Friday, February 25, 2011

Desert Duathlon Race Report

I stand by the start line watching the pros getting ready to start. I like to look at the pros. The men are kind of pretty in their skin tight clothes with their perfect muscled bodies. The airhorn goes off and they dash away.

This race is fun in a hellish sort of way. It’s set in McDowell Mountain Park, which is lush Sonoran desert with a LOT of hills. The race site this year was at the competitive tracks, which are popular with trail runners and mountain bikers. The trails were specially designed to test your skills in these activities and they do. While not technically difficult, they are challenging and some spots scare the bejesus out of me if I am mountain biking. There are loop de loops, hairpin turns, steep drops off, rocks and LOTS of climbing. Running them isn’t a piece of cake, either.

The age groupers are next. In addition to pros, this race attracts athletically gifted age groupers. I am not in this category. The men go first so they supposedly won’t run down the women. Finally, I am off.

The first run goes up a hill on the road and then to a relentless series of hills. The day is cloudy and cool with a layer of white fog hugging the distant mountains. You are surrounded by desert populated with Palo Verde tree, teddy bear cholla cactus and various bushes. I struggle to run hard. The terrain demands a lot of my legs. The ground is sandy and rocky and the trail goes gradually uphill for the first half with constant ups and downs. Supposedly, the theory is that you don’t go all out on the first run of a duathlon, but it wasn’t working out that way. My heart rate was higher than I planned, but I wasn’t about to slow down.

As I was running, I was thinking about transition. I had to get through it without getting a lot of mud on my bike shoes. If I got too much mud on the cleat, I couldn’t clip into the pedal. This might be tricky. I had noticed the amount of mud surrounding my bike prior to starting the race. The mud has a sticky, greasy composition. Once it attaches itself to something, it clings like cement.

I finished the run and ran into transition. Most of the bikes were already gone, of course, so at least I had a little dry ground to work with. I usually end up riding mostly by myself towards the second half of the bike ride and also running by myself the second run. Everyone else finished early. I had a good half an hour after they are done to contemplate my athletic inadequacies while I was racing. I got on my bike shoes and negotiated the bumpy carpet to the road. I couldn’t clip in to my pedals at first, but I knocked mud off of my shoes until I could.

The road bike loop is a lot of hills, like the runs. The bike route descends to the park entrance, turns left onto a highway, then turns around and heads back to the park. It then ascends to the north end of the park and turns around again. The park road has a rough surface and sucks the energy out of you. The road entices you with false flats and climbs that seem like they should be easier, but they aren’t.

The first part of the bike course is not too bad. The rain was holding off and I was still warm. I got passed on a hill by someone who was 64. She must have been really fast, at least that’s what I told myself. All of the pros and the fast age groupers were gone. I turned around and headed back to the park.

The climb to the park entrance is where all the fun begins. It’s a long, slow slog up a hill. I didn’t mind it today as much as I had in the past. I went by mile marker twelve. Really? Is that all? This ride was not going very fast. By now the bike course was really deserted, with only a few stragglers. I was hoping that I wouldn’t be doing the last run by myself.

I finally got to the top of the hill and then went thankfully downhill. I hit the final turn around. Then the ride started to get ugly. I had to climb yet another hill. I wasn’t making much progress and this was turning into one of my slowest bikes I had ever done in this race. The wind started to pick up and it was raining. My thighs felt like someone was whacking them with an iron rod. It was definitely a low point in this race. Last year this point was at the beginning of the race and uncomfortable, but not as difficult as it felt now.

I finally got to the end and went into transition. There wasn’t enough room to re-rack my bike and I had to push one over to get mine racked. I almost fell over and banged my shin on the teeth of the bike gear. I changed shoes and hit the second run.

My legs felt like lead and it was hard to run. This trail was harder than the first, with steeper ups and downs. I passed someone I knew, then another. There weren’t many people on the course and everyone seemed to be struggling. I didn’t have much speed left in my legs. Then it started to rain again. Super. At least my multiple layers of clothing were keeping me warm.

