Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Mushroom Christmas

I usually write a snarky Christmas poem, but this year I decided to write a snarky Christmas story instead...

Santa had a headache. He was hung over from last night’s party and had little memory of what had happened. Most of a bottle of scotch was gone and perhaps a incident involving a stripper and a pole might have occurred. He had not had a bath in quite a while and his not so white beard had the remnants of this morning’s breakfast. His protruding belly hung over his threatened to burst out of his pajama top. Mrs Claus was out for the evening and was not happy to find empty bottles, candy wrappers and a stray panty strewn about when she got home. She did not speak to him all day, and glared at him if he dared to apologize.

Santa knew behind Mrs. Claus’ kind, grandmother exterior lurked an evil witch if crossed. A vague sense of unease him haunted him when he thought about what she might do for revenge.

As a result, he was not in a good mood. The elves showed more interest in playing video games than in making toys and caring for the reindeer. One of them, Prancer, had a strange reaction to whatever he had eaten and as a result produced prodigious amounts of flatus. Feeding the reindeer was not Santa’s job. He didn’t even like reindeer because they were moody and tended to bite without provocation.

He biggest concern was a lack of coal to put in nasty childrens’ stockings. An epidemic of foul-mouthed, badly-behaving brats, along with a coal shortage had left him to ponder other options. He had a surplus of 1990's flip phones in his warehouse. That would have to do.

He mulled this option when his head elf, Bombadeer, burst in. Bombadeer had possibly the bushiest unibrow in existence. He also had a high-pitched voice that sounded more chipmunk than elfish. “Santa, Santa! All the reindeer are sick!”

Stabbing pain filled Santa’s head. “What the hell is wrong with them?” Bombadeer’s fluorescent red-striped elf outfit made Santa’s head feel worse. 

“Somehow they got into some psychedelic mushrooms and got high. Then they farted so much in their enclosed barn that they all passed out from the gas. We aired out the place, but they are still weak and lethargic.”

“Where the hell did the mushrooms come from?” Santa groaned and rubbed his forehead. Christmas is tomorrow night.

The elf scratched his head. “I don’t know. There aren’t any growing right now.” 

I bet I know. “How am I supposed the deliver all the damn presents?” Santa roared.

“There is one possibility. Sleigh goats.” The elf stared at Santa’s bloodshot eyes.

“Sleigh goats? They cost a fortune and eat everything in sight. What do they want as payment?”

“Sir, they have to be paid double overtime and demand a hundred pounds of the finest alfalfa.” Bombadeer tried not to look at the hole in Santa’s pajamas exposed through the gap of the dirty robe.

“Thieves! Any other possibility, preferably cheaper?”

“There are sleigh gnomes. But they will want to be paid in reindeer urine.”

“Reindeer pee? Disgusting. Why on earth?” Santa asked.

“They heard that the reindeer ate the mushrooms and they want to get high off the urine.” Bombadeer hoped Santa wouldn’t go this route. In the barely averted  disaster of ‘09, the gnomes were given psychedelic urine in advance for a delivery of women’s hats. They were so stoned that instead of delivering the hats, they donned them and had ran singing through the streets, wearing nothing else.  

“Go collect it then. But don’t give it to them beforehand.”

“Sir, the elves will be unhappy about this.”

“I don’t want hear about it. Just get it done.” Santa sighed.

Santa walked out into the crisp, clean starry night, his boots crunching on the snow. The sled was ready to go, but the gnomes were not. They sprawled on the ground, drinking a suspicious yellow liquid from cups.

“Wassup?” one drawled. 

“Wassup? I’m flying! Look at the pretty stars. I can touch them!” Another gnome chimed in as he reached for an imaginary object. 

Santa looked at the ugly, squat gnomes, who were in no shape to guide the sleigh. “Who gave the gnomes the urine? They were supposed to get it AFTER the job!” he screamed. Damn elves! Now what am I going to do?

“Santa, Santa! The reindeer have recovered!” Bombadeer, shouted as he ran. His unibrow waggled.

“Well, get them hooked up and get these bums out of here! How did they get well so fast?” Santa took a flask out of his pocket and swigged on it.

“We gave them gallons of Pepto-bismol, charcoal and Metamucil and fed them the flowers that you were going to use for your party. Perked them right up. The barn smells pretty bad, though.” Bombadeer crinkled his nose as an elf led the reindeer out.

“Pretty horses,” a gnome remarked. The snow was yellow around him. The reindeer, now hitched to the sleigh, sniffed the air and tried to inch closer to him.

Santa yanked them away with the reins.“Now Dasher!, now Dancer!, now Prancer and Vixen! On Comet!...oh, screw it. Phew, you guys stink!” Santa held his nose. The gas problem wasn’t solved. It was going to be a long night.

Then Santa and the sleigh were gone in an explosion of sparkles. The gnomes “ahhed.”

“Did one of those reindeer have a red nose? Or am I high?” one gnome giggled, rolling on the ground into a pile of reindeer poo.

“Bombadeer, want to party?” A burly gnome dressed in a pink tutu offered the elf a cup. 

“Don’t mind if I do.” Bombadeer sipped, grimacing at the acrid taste.

“Where did my flowers go?” screamed Mrs. Claus from the house. Her usually perfectly coiffed white hair was in disarray and her glasses were crooked. She held a glass of vodka. Her hands were stained with mushroom debris.

“Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas.” squeaked Bombadeer as he waved and then took another sip.

“Oh, shut up!” cried Mrs. Claus. But she smirked, and wiped her hands on her apron.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ironman Arizona Race Report

I have a love/hate relationship with this race. The run course is flat, and at times creepy in the dark, remote areas in the wee hours of the evening. Some parts of it smells like sewer gas. The miles of concrete destroy my feet. The three loop bike course is ugly, boring and times evil when the wind comes howling out of the same exact diagonal as the Beeline highway. Past memories of the exhaustion from futilely fighting the wind were indelibly etched in my brain. Countless hours of mind-numbing training on this road made it difficult to tolerate its existence.

Still, Arizona was the one race I thought I could do, since I had finished it before. After being forced off the Ironman Lake Tahoe bike course last year, it seemed like a good idea to sign up for Arizona. Maybe, I would finally get the finisher’s high or I could be faster than the last time I raced it. It might make up for the rest of my crappy race season this year. I was wrong.

The line last year for registration. Bring your own chair.
The rest of the world had the same delusion. This race gets more crowded every year and sells out when registration opens online. Hopefuls think that the swim, bike and run will be kind to them.

The day started with traffic gridlock getting to the race site in the morning. I tried not to get stressed as time slipped away while the line of cars in front of me barely moved. A half an hour later, I reached the parking area. Half dazed from lack of coffee and sleep, I walked in the dark to the transition area.

I felt irritable negotiating the crowds in transition, and wished they had left their strollers, significant others and small children behind. The time before a race was filled with dread of the unknown and innumerable tasks to do. I had to drop off bags, get my bike tires pumped up, get body marked and stand in a long porta-potty line. Why can’t these people poop faster? I wondered if I would be able to start on time.

