Since my original college degree was in fine arts, it seemed a logical progression to get a job in. But since I didn't have a degree in graphic design, most of the available work was the scut kind, which was the paste-up. It was REALLY boring. I wanted to do something more creative, but this was the work I could get. It wasn't very intellectually stimulating or creative. I took some graphic design classes, but it really wasn't enough to get a good portfolio. I free-lanced some, which was better than being in a dead-end job, but it wasn't a lot of money.

When my then husband decided to go to law school, changing careers from an industrial chemist, it seemed like a good idea for me as well. It should be easier to get a job in than commercial art I thought. The fact that I was introverted and didn't like speaking in front of people didn't faze me. I also didn't like dressing up at the time. I did, however, life to read, write and research. Law was interesting, but it was very competitive and rigorous. First year law classes were large and upon occasion the professor would call on you with some question that you couldn't answer about a case you didn't remember reading. It was brutal at times especially if the professor was sadistic. They taught with the Socratic method which meant you damn well better analyze various interpretation of the particular law and fact pattern.

Law school also had classes in interviewing clients, but the classes didn't prepare you for the real world. Clients sometimes lie to you and they omit facts. Sometimes they desperately want your services, but they don't want to pay you. They want your advice, but they don't aways value it. All this you have to learn on your own.

When I graduated, I learned that my assumption that it was easier to get a job in law than commercial art was wrong. The big firms that pay well want students that rank very high in their class. For that "good" pay, they expected you to work 80 hours a week and in general give up your life to the firm. The smaller firms also wanted higher ranking students. I was about average, so it didn't help much.

I went out on my own, but the work was haphazard. I had to learn legal procedures on my own. I didn't have a lot of confidence and I felt like I was playing a role that I wasn't suited for. I felt like people expected me to know everything and I didn't. I avoided going to court like the plague because I didn't know the procedures and it scared the hell out of me. Cook County courts were difficult to deal with sometimes.

When we moved to Arizona, I had to learn procedures all over again. I still tried to avoid going to court, but sometimes I got sucked into it. I stuck mostly to simpler stuff like drafting documents and filing bankruptcy petitions. The work tends to be mostly routine with some ringers thrown in once in a while to make things interesting and sometimes stressful. I like helping people, but sometimes I don't like dealing with unhappy people that I can't do anything for.

I still get the feeling I am meant to do something else. Figuring out what that is is the tough part. I like research and writing and I also like to be visually creative. I like to be outdoors and I love nature. I don't like doing the same thing all the time and I get bored easily. I am not really entrepreneurial, but I don't like being a slave to a firm. I seem to like things that don't have an easy way to make a living like fine arts, history, gardening and design. I did a career interest test and they came up with librarian, writer, human resource manager. The testing showed that I tended to be contemplative and that I had a low energy level. That much is true at least.

I am as confused as ever and I really need to figure my life out. I have been thrown out on my own and it's up to me to make decisions about my life. I feel lost and scared. I have to hope that I will move forward and away from the feeling of helplessness that I have. Small steps will eventually get you to achieve a huge goal. I don't believe that you can do anything that you want, but I do believe that if you want something badly enough, you can go farther than you thought you could.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Run for the Cheetah 5k Race Report

This race was my last chance try to run as hard as I can before it gets too hot to run without getting heatstroke race. I hadn't done any road 5k's since last year because I frankly didn't feel like it. 5k's are a lot of effort for me and they are really painful. I did a trail run 5k in January, but running a trail is quite different from running on the road. Your leg muscles are trying to negotiate over uneven terrain and you can't put as much effort into speed and leg turnover.

By the time the race started, it was getting warm already. I like running when it is a little chilly out because I really get hot when I run. It always amazes me when people run in long sweats when it is in the 60's outside and I am in shorts and a sleeveless shirt and sweating profusely. I knew when I was warming up with short speed intervals that I was going to be in pain. My legs felt a little wooden and running faster made my acid reflux worse. The joys of running when you are older.

