Sunday, December 18, 2016


Each year, the dilemma.
Put up the tree?
Leave it in the garage?
I am alone; what’s the point?
So much effort
to drag it into the house.

Fake greenery that stinks.
Plastic rot.
A Christmas corpse.

In three parts;
Each with lights.
Plugs never match, so tree parts are dark,
leaving me to ponder...
Was it ever right?

Put together;
plastic needles litter the floor.

Ornaments in boxes;
collected from people long ago
The weight of years past, with
the shine scratched off.
The hooks disappear.
Where the hell do they go?

A wooden manger from
my long dead parents.
Souvenirs from trips.
A moose from Montana.
Globes, bells, a chicken, fish, a moon and two suns.
School projects–
glittery popsicle stick stars.

Too many lights in a tangle,
not enough cords.

The ordeal is boring.
I am tired.

Green stinky tree is less ugly with lights.

Each year, the dilemma.

The damn tree is up.

The cat has no interest in the tree.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Rockhopper Xterra Race Report

A Rocky Hell

Rockhopper Xterra Triathlon is a low key event on the north shore of Tempe Town Lake. The 1000 meter swim, the thirteen mile bike and the 3.5 mile trail run weren’t necessarily long, but they aren’t fast or easy, either. The terrain in Papago Park is hilly and bone-jarring.

I was nervous about this race because mountain biking always inspires a bit of fear. Will I crash or otherwise inflict bodily injury upon myself? My wounded knee hadn’t healed up for the past three weeks, because I kept crashing on it. Pain bred caution. I was slow, and cutoffs were also a concern. I met them last year, but it was tight. Last year’s journal entry mentioned how difficult the race was. I didn’t need the reminder.  Amnesia was bliss.

Am I too old for this stuff? It is exhausting and scary. The lack of any females in my age group sometimes makes me wonder if mountain biking and trail running is a good idea. But in a strange way it is fun.

Race day didn’t start out well. I was sitting in the car, ready to leave and wondered what did I forget? Too late I realized what it was.  I forgot my Camelbak. Camelbaks are not cool in road cycling, but it’s hard to drink from a bottle while mountain biking. Too much coordination was required to grab a bottle and stay upright. 

It also had my flat repair equipment in it. I hoped that the tire gods would be kind and not let me get a flat. Lately, I had been finding inch-long Cholla Cactus stickers in my tires. The desert is not a good place for tires. 

I also forgot my required USAT card for packet pick up, since I rarely do this on a race day. Luckily the race director let me off, since he knew me. I was impressed that he actually remembered my name. I must have done enough of his races to achieve notoriety.

Photo courtesy of Wannatri
The start of the race was in choppy water. This wasn’t an issue, since I had an old, beat up wetsuit that kept me from drowning. The seventy-five degree water temperature was almost chilly at first in my sleeveless wetsuit, but it felt warm later.  

The swim was crowded with swimmers doing only the 1000 and 2000 meter swim.  Undoubtedly, a few lapped me on the 2000 meter swim, since I was only doing the 1000 meter very slowly. Hazards like the dangerous breast stroker and over-enthusiastic fast swimmers had to be avoided. Breast-strokers can randomly kick me. Fast swimmers didn’t care if I was in their way and would swim over me if they can get away with it. They also churned up the water, adding the unpleasantness of being out in the murky lake. I was the last woman swimmer, but my time was better than last year. For once, the swim was the easiest part of the race.

The dreaded bike was next. Papago park is unforgiving terrain with loose rock and dirt that was difficult to climb and ascend. It wanted me to die. Pre-riding the course to practice was ineffective, because the right route was not obvious, despite doing the race last year. I managed to find some of it, but not all because the trails veer off in so many directions. 

The first loop I felt incompetent.  Frequently, I had almost made it up a hill when my wheel skidded on an errant rock. I cussed in frustration and had to jump off the bike when it lost traction, to avoid falling over. A particularly big hill was impossible for me to ascend. Climbing a steep hill isn’t worth it if I am bent over gasping for breath for five minutes, so I gave up. Walking was about as fast as riding anyway, but I hated it because it meant that the dirt and rocks won. I was tired from the swim and had to ride much harder to avoid the cut offs. The sun blazed hot. 

I was gingerly descending a demon rocky hill, trying not to kill myself, when a rider flew by me like it was nothing. Really? It must have been his bike that allowed him to do this. Amazing, but irritating. I didn’t know how the fast and fearless did it. For me, self-preservation took precedence when descending a sketchy steep hill. Other riders were having almost as much difficulty as I was. The course has mandatory dismounts–three per loop; two loops total. This involved awkwardly walking with metal cleated mountain biking shoes on loose gravel through a tunnel. Not fun. By the second loop, I had accepted that this course was very difficult and I just had to get through it. It wasn’t my fault; it was the trail’s fault. I had about ten minutes total of walking. At least I didn’t have the hotshots the last loop. The total time was about the same as last year. A little extra length was added because a pedestrian bridge has been taken out at the turn around.

I got into transition and no one stopped me, so I must have made the cut off. In my hurry,  I forgot to take off my helmet and didn’t notice for a half mile. I left it on the side of the trail to pick up on my way back and felt really stupid. This had never happened to me. Only the totally clueless do this. Why didn’t anyone say something like “idiot, take off your helmet!”

The temperature by then was eighty-four degrees. It was hot, but not unbearable. A breeze helped. I had no hat as usual, because of failing to take off my helmet. The run course was a little more doable than the bike course, but it was still a lot of climbing and descending rocky hills. A volunteer dude kept asking me what loop I was on. I appreciated his concern, but I was well within the cut off. Go to hell.  I had to run with my helmet in my hand the last mile. I hoped no one noticed. Total time was 3:05:43. 

