Monday, June 11, 2018

The Ups and Downs Don't Matter

I had a great weekend of training. As some of you know (because I've been whining about it incessantly), my health hasn't been the greatest lately. However, on Friday I swam a mile in the pool, which I haven't done in 3 months. On Saturday I biked 40 miles and on Sunday I ran 10. I haven't done that much distance since Seneca 7, which almost killed me.

It's a relief to see my fitness coming back. Cooperstown triathlon was great, and I'm really excited for the rest of the summer. Whether I feel good, or I feel terrible, I exercise as much as my body allows. I was just thinking about this recently. While I was sick, I was worried that I would lose my momentum, that I would get used to sitting around the house on my a$$. Those worries were overblown, because I had no problem pushing the volume 3 days in a row.

I follow a lot of friends - fellow endurance athletes - online, many of whom are now starting their race seasons as well. Some of them have great races. Some of them do not. For some, their training goes the way they'd like. For many, it doesn't. For a few, they got totally sidelined by injuries. I know though that in the same way I jumped back in as soon as I could, they will too.

Training is a part of my identity, as it is for many folks. If you take a vacation from work, it doesn't mean you'll never work again. If your kids go camping without you, it doesn't mean you stop being a parent. If you take a break from training, for whatever reason, it doesn't mean you stop being an athlete.

"I'm not lazy. I'm just on vacation. A very long vacation."

An analogy comes to mind, something about forests and trees. If you're biking and you crash into a tree, that tree seems like a pretty big obstacle. There's a whole big forest.... ok, nevermind this analogy. The point is that it's very easy to obsess over a temporary hardship. If we take a week off work, we're not worried about losing our jobs. Well, ok, I don't work in a sweatshop or at Booger King (whichever is worse), so maybe some of us do. In any case, if we take a week off exercising, we immediately worry about losing fitness, or at least being less prepared for a big race than we'd hoped.

That was a difficult paragraph. Maybe I should write outlines for these posts before I start. Moving on.

I've seen many people push extremely hard in their training. Maybe they want to qualify for Boston Marathon. Maybe they want to get a huge PR at their next race. Maybe they're seeing a lot of progress and don't want to stop. I've also seen many of those people crash hard. They get injured. They get sick. They burn out. Some bounce back. Some don't. I've experienced this pattern myself.

Even if all the stars align and your body holds together and you crush all your goals, someday you'll get old and stop getting PRs. That's just reality. Sorry. Some people transition gracefully. Some.... do not.

Why am I being so depressing? I'm not trying to crush your hopes and dreams. I've seen plenty of my own hopes and dreams crushed. Yet I'm still out there training. This past weekend was about half of what I was doing around this time last year. Yet I was happy and excited to see it. The weather was beautiful and I loved being outside. I worked hard and I felt good. I felt strong.

Feeling strong on a beautiful day

Training is my identity. After a while the ups and down, the successes and failures, stop mattering. The last two summers, I had months where I traversed over 500 miles. Yet at the time I was depressed and kept telling myself I wasn't a real athlete. I told myself I was a poser, that I only pretended to be an athlete.

My volume the past few months has been much lower. Despite being physically weaker though, I've been feeling a lot more positive about myself and about my life. I no longer punish myself with guilt and shame on a daily basis. I exercise every day that I can. I just accept that about myself. I went and did Seneca 7, even though I wasn't sure I could handle it. I'm accustomed to pain and suffering.

Because I'm an athlete.

When I see a friend struggle, I just want to grab them and say, "this doesn't matter. It doesn't change who you are. You are still an athlete. You are awesome."

You are awesome.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Cooperstown Triathlon 2018

This was the second time I did Cooperstown Triathlon. I did it last year, and it almost killed me. I wish I could say it was nearly fatal in some unique and hilarious fashion this year, to get more clickz on the blog. Sadly, the weather was perfect and I think I only saw one deer on the road. Though I did fall asleep at an outdoor concert later that evening.

The most exciting part was that I did the race with my brother, Alex. It was his first triathlon ever! I sort of forced him into the pool last year, though he had to have a certain measure of crazy already inside of him to agree to get up at 5:30am to go swimming. Turns out he liked it! Then I signed him up for a triathlon and bought him a wetsuit. So he was trapped.


Alex and his ladyfriend Audrie arrived Friday morning from the distant planet they reside on (Massachusetts). After hugs and high fives, we went to Cowanesque Lake to swim and practice transitions. Alex had never swam in open water, and had no clue what to expect come race day. So we set up a pretend transition area, put on our wetsuits, and jumped in.

There weren't any sharks, not even a stray boat. Although while we were putting on our wetsuits, a lass did come over to tell us that our butts looked fantastic. That really happened. Though she apparently was walking around paying everyone compliments. Still, the wetsuit is - um - tight and revealing. Audrie ate french fries and sunbathed while we were splashing, pedaling, and running.

Sunbathing.... and a little water time

Afterwards we went home and "carb loaded", meaning we ate too much food. We also stayed up far too late watching Amazon Prime (Men in Black 3!). We set the alarm for 3am. I think we got 5 hours of sleep. We drank.... a lot of coffee. We haphazardly threw our things into bags, loosely tethered the bikes to the car, and hit the road in the middle of the night. Audrie slept in the back seat the entire way.

The sun rose. We stopped somewhere to pee. Alex and I talked extensively about Burrito Bison. It's impressive how much you can say about a little iPhone game when you have have 3 hours to kill. I think I only hit the rumble strips once, and the deer we saw was only mildly suicidal.

We got to the park and it was a perfect day. We got our bibs and chips, set up our transitions, and drank more coffee. Somewhere in there I had two poops, making it five for the day, which is almost a record. We put on our wetsuits and got ready to go. I couldn't wait to get started, and having Alex there reminded me how exciting my first time had been. He was going to get to experience flailing limbs and zig-zagging swimmers for the first time!

