Friday, December 21, 2012

THE CHRISTMAS BEAST


In October it slithers in early.
I am appalled to see in stores the garlanded horror of
Santas that menace
the gentler, less scary skeletal Halloween.

















In November the monster is unleashed.House-eating lights blaze and twinkle.
Quickly they appear and then disappear slowly, sometimes not at all.
Vacantly leer the grinning blow up snowmen, who spring up,
then mysteriously collapse in
daylight, like slaughtered zombie sub-humans;
only to arise again to haunt the evening.

Pine trees are killed, put up in houses,
decorated, then
 tossed in the trash afterwards. 
 Shiny ornaments and lights distract from
 tree death or plastic fakery.
 I drag my tree out from its dirty garage home  and resurrect it.
Unenthusiastically I dig out the lights and decorations to put on it.
I have been conditioned to do this.

Newspapers, radio, television exhort the willing masses to buy, buy, buy,
jewelry, perfume, cars, mattresses, clothes, phones, IPads, IPods, computers, games, toys, DVD’s, TV’s...
You are not loved unless you give or receive these items.
I want to live on a deserted island until January.

This folly is accompanied by music of the worst kind-
water boarding sappy tunes and cheesy lyrics that play
over and over; often degraded to hawk
the jewelry, perfume, cars, mattresses, clothes, phones, IPads, IPods, computers, games, toys, DVD’s, TV’s...
This torture wears the prey down for easier consumption.
I want to scream for it to stop.

December is a mega-tsunami of holiday hell.
Victims are fattened on booze, cookies, candy and fruitcake.
They voluntarily gather with their friends
and only reluctantly with their families.
The beast is hungry.

Finally, it feeds, a Dionysian orgy of excess.
It swallows everything in its path
leaving a litter
of crumpled wrapping paper,
tattered ribbon and credit card bills.
I feel the void of emptiness it leaves.
It slithers off
until next Halloween.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Soma Half Iron Race Report

I hesitated to sign up for the Soma half ironman. A relatively flat race in October at Tempe, Arizona, should be “easy”, but it is not. I go back a long way with this race, starting with a sprint version in 2003. I had done Soma as my first half iron in 2004. In those days, they had the sense not to hold it before the last weekend in October. A week makes a big difference in the Phoenix area, the difference between mildly warm and hot as hell. I am slow and always end up running in mid-afternoon. A half marathon in temperatures of high eighties is not optimal for a run, but is optimal for heat exhaustion.


I got to Tempe in the usual dark of the night to get my stuff organized, pump up my bike tires, get body marked and stand in a long line for the porta potty. I was in a daze because I am not a morning person. Waking up at 3:45 doesn’t help. I always wonder how I am ever going to have the energy to race, but it always happens. People milled around to get ready. Since it is a local race, I chatted with people that I knew. I tried not to think about how long the day would be.

We lined up to jump in the warm seventy-four degree water. The rising sun pinked up the Mill Avenue bridge, the buildings lining the banks of Tempe Town Lake and the mountains. My wave, which was the last one, bobbed around in the water waiting for the start. I stayed to the back.

We started off, and swam into the sun. I waited for people to go off, because I couldn’t stay with them. People would kick me if I was in the way. It was hard to sight off the buoys in the glare of the light. I saw moving arms and splashing arcs of reflected water ahead of me.

I swam onward at a steady pace, not hating it, but not enjoying it. It was just work. I was hot in my wetsuit. After a while, a few souls were still in the water, but most had left. A kayaker paddling along side annoyed me. They were supposed to save us if we were drowning, but I didn’t need rescuing and I wanted to be left alone.

Finally, I reached the end. Fifty-nine minutes. That was slower than I wanted. Volunteers stripped my wetsuit off and I ran to my bike.

I started to ride and found out that my bike computer wasn’t working, so I had no idea how fast I was going. I wanted to be conservative anyway, because fifty-six miles is a long way to ride hard in the heat. It felt cool right now, but that wouldn’t last.

The bike course was still crowded with people on their second and third laps. I took note of where I was going because by the third lap, I would probably be alone. I didn’t want to have the disconcerting feeling of being unsure where I was going when no one was around to follow.

I wanted to have a personal best time on the bike section, but not to overdo it. I stopped to use the porta potty and to fix my bike computer. The sun was more intense by now.

I noticed half way through that I wasn’t feeling well; the nasty feeling I got on the edge of heat exhaustion. I thought to myself, this isn’t good. I poured water on myself to keep cool, but it would evaporate in ten minutes. I was tired and my legs and feet hurt.

By the third lap, the course was empty, with a few souls bravely plodding along. I didn’t like riding up an empty freeway ramp by myself. Creepy. I was relieved to see anyone. The tedium was occasionally broken by vehicles invading the bike course. I saw a semi crossing ahead of me, blowing through an intersection and somehow avoiding the orange cones. My pace was about what I wanted to do-sixteen miles per hour. I finished in about three and a half hours, a P.R..

The real fun is the two lap run. Now it was eighty-eight degrees. One year, I did the run in ninety plus degrees. My heart rate had soared, I had been dizzy and my fingers had tingled. I had to walk the second lap and the run took almost four hours. I had desperately wished at the time that someone would have pulled me off the course. I wanted to avoid that horror.

I accepted the mediocrity of running the first lap slow. This wasn’t good for my ego, but it was survival and I might as well not feel bad about it. I would rather run both laps, then walk one. I poured water on myself at every aid station and stuffed ice down my bra. It helped keep me going, but I was still fried. The walking dead accompanied me. Negativity entered my brain. I hated the people who had already finished. I thought how this race was dead to me and I would never do it again. People better not get in my way. I was fighting the heat, fatigue, pain and mental misery. I wondered who was on their last lap. Probably everyone but me. I kept running, but slower than I wanted to.

In the midst of my dark mood, I met up with a friend. We talked as we ran and I didn’t think as much how miserable I was. I could run faster with someone to pace me. The temperature rose to ninety degrees. It was me versus the heat and I was winning. The miles went by. The end was near.

Fellow sufferers, um
 racers. Courtesy Camelback Coaching

We ran together under the finish line in seven hours, seventeen minutes total time. I usually finish half irons alone with no one to cheer me at the end, so this was a bonus. This was my fastest overall and 2:37" run time ever in a half ironman. The race was harder and felt much worse than I thought it would. I had had a faint hope that I would feel great doing this distance. Reality beat me down, but not the heat. Some challenges make me pay dearly to overcome them.


Friday, October 12, 2012

MY HOUSE DIVORCE

It used to be a nice house. It was clean, sunny and roomy. It had a big back yard that I could plant lots of trees and shrubs. The grass was green and the fences weren’t crumbling. The citrus trees in our yard had oranges and grapefruit in the winter. I grew vegetables and flowers.


My daughter loved the pool , which my husband took care of. I thought I would never move, outgrow it or have to care for it entirely myself.

My daughter took her first steps in this house. Marks on the garage wall show her growth. Her various playmates passed through with birthday parties, sleep-overs, speech practices and later anime conventions. Her friends would come over, wreck things and leave. A population of Barbies, then Neopets took over her room. Her drawings were strewn everywhere. Life permeated the walls and even juice when Melissa had a fit and flung her cup. Stains on the carpet evidenced one of her art projects.


Growth Hashmarks on the Garage Wall
 But the house wasn’t that easy to keep clean and I am a lazy housekeeper. It had 2,400 square feet of floor to get dirty. Our cat shed fur and occasionally puked on the rug. As he got older he added urine to the mix. Pet birds contributed seeds, poop and feathers in amounts way beyond their size. They weren’t happy confined in their cages, so they had a whole room to fly around and pollute. Cleaning their cages and her room was not a priority with my daughter.


Then the house relationship died one day. I sat at the dining room table with my husband when he told me the relationship wasn’t working anymore. My world caved in and things were never the same. I got profoundly depressed. I was left with all his junk and I had to purge it.

His photos came down, the marriage certificate was shredded, but I still had his ugly office furniture and law books. Looking at this stuff was a slap in the face. The detritus of thirty-two years of marriage weighed me. My love affair with the house was over.

I loved growing things, but weeding, trimming bushes and sawing limbs was a chore. I planted native plants thinking that they wouldn’t need a lot a water, but I was wrong. The sprinkler system didn’t cover most of what I had planted so I had to drag a soaker hose around the yard and water something almost every day in the summer. When my husband left, I didn’t want to mow grass and pay for the water, so I let the grass die. This resulted in bushes in the lawn dying and dropping their leaves in the pool. The yard looked sad. It reflected on my failure to maintain it and in my life in general.

The pool was difficult to keep up. The water had to be tested for acidity and chlorine content. The sand filter clogged up and cleaning it was a pain. The pool was a leaf magnet. The skimmer never seemed to work well. Water would have to be added every other day in the summer. It wasn’t so bad when my husband was around to take care of it, but I had no idea what to do when he left.