I finally saw the finish line and tried to speed up, but couldn’t. My final time was 2:43. It was one of those races I thought I survived, but did not conquer. Trying my best and finishing it should have been enough, but it wasn’t. I liked the challenge of pitting myself against the terrain, but it was the king and not me. It was so pretty and so mean.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


I feel like every time I ride my bike on the streets, it’s a war between me and the cars. People either don’t want to yield to bikes or aren’t paying enough attention to bother to look if I am there. I have to always assume that a driver is going to act like an idiot, because if I don’t, I could get hurt.


1. The rolling stop. Are you going to run me over or not? Sometimes it’s a game of chicken to see who stops first. It pisses me off. I have learned to veer away from the car if I am not sure they are going to stop.

2. Failing to yield to me in a crosswalk when I have the "walk" sign. I have the right a way. Stop already. I know you have more important things to do than slow down for a mere bike rider, but I can sue your ass if you run over me.

3. Cutting me off. Drivers assume they can turn right in front of me without my body doing too much damage when it bounces off of their car, but it’s a dangerous gamble. I might get blood on your pretty clean car.

4. Honking and swearing at me for no apparent reason. If you are having a bad day, why don’t you go to a therapist or something. Don’t take it out on me.

5. Not giving me the legally required three feet of space. You don’t have to run me off the road. Really.

If I am not contending with idiot drivers, then I have to deal with bad street design. It’s obvious some intersections weren’t designed for anyone not in a car.

1. Intersections where I have to push the walk button in order to get across and the walk button is located in a weedy patch of gravel that I have to drag my bike over to get to. Some cities have the walk button right by the curb. Why can’t every city do that?

2. Intersections where you have to guess whether you have enough time to get through the intersection on a green light. Kudos to Phoenix for putting in countdown numbers for the light change. I wish this was everywhere.

3. Intersections that don’t have a right turn lane, but the drivers make an illegal one in the dirt on the side of the road. In one instance, I couldn’t even cross the road on the green light because cars wouldn’t yield to let me through.

4. Intersections where there is no crosswalk on the right side, so you either have to wait in the lane going straight and hope a car triggers the light or you have to cross the intersection in three places to get back to the right hand side of the road.

I don’t know if drivers are worse in big cities, but it seems like drivers in Phoenix have a need to go ten miles over the speed limit and have to be somewhere ten minutes ago. If I get a polite driver that lets me go through an four-way stop intersection, I get confused. I know some drivers hate cyclists. Some cyclists run through red lights, don’t stop at stop signs and generally act like traffic laws don’t apply to them. I think they are the exception and besides, they don’t kill anyone other than themselves if they make a mistake.

Sometimes I have a fantasy that all the cars are off the road and I can ride my bike without fearing for my life. Riding a quiet street is a relief because it restores my inner peace and I can relax. The war is over, at least for a little while. I try to ride on streets with low traffic, but you can’t totally avoid busy intersections. It helps to ride with people so that drivers are more likely to see you, but that isn’t always possible.

So, unless I want to ride on a trainer indoors all the time, which I don’t, I have to gird my loins and do battle with the metal enemies. Victory is getting home safely.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Turning Eighteen

Eighteen is a crossroads. It’s a time to grow up, to fly or fail on your own and to become your own person. This age seems like a beginning because at eighteen your whole life is ahead of you. You have yet to experience a lot of the amazing highs and lows of life. You get discover who you are and learn new things about the world in a new environment. You get to discover first love, if you haven’t already. You might go to college and study new subjects, meet new people and learn exciting new ideas that expand your mind.

My daughter Melissa turned eighteen in January. I don’t think a teenager magically turns into an adult at eighteen because everyone is different, with different life experiences and some teenagers are more mature than others. Technically, my daughter is an adult and is able to vote, sign legal documents and make loans. I think Melissa is fairly mature and smart, but she doesn’t have a lot of life experiences because she hasn’t been out in the world on her own. Most teenagers don’t at that age. I was fairly immature at that age myself and it took me years to learn what I probably should have known at a lot earlier age.