There was no shortage. I only passed a couple of swimmers who couldn't swim straight for the life of them. Alex, however, was farther behind me, and got to "enjoy" the full smorgasbord of crazed swimmers. Here's my public service announcement for newbie triathletes: Do NOT do backstroke in a tri. Seriously. Just don't. It makes you a f*cking a$$hole.

Don't be an a$$hole!
Photo Cr. Pat Hendrick Photography

During the swim I discovered that "no tears" baby shampoo is a lie. Fog-free goggles don't do much good if you have to squint your eyes. Or maybe the guy in front of me peed and it got into my goggles? Maybe I shouldn't think about it too much. I got out of the water, through transition, and on my bike. Weeeeee.

I powered hard on the bicycle. It was "only" 18 miles (actually 19). I didn't plan on leaving anything behind. Let these other guys and gals bicycle intelligently. I smashed through the wind and hills and careened down steep declines at break neck speed. The course director called the route a "double lollipop", but the map looked absolutely nothing like a lollipop. It was more like a double rectangle with a flaccid tail. Flaccid has two C's? Huh.

Here I am, smashing the bike
Photo Cr. Pat Hendrick Photography

My body still wasn't all there after nearly dying over the winter. I was just hoping it would hold together for the race. I got through T2 and started running and was fairly certain I would survive. The run course was also a "double lollipop", but what it really looked like was a deflated blimp. Also with a flaccid tail. As I ran I remembered, "oh right, this is the run course where you have to run up a giant hill twice." It even had the same sign on the course as last year: "Smile. You get to run this hill twice."

I smashed that hill and passed a bunch of people. I was feeling pretty rubbery on the last mile but I kept going. I even had the satisfaction of squashing a guy right before the finish line. Not literally squashing. I didn't pull a Super Mario Brothers. I mean, I passed him. As usual the photographer caught me stopping my watch.

Alex, however, DID look like a Super Mario Brother

I crossed the finish line in 1:44:52, over 8 minutes faster than last year. My swim pace was 1:53/100yds; last year it was 2:03. My bike was 18.2mph; last year it was 17.4. Only my run was slower at 7:14 minutes per mile; last year it was 6:50. My transitions were much faster this year, seeing as I didn't have to shiver in transition and wait to warm up like last year. Most amazingly, I got second in my age group! I was hoping to get in the 50th percentile, but wow! Maybe there's hope for me yet.

Alex did really well for his tri as well, and he had a lot of fun! I liked running when it was all I did, but I don't think I could ever go back to "just" running. Triathlons are just too much fun! I think my brother has caught the bug as well. Audrie made a great cheerleader, snapping photos and yelling her head off!

We drove back three hours with the full intention of napping when we got home. We didn't get the chance. We had many more adventures throughout the day. I didn't quite make it and fell comatose at an inconvenient time, embarrassing myself thoroughly. I set my alarm for 6am Sunday to make coffee for Alex and Audrie before they went back to their planet (Massachusetts). Then I crashed again and stayed in bed until noon.

Thanks to everyone who made the race possible and to the volunteers who told us to slow down before a sharp turn. Thanks to Alex and Audrie for making the long trek and being part of the epic adventure. And thanks to everyone who put up with me when my brain and body stopped working right. What hectic weekend!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Where I'm At

I haven't been writing as regularly lately. My recent health issues derailed my weekly writing habit, and my training took a hit, which gave me less to write about. I suppose I could write about other things, like Lovecraftian folklore or how fat my cat is getting. She's recently been nicknamed Marshmallow. Kind of like the Adipose from Doctor Who.

Source: BBC via Wikipedia

I had a procedure last week. I almost wrote about it, but the details strained even my immodesty. Lets just say that the preparation for it was worse than the examination itself. The results were good though. In general I've been feeling a little bit stronger every day. Yesterday I ran in the morning, swam at lunch, and bicycled after work. Each of the workouts was short (an hour and a half total for all three), but it was still quite promising. I even had energy left to do some mowing afterwards. With all this rain, I've been mowing every other day. By the way, I own a push mower.

Public domain image originally published in Garden and Forest 1888
Source: Wikipedia

Seneca 7 was really tough, and it set my recovery back somewhat. A week after that I was promoted to Sandan (third degree blackbelt) in Koei-Kan Karate. That was a very tough promotion, but an amazing experience. There are martial arts styles that will give you a black belt after a couple of years. There are eight year olds with black belts. I train a traditional style. It took me 22 years to get to this point. I considered writing about the promotion, but karate is quite personal for me. Historically, the training was done privately, so that one's enemies could not discover your martial secrets. There's still that element of secrecy in the training. Certainly some wouldn't understand the challenges I choose to take on in my training, though the same can be said of completing an Ironman.

Those two back-to-back events hammered my body. I'm thankful that I succeeded in both. Even when I'm struggling, it's a relief to know that I can push myself when the time comes. There are many who are not so lucky. I make sure to be conscientious of that: To never take what I have for granted.

I decided to defer Ironman Lake Placid. Largely it was due to my health and resulting lack of training. If I'm to be honest though, I just plain don't want to do it. Last year's Ironman Mont Tremblant was an incredible experience. It was brutally hard, but worthwhile. Originally I signed up for it because my friends Meghan and Geoffrey did, and I signed up for Lake Placid for the same reason. That's not enough of a reason. I like to take on challenges to prove to myself that I can do them, but it's also important to have joy in what I do. I can't sustain my training without a positive target.

A positive target.... like wearing
these stylish glasses

I've completed a lot of different challenges, and then moved on from them. I completed two Tough Mudders, and have no desire to do any more. I used to compete at our annual karate tournament. This past weekend I was a judge. It was an opportunity to proudly watch my students perform, and to give back to my extended Koei-Kan family. I've run many marathons, but my interest in them has cooled. I completed an Ironman, and now I wish to do shorter triathlons, because they're super fun.