I was first in my age group because I was the only one. This usually has to be pointed out to race directors, especially when awards are given out before I even start the run. They must not expect older athletes to show up, though usually every race I do has a seventy-year-old male that can crush the bike, but not run as well. 
Another race, another beer glass

Being the only one made me feel like a bit of a misfit. But even if I am not good at it, I still mountain bike and do Xterras. Incompetence never stopped me before.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Tempe Sprint Tri Race Report

I prepare to meet my doom
I woke up at 3:30 a.m. to get down to Tempe by 5 a.m. so that I could start racing at 7:30. Why am I doing this race again? Oh yeah, I got in for free. Otherwise, I wouldn’t touch it. This is the last time I am doing this race. My headache from yesterday still lingered and the thought of swimming in warm, soupy Tempe Town Lake did not help. I tried to stifle my terror at the thought of a non-wetsuit swim.

I hate swimming without a wetsuit, which is why I try to avoid this event. Invariably, the water is too hot for a wetsuit, since the desert’s version of fall is a slight moderation of summer’s inferno. Without a wetsuit,  floating is more work. My legs feel like they are sinking, pulling me down to the slimy unseen bottom of the cloudy, green lake. Who knows what lies down there? Dead bodies? A Tempe Town Lake monster? Plus, I am much slower, increasing the time of misery.

The drive, parking, and setting up went surprisingly smooth. It was comfortable pre-dawn, which was a bad sign. If it was balmy now, it would be blazing hot later on. The breeziness also worried me. Wind caused a choppy lake, which meant more fear. I want a glass smooth surface. Preferably with no other swimmers are in it. Even better would be to skip the entire thing.

I talked to some people I knew, but the goal was to save my energy. Who wants to talk this early in the morning, anyway? If I have to walk over to you, forget it. Waiting for one hour and fifteen minutes to start was just more time to stress. I tried to be calm. I poured water on myself a few times, because standing in line was warm.

When it was my turn to go down the stairs to jump into the lake, I was still nervous. I failed to notice that my position in line wasn’t in the back, where it should be. I got in, and way too many people got in behind me, so it was crowded. The water was turbulent with thrashing arms. A zen state of mind eluded me. The start line was fifty yards from the stairs and I had to get there by the time the horn started, but I also didn’t want to get battered. My chest tightened and I couldn’t relax. This was bad. Last year, it felt okay, but this year it didn’t.

The start horn sounded and I swam, but was still tense and fearful. Stopping to dog paddle to catch my breath wasted energy. This made me more tired, which made me more nervous. I was almost to the turn around when the next wave of swimmers overtook me, churning up the water again. I panted and couldn’t get enough air. I floated on my back, swam, then floated on my back. I even stopped to hang onto a kayak, which was an act of desperation. This was not going well. The water was pretty warm–82 degrees. A wetsuit would have been hot, but I wouldn’t have drowned. Maybe if it’s too hot for a wetsuit, it’s too hot to race.

I finally got to the turn buoy and settled down a little. Quitting was not an option. Then turning to swim back to the stairs, I got a rhythm and just kept going. The swim finally felt halfway bearable instead of very uncomfortable. I just wanted to get it done. The pace felt right, like what I trained for. The surface was a little choppy, but not as bad with most of the swimmers gone.

The lake was mostly empty when I finally reached the last turn buoy, which was about fifty yard from the stairs. Someone ahead of me was backstroking, another desperate open water strategy, when the swim sucked. This close to the end and you’re back-stroking? Loser. A draft off of him would have saved my energy, but no such luck.  His feet were not visible to follow in the murky water anyway. Total time was an excruciatingly slow 33 minutes, which was a minute faster than last year. If I had worn a wetsuit, the time would have been ten minutes less. Hence, my hatred of swimming without one. More time in the water to contemplate the possibility of death. My Garmin watch said 900 yards, instead of the supposed 820. Maybe I didn’t swim straight, but it was almost 900 yards last year. Why didn’t they have a short swim course for once?

I didn't drown.
I climbed the steps out of the water and ran through the grass to my bike, exhausted after that swim. Slowly, I put on my bike gear and took off. Theoretically, transition was supposed to be done quickly, but the body didn’t always do what the mind told it. Mind: hurry up! Body: no. Mind: Please?  Body: go to hell. Sometimes, the mind forgets to even say anything.

The sun blazed hot already, burning my skin. The heat bowl around the lake extended to the streets of Tempe. I joined the hordes out on the bike course, also foolishly exerting themselves in the heat. Usually, biking as fast as possible was a blast, but Tempe Town Lake had dissolved my joy in its green liquid. The resolve to push myself was weak. I was still thirsty from the swim, since drinking Tempe Town Lake water was a bad idea. Things live in the lake. Things that make you run to the toilet. Microscopic things with wriggling little legs that you don’t want to think about. An eastern breeze provided a little relief. I told myself to pedal harder, but the urge to go all out wasn’t there.

I tooled along, getting passed by the fast riders and having to get by the slower ones wearing running shoes with mountain bikes; in the land of in between. Not fast enough to keep up with the strong riders and not slow enough to avoid the need for passing the newbies. Maneuvering through the flotsam was hard work. At least I was faster than a few cyclists–the really old, the inexperienced and/or those with crappy bikes. I give them credit for being out there and trying, but get out of my way, already.

I never smile.
At the end of the ride, approaching transition, a guy ahead of me was in my way. Really? The choice was to just go slower or pass him. To hell with it. Being stuck behind him was annoying, so I passed and then got off the bike. Total time was 45:58. This was about a minute slower than last year. Meh. Maybe all the mountain bike training was slowing me down. Or maybe it was just being tossed around in the lake.

Out on the run course, I feared melting in the heat, like last year, but it was strangely bearable. Eighty-eight degrees wasn’t optimal running weather. I prefer fifties, which only happens in the winter around here. I stuffed ice down my bra and put some in my hat, not caring what people thought. The first mile, my legs were the usual stiff, “what are you doing to me, making me run after biking?” feeling, but by the second mile, they came to life. My pace went gradually faster and harder on the unforgiving cement. I passed the souls who had given up, had heat exhaustion or who had ran out of energy. My time of 31:38 was a minute better than last year’s.