So eighteen is also an end because even though I will always be a parent, I feel like however good or bad parent I was, most of my job is done. I will still provide guidance, but I can’t make decisions for her anymore. She has to make her own mistakes. I feel a sense of relief and also fear. I won’t be around to protect her. I will have no control over what might happen to her.

I was never one of those gung ho mothers. It took me a long time to decide to have a child and by then it was almost too late. I haven’t been exposed to babies when I was a child, since I was the youngest and I felt kind of lost as a new parent. I found out that babies are pretty amazing and that they soak up knowledge at an astounding rate. But it is a relief when they are potty trained. Taking care of a child can be pretty boring, but then it’s delightful when they first learn to walk or have other milestones. Even at an early age, they seem like extraordinarily complex creatures. Their moods change instantly and sometimes figuring out what they want is impossible.

But I am ready to have less responsibility in my life for other people. For a while I was a wife, a mother and my mother’s caretaker when she had Alzheimers. I am no longer a wife and my mother has passed away. Living without a husband, I have gotten used to doing whatever I felt like, except I still had to take care of my daughter. She is fairly low maintenance and keeps out of trouble, but I still feel a little constricted. My ex-husband got to move away and re-marry and do whatever he wanted and I want some of that freedom. I want to come and go as I please, cook whenever and whatever I want, and not have to clean up after anyone but myself. I am ready to let her go.

My daughter has always surprised me. Because of her I have had experiences I would not have had otherwise. For a while she was into pets and begged for a dog. I had no desire to have another child who wasn’t potty trained, so I didn’t give in. She tried fish, which all died. She managed to starve a goldfish to death, which is still shocking to me. Then she tried parakeets, which are hardy pets that like people. They have never been to a vet and are thriving after ten years. Of course they shed feathers like crazy and poop prodigiously. I would have never thought to have birds if she wasn’t around.

She also is a member of her speech and debate team in high school. This is an activity I wouldn’t have pursued in my wildest dreams. It would have terrified me and I would have avoided it like the plague. Most people don’t like the idea of getting up in front of people and performing a memorized speech, but she does it, is good at it and likes it. I have judged in some speech tournaments and I am amazed at what some of these kids can do in their creativity and acting skills. Participating in speech seems to give her self confidence and improves research and writing skills. I admire that she acquired such self confidence, since it is not an easy attribute to have.

Another world she inhabits is anime. I think it’s part of her creative side. The people that follow it are in their own world and are obsessed with it. I don’t understand it and I can’t explain it. In pursuing this interest, she sews costumes. I know nothing of using a sewing machine, so she learned it on her own. My mother hated sewing and so do I, so I don’t know where she picked up the interest and the aptitude for it. It must be a recessive gene. She goes to conventions with her friends and they dress up like characters in anime stories. I find it baffling. It’s another thing I wouldn’t have had contact with if she hadn’t been around. Still it is part of her life and she has a whole circle of weird people who enjoy it with her.

Being a teenager, my daughter had her "moods". She gets crabby for no apparent reason and sometimes tells me when I say something that "I DON"T CARE". Sometimes, she isn’t fun to be around and she takes me for granted, assuming I will always be around to help or do things for her. She thinks I am hopelessly out of date with technology. She wants desperately to get out of high school and go somewhere far away from Arizona. Teenagers like to distance themselves from their parents and she is no exception.

I am hoping her transition into adulthood isn’t too difficult, because it’s hard and I can’t do it for her. She seems fairly independent, and I have faith that she can do it. I think the whole college thing will be a piece of cake for her and maybe she will get a job someday, hopefully soon.

I am looking forward to being an empty nester with excitement and trepidation. Excitement because of what might be in store with me and her; and trepidation because I might worry about her and because I might not like living totally alone. I am sure I will miss her. Although I will never again experience a first love, like her, it’s also my chance to discover who I am and learn new things about the world in a new environment. I could even go to college and study new subjects, meet new people and learn exciting new ideas. You don’t have to be eighteen to do that.