When my husband divorced me, my thought was to sell the house. My daughter didn’t want to live anywhere else, so I held off putting it on the market. At the time it had equity. Then the market crashed and it lost half of its inflated value. I owed more than what it was worth. I didn’t know what to do.

I still wanted sell the house, so I slowly got rid of stuff, especially if it was my ex’s. I felt a small triumph when something was gone.

I bided my time and cursed the pool. The damn machinery kept breaking down and turning the water green with algae. I had to sink money into something that I hated. The air conditioning broke down in June and I had to replace it. I wanted out.

The market continued to plunge. Every year the “experts” said the market would improve and it didn’t. I looked at options including defaulting on the mortgage. I felt trapped.

My daughter left for college. The house was even emptier. It felt weird to be totally alone for long periods of time. Sometimes I didn’t have any human contact for days. The only sound in the house would be the television or the pet birds.

I finally put the house on the market this year, a step towards my goal of moving on in my life. Selling it was tricky with it being worth less than I owed on it. I didn’t know where I was going to live, other than in the same neighborhood. I knew I didn’t want a pool. I didn’t know if the bank would even approve a short sale or if they would sue me for the difference. All kinds of legal issues accompanied a short sale.

I got lucky with a getting a buyer right away. A neighbor offered to buy it before it was officially listed. The bank approved the sale in a week. Everything happened very fast. I just had to find a place to live after nineteen years in the same place.

Looking at rental houses left me cold. What were some of these people thinking? One promised a brand new kitchen with granite counter tops, but left other areas in the house unfinished. Another had a neighbor with ten cars in the yard and a pile of tires in the back yard. One didn’t look bad except the house across the street had it stucco stripped off and a motor cycle parked in front. I had visions of motorcycle noise at three in the morning and loud parties. I didn’t feel safe there.

I finally found one I liked, but it was farther than I wanted to travel for almost everything. I had no other good choices, though. It was about 1500 square feet-less floor to clean. It looked like the other tile roofed variations on the same model, crammed together with tiny yards. I used to turn my nose up at these types of houses. Now it suited my needs, No huge yard, no pool and a garage to put my crap in. It was clean and neat and I wasn’t in charge of yard upkeep.

Still, I wondered... did I want to be in this house for a year? Can I pay the rent? Am I ever going to be comfortable in it? It came down to no time left to look for another place or no other options, so I took it.

When you live in a place a long time, little tendrils of memories worm their way into your mind. As much as I wanted out, it was still wrenching to leave. I felt like a plant being repotted that had roots being ripped from the clay surface of its container. I felt unhinged, uncomfortable, insecure and uneasy.

Since the divorce I had been getting rid of things. Now it started in earnest. I had no idea how much stuff I had until I started packing it. I had the Salvation Army take my ex’s ugly fake wood grain plastic office furniture predating the seventies. A neighbor helped haul away patio furniture, a grill and assorted other junk. It still wasn’t enough. I gave up and just packed the items I didn’t want. The weight of all the accumulation of things oppressed me. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the lawn spreader ,a wheel barrel and four bikes.

The amount of packing was enormous. I had moved before, but never by myself and never packing everything. I would wake up at night in a panic and would have to calm myself down. Anxiety ate at me. I couldn’t relax. If I got tired, I couldn’t rest because something else had to be done. My life had been taken over by moving hell. Boxes were scattered around the house, but just as much stuff was laying around loose. I had twenty paintings and no where to put them. Where does all this crap come from? It snuck in when I wasn’t looking and before long, it took over. Despair overcame me at times.

Moving day came. I was packing up until the time that the truck was nearly loaded. These guys were carrying my life out the door. Somehow they managed to knock a door knob off a door in the hallway. They couldn’t get a couch out the door of a room. It got in the door, why couldn’t it go out? I had to leave it for now. I was too tired to fight about it.

With all the going in and out, I was hot and sweaty the whole day. My body wanted to go exercise, not pack and stress out. My muscles were shaky and weak.

I drove to the new place and put my pet birds away. The movers hadn’t shown up yet. I think they had gone out to lunch or something. The house had a smaller square footage and I wasn’t sure where I was going to put everything. I found out that cramming houses close together makes for darker rooms because sunlight is blocked.

The movers came back. Everything didn’t fit. I had to put my weight machine in the garage. An old entertainment center looked too big for its space. My office furniture barely fit in the room. Boxes were everywhere. I had no cable yet, so I felt lost. No computer, no T.V. I was uncomfortable. The movers left after I paid them a large amount of money. I wondered if I was supposed to tip them.

I couldn’t find anything. I had marked the boxes with the room where they were supposed to be and what was in them, but the movers had not read some of the labels. I found my kitchen pots half a day later. So much stuff was laying around. It didn’t feel like a home. I was exhausted and couldn’t face unpacking the boxes. I got out what I really needed and ignored the rest.

The next day the cable guy came. I felt much better. At least I wasn’t disconnected from the world. The thought of organizing and reconnecting all the wires myself had worried me a great deal. A little normalcy was restored, though I still felt very unsettled.

The old house hadn’t closed yet, so it was still my responsibility. Some church ladies volunteered to help and cleaned out the debris left behind. A neighbor helped get the couch to my new place. I gradually got the stuff I had left behind. It didn’t feel finished, though. I still had to worry about the yard and the pool. The emptiness echoes inside when I was there. It’s a skeleton of what it was, the soul vanished.

The pool decided to turn green. I ran out of chemicals. I tried to back wash it and it didn’t help. I desperately wanted to be done with the frustration forever.

On one of my visits, a hummingbird reproached me with his beady little eyes and raspy call about the empty feeder. It was so unspeakably sad that I felt like crying for hours. I was surprised with the strength of my emotional reaction. It was like a dream where a subconscious feeling comes out and I wake up with the shock of it still lingering in my mind. An unbidden sense of mourning, loss and abandonment had assaulted me.

The once pretty yard looked dried up. I ran the sprinkler system, but it didn’t water every plant. I worried about the unique native plants not typically found in Phoenix suburban yards. They were my babies. I will miss them.

************************************************************

On October 9, 2012, the house officially sold. I will not to have to worry about it anymore. My plants will probably die and the hummingbirds will be unhappy, but it is out of my control. I try not to think about it and feel guilty. When I have a goal, the difficulties involved to achieve it can surpass what I ever anticipated. Even though I really wanted to sell the house, like any divorce, the emotional entanglement was difficult to sever.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Nathan's Sprint Triathlon Race Report


The Culprits.
 Race day had an inauspicious start. I was getting ready to leave when my parakeets escaped. I opened their cage doors expecting them to stay put until dawn. They are spoiled rotten and expect to fly free all day and I would be gone for hours. One decided to start flying around, then the other. I had the room door open and I stopped one trying to leave. I turned the light on and found that the other bird was gone. I searched the room and finally saw her flying laps around the kitchen. I got her to sit on my hand and into the room, then the other escaped out the room. He perched on me, I walked back to the room and he tried to fly off again. I batted him away and slammed the door shut. So much for an early start.

With the birds dealt with, I had to deal with myself. Sometimes I sign up for races despite knowing that some hurdle will make it difficult. This event had a non-wetsuit swim because the water was over seventy-eight degrees. I can swim in a wetsuit with a fair amount of confidence, but take it away and I am terrified. Something about deep, murky water with nothing to hold me up but my flailing arms and legs scares me. Add a lot of people churning it up makes it worse. It doesn’t help that I am a super slow swimmer. More time in the lovely green water to contemplate how I am going to drown. Why can’t I be like everyone else who seem to breeze through the swim?

To counter the terror, I had to use every mental tactic I could think of. Mental imagery, positive thinking, a mantra, distracting thoughts, whatever would work. I imaged myself swimming smoothly through the water. I told myself “no fear”. I was going to suck it up and get through it. I had swam short distances in long amounts of time before without a wetsuit, but it had been difficult. I wanted to control the panic .

This race takes place at Tempe Town Lake. The bike and run course are flat and I had chosen the sprint distance because it was short and it was blazing hot this time of year. I arrived before dawn and it was too warm already. The worst part was to wait around for the start, which was delayed. We lined up to jump to the lake from some stairs. I found humming helped for some reason. I watched the other wave starts go into the water like lemmings.

When it was my turn, I got into the water and swam to the start. So far, no paralyzing panic. The airhorn blew and I waited for the masses to get ahead. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do this. I stayed near the cement wall and rested on the slimy ledge a couple of times. Finally, I had to force myself to swim to the turn buoy out in the lake. I didn’t want to get caught by waves behind me, fighting cross traffic.

To rest, I kicked on my side or back. Anxiety make me work harder, sapping my energy. I went from buoy to buoy, trying to stay calm. The water was smooth and no one was around me, which helped. Being last had some advantages. I think I was doing better than the last time I did this, which involved a lot of panic, moaning and hyperventilating.