The ducks seem happy
I usually dread the swim. Fear intensified the unpleasantness of immersing myself in cold water in the chilly dawn morning. I was herded into the lake with the other masses. To get in involved climbing down a set of stairs, jumping off into the green, murky water and hoping that an unseen obstacle didn’t lurk under the surface. Plus, not hitting the other bodies already in the water. The process was so slow that the start was delayed five minutes to 7:05 a.m. I went in and was immediately was hit by the chilliness of the water, but it wasn’t the face-stinging cold that I have encountered before. 

The start line required a swim under a bridge, but usually what I thought about was not where I was, but being pummeled by all the other swimmers. In other races I had felt an almost mystical calm before the swim, but now I only thought about the task at hand. The usual emotional drama of the mass start wasn’t there for me. Spectators think it’s great, but they weren’t in the midst of the flailing arms and legs, which can cause injury.

Practice swim. The start line is beyond this bridge somewhere.
The swim was one loop, which was great because the fast swimmers were out of my way, but it went on forever. The buoys inexplicably zig-zagged, if they could even be seen in the glare of the rising sun. The lake curves, which I always found to be slightly disturbing. I appreciated having so many lifeguards in kayaks, but they were an obstacle sometimes.

After an eternity, I reached the turn buoy, went across the lake and turned back west. The sloshing water grew choppier and the surface rippled with the unwelcome wind that had picked up. Other swimmers were struggling and hanging onto kayaks. I felt strong and in control, but battling the chop took a lot of effort. The conditions would have been difficult for the unfit or inexperienced, but I had been in worse.  

At last the final turn red turn buoy appeared. The water was clogged with kayaks and people were cheering loudly. This probably indicated the swim cut-off was near, so I went as hard as possible. After being hauled up the stairs by a volunteer, I looked at my watch and inwardly groaned as it said 2:08. I wished I could have swam fast like anyone else. I still had time, but had to hustle.

Not being hypothermic after the swim for once, I got dressed fairly quickly with the help of a volunteer. Having sun screen slathered on my legs by volunteers felt nice. I could get used to that, like it was a spa. I had my bike handed to me and I got onto the course. 

No time to pee and I really needed to. I hated riding a bike with a full bladder and stopped at the first porta-potty. Some people pee on their bikes, which can be entertaining to watch, but it would have been treacherous to be downwind of in this weather. I didn’t have that particular skill set.

The bike route is considered by fools or the unwary to be fairly “easy”, but it can turn into a screaming harpy in the wind. And wind there was. A mind-numbing lap up, then down a hill three times. Descending was much faster than ascending. I really wanted to avoid the soul-crushing nightmare of not finishing in 2008, when the temperature was ninety degrees and the wind twenty-five miles per hour. 

The scenery was a unpleasant mix of industrial areas, ruined buildings, trash, and stark desert. A Sonoran Desert version of an Appalachian slum. Plus, the route passed a dump six times. If the wind was blowing the wrong way, it could be an olfactory assault. Today it was.

I was in a hurry, so I ignored the ugly surroundings and stared down at the road while other riders whizzed past me.

The first lap, I made my goal time in order to beat the cut-off, but I had to ride hard to do it. Like the swim, the rest of world biked faster with less effort. I turned around to ascend again past the cheering crowds in the Tempe streets.

Six miles into the second lap, I shifted gears and my chain fell off. I put it back on, but the shifter cable was loose. I stopped to have it fixed and went on. Around mile fifty-two, the wind had picked up to about twenty-five miles per hour and the uphill was slow. My aspirations for this race quickly vanished in the evil breeze. Doubt and despair dropped into my mind and constantly nagged at me. The fear of not being able to finish made me want to cry. I was losing the battle. Still, I desperately pedaled on, exerting a lot of energy to go slowly up. My leg muscles were threatening to cramp, with stabbing pain at random intervals.

My coaches were a welcome sight up at the top of the hill. I shouted that I didn’t think I could finish, and one said I have 3.5 hours and that I could do it. I doubted it, but decided to try. Flying downhill, one of my contacts fell out. Luckily, it was out of my weaker eye and I could still see fairly well. What else could go wrong? No time to stop and put in another one. I got down in a short fifty-five minutes with the violent tail wind.

On the way up again, making the 4:15 cut off at the top seemed unlikely. The sun was lower in the horizon. Other people climbing in the fading light slowed down and stopped on the road, as if they were giving up. At least I could get a ride at the aid station if officials took my timing chip. Near the top, a rider coming down said that they were changing the cut off to 4:30 and we had three minutes and could make it. Persistence might be rewarded. I pushed my screaming legs around faster, heart pounding and got to the ninety-three mile turn-around in time while the volunteers cheered. 

On the way down, the tail wind had lessened, which annoyed me. It had punished me all day and now it was failing to provide a last push. The road was difficult to see riding into the sunset with my blurred vision. At the last aid station, someone said it was 5:21. Getting into transition by 5:30 was unlikely, but I pressed onward anyway. At the finishing chute, people were cheering loudly, so there might be a chance. I made the cut-off by five seconds. Five seconds! When I found this out later, it blew me away. It was the best part of the race. One small victory when all seemed lost.

A volunteer led me to the change tent. Somehow, they expected me to be able to walk when I could barely hobble. They helped me dress and I put another contact in my eye. I stepped out of the tent and the sky had turned pink. 

The folly of the effort of riding as hard as I could for 112 miles hit me. Moving was painful, let alone running. I walked in the dusk for a few minutes, hoping that the pain that came with every step would lessen. Eventually I could run, but it was feeble.

Since I had gotten in so late, I had less than six and a half hours to finish a marathon. In normal circumstances, this would have been doable. Unless I miraculously perked up, it was impossible. Sometimes it happens. A person keeps moving, gets a second wind and speeds up. That’s why giving up was unacceptable, if a chance existed to turn a bad race around.

The first part of the run course was an out and back along the south bank of Tempe Town Lake. High rise buildings were lit up in the night. Some participants were the walking dead like me, some were actually running. I couldn’t move fast enough. My legs went through the motion, but didn’t propel me. My feet felt like I had rocks in my shoes.  I passed the cheering crowd, then went into silent darkness. The aid stations had a variety of offerings, but I mostly drank coke and chicken broth, which was the food of the gods. One offered bacon, but at this point, it would have been a dubious choice. Beer, on the other hand...

Lovely view on the run course.
An hour down, and I hadn’t gone four miles. Like a dream where I am frantically try to get somewhere, but never do. To finish was hopeless at this point, but I didn’t want to stop until someone took my timing chip. The humiliation was less when someone else forced me to quit. I crossed a bridge and reached the creepy part of the course west of the lake illuminated by a sickly yellow light. Airplanes, landing at the nearby Sky Harbor Airport, roared overhead occasionally. Remnants of the choked off Salt River ran below the path. It was framed with an expressway to the north.  I thought I heard a scream in the dark, brush-filled hollow.  Hopefully, not an athlete. My feet felt worse with the endless concrete.  
People tried to be encouraging, but I couldn’t summon much cheer in my deep funk. I thanked them, but I didn’t smile. The worst were the ones who assumed that I was almost done. Just shut up! I longed for someone to put me out of my misery, but I didn’t see anyone with a gun. Which of the nine circles of hell was I in?

I was resigned to my fate now and felt like a loser. If only I could have biked or ran faster. I reached the part where the first lap splits off from the finish line. I could hear the announcer shouting “you are an ironman!” to the finishers. It wouldn’t be there for me. No cheering crowd, bright lights nor medal. Someone from my tri club walked up to me and mentioned something about being almost done. I said I was only on the first lap and wouldn’t finish. She hugged me and I was touched.