Total time was 1:58:18, which was about a minute slower than last year. If I hadn’t been so slow in T1, I might have beaten it. I was fourth in my age group, mostly because of my crappy swim. Non-wetsuit swims were not kind to me. 

I am not doing this race
again. Make me.
Overall, it didn’t feel as bad as I thought it would, despite the weather. I didn’t drown, crash or get heat exhaustion. It was a good social event, but sucked as a race. September is still summer, only less so. It’s denial to think otherwise. I have been doing triathlons too long to put up with suffering through bad conditions. I have lost interest in racing when it’s too hot, too cold, too windy, too much hill climbing, too long a distance, too far away, too difficult a swim, or too much hassle. Call me a wussie. I am not doing this event next year. Really.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Mountain Man Olympic Race Report

Every year, I do the Mountain Man Olympic triathlon in Flagstaff. The memory of how painful it is always forgotten, only to be realized again when it is too late. The cool weather, tall pines and mountains enticed me. Fields of sunflowers lined the lake. This year, puffy cumulus cotton ball clouds mesmerized me, since they rarely appear in Phoenix, other than the monsoon.

Race morning always had an obscenely early start. The day had a particularly inauspicious incident at 3:30 a.m. when the  toilet got clogged. And of course, I had to poop a second time. I felt bad leaving a poop filled toilet, but what could I do? This cheap hotel has a front desk manager that sleeps by his post. He would not have appreciated being woken up to be told about the toilet at an awful hour. The poor maid would have a sight when she got to the room. I was in a hurry anyway, and had to pack due to their ungenerous check out time of 11 a.m.

The morning was colder  than usual for Flagstaff. I was used to eighty-eight degree mornings in the Phoenix hell hole. The car thermometer read forty-five at one point, but mostly fifty. This race was on the road, so racers have to find a spot to park off the pavement in soft dirt that wouldn’t require extraction by a tow truck. Luckily, I found a spot.

Lake Mary
I struggled into my wetsuit and got in the sludgy brown Lake Mary. At least it was warm seventy-one degree dirt water. The air was colder, so I decided just to stay in it until my wave started. I swam to warm up and tried to avoid cutting my feet on the treacherous shore rocks.

The buoys were arranged differently from previous races. More of them were placed so I could see them, which was a novelty. The previous race owner only had a bare minimum of buoys that he spaced as far apart as possible. Distance was an approximate measurement, plus or minus a hundred yards. A swimmer needed binoculars to see the last turn buoy. The new owner had visible buoys and had an accurately measured distance. 

I always dreaded this swim, since it was hard to breathe and swim at the same time at 7,000 feet altitude. The swim could be terrifying with the prospect of hyperventilating due to lack of oxygen. Strangely, this time didn’t feel as terrible as usual. Instead of fighting off panic the whole time, I just disliked it and wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. I stopped less and didn’t feel as tired. The water was smooth with little wind. Being dazed when emerging, I couldn’t run up the ramp quickly, though. The time was two minutes faster than last year. Strangely, people were still in the lake. Could there really be worse swimmers than I?

I ran into an empty transition, then to the port-a-potty. How much can one pee, anyway? I started the bike still cold from the swim. My feet were numb for quite a while. My objective was to try to beat last year’s time, but I had no illusion of speed on the hilly course. Altitude will always win. The route went past the lake and to the hills. My heart rate monitor didn’t work because the watch strap had broken and couldn’t be replaced in time. I just tried to go hard or what felt as hard. Judging from the pain in my legs, the effort was sufficient. The hills didn’t seem too steep, but I didn’t go up them very fast. Lots of nice wildflowers along with the numerous sunflowers were on the side of the road. Occasionally, I would see some tiny blue ones. Oh look, pretty! Puffy clouds contrasted with the deep blue sky. Sometimes, a goldfinch would warble and I would try to answer back. Anything to distract from the discomfort.

I was thirsty most of the time. I tried to keep up with nutrition, despite not being very hungry. The sun was hot when climbing hills, but the shade felt cool.

On the way back, I wasn’t sure if last year’s time could be beaten. The hills were fun to descend. Two miles to go after ninety minutes of riding. Maybe? Final time was a little better than last year’s. 

I negotiated the traffic of people who had already finished in transition and were drinking beer. Screw you all. At the start of the run, my legs felt dead. This point in the race was always awful. The road was fairly flat and seemed like it should go faster, but it didn’t. 

At the bottom of  the dreaded Hill, I notice that they had the magic elixir, Coke. Maybe not a good choice for a strenuous climb, but Coke can revive the dead. My gut was a little backed up and I had side stitches. The Hill was a nasty, steep 1.5 mile climb. I ran up the entire hill when walking was highly tempting. This involved a bargain with myself. Go this far and I can walk. But I never did because it was just more time to be miserable. Running up that hill hurt. At the top was a dirt trail to the turn around. It was flatter, but not easier. 

Running down was fun, because it was halfway fast and I could see the poor saps still running up. All too soon the black hole of the last two miles awaited; the worst part of the race. Instead of being cranky and miserable, I had long ago learned to toss away my expectations and just try to survive. Still, I was tired and wanted to be done. Usually mile four of a 10k is difficult, but this race was especially so. My heart rate felt like 160's. Total time was  thirty seconds better than last year. A small victory.

When I finished, they were giving out awards already. Not being very hungry, I waited around, since my age group is so small that I often place. When they finally got to my age bracket, they said they didn’t have any finishers, so I had to point out that error. The guy corrected and gave my first place because no one else was in my age group. This seemed to happen often in races. The old and slow get forgotten. At least he cared and was a little embarrassed.

