Friday, December 11, 2015

Jingle Blahs

No. Just no.

Christmas depression
isn’t just an expression.
All the damn cheer
drives me to drink beer.

The torture started in October.
Christmas decorations lurk.
Plastic Santas smirk
behind Halloween skeleton dogs.

The autumn slaughter of pine trees had already begun.
Happily green; growing, unaware of their impeding death.
Their fate to be displayed in an ugly mall.
Only to be dumped once holiday fun
was done.

Christmas carols make me want to heave.
Jingle Bells
ring in holiday hell.
A White Christmas. . .
I’m dreaming
of never hearing it again.
Deck the Halls. . .
I avoid the malls.

I dread
to go to parties
and pretend to be hearty.
When I secretly
long to go home
and crawl into bed
Crowds are too loud.
Nothing of interest is said

The yard lights are pretty.
But not for myself.
Thanksgiving is way too soon
to see the giant blow-up elf.
It makes me swoon
with its moronity.

So Christmas,
please leave.
And with you take
dreadful New Year’s Eve.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Heart of Arizona Bike Ride

Yarnell Hill

This ride starts in Congress, Arizona. The website describes the location as “37 miles Southwest of Nowhere, AZ; 39 miles Southeast of Nothing, AZ; 89 miles East of Somewhere, AZ and 69 miles Beyond Hope, AZ.” They would be right. I have never had occasion to visit Congress, AZ. I doubt most people have. It’s an old ghost mining town that now has retirees and is a bedroom community–meaning no one works there or couldn’t even if they wanted to. The location is remote; northwest of Wickenburg and off the main highway to Las Vegas.

The climate is also in between desert and woodlands, and is a sparse, arid grassland. The landscape is one that I pass on the highway on the way to somewhere else and admire the valleys plunging through the mountains.

When I considered this ride, I briefly thought of riding the 104 mile version with 6,000 feet of climbing. Then I thought about training long miles in the summer heat and wisely reconsidered. The forty-four mile route has 3,100 feet of climbing, which seemed plausible, though probably a little painful. Bullshifters, the bike club that ran this ride, has sag stops throughout and lunch afterwards. Food is a bonus of an organized ride and is the whole point of participating.

The starting point in Congress is the Sierra Vista Motel. It claims to be the smallest motel in Arizona, because it only has four rooms. Somehow, I was expecting a larger structure. It had a wooden fence in front, with a garden patio behind it, but not much area to park. A few riders were milling about, but nobody was lined up for the start, so I just began the ride after signing in.

Fish Rock

The empty road briefly descended, then the ascent began. I saw the mountain in front of me in the distance. It’s named Yarnell Hill, but I failed to see the “hill” aspect. This sucker was tall. I wondered if the road went through a pass or up the whole thing. I passed a rock painted as a green fish on the side of the highway. This place was just weird. I felt out of breath already.

The wind blew the opposite direction that I was headed. The route headed sharply upward and wound around the side of the mountain. Wind and a climb. I thought that this might get ugly. I noted my time as I passed the mile markers–ten minutes. I was going a blazing six miles per hour. Technically, I could run that fast, but not on this incline. Hopefully, the whole twenty-two miles to the turn around isn’t like this.

The view from the road was stunning, with miles of the desert plain visible 1000-1500 feet below. A small white grid was Congress, with mountains south of the town. I stopped to take photos.

Oddly, I was passing people, including one person wearing a tri kit from a triathlon club known for its speedy members. Take that, Mr. Hot Stuff! Not that I cared how fast I was going. This was a ride, not a race, which suited me fine. I had no delusions that I was going to ride forty-four miles with 3,100 feet of climbing in any thing other than a snail’s pace. 

Some bigger bike events in Phoenix and Tucson are races, which is a turn off. Some don’t allow tri bikes, which is offensive because the organizers assume that the people riding them can’t do it without crashing. If I crash, it’s a driver’s fault or the road’s. They also assume slow riders are inexperienced or out of shape. I have worked hard for a long time to go nowhere fast.

This event was laid back, so far. I didn’t run into the century and 125 mile people the whole ride. Presumably, they were serious about what they were doing, or just crazy. The first seven miles were difficult for me. I couldn’t imagine 104 or more.

Just when I thought the turn around was hours more to get to, I reached Yarnell and the road flattened out. I saw police cars and orange cones and thought all this wasn’t for the ride, because they probably didn’t know about it or care. Then, in the middle of the road was an antique car show. No one stopped me as I rode through. People were mindlessly walking across the road as if they didn’t see me, so I slowed down. More weirdness, that I hadn’t expected.

Yarnell is the site of a fire that killed 19 fire fighters. I saw little evidence of this, other than some sign medallions and a museum, but I didn’t know what the town looked like before. A sign on a side road said “No access to incident site.” The rugged terrain looked like it would be a bad place for a fire, with the open grassy plains and stunted trees. It was sad to think about.

I moved quickly through the tiny town and finally picked up speed, past vast ranch land. The trees were taller, though sparse. The descent meant I had to climb it on the way back, but it was a nice break.

Reaching the sag station was a relief. A cheerful volunteer asked me if I wanted soup, hot chocolate or a root beer float. My befuddled mind was dazed at the range of choice, so I opted for soup. The float might have been better, but I wasn’t very hungry from the exertion and it was a bit chilly with the wind once I stopped. Most people seemed tired and not in a hurry to move.  

I dragged myself out of the aid station. Going back required climbing the hill that I had descended. I took some pictures of the cottonwood trees that I saw. I was now really tired. I wasn’t hungry, but ate anyway to keep my energy up. It was warmer by this time. 

I passed through Yarnell again with the auto show still going on. I noticed a life-sized metal elephant on the roadside. A white elephant was also painted on a rocky hill. This town has a thing for these animals. Finally, I  hit the descent of the Yarnell Hill. I kept feathering my brakes because of the steepness and curves. I saw an overlook and stopped and took some pictures. The severity of the descent eased off as I got closer to town. When I was finished, I ate a grilled hamburger

The ride from Nowhere, Arizona to Nothing, Arizona had been fun. I appreciated the quirkiness of the small, rural towns. They were much more “western” than Scottsdale, which claims to be the most western, but bulldozes any evidence of character in the name of development. 

Maybe next year I will go to Beyond Hope.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Rockhopper Xterra Race Report

Three kinds of people sign up for an Xterra triathlon–the fast, the clueless and slow people like me. Fast people power through the terrain like it doesn’t exist. I have never figured out how they do this, but I suspect that their fancy bikes help. The clueless have no idea what they are in for, but soon find out that they made a bad decision. An Xterra can quickly become overwhelming, and require a lot of physical effort and skill. I wonder what a person doing a triathlon for the first time would think of his experience. Maybe “never again?” Slow people like me struggle to climb the hills and often fail, resulting in more of a walk/bike or a walk/run. I do these events anyway, despite my incompetence, because I like the challenge.

These races  are mostly populated by younger, male participants. The mean age for this race was 35-39. Only twenty-five percent were female. For some reason older females shy away. I was the only one above age of 53 and I felt like an oddball. Maybe they fear injury, that they aren’t strong enough or maybe they are just smart. I am an outlier. I have been riding badly in multisport mountain bike races for years. I am slower, more cautious and less skilled than most. If a section scares me, I don’t ride it. Bodily injury isn’t worth it.

Mountain biking is more mentally engaging than road biking, which can be excruciatingly boring. I  have to constantly look where I am going and pick the best line through obstacles to avoid smashing into rocks, running into cactus and running off the trail. Climbing up slopes requires leg strength, finesse and sudden bursts of leg turnover to avoid falling over when pedaling. Even arm muscles get a workout. It can be physically exhausting in a short amount of time.