I asked a volunteer where the first lap went and he walked with me for a while. Then another one took over. Maybe I looked like death and he was worried my body would litter the course. I tried to run to get it over with. I finally met up with the chip-taker guy at the 13.1 mile mark and my race was officially over. I was sad and relieved.

I should be happy I got through the swim relatively unscathed and that I actually finished the bike in tough conditions. The rest of the world would find a 2.4 mile swim in Tempe Town Lake and a 112 mile bike incomprehensible, not to mention repulsive. In the unreality of the triathlete world, it is more probable, making it easy to lose perspective about the difficulty. Everyone else can do it, so why can’t I? 

The training was awful sometimes, but it forced me into a higher level of fitness. With a bad race, though, it seemed pointless. I missed the joy. No finish felt like failure.  

As hard as I tried, I just could not conquer this race with the howling wind on the butt ugly Beeline and the bleak banks of Tempe Town Lake. I am not up to going through this again, at least for a while. And if I do, the suffering had better be in a pretty place.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

SILVERMAN RACE REPORT: 70.3 Act II, or the Finish that Wasn't

The "Finisher" Medal
I had no desire to race in Henderson, Nevada, which is basically a suburb of Las Vegas without the glamor. The town looked like any recently built, sterile suburb in the western U.S.  The inhabitants of the smoke-filled, noisy casinos weren’t high rollers, but middle-class older people desperately seeking to fill a void in their lives with promise of easy money. I live in a desert environment, so why go 280 miles to race in the same type of place, only bleaker and drier? Since Tahoe had been cancelled and I wanted to do a 70.3 before Ironman Arizona, the choices were limited.

Silverman had 4,200 feet of climbing on the bike, so maybe all the hill training that I had suffered through during the summer could be put to use. The weather of course would be hot, so the run would be awful. The swim was questionable for being wetsuit legal, since the water temperature had to be under 76 degrees. I swim very slowly without a wetsuit, when I am not having a panic attack. Drowning is not appealing to me.

Still, I got in for $50 instead of the usual $300 plus and could drive there with a friend. Right from the time we got near town, the venture turned into a giant pain. We were stuck in traffic for an hour due to an accident; a harbinger of things to come.

We rushed over to registration an hour before it closed. Registration involved standing in various lines. They gave us a timing chip, a shirt and of course assorted plastic bags to put morning clothes, bike gear and run gear in.

Damn Bags
I was thoroughly sick of the whole bag thing, having done it two weeks before. Planning what to put in the bag required organization and a lot of thought about what would be needed for the race, which was too much effort. The bags had to be dropped off in two locations the day before the race. Hopefully, the items in it wouldn’t disappear, leak nor melt from the heat.

Bikes also had to be dropped off the day before the race. On the drive to the site, somehow a giant traffic jam suddenly materialized before the Lake Mead transition area. The park demanded $10 to be there for half an hour. We dropped off the bikes and I hoped my tires wouldn’t explode from sitting in the sun.

Swim course the day before
I was stressed about this race since it would be difficult. I had already decided I would wear a wetsuit even if it wasn’t wetsuit legal, since I couldn’t make the swim cut off without it. The uncertainty was nerve wracking. The forecast high was ninety degrees, so heat would be a factor. Mere survival was all that could be hoped for.

Race day dawned cool, but quickly warmed up. The swim was announced as being wetsuit legal, which cheered me up.

The swim start chute was horrible, with 1500 bodies crammed tightly into a small area. I felt claustrophobic and anxious. I had my wetsuit partially on and the sun was up, baking me. I oozed towards the fence to get some air. No space to crawl under it to escape. Some people couldn’t take it and jumped over it. This much body contact with strangers was unpleasant.

Finally, my age group of 50+ females got in the water. I swam off to the side because I knew the twenty-somethings behind would swim over me. This was not a good arrangement. Even worse is when they invaded my space. Get the hell away from me.

I always hated the swim. This one was no exception. The water was smooth, but too many bodies passed by me, churning up the water. I didn’t like the insecurity of being far away from the shore. Sometimes, weeds would drape themselves over my arms and I had to remove them. Time went slowly and the wetsuit was a little too warm. 

I got to shore, peeled off my wetsuit and put on my bike shoes and helmet in the empty transition area. I had no idea what awaited me, not knowing the course, but it would undoubtedly be an adventure. The sky was cloudless and the sun was hot on my skin.

The bike course had many hills to climb. Trucks passed me hauling massive boats. The scenery looked like a cross of the Arizona Painted Desert and a moonscape, with a touch of Death Valley desolation. The rock were sometimes splashed with red minerals. The vegetation was sparse with stunted creosote being the main plant that could survive the harsh climate. Crossing a bridge, a wetlands greenery contrasted with the bone-dry setting. This road was fun to ride, but I would have preferred cooler weather.

The heat was bearable, but felt like it could easily slip into heat exhaustion. Riders walked the hills and others were on the side of the road, perhaps contemplating their fate. About mile thirty, I realized that I had to hustle to make 1:30 bike cut off. Stops at the aid stations were still necessary to get water and ice, but I couldn’t linger. 

T1. It looks like a lot of Porta-potties, but it wasn't enough
Picking up speed, I passed more people, who didn’t seem in a hurry. Fear was a good motivation to go faster. My heart rate kept rising. Heat and a high heart are not a good combination and I would pay for this later.

The route turned off of the park roads and proceeded back to Henderson. The hills weren’t done and an evil big one smacked me at the end. I neared transition and of course most of the racers were way ahead of me and already out on the course.  

I fumbled through transition and started on the hilly run, which was three loops. The first part of the loop was shaded, but the last one mile uphill section wasn’t. The run had to be finished in three hours. This time limit would have been doable normally, but in ninety degrees was very difficult. 

Luckily, the aid stations had lots of water and ice. I constantly sucked on the ice cubes from a cup and held them in my hands. I ran under some sprinklers. My speed wasn’t fast enough, but I kept moving with the hope of finishing. The end got farther away.

By mile eleven, I gave up finishing under the cut off. My energy was gone and nausea and weakness had crept in. No one pulled me off the course, so I continued. 

Other people were struggling as well. I saw one person sitting on the curb, holding his head in his hands. A symbol of this run. The sun burned my skin, so I splashed water on it. The turn-around was in the far distance. I couldn’t run anymore, so I walked. Maybe on the downhill, I could run. 

A volunteer asked how I was doing. I said “marginal.” She asked if I wanted a ride, but I didn’t have that far to go, if I could hang on. Two more miles. 

Finally, the turn-around. I attempted to run, but cramps seized my calves, so I walked.  After repeated attempts, I ran about a quarter mile to the finish line. The announcer had to mention how old I was. People think that athletes my age are an oddity, though it was nice to be cheered. I go from fifty-nine to sixty and suddenly my competitors disappear and I am “geriatric”. I don’t like being old.

Not feeling that great, I was escorted to the med tent to get an I.V., to treat dehydration. That was a first, but probably not a last. 

I was okay with the race, until I saw later in the results that I got a big, fat DNF(Did Not Finish) for almost nine hours of racing, since I didn’t make the cutoff. No points, no age group awards, no credit for racing. That was a mood deflator. The people in the 35-39 age group with the same time were considered finishers, since they started earlier and had more time. That was unfair and  hard to accept, but it made my DNF more arbitrary.

