Sunday, December 29, 2013


Snow at Northstar, the day before the race.
Ironman recovery is a  physical process that takes time. Tahoe took even longer than usual. Maybe it was the combination of the travel, the cold, the altitude and the exertion. I didn’t even get to the run, but it felt like it, even to the point of losing a toenail.  For a month, I was very tired, needed a lot of sleep and had no stamina. Not finishing Ironman Arizona in 2008 was a similar experience, but not with the degree of fatigue that resulted from Tahoe. A nagging knee injury from a bike accident in August didn’t help.

Even worse is the mental recovery. Every time I thought of the experience, it made me sad.  My mind kept running loops of negativity. The world was blah and the stupid chores of life took too much effort. I googled post-ironman depression, but most of it assumed that you actually finished. The low comes as a result of being focused on a big project, and when it was done, the sense of purpose was gone At least a finisher would have their high first. I did find one piece that suggested taking the negative statements you are telling yourself and making them positive. I tried that and it helped some. Still, the experience was always a sense of something  left undone.

Tahoe was so difficult that it countered any shame of not finishing. Twenty-seven degrees at the start, 6,000 feet of altitude, cold water and over 7,500 feet of bike climbing was an exceptionally challenging race. I failed, but at least I failed big. It wasn’t for lack of trying and I didn’t quit.

The key to get out of it is to move on, plan a new race, catch up on undone chores, find something fun to do. I wrote a short story. I volunteered at a butterfly pavilion. The idea of doing a long race right away didn’t appeal to me, but the season couldn’t end on Tahoe. Even a 5k or a short open water swim wasn’t feasible for a while. I probably had the fitness, but not the desire.

Duathlon Nationals took place in Tucson in late October. It was a qualifier for Worlds in Spain. This race was well-organized, with friendly people, and a fast course that had enough hills to be interesting, but not too difficult. I raced hard and didn’t worry about fading later. People were happy to be there and weren’t dreading some Herculean physical task. It was a good antidote to Tahoe. I had found my joy again and could go to Spain. That was kind of a mood lifter in itself.

I debated signing up for another ironman. Usually one every other year is enough, but I needed redemption. The idea of training again made me hesitate. Three hour runs and six hour bike rides in the summer? The memory of last summer’s misery of biking and running in the heat hadn’t left me.

The only race that appealed to me was Ironman Arizona. Did I want to repeat my worst swim experience ever in the cold, murky waters of Tempe Town Lake? Suffer the boredom of the bike and run course? But the experience was known and the event doable.  It was a chance to beat my previous time.  I had already volunteered for it, so all that was needed was stand around passing out water at a run aid station for hours on end, then show up at registration.

The race atmosphere wasn’t the usual joy for me because Tahoe had jaded me. My knees ached standing for six hours. A run aid station wasn’t as much fun as the finish line, but I got to see people I knew who were racing as the parade of zombie-like racers passed by.  People were in their own world of pain. I said “hi” to an acquaintance who didn’t recognize me. I needed more breaks than usual and was really tired driving home. I had to get up early to register and didn’t get enough sleep.

I got to Tempe about six a.m. Already an huge line had formed, some with sleeping bags and chairs. This race had gotten absurdly difficult to get into, much more than it used to be. I ran into some people I knew and we spent the next 3.5 hours talking, which helped to pass the time. I wasn’t that worried about getting in-either I did or didn’t. I finally got registered about 9:30 a.m. Despite the hassle, I was excited about a race again.

The fatigue has eased, but is not gone. Inane chores are tolerable again. I did a 10k in a fairly decent, but not great time, with not enough power nor energy to run fast. The magic wasn’t there. The dark hole receded, but hadn’t disappeared.

Why a mere race should matter that much was incomprehensible. When I felt bad , bike riding for six hours in ninety degree heat, I got through it thinking that it would pay off. Big risks have huge rewards, but one has to be ready to face the consequences if it doesn’t work out. To finish a race as difficult as Tahoe would have been a great accomplishment. The question of whether the expense, tough training and time invested was worth it still eludes me. But it’s time to move on.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ironman Lake Tahoe Race Report

 Tessie, the lake monster was angry that day.

You enticed me with your promise–“IRONMAN LAKE TAHOE is a can’t miss destination for triathletes”. Like lemmings to the cliff, everyone rushed to sign up for the first time race. Never mind the 6,200 foot altitude and steep bike climbs falsely advertised as 5,200 feet of climbing.  The average historical low was thirty-eight degrees, a temperature which wasn’t reached until well into the morning on race day.

 This is the same area where the Donner party was stranded in the wilderness, and had to eat each other to not starve to death. “Renowned for its spectacular mountain vistas and crystal clear lake, Lake Tahoe’s pristine setting is primed to become as coveted a destination for IRONMAN athletes ...”As long as they aren’t slow athletes, who don’t stand a chance. It’s evil beauty. The Sierra mountains, tall pine trees and clear, deep, blue lake was stunning, but the terrain was still rugged, waiting to devour hapless bike riders. The lake showed its angry nature with rain, foaming white caps and howling winds the day before the event.