Finally, I made the last turn. Seeing the stairs that beckon dry land always gives me joy. The ordeal was over and I had conquered the swim. I had broken down my fear barrier a little more. It was thirty-three minutes, which was much slower than anyone else, but I didn’t care.

After the difficulty of the swim, it was fun to blast through the bike course. All the grueling hills and/or altitude and long mileage of other races this year, made mere bridges, slight hills and freeway over passes seem like nothing. I rode hard through the streets of Tempe and loved it. My heart rate was high, my thighs ached, but I was flying effortlessly. I passed people who had swam faster than me, at least the newbies wearing running shoes or riding mountain bikes. The really fast people were on the run by now. The heat was getting more intense, baking my skin and I was thirsty. I averaged 17.2 mph for forty three minutes over the 12.3 miles.

The run was is supposed to hurt after riding a bike, but I still felt energetic. I had the usual stabbing chest pain, back pain, and foot pain, but my legs were moving well and I ran faster each mile. I averaged about 9:26 minutes per mile, a decent pace for me. I poured water on myself at each aid station and even got a “Sun Devil” splash from a college student. I passed someone in my age group on the Mill Avenue bridge with half a mile to go and mentally cheered. I ended up with 29:17 for the run. Total time was 1:50".

I thought that this race would be unpleasant because of the non-wetsuit swim and the heat, but I survived both. That and the parakeet wrangling. Mental arguing with myself got me through the swim. Too bad I can’t do that with my birds, like a bird whisperer or something. Not that they would listen.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Baileys

Once in a while I get inspired to write a poem. While going through the kitchen, the absurdity of having this bottle around for so long summed up what I was going through emotionally in preparation to move out of my house of nineteen years:

**************************************************


     Baileys, the Original Irish Cream.


    “Baileys is a natural marriage of fresh Irish cream, Irish whiskey and the finest of spirits-blended to perfection.”, the label read.

     Once a brown shiny new bottle, now dulled with a layer of grease.

     It sat above the ancient stove twelve years.


     I am moving. I have no use for it. It needed to be gone. The bottle could be recycled.

     My own marriage had fallen apart, with no blend of perfection.

     Was the beverage drinkable?

     It was never consumed because my husband was an alcoholic. A gift from a business associate who didn’t know. I didn’t drink it because “cream” and “whiskey” together didn’t entice me.

     “Best taste before December “00. “ Eons ago. My daughter was only seven. I thought I would be married forever. Life was easy.

     What would happen to “fresh” Irish cream after twelve years?

     A toxic soup? I hesitated to open it. Maybe it would emit foul, poisonous fumes.

     I unscrewed the cap. A hint of whiskey smell. No foul vapors. No explosion.

     I tried to pour it. A little brown liquid came out, then nothing. Plugged solid.

     Baileys Irish Cream had become Baileys Irish paste, a transformation into a squishy solid white cheese.

     Neglect had ruined it.

     Why did I keep it for so long?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Mountain Man Race Report


No race pictures of me because they were hideous
 After suffering for weeks in 110 plus degree weather, I didn’t care that I didn’t have enough air to breathe in this race. It takes place at Upper Lake Mary near Flagstaff at an elevation of 7,000 feet. As I was driving, a downpour lowered the air temperature from 81 to 59 degrees. When I got out of the air the rain cooled pine-scented air was wonderful.
I don’t react well to altitude. I sometimes get splitting headaches and I can’t sleep at night. Most commonly, I just get lethargic. The tiredness hit me when I got to my hotel room. I took a nap, but I didn’t want to move.

Downtown Flagstaff awaited, though. I always have to see the spectacle of weirdos, musicians, students and freaks that gather there.

Wheeler Park is the epicenter of people watching. A concert is always going on in the summer on Saturday nights. This is what attracted the entertaining mix of denizens. A young girl was singing. She had a strong voice and her version of Disney pop songs was good, but I thought her rendition of the Etta James “At Last” lacked depth.

As I was listening to her, a man with a giant tractor tire and hula hoops showed up. According to the drunk man talking to him, I think he had some show with the hula hoops . He opened a violin case and took out a pair of saws to play. He was waiting until the concert was over. In the meantime he let kids and adults play with the hula hoops. Five people with varying abilities attempted to master the skill of twirling the hoops.

I looked over the crowd and saw a women holding up a bunny. It was to give the animal a better view, but the creature didn’t look like it wanted to be there. She held it like a baby and walked off with another one in a stroller.

I watched the show of old people, young people, hippies and tourists for a while, then left.

I didn’t sleep well. I kept waking up every three hours.

The next morning, on the drive to Lake Mary, at a hideous hour of the morning, The moon, Jupiter and Venus were in formation, plus a bright orange star. I saw a bright shooting star in the dark sky. I hoped it was a good omen.

I set up and did a warm up run so I wouldn’t be so nervous starting the swim. I saw my coach on the way out. I still felt like I couldn’t breath. I was too tired to move in the thin air. I had to get motivated to race somehow.

On the way from transition to the swim start I talked to people I knew. I went down the pier and got into the water.

The water was warmer than the air and a mist was over the surface and was almost completely opaque and was brown on the surface, but white underwater. I felt a general all over chest tightness, but no panic. High altitude swimming is tricky and kind of scary. It’s a fine balance to avoid the feeling of suffocation and going fast enough to actually move.

I couldn’t get into a rhythm until after the last turn. I would swim a little, get out of breath and have to stop and rest. My form felt bad . I didn’t have any buoys to count off to distract me from the distance. I finally slowed down a little more near the end and swam steadily without resting so much. It felt like a mediocre swim, but I was surprised to see my watch only read forty one minutes, which was flying for me. It seemed a lot longer than that. It didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere on the swim.

As usual, I was mostly alone on the bike course. It’s easier to get oxygen, but not enough that climbing steep hills isn’t difficult. The ride goes by the lake, past fields of sunflowers and pine trees. It felt deliciously cool at the start. It felt slow on the way out because of humongous climb. I always forget that the way out is usually longer than coming back and I think my ride really sucks. The rest of the field is returning already and this makes me feel even more slow. This time it was ten minutes slower going out. I averaged 14 mph going out, maybe 18 mph coming back.

I kept myself fed, which is a balancing act to try to stay upright on the bike while stuffing chewy food in my mouth. I wasn’t hungry and it was difficult to eat because of the gummy texture. I needed it, though, to fuel the run. It felt like it was getting hot by then, the sun searing through the clouds. . I didn’t feel wiped out after the bike like I usually am, a feeling that isn’t helpful when a 10k run awaits . Total bike time was 1:31:15.

The first mile of the run always is harder than it would appear to be. It looks downhill, but it doesn’t feel that way. By the time my legs got used to running after the hilly bike, the hill was looming. This hill is BIG with over a mile to climb. It’s steep and difficult to run up at 7,000 feet. The weak merely walk up it. I got up the hill entirely running, but it hurt with a dull, heavy pain. The fun part was running down the hill. I was happy. Gravity was my friend because it was free speed. At the bottom, though, the elation went away and I felt tired. I tried not to think how far away the finish line was. The last two miles seemed forever. I looked at the cheery, yellow masses of sunflowers for distraction. Pretty flowers chase away the pain. Final run time was 66:36, which was my best for this race.

Total race time was 3:29, a time that might be very slow to some people, but I didn’t care. I usually beat myself up because I can’t be fast in this race with its thin air and the hilly terrain. I decided to accept it as it is-a brutally difficult event that fights with me every mile and finds every weakness. It abuses my body, but I don’t let it punish my mind

Monday, August 13, 2012

Reunion


Wabash River
 Some people might wonder why anyone would want to go to any of their high school class reunions, let alone the fortieth one. Especially if you hated high school and just wanted to get the hell out as fast as possible. My daughter was baffled as to why I would even consider going.


My high school is in West Lafayette, Indiana. Growing up, I developed a distaste for Indiana and for any location in the Midwest. A muddy, wide Wabash River separates it from Lafayette on the other side. Nothing exciting ever happened there. The visual monotony of flat green corn and soy bean fields with an occasional pig farm thrown in ground me down with its tedium. In the winter, the sun never broke through the clouds and the buildings were ugly and gray to match. Midwest steamy summers were enervating.

Even years later, I longed for anything to break the horizon when I traveled there. I am spoiled by the beauty of open skies and mountains of the southwest, unlike that of the Midwest where the horizon closed in. I got excited when I first saw windmills outside of Lafayette that are similar to the ones in Palm Springs, California. It was something vertical to look at besides dried up corn. I missed them as I traveled north on I-65, a highway that put me in a bored daze.