They gave me a medal anyway. Maybe they didn’t want to mess with a cranky old person. No one else in my age group finished. Perhaps I was a freak. 

I have mixed feelings about the race being a failure or a success. The total time was one of the worst ever for me, but it was also one of the hardest half irons I have done. The med tent sucked me in. The bike and the swim were decent, but dehydration set in before I even ran, despite my attempts to avoid it. 

I may not have “finished,” but I did finish.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ironman Lake Tahoe--the Race that Wasn't

Squaw Valley
Last year, I met my match with Ironman Lake Tahoe. The hills, the altitude and weather all conspired to make it too difficult. The race day dawned with snow-capped mountain at twenty-nine degrees. After two hours of swimming in the cold lake water, hypothermia made it too difficult to dress myself, let alone have much speed on the bike course. I shivered for twenty miles, got as far as sixty-two miles, and then was pulled off the bike course by officials, along with a group of other forlorn racers. I had given up on ever finishing this race in the future.

Still, the Lake Tahoe area was beautiful, if temperamental. The weather changed almost from hour to hour. The sapphire blue lake, and the deep, dark green pine trees that dropped giant pine cones enticed me. I was obsessed with the guava-sized things. They were the king of pine cones and much larger than any I have ever seen.

Lake Tahoe Pine Cone next to a normal one


When they added a half ironman distance in April of this year, I jumped at the chance because it was doable. One of the big hills had been taken out, which made it a faster course. Maybe the weather gods would co-operate and I wouldn’t be frozen.  I wanted another crack at the monster bike climbs. To actually finish this race would be an accomplishment.

I trained on hills in Arizona in intense heat all summer, which was so miserable, that I took to counting dead snakes in the road to distract myself. Ice was my friend. I despaired at my slow speed, because ninety degree heat was not motivation to pedal faster. To find enough bike climbing elevation required strategic planning. Phoenix has big hills in the outskirts of town, but they are nothing like the Sierras in California. I couldn’t ride enough last year to get in a necessary eight thousand feet of climbing in one session, but four thousand was doable. I thought I was ready to tackle the race.

For months I worried about the swim at altitude, the weather in Tahoe, what to wear and how to train. I reserved a hotel room, bike transportation, a rental car and made flight plans, being too lazy to drive. The challenge of riding up the evil Brockway road at a glacial four miles per hour awaited.

What I didn’t count on was the California propensity for disaster. It was always burning, flooding, having rock slides or earthquakes. Forest fire smoke from last year was an concern, but it went away. This year it didn’t. A nutcase set a fire just west the lake. 

I arrived on the Wednesday before the race and at the hotel, and immediately picked up some pine cones. The hotel was older and was unoccupied except for some service vehicles. One driver had unwound the reels of cable from his truck and had spread it across the parking lot. Maybe this wasn’t the classiest of hotels.

My room had a heart-shaped Jacuzzi with a shower in the middle of the room. Guests who shared the room would have had to be really friendly and be prepared to see each other naked. The romance was wasted on me.

The hint of something wrong was the Thursday before the race. At registration, at the politically incorrectly named  Squaw Valley ski resort, a murky haze covered the ski mountains. Surely this smoke would go away. The air was thick, hard to breath and stunk of burned wood. Occasionally, I thought I could see floating ash.

30,000 foot smoke plume
The vivid Lake Tahoe blue and greens had turned into a faded gray in the polluted air. Still, the weather wonks had predicted the wind would shift the smoke away and the race would go on.

Race morning, I headed to Squaw Valley to take the shuttle buses to King’s Beach, which was the start. Tahoe is a point to point race, which added to the hassle. I noticed the haze in the headlights as I was driving in the dark. Maybe it would blow away or be better at King’s Beach. 

The air was better there, but the distant mountains were still shrouded in haze as the horizon grew lighter at 6:30. I got ready and had time to kill. In contrast to last year, it was fifty-five degrees out. How strange this place was. 

King's Beach
Then it happened. Or didn’t happen. I wasn’t on the beach to hear the announcement that the race was cancelled, due to unhealthy air. Some people were already in the water. An ironman race was a big deal to not go on. I couldn’t remember one that didn’t continue in some form. Organizers took days to set up, and months of planning was involved.  Registration was a year in advance. Training took almost as much time. Plus racers incurred airfare, hotel, equipment, bike transport, nutrition, car rental and other expenses. Some competitors travel from other countries.

I can’t remember who told me the race was cancelled, but I refused to believe it until confirmation from an official. I was stunned and felt lost. The news was a shock even though the air had been bad all week. The race went on last year, despite snow the day before, so surely it wouldn’t be cancelled because of smoke. What would I do now? It was only early morning and the only thing to do was to gather my stuff and my bike.

Truckee River Bike Path and run course for the 140.6
An event that I had anticipated for months had suddenly vanished. All the hours grinding 
up steep hills in ninety degree heat, all the planning, the travel expense, the worry about not measuring up, the possibility of redemption for not finishing last year. Then nothing, but an empty feeling. No chance to triumph nor fail.

My first thought was I would ride the course anyway until I saw how bad the thick air was by Truckee, where the hard climbing would begin. I didn’t want to be out in it, let alone do strenuous exercise. Particulates were way over unhealthy levels. It couldn’t be good to breathe. So, no big hill for me to climb this year. They gave us our finisher’s shirts, hats and medals, but the gear was meaningless without an actual finish.

Commons Beach in Tahoe City 
Life has really unexpected turns. Tahoe tempted me, but I am done with it for now. I don’t have the energy to deal with the weather, altitude, fire and whatever other obstacles California has in store. The finish of this race will have to wait for another day. I am still keeping the giant pine cones that I picked up, though.

 Weird slightly phallic stature to honor an old tree
in Tahoe City

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Summer Training in Phoenix Sucks

 Sometimes even Saguaros die
Long course summer training in a desert sucks. The heat is unbearable by ten a.m. on good days; by dawn on bad days. A five to six hour bike ride is a testament to fortitude even if I start in the dark. I start to flirt with heat exhaustion after four hours. In honor of this misery, I have written a poem:

I emerge reluctantly from my cool, dark lair.

Eye-searing white light.
Mountains shrouded in gray sludge haze.
Plants sadly droop in the weight of living
in the sodden air, evil sun screaming air
that wants to bury me alive.

I groan and reel from the physical assault.
Mouth dry, dripping sweat, I ride my bike; eddies of
heat scraping my skin.

I wish not to exist in the hell of such a place
where tall sentinel Saguaro witness the dust of earth bones
blowing in empty space.
Puffs of fat gray clouds overhead promise
a cool breath of rain
that never comes.

My head spins. I ride on.

Doves stand dazed in the street.
Lizards scurry for shade.
A panting coyote hangs his head.
Green skeleton trees claw the air.
Menace rises from the pavement.

Vultures circle overhead.
Do they wait for me?
Or that snake smashed in the road?

My legs ache, my feet hurt. I ride on.

Baked, black asphalt; a rolling ribbon. A conga line of
bobbing quail family cross; little legs rapidly run to avoid motorized death.

I climb an endless hill. Heat presses harder. No mercy. Salt crusts my face.