Instead of IMLP, I will be doing Lake Placid 70.3 in September. I like that distance. I will also do a number of other triathlons throughout the summer. The first will be Cooperstown on June 2, which I will be doing with my brother Alex. It will be his first triathlon ever!!! That is very exciting. There is a balance between fun and challenge when it comes to training. It can be tricky to find, but doing so makes life really fulfilling.
A cliche photo to symbolize fulfillment.

The waxing and waning in my physical escapades seem to be reflected socially as well. I've been dealing recently with betrayal, guilt, and resentment, but it's balanced by love and new/renewed connections. I'm learning to focus on the positive things in life, and to not dwell on or feel guilty about the failures. This is harder to do with people. I tend to take it personally when I lose someone, as if I screwed up or didn't try hard enough. I'm accepting now that this isn't fair to myself, and it's also not true. Sometimes people choose to hurt me, regardless of what I do, and sometimes relationships just don't work out. That's OK.

During the past few months, that's been the big lesson to me. Don't hold on to guilt. Don't hold on to expectations. Do the best you can for yourself and the people you love. Strive to bring happiness to yourself and to those around you. Don't focus so hard on any one thing that you lose sight of why you added it to your life in the first place. Life is a grand adventure. There is always something amazing around the next bend!

"Which bend? That one over there?"

Monday, April 30, 2018

Seneca 7 (Almost Killed me)

It's been over six months since an endurance event almost killed me. This time it's no hyperbole! During 13+ hours outside on the bike or on my feet around Seneca Lake on Sunday, I often debated my options. I could be smart and call it quits, or I could keep on going and hope to reach the finish before I died. Our team did lose a member, and another friend's team lost two whole members (as opposed to partial members...).

Spoiler alert: I'm still alive.

I got roped into the race many months ago, I don't remember exactly when. This seems to happen to me a lot; I'm a sucker for peer pressure. Friends "tricked" me into signing up for Beast of Burden (via a well-timed comment about fences), and I had to bail on that. I was "guilted" into doing Lake Effect half, and couldn't do that either. I've signed up for not one but two Ironmans in the same way (though I don't know about that second one). There was no way I was going to give up on Seneca 7 though.

If you've been reading my blog, you know I've been dealing with health issues and that my training has suffered. I had a legitimate reason to worry. I wasn't sure I could finish; I haven't done nearly that distance in over half a year. I really thought it could kill me, especially if I was foolhardy enough to ignore my body saying, "maybe just lie down and stop moving for a while." I took off two whole days before the race. During those two days, my body was on fire with aches and pains. Gross.

Our team, Lace Up Now and Howl, consisted of Bert, Dave, other Dave (who's name I struggled to remember because my brain couldn't fathom two people with the same name in the same space, like some kind of breach in space-time), Steve, Curt, and Chris. The first four are members of Wolfpack, a group that's all about signing up for the most grueling multisport events they can find. Curt and Chris are members of LUNAR, as am I. I've had many adventures with them. All six are brave, fairly crazy guys, and it was an honor to suffer with them.

Seneca 7 consists of 7 teammates covering 77.7 miles around Seneca Lake. The teammates take turns running the 21 legs, running a total of 9 to 13 miles each. I f*cked up Sunday and ran over 15 miles; more on that later. However, it wasn't enough for us to cruise around in a big warm vehicle in between our legs like many teams did. No. We signed up as a Bike Team. That means when we weren't running, we were biking.

Biking.... on our bikes!

It was 36 degrees when we started. It was snowing. The wind gusts were strong enough to sweep a truck into the lake. We watched the weather obsessively in the days leading up to the race, grimacing. On Friday night, we got an email saying that bike teams might get excused from riding bikes. On Saturday morning we got a follow up email saying, nope! Ride your bikes and freeze! No snowbanks = ok for biking!

I won't lie. I wasn't looking forward to it. I had done absolutely zero preparation for the race, kind of like a child who covers his eyes, believing the big scary race will suddenly vanish from existence. I only managed to deal with the paperwork and other requirements because of my teams' constant reminders. My bike desperately needed a tune-up though.  It brought to mind that old philosophical quandary, if enough parts of a thing are changed, is it still the same thing? Is Tsar Bicycle the Great now some sort of bicycle cyborg? A product of engineering and esoteric chemistry? Will my bike try to assimilate me into its collective?

The race was a go. All my whining was for naught. I boiled salt potatoes on Saturday. I had been intimated by them, but really it's just water, salt, and potatoes. Two thirds of the ingredients are in the name. I stopped by Walmart (which just goes to show how dire my situation was) to get Frogg Troggs. It's a waterproof suit not at all designed for endurance sports. I looked like I was wearing a radiation suit, or a spacesuit. I got jokes about both. I also bought shoelaces, so when I wrapped plastic grocery bags around my shoes, I could look slightly classier.

I did not look classy.
Maybe a little classy...

I set my alarm for 3:30am Sunday. Our team was starting at 7, and we had to meet up at 6. It was an hour drive. And I had to pack. That's right, I did no packing at all until the morning of. I packed my potatoes. I packed my frogg troggs. I packed a bunch of clothes, my bicycle, my ID which identifies me as an organ donor. I packed the bare minimum, considering I was biking in winter conditions. I drank a lot of coffee.

I got to the Geneva Bike Center only a few minutes late. It was a nice morning in Corning. It was cold and snowing in Geneva. A gust of wind blew a puppy across the street. It was strange seeing a bunch of cyclists getting ready, utterly incongruous with the weather. I took two (2) poops in the bike store's bathroom, while a gaggle of young ladies waited in line. Bert bought me a race belt, so I wouldn't have to punch holes through my radiation suit. We did all the things and got ready.

Dave went up ahead since he was the first runner. I missed that part. There wasn't any great fanfare. We just got on our bikes and started going. We passed Dave and yelled obscenities, or maybe encouraging words. It was a blustery winter morning, but I actually felt alright in my space suit. It only occasionally got caught on parts of my bike. We got to the first exchange point. There were a bunch of buses there, shuttling the non-biking (= sane) runners. We switched bikes on the trailer.