Remodel Interior of W. Lafayette H.S.
 West Lafayette is the home of Purdue University. It is known for it’s engineering school, of which I had absolutely no interest in as a student, and its utilitarian brick buildings are utterly devoid of charm. My father was a chemistry professor there. Many of my high school classmates were children of Purdue professors or of doctors. This created a very smart populace of students. Someone was always smarter than me or had perfect SAT’s. One guy in our class was doing college graduate work in math. I felt a lot of pressure to get good grades. The smart people were also over-achievers, excelling school and in numerous school activities like track, debate, drama and the National Honor Society. I was in band and studied ballet-not exactly impressive. I was a decent student, but not at the top of the class. High school was where I realized I was merely average.


In high school everyone had their cliques. The jocks, the cheerleaders, the druggies, the smart people would associate only with each other. I didn’t fit into these cliques or have a social network. I hung out with some nice people, but I wasn’t very close with anyone. I didn’t go to the prom. I wanted out as soon as possible. I found the atmosphere was stifling and lonely. I didn’t feel emotionally invested or involved in school.

When I went to high school from 1968-1972, it was the era of social upheaval-the Civil Rights Act, demonstrations against the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and Watergate. Even in conservative Indiana, in an mostly all white high school, it affected the students. Liberal ideas snuck into the populace. Short skirts and bell bottom jeans were in. Guys had longer hair and sideburns. Some people started an alternative creative writing publication to the school newspaper. My high school class valedictorian upset people with his speech expressing his leftist political views regarding the Vietnam War.

Now it is the time of the internet and social media. I was leery of “friending” some of these classmates on Facebook, assuming that they would be the same people, but it turned out to be beneficial. I found out other people had gone through a divorce and understood how I felt. Other people had parents with Alzheimer’s. Some shared my interests in birding and mountain biking. I found my ironman sherpa through Facebook to help me carry my stuff after the race. What happened decades ago didn’t matter.

Despite my negative high school experience, I found out that reunions were still fun. I may not have had many fond memories to share, but my classmates are interesting people to talk to. The social strata disappeared and appearances mattered less. It also re-affirmed acceptance. No one judged me or made fun of me because I was different or unpopular like they did in high school. We had all grown up and weren’t the horrible teenagers that we had been.

It no longer mattered what group I was in or who I had hung around with. The jocks talked to everyone, not just other jocks. The former druggies were off drugs-at least the ones that showed up and the cheerleaders had multiple kids. Our parents are aging along with us, some of us got divorced, we had children and some had grandchildren. We shared the same joy and trauma of life and were different people now.

Part of the draw of a reunion is the need to connect with the past. Whether people loved or hated high school, it was part of who we are. We look where we have been to see where we have gone and were curious as to what had happened to classmates we had known. I don’t know how many people as teenagers expected their lives to be as they are now or how they felt about it.

Some people had impressive lives as doctors, lawyers, professors and even an women airline pilot and a tugboat captain. Most had an air of confidence and were at ease with themselves. I don’t know if I had the same air, but I could fake it. I don’t know what their lives are actually like under the surface.


Sculpture that used to be inside the entrance.
 We toured the high school and most of it was unrecognizable. Additions and reorganization of the building made it much different than when I had gone there. I was a little surprised that I didn’t have much sense of deja vu or a feeling that I had spent a lot of time in the place. I felt indifferent and certainly not nostalgic. It was a mere structure that didn’t trigger any memories.

Some things changed in town and some had stayed the same. The familiarity both attracted and repulsed me. A drive-in that had been around since the Fifties didn’t have food that is as good as in the past. A new pedestrian bridge in Lafayette over the Wabash made crossing the river a lot more pleasant. An old ice cream place from my childhood still had good ice cream. I wanted to love or at least like the town that I grew up in, but couldn’t. It didn’t fit me.

While I was there, I visited my parents’ grave. The cemetery is on a wooded hill, surrounded by busy streets. The mature trees shield visitors from the traffic. I took pictures and wished I had something to leave on the graves. I was sad to be there. Another part of my past was gone. They should have had better deaths. My father died of cancer in his sixties, my mother of Alzheimers in her eighties.

In a place that I had inhabited for many years, time had flowed on relentlessly like the brown water of the Wabash River. I was in awe of its power. Forty years had flashed by. Some people had aged and changed in appearance. Others looked much the same as in high school, just with gray hair. I think we all had some scars we weren’t showing.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Feeling Good?

Once in a while I read self-help books. This is a by-product of the low self-esteem caused by the trauma of divorce. I grasp at anything that would help me feel better. Most of the time the books have some suggestion that I can use in limited amounts. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, for example, talks about living in the moment and not dwelling in the past or worrying about the future. This is a difficult concept to practice. My attempts at meditation make me twitchy and restless. It’s not always easy to follow when random thoughts bombard my mind late at night. Is the pool filter that starts to run at four a.m. going to blow up? Did I forget to pay a bill? Am I going to be homeless someday because my daughter insists on going to an incredibly expensive college?


Feeling Good by David Burns is one of the best books that I have read. It discusses that crap that you tell yourself that you are convinced must be absolutely true. It makes you depressed. Therapists call it cognitive distortions. I always thought that what I tell myself was true. That it is not is quite a different perspective. I think the author really nails the stupidity of what people tell themselves.

A number of types of cognitive distortion exist, but one in particular that I am guilty of is overgeneralization. If something happens, then it will always happen. If someone dumps me, then I will always be alone. If I am unhappy now, then I will always be unhappy. This kind of assumption feeds a feeling of hopelessness.

If I couldn’t do something in the past, then I won’t be able to do it in the future. The past doesn’t dictate the present or the future-- or at least I try to convince myself of that.

Another overgeneralization is thinking everyone else is better than me. They are more together, more loved, more talented, work harder, have more friends. This is not true and only a delusion in my mind because people are never what they appear to be. The thought pops up automatically, like an evil mind visitor. I wonder if I am the only one that thinks this way. This kind of thinking is rampant in competition like racing. If someone is faster than me, then they are better than me as a person. Since I am slow in racing, then I must be a bad person.

Results don’t dictate who I am, or least I try to tell myself that.

The prime example of this is swimming. I am always last. I can train all I want and take lessons, but I will never be fast or even average. The only people slower than me are beginners who surpass me in a couple of months or really old people who flail around the lanes with bizarre arm strokes. Even some of them are swim faster than I do. I want to be average or at least not on the bottom of the curve. I beat myself up for being so bad, but it doesn’t get me anywhere.

Maybe if I stop being negative, I would swim better or at least feel better about it.

Positivity is an alien thought that doesn’t come naturally for me. I am never an optimist. People are supposed to have an optimist bias and expect that things will turn out better than they actually do. People underestimate the chances of death, divorce and general disaster. Some theorize that we are born this way. Not me. I always tend to expect the worst, and to keep my sanity, I try to block this expectation. This is the cognitive distortion of Mental Filter that a person filters out positive aspects of a situation and only sees negative ones.

If a person didn’t underestimate the chances of bad thing happening, they would lose their minds. Life would become darker and much more anxiety provoking than it already is. It’s bad enough dealing with daily events. Positive thoughts are a self-defense mechanism. The future can’t be predicted anyway. If I think the best will happen and the worst does, at least I am not worrying about it until the catastrophe occurs.

Too bad I don’t actually do this.

If I am doing an Ironman, I am already setting up what bad things will happen before they even do. I will miss the swim cut off, or if I don’t, I will get a flat tire on the bike course and miss the bike cut. If the water is cold I will end up in the medical tent for hypothermia. It has happened before, so it will happen again.

It is hard to understand why these habitual negative thoughts occur. Fear is a good base to launch them. They worm their way into my brain and stay there. Maybe it is something that started in childhood when a parent berated me for some forgotten misbehavior? The mind persistently plays the same thing over and over. Most people don’t even question what they tell themselves. The voice that berates me isn’t challenged. It tells I suck and I agree.

Feeling Good suggests that the answer to the depression and low self-esteem that this self-talk causes is to have a person write down what they are saying to themselves and make rational arguments against the negative perceptions. Writing them down makes you more aware of what is swirling around in your head. If I get lost, which I frequently do and tell myself that I am incompetent because I can’t read a map and don’t have a GPS, then I write this thought down. I always manage to find my way eventually, so I must have some competence as a human being. Maybe.

I am intrigued by the suggestion that what I tell myself might not be true, This could possibly be an entirely new way of thinking-- new neural pathways instead of the old rutted ones. I am tired of my old thoughts, but they will try to persist, like my slow swimming. Even slow swimmers get somewhere eventually.

Friday, June 22, 2012

I Pulled the Trigger



I thought long and hard about this race, but in the end I lost my common sense and registered for the race that is on September 22, 2013. The biggest problem is the six thousand foot altitude. I have never done any race longer than an olympic at this altitude and I am not sure how it will affect me.

The biggest challenge at altitude will be the swim. When I bike and run, I can just breath harder It's more difficult to get enough oxygen when I have to exhale under water.  I have had swims in other high altitude races where I try to speed up and a vise tightens around my chest, making me feel panicky. Sometimes this happens right at the start of the swim. It requires a firm mental grip on my fear and swimming even slower than my normal piddling speed.