Downhill again, into false cool breeze I grimly ride on until
finally done; dash into air-conditioned bliss.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Deuces Olympic Race Report

This year's "metals." This picture doesn't show it, but, I have a
giant blister on my third toe for my race effort.

I had done so many triathlons that I assumed that they would all be predictable. This turned out not to be the case with Deuces, except for the weather, which was always hot. The unexpected was not always good.

Deuces had evolved over the years, but not always for the better. It had a half iron, Olympic, Xterra and sometimes a sprint. A huge raffle used to occur on Saturday evening along with a dinner. The raffle and dinner disappeared. The Xterra this year was cancelled due to forest fire danger. I never wanted to stay late anyway, so it didn’t matter to me. The less time in Show Low the better. I couldn’t really explain why the town makes me want to leave as fast as possible.

Last year's metal.
I was nervous before the race because high altitude makes breathing difficult. The swim had  the danger of panic attacks. I usually felt alone on the bike course because it’s remote and everyone was ahead of me. The run, which was half trail was an ordeal.

The temperature was warmer than I expected at dawn. This did not bode well. I struggled into my wetsuit and tested the water. It felt chilly at first, but tolerable. The lake level was down nine feet, due to the water being used for fire-fighting. The channel out to the start was much narrower than usual.

The swim start was the typical struggle due to the lack of oxygen at altitude. My chest felt tight. I couldn’t see the far buoy because it was partially deflated. I had to ask the kayakers where it was. I turned the corner, went across to the next one, then started down the lake. I aimed toward the next yellow buoy, but the kayaker said I had to go around the orange ball buoy. 

This confused me. The race organizers had said all we had to do was right turns, but nothing about navigating randomly placed balls. At times, I actually saw the bottom of the lake through the murk. Time dragged on and I contemplated my inadequacy in this event. At least the water was smooth and I could breath. As I was going back past the start, I heard the announcer say “three minutes” for the sprint race. Great. I was taking forever and was soon going to be run over by sprint swimmers.

 I rounded the last far buoy, then the final one to come in and hit a thick jungle of weeds. The patch was enormous, the largest I had ever seen, and it extended all the way to the shore. The long plant tendrils clung to me, trying to drape themselves over my arms. I panicked, flailing my arms to escape their grasp and groaned. The only way I was going to get away was to keep moving. The swim exit was beckoning. The sprint racers had caught up, but passed by without slamming into me.  

I staggered out of the water through six inch deep muck and walked up to steep hill to be stripped of my wetsuit. I ran into transition, which of course was empty. I was last or near last out of the water, which was depressing. At least my bike was easy to find.

On the bike, it was hot already. Tall pines trees that lined the road did not provide much shade. The white sun seared my skin and sucked the moisture out of my body. Sweat salt crusted my face. Once off the main highway, Lone Pine Dam Road was empty past the sprint course racers. An out and back had been on the route last year, but none was marked this time. I worried that I had missed it, but all I could do was go on. No volunteers were out in the remote area to guide us. The sign I had gone past said “Olympic straight”, but I still felt lost on the lonely route that stretched on and on and seemed to go nowhere.  

The run was a reminder of race misery past; almost ironman level of deep despair. I knew it would be problematic since my hamstring was injured, but to run through soft sand resulted in sharp hip pain with every step. It eased off  to a bearable stabbing when I got to firmer ground. The path wound through the campground, then entered an out and back road. The slight uphill made it mentally a dark place. My legs were dead and merely plodded through the uneven ground. An unwelcome hill marked the turn around. I grabbed some gummy bears for quick energy. The sticky layer adhered to my teeth.  

On the back half of the run, the aid stations were out of water. I had my own bottle, but it was low and lukewarm. The threat of heat exhaustion worried me with three aid stations in a row lacking water and cups. I grabbed some vile-tasting Heed-laced ice, which made my water foamy, but cooler. The run ended up being 6.78 miles instead of 6.2.  

They managed to even run out of water at the finish line. I lurked around the water containers and poured some in my bottle whenever they re-filled it. Some athletes, unhappy with the situation, berated the volunteers, but they had no control over the ineptitude of the race organization. 

 I was hot and considered the kiddie pools that they had set up, but the water was dubiously cloudy. God knows what was floating around in that water with the many sweaty butts that had sat in it. I saw surprised to see some one actually wash her face with it. She might regret that later. I  jumped in the lake instead, and pushed aside the weeds. At least the bacteria would be diluted. The coolness of the water refreshed me, despite the hot furnace air.

I chose this race, not because I liked it, but mostly because it was good training for a half iron at altitude that I was doing later in the fall. I didn't  expect to do well, so I didn’t worry about it.  I had merely survived the lack of oxygen and water, the weeds, the running injury and the desolate bike course. 

People don't understand why I put myself through this kind of ordeal  Sometimes, I don't know, either. Maybe, the discomfort makes me tough. A little less pain, however, would have been appreciated.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Phoenix Comicon

I had no interest in anime, Steampunk, Legos, comics, superheros, wearing costumes nor Cosplay. I liked science fiction, Star Trek, Star Wars and zombies. But my daughter was doing an In Character Cosplay Challenge panel and I wanted to watch her with her friends. This was my year to try new things, so I bought a membership.

I hesitated to make the plunge. Phoenix Comicon was not cheap; plus I had to drive downtown, which I hate, and pay for parking, which I despise more. Even less incentive was that the weather this time of year was a million degrees. I didn’t even want to leave the house because it took too much energy.

My daughter has been doing Cosplay and going to these types of conventions for years. I was curious to see what she spends so much time on. The creativity of her costumes that she sewed always impressed me. I had been around when she and her friends discussed characters and I had no idea what she was talking about. It was a foreign language and an unknown world.

Adults dressed as make-believe characters was something that I didn’t understand, but accepted as “normal,” since my daughter did it. To wear costumes and pretend to be someone that they were not, must have been fun for them. I think that this behavior was weird because I hate to draw attention to myself. I would rather slink around in a crowd unnoticed.

Would I be bored to death? Could I find things to do? Would I have enough energy to endure the hordes of people?

The first hint of chaos was when I was driving down the street nervously looking for parking. The website said parking was generally $12, but the price was understated by half. The first garage was $25. Traffic was stopped at the crosswalk between the Convention buildings.  A river of people flowed in the street. The amount of humanity provoked anxiety. Panicked, I parked at the next garage that didn’t display an outrageous price. My head spun.

I walked outside into the sun-blasted air. Mermaids hung around in display outside. I wondered what genius set it up without much shade. The line to get a badge in the South Building was short. The fifteen minute, or more, wait to get into the North Building exhibit hall was not so short.  I joined the sweating masses. I pondered the fate all the unfortunates that wore heavy costumes in ninety degrees.

Inside, was all the vast space and intimacy of an airport. I forgot to get a map, so I had no clue where to go. Moving anywhere was a slow process with all the bodies in the way. The goal was to find a booth of a writer friend, but all I had was the number and a vague idea where it might be.

 I wandered into a hall, but it wasn’t the right one. I went into another. The sounds, lights of countless jewelry, anime art, comics and costume accessories displays assaulted me. Star Wars Stormtroopers, Star Trekkies and Zombies passed by. Halloween had run amuck. Long lines of people were waiting to get photographs or autographs of celebrities. The friend that I was looking for happened to run into me. I was dazed. We made our way to his booth and we chatted for a while. I was relieved to find a friendly face that grounded me in reality.