Buses. Bert looks on, majestically.

There was a special port-o-potty just for bike teams, which was exciting. We weren't allowed to go inside the buildings at the exchange points, mostly breweries and wineries and the like. At least I don't think we were. I didn't try. Folks wouldn't have reacted well to a guy in a Hazmat suit tromping into their establishment dripping with mud. "Don't worry folks, you'll probably live."

Special port-o-potty

Everything was covered in mud. Eve-ry-thing. When I drank from my water bottle, I got a mouthful of gritty mud. It splattered on my back and - somehow - into my hair, despite my helmet and space-hoody. My shiny new chain and gears got completely covered. This was going to be my condition for the next many hours, cold and covered in mud, like a yeti in a tough mudder.

I won't recount every exchange point. We switched runners, rotated bikes, and shivered in the cold while jealously eyeing the vans and SUVs that clogged the roads. At some point I started to vape on these breaks. I've never done that at any endurance event; I'm not sure why I even brought it. It turned out to be a nice distraction from reality. And Dave said I looked sexy vaping off into the sunset. In my radiation suit.

I was the fifth runner. I took off my gray cosmonaut uniform and put on my kilt. At no point did I resemble a regular athlete. I started running and felt surprisingly strong. My body warmed up nicely. I cruised through my 4.6 miles at steady sub-8 splits. Wow! Then I hit the exchange. The volunteer told me to run through the grass. My shoes instantly got suffused with muddy water. I didn't spot the next runner, Chris. I finally spotted Dave as I ran and he waved me on, yelling, "keep going!"

"Keep going, we want to see
more of your kilt!"

I thought, oh, uh, alright. Maybe Chris was waiting for me on the road. Up until that point we had handed off our baton (it wasn't really, but I held it like one) from runner to runner. Most of us are pretty competitive dudes. Later on we would take some breaks at exchanges, but at that point I was still in the mind frame of go go go! I didn't see anyone so I..... kept running.


After a couple more miles, Chris came riding up on my bike. He offered to switch. I said I felt good and figured I may as well finish. I ran 9.37 miles with a 7:46 pace. Crazy! I mean, that would've been normal for me a year or two ago, but with everything I was going through lately, that was really good. Chris would take over one of my other legs (so he would run two in a row). My next leg was 6.1 miles, so I offered for him to take my last one, 2.6 miles. Great!

I got totally drenched with sweat on the run. Up until that point I had been fine on the bike, but after that run I was frozen for the rest of the day, my hands and feet especially. Thus began the suffer fest. After my run, it was my turn to haul the trailer, and I did so for the next 4 legs down into Watkins Glen.

At one of the exchanges I left my Ironman backpack behind. In fact several of us wore Ironman backpacks, because we wanted everyone to know how crazy we were. Thankfully Chris's awesome son Ian was driving around, supporting us. What a super awesome dude!!! He went and fetched my bag for me. Score!

I don't have a pic of Ian, but he did park
behind this barrel at one point.

As is usually the case, it's the people who make an event like this incredible. Bert and Dave were the team leaders, and did a great job in that role, both before and during the race. They kept us in good spirits and kept us moving. Chris was always enthusiastic, cheering on not just us, but the other athletes. He always has a positive outlook, no matter the conditions. Curt is a strong stoic athlete; he pushes hard and always lends a hand with nary a complaint. I didn't get to know other Dave (sorry for the terrible moniker) too well, but he impressed with his strength and tenacity. Steve had to quit about 2/3 of the way due to injury, but talking with him about the pains and difficulties helped me through the tough parts. And of course it wouldn't have been possible without the support of friends and family like Ian, as well as the volunteers and coordinators of the race!

Our fearless leaders!

I flew down the hill into Watkins Glen at over 30mph with the trailer rumbling behind me. The runner's course at the bottom was very unfriendly for bikes, and there was too much traffic to cross to the right side of the streets. All of that pounded on my bike, but I finally got into the park and settled down.

I went and sat in the truck with Chris and Ian for about 15 minutes, trying to warm up. That was a mistake, because as soon as I stepped out again, I started shivering three times as badly. The team had taken the hitch off my bike. Then Dave said, "dude, you have a flat." Maybe he said "bro". It was either dude or bro. Something manly and convivial.

I've had Tsar Bicycle the Great for two years. In that time I've done a 100 mile ride around Keuka lake. I've done two 70.3's and a full Ironman. I've logged thousands of miles on that bike. I have never gotten a flat tire. Never. I barely even know how to change a flat. On Sunday, I got my first flat tire.

I was 50 feet away from the Geneva Cycling guy. I walked my bike over. He fixed it. Like magic. Turns out, in addition to about a thousand little stones and pieces of glass, a thin piece of wire had punched through the tire. He also straightened my wheel out, as it was wobblier than an old Irish man on St. Patty's day. Thanks guy! Another buddy of mine on a different team, Jack, wasn't so lucky; he had to run his bike down the hill with a flat.

All that sucked up a lot of time, and more than cancelled out my fast two legs. I felt bad, but the team didn't get upset. They were there to finish, not to race. It was a test of endurance, not of who could finish first. I really appreciated that camaraderie and spirit. Then we looked over at the giant hill heading out of Watkins Glen and our excitement puffed away.

The view of Seneca Lake from Watkins Glen

The next 20+ miles were brutal. We were biking into a very strong wind, up a lot of elevation, frozen through and through. None of the guys complained. Well maybe a little. Ok, maybe a lot. Even stoic Curt made a comment about the wind that made me think he wouldn't invite it to his next birthday party.

I had the next leg after we climbed that huge hill. It was 6.1 miles. I was hoping that it would be flat, but no.  As Dave put it, the hills didn't stop until we got to heaven. It sure felt that way. My pace into that wind, up those hills, was a full two minutes slower than my previous pace. At least the blood returned to my feet. That would be short lived. After that I put my radiation suit back on; you never know when you may cross a spent Uranium rod. "This one is used up Roberts, go dump it somewhere on Rt. 414 with the rest."

