Monday, March 31, 2008

First Race Ever

This is my third triathlon season, the Lone Star 1/4 Ironman ("QIM?") was kind of like my first race--for a number of reasons.

I won't dwell on the race or give you a nauseating post, because my times are impressive to me alone, not to anyone that is affirmatively fast. But there was something different in the race for me.

First, in the swim, it was like my first race ever because I freaked out and hyperventilated like I was a total newb. To be fair, it was the first time in the open water since Ironman Wisconsin, but I was very disappointed in the way it started. I hacked and wheezed and gasped--too much time between the warmup and the start.

Unlike a total newb, I was able to flip onto my back, give myself a good cussing out, and then get going. (I think I also got pissed at myself because the lifeguards on the jet ski saw me breast stroke and flip over and started to come to my rescue like I was a non-swimmer instead of an Ironman).

Once I got going, I was generally pleased with my stroke and my sighting. The bouys seemed to come and go quickly, although I did not have a good set of goggles for the overcast and grey conditions and couldn't see a dang thing. As a result, there was some zig zagging (especially later in the swim when my form deteriorated). And although I was happy with the level of my effort, I was not happy with my time. I know I was swimming faster than my Ironman pace, and the numbers show it was exactly the same. Thus, my working hypothesis is that the swim was long--substantially so. If not, I am even more wretched in the water than I thought.

The really notable thing was the bike and the run. These were like my first race ever because it was the first time I actually tried to "race." I wore no heart rate monitor and determined to just go as hard as I thought I could maintain and pass as many people as possible. I really have never gone hard in a triathlon. The first year I was content to finish. The second was three HIMs and Ironman Wisconsin, all of which I feared not finishing if I went hard. So, this was a first--a first "race."

On the bike in particular, I made it my goal to gobble up as many competitors as possible, maintain a high cadence in the wind, try to hold above 20 mph no matter how much I hurt, and pay no heed to whether I had any run legs. In the end, I averaged just touch under 20 mph, and taking out the portion of the course to and from the sea wall, where it was impossible to maintain a high speed with any safety, my average speed would have been above 20 mph.

Hmmm. Maybe I should get some aero wheels or a pointy helmet . . . .

Same thing in the run. No heart rate monitor, run as strong as the pain would allow, pass as many people as possible. In this I did pretty well for the first four miles, averaging better than 8 minute pace, then collapsed and weakened a bit in the heat during mile 5-6. This was mostly mental on a desolate part of the course and I am not to pleased with that, but I picked it up a bit on the way home for an average pace of about 8 minute miles off a hard bike.

Here are the numbers for the QIM:


Clock Time2:45:58
Chip Time2:45:58
Overall Place213
Gender Place164
Division Place28
965M Swim Rank450
965M Swim Time23:48
T1 Time02:30
28M Bike Rank229
28M Bike Time1:24:49
T2 Time02:01
6 5M Run Rank173
6 5M Run Time52:48

The numbers show a bit of objective progress, but the what they don't show is the change between my ears and in my "heart" if you believe in such things. I will never podium at anything, but I want to be through with doubting myself and fearing the DNF. I want to accept the pain as a companion of proper effort rather than a harbinger of impending failure.

I want to get off the hamster wheel and see what's outside the cage.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


You know what really bothers me? It's people who act no better than hamsters.

You know, hamsters, those little furry rodents that people, usually children, keep as pets. They live their whole lives in a cage and nothing much changes from day to day. They hit the little valve on that water bottle and water comes out. They hit the food bowl and someone has put the pellets there for them. Sometimes they engage in a lot of activity, making their little wheel go 'round and 'round or scurrying through their little tubes, but they're not really going anywhere. And they eliminate all over their habitat knowing that someone else will eventually come and replace all the filth with fresh, clean wood shavings.

Lately, I've been seeing hamsters everywhere I look, sometimes even when I shave in the morning.