Still, it’s fun when it isn’t terrifying. I prefer the trail hazards of horses, other people and sometimes snakes, to cars killing me or stoplights. The tires usually don’t flat because they are so rugged. The scenery is better. Most snakes leave me alone.

Papago Park isn’t my favorite place to ride. The trails are rocky, rutted from storm damage and poorly marked. I am spoiled by the smoother, engineered ones in North Scottsdale, McDowell Mountain Park and even the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Papago Park is difficult to ride and even harder to figure out where to go in the spaghetti maze of random routes.

I stupidly signed up for the Rockhopper Xterra, anyway. Another “I couldn’t think of anything better to do” event. I hadn’t done this event since 2008, so maybe it would be an easier experience than in the past. It wasn’t.

The race had a 10 a.m. cut off for the bike. I was concerned about it, because my normal glacial pace on the swim and a mountain bike, I would be close to that time. I usually don’t have this issue, but maybe the race organizer had someplace better to be or they didn’t want to have to transport people who had keeled over in the rough terrain. Theoretically, October starts to cool down even in Phoenix, but the month had stubbornly clung to “hot” and “more hot.”

Race morning, I walked down the boat ramp and cautiously waded into the water. Sharp rocks await the unwary, then it drops off suddenly. My ratty, old sleeveless wetsuit kept me buoyant, so I wasn’t worried about drowning, unlike the last race. The water felt cold on my arms at first.

The horn sounded and everyone took off. No waves were needed because of the small amount of people. Open water swimmers, not doing the bike and run, started behind us. I expected to be lapped by some or all of them. They made the water more crowded. As I rounded the last turn buoy, I was shocked to find swimmers as slow as I was. This was a rare opportunity to draft off of them, which would make my efforts faster and easier. They were in my way, so I used them. The trick was not to run into them, because I couldn’t see past my elbow in the murky green water. An occasional bubble hinted at where they were.  I finished faster than I expected, which was good because I don’t like swimming and was short on time.

Staggering up the ramp, I got my bike gear on and debated going to the port-a-potty, which for once, was in transition. The urge was not that great, so I moved on to the bike course.

The bike course had a flat section that followed a canal, then crossed a bridge onto rocky hell. Right away, I fumbled the climbing and had to walk. I thought: I am not very good at this. The ride did not get much better the next three miles. Some hills I didn’t have enough power to get up. I was still tired from the swim and hadn’t recovered. Some I misjudged the best route and got stuck. Some had rutted, loose soil, and I couldn’t get enough traction to climb. Some sections were just too scary to ride like the sudden steep drop offs with loose, rocky dirt. I had trouble with my bike shoes. Sometimes, they were difficult to clip in when I had to I get back on the bike. Each of the two loops had three mandatory dismounts in addition to the hills I couldn’t ride. I almost tripped on a rock a few times walking the bike through the dark tunnel.

I began to despair of making the cut off, but all I could do is keep going. A portion near the three mile mark was flat, so I went as fast as I could to make up time.

Coming back on the first loop, I crashed on a technical section named “The Steps.” It consisted of evil, steep stone ledges in a wash that scared me. I thought to myself that I could get through this. I got down the ledges, landing hard, but climbing out, I couldn’t pedal hard enough to make it back up the wash and unceremoniously fell over. A volunteer asked me if I was alright. My leg was scraped and my butt hurt, but I was able to get up. I didn’t lose too much blood, just my dignity, since I had landed in the dirt.

I finished the first loop and hoped for a better outcome. It didn’t happen. I didn’t stumble as much and went faster, but I still couldn’t get up some of the steep hills.  The volunteers that had been stationed by the potential crash sites had left before I finished the second loop. I was on my own. My high heart rate was high and it was hot. I fought exhaustion. For some reason, I kept hopscotching the same guy. I  passed him on the climbs, then he  passed me on the flats. Did heI  know how old I was? He was probably 35-40 and not doing much better than I.

 At the finish of the second loop, someone called out that the cut off was in ten minutes. Miraculously, I could go on to the run.

The start of the run was hot–about 85 degrees. I just wanted to survive and make the cut offs. Only the canal portion was shaded. The trails were rocky, bleak and steep. The difficult ascents had to be climbed twice, plus constant up and downs. A young kid flew by me as I hobbled up. I hated his youth. My legs were fried by then. Tripping was a concern because it happens when I am tired, but I avoided falling. I passed an older man, about seventy and I wondered if he was on his first or second loop. At least he tried.  The last mercifully flat 1.3 miles were a lot faster.

Total time for the whole thing was 3:03:59, a little better than I expected. This was one of the hardest races I have done this year. I hadn’t expected much out of it, knowing the difficulty, but I had wanted to finish it.

Most people were leaving as I got done. As I picked up my gear, people told me to get a mug, since I was the only one in my age group. A man who had gotten one gave me his. He was the same one that I had seen on the run and was in the 70+ range. He was miffed that everyone had gone home, the race was packing up and awards had been given out already. I could relate to that. It’s basically most of my race experiences, especially Xterra. I didn’t really care, being wasted. The rest of the world might have finished early, but old, slow people can still do the damn thing too.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Speedo Trauma

I don't want to look, but I have to.

I inhabit a world of lycra. In the triathlon world, lycra doesn't hide much, especially when wet. Speedos are an extreme example of this phenomena, being basically a fancy form of men's briefs. Hence the trauma:

Hey you!
Muscular, tan, slim,
In a Speedo swimsuit--
with that Bulge.

I want to look away, but can’t.
I don’t want to see.
The odd body ornament.
Hanging left.

The Speedo reveals all.
Every little outline.

I never used to notice
men in tight Speedos,
until my husband ran off
with a masseuse.

I don’t date.
No romance.
I have a crisis of faith--
in myself.

Exposed genitalia
is a distant memory.

I am penis deprived.                                    
 Really Speedo?
But I don’t want to see yours.

I am not attracted to you,
an immature youth.
Pretty, but insubstantial.
I am old.

And yet I look.
There it is.
Repulsive, yet

Please go and
take your Bulge with you.  
Before I go Blind.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Tempe Tri Race Report

 Photo courtesy of  Bob Pane, One Multisport
I normally go out of my way to avoid the Tempe Tri race, even to the point of leaving the country. It’s hot and not wetsuit legal. The air temperature can climb into the nineties. September may be mild in other parts of the country, but in the desert, it makes a mockery of fall. Fall doesn’t exist here anyway. Summer heat loses its intensity, but still awaits to punish the unwary.


To swim in Tempe Town lake even with a wetsuit, is not fun. Things float in it that I don’t want to know about. Not that floating objects could be seen, because the water is so murky, I never even see my hands. Occasionally, a body is found in it. The surface is well below the walls that contain it, like a castle moat filled with  monsters. Massive bridges loom overhead, blocking the sun. Lack of a wetsuit makes it exponentially more unpleasant.

But I wanted to race and was too cheap and lazy to go elsewhere. The swim would be a challenge to take on. It was a mere 750 meters or 810 yards, but that can seem forever with the possibility of death. Even in a nice lake, swimming away from shore without a wetsuit makes me panicky. Physically, I can swim the distance, but mentally is much more difficult. Fear is a strong opponent, resistant to change. The brain gets in a rut, spewing out over and over that I won’t make it to shore.