The run started and almost right away there was a hill to climb. The rest of the run was fairly flat, but when you are trying to get used to the pain of not having enough oxygen, it is hard. I ran the first mile in 8:50. I thought "no PR(personal record) for me today. I wasn't about to give up. The last 5k PR I got, I was chasing an eight year old because I was damned if she was going to beat me. I had no such luck today. I had to motivate myself. I picked up the pace. The run was along the canal, so you could run on pavement or the dirt path and I stuck to the pavement because I knew dirt would slow me down. I only chose dirt when the cement path curved because I knew I had to save every second I could.

The turn around was half way through. I reached it in 13:35, so I had made up a little time. I had the familiar right side chest pain from lack of oxygen and my heart rate was close to 169, so I knew I was running about as fast as I could go. It was pretty warm by now. I was propelling myself mostly on mental effort now. My legs were tired. This race seemed like it was going on forever.

I hit mile 2 about 17:30, so I had made up some time. Not enough to PR, but enough to get a decent time. By this time I really wanted to be done. 5k's are so short time wise, but they are incredibly painful. Pain is the price of speed. Most of my training speed work is at lower intensities, with only occasional forays into this kind of torture.

The last part of the race goes down the hill to the finish line. My last mile was at a 8:39 pace. I finished in 27:02.

I am not sure why I am addicted to doing this to myself. Running hard hurts a lot, but it is satisfying to push through the pain to see how fast you can go. One barrier goes down and you are curious to see if you can go through another one. So much of life is out of your control, but in running, at least you can control yourself mentally and physically. I didn't go through the 5k barrier in this race, but it felt like I came up to it. The fun is in the trying. The result is a bonus.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Loneliness is a State of Mind

After being married for 32 years, I have had a hard time getting used to being alone again. I live with my teenage daughter, but it's not the same as having another adult around. It's been almost two years since I was essentially living without my ex. I have only been divorced since last June, but my ex was gone most of the summer in 2008 before he decided to tell me he didn't want to be married anymore. The shock of being alone is wearing off, but it still feels somewhat sad and strange.

My bed is empty at night, I don't have anyone to travel with, I have to do all the housework, yard work and general chores myself. It is strange not to have anyone but my ex to put down as "emergency contact". I don't really have anyone to call if I am in trouble. I take care of the car myself. I try to take care of the pool myself. There seems to be an endless amount of little chores to do when no one helps you.

I feel like I am on the precipice of a cliff. Anxiety stalks me and I just try to get through the day. I have always had this lurking insecurity, but without anyone to hang onto, it is full-blown. I try to deal with it and be optimistic, but it's a lot of work. Despair tries to creep in. I am in a uncomfortable place, and it seems like I am going to stay there for a while.

I have a career, but it really isn't working for me. I have to figure out what I want to do and what my purpose is and I feel like I am stuck in a quandary. There are almost limitless possibilities, but I don't know what they are yet. I feel lost.

Being alone does have some advantages. I don't have to deal with someone else's emotional issues other than my daughters. I am not kept awake at night by some one's snoring or reading in bed late at night. I would give anything to have someone to cuddle with, but I am not ready to deal with a relationship yet. I don't have someone to put me down, ignore me to be with someone else and to lie to me. Until I am sure I wouldn't let someone treat me badly just to not be alone, I won't date anyone.

Some religions theorize that you are not alone, but part of a spirit that is in everyone. There is not death, no past, no future, just the now and being. Some religions theorize that you are never alone if you believe in their god. I am not sure what I believe. If I am doing some activity that I get lost in, I don't feel lonely. I don't even think about it. I just enjoy being in the present, in just living.

If I am doing something unpleasant and anxiety provoking like paying bills, then I feel more alone. If I am reminded of what I have lost, like when I see apparently happy couples, then I feel more isolated and weird. I forget that apparent happiness isn't always so, that just because you are with someone doesn't mean you are happy or not alone. I thought I would never be unmarried, but everyone leaves your life eventually in some way.

It all comes down to your response to your situation. You can control your response, but not what other people do. I can choose not to feel lonely and to be happy, but it's a lot of work. The pain of a lost relationship lingers a long time and thoughts creep into your head that you don't want. Pain can be a incentive to change for the better, but change is really uncomfortable. Pain is carving new pathways in my brain. I will never be the same, but maybe that's a good thing.