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.