After that I felt terrible. I was really really really really cold. My running was done for day, as well as my trailer hauling. I seriously considered getting a ride to the finish. Really seriously. Somehow, I biked the next leg, and then the next. At some point our friend Janice caught us at an exchange. She met Curt for the first time, and I swear she said, "I've Curt a lot about you!" She said "heard", but seriously you guys!

This trailer

While we were making conversation about injuries, which seems to be a common theme among endurance athletes, they mentioned something about broken Achilles tendons. I told them, "well, whatever doesn't Achilles only makes you stronger." They insisted I mention that groan-worthy joke in my blog. Around that point I finally realized I needed to do something or I was going to have to quit.

I dug around in my bag, the bag I had been wearing for many many hours, the bag I had almost lost. As far as I knew, it only contained potatoes. But there, glowing with a warm halo, was a hoodie! Whaaat? When did I pack a hoodie?! I put it on in the middle of my other layers. I changed my socks. Other Dave lent me his shoe covers. Suddenly I was much warmer!

So many potatoes!

Bert had to run an extra leg to make up for Steve. Chris had to run two back to back legs because of my earlier mishap. I felt somewhat guilty, as we were all tired. Chris crushed those two legs with aplomb; he is no stranger to long brutal races on tired legs. Curt hauled the trailer for the last few legs, powering ahead while the rest of the guys rode with him like an honor guard. I was usually a little behind. My body was saying, "why are you still going? Why aren't you on a couch somewhere?"

At the very last exchange at Bottomless Brewery (yes, I made a joke or two about that), I finally went into a port-o-potty. I exclaimed to the guys that my pee felt like hot acid. They asked, was it radioactive? Did it glow a neon yellow? In fact it had!! I made some comment about Chernobyl, because jokes about nuclear disasters are always funny.

It was a little surreal being at that last exchange. It had been such a very long day. Even on a nice day, running and biking all the way around the lake would have been hard. The weather conditions on Sunday made it incredibly difficult. Somehow though, the guys all kept pushing. They pushed past the pain, the cold, the exhaustion. Their strength and positive cheer inspired me. I didn't want to disappoint them.
My face when I'm disappointing people

That's the hardest thing to express in writing: The hours of torture. In some ways, Seneca 7 was harder than an Ironman. Curt said that, and I couldn't disagree. It truly is a testament to human will that we can accomplish such a feat. Some might call us crazy. A buddy of mine on another team, Steve, has a favorite saying: "Running is stupid" (though that doesn't stop him).

How do you explain it?

When I looked into the eyes of my teammates, Dave, Bert, Steve, Curt, Chris, and Dave, I saw zeal. I saw vitality. I saw pure purpose. It reconnects us to our ancestral roots, when we survived by the capacity of our minds and bodies. In the modern era, a strong body and a strong mind is a vestige, an obsolete organ. These guys refuse to accept that. They refuse to accept a life of "good enough." They want to know exactly what they are capable of.

I think, on Sunday, we all pushed a little past what we were "capable of."

Bert ran the final leg into Geneva. We biked that last stretched. The sun was setting, and Chris remarked on its beauty. Curt and his honor guard rode triumphantly ahead, the setting sun throwing long shadows on the pavement. I would have ridden with them, but I got snagged by a red light. I caught up with them at the reintegration area. That's the place were we dump our bikes and cross the finish line together as a team.

We waited on the walkway for Bert. We looked out over the lake. The breeze felt almost warm. I had taken off my nondescript gray suit and stood there in my kilt (or "skirt" as some insist on calling it). We were tired but victorious. We were one of the last teams to get to the end, but it didn't matter. In that moment we were champions. Finally we spotted Bert in his unmistakable Wolfpack suit. It's very bright. Very very bright.

But then, everone's bright on race day

We ran together. No, we did not hold hands. Chris took a live video of us to share with friends. The announcer made a long commentary about the team in front of us, and barely squeezed us in as we crossed the finish line ".... oh and these guys! Get your medals."

That was it. We were done. Just like that. My brain, doing that magical thing it does, immediately destroyed my memory of the suffering. All I felt was joy and pride. I felt immensely connected to my fellow team, with whom I had suffered for so long. The trivialities of life melted away in that moment. In that moment we were pure spirit. Even the pain and exhaustion in our bodies seemed to melt away temporary.

I always feel like I miss a lot in these posts. Thank you Dave, Bert, Chris, Curt, Dave, and Steve for letting me be a part of this incredible experience! Thank you to the volunteers (when they were out on the course; because when they weren't, we got lost, more than once). Thank you to everyone who makes the race happen. Oh, and Dave said I should mention the potholes.

There were a lot of potholes.

Photo courtesy of Dave!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Who am I?

My blog posting has been a bit sporadic lately. Largely that's due to a big burlesque event I shot and it takes me about a month to edit all those photos. I only have so much creative juice in my brain.

I've written before about my health stuff. I haven't had any more exciting hospital visits to write about since. I've been feeling better lately and my training has been improving. I had a 7 mile run Friday and a 5 mile run Monday both at sub 8 minute pace. It's been a long time since I've been that fast! I did a 3 hour bike ride on Sunday that felt solid. It feels good to see that progress.

The silver lining to that difficult time is that it got me thinking about my goals and priorities. I'm going to be making some changes going forward. I won't quit exercising; don't worry about that. I will however train in a way that makes me happy, rather than trying to prove something for the sake of my ego. I'm not quite ready to write about those decisions, but I will.

I had a couple of DNS's recently due to my health issues. That was disappointing, but I'm looking forward to Seneca 7 at the end of this month. I will be strong enough for that and it promises to be quite an adventure. You can look forward to that story! In general I won't be doing as many races as I have in previous years, but I definitely want to do at least a couple this summer. You may be asking, what about Ironman Lake Placid? Well, I'm not certain about that yet.