I went off to look at the Star Wars exhibit nearby. People dressed as characters were waiting around for photographs. There was R2D2. I also looked at an elaborate multi-building Lego city with a train running through it. I wandered through the booths and saw a masked guy with nicely defined abs and a tattooed arm dancing to some horrible Karaoke sung by another. I took a picture of a cool fake zombie soldier, after which my camera promptly died. This convention was actually amusing. Too bad I could no longer record it.

After a long walk and seeing a fraction of what was there, I got out of the giant hall.  The expensive food was tempting, but the lines were long, and Melissa’s panel was in thirty minutes. Luckily, I had brought along snacks or I would have been really hungry. 

I stepped into the crowded room and Melissa said, “Hi.” She looked pretty in a long purple silk dress trimmed with gold leaf with a blue chiffon overlay. The costume had elaborately beaded armbands. Her hair was in long smooth tendrils with a head ornament. Very princessy. I was not sure what character she was.  

Lego Town
Her and friends proceeded to pick people out to play skits. Somehow they knew who the audience was dressed as. One guy had a giant pie thing on his head with a bloodied shirt. He was actually Pyramid Man, but I didn’t know that. My favorite was an evil horned alien as a presidential candidate. “I will eat your children,” she proclaimed. Everyone seemed eager to act.  

When her panel was over, I had only been there for three hours and I was utterly drained. After spending forty dollars to get in and whatever parking was, I felt like I should see something else. The South building had the Haunted House. The strobe lights, corpses, and evil clowns weren’t all that scary. Maybe the Zombie Bootcamp would have been better.
Karaoke Dancer
I could see why people got hotel rooms. I wanted to take a nap. How people could do this for hours on end for three days? Of course I wasn’t passionate about it, so that made a difference.

Back in the heat again, I plodded back to the parking garage. The parking prices had soared in a few hours. Now they were $25-30. I nervously hoped that mine wasn’t that bad.

I felt faint walking inside the parking area. The air was stifling and I couldn’t breath. I wanted out. Luckily, it was only $15 to escape. In ordinary circumstances, this amount would have been outrageous, but now I didn’t care. My lair and a nap awaited.

The world I had entered as an outsider was strange. I didn’t speak their language and I didn’t dress like they did. I don’t know if I will ever develop an affinity for their ways, but the  culture was interesting.

 Not sure what the hell this is

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Esprit de She Race Report

I had no expectation of doing well at this race. Recent life events had left me reeling. I had moved two weeks earlier, leaving me feeling disoriented. Where the hell was I and where was I going? My life had been packing, then unpacking. Then I crashed on my bike, which had removed large areas of skin from my leg. The painful wounds had mostly healed, but not entirely. I also had minor surgery scheduled for the next day. I was dazed.

As usual, the thought of swimming 1500 meters in Tempe Town Lake made me nervous. Despite  thirty-two previous immersions in the murky pea soup water, I always dreaded it. The water was warm, which helped hold the thought of drowning at bay. Warm temperatures made me happy.The possibility of dying was more likely in cold water to me, since the misery factor was so much higher. Cold water sapped my energy and will to live. Cold was bad.

They herded us into the water. The start line was fifty yards out. This event was open to women only. The unspoken assumption was that women appreciated the absence of aggressive men swimming over them and crowding the bike course. They would be right. Men don’t always behave themselves and I got in their way, especially in the water. The trade off was it attracted a lot of beginners who didn’t know what they were doing.

Every morning swim in this lake went directly into the sun. I had a vague idea where I was going because I knew to sight off of a high-rise in the distance. Others around me were puzzled as to how to navigate. The water surface shimmered with the guide buoys lost in the glare.

Time dragged and I was not enjoying myself. I swam slow, which made the ordeal longer. I tried to relax and succeeded for the most part. Finally, I turned and could see the line of orange buoys in a line under the bridges. I wondered what the bubbles on the surface were–nothing or something more toxic? People had been reporting a fish die off earlier in the season.

Most people had finished the swim by the time I got out after forty-six minutes. I ran to my lonely bike on the rack.

The bike course was definitely NOT empty and was littered with all the people doing the shorter version of the race. The hordes of riders were in my way. Passing them was an unusual activity for me, being almost as slow on the bike as I was on the swim. The ones who didn’t follow the rules about spacing and not blocking the passing lane, tested my patience.

The roads around Tempe Town Lake either had a flat option with lots of turn arounds or hills. The organizers picked hills, which was more interesting, except they had to be ridden multiple times. They had freeway overpasses, flats and climbs through Papago Park with its sandstone rock formations. I didn’t find it too taxing.

The second bike lap lost the newbies. I almost missed the incentive to go faster to get around them. I briefly thought about stopping at a port-a-potty, but didn’t want to waste the energy or time. This was always an issue at longer races, but miraculously, I had managed to avoid the smelly little huts.

I got back into transition, racked my bike and rushed out to the run. I had not been running much because of a hamstring injury. The back of my leg hurt sharply with each step. I had done a strenuous trail race in February and had paid for it ever since. I hoped not to suck too much.

By now it was fairly hot. Tempe Town Lake was always a heat bowl. It collected the sun and beat a runner senseless with the inferno. It forced me to slow down. The defense to this was pouring ice and water on myself at the aid stations. I wanted to go faster, but couldn’t and just kept moving. At least I wasn’t walking, and felt relatively good.  Usually, the run was the best part, but today it was a matter of survival.

I finally finished, and the mental daze was back, this time from the blood rushing from my brain to my legs. Fatigue had set in, but physical tiredness was better than reality tiredness. Unpacking could wait. A meh race was still better than being with my population of boxes.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Mountain to Fountain 15k Race Report

Great Horned Owl

My day started with a Great Horned Owl hooting from the top of a palm tree in Fountain Hills. Owls were always a thrill to see and hear. These creatures were otherworldly to me with their big eyes and haunting calls at night. Plus, they eat live, bloody prey. I peered into the tree to try to see him, until the husky bird flew away. Hopefully, he was a good omen for the day.

Fountain Hills was one of those planned communities on the edge of suburbia that was a little tattered around the edges. In the center of town was a giant fountain that spewed a large volume of water in the air. It can be seen from miles away. When it was not being a fountain, the structure was unsightly, like rusty remains of a ship wreck sitting in the lake. The charm was lost on me.

The race was point to point from McDowell Mountain Park, so runners had to take buses to the starting line. I was silent during the ride and ignored the conversations, since I had no urge to be social at this early hour. The last time I did this event, I didn’t get to Fountain Hills early enough and the bus took fifty minutes. I didn’t remember why it took so long to ride nine miles. Buses can get swept into a time warp and reappear at their destination much later than should be possible.

This bus got to the park in plenty of time, so that I had an hour to sit around and get really bored. This was a pretty area with lush Sonoran desert with Saguaros and Palo Verde trees. Silver  Brittle Bushes  bloomed  yellow daisies. The sun hadn’t yet warmed the air and I marveled at the stupidity of the runners who had taken  their warm clothes off well before the start.

This race had prize money, so it attracted a lot of elite runners far superior to lowly me. The route was basically downhill, with some nasty climbs. I had no illusions of a fast race and I lined up behind the faster people to stay out their way.