The moat
Mine tells me I am in danger in deep water, making me tense, then tired, then more fearful. A fish I am not. Convincing my thoughts to go in a positive direction takes some effort. I tried a self-administered aversion therapy by swimming in open water prior to the race with some success. I stayed near the shore, where I felt comfortable, then ventured short distances farther away. I told myself constantly that I would be okay. 

I couldn’t totally avoid fear. Swimming along calmly, I would suddenly encounter a swell or a wind created chop and my composure would break down. My retreat was to swim back to shore or to a rock I could stand on. If shore wasn’t close, I flipped to my back.

The other problem was lack of speed, being much slower than if I had a wetsuit. The buoyancy of a wetsuit lifted my legs, which was less drag. I could go faster when I wasn’t worried about sinking. The combination of uncomfortable and slower was a real curse.

Another worry I had about this race was the anxiety-inducing washing machine effect of moving bodies churning up the water in Tempe Town Lake. But since I was in some of the last waves, the water might be smoother. I already had the baggage of some really bad swims in that lake over the years. But I had somehow gotten through them, cursing and moaning.

Despite the thought of all these unpleasantness, the swim was something to conquer. I hoped to fight the fear in spite of myself. It is frustrating to be controlled by anxiety.


Race day dawned hot in the eighties and “humid”. Nervous and sweaty, I wondered why I was even doing this race. I must be out of my mind.

Waiting around for the start was the worse part. I had nothing to do but dread what might happen. I tried to block out the thoughts of doom and envision calm. 

I jumped in the water when it was my turn and swam to the start line.  I wasn’t quite there when the wave started. So far, I was unafraid. I kept moving and when I felt out of breath, turned on my back. Luckily, there weren’t a lot of people to run into me. People swimming over me is not restful.

I felt thirsty the whole swim. Maybe it was because the water was so hot; about 84 degrees. To drink the green lake water would be deadly, a prescription for illness. I was not having fun. I wasn’t very fast, but my fear was under control. With nothing to rest my feet on, and nothing to stop me from going to the bottom, it was just under the surface, ready to rise again. 

The water was choppy with all the swimmers that preceded me. It didn’t bother me too much, though I wasn’t happy about it. I didn’t sight as much as with a wetsuit to save energy. Lifting my head made my legs sink, which made me tired.  Sinking legs are bad, a precursor to panic.  Panic leads to flailing arms and legs, going nowhere, not getting enough air and more fatigue. I finally reached the first turn buoy. People were hanging onto the kayak, so I got past them in order to rest. Losers. Hanging onto kayaks is to be avoided as it’s an act of desperation.

I preceded to the next one and turned back. I could see the last turn buoy in the distance, through the bridges. The end of the ordeal drew near. So far, no panic with the swim more than halfway done. I was going to live.

I was relieved to reach the last turn buoy, only 100 yards to the exit steps. I was going to make it. Few people were in my way. Undoubtedly, I was probably one of the last people out of the water, a testament to my swimming ability.

Total swim time was more than I thought it would be, and a very slow time for the rest of the world, but I didn’t care. The ordeal was over and wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be. 


I got on the bike and immediately felt hot. Instead of drowning, now I had to worry about heat exhaustion. I wish they had an aid station so that I could throw water on myself. The course was crowded with newbies, but that didn’t faze me. They were a target to pass. Their determination was admirable, with their gym shoes and mountain bikes. The course didn’t have any real hills.  My heart rate started climbing, though, as I rode, due to heat and dehydration. The  Olympic, was much worse, with two tedious loops. Twelve miles was not too taxing, but not as fast as if it had been cooler. 

I felt good starting the 5k run, but the air was a nasty blast furnace. By the second mile, I was ready to be done. The Tempe Town heat bowl cooked the cement path. I didn’t expect a fast time and didn’t get it, being overheated and dehydrated.  Why the hell do they put on this event in September, the month that pretends to be fall, but isn’t? I couldn’t imagine running the 10k. It was brutal.

I look like I feel--wasted. Photo courtesy
Camelback Coaching 
I got done, felt ill and immediately went for any ice I could find to cool off. A volunteer felt sorry for me and scooped some ice to put in my cap. It took a while for me to be hungry.


I accomplished what I set out to do–get through the swim without losing my mind. Fear is still waiting out there in the water, but is a little less persistent. Now instead of saying to myself “I can’t do a non-wetsuit” swim, it will be “I can do a non-wetsuit swim, but I don’t want to.”

Friday, August 28, 2015

Mountain Man Olympic Race Report

This race came at the right time. Two days before, it was 117 degrees in Phoenix. It’s the butt end of summer with a particularly nasty combination of extreme heat and humidity. Flagstaff was a lovely 80 degrees when I drove up from Phoenix. The pine-scented, cool air was a relief after the roasting hell hole I had just came from.

Usually this is a training race, but this year I didn’t have a big event. I had no urge to do any half ironman or ironman triathlons right now. As I wrote in my first blog post of this year, The Thrill is Gone. It’s Still Gone. Not having a big race was a little depressing, but strangely liberating because I don’t have to train long hours. I can do what I want. This was my last olympic of the year. I had to make it count or at least put in a decent effort.

The 7,000-foot altitude and the hills make this race challenging. I have learned over the years to have low expectations. Time goals are useless. The terrain and lack of oxygen humbles everyone. Some more than others, like me. I try to stay positive and to not worry about my mediocre splits.

The swim is the most difficult of all because I can’t pant underwater. The warm water is a murky brown, which doesn’t bother me, but it is rather gross looking, like a soupy mud hole. The shore is rocky and it’s easy to stub a toe or to scrape skin off a foot. The race organizer uses as few buoys as possible, so the last turn requires a sharp eye to see it in the far distance. My eye-sight is bad, so I swim where everyone else seems to be going.

Race morning, I got into the water to warm up. The start was scheduled at 6:34 in the morning, which was awful enough, but my wave suddenly went off ten minutes early. What??
I swam slowly to the first turn buoy. This was the most difficult part since the body was not in the mode yet of swimming without oxygen. Frequent resting and dog-paddling was an inefficient method of locomotion. I reached the turn and set out for the next invisible buoy. Once in a while, I enjoyed myself, but the brief moments passed and I just wanted to get the swim over with. Panic attacks were avoided, but my mood was not happy. After an eternity, I reached the turn and headed back to the finish. This made me feel better, because the ordeal was almost over.

Photo courtesy of Beth Kozura
I ran up the ramp into transition. My bike was easy to find with the empty racks around it. I struggled out of my wetsuit, got into my bike gear and ran off to the porta-potty. I can’t pee in my wetsuit and this race has few porta-potties, so I had to waste time in this manner. Cycling with a full bladder is painful. I finally got onto the bike.

The bike route was an out and back with hills. Big hills. I had climbed much worse, but usually, I had more air to breath. As I rode out, I was reminded of how slow I was by all the people riding back. I passed a few people, but the road was mostly empty on my side. The route followed the dried up lake and fields of sunflowers. The air was cool, but the sun felt warm. The temperature was pleasant compared to the Phoenix inferno. Mountains were in the distance. My knees hurt, but otherwise I wasn’t tired.

I always had to remind myself while slogging up the hills, that it was harder going out than coming back. My goal was at least to go faster than last year, which was all that could hoped for at this point. I was cautiously optimistic.

Finally, I reached the turn around.  Downhill was a welcome change. A few stragglers were still going out, but most people were ahead of me. The big hill I had crawled up was now a thirty-nine mile per hour descent. This was nerve-wracking, but at least no howling side wind made it worse. Feeling fairly energetic, I reached transition.