Total overall time was 3:50:18. My first reaction was meh, but it was four minutes better than last year.

I went to get a beer and a hot dog, but the hot dogs had all been eaten. Curse you fast people! Quit eating all the food! Luckily, my tri club people had food. The light beer, which was still available, had a good flavor. I needed something more than cookies and fruit after a brutal race. 

It was hot when I slogged back to the car. This is the fourth leg of triathlon–dragging all my crap back to the car. The bike, bike helmet, a heavy bag with a wetsuit, and bike shoes all have to be moved from transition to my car a quarter mile away. I always fantasize about having to sherpa to help, preferably a cute one, but no one ever materializes. 

The prize when no one else shows up
your age group
This race doesn’t get any easier as I get older. I used to do it faster, but those days are gone. More effort yields the same or less speed. Puffy clouds and sunflowers don’t make my legs hurt any less. But who doesn’t need strenuous activity with less oxygen?

Pain? What pain?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Make America Cat Again

A short story, because sometimes fiction is less strange than the real world:

        Harry, an orange-striped male tom cat, had just eaten part of a sock. The whole sock would have been overkill. He liked to eat indigestible objects, only to throw up in an obscure part of the house, like a dark corner of a closet. Sometimes, he picked a random shoe to deposit his stomach contents.

Oh! A Gucci loafer! Braacck! This should be good!

            Harry’s mission in life was to annoy his owner, George, as much as possible. This came naturally to him. He stropped his claws on objects that made a pleasant ripping sound, like the expensive leather couch or a rare oriental rug. Robert’s screams when he discovered the destruction, were particularly satisfying to hear.

Oh! Here he comes now!

George walked to his closet, absently texting on his phone. He slipped on the wet shoe without looking.

“Oh yuck! What the hell is that! Ewww!” He yanked his foot out the shoe, picked it up and threw it at Harry. Vomit sprayed from the projectile. Harry darted out of the way. “Damn cat!”
an idiot.

        “Stupid cat! Harry sucks!” the resident bird cackled. Gilbert, a cranky green parrot, never hesitated to call Harry an idiot.

Both pets felt the human race was pretty useless, except for food, shelter and in the case of Harry, daily head rubs.

Gilbert was irritable because he fancied himself a singer, but no one appreciated the squawking “music” that he produced. To Gilbert, he was an opera singer; to anyone in hearing range, the sound was like a strangled, cursing banshee.

“Screech! Screech! Screech! Screech, screech!” The sounds resembled the death throes of a dinosaur trapped in a tar pit.

“Shut up, Gilbert!” Harry buried his head in a pillow in a futile attempt to drown out the noise.

Gilbert stopped, but continued to hop around to the music in his head.

In the blissful silence, Harry contemplated a nap since he had woken his owner at 4:30 a.m. to be fed, when a black cat appeared at the patio door. Harry got up to stare at the intruder, ready to futilely whack at the glass, if necessary.

“My name is Hector. I come to warn you,” he meowed.

“Warn me about what?” Harry took a swipe at him, just for good measure.

“Humans are now dysfunctional. They stare at their phones or computers all day and watch goat videos. They shoot each other and blow up things. Their lawmakers argue with each other, but don’t do any work. Politicians lie and make up stuff. They fail to appreciate that we are royalty and don’t worship us. They forget to feed us. They treat dogs like their children. Since they can’t manage themselves, we are going to take over. The cat revolution is about to begin! We will rule the world!”

“How do you plan to do this? In between naps? And who is going to feed me?” Harry glanced at his empty food bowl. He didn’t care about the state of mankind as long as he was fed. That cats could rule the world sounded like a unlikely proposition.

“Eight a.m. tomorrow. Be ready!” The black cat dashed off.

“Cats rule the world?” Gilbert squawked. “All they do is eat, sleep, demand attention from humans and be obnoxious. Nothing would get done, because they don’t care. If they come after me, I am pecking their eyes out!”

“Oh shut up!” Harry said. He promptly fell asleep.


The next morning, Harry was startled to see the black cat again at the patio door, since he had totally forgotten their conversation yesterday.

“Come with me, now!” commanded Hector. A vast herd of cats milled behind him, waving their tails and meowing. The din was deafening. Some of them defecated in the yard.

Gilbert shrieked and flew up to the highest point in the room he could find; a book shelf. Hungry eyes followed his movement.

Harry was ready to tell blackie to go away, but since Harry had just eaten and was bored, he went out the pet door to check out the cat mob. His eyes widened when he saw cats everywhere; maybe in the thousands. They swarmed in the yard, on the fence, in the streets; a restless furry mass of paws, whiskers and tails.

“Follow me.” Hector said.

“Where are we going?” Harry wasn’t sure he wanted to go to this party.

“Downtown. We are going to block the streets until they give in to our demands!”

“What demands? How are humans going to understand cat talk?” Harry saw the mob was meandering and not moving forward very fast. Some were stopping to groom themselves; others were hissing and swiping at each other.

“We want a wall built to keep out the stray dogs that have illegally invaded our territory. The dogs will pay for this wall. Then we want them deported to the pound. They are taking spots on the couch away from us. They lick their butts. The losers only want to please their masters. We also want fresh tuna every day.”

Hector glanced towards another cat. “Your friend will translate”.

Harry was horrified to see Gilbert in the other cat’s mouth, flapping his wings in a futile attempt to escape. As much as he barely tolerated the bird, it upset him to see Gilbert hurt. “Let him go!”

“When we are done.” Hector growled.

The sounds of car horns pierced the air. Traffic was gridlocked as the mass of felines clogged the intersection. Policemen tried to gather up the cats, but they bit and scratched until they were dropped. Some cats plopped down on the roofs of the stalled cars only to be batted off by irate drivers. Others screeched when pedestrians couldn’t avoid stepping on them. An unfortunate few got run over when vehicles tried to go around the mess. The mass wandered off after losing interest in the revolution, especially when no food was forth-coming.

