Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Duathlon National Championship

I usually whine in race reports about how much I hurt, how depressing the experience was or how badly my results sucked. Most people who don’t race don’t understand why I would do something so unpleasant to myself. This event was none of those things. It was freaking MAGIC.

The duathlon was set in Oro Valley, Arizona, north of Tucson. Just doing a race somewhere besides the Phoenix area attracted me. After ten years of multisport I am BORED with the same venues. I jumped at the chance to do something new. It’s also a national championship, which means good swag and really serious competition from around the country. It had a definite “cool” factor. Placing in the top eighteen in my age group meant I had the chance of competing in Spain with Team USA. That wasn’t my goal, but it was a possibility with only twenty one people registered in my age group.

I felt kind of tired and unenergetic race morning. I had felt “off” all week and I was nervous about racing and hadn’t slept well. Somehow speediness seemed a distant concept. My bike rack spot was near the “run in” and “bike in”, which seemed like a good thing because sometimes my brain goes fuzzy after strenuous activity and I can’t find where my stuff is in transition. It was interesting that women my age were here from places like Oklahoma, Virgina, California and Colorado. Old gals rule. Some are very fast. To hell with slowing down with age.

I warmed up by jogging and checked out the nasty four to six percent hill that preceded the finish of each run. It looked like it was going to hurt. After someone sang an out of tune national anthem, we were off. The older people went first, which suited me fine. It felt hot already.

Most people got ahead of me, but I was concentrating on keeping a steady pace. The first mile was a slight climb and took about 9:30. Then we went down a hill and up it again. Then down a hill to a turn around, then up again to the hill. That hill wasn’t too bad, but it was work. I finished in about 29 something which was decent. I thought it was going to be a grueling affair and I wanted save my energy.

I dashed through transition and on to the bike. The bike course was rolling hills, but they weren’t too bad. The steep climbs were short. It was out and back, which meant I got to fly down the hills that I had previously crawled up. My legs actually felt O.K. I was kind of surprised that I felt that good. I thought, I am beginning the bike leg, which is usually the point where I start to hurt in a duathlon. HUH?! WHAT THE HELL? It was a little surprising. I didn’t want to push too hard because the course was fairly hard. I was downing salt tablets. There was a cross wind, but it wasn’t too bad. The first loop was about 41 minutes and 16.3 mph. OH. MY. GOD. An actual decent bike split, for me at least. This could be an great bike ride. I was kind of shocked. I thought I would be slower due to the hills. The second loop was a little faster. I had a lot of 60-70 year olds and even an 80 year old passing me. A little irritating. It was still fairly cool with the breeze, which was nice.

I finished and ran into transition. Racking my bike was hard because the rack was so high. I struggled to lift the bike high enough. I ran out and my legs were stiff, but not too bad. The first mile was a slow10:34, but then it was downhill and I made up some time. The  two mile mark was  19:03. Finally, I was going uphill to the finish. All I wanted to do was break ten minutes miles in the second run, so I pushed at the end. It was definitely harder running the second run  the same pace as the first run. Someone had a sign “Spain or bust” referring to the world championship. I gave a thumbs up. Cruelly, the rest of the way to the finish line was gravel, so I pushed to speed up. I finished the second run in about the same time as the first one-29:49. I had done it, a sub ten minute mile run.

I was left dazed at how well this race had gone. Usually, I secretly hope that I will exceed what I thought I could do, but it usually doesn’t happen. Something came together this day. Maybe it was the painfest I had at my last involuntary half ironman duathlon. Maybe it was the god awful five hour bike ride I had done last weekend. Maybe it was because it was the third duathlon I had done this year, when I usually only do one a year. Whatever it was, I felt extraordinary. It’s unusual to get a flow state, where I am at the right pacing, strength, training and venue all at the same time. I had been transported out of my usual anxious, depressed state of mind into a state of euphoria. This was an unaccustomed and long ago emotion that I hadn’t seen in a while-happiness and joy. I was going to hold onto it as long as I could, before it slipped back again into the darkness.

I started out the day going in one direction and completely turned and went in another. This experience went from an ordinary it will probably suck and be painful to UNEXPECTED POSSIBILITIES. I think I might go to Spain.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Butterfly Pavillion

Butterflies are fascinating creatures. They taste with their legs and navigate with their antenna. Besides their beauty, they are nonthreatening and gentle. Some insects sting, bite, spit or are downright ugly and repulsive. People of all ages seem fascinated by the butterflies.

I recently volunteered at the Desert Botanical Butterfly Pavilion. They had a variety of orange, white and black markings, like little flying jewels. One landed on a girl about eight years old and sat on her hand for ten minutes and she waited patiently until it flew away. My job was to answer questions and keep the butterflies from being stepped on when they perched on the ground. It’s a compact area with many butterflies, so they would not act as they would normally. Instead of avoiding people, they would land on them. At one point, I had eight on me. Their legs were kind of irritating on my bare skin and I had to resist the urge to brush them off. They seemed to like my white shirt and it was kind of intriguing to be a flower to them. It was soothing in a way to have them perched on me.

The butterflies makes me feel like I am part of the fabric of the natural world. Humans are part of the planet, but the connection gets lost sometimes when we construct artificial environments that separate us from the outside. We pave over ground, make ugly highways, build high rises, dams and otherwise alter the land, sometimes making it inhospitable and unlivable. Every time I go to the airport or have to drive the highway, I want to leave it as soon as possible. The thought of being stuck in such places is a nightmare. Their required functionality makes such soul sucking areas unfriendly and hideous to look at.

As an antidote to the pavement, people need gardens, parks and zoos. Flowers, plants, trees and butterflies have the form, color and softness that help us feel less alone and unconnected to each other. The world would otherwise be a bleak and uninteresting place. To hear and watch birds, to look at plants and observe animal behavior makes my petty worries disappear.

Butterflies are also amazing because they transform themselves. A caterpillar forms a pupa and the larvae inside dissolves and re-forms into the adult. It would be interesting to do this as a human. If I didn’t like my body, I could make a pupa and re-form it into something better. No dieting or exercise. The aching back could be gone. The flabby abdomen could disappear.

Even better, what if I could shed all my emotional baggage and start fresh. Old resentments, feelings of inadequacy, regrets and sadness could all go away. It would be a clean start. If only it was that easy. It would be nice to feel happy again.

Instead, I have to work on it bit by bit. I feel great one day and sink into depression the next. Telling myself positive statements takes repetition because it just doesn’t seem to sink in very quickly. I backslide, then have to move forward again. The old negative thoughts stick around. They don’t want to leave. They try to tell me that I’m not smart, that I can’t do things, that I will never amount to anything, that I am not talented. They keep me from going after what I want.

Patterns of behavior are even worse. I have to actually fight with them and they are resistant to change. One part of my mind wants to play it safe and the other part is miserable and wants to do something about it. I have to resist the urge to crawl into my hole and avoid the world, to try to connect with people despite my discomfort with exposing myself to rejection.

At least a caterpillar knows that it will turn into a butterfly. I don’t know if I will turn into what I want to be. The outcome is not guaranteed and it’s hard. The ideal career eludes me at the moment. Happiness with myself or with another person after being divorced is uncertain. Peace of mind and comfort with myself is not there.

I just have to bumble around from flower to flower, hoping that my antenna don’t fall off and that I get impossibly lost.