 I racked my bike, changed into run gear and ran out. People who had already finished kept out of my way, which was good because I can be rude if my path is blocked. At best, the person will receive a curt “excuse me, coming through”; at worst a push out of my way. I ran out, up a ramp. Usually, this was the spot where I felt the folly of a swim and bike race at altitude. My legs were usually heavy and exhaustion settled in. Today, I wasn’t as tired, but my back and hips hurt. A brief walk helped ease the pain.

Photo courtesy of  WannaTri
A mile and a half down the road was the Hill. The Hill was humbling. It ascended nonstop for a mile and a half. Technically it was only a four percent average grade, but it felt much worse at 7,000 feet of altitude. I slogged up at a blistering fourteen minute per mile pace. Some people could probably walk faster. The views of the lake and the green forest plain below eased the pain.

The turn around was at a dirt path in the woods. For once, my gut was behaving itself. The forest didn’t offer much in the way of a place to privately poop.

Running down the hill was a relief, though tiresome after a certain point because my thighs wanted to take a nap. I was surprised that so many people made encouraging comments. It helped in a painful race like this.

The last mile and a half were the most difficult, mentally. The road was fairly flat, but had a slight uphill incline. The bad physical fatigue by this time made me think dark thoughts; about how bad my run was, how slow my time was going to be or how this ordeal was never going to end. 

This time I decided to be positive and to try to speed up. My slowness might as well be embraced and I should just be in the moment. Surprisingly, I could actually speed up. The crabby thoughts weren’t in my mind; just the ones about how uncomfortable I was.

At the finish line, I felt like I had been hit by a bus, which was strangely satisfying. The humility that this race imposed hadn’t gotten me down. I had finished under four hours and had done better than last year. I was near last, but didn’t care. The Thrill is Gone, but I can still have fun. Just not in an ironman.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


This is the worst part of summer in the desert. The earth is heated up from baking in the sun for months. The air is dry enough to heat up past 110 degrees, but it's not dry enough to cool off at night. August has that special combination that makes the heat more miserable than at other times in the summer. A week ago the temperature reached 117 degrees. I live in a desert and know it gets hot, but enough is enough.

                      I AM SICK OF SUMMER


June denial. It’s not so bad. Cool mornings. Deluded reality. Thermometers gleefully bursts past 115 degrees, in a fit of spite. Dragon’s morning breath.

Plants shrivel in the outdoor oven and reach; plaintive arms to the sky. Desperate for relief.

The parched earth sighs.

White, blinding light sears the skin. Dogs pant, their heads droop.

Dripping sweat.

July despair. Heavy, stifling,  never ending suffocation. A.C. runs nonstop and swallows money.

Luscious, fat moisture of bloated cotton puff clouds entice; then vanish.

Gargantuan brown swirls of dust tentacles howl in. Lightning flares. Thunder rumbles. Trees blow over. A tornado of dead leaves. No rain.

Giant bugs stumble; meander aimlessly, confused.

Snakes hide. Lizards flee.

Dripping, sweaty sweat.

August disgust. Dispirited souls. Time stops in purgatory. Life is pointless. Outside tasks are too much effort. Monster heat feeds on human energy.

The sky rumbles and urinates.
The air cools, briefly bearable. Toads emerge from their holes.
A vicious sun re-asserts control.

Less sweat.

September hope. Summer loosens its grip, but still holds on. The glare wanes. Air softens. Summer birds leave, flying off to gentler climes.

Two months more and summer’s gone.

I can’t wait.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Graduation is a life passage that is at once mundane and stunning. Schools have graduations for everything, including grade school, which is absurd. Everyone, everywhere, has to have some stupid ceremony. However, when my child is graduating from high school or college, it is special. A short time ago, she was in high school. Now she is a college graduate and an adult. Time flashed by. One year she was a baby toddling around, then suddenly she was a confident, independent young lady.

My daughter’s school wasn’t just any college, but the expensive and private American University, in the District of Columbia. I had poured enormous amounts of tuition into it and to end this money drain was a relief. My hope was that this education would pay off with a good job. The classes were hard and required a lot of effort. She worked a part time job and a few internships while earning a double major. A degree at American University was an impressive accomplishment, let alone cum laude.

I am a sucker for a good graduation ceremony, especially my child’s. The more “Pomp and Circumstance”, the better. Throw in a choir, an orchestra or band, it’s even better. An inspiring speech adds to the atmosphere of joy of when a few hundred students celebrate their release from the tedium of academic life. The boredom of real life is not yet realized.

I am not a person to get emotional or cry, but a graduation is a wonderful mishmash of emotions. Hope, fear, relief, pride, happiness, excitement joy; all mingle. I feel a tug when I see pictures of graduates. I love seeing the NBC news segment on graduations every year. Of course, they edit out the boring parts.
I didn’t know what to expect for this one, but I hoped they would put on a show. In a gym, a stage was set up with a row of fifty international flags and a podium. A large university logo hung in the center.  Rows of chairs lined the gym floor. 

Something good was about to happen. To arrive at this moment of  was exciting. All the sacrifice was about to be rewarded.  The room was filled with the anticipation and happiness of graduates and their families.

I sat in the handicapped section with my ex and his mother. She couldn’t get around well, but she made it a point to attend all of her grandchildren’s graduations. I appreciated her presence, since she was kind to me after the divorce. My own mother passed away seven years ago; too bad she wasn’t around to see this.

My ex’s presence was more disconcerting. I only communicated by e-mail to him in the last two years, so seeing him was surreal. I was married to him for thirty some years, then not. I didn’t really feel anything after being divorced for five years, but putting on a polite facade felt artificial. I had to pretend it didn’t matter that this person had completely up-ended my life. I had to shut off that part of my past and put it away in a compartment.

The graduates entered the room in their robes. I had no idea where Melissa was. They all looked alike except some wore colored sashes for honors or their nationality. Caps were also decorated with messages. My daughter wore a gold rope on her neck for honors. 

A wonderfully loud bagpipe and drum corps paraded into the gym. The rich vibrato shook the air. Bagpipes make everything better. 

The speeches began. They were so-so. The robed school president had a mace, a symbol of authority, which looked  like a severed table leg. I thought, Gandalf the Wizard!  Could he wave his magic mace and make the ceremony go faster?

One student talked about going out of one’s comfort zone. I was impressed that he had learned this at an early age, because mental discomfort was something that had been forced on me when I had desperately tried to avoid it. Sometimes, the universe has other ideas what I should do.  The dignitaries made veiled references about giving money to the school. Like the tuition I had paid over four years wasn’t enough. 

These speakers weren’t nearly as good as at my own high school graduation. My class valedictorian set the standard for speeches. In front of a conservative community of Republicans, he  railed on the government’s handling of the Viet Nam War. No other graduation speeches I  heard since came close to that level of rabble rousing. Definitely out of the parents’ comfort zone. I wanted energy, spirit and inspiration in this ceremony. The speeches fell a little short. They weren’t NBC worthy. If I had to sit through a lengthy ceremony, I wanted to be entertained.  

 Then the students came up the stage to get their “diplomas.” I found out later that they just got a piece of paper and when they came up, they gave the reader a piece of paper with their name. The lady that read the names had occasional problems with pronunciation. They didn’t go in alphabetical order, which made me a little crazy, because I didn’t know when my it was my daughter’s turn nor how long I had to listen to the names of students I didn’t care about .  

Free at last!
As a student’s name was called, the ones with a large contingent of relatives would get loud cheers. It’s too bad Melissa’s many aunts, uncles and cousins weren’t there. They would have made a lot of noise. We were feeble.