I've seen a lot of folks struggle, besides myself. This infinitely long winter doesn't help. I've also seen some amazing things, like the Boston Marathon. I wasn't in Boston this year, but the stories I heard from there were truly inspirational. For the first time in 33 years, an American woman won Boston! Wow! Congratz to Desiree! Congratz to all of the runners! The weather this year was super tough. It was truly a test of grit and strength. It reminds me the reason that we do what we do.

Running is good for the soul

While I was analyzing myself - my behaviors and priorities - I realized that very few really know me. When I was young, I was quiet and antisocial. I overcame that by pushing myself to the opposite end, by being unapologetically flamboyant. When I was young, I was very judgmental (as an excuse to not speak with people). I overcame that by developing compassion and forgiveness.

Wearing kilts and being silly to a sometimes ridiculous extent can give the impression that I don't take life seriously. Being the one to take blame and apologize in many situations can give the impression that I'm a screw up who hasn't figured life out. I have an almost pathological aversion to hurting people. When people hurt me, I swallow my pride and accept that it's human nature.

When I was in my 20's, I was selfish and I hurt people. I continue to battle that guilt to this day. Being unwilling to stand up for myself in some situations can cause people to lose respect for me. In many of my friendships, I will listen and accept when I've hurt my friend, but refuse to bring up the hurts they cause. Rather than preserving those friendships, it makes me out to be the weak link. I realize that now.

I don't have a problem with life. It's Russian nature to take care of things and move on. A Russian soldier will sacrifice his own life because it's his duty, not for the recognition. When I was 16 I sparred men at karate tournaments who were twice my age and mass (and often won). I learned social skills in my 20's by approaching strangers and embarrassing myself repeatedly until I had utterly destroyed my fear. I once followed three guys into an alley who clearly intended violence upon me because I had no fear for my safety. It worked out fine.

I'm often in pain. I embrace pain. I train despite injury or illness. I've completed races that were pure torture. It goes to show how bad my recent health issue was that I had to take breaks from exercising. I also embrace mental pain. As I mentioned, when people hurt me, I swallow my pride. I process through the emotion until I am calm again. I understand that in most situations, both sides feel hurt. I swallow my pain and acknowledge theirs. Bringing peace to others brings me peace.

I have an engineering degree from an Ivy League university. I've had a full time job for over 12 years. I own a car. I own a house. I paid for the entire closing cost with a timely and intelligent investment, and I invest beyond just my work retirement account. I teach children every week on a volunteer basis. I pay for my siblings' phone bill. I don't call this "adulting". I call this normal; not noteworthy.

Why do I mention it all now? I've spent the last two decades learning humility and compassion, patience and understanding. Those things to me are not weaknesses. I don't ask for help; I'd rather offer it. I don't ask for sympathy; I'd rather give it. I don't take anything for granted; I accept the challenge of striving for my goals and consider all good things in my life as blessings. I have accomplished a great number of amazing things, but I prefer to focus on and applaud the success of others.

It may seem that I sell myself short, by swallowing my pride or by acting like a "dancing monkey." Over time though, I care less and less what people think. They don't have to like me in order for me to be kind to them. They don't have to respect me in order for me to be generous. That doesn't make me a rug to walk upon. I'm not giving in order to get something back; it doesn't come from a place of insecurity. I give because it makes me happy. When people hurt me, it's nature, not evil.

That said, there are still things I won't tolerate. I won't tolerate it when someone threatens a person I love. I won't accept people who would hurt my material interests or try to inflict physical violence. I am utterly prepared to defend myself and loved ones at all times. I am always processing my surroundings and creating contingencies in my own head. It's habit.

I'm not sure if there's a moral to this post. As is often the case, I wrote it for myself. I think I've recognized lately where I've lacked respect for myself. I went through a difficult time a couple years ago, punctuated by depression and guilt. This blog is often my way of processing through that so I can grow happier and healthier. I believe I am succeeding.

Despite how it may sometimes seem, I don't live in a haphazard way. I often joke about my actions, because it doesn't matter to me if people approve. I think very thoroughly. While I do make mistakes, and often, I'm generally heading in a direction that brings more joy to my life. Despite ephemeral difficulties, the future is quite bright.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Yum Yum Barium

Maybe medical procedures are old hat to most people. You're looking at this blog and going, "yawn. Last week they had to remove my head to get out a mouse that crawled in through my ear. No biggy. It's only a little wobbly now." It's exciting to me though! So here's the story from my most recent magical medical adventure.

I went to the hospital on Wednesday. I got there a half hour early for a 10am appointment, which was fortuitous because I had to drive around in circles looking for a parking spot. Finally I spotted a lady making her way to her car. I slowly crept up and stopped, staring at her with wide eyes. I moved up, thought I was too close, and moved back. It's like my car was shifting back and forth with excited agitation.

Another thing that shifted back and forth -
excited to fry my insides

I went into the correct entrance on the first try. I brought my laptop with me, having the illusion that I would do something meaningful with it. A woman made me fill out paperwork. We made small talk. I don't remember most of it, except that she has a niece who has the same birthday as me, and a nephew who has the same birthday as her. In fact, all of her nieces and nephews followed a similar pattern. I couldn't tell if she was resentful that they couldn't be born on their own days. That would be a weird thing to be resentful about.

In my defense I'm not great at small talk. I may have said something like, "aww those silly kids," as if the little rascals decided to pop out on a particular day as a practical joke.

After that I went into radiology, which had no radios. Well, maybe there were. I didn't examine every individual office. I was directed to a changing room and told to TAKE OFF MY PANTS. I put that in big letters to amuse myself. I put on scrubs. These scrubs were MASSIVE. I put that in big letters because they were really really big. I had to pull the drawstring half a mile to cinch them up, but then they were pretty stylish!

Seriously stylin'!