The first mile was an ascent, but I was in a good mood from seeing my owl friend. The next two miles were even better. Flying downhill on the scenic road was effortless and fun and my speed was what was fast for me.

Then the cramps hit, the lovely warning that my bowels were angry and wanted to empty themselves. For all the money the race organizers spend on beer and prize money, they use nothing for porta-potty rental on the route. The 9.5 miles was barren of anywhere to relieve oneself except for trees and bushes. I couldn’t hold it that long. Desert plants were not great cover with their tiny leaves.

Pretty, but not a good place to hide your business.
I briefly considered going off road to a side section with  real rest rooms, but that would waste a lot of time. I studied the configuration of trees and bushes on the side of the road as possibilities. Lots of people were streaming by and the thought of exposing myself to this crowd was not pleasant.

I found a likely spot, and hoped that it wasn’t someone’s private land that I had soiled. I felt better for a while, but I still had problems. I ran hard, then had to slow down repeatedly when the cramps hit. My expectations dived and I tried not to get depressed. No personal record for this race, just the attempt not to be totally terrible. To get to the finish line clean was now my ultimate goal.

The road has a steep, long climb a few miles from the end, but I was too consumed with controlling bodily functions to even notice or be tired. Cramps hit again partly up the hill and forced a rest .

The desert gave way to Fountain Hills suburbia and I could keep going without slowing down. My hip and glut pain from another event flared up, but it was bearable. I had done a tough eight mile off road trail race two weeks ago, under the delusion that my body would not have any lasting pain. That assumption was false. Everything was under control for now.

I reached the finish line in under ninety-two minutes. The time was nothing to get excited about, but at least my underwear was clean. Sometimes, the conditions had to be dealt with as they were and I could only do my best, which may not be much to others. The high had eluded me once again. No prizes, nor P.R.s, but at least I got a free beer.

The owl was just an owl, not an omen.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


When I first saw him, he looked ordinary–one of many birds that flit around in countless pet shop cages. I was unaware that they had distinct personalities. He was a brilliant turquoise blue with a yellow head. My daughter had had a succession of failed pet experiments, including a goldfish disaster of 2992 that I still shudder to think about. “You mean you have to feed them?” Fish and crabs had all died. We already had a cat that didn’t express interest in children. So this parakeet was the next step.

Since parakeets are social, and he didn’t have a friend, I took upon myself to give him attention.  I put him in the home office and he would sit on the window ledge and talk. He emitted a long unmelodious series of chirps, squawks and warbles. Some of the sounds were vaguely human words. The bird would climb up my arm and sit on my shoulder. He pecked at my hair like he was grooming me. He licked the salt off my skin after a workout with his rough tongue. I found it soothing to have a bird perched on me.

I was one of his flock.

Neptune had special skills. He liked to fling his toys off of the top of the cage. He would spin his Ferris wheel. He dropped things that hung in his cage to wake my daughter up when she failed to arise soon enough to let him out.

After a year, my daughter decided that Neptune needed a friend. She saw the bright yellow bird in the store and had to have her. My daughter named her Saturn. After that, Neptune bonded with her more than people and started to talk “bird” more than “human.” They had conversations together and chattered nonstop. The first thing upon waking, Neptune would go straight to her cage.

These two birds lived for years. But recently, I found Neptune puffed up and lethargic. He squawked in pain whenever he had to move. His leg was limp. I realized something was seriously wrong with him, so I took him to a vet.

The vet suggested $900 worth of invasive tests and procedures, but if he was really that sick, the procedures would not prolong his life much. I took him home, not sure what to do. I hated to see him suffer.

He flew into Saturn’s cage, but all he could do is huddle on the bottom. When I checked on him later in the evening. I was shocked to see his limp body. I took him out and put him in a paper towel by his own cage, with the faint hope that he wasn’t dead. I was sad, but relieved that he wasn’t miserable anymore.

In the morning, he was in the same state, so I put him out on the patio. I don’t usually cry, but his death was unspeakably sad, touching some deep melancholy inside. The reaction reminded me of how I felt when I went back to the vacant house I had lived in for eighteen years and saw the empty hummingbird feeders. My ex had left me and I was stuck with a house that I had to sell.  Seeing the hungry hummingbirds reminded me of the sense of abandonment and loss and the inevitability of change. Like then, the intensity of sadness that came out of nowhere surprised me. Neptune was a connection to my old life that was gone.

His companion was now alone and I worried about how she would react. Did she know he was gone forever? Would she be able to survive on her own? Without him she sat in her cage and didn’t move or talk much. She was unhappy and was a shadow of herself. I wanted to help her, but she wasn’t bonded to me. I was a poor substitute for her friend.

I had to tell my daughter that her beloved pet was gone. When I told her, she started crying and so did I. Neptune  meant a great deal to her, and she missed him.

I often wonder why humans are so fascinated with animals and form such strong relationships with them. Maybe we don’t want to be alone on the planet and animals are part of our world. They bring us joy, love and peace. A strong nurturing instinct makes us want to help them if they are sick or injured. Unassuming small creatures hop into our lives, steal our hearts with their antics and have a huge impact.  This ordinary parakeet wasn’t so ordinary after all.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

P.F. Chang's Half Marathon Race Report

Every race is a chance to exceed what I think I am capable of doing, but the results aren’t always what I expect or hope for. Lately, I have been disappointed with my body’s lack of energy, and refusal to speed up to a pace that I could normally do easily. The possibility that maybe this time would be different, motivated me to try again.

I usually try to avoid this huge race. The hassle factor is high. The half marathon had over 13,000 participants, which meant a trip into downtown Phoenix for packet pick up the day before. I had to be at the race site two hours before to get parking, line up for the porta-potties and stand around in the corral for half an hour. I like low key, local races where I can arrive an hour early, get my bib number on the same day, warm up and line up ten minutes before the start.
The organizers assign corrals according to projected finish time, This system seemed to be widely disregarded and no one policed the corrals. I was supposed to be two corrals down, but my friend convinced me to be in this one, which was the two hour half marathon people. Some of these people were delusional.

The starting gun went off and we waited. And waited. Fourteen minutes later I started to run–except all the people in my way slowed me down. They weren’t running as fast as a two hour half marathon–maybe a two and a half. I got acid reflux, which is horribly painful and always plagued me at the beginning of any run. My lack of warm up was back to haunt me. Razor blades in my chest made speed difficult, so the first mile was slow. A chance of a personal record for this race slipped away. I tried not to despair.

A guy passed me carrying a six foot long Sun Devils flag. I had to get out of his way to avoid it. Possibly, he had a good reason for carrying it in a crowded race, like a noble charity cause, but I didn’t care and was just irritated.

The reflux went away, but sluggishness persisted. I forced my legs to go faster and they argued with me. This run was not going to be easy. I finally got up to an acceptable mediocre pace, but the terrain wasn’t cooperating. The slight uphill was obnoxious.

Normally a small incline isn’t a problem for me. Running as hard as I can for thirteen miles makes the hills grow substantially. The back of my legs hurt. I tried not to think about how many miles I had to go. My Garmin  G.P.S watch showed a lag in speed frequently.