After forever, they read her name. I caught a glimpse of her stepping off the stage. She looked happy; I was elated. I frantically tried to take a decent picture with my crappy camera. Another official gave her a business card holder as she stepped down. She walked away and disappeared into the crowd.

Once she left, the ceremony got tedious. Name after name was read of people I didn’t know. Then the bagpiper corp paraded back in and took the stage.All was good again; the end was near.

Awesome Bagpipers.
Beyond the boredom and the excitement is the realization that this is a passage from one phase to the next. School is over and real life is beginning. The future looms and is wide open. My hope is that Melissa will find her passion, and make her way through life’s obstacles without too much heartache. Part of my job as a parent is done, but it will never be over with. She will thrive in part because of me, or in spite of me. Her life is up to her, not me.

The child I raised is ready to fly.

 “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. YOU are the one who will decide where to go.” Dr. Seuss 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

My Five Worst Races Ever

The worst of the worst are in a category by themselves. Suffering to reach a physical goal has a purpose, but unnecessary discomfort is not what I signed up for

 After doing triathlons for almost fifteen years, I can say most races are okay, some are outstanding and some are true stinkers. Stinkers are usually disorganized, have bad or no food, poorly marked routes or worst of all run out of water on a hot day. The worst of the worst treat the last finishers as unworthy nuisances.

My experience may vary from the front and middle-of-the-pack. Slow athletes get the brunt of poor planning. Faster types eat all of the food, when enough isn’t provided for them and me. They and their children that they drag along eat all the goodies. I didn’t pay a fee so that I could feed their children. I resent coming in near last and finding the table bare. It’s insult on top of injury and I take it personally.

Worse than bad or no food is to run out of water. This is absolutely inexcusable and dangerous. If a race director is under the illusion that the flimsy waiver they make participants sign is going to protect the organizer from their stupidity, they are sadly mistaken. They can be sued for any serious harm to a racer resulting from dehydration since it is gross negligence.

Some of my top worst are:

1. Any triathlon at Lake Pleasant. 

This used to be a popular spot before Tempe Town Lake was created. The lake tends to get shallow at times and if it’s windy, it gets rough. Submerged trees and logs will suddenly appear in the water. In one race, I could barely control my panic when the wind and other swimmers kicked up the waves in the lake. I was ready to bail at the first buoy. I had to keep my head down and  not sight to avoid water slapping in my face and into my mouth.
On the bike, the rough roads are hilly, with obnoxious climbs and descents. I usually can’t go very fast and I feel inadequate. The terrain sucks the joy out of me and I have to wonder why I would even race there.

One particular race put on by a local company was tops on the suckage factor. I was last or near last. The end of the run was along the road, so all the other cars were streaming out as I was coming in. I had to breathe car exhaust and everyone could witness my disgrace. Some people shouted encouragement, and I felt like telling them to shut up. They meant well, but I hated it.

The deserted finish line was being dismantled. I was tired, hungry and no food was left. This was a new low in triathlon experience.

I never did any race put on by this organization again...Ever.

I felt as wrecked as I looked in this picture.

2. Wildflower. 

People rave about this race, probably because the aid stations used to be populated with topless female co-eds. But it is in the Middle of Nowhere, California and a ten hour drive from my home. If anything goes wrong few options are available. Of course, something did go wrong. I lost my car keys and I had no spare. To this day, I don’t know if I dropped them or if they were stolen. As if someone would want a ten year old Toyota Corolla. I had to call a tow truck to unlock the car.  

Camping and racing did not mix.  I didn’t sleep well, with people coming and going and the water trucks going down the road to keep down dust. A good night’s sleep would have been nice before my soul was crushed on this race course. Besides, camping sucks. 

The bike course has an infamous hill named Nasty Grade. It lives up to it’s name and gets steeper near the top. Traditionally, it has the Energizer Bunny at the summit, but I think he was off drinking.   

Nasty Grade was a long painful grind. I thought the worst was over, but the hills weren’t done. All my energy was gone. The lack of sleep, the stress of losing my car keys and the heat had finally gotten to me. I wondered how the hell I was going to run.  

The run was even more difficult than the bike. The so-called reputed cheering crowds that made the run from hell less agonizing were off drinking by the time I got to it. No one cared that I felt horrible. It was hot and dry and the only ice I could get was in the med tent at the finish line. Beer bongs at the aid stations were amusing, but not when I was dying of thirst. The only relief was the sight of a naked guy, offering hugs. I was startled when I first saw him on the trail. He was pale and I thought he had light pants on, but then I saw no pants and no pubic hair. I regretted passing up the hug. This was sadly the highlight of the race. 

The finish line wasn’t the end of the ordeal. Now I had to figure out how to leave. A call to my motor club was not helpful. Thank you Allstate for leaving me to fend for myself. The operator kept asking for the address like I was at a business. It’s a freaking park and I am at a campground. A race volunteer suggested a towing company who suggested a locksmith. Getting the car to the locksmith  required a tow to Salinas, the armpit of California.

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

 The motel was in a part of town that had the Monterey Pasta Factory and a Farm Products Processing Plant nearby. The pasta plant was spewing water(I hope) into the air and I didn’t want to think what the Processing Plant was emitting. It smelled vaguely like cow poo, like the odor of a dairy farm  when the wind blows the wrong direction.

The locksmith finally showed up and liberated me from this hell hole. For lack of a little piece of metal, I had to pay an extra $600 for the tow, the locksmith, the room that I couldn’t stay in and the room that I was forced to use. This was the trip from hell to the race of the damned. But I can say I survived this ordeal. The hills and the heat didn’t stop me. Plus, I got to see Naked Dude. But do this again?
No thanks, Wildflower.

This race was unkind to my toe.
3. Deuces. 

It’s another race that some people like, but I don’t. This takes place in Show Low, Arizona. Fools Hollow Park is pretty, but the town is unappealing and I don’t want to drive three hours to get there.

I use this race for training, not for enjoyment. The altitude is 6,000 feet, but it never feels very cool in the summer. The air heats up quickly and sucks out my energy like a feeding vampire.

Some people camp there for reasons I can’t fathom. I tried this once and was serenaded all night by my partying neighbors. Never again. I would rather stay in a cheap motel.

The swim at a altitude is always challenging because of the lack of oxygen. Sometimes the water is cold and choppy. Last year, it was smooth and fairly warm, but the finish was clogged with weeds that snagged my arms. To get out of the water involved wading through thick six inch mud.  
I am always alone on the bike course and without any markings, the ride feels like I am on the way to Totally Lost. If I am lucky, it won’t be windy. My anxiety won’t ease until I see some sign that others have passed before me–like a gel wrapper that litters the road.

 The miserable run is shadeless, on a crappy, boring, dirt road guaranteed to any normally good run mediocre, if I even care by that point. The out and back makes me want to poke sticks in my eyes. Last year, the aid stations ran out of water. I had my own, but it was little left.  Other racers doing the half iron weren’t so prepared and had none. They made their opinion of this very clear to the hapless volunteers. One skinny, young male screamed that he hadn’t had any water for hours. I guess he was too cool to carry his own or wrongly assumed that it would actually be at the aid stations.

They even ran out of water at the finish line.  I was hot and considered the kiddie pools that they had set up, but the water was looked dubiously cloudy. God knows what was floating around in that water with many people sitting in it. I saw some one actually wash her face with it. She might have regretted that later.  

Phoenix is too hot to race in during the summer, so this race is better than nothing. Maybe.  

The Finisher's Medal for the "finish." 
4. Silverman. 