The website lists the average water temperature in September as 65-68. I doubt this range because it is a cold mountain lake and the air temperature is 38-68 degrees. So I could  face a swim in cold water, which I hate, as well as altitude. My worst swim ever was at Ironman Arizona in sixty degree water. I thought I would drown and I started shivering before the halfway point.

But the water will also be very clear, conditions that I don't experience most of the time. It could be extraordinary water to swim in.

The bike will also be challenging with a 5200 foot elevation gain. But this is also what intrigues me. Can I finish it within the bike cut off? It's not even a question of doing well, but a matter of survival. Will it be like when I did Ironman Canada, with the exhilaration of finding out that I did what I thought was near impossible? I miss that feeling. It's like an addiction and I need a fix.

Despite the daunting difficulties of this event, I signed up anyway. I can accept the possibility of failure if the risk is worth it. I may not finish the swim or I may miss the bike cut off, but I will fight as hard as I can. Sometimes you have to say "what the hell" and take a leap of faith.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Wildflower Race Report

I picked this race because I thought a challenging event would motivate me to train harder. I was scared enough to do so because it is insanely difficult. In fear of the bike course, I sought out hills instead of avoiding them . Trail running on a long two hour run became doable because the half marathon is sixty percent hilly trails and I didn’t want to suffer. Or I thought I would suffer less if I trained on trails. I was wrong.

The long course is a 1.2 mile swim in Lake San Antonio, a fifty six mile bike around the lake and a 13.1 mile run. Wildflower is in its thirtieth year and attracts professional athletes from all over the world. They race it like the hills don’t exist. The rest of us mere mortals take a lot longer than four hours to complete the course.

Just getting to the site was a tedious ordeal. It’s six hundred miles from my house. I broke up the drive to two days. This
 long trip gave me a lot of time to contemplate California. California has a huge population but has large desolate areas. The Mohave Desert is dotted with towns like Indio and Desert Center, which made me wonder why anyone would want to live in these sun-blasted places. Desert Center greets the denizens of the highway with dead palm trees that look like ruined columns. Why don’t they ever cut them down? They have been standing for as long as I could remember and are markers of a sad, pathetic looking place.

The freeways seem endless in the Los Angeles area, and seem to start around a hundred miles from the west coast. I stopped in Pasadena for the night in a less tony area of town. I walked around the neighborhood and every block seemed to have a cage of parakeets.

The next day, I drove to Paso Robles. Instead of empty stretches of desert, it was farmland or vineyards. I passed through Lost Hills. The town should probably stay that way. A field of oil derricks graces the area and it is more like a truck stop than anything else.

Despite my long drive up, I decided to check out the bike course the same day. It’s a rural area with winding two lane roads, grassy hills and oak trees. The terror creeped in when I saw the endless rolling landscape. The route is infamous for an incline called the “Nasty Grade” at mile forty. It is three miles up a six percent grade, which means a long, slow, painful climb on a bike. To top it off, the rest of the ride is steep rollers, which would not feel good after a strenuous uphill ride. I was in for an ugly ride and I hoped I would be able to finish it in time.

The next day, I drove to the campground. I sought the Lupine Meadows area, which would be less populated by noisy college students. People just set up anywhere and I picked a spot with a picnic table. Some oak trees provided shade, but most areas were hot and dusty. It gets cold at night, but very warm during the day. I was not feeling good about the camping thing and wished I had stayed at the hotel. This was not fun. I had hoped to find some people that I knew, but I had no cell phone reception to call or text.

I went to another area in the park to pick up my packet and to get some food. I ran into the people that I was looking for. At least I wasn’t totally alone here. We went swimming, then I left. Before I went down the road, I decided to check for my car key. I couldn’t find it after searching my bag. I looked around the areas that I had been at, but didn’t find it. I checked lost and found and no one had turned it in. I was getting panicky. I had no spare and no way to get into my car.

I went to race headquarters since they had a land line phone, to call my motor club service,. A truck would have to come down to the campground. I had to wait by the road for over an hour instead of relaxing before the race. I watched cars go by and wondered if the truck would even show up. Finally, the guy came and opened my car. It didn’t solve the ultimate problem of not having a key, but at least I could set up my tent. I was utterly frazzled, but I came here to do the race and I was going to do it.

The tent set up was difficult because the wind kept blowing it around. I staked one corner and the rest of the tent blew into the car. I lassoed the tent, pounded stakes down while cussing a lot. The sun was going down and I wanted to get it done before it was dark. I threw a suitcase inside to hold the tent down. Luckily, I had practiced putting the tent up beforehand, otherwise it would have taken much longer to do. The charm of camping was elusive to me.

I rushed back down the race headquarter area to get some dinner before the shuttles stopped running. I wasn’t hungry, but I would feel much worse if I didn’t eat anything because I was tired and stressed and I needed the energy. I tried to relax and not dwell on my predicament. If I didn’t find the key, I would have to have the car towed to a locksmith. I needed all my energy for the race and stress would drain it.

I didn’t sleep well, with people coming in and the water trucks going down the road at regular intervals. It was cold, but I managed to stay warm under my sleeping bags. I heard some coyotes, which I appreciated more than the people noise.

When I got up, it was cold enough to have frost on the car. It took me a while to get going. I got down to big transition area and set up my stuff. About two thousand people were doing the race. I started at 9:10. At least it was warmer by then.

I didn’t enjoy the crowded swim. I stayed off to the left because I knew the waves of people behind me would overtake me. A stream of swimmers passed by me, churning up the water. Total time was 54:54, which was my best ever time for this distance. But it didn’t feel like a great swim and seemed go on forever. I was glad to get it over with.

The bike start was crowded with mountain bikers from another race that were all bunched up. Almost right away, I had to climb a short steep hill, the first of many. I didn’t think it was all that bad.

The road left the park and turned north. The wind was rudely blowing out of the north, adding to the difficulty of climbing the terrain and I didn’t make good time .

I tried to make up time on the easier northern section of the route that wound east. I passed a fair amount of people. Some sections that looked bad from the car yesterday weren’t all that bad to ride. I eased off when I knew I was getting close to Nasty Grade. The ordeal was coming . It was hotter now.

Nasty Grade was a long painful grind. It’s not that many miles, but it seemed to last forever. I passed more people. It teased riders. When it looks like it ended, it turned and climbed some more. A person dressed as the Energizer Bunny was supposed to be at the top, but wasn’t. Instead, a guy announced that we were at the summit. The ride down was fun, but when I got to the hills again, all my energy was gone. It was miserable climbing again when I wanted it to stop. The lack of sleep, the stress of losing my car key and the heat had finally gotten to me. I wondered how the hell I was going to run. Final time was 4:05:30. At least I beat the cut off by half an hour. This bike course was body crushing and relentless.

I had hoped to have an halfway decent run, but by this time it was getting really hot and I felt bad. At times it was a deep down scary bad. I said to myself that this isn’t good. I started out feeling okay, then felt dramatically worse. I have had heat exhaustion before but this was different, a nasty intense fatigue coupled with anxiety and dehydration. Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any more miserable, another hill loomed. I craved ice and they had none. I ended up walking most of the hills. I went through the hoses that the volunteers had and poured water on myself. It was hard to imagine getting through this ordeal. I was worried about getting the car towed afterwards. It was like an ironman death march where I move feebly ahead, hoping to finish before my body gives out. Quitting wasn’t an option.

Between mile eight and nine I saw a guy ahead that strangely was all one flesh color. Did he have on a leotard? Then I saw he was NAKED. This race has been known to have instances of co-ed nudity, but I had never heard of guys doing this. He offered a hug, but I said “um, no”. I high fived instead. I smiled.

The run cruelly goes down hill for a mile, then uphill the same mile. I kept looking for the reputed cheering crowds at mile ten, but I didn’t see that many people. Maybe, they were off drinking somewhere. Going back up the hill was the worst part of the run to me. I was spent, but I had to keep moving.

The end is after a steep downhill. I actually cracked a smile at the finish line. Final time was 2:57, which sucked, but it wasn’t a surprise. I had a feeling that the run would be very difficult, but the level of misery was unexpected.

I am not sure what to think about this event. At least I can say I finished a very tough race. I wasn’t entirely sure that it was possible to do so. It was interesting, but I didn’t feel like I conquered it. I expected to do it in about eight hours. Anything less would have been miraculous. It definitely ranked just behind my ironman races in difficulty and way more difficult than any half ironmans I have done, including Oceanside. At least now when I feel bad during a triathlon run, I can think to myself that’s “it not Wildflower.”