A Garmin watch is a wonderful, but evil tool. The pace function kept taunting me, telling me that I was inadequate and not fast enough. My mind was the real tormenter, but the watch was easier to blame. I just couldn’t seem to please it. The distance reading also didn’t seem to agree with the race mile signs and always buzzed the mile before the sign, which meant the official time would be slower than the watch’s.

I kept hoping to hit the easy part, so that I could go faster. After 8.5 miles of pain, the route was an out and back, with the worst hill of the course. The placement was unusually cruel. The sight of the 2:09 pacer going downhill as I ascended distressed me. Race goals evaporated to mere survival. My mood grew worse as I cussed and struggled onward. Finally, the top.

I felt somewhat guilty to be in such a cranky mood. I was healthy and able to run on a sunny, warm day, but misery over-ruled positive thoughts. Crankiness is easier than gratitude and I had not expected it to be this hard. The last half marathon I had done, in 2010, was faster and not this arduous.

The road descended, then ascended, and I was unhappy. The up tick in speed wasn’t happening. Instead I was slowing down, which wasn’t what was planned. The bridge over Tempe Town Lake that arched up then led down to the finish line was up ahead.  Large groups of walkers  blocked my way. I couldn’t understand why these people strolled this close to the finish line, then realized they probably had done the five mile mini-marathon. I didn’t see any point to walking an entire race, but some people like do this.

I darted around the walker herds and sped up. The finish line was the incentive to get to the end faster. I couldn’t wait. This wasn’t the race I had hoped for and it was more difficult than  expected, but the self-flagellation  was done. Total time was 2:08:48, for 13.2 miles, not 13.1, according to my watch. At least I had the satisfaction of  the physical challenge of running that far and hard. The discomfort didn’t matter as much as being able to do the feat. It beat walking.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day Bug

You scurry across the floor in broad daylight.
Past a riot of heart-shaped balloons floating in the air, ribbons trailing among store aisles of shiny foil boxes of chocolates. Antennae waving, little legs moving in a blur. Rows of red and pink color cards proclaiming love, undying devotion, kisses.

You crawl on the rose petals, pausing to regard shoppers who blindly worship Cupid’s deceit with  obligatory offers of gifts.

You drop from the flowers to the ground with a plop and scramble off,
to seek darkness and safety.

Do you have cockroach candle-lit dinners for two?  Romantic cockroach kisses?

You cross paths with a heavy boot.


Happy Valentine’s Day.

Friday, January 3, 2014

What I Learned When I Broke My Hand

I recently broke my hand in a bike accident. A car exiting the freeway, perpendicular to me, made a left turn right across my path. Either the driver ran a red light or I spaced out and thought that it was green. The sudden appearance of a car out of nowhere caused me to slam on the brakes and the loss of momentum made me smash into the pavement.  My hand and face took the most force. I  hobbled home on my bike, dripping blood from my chin and lip, while my hand throbbed. From this experience I learned:

1. My magic immunity that prevented broken bones in falls and bike crashes in the past was illusory. I had never broken anything in my life until now. It wasn’t supposed to ever happen. My fifty-nine and a half  year lucky streak was over . Maybe old age has caught up to me and my bones were more brittle.

2. Hospital emergency rooms were to be avoided at all costs, if possible. It was way too much healthcare. At first, I chose an urgent care place to avoid the hassle and cost of a real emergency room. After hours of waiting, they stitched up my chin and put my hand in a splint. Unfortunately, I peed blood when I got home, so I thought it should be checked out. The real  E.R. did all kinds of blood tests, head and chest CT scans with contrast, and x-rays. At one point, five doctors were in the room with me. The thoroughly uncomfortable experience of needles poked in my arm and  hand; a neck brace that gouged my stitched up chin; and being dizzy as I was wheeled around on a Gurney flat on my back, was not one I ever wish to have in the foreseeable future. Even the heart rate monitor pinched my finger.  The E.R. wanted $23,000 for all this.

3. Not to have any physical or emotional support was scary when I was that injured. My mental state right after the accident was fairly lucid, but a little dazed. I could still drive myself around, walk and feed myself, but I don’t know what I would have done if I couldn’t. The whole ordeal of waiting alone in the Urgent Care place and emergency room was emotionally difficult. I wanted to cry at some points, because that was my reaction to pain and shock.

4. Every place had to do their own x-rays. The urgent care only did my hand, so of course the E.R. did my hand and my wrist. The place that did the cast had to do their own x-rays, because the E.R. would not share theirs. All this duplication was ridiculous to me.

5. Mending bones took a lot of energy out of the body. The first couple of weeks, I was fatigued , weak and light-headed, even when not doing much.  It would hit me out of nowhere and I would just want to go take a nap.

6. A cast on my hand  was disruptive to my training. No swimming or weight lifting until the cast was off. The first bike ride after the accident made me nauseated. I had to wrap my ribs because they hurt with any movement. The cast felt like a weight on my wrist. To run felt like death march and a race was coming up. I ended up doing the short version and fought the miserable lack of energy and power. A5k run with a cast on was a little bad-ass, though. But  the slow time  disappointed me. Running was what I was good at, but not lately.

7. I felt vulnerable with a cast, especially on my bike. The fear of having another accident was always on my mind, especially when I rode over the same area where it occurred.  I probably wouldn’t be able to fix a flat tire because of a lack of hand strength and could be stranded. To brake was painful and shifting with the left hand was impossible. A rough road that jarred my sore fingers was uncomfortable to ride on.

8. Functioning was inconvenient with a cast. I broke my dominant hand, so writing and typing was awkward. I had to shower with a plastic bag on the cast because it couldn’t get it wet. I showered, soaping and shampooing clumsily with the right hand . No one actually specified what would happen with a wet cast, just that “it would be very bad.” Dressing was difficult and nothing fit that was tight around the wrist, which was most of my jackets. I couldn’t open jars because it hurt and the cast prevented a decent grip. Driving made my hand ache. Vegetables were hard to chop, which made cooking more of a chore.

9. I discovered how inept my right hand is. It just couldn’t seem to perform the same functions as the left. I can’t put in my contacts with my right hand, open a medicine bottle or do various other little tasks that I took for granted with my left.

10. The outside of the cast was easier to keep dry than the inside. I could put a bag over it or avoid putting it in water, but sweat on the inside was inevitable if I wanted to exercise.  I hoped that it didn’t contribute to some skin disease under the cast.

11. A cast was a good conversation starter, but it got old after a while. Not that people cared, they were just nosy. Invariably, I was asked what happened. Sometimes, the question was if anyone stopped, and no they didn’t. That resulted in an expression of shock. Why would a driver stop for someone laying in the road dripping blood? “How did you get home?” I had to ride alone, bleeding all over myself and the bike, annoyed that no one noticed.

12. Despite the frequent ache and annoyances of a broken hand, I functioned fairly well despite the break. Sometimes I barely notice the cast. Other times, I desperately  wanted the alien thing off. The inconvenience was bearable. Most of all, it was temporary. If my leg had broken, it would have been much different. I wouldn’t have had the stamina to wait for that to heal. No exercise would have made me very cranky. I was grateful it wasn’t worse.
I breathlessly await the time when the cast comes off. Will my swimming will be terrible after five weeks off? Will I need physical therapy? Will my skin look fungal with weird colors after five weeks under a cast ?  I don’t care. I just want to be done with it.