My worst half iron ever. I assumed that Wildflower couldn’t be topped for suckage, or Soma half when it was ninety degrees, but I was wrong. 

Henderson, Nevada in early October was not a good time to have a difficult race. The bike course was great for endless hill climbing, but I could have done without the rest. I wasn’t sure if it would be wetsuit legal until race day and I would have drowned without my wetsuit.   
The swim start had us crammed into a tiny chute. I got a little claustrophobic standing around in the sun in a wetsuit jammed next to other people and pressed myself to the barrier to get some air. The water was not refreshing and the day had only just started.

The day had heated up by the time I started the bike. I wanted to wet myself down, but there wasn’t an aid station until mile twenty-two. I liked the bike ride-rolling hills the scenery was a cross between the Painted Desert and a moonscape. After 4100 feet of climbing on the bike, I had to scramble to make the cut off and I probably over-cooked myself.  

The run in the raging inferno was a train wreck. I was trying to get under three hours so that I could finish before the run cut-off, but it was ninety degrees by then. Sucking on ice constantly during the run kept me from collapsing.  At mile 11, it was uphill for a mile with no shade and I couldn’t run anymore. I got nauseated and felt bad.  At that point, I gave up. I finally got to the turnaround and tried to run, but my calves kept cramping. I finally could run about a quarter mile from the finish line.

It wasn’t an official finish, but I was the only person in my age group to do the whole race.  I was rewarded with a big fat DNF.

They were liberal about giving people with heat exhaustion I.V.s in the med tent, which was usually an Ironman “screw you.” I took advantage of this opportunity. 

The greatest sin was that race cut offs weren’t applied equally. I got a DNF for finishing in almost nine hours, and other people with the same time didn’t. If they don’t fix this, they will incur my hatred forever. “Anything is possible” Ironman, but this was unfair. 

This wasn't the way.

5. Desert Classic Duathlon 2015. 

Normally, I like this race. But for some reason, they reversed the mountain bike route direction, which made the start location from the road a mystery The website map was a joke, a satellite map with no markings. I assumed I could find the route, but I couldn’t, since I am not a satellite or Google. The markings consisted of occasional pink plastic tape that you might notice if you happened to be looking that direction. 

I couldn’t find the bike turn off from the road and by the time I realized my mistake, I couldn’t fix it. I wandered futilely around and then basically faked it. I got in seventeen miles, even if they weren’t the right ones.

In the runs, the route was confusing there as well. There was a u-turn at a juncture, but the wrong trail wasn’t blocked off. I yelled to one runner that she was going the wrong way.  

I wasn’t the only one with problems, though I don’t know if anyone else screwed up as badly. At least four mountain bikers missed the turn off to go back.  Some actual signs and arrows would have been nice. If the trail had gone the opposite direction, like in past years, I would have been able to find it. This is the same race outfit that screwed up Deuces last year by running out of water. People got lost there as well.

I felt really utterly stupid, but it wasn’t all my fault.


This lackadaisical effort to keep racers from getting lost shows they either didn’t care, or were incapable of an effort to create a good experience. Then again, they were the same people who ran out of water at Deuces on a hot day. Organization wasn’t their strong suit. I am not sure what was.

Though I am not a race director, I am sure it is a time consuming and thankless task to put on an event. This doesn’t excuse poor organization or treating participants, particularly the slowest, like they don’t matter. If I pay to race, I need food and water and at least some semblance of care about my well-being. If not, then these organizers should be punished by being consigned to do their own races, be denied water and food and be forced to come in last. 
And no topless female co-eds will be provided for distraction.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Marquee Race Report

To get up before four in the morning sucks. To get up that early to wait around to swim in Tempe Town Lake was even worse. The cloudy green water did not entice me. Invariably, it left flecks of green particles in my nose. But this was a sprint triathlon and I was doing it for “fun.”

I had to leave the house two and half hours ahead of time because transition closed at 6:15. I wasn’t supposed to start until 7:30. This left me lots of time to arrange my stuff, visit the toilet twice, get body marked and sit around and be bored. I could have walked around to find people to talk to, but that required too much energy. Some people get nervous, flit around and talk non-stop. I avoid them.

 I hoped my toe would not hurt since I had dropped a glass casserole lid on it the night before. I am at the age where I wonder if I had broken something every time I injure myself. My toe did not appreciate this abuse.

Finally, I jumped into the murky water. I had my wetsuit on, so I was calm. If I had to swim without it, I would have been very nervous with no neoprene to keep me from drowning. Besides, it was only a sprint with a mere 750 meters in length. I would be done in twenty-four minutes or less.

The clouds were kind enough to block the sun. To swim east into the glare on a clear day was difficult. I could actually see where I was going. I swam to the turn buoy in a short amount of time and was glad that I doing a sprint. The olympic race was twice as long.

Mill Avenue Bridge
I turned again and went under the bridges. The steps soon appeared and I got out of the nasty algae-infused water. I was surprised that my time was faster than usual. Maybe I could keep this trend going.

I got my helmet and bike shoes on and ran out of transition into the melee of the bike course. Put a bunch of bike riders riding at varied speeds in one street lane and it gets chaotic. The rules dictated that cyclists were supposed to be certain lengths apart, not pass on the right and not block one another from passing on the left. These rules weren’t always followed. Someone passed me on the right for no apparent reason. I kept getting stuck behind slower riders because waves of people behind me wanted to pass.

I passed when I could. Somehow, my average speed was higher than usual. Maybe the wind was favorable and the heavens had aligned. The weather was cool and I could work harder. The course was only twelve miles and saving energy wasn’t critical. The ride could be as hard as I wanted it to be and zipping around the streets was fun when no one was in my way.

I finished the ride and started the run. I needed to urinate badly, but I didn’t want to stop.
Then, the urge was gone. Did I pee myself? I wasn’t sure. I had doused myself with water and was wet anyway. Triathletes will sometimes pee anywhere but in a toilet to save time, but that wasn’t my practice.

I hate race photos if myself.
 Since last year, I had struggled with a hamstring injury. The injury had mostly healed, so  for a long time I had worked on reclaiming some run speed. Pain had not made a fast run possible and to return to normal had been an effort. My last 10k race had been somewhat mediocre, so my expectations were low for this event. A run after a swim and a bike was even slower.

The first mile was about ten minutes, which was close to what I expected. The second mile was 9:33. Where the hell did that come from? It wasn’t fast, but way better than I expected. Could I hold this pace? Would my energy flag? The pace was really uncomfortable, but I didn’t slow down. I tried to concentrate on form and not breathing like I was having a heart attack. The leg power was magically there, when it had been gone for so long.

I crossed the finish line and felt like I had been punched in the gut, the normal response to running like a maniac. For once, I was happy after a race. Most of my races are average, some are awful and a rare few like this one are awesome. After a greater than average share of truly horrible races last year, it was nice to have a good one, even though I could have smelled better.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lost Anxiety--Duathlon #2

 Where the f#@k am I?

Lost means many things. It’s the fear of I don’t know where I am, where to go, or what to do next. If I can’t figure the route, it’s going nowhere and being left with a sense of emptiness, disappointment and failure.
 Without a map, it’s unlikely that I know where to go unless the route is familiar. Landmarks can help, but in not in the desert.  One mountain looks like another. Paths curve around and end up anywhere. The sun can indicate direction, but not on a cloudy day.

The way should have been be easy to find in this race. Most events have signs and arrows, so that the route was less a mystery. This one had flimsy ribbons that didn’t indicate much and were easy to miss..