For example, when it is 70 degrees and sunny outside, what would you call a bunch of human beings who are inside a gym loping on a treadmill or an elliptical machine because that is what they always do? Hamsters. They were even in there yesterday morning on the elliptical machines when the gym had no power and the machines therefore had no resistance. All they needed was a little water bottle and a bowl of pellets. Hamsters.

And what do you call someone who weighs himself every day for three years, and by all appearances is just as overweight as always because there has been no change in the diet or the routine of reading the paper while slowly peddling a recumbent bicycle for 30 minutes three times each week. Bring on the pellets. That is a hamster.

And then there is the phalanx of waddling office workers, arranged in a cue outside the building before work, at lunch, and at two breaks during the day, breathing nicotine off-gas along with assorted carcinogens until 4:59 when they shut off their computers, hit the road, and go home to eat and smoke on the couch in front of the television before repeating it again tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that. Looks like a hamster to me. Indeed, it looks like a hamster whose health care I will wind up paying for--sort of cleaning out the wood shavings, if you will.

Pointing a few less fingers and looking a little more in the mirror, what do you call someone who does the same commute to the same job and to the same house every day, but expends little or no effort to improve or change the things he finds unsatisfying, settling instead for predictable pellets that will keep him fed but bored. Classic hamster.

Sure, hamsters can be cute when they're rodents. But people aren't pets. We weren't meant to be taken care of by children or "kept" by anyone else. We aren't suited for cages. We are built to seek our own food, to go places outside the cage, to take risks, conquer challenges.

Sure, the Ironman part of my life is not hamster-like, and in large part, I may have taken on challenges and pain like that in rebellion to becoming a hamster and in an effort to feel really alive. But I have said it before and I'll repeat it now. I want that adventure and conquering spirit to infect the rest of my life. I want to NOT settle in any part of my life.

No more pellets.

No more habitrails.

Now what do I do?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Opening Day

Some people say that life begins on opening day. I kind of feel like that now, but not for the same reasons as I used to.

People who use that expression are usually talking about baseball, and I used to love going to the games. I loved smelling the grass and dust and leather--sitting in the stands and scoring every pitch, every out, every hit, every run--squinting against a backdrop so green it hurt your eyes just to look at it. To borrow some wonderful lines, we'd find we had reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines . . . where we sat when we were children and cheered our heroes . . . and we'd watch the game . . . and it was as if we dipped in magic waters. The memories were so thick we had to brush them away from our faces.

Yeah, I get goosebumps in that portion of Field of Dreams--"People will come, Ray." But some of the shine has gone off the game for me. Maybe it's knowing the home runs I saw Mark McGuire hit during batting practice in the Astrodome weren't real. Maybe it's the vision of Roger Clemens cheating with his pants around his ankles. Maybe I just don't have the patience to sit still for three hours to watch men, even honest men, get paid to play.

Whatever the reason, a different opening day calls me now, one where I am playing instead of sitting.

This weekend is the first triathlon of the season for me here in Texas--the Lone Star Triathlon Festival in which I'll do the quarter iron distance in beginning my build to Ironman Coeur d'Alene.

Opening day means the nervous energy of picking up race packets. Opening day means affixing race numbers on the bike the night before. Opening day means packing and repacking the transition bag. Opening day is rising early from being already awake, taking down breakfast you aren't hungry for and wondering whether it will stay down. Opening day is going to the transition area before any self-respecting J.D. is even awake on a Sunday morning. You rack the bike in the chilly darkness, you set up your gear, you jog to warm up and knock the cobwebs out. Then . . .

You take that first plunge.

You dive into the cold, salty water, alone with crowd of athletes in your wave.

You swim while other people watch, and still others sleep.

That first plunge begins to reveal who you really are. Are you prepared? Did you put in the work? Can you handle your fear? Can you overcome your doubts? Will you suffer to go faster than you thought you could? Even though you won't win?

Of course you're not as alone as you feel in taking that first plunge. There are people who became your friends last year and those with whom you will become connected this year. These kinds of connections surpass by far what is possible around an office water cooler or March Madness pool. Opening day means seeing people who are important to you find out, just like you, who they really are. Being along for their ride is a gift like none other.

