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


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.