 The tough duathlon the weekend before should have been enough. But I had signed up for this one last year and it had been cancelled due to torrential rain the day before. My spot was transferred to this year. So was the bad luck.

 The sense of confusion started in the first run. Logical thinking was difficult, since  running diverts blood from the brain. I was mostly alone on the trail with another person ahead of me. The rolling terrain took effort to run, but was manageable.

 At an intersection, a u-turn was marked with hot pink plastic ribbon. The incorrect path was not blocked off. The other runner took off on it and I yelled to her she was going the wrong way. Would this bring me good karma? I hoped so. The billowing pink ribbon tied to plants was a half-hearted direction to go the other way, like a lazy hand wave. I proceeded, uncertain. Since everyone else had gone ahead, I had no one to follow.

I ran, wondering if I was doomed to do endless miles, meandering into the wilderness. The empty desert stretched to the horizon, though I would have found the road eventually. Would they search for me at some point? I was relieved to get back to the aid station, which was an indication of the right path.

My energy level was good when I got into transition to get on the bike. Unlike last week’s duathlon, I didn’t dread this portion. I ran the bike out and hopped on. The website had vague, unmarked satellite maps that indicated that the mountain bike would go up what I assumed was the paved road somewhere, then intersect at an unknown distance with the trail at a spot marked with a flag. Announcer Guy had said it would be after the first flag about two miles up. He didn’t have any idea what he was talking about.

Riding a paved road on a mountain bike was pointless and I didn’t enjoy it. The heavy and cumbersome machines were meant for dirt and the pavement was boring.

 I rode two miles up to a trail crossing, but it wasn’t marked at all. No name and no flag. I went up the trail for a while, doubted myself and came back. I went up farther up the paved road, but still saw no flagged intersection. I couldn’t remember if or where the trail crossed the park road.  I thought I was near the end of it. I went back to where I was, unsure. Farther up the trail, I encountered riders going the opposite way. Something was seriously wrong.

The trail I needed to be on is a loop through the park. I don’t get circles, only grids. If a path isn’t straight and the direction is unknown, it’s hopeless to figure out. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I needed to be on the upper part of the curve, not the lower.

 I asked the riders as they flew by if I was going the right way, but they ignored me or didn’t hear. One almost crashed into me and she probably cursed me under her breath. One guy finally slowed down and I asked him how far he was and where he had entered. The real entrance was farther up the road, but by this time I had ridden seven miles and he had done fifteen.

 The race was basically ruined. I could ride fifteen more miles, but that assumed that I could figure out where to go. I decided to fake it, since I couldn’t fix it. I cursed the race organizers. A racer had to know the route, but some of these roads weren’t even on the park map. Did it have to be this hard? Especially for the directionally challenged?  Down the trail again, I went to the road to add more mileage to simulate reality. They wouldn’t be correct, or even remotely fun, but at least it would be something.

 I passed the turn-off to go back to transition four miles down, which I would go back to once I did the make-believe route. This was also feebly marked with the ribbons. I saw four riders pass it by. Three of them grumbled about missing it. At least I wasn’t the only one that was confused.

I felt stupid and was utterly disappointed not to find the right way. This race had gone wrong to a monumental degree of screw up. I rode back down the trail for the umpteenth time and made the turn for the actual trail to take me back.

 The situation was like one of the dreams where I am lost and trapped in an endless, futile loop. This race was a metaphor for my real life, where every one but me knows the way, and I just pretend to be competent. Life doesn’t come a map, so I either blunder around until I figure it out or go off the cliff.

Slinking embarrassed into transition, after a creative seventeen miles, I came in when most people were about to finish. Being alone was an advantage, since no one knew my mistakes. This was another duathlon where the road portion was much easier to ride and find than the mountain bike. But I had no energy to hate the road bikers this time. I ran out to finish the pretend race.  At least I knew the way.

 Unlike last week, the second run wasn’t a death march. I was alone, but felt strong. That was one good thing about this fiasco.  I just wanted it to end. I tried to be nice to the only volunteers out there and thanked them. If they had been a race organizers, they would have elicited a different reaction from me, like “what the f#@k were you thinking, idiot?”

A rock tried to trip me a half mile from the finish, but I stumbled and managed to end the race without physical injury.

 I was happy to finish, but not for the right reasons. Instead of a sense of accomplishment, I  was relieved that the experience could now be forgotten as soon as possible. A bad memory, tucked away in a forgotten, hidden place. Hopefully, the pink ribbons will not haunt my dreams.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Powerman Duathlon Race Report

 I don't know why these people seem to be sinking into the metal.
I am a sucker for any multisport event that doesn’t involve a swim, because I suck at swimming. Off road is even better because it’s an excuse to be slow, which is natural for me. McDowell

Mountain Park has some of the best mountain biking around with the challenging trails and the beautiful scenery. Still, the premise of this race is that a racer would want to ride the Long Trail twice. I always thought that once was bad enough, so committing to this duathlon made me nervous. Throw in running and it was even more implausible.

The Long Trail is a trail engineered for racing, assuming that a rider would have this ability on a mountain bike. I don’t. I rode it many times, but never had been able to ever avoid walking in certain parts. To dismount in mountain biking was to give up, a lack of ability to ride a difficult feature, a choice of safety rather than risk bodily injury.

The trail designers put in cute little wooden signs to name the features. When I came upon one, I knew something bad was coming up. “Red Dot Hill” has a tough climb, then a terrifying rugged stone drop off. “Cactus Corner” is lined with vicious Cholla cactus to impale anyone who slipped off into their spiny embrace. “The Step” meant get off the bike to go around the stupid rock ledge or go to the by-pass.

 My fastest time was an hour, a blazing eight miles an hour. It’s one-way single track, so once a person is on it, they are committed to the insanity. Twice would be a long haul. I questioned the wisdom of this. Still, it would be kind of bad-ass, especially since I would probably be the oldest person to attempt it in this race.

 Mountain biking is a young person’s sport, if young is defined as under fifty. The normal sparseness of my age group is even greater. People must worry about broken bones or worse, dying. I still like the sport because it is more mentally engaging than road biking. Every feature on the trail has to be analyzed right before it’s ridden. The path undulates and curves, climbs and dips. 

 The variety of this ride also made it more strenuous. Down-hills meant sliding the butt back and controlling the speed. Up-hills meant sudden bursts of power and a lot of pressure on the pedals to not lose momentum. Sixteen miles of this is exhausting and daunting. 

Beside the physical strain, my mind fights the terrain. Even to start it to resist the dread of what’s coming. Tension drains the body, so being relaxed increases endurance or at least makes jarring ride more bearable. Besides if I thought about how difficult the trail was, I would go insane.

Race day, I got to the park and racked my bike. Unfortunately, my finger was in the way. I didn’t notice until later that night that it was purple and swollen. I did notice that it hurt like hell right after I did it.

Mountain bikers are generally more friendly than regular triathletes, so I chatted with the person next to me. Everyone had a better bike than me—carbon fiber, dual suspension, smaller cranks. At least it was a good excuse to be slower.

My strategy for the first run was take it easy to save my energy for the strenuous bike ride. The air horn sounded and we took off. I was soon alone on the undulating trail. The cool air turned hot. My heart rate went way up even though I held back. Far away were blue mountains. Poppies dotted the ground in sparse patches.

Finished, I ran into an empty transition to start the dreaded bike. My energy level was good, but I knew what was coming and it was scary. Right away, the bike path had a sudden, steep drop off, immediately followed by a climb. I had learned to stay in a low gear to make it back up that hill. Then, a fairly easy patch accented with a nasty climb with loose rocks. I often walked this due toe the boulders that threw me off the right line for ascending. A mistake could land me into the thorny desert flora lining the path. 