The cat released Gilbert, who sat stunned on the ground, trembling.

“Tell them what we want! Or I will eat you!” Hector commanded.

“Build a wall! Round up the dogs and take them to the pound! Fresh tuna every day! Cats rule!” Gilbert squawked. “Can I go now?” He shook out his feathers.

“Say what?” A German Shepard K-9 appeared, growling at Hector. “You are a loud-mouthed bully. Maybe you would make a tasty snack.”

“Seize the dog!” Hector commanded. The feline crowd milled about, but made no move.

“Loser! I only like animals that don’t use leashes! You are a loser that needs to be walked! You eat turds!” Hector snarled at the dog.

The K-9 looked at Hector and licked his chops.

“Round up the cats and take them to the pound!” Gilbert suggested.

“What the fuck? Troublemaker!” A paunchy, grizzled old cop with his shirt hanging out grabbed Hector, who futilely tried to squirm out of the cop’s grasp. “Quit bothering the dog. You are going to the pound, buddy.”

The cop threw Hector into his car.

The dog jumped into the back seat.

“You can’t do this to me. I am too fabulous!” Hector spit.

“Hector is TOO fabulous! He is the most fabulous at being fabulous, believe me!” Gilbert mocked. “Lock him up and let the dog eat him!”

Let’s get out of here, Gilbert!” Harry and Gilbert took off. The remaining cat crowd sat unmoving without their leader, their eyes staring into space.

“Idiots! They make you look like a genius,” Gilbert screeched at Harry .


Back at their home, Gilbert perched in his cage. “Cats suck! Cats suck!” He screeched repeatedly.

“Oh shut up, you pissy green parrot!” Harry hissed.

George entered the room on a phone, which silenced them.

“Did you hear about the cat riot? Hundreds of cats converged on Fourth and Main. The intersection was shut down for hours. People got scratched and bitten. It was the damndest thing. How could cats possibly get together? It’s like they were possessed or something. They might have been under the influence of a demonic leader cat.”

Robert stared at Harry.

Don’t look at me, human, Harry thought.

Robert wandered off into the kitchen, still blabbering into the phone.

Harry looked away and jumped when he saw who was at the patio door. Gilbert screamed.

Hector was back.

“This isn’t over.” Then he vanished into the dark.

The cat revolution will have to wait for my nap.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Esprit de She Race Report

Some people hate duathlons, but I think getting an rare opportunity to do one was a bonus. I liked duathlons and was used to the discomfort. With no swim, I was not left way behind by everyone else when the race has barely started. I wish more existed, but few people want to do them for reasons that are incomprehensible to me.

Esprit de She is usually a triathlon, but Tempe Town Lake had been drained to put in a new dam. Covering all the junk on the bottom with water again had taken too long to have a swim portion. The event was turned into a duathlon (run, bike, run), which suited me fine. The paralyzing terror of getting in the dirty Tempe Town Lake water in the awful early morning was avoided. Not having swim gear was a lot less crap to carry. It was disconcerting, though, somehow. I didn’t miss swimming in the murky lake, but I felt a little unsettled because it wasn’t the same routine as for a triathlon. It was less time to get ready and more time to worry about what I had forgotten. I failed to get an insulated water bottle for the bike. It was always something. I racked my foggy brain on what to do. I had a regular one, but the water would get warm. The bike ride was short, so I could get away with it and just suck it up.

Nope. Not getting in that water.
My memory also failed to recall how much a sprint race hurt, especially a duathlon. Pain, more pain, please kill me. I was soon reminded.

The start of the 1.6 mile run was a time trial with five people starting at a time on the pathway. It went quicker than I thought it would. I didn’t feel particularly energetic and couldn’t get my engine going. It was too early in the morning and my body wanted to go back to bed, not do something strenuous that required a lot of heavy breathing. I don’t know if I have ever started a duathlon this early at 6:30 a.m. I had some gel-- a sticky, drippy liquid nutrition sugar product-- beforehand, and it was probably a mistake because I had heartburn even though I had warmed up. Heartburn was a constant companion on runs and the stabbing chest sensation didn’t help my speed. My stomach was a bitch. After ten minutes of pain, it eased up.

The twelve mile bike ride hurt my legs. With all the beginners, I had to pass a lot of people, which was more effort than I wanted to make. I hummed along, then encountered a lumbering rider that forced me to speed up to go around. As usual, some of them had no concept of “blocking”. Two riders were blatantly riding two abreast, in the way of everyone. They were having a conversation of some sort, like this was a social outing. I guess the rules didn’t apply to them. I was glad I didn’t have to do the tedious route twice. The route through Tempe was rolling hills, but mostly flat with a freeway overpass thrown in. I must have done it before at least fifty times.

I was more awake for the second 1.69 mile run. As I was starting it, I encountered the 5k walkers across the path. What the f#@k?  It took me a minute to comprehend what the hell they were doing there. A 5k race was associated with the duathlon, but the herd was in no hurry and I was. Strolling along slowly in my way was rude, when I wanted to go hard and fast. Stay to the right you idiots! I passed someone in my age group, but I wasn’t sure. The secret to a duathlon is to not to die in the second run. A lot of people didn’t realize this and I used it to my advantage. They also didn’t know how excruciating the last run was, an experience I was all too familiar with. I was happy with the time result in spite of the walker blockade.

I felt like I usually do after a sprint–like I had been hit by a bus. Running and biking as hard as I can is  always a shock when I finally stopped. At least the weather was cool, so fainting from heat exhaustion could be avoided. The Mimosa I had made me feel a little light-headed, though. 

Incredibly, I was first in my age group, but I wasn’t sure how many were in it. It turned out that there were eleven and that I beat second place by six seconds. Shocking. I would have never done that if it had been a triathlon. 