Race morning, the tempestuous Tahoe temper tantrum was gone, but instead it chose to spew mist, to confound swimmers sighting on the invisible buoys. The air temperature was about thirty-two degrees, the water temperature, fifty-seven to sixty-two degrees. The snow capped mountains at the swim start were particularly gorgeous against the fog of the lake, but it did not bode a warm swim nor bike. The frost on my bike seat confirmed this.  

I swam there earlier in the week, when it was warmer. Since I wasn’t a polar bear, forcing myself into frigid water in freezing weather challenged me even with a wetsuit, hood, booties and ear plugs. I hate swimming in a cold lake. It has forced me into med tents where I violently shiver until my body functioned again. The secret to entering and exiting Lake Tahoe without hypothermia was to spend as little time as possible on the sand, which absorbed cold and radiated it back. The beach was crunchy with frost on race morning. So of course, we had to stand on it a long time it in order to enter the water, like cattle to the slaughter.
These people do not seem warm.

I waded in and within ten minutes, knew that this race was not going to go well. A good swim was necessary to have a chance of making the bike cut offs and the cold air, water and the lack of oxygen sapped my energy. Hanging on the kayaks to rest too often is sign of a long, bad swim. The guide buoys were lost in the mist.  I stayed calm, which is a feat in itself, but was uncomfortable in  the cold, choppy lake. Turning into the sun, many arms moved on the surface in the distance, splashing droplets into the light.

My bike ready for its ill-fated journey.
As the end of the first lap, a crowd of people passed me, finishing their swim.  They churned up the water and I had to avoid getting hit by the bodies. A one lap swim is much preferable to swim alone in my misery. At the turn to start again, my watch read one hour, which was not good. Someone said “ready for the next one?’ At least I wasn’t totally alone. I tried to speed up, would get a steady rhythm, then suddenly would have to rest. The last turn was the worst--swimming with tired, weak, mechanical arm motion, half dead and very cold. I kept telling myself that I am going to make it and wondered if I would get too tired and drown. At least no one heard my groans.

A zombie, I staggered out of the water and looked at my watch-two hours, twelve minutes. My longest ironman swim ever, but not my most terrible swim experience. The Ironman Arizona swim takes the prize for that. Volunteers guided a me to the change tent and took off my wetsuit and dressed me because the part of my brain that told me how to move was frozen. I barely noticed my surroundings in my daze, which was worse that after my car accident. I was led to the useless med tent, which wasn’t warm, then left after a few minutes. I ran on numb feet to my far away bike and started pedaling. 

I had not had time to pee in transition, so I stopped at a port-a-potty, not being able to do it on a bike. It took so long, the volunteers outside wondered if I fallen in. How does a bladder even hold that much pee? Miserable and cold, I pressed on. Too much time had been lost in the swim and in the change tent, so I had to hurry.

The route went downhill, and wind added to my discomfort. I stopped once, just to feel warm again. My brain was still fogged, so I didn’t trust myself to steer in the aero bars. Twenty-five miles later, I thawed out.

 Freaking snow on Northstar the day before
The race course had two consecutive enormous hills. The local residents didn’t want spandex clad bike riders invading their tony neighborhood in Martis Camp, so not everyone could sneak in to pre-ride the hill. The secret came out-this hill was a monster. It would dip, look like it ended, then steeply ascend again, and mentally it pummeled a rider.

A short death-defying, twisting, steep descent and the next demon awaited–a 2.5 mile seven percent grade climb of agony. I  averaged about 4.27 miles per hour on it. I couldn’t walk up it that fast, but some people tried to. If I did, all hope was gone to finish the race. Time stretched out uphill, but moved relentlessly ahead. Reaching the top, I knew I would have to hustle to make the 2:00 pm. cut off. My legs felt like they had been whacked with a hammer. Could I do these hills again?

 I rode hard and for my efforts, got an  hamstring cramp so excruciating that I had to stop  on Dollar Hill for a little while. I don’t know why they call it Dollar Hill, but I had decided to call it Si, after the bearded red-neck geezer in the reality show Duck Dynasty. Si is so stupid that he is funny and the thought of this had made me smile. Maybe “Si” would be less annoying than “Dollar Hill.” Whatever it’s called this hill still shouldn’t exist. 

 I still had hopes that I had enough time until  in despair I saw that it was 2:07 and I wasn’t at the Squaw Valley cut off  yet. I had only averaged 13.1 mph, so this bike ride wasn’t going to be 112 miles this time. I came upon the unlucky race official in the road stuck with the lousy job of pulling unhappy people off the course.  A bunch of bike riders were also by the side of the road looking dazed and shocked, including people I knew, which only made me feel a little better. The dream was dead. All the training hours in searing heat and altitude had come to nothing.

I signed up for this ironman in hopes of exceeding what seemed impossible. I wanted that high and missed suffering through the rest of the bike course, the run, the satisfaction of finishing and the bright lights, high fives and noise of the finishing chute. Initially, this ironman was viable for me. After the reports came out that the elevation gain on the bike was much higher by thousands of feet than originally stated , it was a long shot because while I can climb hills, I can’t do it fast enough. Not trying it was not an option, because I didn’t want to wonder if I could have ever done it. 