But it's not here quite yet. This morning, I was alone in the pool doing some sharp, 300 meter repeats for muscular endurance. My body usually complains when I try to swim 200 meters for any kind of speed. But this morning, at a longer interval, my lungs felt bigger than they were several weeks ago. My limbs were moving water with unaccustomed force, grabbing big armfuls of water and throwing them behind me. I was out of the comfortable little nest of what I thought I could do. But, unlike the rest of today, which I spent in my cushioned and climate-controlled office, I did not want to be anywhere else on the planet other than this pool.

Maybe, with opening day approaching, I was getting just a wee taste of iron for the first time this season.

Opening day is almost here. I can't wait.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Signs of the Apocalypse

Yes, I know. This is a triathlon blog or a writing blog or something. But I have been known to also express my appreciation of the female form. Think of me as a renaissance painter, only using digital words and lacking any artistic merit.

Anyhow, work and training have gotten in the way of regular posting, but today, I had to drop a note about signs of the upcoming apocalypse. Ursula Anders, the original "Bond Girl" from "Dr. No" is having her birthday today.

She is Seventy Freaking Two Years Old! A Bond Girl in her 70s! That would make me . . . .

**checking the math***

Never mind. I need to lie down.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


It started feeling like an electric shock. Every time she lowered her chin she’d fell the *bang* and tingle in her feet and hands like she had been shocked. “Odd,” she thought. “Maybe I strained something in my neck or back having the baby.”

But it got worse.

Soon her feet and hands were tingling with regularity. And the doctors were no help. Her first primary care physician did not want to give her a referral to a specialist, and then when he did, he did not even pick the right specialty. No useful diagnosis was received and the tingling was getting worse. Sometimes her leg dragged when she tried to walk, and often she was so tired she did not want to get out of bed.

But she had to get out of bed. The new baby had to be fed.

Two PCPs later, she found someone who did a proper neurological exam, recognized that she needed to see a neurologist, and was willing to make the referral. The neurologist pretty much knew what he was dealing with, but the testing was inconclusive, so he did not want to say. The diagnosis can be too alarming. Sometimes, things like this go away and never come back. He prescribed IV steroids followed by an oral steroid taper.

So, she took her infusions, tolerating incompetence from the home infusion company that had to be told every time that she had a latex allergy, that never seemed to send anyone who could find her tiny veins, and never seemed to have the premie infant needles that alone seemed to fit her. Then she took the oral steroids and dealt with the mood and personality changes, and the burning of her stomach.

And she took care of the baby.

The symptoms went away. Maybe they would never return.

But they did. One year later. And this time they were worse. Numbness progressed from her feet, up her legs and to her midriff. Her left leg became week and even her arms became numb and unpredictable. One day the bank called because one of her attempts to sign her name was no longer recognizable as her signature. And don’t even think about playing the flute anymore. The fingers will not obey her commands.

And then there is the baby--now a toddler. Her husband left for work every day at 6:15 to make his long commute. She asked to be awakened every day to test her limbs. She was afraid of waking up paralyzed and unable to lift the baby from her crib.

This time the testing left nothing to the imagination. This girl who hated needles gave blood, had a spinal tap, and had an MRI. They confirmed what the neurologist had not wanted to say before.

Multiple Sclerosis--a potentially crippling disease with no cure.

She thought first of the baby. Will she have it too? No. Probably not. Will mom be able to be a mom for as long as she needs? Probably, but the disease is very unpredictable. Is there anything to be done? Only somewhat. There are some drugs that appear to statistically slow the disease that did not exist 10 years ago, but they don’t always work and they can lose their effectiveness.

There are three main drugs--pick one.

So, she did. And the girl who hated needles learned to inject herself every night, and has done so for nearly 10 years now.

And she can still walk.