Duathlons rule.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Nuclear Summer

In honor of the sun-blasted hell that is summer in Phoenix:

Atomic blast; white light explodes.
Nuclear summer.

Spiny Saguaros arms beseeching

Sad doves on the ground hang their heads.

Pavement shimmers and sears.
Streets empty.

Plants shrivel in cracked earth.
Leafy flesh drops off.

Snakes and small creatures hide
in their holes.

Mushroom clouds with no rain.
Dust detonation.

Mutant black bugs emerge.
Fly and die, legs up.

Cicada chorus sings of doom.
A winged death rattle.

A cloud tear drops, then disappears.

A flash of light in dark sky.
Distant rumble, then silence.

A lizard skitters across a hot block fence.

Oven wind blows circles of devil dirt.

Dirty grey, distant mountains.
Desert city of hell.

Nuclear summer.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ironman 70.3 California Race Report

California is big. It outdoes itself in scenery, population, traffic and beaches. It’s desert, mountains, ocean. It’s extreme, and the land goes on forever. I always felt lucky to live a day’s drive away.

But the drive was a pain in the ass, especially if I was doing all the driving. The barren stretches of the Mohave desert made me want to scream with the monotony. The windmills outside of Palm Springs and absurd skeletal stumps of dead palm trees in Desert Center were scant relief from the boredom. The gas prices made me cringe. Seven hours later, the torture was over.

I have done Ironman 70.3 California in Oceanside twice. The ocean swim is in a relatively calm harbor and the bike route goes past the coastal shore into Camp Pendleton. The military base has a lot of undeveloped land so they are free to shoot and blow things up. It is always sporting green hills with wildflowers. It’s a kick ass bike ride with hefty hills.

The race is well organized, the people are friendly and best of all, the run isn’t in ninety degree heat. I was tired of racing with heat exhaustion.

For some reason, I had a difficult time upon arrival discerning which way was north or south and when I missed the hotel entrance, I drove aimlessly around until I finally found it. I could have looked it up on my phone, but it was too much bother. I had stumbled into the fourth leg of triathlon–getting around a strange town. In some ways, it was the most difficult and stressful.

My navigation skills were put to the test the next day, when I had to pick up my packet and drop my bike off. I blundered around until I found parking. In beach towns, parking can be problematic, because in addition to all the athletes and their families, the rest of California also descends like vultures to take up space. The town became of mixture of confused drivers, dudes with surf boards, families carrying beach crap and dragging small children, and bike riders. My plan was to pick up my packet, maybe attend an athlete meeting and go back for my bike later. This was a bad move.

This might have been a hint of things to come the day before.
Ideally, the day before a difficult, long race should be restful, but race organizers deviously make you stand in line to register, make you walk around to get your race goodies and then walk a long way to drop off your bike. The nervous energy of all the type A athletes was draining. I had to beg a volunteer for a parking pass for race morning because my hotel was more than 1.5 miles from transition. Seriously, she wanted me to walk 3.2 miles to race 70.3 miles? Then I had to go back to my hotel to get my bike, find another parking spot and drop my bike off at transition. The walk back was twenty-three minutes. The whole thing was exhausting and I hadn’t even raced yet.

Old people were WAY in back.

Race morning, I got up at a horrible, dark hour and went to my car. It was covered with dew. This was baffling. Living in a desert, I don’t get dew on the car and didn’t know what to do. Turn on the A.C.? The heat? That button with the weird squiggly graphic? It would have been nice to be able to see, but the windows kept fogging up again. I desperately wiped them with my hand.

I got to town and found out I didn’t know where my parking lot was. The streets were one way going against where I wanted to go. Finally I got to it. I caught a shuttle bus, then walked.

The air was chilly. I got my wetsuit on, then put a jacket over it. The goal was to stay warm as long as possible. The water temperature was sixty-two degrees, which was bearable with a full wetsuit, booties, two caps and a hood and ear plugs. After standing in line for twenty minutes, I got to jump in. The cold shocked me, but at least my face wasn’t numb. I started swimming, but didn’t get to the start line marked by buoys before the gun went off.

The cold water sapped my energy. I swam some, then rested, then swam. I tried to stay out of the way of the water churning faster swimmers. As I approached the mouth of the harbor, the water got choppier. My repeated mantra to myself was that I was going to be okay. The salt water slapped my face and dried my throat. I didn’t want to panic, because that would be ugly. The swells obscured the buoys at times. The water would be rough until I turned around and got further back into the harbor. I cussed a lot. Usually this section was calmer and the swells barely noticeable. Yesterday, the beach was closed due to riptides and high surf. The sea was still writhing. This swim really sucked.

I reached calmer water, but then the next ordeal awaited. All the incoming swimmers are funneled into a narrow area. In past years, they ran into me and I shrugged it off. This year, they were obnoxious, pushing on my feet, banging into my sides. More cussing. I finally got into a rhythm, but time stretched out. The sun was in my eyes, so I couldn’t see the end. It should have been close, but it wasn’t. After I long time, I staggered out of the water. Sixty-four minutes. It was the worse swim ever at this race.

I struggled out of my wetsuit and got my bike gear on. I was cold, so I put on a vest and arm warmers. I had a long run to get to the start because they had put the old people far away from the entrance. Running in bike shoes was awkward. I had to pee, but I didn’t want to stop.

Almost all of the bike route was on Camp Pentleton. Riding on a military base was novel. Right away, I rode past soldiers with an armored humvee with a mounted machine gun. The first part of the bike was fairly flat with rollers. I felt happy to be on the bike. I glimpsed views of the blue ocean. Poppies, sea thrift and ganzanias grew on the grassy hillsides. I looked at pretty birds. It was distracting. I didn’t seem to be going as fast as usual on the “easy” part and that worried me.