I put my things in a locker and sat. There was an Asian kid sitting there with me. We didn't make any small talk. I was wearing scrubs and it felt oddly intimate. Whatever he was there for was done in like two seconds though. So... probably not a head removal. "We're just going to pop your head off, scan it real quick, and then pop it back on. No no, don't worry, I do this all the time. Nurse, where's my saw?"

Let me tell you about these Barium milkshakes. They're white, super white, like paint. And chalky. The first one wasn't that bad actually. I explained to the nurse that I didn't eat sugar, so it was kind of like a dessert. She didn't seem to believe me but she smiled. There were two ladies actually. I was going to say nurses, but I don't know if that was their official titles and I don't want to be the kind of a$$hole who assumes all women in hospitals are nurses. I'm sure at least one was. Ahem.

Both ladies put on epic radiation suits. I pointed out how stylish those suits were. I asked if they were allowed to take them home to wear out. You know, to a party or something. They said no. Those suits looked like they could take a bullet. During the hours that I waited later on, I would get zapped every half hour by a little X-Ray to check the progress of the barium, and all I got was a little.... mat, over my junk. No suit.

The "little" X-Ray

I'm getting ahead of myself though. The first scan I didn't have to wait for, as it was for my throat and stomach. They weren't going to find anything there, but they had to look anyway. The machine was a blast! It was a table that titled 90 degrees. First I stood against it as it whirled around me, broiling me with delicious radiation. Then it tilted back until I was horizontal. It was SUPER FUN. I used big letters there because it was super fun. I was grinning like an idiot. I think I may have giggled. I don't giggle often.

"OMG that's so much fun!" I exclaimed to the doctor and the two ladies. They laughed. Then they had me do a barrel roll to coat my insides. I told them I was getting in my core workout for the day. After that I had to move to my sides at different angles. I said it was like I was posing for a sexy photoshoot. More laughs! Who knew X-Rays could be so much fun?

A rip-roaring adventure!

The giggles ground to a halt after that. I had to wait for the aquarium of barium to move through my guts. They suggested that I walk to accelerate the process. So I walked laps, looking for radios. A corrections officer, watching over his orange-jumpsuited ward, commented that I was wearing holes in the tiles. Every half hour I lay down under the smaller X-Ray to check the progress of the gooey milkshake. Then I walked more.

I had to drink more barium. A lot more. At one point I noticed myself in a mirror and my beard was rimmed with white. Eventually I had to drink something really vile. The nurse said it may help move things through. She asked the doctor if I should drink it and he said, "sure, what the h3ll." Great. After 4 hours I was finally ready. My insides were totally coated.

I was pretty tired out by then, but I was excited to finally be close to done. I had to pose on the flat bed some more. I watched the scans show up on the monitor. For a moment I thought I was pregnant. The doctor said things looked much better. That's good? My body this week has been cr@p, so I hope the problem isn't something different they haven't thought of yet.

Suddenly I was done. I had been there for almost 5 hours. In TV shows everything happens so much faster. On Star Trek, things happen in like 2 seconds. They wave a magic wand over you and say, "he has a space virus! Set phasers to kill!" I got to put on my real pants and leave. My belly was sloshing around with a gallon of chalky fluid. Despite that, I got a gigantic meal and it was FANTASTIC. I used big letters there because it felt good to finally eat something.

Most of those 5 hours were spent walking and amusing myself...

I drove home through some very bizarre weather: it cycled through snow, bright sun, and rain, with tons of wind throughout. The wind blew away my internet in fact. True story.

I hope that I'm getting better now, but only time will tell.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Adventures in Hospital Land

In my last post two weeks ago, I wrote that I'd been sick but that I was recovering and feeling optimistic. Last week I didn't write a post because I was in the hospital. Guess I jumped the gun. But once again I'm recovering and feeling optimistic. I hope I don't jinx myself again!

Last year I had an issue that hampered my training. I went to the doctor then, and that helped, but it lingered all the way past the Ironman. I think there's a good chance that it had a larger effect on my training and racing than I thought. Certainly I've whined more than once about how everyone else seems to be able to do so much more than me.

After my last post, it came roaring back like an angry shark. A good friend said it's not normal that it keeps recurring and that I should go to the doctor. I'm not a fan of doctors, but I've already lost a month of training and it didn't seem like it would go away on its own. So I went.

I went to my primary care physician. Well, first I drove around the business park and entered half the buildings until I found the right one. This is especially sad because I've been there before and the exact same thing happened last time I went. I swear they switch buildings every time.

I did the patient thing, which involves a lot of waiting but not as much as I expected (all the real waiting would come later). They asked me questions about all my filthy habits. They took some blood. They poked me and asked if things hurt. Finally my doctor decided that whatever I had was not great, and that I needed an immediate CT scan.

A CT scan! I was excited. I'd never had a CT! I had to go to the next building over. I had to wait more. Then I had to drink a bunch of sh*tty orange juice. And wait more. With a needle in my arm. Which I took a picture of. The whole time I heard the recorded voice from the CT room saying, "breath in. Hold your breath. Breath normally."

Totally took a pic

Finally it was my turn! I felt like I was in an episode of Star Trek. Maybe I'm just easily amused. I lay down on the table. They connected a tube to the needle in my arm. They told me I'd feel a cool rush as the contrast fluid went in. I looked at the container the tube was attached to. There was like a bathtub worth of contrast fluid! I was like, no way they're putting that all in my body. I'll explode!

They totally did.

I don't know where it all went. I was expecting myself to inflate like a balloon. And it felt super weird. You know, in a fun way. The table moved back and forth. The voice said, "breath in." I breathed in. It said, "hold your breath." I held my breath, the whole time worrying that I was f*cking it up somehow. Then it said, "breath normally." I panted like a dog on a hot sunny day, panicking that I wouldn't get enough air. That's a thing that regular swimming does to you. The CT made epic sounds, like it was activating its warp drive.