The finish line wasn’t the end of the ordeal. Now I had to figure out how to leave. I cooled down with some ice from the medical tent and the cold towel that they gave me. I ate what I could because I wouldn’t have time for dinner. A call to my motor club was not helpful. Thank you Allstate for leaving me to fend for myself. The operator kept asking for the address like I was at a business. It’s a freaking park and I am at a campground. A race volunteer suggested a towing company who suggested a locksmith. Getting the car to the locksmith required a tow to Salinas.

Where the hell was Salinas? Wasn’t this town a setting for a John Steinbeck novel? I found out it was seventy five miles north and the only place that I could get a locksmith on Sunday. It doesn’t pay to have car problems in the middle of nowhere. The absurdity boggled my mind. I threw my camping stuff in the car and the tow truck took me to this town. He was kind of chatty, telling me about the weird accidents and creepy people he sees at night. I was beyond tired. He dropped me and the car at a Motel 6 after I gave him $300. This trip was getting better and better.

I have never stayed at a Motel 6, but I found out I don’t get a lot of amenities for $50 per night. The room had no coffee pot nor hair dryer. My hair was not going to look stylish, but at least I could clean thirty six hours of dirt and sweat off of myself and sleep in a real bed. My dinner that night was pre-packaged tuna on a stale bagel. Of course it was 10:30 p.m. by this time, so I couldn’t eat much anyway. I prayed that the locksmith would actually show when I called him tomorrow. This was not where I wanted to be stranded.

A Denny’s was luckily next door so that I didn’t have to rely on peanut butter and another stale bagel with no coffee for breakfast. The motel was in a part of town that had the Monterey Pasta Factory and a Farm Products Processing Plant nearby. The pasta plant was spewing water(I hope) into the air and I didn’t want to think what the Processing Plant was emitting. It smelled vaguely like cow poo, like the odor of a dairy farm when the wind blows the wrong direction.

The locksmith finally showed up and liberated me from this hell hole. For lack of a little piece of metal, I had to pay an extra $600 for the tow, the locksmith, the room that I couldn’t stay in and the room that I was forced to use. This was the trip from hell to the race of the damned. But I can say I survived this ordeal. The hills and the heat didn’t stop me. Plus, I got to see Naked Dude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Marquee Olympic Race Report


This event was my twenty-seventh time venturing into the murky waters of Tempe Town Lake. It would have been twenty-eight, but last year’s Marquee swim was cancelled, due to heavy rain that might have increased the bacteria count. I have a love-hate relationship with this race site. After racing triathlons at this place so many times, I am kind of bored with it. But the site is flat and fast and it’s an easy drive to get to.


The walled in lake makes me anxious. It has no friendly gradual drop-offs that would help me feel safe. I have had many a panic attack in this water. The walls imprison me, their weight closing in in a menacing manner. It’s hard to sight the buoys that guide the swimmers through the bridges in the swim in the glare of the sun. The algae content of the water varies, but it always ends up in my nose and sometimes on my face.
I always have the illusion that THIS time the swim will go well. Most of the time it’s tolerable, but not enjoyable. Sometimes it’s an ordeal that takes every ounce of determination I have not to quit. I think that I will go hard and fast, but I get tired, I have to rest and it is more survival than racing. It doesn’t help that I am a slower swimmer than the rest of the world. This can be an advantage and disadvantage. I don’t get hit because I am not near anyone, but I don’t have anyone to draft off of to help me go faster.
I got down to the race site early, so I had time to wait around. I set up my transition gear and talked to people. By doing these races for a number of years, I know a fair number of people that are involved with them. I warmed up, but had to wait thirty minutes from transition closing to start, so it was kind of useless. The water temperature had gone down to sixty four degrees from when I had swam in it a few days prior. I jumped in and it was cold.

In the fifteen kilometer swim I had trouble sighting on the way out. I couldn’t see the buoys very well and at one point I was sighting off the wrong buoy and went off course. The buoys don’t seem like they were in a straight line, but Tempe Town Lake isn’t either. It’s tricky swimming under the bridges because I can’t see where to swim. Coming back, I got into a flow and swam faster. I saw a first time racer swimming back stroke in front of me. A newbie having a hard time, who was going faster than me was not an ego boost. The way back seemed long somehow, but it was easier to sight the buoys.

I fell on the stairs getting out . It was hard to walk on rubbery legs after being horizontal for forty-five minutes.

In transition, I fumbled with my arm warmers and my socks because I still felt cold. I tore a hole in one sock. I had dead grass from the lawn all over everything.

Out on the twenty-five mile bike course, the way north seemed strangely fast because of a possible tail wind that pushed me along. My heart rate was in zone three in the low 140's, which wasn’t high for me, but it seemed like the right pace because it was painful. The route goes out the Beeline Highway to Gilbert Road, which was right by a garbage dump, then comes back. The wind was blowing the right direction and I couldn’t smell the dump. Coming back, it seemed like more effort than usual, so maybe it was a tail wind that was now a head wind. I tried to keep eating and drinking even though I didn’t want to, on the theory that maybe the run wouldn’t suck so bad if I did because I would have more energy. I didn’t stop at the aid stations, but I saw someone I knew at one of them, which gave me a mental boost.

The second transition time was also long, mostly because I had to pee, forcing me to squeeze through the fence to get to a porta-potty. This is always an issue with longer races. The porta potties are never in a convenient spot and my pre-race planning always includes how to get to them without affecting my bike and run splits with the extra time. Sometimes this involves crawling under fences.

I had a goal on the 10k run to try to break a ten minute per mile pace. I could do this easily in a stand alone run, but swimming and biking tires my legs. Goals are a mental exercise that can help me test my limits; a game to see if the mind or the body will win. At this point in the race, my legs ached badly and I wondered if it was possible to force myself to do this pace each mile for 6.2 miles. I faltered on some of them; others went better. Struggling this way broke up the monotony of the route. My Garmin GPS helped because I could see when I was slowing down. I got hot and had to pour water on myself. I started out with my heart rate in the 150's and built it up to the 160's. I increased my pace the last two miles with the last mile being the fastest. Unfortunately, I missed the finishing chute the first time and had to go back. I hoped no one noticed. All the blood was in my legs, not my brain and it was hard to think.

The total time was three hours, thirty-one minutes, which wasn’t stellar compared to the rest of racers, but it was my second fastest olympic triathlon run. I like seeing how hard I can push myself in a race, but I always make the mistake of comparing my slower time to others, which makes me feel inadequate. My mind tells me that I suck even if I did the best I could. It likes to do this and I don’t know why. The inner doubts are hard to vanquish and seem to defy any positive mental self talk. I ignore them and move on.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

2012 Messier Marathon

Once a year is the Messier marathon. In the spring for a short time period, all the constellations in the northern latitudes can be seen in one night. Charles Messier cataloged 110 objects because he was looking for comets and wanted to distinguish these objects from what he was looking for. The goal is to find all the objects with a telescope in one night. Some are low in the horizon before sunset or dawn and are hard to see. I have attempted this feat for a number of years, but the best number I have seen is 109. Once I got a computer guidance system on my telescope, it was a lot easier, but I still had to work most of the night to try to see everything. Most people would think that this is an insane thing to do. It’s tiring and uncomfortable     standing around in the cold.                         

Obsessions usually start small. They sneak into your life, and before you know it, you are sucked into doing absurd things. The seeds of my astronomy interest possibly started when I first saw Saturn as a child, through my father’s handmade telescope. I could see the rings around the planet. It was fascinating, a whole visual phenomena that I didn’t know existed.

As an adult, my interest was revived when my then husband got an eight inch Dobsonian telescope. A Dobsonian is a mirrored tube that sits on a swiveling base. It’s simple to assemble and carry around. My husband lost interest in using it, so I took it over. I got a bright star atlas and started looking for things to observe. I learned the constellations and the position of the stars to find objects. Even in my light-polluted back yard, I could see galaxies, star clusters and globulars, which are fuzzy balls of stars. These objects were incredible to look at with the variety of formations, nebulosity and the fuzziness of millions of stars. But after a while, I wanted to see fainter stuff that required the contrast of a dark sky.

This required stepping out of my comfort zone and driving long distances to remote places. I joined an astronomy club, so I wasn’t alone once I got to the site. Phoenix is so light-polluted that a drive of at least fifty miles is required to escape it. I didn’t like driving that far by myself. My husband had no interest in accompanying me, so I was on my own.

The sites always had at least two miles of dirt road to drive on, at the end of fifteen miles of cotton fields after a left turn to nowhere. The roads seemed to meander in pointless directions. At first I would attempt to drive home the same night. This involved leaving the area with no lights on, since white light will invoke extreme wrath and loud cussing from fellow astronomers. Red light is okay, since it won’t spoil a person’s night vision. I gave up trying to drive a car in the dark on a dirt road with no lights because it was difficult to stay on the road if I could even see where to drive. I could possibly go off into a ditch or get lost. I took to sleeping in the car and leaving in the daylight.