The first hill was a monster and the steepness was humbling. People got off and walked and I was tempted to do as well, but I didn’t have the time. They must have had a low pain tolerance. Wussies. It was a short hill anyway. The second hill wasn’t bad and seemed like the hills that I had trained on.

I made an effort to keep taking salt tablets, water and nutrition. I still felt thirsty. The air was cool on the descents, but hot on the climbs. The dry air sucked the water out of me.

A speed/no pass zone at mile forty-two actually had timing mats on it, unlike past years, so I tried not to go too fast. The section had a speed limit because someone had crashed and died on it and spoiled it for everybody. Some idiot passed me. I wished him bad karma. He was probably disqualified.

I passed hidden soldiers shooting things. I heard a loud boom and saw billowing black smoke off in the hills. They weren’t worried about setting the grass on fire. I stopped to remove my vest and arm warmers, because climbing the hills made me hot. I was constantly worried about the tight time cut off. The stupid swim screwed everything up.

The areas with building always had soldiers watching us. I guess they wanted to keep the spandex clad bike riders from committing nefarious acts on their base. I passed a sign that said “artillery firing overhead at any time.” Hopefully, not today.

After grinding through the hills to the flat part at mile forty-four, the wind picked up. I couldn’t go more than twelve miles an hour. My anxiety increased. I hoped turning south would help and it did. I was in full “beat the cut off” mode, which meant going as hard as possible, despite the possibility of trashing the run.

I exited the base, going past a soldier with a huge machine gun. This seemed like it would not be a fun way to pass the time--guarding the base from triathlete trouble-makers.

I got to transition with a few minutes to spare on the five and a half hour cut off. I was crusty with salt and dehydrated. I really wasn’t sure why the bike was so much slower than previous years. I hadn’t peed in hours and had no need to do so now.

On the run, the first miles, the aid stations didn’t have coke, so I resorted to Red Bull. Coke would bring me back to life, but I didn’t know if Red Bull would. I was leery of using it,  but I was desperately tired. I didn’t know how healthy it was, but I didn’t care. I had read stories about bad effects like stomach upset, anxiety and constipation. It wasn’t bad cold, but warm it tasted like cough syrup. I felt good for five minutes, then reverted to my funk.

Part of the run course done 3x's. Ugh!

The run went south along the beach, went up and down the pier; then into the neighborhood and turned around back to the pier. The ocean provided a cool breeze, but the residential area was closed in and hot. A few kind residents were hosing the runners. Someone had music going and another group had an impromptu aid station. The miles went by slowly and I felt dead and was depressed about the mediocre time. I still wanted to have an official finish under eight and a half hours. I thought I would have enough time, but I wasn’t sure.

After drinking coke and Red Bull at various aid stations, I revived about mile five. I still couldn’t go fast, but at least the movement felt more like actual running than plodding.

My mood lifted and I ran a little faster. I was getting excited about finishing. I had finally found my joy. The last two miles were the fastest. A quarter mile from the finish, I noticed someone in my age group ahead of me. I didn’t think I could catch her, but she slowed down to walk and I passed her. At least I wouldn’t be last in my age group. I ran the second half of the run faster than the first by eight minutes. The overall time sucked, but it was still an official finish.

California can do what it will to me, but with garbage drinks, I will prevail.

Monday, March 21, 2016


Courtesy One Mulisport

The Desert Classic Duathlon in McDowell Mountain Park is a misbehaving, unwanted child. Race directors take it on, then decide they don’t want it anymore. Originally started by the Phoenix Triathlon Club, it was abandoned when no one wanted to take on the full time job of putting on the event. This year, it was on its fourth race organization, Haka Multisport. Hopefully, they will give it some love and keep it.

I also hoped that I would finally finish without some disaster. One year, I decided to get my bike tuned before the race and the bike shop managed to thoroughly screw it up. The chain kept slipping and grinding against the gears, making for a really unpleasant and difficult ride. Plus a horse rider showed up on the trail and I had to wait for it to pass.

In the middle of a race. I hated that horse.

The following year, it rained heavily and the next organizer didn’t want to deal with it and cancelled. Last year, the same person put on the event, but didn’t mark the course well, so I got lost and made up my own course out of desperation. I don’t think they really cared.

This year the fourth organization bravely took it on. I hoped that they would do a decent job running the event. Strangely, the race director had a West Lafayette, Indiana address. This was where I grew up, so maybe this was a good sign.

Run course

Race morning, the chilliness of the desert breeze surprised me. The sun lightened  the sky and Saguaros stood tall against the dark mountains. I warmed up after doing an easy run. This was necessary, because my old engine won’t tolerate the nonsense of starting cold. I took some photos during the run of the scenery. The usual pre-race performance anxiety nagged me. Could I have decent runs? Would my tire go flat? Would I get lost again? 

This first run starts cruelly uphill, but I felt okay. My preference is to start downhill with the illusion of speed. Everyone dashed ahead of me, of course. The race was long and hard anyway, so running too fast in the beginning makes a slower and more painful end. I might pass some of these rabbits on the second run.

It was marked better than last year. A large muscular dude guarded the turn off by blocking it off, so that we wouldn’t go in the wrong direction. He didn’t say much. At least a human pointer was better than the flimsy pink ribbons last year. They added a bit of color, like an ugly birthday decoration, but they were inadequate for route marking.

The trail was smooth and easier to run than Trail 100 that I had been training on–no danger of tripping on numerous rocks, which do their best to catch my feet. The trail undulated, but generally climbed for half of the route, then descended. I mostly ran alone. Total time was faster than last year. Maybe all the trail run/avoiding rocks training misery had paid off.

The first run of a duathlon was the “easy” part. Then the bike and the pain started. Legs don’t like running, then biking. 