I was mostly alone, with people passing me on their second lap. I was last to start the course and all I could do is press on and not think about it.

Once at the top of the lung-busting climb, it was smooth for a while. The fun of a BMX type set of bumps was lost on me, being too slow to get much “air.” Then rocks and more rocks. I don’t have the dual suspension that would make bumpy ground bearable and negotiating them involved standing on the pedals and generating enough momentum to go forward without falling over. Sharp pain pierced my knees.  The multitude of stony obstacles were impossible to avoid, so they just had to be accepted. The zen of rocks. I still hated them, though. 

A variation after that was rocky steps. Bump, bump, bump, bump! Repeat two more times. After that it was less strenuous, but by that point, even the small hills were an effort. By this time, I noticed the effect of the run beforehand. My legs rebelled and wouldn’t exert enough force on the pedals to get up a hill. Fatigue had come to stay. Two more hair-raising steep drop- offs, a struggle uphill and one lap was done. My athletic inadequacies haunted me.

The second lap was just me and the EMT guy parked at the service road. If I was going to get injured, I guess it had better be at these junctures because it would take a while to find my body. My mental state went downhill with my physical one. Not only was the terrain difficult, I was dead last and the worst at riding it. My mind had to focus at the task at hand. No time for whining. At least the stabbing pain in my knees wasn’t as bad as last week’s ride. The legs were gelatinous, though.

 Finally, the second lap was done. I came into transition and saw most people had finished and I hated them. Most of them had done the road portion. It wasn’t easy, but it was faster and they didn’t have to worry about riding rocks, running into cacti or riding off a ledge. 
Wussies. I wondered if I would be alone on the last run. 

Kind of what I felt like on the last run.
 The first mile was bearable and slow, then a deep misery set in. My normal nutrition didn’t perk me up and I couldn’t go any faster. I passed an aid station and remembered that they have coke. Sometimes its magic properties of sugar and caffeine will save a race or at least make me want to live. I drank the elixir and immediately felt better. Why didn’t I think of this earlier? The last mile was bearable.

After three hours, forty-three minutes, I was done. I was totally dead last in my division, but had done one of the most difficult duathlons in my life. The accomplishment was both depressing and gratifying at the same time. The implausible was less so. Bad ass would have to do.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ironman, The Thrill is Gone

Ironman Arizona     

The thrill is gone. It’s gone away for good. Like the B.B. King song, the Ironman love affair is over.

At one time, I worshiped at the Ironman altar, giving sacrifices of the exorbitant registration fees, immense amounts of energy and time, travel costs and expensive equipment. The long training hours and exhaustion served a purpose. Redemption through self-flagellation. The reward was the finish line with cheering people and the feeling of invincibility. The goal kept me going six hours into a ride in ninety degrees. Preparation was exciting and something to look forward to. Thoughts of it consumed my waking hours.

For seven years I chased this obsession. Could I do an ironman? Could a slow, mediocre athlete beat the odds and finish? Was the stupid catchphrase “Anything is Possible” true? I used to be optimistic as much as a pessimist could be and believed it.  The answer I ultimately discovered was “sometimes.” If the weather was perfect; if my bike didn’t break down; if I wasn’t injured, yes.

If I wasn’t training for an ironman, I was volunteering for one. Since Arizona is nearby in Tempe, it was easy to do it every year. I could vicariously soak up the joy of the racers without the pain of doing the race. The energy of the crowd was contagious. I had to be there.

 But like a hangover after a great party, reality sets in. My first Ironman Arizona try had strong winds and ninety degree heat. I missed a bike cut-off and got pulled at mile seventy-four. I  failed to give the ironman gods enough offerings, as well as the other bodies inhabiting the med tent with heat exhaustion.

I was devastated. My best wasn’t good enough.

This water can be freaking cold.
The next year, I came back and finished the race. I got hypothermia during the swim and was led, violently shivering to the med tent. After twenty minutes, I started the bike and promptly crashed. I shuffled through the run. Finally a finish after almost seventeen hours. I felt vindicated and the experience was worth the suffering.

I vowed never to be that miserable again and not to do another ironman.

The next race, Ironman Canada, was wonderful. The scenery was spectacular, the water warm, and the course was interesting. I actually had moments where I was not worried about cut-offs and managed to just enjoy the experience. Time flowed even with muscle cramps, heat and exhaustion. The high lasted for months. 

Unfortunately, no ironman since has been that good.

The fourth attempt and second DNF(Did Not Finish) was Tahoe. I was doomed before I even started. The race was epic, (another word for horribly difficult). Race morning was about twenty-eight degrees. The water was thirty degrees warmer, so fog obscured the buoys. I swam and hoped it was the right direction. I got out, hypothermic, and couldn’t dress myself. On the bike, I shivered and longed for hills in order to warm up. I went up hills and more hills and wished to be put out of my misery. 

Snow in the mountain the day before Ironman Tahoe
To finish before the cut offs was near impossible, and they stopped me at mile sixty-two. I had a lot of company at this point, with a group of other riders, but I was still depressed.

To forget Tahoe, I signed up for Arizona again, with the thought that I had a good chance to finish. I struggled with a run injury all year. The wind decided to howl on race day when good conditions had been predicted. I had no run strength to fall back on after fighting the conditions for 112 miles and I couldn’t make the run cut off. At least I finished the bike for the first time in my DNF history, a small consolation. 

The evil Beeline.
Maybe the rest of the triathlon world could overcome these difficulties, but I couldn’t. I was slow, so I chased time cut-offs and when things went wrong with no time cushion, the race couldn’t be saved.. Disasters were always possible. The wind will blow, the sun will blaze, nutrition will fail, bikes will crash. 

Average athletes have enough time to absorb these follies and finish. I didn’t.  Signing up for a future race with a possibility of not finishing is unappealing. Five attempts with two finishes does not seem like good odds. I have no more optimistic pessimism. 

Not all the DNF’s were totally bad experiences. Tahoe brought out my love for hill climbing on a bike. If I hadn’t been frozen, the course would have been fun without the pressure to finish in time. Unlike previous times, the third Arizona swim involved no hypothermia nor panic and I found out I had more bike fitness than I thought possible. Ironman training brought amazing surprises. Under pressure to finish before a time cut-off, I suddenly found the strength to fly when I had plodded in training for months. 

I did things I never thought I could. I discovered things about myself, made friends and went places I wouldn’t have otherwise. I have to be philosophical after all the failure. It’s about the freaking journey, after all.

The butt-ugly Beeline dump.
I lost the joy of racing an ironman, though. I resented the time demands of training, worried about the cost and longed for less structured training. I got injured and didn’t recover. I discovered that I totally despised the monotony of the Arizona course. Three times up and down the ugly, evil Beeline Highway with it’s stinky dump and inopportune wind. The miles of cement on the run course that ate up a runner’s feet.

I still want to swim, bike and run, but with not as much volume. Racing needs to be fun again, not a death march, a near drowning, nor a futile fight against time. After all these years of obsession,  an ironman is not in my future. I may change my mind, and probably will, but for now I am done. This certainty of this feeling surprised me. I didn’t think I would get there. 

The DNF’s were soul-crushing. Something once good went bad. I can’t even stand the Ironman M-Dot logo. Some triathletes  wear it, put it on their cars, and even tattoo it on their calves. I hate it and want to scream and throw things when I see it.  

Luckily, I never got the tattoo. The car stickers can stay.