Each site we observed at had its peculiarities. One near Buckeye Hills had black helicopters with no lights that flew by occasionally. My guess it was due to the proximity of the Goldwater Air Force Range that the military was checking us out. Other times hunters would send out flares and try to shoot things in the dark. The border patrol checked us out . No one would bother us, but some sites became unsafe to be at due to criminal activity.

One site on Salome Highway near the Harquahala Mountains was memorable because it had a roost of Barn Owls nearby , and I could hear the haunting screeches in the night. It was thrilling to be in that other worldly darkness. One of the members, however, got attacked by a swarm of bees, so we didn’t go there much after that.

The site of the Messier Marathon is an abandoned small airfield near Horvatter Road two miles south of I-10. It is named “Salome Emergency Airfield” on the maps. It looks like it was rarely used, if ever, and it was established in the 1930's. The dirt runways are still there, but are a little overgrown with Creosote. A pilot would have to be pretty desperate to land in this forgotten place. Maybe in the 1930's less concrete existed for landings. Still in the middle of nowhere, it must have been more so back then.

These desert places were always very dusty. It was usually BLM land or a ranch, where cows roamed freely, leaving their cow pies and chewing down the vegetation that kept the dirt down. Any moving car would kick up clouds of dust into the atmosphere that could be seen for miles. My car would be covered with dirt by the time I left.

I usually made up a list of objects to look at. Without a computer guidance system or setting circles on the scope, I had to rely on figuring out where the object was by the position of the stars in the constellation. This was hit or miss and if it was a really faint object, it was mostly miss. Throw in clouds or atmospheric disturbance, it was even more difficult. Actually finding the faint galaxy, star cluster or globular felt like an accomplishment even though it the object might not be all that exciting to look at. Some were amazing, though, making the hunt worthwhile. Some would have a haze of nebulosity surrounding a sparkling star formation. Bright galaxies could have lanes of dark matter running though them. Double star formations could be red and blue. Some nebulas would be ring shaped and green in color. Comets, satellites, meteors with fireball trails were also a bonus.

Sometimes the weather did not cooperate. This is always an iffy factor in astronomy. Loading up a car with all the junk you need is time consuming. Sleeping in a car or tent isn’t all that comfortable. It’s a crap shoot trying to figure out if it will cloud up or be clear. Usually, if I think the weather is going to be crappy, I stay home. The exception is the Messier marathon. People almost always show up, which is not the case with other star gazing dates. If no observing can be done, people stand around and talk. It doesn’t stay cloudy all night most of the time in Arizona. A hundred mile drive is required, so it is hard just to turn around and go home.

This year the weather clouded up and the sky had clear spots at sunset, but the horizon was murky with haze. I couldn’t see the first objects. I had to look at the same areas several times, hoping that the clouds would clear. Sometimes it did clear out and I could see what I was looking for. I have seen the Messier objects many times, but I was reminded how pretty some of them are. I continued this process until I ran out of constellations. I got into the car to sleep for a while. I had on long underwear, jeans, a long sleeved shirt, a ski bib, a coat and another long wool coat. All this, plus sleeping bags kept me warm. It was an effort to get out of the car to look at the sky again.

Being out in the desert at night is strange. I am out of place. The rest of the world is snug in their beds. Or they are traveling on the highway to the north. I could see the headlights that seemed to go slowly only because of the distance. It’s not completely dark. On a good night, I could have seen the Milky Way with dark lanes through it with my naked eye. The stars would sparkle brilliantly. This night a haze dulled everything.

I looked at objects for another hour until I couldn’t see anything and gave up. The warm car beckoned. A mere sixty seven objects was all I saw that night. The next bout of Messier insanity will have wait until next year.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Desert Classic Duathlon Race Report


This race was originally created by the Phoenix Triathlon Club, of which I am a member. I knew a lot of the people racing, so I always have someone to commiserate with about the race. It’s a social event, like a lot of local triathlon races. The problem is that it also attracts some really talented people. Not only does the terrain make my run and bike times slow, the contrast to other people’s time makes me feel even more inadequate. I have gotten truly depressed in past races knowing I was sinking into suckdom of mediocrity during a bike portion. This event is not great for my ego. I accept this.

A duathlon is by nature a snarling beast of pain. It doesn’t let you go easily and is more likely to eat you alive. The Desert Classic Duathlon is in McDowell Mountain Park. It is a 3.65 mile trail run, a thirty mile road or nineteen mile mountain bike and another 3.75 mile trail run. This is my fifth year doing the race. The five times I have done it, only one race has gone well. I have learned to lower my expectations. Two last years in a row, the weather was horrible. I froze to death, got pounded with rain and ran through four inches of mud. This year I chose the option of mountain bike rather than a road bike. I suck at mountain biking, but the park is primo for mountain bike trails. The road bike course is just a sufferfest of hills. As long as I suffer, I might as well have fun.

My strategy for the first run was not to got out very hard and to conserve energy for the rest of the race. It started on the road going uphill, then wound through the lush desert terrain of Saguaros, Creosote and Cholla cactus. It was a lot of up and down and twisting and turning, but nothing drastically difficult. I did a 10:07-10:17 minute per mile pace. It was just enough to hurt my legs.

Mountain biking was next. I was nervous about this, not knowing what to expect. Mountain biking takes a lot of strength and finesse. Climbing a hill involves muscle power; trying to keep your pedals moving fast enough to kept your balance to avoid falling over. Sometimes going up a hill involves maneuvering around or over rocks that shift around. Turning a wheel too quickly in loose gravel or sand can result in the rider slamming into the ground. Still, it is engaging, because it involves thinking about what I am doing and where I am going. But an element of uneasiness sometimes plagues me.

I started to ride my bike and immediately noticed that the gearing was bad. The chain had been slipping shortly before the race, so I took it to a bike shop. It still wasn’t fixed. I was faced with riding the mountain bike nineteen miles with a slipping chain that was grinding on the gears. It was a distressing realization and the ride wasn’t fun anymore.

The trail started out going backwards on the Long Loop, which is an eight mile challenging route. The Long Loop was built to go the opposite way. It was wrong to go against the natural order of it. It had steep straight drop offs that were very difficult to ascend, especially now that my bike wasn’t working well and I had already done a trail run. I ended up walking at least three times. I hate walking on a mountain bike trail because it seems like a failure to give up to my weakness.

I got to the service road, which was boring, then to the Pemberton trail, which was a gradual ascent for another seven miles. I watched my heart rate climb higher than I wanted it. It didn’t bother me. I actually passed two people, otherwise, I was alone. I ate energy bars to keep up the effort, but I stopped entirely too many times. My chain kept slipping and grinding on the gears. Climb a hill, hear the chain skip and grind, curse. Repeat many times. The last part of ride went downhill, so that would hopefully save my legs for the run.

The back side of the trail was pretty. It was like a wilderness because the mountains on the horizon blocked the view of any homes. Lots of boulders and wild flowers lined the trail. The weather was cool and sunny, perfect for hurting myself. I finally started seeing other riders going the opposite way.

I saw some horse riders coming down the trail. F##k! Really? I had to stop and let them by. Horses and horse riders are unpredictable so they own the trail. I finally hit the paved road. This was boring especially when the road went uphill. Finally I went downhill again and my heart rate finally dropped. I ended up riding for almost two hours with sixteen minutes of stopping and/or walking. Too bad all the stopping and walking counts. I actually didn’t feel too tired for all the strenuous effort. Maybe I was fueled by irritation with the damn bike shop.

I got into transition and people were milling about since they were already done because they were faster than me. This made me cranky. Luckily for them, they didn’t get in my way or I might have knocked them over.

The second run of a duathlon is where the pain really starts and the legs beg for mercy. It was supposed to be 3.75 miles, but I measured it at 3.89. I felt okay until I hit the first aid station, when fatigue hit me. I ate part of my double latte gel, which helped. It tasted vile, but it has caffeine. This trail was much hillier than the first and the carnage was evident. It wasn’t going to stop me. I passed at least six people walking. I walked on the ascent of the steepest part of the trail. It was a vertical wall of dirt and rocks which was part of the Expert trail. I couldn’t see descending it on a mountain bike. I had thought about riding it before, but now I knew what it was like. It was dangerous. It was evil.

Finally, the trail got easier and I could do something actually resembling running to the finish line. My total run time was 43:19. Not a great time, but okay.

The process of training for this race was interesting in that I could actually see the results of struggling through the terrain on foot and by bike. I was surprised that I could make it up hills on the mountain bike that I never could before. My heart rate would soar, but it was tolerable. I got beat up and exhausted running trails, and I would fall and hurt myself, but the trails got easier to run. Speed didn’t matter as much as conquering the hills, sand, rocks and dirt. It was a fine line between fear of hurting myself, and the exhilaration of swooping over undulating earth.