The mountain bike course started out on the paved road and went mostly uphill for four miles. This was rather tedious with a headwind as well. I wished they used a trail alternative. At least I knew the route, no thanks to the race website map, which was indecipherable. By the time I got to the actual dirt trail, my legs were fried and wanted a nap. Why was it so much effort? The same trail was a lot a lot easier last weekend, when my legs weren’t trashed by a hard run. I questioned the wisdom of using a new thorn-resistant inner tube that was a lot heavier than the regular ones. It was probably not a good move, but there was nothing I could do about it now. I think it slowed me down.

Strangely, I was not the only one still on the bike course at this point. A guy came up behind me and passed. I didn’t care because I had resigned myself to my fate. But when I came to the ramada that marks where Pemberton turns south, he was sitting at a picnic table and he started riding behind me. I thought for a while that he was a sweeper for the last rider, but he turned out to be a 70+ years old competitor. He didn’t look that old and could have easily passed me. This was a little disturbing because no one could be as slow as I. Maybe he wanted company or was worried about me getting lost or injured. 

Thankfully, the trail then descended for the most part. This was the best part–flying down the path and not using a lot of effort. The terrain was rockier, which was annoying with all the bouncing, but I managed to stay upright.

I kept worrying about being dead last and having someone stop me from doing the last run. I tried to speed up on the downhills.  No one really cared, as it turned out. Being last is a bit embarrassing, even if I put in my best effort. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

I was afraid of missing the turn off, but made it correctly. It was marked with pink ribbons. I knew it from last year, but no one can use the service roads ahead of time, so it could easily be missed. Other people missed it and went the wrong way, so it needed to have a sign “turn here.”
After the turnoff, the service road seemed to go on forever. If I hit the paved road outside the park, I would have known that I had gone too far. The end of it had some evil steep upgrades, which I couldn’t make on tired legs. I didn’t remember them from last year. The seventy-year-old guy that had been following me finally passed by at some point, but I didn’t notice. The fatigue confused me and I missed the pink-ribboned turn in for transition. I went under the tape, because someone told me to. 

Total time for the nineteen mile bike was over two hours.    

The second run felt better than I thought it would. It wasn’t as fast as the first run, but at least I didn’t feel terrible. I was dehydrated and thirsty at this point. It was warm and they had no aid stations. Too bad if I ran out of water. I carried a bottle, but it was getting low and I was anxious about it. My time was faster than last year.

Total time was 3:33. I thought I would be dead last, but I was only almost dead last, even among the road people.

As for the unwanted child, it remains to be seen if it sticks around. The event was better organized than last year. I didn’t have to remind them that old people like me finished the race and should get the award for being first in their age group of one person. Food was still left when I finished, which was a good sign. Running out of race food is a cardinal sin and I will hate forever whomever commits this sin. The race staff was enthusiastic about being there. I can only hope that the kinks get worked out and the parent shows up next year. And maybe ditches the pink ribbons.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Frozen Fingers Half Marathon Race Report

The Fiesta Bowl Half Marathon runs through downtown Scottsdale, which is a pleasant enough place, but not very exciting. The flatness of the course is an attraction because hills slow down my pace. I had my fastest time in a half marathon ever in this race. I thought that it would be a good idea to sign up for it, but I had not done an open half marathon in two years. This lapse of time had dulled the memory of how tedious it was to run 13.1 miles of flat terrain.

Normally, December is chilly in the Arizona deserts, but it warms up during the day. This year, it had suddenly gone from hot to miserably cold, with nothing in between. The usual intense warmth of the sun, which would always vanquish the cold, had turned into a blithering weakling. It couldn’t be counted on to do much at all. I hated even stepping outside because the nastiness of the air made me shudder.

Race day was no exception. It was 37 degrees. This was not a nice temperature. The cold was aggressive. People who live in cold climates might think it’s mild, but sweating through 110 degree summers destroys cold tolerance. Waiting around outside to start was difficult. They had a bag check for warm up clothes, but the tiny bag did not hold winter coats.

Normally, I get hot when I am running, so I don’t wear much. A short sleeved running shirt with arm warmers and shorts or capris is enough. The arm warmers come off as the run progresses.

If desperate enough, I will add cheap gloves to keep my hands warm. Most of the time my hands warm up quickly in a run.

Miles one to three: The temperature was a blazing 39 degrees at the start of the race. I ran conservatively for the first three miles on the theory that I could build speed. My core warmed up, but my hands did not, like they were disconnected from the rest of my body. I had gloves, but I did not want to wear them. The gels I fed myself for energy dripped on everything. Sticky fingers could be wiped off; my gloves would get crusted with it. As a result my painful fingers felt even colder with the gooey coating.

Should have worn these.
I half-hoped that since I had a personal best on this course, maybe it could happen again. The possibility was unlikely, since all year I had been coming back from a 2014 hamstring injury.   I wanted to run what I considered a good pace.

Miles three to ten: After three miles,  I tried to increase my effort, but I wasn’t going much faster, with fatigue setting in. My hands still hurt. I ran past a field basin that was covered in frost, a testament to the absurdity of the weather. The thought of running hard for more miles was daunting. 

The problem with a flat course is it’s boring. Some races break up the tedium with bands every mile. I wish I had music now. Or maybe guys in women’s clothing for a laugh. Suburban Scottsdale was not visually stimulating. A half marathon was a long way to run hard with nothing to distract me. I wasn’t going to sign up for another one anytime soon. The pace was a struggle to maintain. My hoped-for time goals vanished until just the last ditch ones were left. 

Miles eleven to finish: Please kill me now. A magical burst of energy at the end was not happening. The last few miles on the bike path had short hills that went up and down and even that was a lot of effort. They would have been nothing in an ordinary run, but now they were mountains. My hands still hurt. This flat course had become more difficult than five years ago. Old age is unforgiving and maybe I am falling apart. Still, my pace was faster per mile than the 5k I did in January of this year, which was a grudging sort of progress.

The finish line was a welcome sight. I could stop the pain. No matter how a race goes, at least I could say I completed the event, even if I couldn’t feel my fingers.