And although she hasn’t had a full blown exacerbation in a long time, she mostly manages day to day with only fatigue and transient tingling or weakness when the weather gets hot.

And her neurologist just gave her a disability rating of “0”

And she is my wife.

Pack Leader and Baby Superpounce

We are the lucky ones. We live in a time where there are some effective treatments available to slow the progression of disability and we can afford them. Even better, there are more effective drugs in development because of money raised for research and patient services.

I tell you this true story because this week is National Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week, and I am going to raise some of that money.

My only athletic fundraiser is to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis research, which is making huge strides against the disease. This year I am riding the MS150 from Houston to Austin for the fourth time. But along with blowing past the overnight stop like I did last year, we're taking the fundraising up a level. I am raising my funds through the Janus Charity Challenge and all the way through Ironman Coeur d’Alene in June.

There are a number of ways that you can join the ride--by literally riding with me, by donating to the cause, and other ways as well. The most obvious way is to hit my fundraising link here or at the top of my sidebar. I want to raise $10,000 this year. If I do this, I will have raised $28,500 for Texans with Multiple Sclerosis, and while I have put in the initial seed money myself, I need the help of the bloggy peeps. However big or small your seed might be, plant it here and help me reach my goal.

Read about Multiple Sclerosis and all the progress being made, and help if you can. I’ll be continuing to share information about this disease and the MS150 through the event, and again through Ironman. Come along for the ride.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Happy Birthday

The man is 68 years old today--the same age as my dad, which I find disturbing in the extreme. But, unlike my dad:

  1. If you have five dollars and Chuck Norris has five dollars, Chuck Norris has more money than you.
  2. There is no 'ctrl' button on Chuck Norris's computer. Chuck Norris is always in control.
  3. Apple pays Chuck Norris 99 cents every time he listens to a song.
  4. Chuck Norris CAN eat just one Lay's potato chip.
  5. Chuck Norris CAN sneeze with his eyes open.
  6. Chuck Norris is suing MySpace for taking the name of what he calls everything around you.
  7. Chuck Norris destroyed the periodic table, because he only recognizes the element of surprise.
  8. Chuck Norris can kill two stones with one bird.
  9. When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.
  10. Chuck Norris doesn't read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.
  11. There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live.
  12. Outer space exists because it's afraid to be on the same planet with Chuck Norris.
  13. Chuck Norris does not sleep. He waits.
  14. Chuck Norris is currently suing NBC, claiming Law and Order are trademarked names for his left and right legs.
  15. Chuck Norris is the reason why Waldo is hiding.
  16. Chuck Norris counted to infinity - twice.
  17. There is no chin behind Chuck Norris’ beard. There is only another fist.
  18. When Chuck Norris does a pushup, he isn’t lifting himself up, he’s pushing the Earth down.
  19. Chuck Norris is so fast, he can run around the world and punch himself in the back of the head.
  20. Chuck Norris’ hand is the only hand that can beat a Royal Flush.
  21. Chuck Norris can lead a horse to water AND make it drink.
  22. Chuck Norris doesn’t wear a watch, HE decides what time it is.
  23. Chuck Norris can slam a revolving door.
  24. Chuck Norris does not get frostbite. Chuck Norris bites frost
  25. Remember the Soviet Union? They decided to quit after watching a DeltaForce marathon on Satellite TV.
  26. Contrary to popular belief, America is not a democracy, it is a Chucktatorship.
**credit given to Chuck Norris Facts

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Working Out With Mickey

This is me` after today's ride in Galveston. I am wasted, and I haven't even had anything to drink.


A number of things made the ride a true challenge.

1. Spring forward. SUCKS. Note to self: if you're going to drive an hour and a half to an early morning start of a group ride, don't do it on the Sunday you lose an hour of sleep.

2. Garminectomy: I charged my Garmin last night, but it refused to turn on this morning. So, the only computer I had along for the ride was a Mickey Mouse watch.


No elapsed, time, no heart rate data, no miles per hour. Just Mickey.