It feels like a failure, even though I trained hard and fought the entire race. It’s easy to get emotionally invested in a race, but much harder to detach when it doesn’t go well. A bad result isn’t as personal to me as it once was. A person isn’t the outcome of their race, as Chrissie Wellington has said.  Still, it’s a huge disappointment with all the time, energy and money put into the race.

Big risks result in big rewards-sometimes. Anything is possible-- except when it is not. Teddy Roosevelt exalted the man in the arena “who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  It still hurts. It may not be the destination, but the journey was tough and sometimes awful and a reward would have been nice. The Sierras got  the best of me. At least, I didn’t have to eat anyone.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Taylor House Century


Many things scare me. Anxiety has taken over my life instead of depression. It nips at my heels constantly. I worry about money,about where I am going to live, if I will ever meet anyone that I can spend time with. I worry about an upcoming ironman race with scenarios of failure that run in my head. This bike ride, with 5,700 feet of climbing at 7,200 feet of altitude was a blip in my stress, but daunting none the less.In a normal year, I would not have attempted this ride, but this is not a normal year. A hilly ride at altitude was good training for the race. This Century plunges from 7,200 feet to 4,700 feet in twenty miles, then climbs again. The climb is about twenty-two miles of moderate to steep hills. The total length is ninety-five miles. It is harder to breathe at 7,000 feet.. I think that only the foolhardy or hardcore would want to do this tough a route. My previous bike rides in Flagstaff had been exhausting and they weren’t this much climbing or mileage.

The ironman I am doing is at about 6,000-7,000 feet of altitude with a bike of 5,200 feet of elevation gain according to the race website. This amount of elevation gain had grown, according to rumor, to a much higher amount of anywhere to 6,000 to 10,000 feet. Who knows what it really is? Probably something that I can’t do.

I never used to worry about elevation gain until I got a Garmin watch with GPS.. Now it is a crazy obsession. Rides I used to do weren’t good enough to survive a hilly ironman. I had to torment myself by riding more and more hills, and it was never enough.

This event was a charity ride. No timing, which suited me because I am slow as hell. People were there just to ride, not race, so it was low key. No tiresome “I am such hot stuff” athletes that I see at triathlons. At packet pick- up, I ran into someone that I knew from the Arizona Bicycle Club that I hadn’t seen in years. He is in his eighties, so I had not been sure if he was still alive. Another person recognized me from a bicycle group that I hadn’t ridden with in years. It was fun to see old friends again.

The start of the ride wound through the city of Flagstaff. I was apprehensive because of the altitude, but we started on a downhill, so it didn’t seem too hard. After fifteen miles, it was uphill and continued on Highway 89. The sixty-five mile route turned off to Sunset Crater. The ninety-five mile route continued up Highway 89. At this point I was alone and a little uneasy about it. The downhill was fifteen miles. I could see the flatlands before the Grand Canyon in the distance. It was worth all the hassle of traveling to Flagstaff. To coast on a bike at twenty-five miles per hour is close to flying–a sense of freedom and being unbound from the earth.

Highway 89 eventually ends at the Grand Canyon. I hoped that I would not miss the turn off to Wupatki National Monument and end up on a road to nowhere. After a long time, I turned off into the park road and had to take pictures of the Wupatki National Monument sign. I stopped at the aid station and continued on the desolate park road free of cars and bike riders. I was still descending and would pay the price for this eventually. A twenty mile ascent awaited at some point.

The road wound past Indian ruins-Nalakihu, Wutpaki and Citadel pueblos. The green rolling grassland hills were edged with the pink of the distant Grand Canyon. It would make a nice painting. I felt a sense of the age of the place and of the people that lived here a thousand years ago. One Indian ruin was right on the road with stone walls. I couldn’t resist stopping to take more pictures.

After the visitor’s center, the road was straighter and more monotonous and began to ascend. At fifty-six miles, I had a time of 3:35. That went to hell. I was lucky to have a cloudy day. The clouds kept the temperature down. It’s hotter down at 4,800 feet, which is why they had a cut off point at the first aid station.

The sun came out at noon and beat down on me. I felt good most of the time despite the difficulty of the climb, but I was hot. I was careful to drink enough water and take salt tablets because it was easy to get dehydrated. Dehydration on a bike would be ugly, with fatigue and dizzy spells The sun feels worse at high altitude.

At mile sixty, the twenty-two mile ascent began. It was deceptively easy at first. The road was straight and I was bored. I had left the ruins behind and there wasn’t much to look at and climbing was a grind-- endless and annoying.

At the top it was steeper and the Ponderosa pines were back. An aid station was located at the Painted Desert Vista Overlook and they had brownies, which picked me up. I was fairly tired by now. I took pictures of distant pink Painted Desert, ate and went on my way. It was now part of the sixty-five mile route, which would have been challenging with the ups and downs of the terrain.

The next section of the road went through the bizarre landscape of conical volcanos. The ground had dark sand, like some Hawaiian beach. The stark black and orange gravel slopes were dotted with trees. I passed by lava fields on the side of the road that looked as if someone had dumped tons of buckled asphalt boulders onto acres of land.
I caught up to some road bike riders from Phoenix. They were too fast to keep up with, but they kept stopping so I caught up to them in the last twenty-five miles.