Then it was done. I almost asked, "can I go again?!" Like it was a carnival ride. I had to wait some more while my doctor magically got a copy of the results via some technological wizardry (probably email, but maybe via mechanical messenger boar?). Finally the doctor called and the lady who attended me (I'm sure she has a title and I'm being super rude by not knowing it) answered and handed me the phone.

The doctor told me to go to the hospital for more tests. She told me I'd be there for a night or two. A night or two! I'm like, am I dying?! She told me I could drive myself, that I didn't need to ride in an ambulance. Wow! Thanks doc!

I went out in my car and sent some TXTs and messages. I had earlier posted a silly thing to "My Story" (which is a thing on Facebook I've never used before) so some folks were already blowing up my phone. I was kind of surprised. Which made some people mad, like, why are you surprised that people care?!

My brother wasn't the least bit
offended that I may be dying!

I drove to the hospital. Then I sat in the parking lot and answered more messages. Folks were concerned about me being alone. I was like, this is an exciting adventure! I didn't think I could say that; I was expected to take it seriously. I could be dying! So I tried to treat it with some gravitas, because I didn't want to make my friends more angry with my lack of terror. You could argue that I was in shock or didn't know how to react. It's a week later now though, and it doesn't feel like it was an out of body experience or anything. But then, I know from previous experience that I treat stressful situations with calm. Like when my rental car got totaled (did I ever tell that story?).

Someone did come to see me in the hospital, and truth be told, I was super glad for that. Before they came though, I had to wait in the waiting room for a long time. Before that though, I went into the wrong door and confused all the nurses. While I was waiting, I did some work on my laptop, even though my boss told me not to. I ended up doing more work while waiting in the ER too (spoiler alert!).

Finally I got into the ER. They didn't have any rooms available, so I hung out on a gurney in the main room. I had no clue I'd be in that exact spot for the next 5 or 6 hours. Occasionally they'd position curtains around me if I had to, I don't know, pull my pants down or whatever. They took a ton of blood. I was complimented on the color of my blood (it's super dark and rich with robustness!). I peed in a cup, which sat next to me, full of pee, for the duration of my stay, balanced precariously on the bed rail. Is that a run-on sentence? I don't know!

I was engaged though. There was lots of activity. I chatted with the nurses and volunteers. They were nice. I made them laugh. I had to wait a lot. I did some work on my laptop. I screwed around on my phone. My friend came and that was awesome. I wasn't allowed to eat or drinking anything; I hadn't eaten at all that day.

I ate like a pig as soon as I could...

After many hours, the doctor (who had a disappointing handshake) told me that I had a super terrible thing that would change my life forever. He started with, "don't panic, but..." I didn't panic. I just stared at him like my cat stares at an unfamiliar person. I knew there were questions I should ask, but I was like, "ok, thanks." I think this happened while my friend was getting me a sandwich, which I was finally allowed to eat! It was around 4pm. I'd been doctor-ing for about 8 hours by then. Patient-ing?

The doctor told me he was going to consult with another doctor who specialized in my terrible thing. That required me to wait another couple hours. I told friends and family that I had a terrible thing, but that I wasn't dead.... yet? Maybe not the right way to express it. I think I just worried them more. I'm really not good at being a wounded puppy. I was still generally chipper, having a good time, despite the waiting.

Around 6, the other doctor finally came over. He had an Irish name, which I didn't realize until he made a joke about St. Patrick's day having just passed. I'm obtuse. He told me that my terrible thing was presenting really strangely and that he wasn't sure it's what it was. I just said, "oh good." Maybe I just hadn't processed everything yet? I'm sure some people will say I was totally in shock and that him giving me potentially good news cancelled it out before I could feel upset and that I'm just lying to myself.

Who's to say! It's part of the adventure of life.

He said I maybe don't have the thing, and he gave me a prescription for antibiotics. So that's good! That was a week ago, and I'm definitely feeling better. I have a follow up tomorrow so we'll see what's going on.

I finally left the hospital around 7. My friend had left before then. I got home after 8 and did some more work on my laptop. Then I lounged around. I had missed my couch.

I suppose I missed my cat too...

I don't know if that's all normal. The times I generally feel down is when I'm stuck in my own head for too long of a time. When something like this happens, with lots of changes and stresses and new people and environments, I get pretty excited. When I'm out of my head, I'm happy. So despite everything, it felt like an adventure to me.

Maybe it's a defense mechanism? A way to not take things seriously? That's possible. I'm generally not a fan of real life things. Certainly I treat difficult things with humor if I can. When it comes to my friends, I hate to bring them down. I didn't want anyone coming to the hospital because I felt like I'd be putting them out. That's the thing that bothered people. Like I offended them by saying that I didn't need support.

It meant a lot to me, all of the love and outreach I received. I was really blown away by it all. The fact that my friends didn't want me to struggle alone was amazing. They were willing to turn their days upside down for me. I'm really not used to that. I'm willing to sacrifice myself for people I care about, but I don't want them to do the same in return. That's selfish of me.

If you're reading this and you were one of those worried friends, thank you! It meant a huge amount. It really did! I didn't mean to belittle that caring. I was just caught off guard.

I don't know how this will effect my training in the long run, or what the doc will say tomorrow. Oddly, I'm not too worried about it right now. I'll just train as much as my body allows. Perhaps this all gave me perspective on what matters. The people in my life matter, number one. The love they give and the love I return.

If I can't race, I can't race. My identity will change. Who I am outwardly will change. That's happened a lot in my life and it will continue to happen. That's fine too. I've experienced enough guilt to know how useless it is. It's not a certainty just yet though.

I don't plan on giving up just yet.

Have had some great workouts the last couple days!

PS. I know it's a terrible post title. It was fully justified (font-wise) without any extra work. That excites the nerdy part of me. So I didn't change it.

PPS. Seriously though, you people are amazing. Thank you thank you thank you. Maybe the reason it went so well is because of all of you. And by "maybe" I mean "almost certainly". See? I can learn too. Hearts.