3. Wind: Sweet baby Jeebus I don't know how the wind could have been much worse. It was two out and backs for a total of 80 miles, and the wind we never really at our backs. Going out, it was enough crossways that you still felt wind in your face. Coming back, it was right in your face off the front quarter, blowing in off the Gulf. That is why 80 miles took an ungodly 4 hours 55 minutes. Which brings me to number:

4. blows: said the wind would be 15 mph out of the SSE, which would have given us a great tailwind on the homeward leg. Instead, the wind was out of the NE and built up to 20+ mph, meaning I was reduced to a snot slinging, slobbering, grunting, quivering mass of not-nice-word spewing . . . canine. If it didn't rhyme with duck, I pretty much didn't say it in the last 10 miles of my ride. If it did rhyme with duck, I said it repeatedly in all its forms--verb, adverb, adjective, gerund, and I don't know what else.

I couldn't even keep track of my progress or estimate how much longer the insanity would go on, because Mickey would not tell me how many miles I had left. He just smiled up at me and moved his four-fingered gloves around the dial ever so slowly.

And then at the worst possible moment, while clawing back into the wind, the song "It's a Small World After All" got lodged in my head like a blood clot.


But the best part of the ride was seeing that my Iron Friend is totally ready for Ironman Arizona. She broke me like a twig by 70 miles, and she kept going for 100. I am told that I was able to do such things last year. It must have been my evil twin, Skippy, because this greyhound is feeling it tonight.

I guess this is a deposit into the Bank of Ironman, but the customer service at this Bank sucks.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Unexpected Heaven

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!--
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.*

Maybe it was the endorphins talking. I don't know. But things looked different at the end of running off the bike this morning.

I was surprised that Memorial Park emptied out the way that it did. The pre-dawn weather was perfect. The air was cool and fresh, like breaking open a huge head of lettuce on ice, putting it to your face and breathing in until your lungs won't hold any more air. There was just the slightest breeze, and the hum of early commuters from I-10 was just pleasant white noise behind the whispering pines and the birds. Near the end of the ride, the suddenness of dawn broke. Nature turned the lights on while the streetlights blinked out, one by one. The cool breeze warmed gently and pleasantly while the asphalt continued to whisper by underneath my wheels.

Apparently unaware of the weather conditions, the rest of the city must have overslept. The bike route and the running trail were only sparsely used. And, surprisingly, the park emptied out well before the sun came over the horizon and business hours approached.

The light was grey when I transitioned from my bike to run what was scheduled to be a 30 minute tempo session to finish out the brick. I decided to pay attention to the breeze on my face rather than the customary sluggishness and rebellion of my bike legs refusing to run. Through the breeze, I pulled my heart rate up and my pace down until the world eventually moved by under my feet the same way the asphalt had so recently shooshed by under under my wheels.

The last 5 minutes I did an ez cool down--out and back--first with the newly-risen sun on my shoulders and then, turning, on my face. In that last 2 minutes, when I turned toward the sun, I saw it.

Looking at last to the light, the empty park was bathed in 24 karat liquid gold--dew on blades of grass with the smell and song of dogwoods and rebuds newly bloomed. Cotton candy laced with jewels coated the sky, and in an instant, the bare clouds that were there let fall two medium hand fulls of shimmering coins -- not pennies from heaven but ingots of precious metal.

As soon as it happened, it was over. In that instant of present, which disappeared into past as soon as I noticed it, the sun rose too high to provide the refraction and the sprinkling raindrops stopped. I wondered, are we few the only ones who see these riches? The lemmings on I-10 in their cars and buses, what of them? I used to get in a car inside my garage, ride to the garage across from my office, walk in a tunnel to my desk, and reverse course in the evening to reach a television screen by the appointed hour. Would I have seen these riches then?

I believe in heaven, but I also think that sometimes the veil is lifted, and heaven happens right here. Heaven can kind of sneak up on you sometimes, and if you aren't looking, you'll drive right by. If you do, who's to say you're not already dead?

*Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Psalm of Life