The last aid station was a stop to re-supply my water. I chatted with the road bike group a little. The turn off to highway went back into town. The sag van bike shop guy pulled beside me and asked me if I was alright and I told him that I was okay. Quitting wasn’t an option at this point but it was nice to know that someone was watching out for us. The road was tedious---more traffic and less to look at. The finish couldn’t come soon enough and my legs ached with the constant effort of forcing the pedals against the whims of gravity.

The lowest point was at mile eighty-three when I thought I was done climbing and found out yet another long hill had to be ascended. A sense of despair forced me to stop and eat something in order to re-gain some energy. The road bike group passed by and finally I rode the rest of the way with them because getting out the map to see where to go was too much effort. They had slowed down at this point and were welcome distraction. Light rain came down close to the finish, but it was warm and felt good.

At the end, they still had food left---score one for the race organizers. I hate not having food when I am one the last stragglers in. It adds insult to injury. I should have made an effort to be more social with the road bike group, but I was too tired. It was too much effort to walk back to my car, take off my bike shoes and put my bike in the car, so I ate first. I needed a nap.

I felt lucky to be able to ride a bike in a unique area with Indian ruins and volcanos. My anxiety had been pushed back or maybe I was just to tired to worry. After seven hours, I had arrived back where I started from on the ride, but the relentless plodding on the bike had brought me to a different place.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Turkey Bacon

Because I am losing my mind a little with ironman training in the heat and stress in general, I wonder about random weird items like pigeons in parking lots and turkey bacon:

Never had hooves nor snout.

But beak and feathers.
Flesh in pinkish brown straight line striations.
Not turkey, not bacon.
Alien creation.

Real bacon-- random fat-laden pork meat formations.

A Daliesque mockery.
The striped plasticized slice.

"Mechanically separated turkey, water. salt, sugar, seasoning, turkey meat,...
Smoked and cured dark and white turkey”
The whole turkey?

“Chopped and formed” in a machine?
Bones, beak, gizzard, brains, feet?

Bacon -- mere pork belly.

No shrinkage or color change when cooked.
Vaguely tastes like a chewy Canadian bacon.

Bacon--shrinks by half. Delicious!

It seemed like a good idea at the time.
A “healthy” piece of cardboard.

Give me crispy, smokey, fatty, bacon.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Parking Lot Pigeon

Denizen of the Parking Lot

Occasionally, my mind goes off on a tangent, especially when I am bored. Grocery shopping will do that to me. I was inspired to write this poem when I saw this humble creature.

He wanders among the cars.

Head bobbing.

Grocery store parking lot.
Bird feet oblivious to the
hot, black cracked, asphalt baking
in the sun-blasted 110 degrees.

He pecks at a torn hamburger wrapper,
discarded and forgotten.
French fry eaten, he ambles on
among the grocery carts.

Inside, shelves full of food; outside only crumbs.
His coat of feathers is a unharmonious collage of hideous colors.
He struts unfazed by his ugly .
Beady dull eyes regard the world.

Does he feel? Is he happy?
Mere existence only numb
eating, pooping, mating?

People walk by, unseeing.
He watches.
Mothers, babies, construction workers, old people in motorized carts.
Fat people, uniformed students, clerks in aprons.
They come, then leave with bags.
He is a phantom.

He hops onto a truck;
deposits a large, wet, white mound,

Feathers whoosh in flight.
He is gone.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Deuces Wild Olympic Race Report

I wish I could have summoned up enthusiasm for Deuces Olympic. I knew from previous experience doing this race in 2011, and the 2010 Xterra , not to expect much. People love it for whatever inexplicable reason. It’s a tough, and hilly ordeal , at 6,000 feet of altitude in the White Mountains of Arizona. Sometimes the wind howled. It was usually hot, always dry and I always felt miserable and tired at the end. But it was a training race for a high altitude ironman that I was doing in the fall, so I thought I should do it. Never mind that “should do” and “want to do” are two different things.

I also didn’t want to be in lovely Show Low. I am sure Show Low is fine town, but I couldn’t bring myself to like it. I don’t know why. Maybe because there wasn’t much there. It was a town you drive through on your way to somewhere else.

I didn’t have an auspicious start. The night before, I lost a contact and looked for it in my eyelid, poking my eyeball for hours. I wondered how I was going to get it out when it seemed imbedded in my eye. I didn’t know how I was going to swim blind in one eye, since I am extremely near-sighted. After a restless night, I finally found the contact on the counter. At least I could see where to swim.

I had to bundle up against the pre-dawn cold -forties until the orange sun lit up the Ponderosa Pine mountains. The air heated up quickly and the sun seared my skin. The wind was calm and the water temperature was sixty-four degrees, which was warmer than I expected. I waited around the dock a long seventy-five minutes to get into Fool Hollow Lake. I watched the half iron people swim and talked to people. The cold water made me recoil when I first got in, but I got used to it. I wasn’t happy with the temperature, but it was bearable.