This race at least, I held the beast at bay. I had energy most of the time. The pain of exertion was bearable. My legs didn’t scream at me. They didn’t cramp. My mind didn’t tell me how much I sucked, at least not too much. I didn’t trip or fall off of my bike, so no bodily injury. My mood was cranky, but it manageable. And I didn’t get eaten. I survived.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Valentine's Poem

ODE TO VALENTINE’S DAY

Hearts and flowers aren’t my friends anymore
They gnaw on my soul.
Feeding on lies and betrayal.
Little rat teeth, their maggoty bodies grow fat.
Squirming.

The bloated corpse of Romance regards me
Empty eye sockets that never saw.
Hanging bits of flesh
Vultures nibble
The future is unknown. Will Romance arise again anew?

I stab Cupid with his own arrow, disemboweling angel flesh.
It trembles in death throes. The promise of love dead.
Feathers of wings scattered on the ground.

I fling both corpses over the cliff.
The vultures scream out into the cloudless blue sky.
Circling in the air and then pouncing once more to feed.
On despair.
The stench is gone.
The pain is dulled.
I walk away.

I rarely read poetry, let alone write it. But my irritation over the "holiday" inspired me to write this poem. I was tired of reading other peoples' sappy sentiments about Valentine's Day. Romance? None in my life.

So, while riding my bike, I thought of what images would be the most vile to counteract the claptrap that I was reading on Facebook, seeing on television and hearing on the radio. My mind was so immersed in images of death and decay that I barely noticed that I was training.

It turned out that writing this poem was wonderfully cathartic. My depression about being alone was eased. I could express the deep pain I felt in an acceptable manner. The words seemed to come out of nowhere. The darkness of the images surprised me. It was different from my usual blog writing in that it was freer and more raw emotionally.

Best of all I could immediately kill off Cupid without the effort of developing a story. I wrote a short story about a murder and it took me months to figure out how he would be killed and who would do it. In a poem, Cupid can be disemboweled in a single sentence. It's utterly wonderful. It takes whining to whole new and violent level.

I am going to visit this medium again. The range of subjects is endless. Divorce, depression, triathlons, loneliness, empty nest? Or maybe a Christmas poem, though disemboweling Santa might be a little too much. Reindeer meat?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

P. F. Chang's Rock n' Roll Marathon Race Report


I have a bad history with marathons. I tend to avoid them. They HURT. I haven’t done any races where I thought I was doing well. They turn into death marches where my legs and feet turn into sticks of burning pain. They make me want to cry. Two of the three that I have done have been in ironmans, after 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles of biking, so I had an excuse for mere survival. The first stand alone marathon I did was a debacle that took over six and a half hours. I wanted a different outcome.

I was determined to actually race P.F. Chang’s. Somehow, a great half marathon race in 2009 gave me the delusion that I could actually do this. I perfectly executed the half marathon, keeping the same fast pace for ten miles, then speeding up for the last 5k. It felt awesome. Marathons are a different matter. A marathon is a snarling beast, that is difficult to tame.

It’s nice to have a goal and to see what I am capable of. I thought I could do better than I had in the past and that I could have a personal best, since my best time was an ironman marathon. They are always slower than a stand alone marathon. It seemed like a crazy, stupid idea but doable. Maybe I could exceed all my expectations of what I could do.

Training wasn’t all that difficult. I did a lot of running in the summer training for an ironman and it wasn’t that big a stretch to do it again. But then, I reached the magic fourteen mile run mark. My feet do not like running more than fourteen miles at one time. They complained bitterly and I ended up in moving a crippled hobble at the end. Making my long runs faster just made matters worse.

Ironically, running a lot makes you lazier. I would go out of my way to get a close parking spot so that I didn’t have to walk an extra twenty five yards. Any activity where I had to stand a lot was avoided. It was a good excuse not to do yard work.. Grocery shopping sucked because I shop at a large store that requires a lot of walking and my feet would ache non stop.

P.F. Chang’s is a big marathon that tends to be a hassle. But it’s in the middle of January, which is prime time for a long race, because I won’t die of heat exhaustion. This year we had the option to ride the light rail to the start line. That worked out much better than the buses that they had used in the past. Those were crowded and ran late. Too bad it was pitch dark outside, so I couldn’t see the scenery. Riding a train in Phoenix is still a novelty. For a long time political leaders didn’t see the need for more mass transit for a city in a county of over 3.8 million people.

At the start of the race, people are placed in corrals according to their projected running time. The word “corrals” evokes the image of cattle in my mind. So many people are there that the start has to be done in stages. It’s a slow walk to the beginning of the slaughter. I was supposed to be in corral eight because I thought I could finish under five hours, but not four. Corral eight did not exist, only six. Was I supposed to start behind the police cars? I guess if you weren’t in corrals one through six, you went wherever you could.

The bad thing about running in the desert in winter is that it is cold in the morning. I couldn’t dress warmly because I would get hot when I am running and I didn’t want to carry extra clothes. A lot of people just discarded their extra clothes in the street, like gloves and shirts. That wasn’t a option for me because I am cheap and it seems wasteful. I could have worn a garbage bag like some people did, but that just wasn’t cool. The same light rail that was our friend and got us there also delayed the start for half an hour, because a lot of runners going over the tracks tends to slow down the trains. I looked for people putting out a lot of heat.

Finally we started. Miles one through nine were bearable. I wasn’t hurting or breathing hard. I passed the 4:45 hour pace group, which was the time I wanted to finish in. The bands provided temporary distraction, but most of them were uninspiring. Locals schools put out cheer leading squads, but the only one I liked had a disco theme with sparkly costumes. They could cheer all they wanted, but I went into a moody misery. The route passed through the older part of town, which actually has some character, with stores, older homes and a canal. It’s the part of Phoenix that looks more like the midwest with the large green lawns and big trees.

The 4:45 pace group caught up with me, which probably wasn’t a good thing. I was slowing down. I ran with them a while. The pacer held up a sign the entire way that says “4:45". People followed him on the theory that they will be able to stay with him the entire race. That is, until the porta-potty calls.

I had tried to resist this call and I was determined not to waste time in this manner. My intestines had other ideas. They hated running as much as my feet did. At mile twenty, they threatened to erupt and I had no other choice but to use the blue box. How the hell do they find toilet paper this thin? I had to roll out long sheets just to get amounts at the molecular level.

Up to this point, I had a decent run. The saying is that a marathon begins at mile twenty. What this really means is all the mistakes that I made in the past twenty miles came back to haunt me. I didn’t drink enough water and eat enough of the vile phlegmy gels that I use. This resulted in hills becoming mountains and every step was a burning pain. It took a lot more energy just to do the same thing that I had been doing for four hours.

The mind is more powerful than the body most of the time, but sometimes they get into arguments. The brain says to keep going when the body tells me to stop. At this point it was a full blown fight. My body was screaming “stop!”. My mind was saying “I am damned if I am going to have a five hour marathon!”. It was frustrating to work so hard for so little speed.

A string of runners stretched out in front of me down the undulating road . Who knew Van Buren had all these hills? It seemed cruel to make us run over hills at mile twenty three in a marathon. I wasn’t going to give up and walk, though. People around me groaned. I thought, what the hell is your excuse? I have twenty years on you. Some rotund belly dancers in long, sparkling skirts provided some comic relief. I admired them for their confidence to expose and shake that much Rubinesque flesh.

I finally got to the Mill Avenue bridge over Tempe Town Lake. I could see all the white herons perched on the walls. They were probably wondering what all these idiots were doing. I was pretty cranky at that point because my feet hurt so bad. Hapless pedestrians crossed through the runners. I was ready to scream at them if they got in my way. They could die for all I cared. I passed the restaurant Montis on Rio Salado about mile 25.5 and they were playing “The Dog Days Are Over”. I certainly hoped so. I loved this song and it gave me energy for a little while. I kept reminding myself that “pain is temporary, pride is forever”. Giving up and not doing my best stays with me a lot longer than any momentary discomfort. But my feet weren’t buying this idea.

I picked up at the last mile, or tried to and my heart rate was sky high. In a normal race, this would have resulted in faster speed. This time it resulted in more discomfort. A lot of people at the finish line cheered, which was kind of cool, except I hurt so bad that I didn’t care. They could have been mutant aliens and I wouldn’t have noticed. I had a time of 4:54:39. It wasn’t my goal time of 4:45, but it was my best time in a marathon.

I like to test my physical limits in running and to have the feeling of control. Things don’t always go as planned, however. I learned from this experience that it takes a lot of effort to run slow in a marathon and it takes a lot MORE effort to not run even slower the last 10k. Despite my best efforts, the last 10k in a marathon always SUCKS. I can train all I want, but my feet and legs are going to hurt badly whether I run for five hours or six and a half. Lastly, I will NOT be able to avoid the porta-potties.

At least I didn’t feel like crying, unlike my other marathons. That is, until I had to walk back to my car