I always dread the start of the swim, especially high altitude ones. The specter of a panic attack always loomed over me . It had happened to me in Flagstaff races at 7,000 feet and in this one in 2011. The sensation of no solid ground under my feet when I couldn’t get enough oxygen was very unpleasant. Thrashing around while hyperventilating just made it worse. I started easy in the swim and rested a lot in the first 750 meter lap. I concentrated on being calm and avoided this scenario. A current seemed to go north which helped, but the surface was choppy. The water conditions weren’t nearly as bad as the last time I did this race, when it had one foot waves that slapped me in the face with howling sixteen mph winds and twenty-five mph gusts. The second lap, the chest tightness usually associated with altitude eased up and I could swim steady without stopping. The end time wasn’t much worse a time for me than swimming at normal altitude. Changing the one-lap to a two-lap swim was a good move on the race organizer’s part because it is closer to shore and feels safer.

Starting out on the bike course, I was mostly alone because everyone else had swam and biked faster. I am by myself in races a lot and I hate it because it’s a reminder of my athletic inadequacy. This was a hazard of being slow and I was uneasy. I rode past woods and rolling hills and tried to stifle my anxiety. At times, I wondered if I was on the right road . Would anyone notice if I got lost? Did I miss the turn off and was on my way to the next town? Then I saw the leavings of previous racers-a wayward race number or a discarded gel pack and I knew I was not lost.

The bike was easier than last time I did this race in 2011, since the wind was only ten mph instead of the 17-22 mph I had to fight in the past. Except for a big hill near the end, it was otherwise a fairly fast course. The weather was cool, but I felt hot and a little dehydrated , despite drinking a lot of fluids and taking two salt tablets. I tried to keep up on nutrition as well because I didn’t want the experience that I had last time of being totally exhausted going into the run. Unfortunately, I had to waste three minutes in the port-a-potty peeing. Unlike most people, I don’t pee in the water. Even if I did, I would have needed to stop anyway because I can’t race fast enough to avoid this bodily function.

Off the bike, I felt better than I expected. but still tired. My legs had no life. The run is a mixture of trail and pavement. I appreciated the decorated fake skeleton that greeted me in the campground and the cheering volunteers. I was hot, though, and had to use sponges down my top to keep me cool. I imagined that my race photos were going to look stupid, with foam rubber sponges bulging in my top like a mutant Gumby. I didn’t care.

The long gravel road out and back was an energy suck. I hated it from the last time I had done it. It’s boring, long, no shade and hard to run. If I have to run on dirt, I want it to look like a trail, not some road I didn’t want to be on. I had just started to get a good pace when I got abdominal cramps. I could only ignore them at my own peril because they lead to bad things. No port-a-potties were in sight, of course, so I had to slow down. The pain eased off, but didn’t go away. I made it to a rest room, but that was more time wasted. I regretted the fried fish I had eaten the previous night. The rest of the run was better.

My objective for this event was to avoid feeling totally wasted at the end. Normally, I get tired, but altitude with exertion will drain me, like a life-sucking vampire. The wind didn’t help the last race, but I was probably low on nutrition and dehydrated as well. That time, I had no energy to go back to my car parked four miles away at a school and had to get a ride. This time I was drained and tired, but I could still function. I think the altitude and heat was a strain on my body and it took more effort to stem the energy loss. The thought of fighting this for an entire ironman is daunting. Final time was 3:48:54, which was disappointing, but better than the 4:06 from the last time.

My expectations for this race were met–because I didn’t have any. Just get through it and get it done. It was time to get the hell out of Show Low so that I could go home and nap.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


This bike route was stupidly difficult. It’s not something that I would have attempted a few years ago, but since I had already done some races with insane bike courses, I was more inclined to try Mt. Lemmon to see if I could do the whole climb. I was training for an ironman and the journey towards that goal sometimes involves physical activity that common sense would tell you not to do.

Other bike riders liked this route, judging by the number of cars in the nearest public parking area, which was four and a half miles from the mountain. To get to this shopping center involved a drive through the congested streets of Tucson, which are perpetually in various stages of repair. This many people couldn’t have been going to McDonald’s especially the muscular ones with the skin tight spandex. Many riders must like pleasant stabbing sensation in the muscles that comes from riding constantly up a steep road.

I had partially done this road before on a bike, but I had not gone to the top because I wasn’t ready at the time to ride that long. The first time, the rocky formations and mountain views so amazed me that I wasted a lot of time to stop and take pictures. I had wanted to return for more suffering. Now, it was all business because I could only ascend about six miles per hour. The climb up Mt. Lemmon was from about 2000 feet to over 8000 in twenty five miles.
The first mile gave me a glimpse of what was in store. The road immediately switch-backed and turned sharply upward into a steep ramp soaring to the sky. It’s wasn’t as bad as it looked, but it was still intimidating. The first time I saw it, I thought I wouldn’t be able to climb it.

My friend and I didn’t get an early start, so I sweated profusely with the effort in the hot morning sun. My bike computer wasn’t working once again, but my Garmin watch buzzed at every mile and showed the excruciating slow time. Nine minute miles might be decent for running, but they were a glacially slow time for a bike ride. I longed for the cooler climes farther up the mountain. Occasionally a breeze would bring relief from the heat.

I wondered why I did this to myself. It was a good idea a few days ago. The miles crawled by slowly and this ride was getting longer and longer. My right knee hurt from the constant pressure of pedaling. I worried about running out of water. The ranger station at mile twenty had some, but nothing in between, even at the campgrounds. It was hours away. I was consuming it at a rapid rate. The ascent never let up.

The road slithered around the mountain. At four thousand feet, desert flora still dotted the slopes, but the air was slightly cooler. I was tempted by the lookouts, but we stopped only occasionally to stretch leg muscles. I didn’t want to admire the view where the crevices plunged thousand of feet down the side of the road. A mere short guard rail would not prevent a free fall to certain death.

At five thousand feet and after three hours of riding, the cactus gave way to trees, which provided more shade. The road had yet to make the slightest dip, just relentlessly tilted upward. The more sedentary in cars whizzed by, in a hurry to go nowhere. Bike riders that passed by seem to mostly be going downhill. They were probably locals who had the sense to start early in the morning.

Windy Point Vista at fourteen miles and 6,000 feet, made me nervous. “Windy” with narrow twisting road did not seem like a good combination. The air was benign and didn’t threaten to blow me off the road. By now pine trees had taken over the mountain. The jagged, cracked rock formations looked like monolithic Easter Island statutes, with one resembling a face. The thinner air didn’t bother me, but I panted more.

The Palisade Visitor Center at 7,850 feet was the water stop. I had sucked most of mine down in the heat. I contemplated turning around. Three and a half hours ridden and five more miles to go. The ride was only supposed be four hours today and it would take an hour to get down. The amount of time that six miles per hour was to get even this far was scary. But I figured what the hell, I don’t come up here very often.

While filling my water bottles, I noticed a cute little gray Junco with yellow eyes and orangish back hopping around on the ground near the water pump. A bird that I had never seen before. I was delighted. One more for my life list of birds.

We rode on, stopping at an “8000 foot” sign to take a photo to prove we had gotten that high. Sometimes the road provided views of the highway way below us that we had traversed. Sky Island was an apt name. The flat desert floor was visible way below in the hazy air. Tall Ponderosa Pines dominated the landscape.  The wind that blew through the pine trees with a sound like ocean waves.

The road dipped at twenty-two miles and went up again before finally it dropped into Summerhaven, at the top of the mountain at 8,200 feet. I was really tired of climbing. My legs ached and my back muscles felt tight.

Although it appeared normal, the town was still recovering from a massive forest fire that had decimated it in 2003. The fire had burned 4,000 acres and three hundred homes, businesses and cabins. Sadly, the slopes still were studded with the trunks of burned trees. The Cookie Cabin was an obligatory stop for us with its plate sized cookies.

A four hour, twenty-five mile ride from the desert floor to the forest was surreal. A drive to the same climate in Flagstaff is two hours from Phoenix. Even stranger was that I had climbed an epic six thousand feet, my hardest ride to date. The mountain was conquered and I felt stronger and more confident. A 112 mile bike trip to ironman crazytown seemed more possible.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

California Half Ironman Race Report

Photo courtesy One Multisport

I was out for redemption this year. I had done this race before in 2009 and I knew how tough it could be. The 1.2 mile Pacific ocean swim in Oceanside Harbor had resulted in hypothermia for me. I came out of the water miserably cold, and was promptly whisked into the medical tent. I couldn’t warm up quickly and it added over thirty minutes to my race. Even if my time sucked, if I avoided the medical tent, it would be a win.

I never know what a race experience is going to be. Sometimes it is a body crushing sufferfest where the physical demands are so great that I can barely finish the race. Most of the time a race is fun test of my physical limits. Once in a while a race experience is extraordinary.

I didn’t sleep much because I dreaded the swim. As a slow swimmer, I always fear the swim a little, but a bad race experience such as hypothermia makes the second time psychologically harder. I was happy to find out when I got up at the god awful hour of 3:45 a.m. that it was fairly warm outside.

The race is so large, that people go off in many waves. I was in wave fourteen. People line up in their waves on the pier and can wait up to an hour to get in the water. I was reminded of a marathon chute where people line up like a herd cattle going to the slaughter. No warm up in the water is allowed. A racer jumps in the water and only has a few minutes to get to the start line.

Cold water makes me tired. I got into the water, which was bearable, but not really comfortable. I had a neoprene hood with another cap, swim booties and a two- piece wetsuit. The water was fairly smooth, but I had to rest a lot until I got into the last two thirds of the swim. The last part of the swim funnels into the harbor too many swimmer in too little space. I figured that it was their problem if I was in their way and I wasn’t bothered by the crowd that bumped into me. I think I got a draft off of all the people passing me. Total time was 56 minutes, which was 2.5 minutes faster than 2009.

Out of the water. I was dazed and uncoordinated, but not too cold.. The warmer air made a huge difference in how well I tolerated the chilly water. Due to the brain fog, transition took much too long, but it was better than being in a medical tent for thirty-eight minutes. I struggled to get my booties and wetsuit off; put on a vest, shoes, helmet and arm warmers. Then the swim gear had to be packed up and put in a bag to be transported to the finish area. Plus, the porta potty was a necessary stop.

California 70.3 has a beautiful bike route through Camp Pendleton, which is mostly undeveloped and looks like a nature preserve. The scenery was the typical California rolling grassy landscape dotted with yellow, orange and purple wildflowers. Not many events have bike routes that go through “tank crossings”. For good measure, some steep hills are thrown in.

The bike was much harder than I had remembered. I recalled the two steep hills and riding by the beach, but not all the rollers. I felt good until mile twenty. My bike computer was on kilometers because I had changed the battery. It was a good mental exercise in a way, trying to figure the speed. More terrain like this around Phoenix to train on would have been nice. Even at my slow pace, I passed a fair number of people, including the hapless people that walked their bikes up the steep parts. Even I could get up the damn hills on a bike.

Past all the climbs, I thought the flat road would be easy. Then a head wind picked up, coming from the west–just a little more pain to endure. The fifty-six mile bike split was a minute faster than 2009.

At the start of the run. I said something rude to a rider in my way who had finished and was wheeling out his bike out of transition. To be polite would have required too much energy. I was utterly exhausted, depressed. I mentally berated myself for being such an inadequate athlete. Thirteen miles seemed impossible to run.

I had planned to eat a Powerbar gel and a salt tablet every hour, but I passed on the gels. Maybe because they taste like spit. In desperation, I tried a Gu, Bonk Breakers and Coke. The Coke was magic and the run was miraculously resurrected. I suddenly felt human again and could run faster. The black hole receded and I continued to use Coke at almost every aid station. I wished for more salt tablets. I had six the whole race and was still craving salt on the run. I fantasized about pretzels.

The run was two laps along the beach, pier and streets of Oceanside with some short, steep inclines. A crowd watched and cheered the runners. I passed people I knew and it helped to see friendly faces.

No one was going to get in my way, even the volunteer that I shoved gently aside when I had the finish line in sight. The run is the heart of a triathlon and the most difficult to pull off well. In long course races, I am lucky to slog through it with tired legs because the bike sucks out all the energy out the muscles. To have some control over the fatigue felt powerful. I was tired and hot, even with the ocean breeze, but happy to run a little faster. I wanted this pain to be over with. I glared at anyone even thinking about crossing my path. The second lap was five and a half minutes faster than the first lap. Total time was 7:36.

The idea that I could do better than merely survive amazed me. A psychological barrier had fallen and now other feats might be possible, like a faster half ironman or ironman run. I didn’t care that some people would consider the 2:34 time to be mediocre. It was the best I had ever done in a half ironman. The last mile was the fastest, a difficult feat. To climb out of a dark physical and mental place and turn around a bad run felt incredible. That’s what I like about racing--every once in a while I exceed what I thought was possible. 
Courtesty One Multisort. Ramp we had to run up
and down twice

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Rejection Hurts

Earlier Version of Petroglyphs
 Rejection is a tough thing to for me to handle. My inner child pouts and wants to cry. A child is dependent upon an adult for survival and disapproval is devastating for a child. An adult doesn’t need approval to survive, but we all seek it anyway. Ingrained mental habits are difficult to overcome. I want to be emotionally mature, but I just go back to that place where my self esteem depends upon others’ approval.

I recently submitted four paintings to two separate art exhibits. All of them got rejected. I had no illusions that they were masterpieces or even very good, but I thought they had some redeeming qualities of color, composition and subject matter. One painting in particular I had struggled with. It’s an abstract with petroglyphs as inspiration, since patterns and marks attract me. The painting was quite right and it drove me crazy. I had previously submitted it and I used the judges’ comments to change it and it seemed decent to me. Other people told me they liked it. It was rejected two more times anyway.
The creative process can be painful, whether it is painting, writing, or music. At times, I know I need to do something to make a piece better, but I don’t know what. Other times an unexpected idea comes unbidden out of my mind and the results are interesting. A color suddenly pops when placed next to another. A story now has an interesting animal that talks. Imagination is a fascinating process.

 Other times, nothing comes to mind and I hate what I have done. I want to do something else because it demands too much mental exertion. If it is a painting, I stand back, stare at it and hope it tells me what to do.

Do you need difference colors? Silence. Different lines? It just stares back at me and says nothing.

Universal guidelines help in painting. Warm and dark colors come forward, cool and pale colors recede, for example, but they don’t always tell me what to do if a painting doesn’t look right; don’t tell what to put in a certain space to create harmony. An inner voice will tell me that the piece is ugly and whatever I do won’t save it.

Putting a creation out in the world is a stressful thing. If no one sees it but you, it doesn’t matter if it has flaws. Once other people see it, your work and therefore you are exposed to criticism, some helpful, some not. I want to improve what I have done and sometimes another viewpoint is needed. The risk is that it will be judged negatively. It’s nice to have the work validated, but that doesn’t always happen. The voice inside me says it doesn’t matter, but it does. The piece isn’t you, but it feels like it. If it sucks, you do.

Braving criticism takes a thick skin and detachment. Most of the time it’s not a bad process for me, even though it un-nerving to be vulnerable. To be judged is tougher when I can’t confront the person. To know that some aspects of my work pleased them softens the blow. Impersonal rejection is harsh. However benign their intention was and how immature my feelings are, it hurts.

I paint for myself, not other people, so if they don’t like my work, I will continue to do it anyway. My inner child will just have to shut up and go sulk.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day

It’s here again.

A sea of pink and red ugly stuffed bears and stale candy
greets me in the drugstore aisle.
Sappy, dripping, honeyed greeting cards with red hearts.
Be mine! I love you! XOXOXO!

The vile presence of Cupid appears.

“Pay homage to me. Worship me.
Bring me flowers, candy, diamonds, stuffed animals, cards!
Or I shoot you!”


Cupid flits around, stuffing drugstore candy into chubby cheeks.

I regard with contempt the fat, leering, winged vermin.
Be gone you flying fiend!

He smiles vacantly.

Sleepy eyes.

“Love me for I am superior to you.
You are nothing.”

I hurl a nearby handy object at him.

A box of condoms smacks his face.

He rubs his reddened cheek; swoops to pick up the box.
“Ribbed for her pleasure. What does this mean?”
He takes one out of the box and opens the wrapper. “A balloon?”

It dangles.

Stupid Cupid. I throw a box of candy at him.

He dodges it.

“Love me!” he commands. He drops the condom.

I heave flowers. Red rose petals explode on his face;
shower the floor like blood droplets. I pick up the condom.

“Come here Cupid.”

He approaches cautiously . I lunge.

I grab a tiny foot. I throw him to the ground.

Wrap the condom tightly around his neck.

He thrashes,
cherub cheeks turn blue;
then he grows still.

Die Valentine’s Day!

“Clean up, aisle eight,” I hear as I walk away.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

What I Hate

        In the depth of post holiday crankiness I thought  about what petty annoyances I really dislike in life. I have been reading Joan Rivers’ I HATE EVERYONE...STARTING WITH MYSELF.  This book is far more outrageous than I would write. For example,  “I hate it when people introduce you to someone and use the word ‘lover’.  What lover means is I ingest this person’s bodily fluids’” . This statement is way cruder than I would use, but I get her point. I would think about emulating this style, but I don’t have the nerve to be that offensive.

       Minor irritations to me are usually meaningless in themselves, but when added to all the other ones, they are a teeth gnashing bad mood. I need to complain about stupid stuff and point out the idiocy of it. My ex would call this whining. Whining is defined as “to complain in a tiresome or childish way” I call it self-expression. He never understood the benefits of venting. When I complain, I feel better. When I disemboweled Cupid in a poem it was cathartic.

What makes me cranky lately is driving. I HATE DRIVING. It bores and annoys me. Everyone is in my way. Either someone is driving really slow and I can’t change lanes or a truck is tailgating. If the person weaves all over the road in a vehicle, they are either drunk or talking on a cell phone. The result is the same.-bad driving that endangers everyone on the road.

Bad driving is especially un-nerving when I ride my bike. I really don’t want to die this way. I expect drivers to be idiots, but I can’t anticipate everything. I get cut off, cursed at and almost run down. This destroys my piece of mind. I long to ride in quiet streets without breathing in car exhaust and facing the constant fear of bodily injury. Cyclists ride in large groups to fend off the car menace. A distracted driver on can’t hit everyone.

I hate people with better cars than me. I have a 2001 Toyota Corolla with 112,000 miles on it. A nice shiny new silver car with less than 100,000 miles on it would be nice, but vast sums of my savings are going to pay my daughter’s college tuition. I always have the thought in the back of my mind that I am going to break down in some bad part of town late at night. The car would look better if I actually cleaned it once in a while, but I have better things to do-like anything else.

I hate people with better lives than me. A steady income, a great job, lots of friends, a loving spouse. At the very least they could shut up about it. This is endemic on Facebook. I could be generous and congratulate a person  on their good fortune, but instead, I will be petty, ungrateful for what I have and ignore it. I already feel inadequate enough.

I hate people who brag all the time. This is another Facebook foible. To share one’s accomplishments is okay, but to constantly harp on their ivy league degree, superior children and outstanding athletic achievements is obnoxious.  I don’t need to be reminded how unworthy I am to be in the presence of such greatness. I have to resist my urge to say something snarky. I don’t always succeed.

I hate people who have to the constant need to foist their political views on me. I won’t change my mind on an issue with one citation from a dubious internet source with an agenda. I am tired of the debates on gun control, gay marriage, abortion, Obamacare, entitlements and prayer in school. Are the aliens causing all the hostile debates?  Is an irrationality virus sweeping the country?

I hate people who are happy all the time or who claim to be happy all the time. What’s the matter with them? Life isn’t always THAT great. Get real. I could be more positive, but it is too much work to resist my negative nature.

I would probably be in a better mood if I didn’t read Facebook,  ride my bike, talk to anyone or drive. But then I would be bored and complain anyway. Maybe I will just think up ways to inflict pain on Cupid. Valentine’s Day is soon.