Sunday, July 30, 2017

We Refuse to Surrender

I started writing another post. I'll finish it next week. Something more important came up recently though. Geoffrey, Meghan, and I are training for the Ironman in Mont Tremblont. This post is dedicated to the three of us.

I trained stupidly over the winter. I rode the bike on the trainer, but I wasn't training. I was just spinning - burning calories. I wasn't doing any intervals or hard workouts, so I didn't build any strength. When I suddenly started doing big hilly rides in the summer, my quads blew up. The tendons that connect them to my knees have been hating me for the past couple months. I've been genuinely worried about the Ironman.

Geoffrey and Meghan have been training super hard. Their insane schedules of brutal workouts blow my mind. I was certain they would annihilate the Ironman. I still am, honestly. But Geoffrey's had a tough time lately. I won't indulge in details except to say that his training isn't going the way he'd like. So I thought, "well at least Meghan is still kicking a$$."

Then, today, she fell off her bike. Wait, that's not right. She flew off her bike when her chain slipped. And destroyed her helmet. If it wasn't for that helmet, I'd be writing a very different post. As it is, she got pretty banged up.

All three have been questioning ourselves.

I was going to send them a TXT, and then I saw this photo in our group chat.

I deleted the TXT. It was going to be something whiny like, "man our training has been sucking lately." But when I saw that pic, I thought, "F@#K that. We are f&@king WARRIORS." We are BAD. ASS.

And maybe we don't feel like that right now. The tendons in my legs are sore after exercising 6+ hours yesterday. Geoffrey's probably still pi$$ed about his workouts. And Meghan is still trying to figure out if she broke anything. Not a good weekend.

But each of us have had awful workouts. We've had awful races. We've bombed. Badly. We've gotten hurt. A lot. A lot a lot. Injuries that sidelined us for months. Injuries that made us question our sanity. You know who else constantly wonder if they can conquer their challenges? Warriors.

Warriors aren't infinite heaps of strength and confidence. They may seem that way on the outside. But they're not. Inside they're stress. And pain. And an overpowering fear of failure and disappointing others and themselves. And a sense that their next battle will reveal their brittle weakness. They question themselves every minute. And then they go and fight anyway.

Success doesn't come from being perfect and utterly fearless. It comes from repeated failures and brutal insecurity. It comes from acknowledging what terrifies you the most and charging face first into it, no matter how frightening or painful. It comes from having the worst day of your life, and then getting up the next day and moving forward.

I don't want to speak for Meghan and Geoffrey. I don't really know what's going on in their heads. And maybe writing this post is unfair. But what I do know is that I aspire to be as strong as them. And not because they kill every workout (they often do but also often don't). It's not because they constantly ooze utter confidence (in their worst moments they scream and yell and throw things). It's not because every race goes as planned for them (it often doesn't). It's because despite all the hardship, and suffering, and disappointment, and rage, and constant self-questioning...

They're still there. At the starting line. Shivering in the rain, in the dark, the atmosphere an oppressive reminder of all their self doubt. Waiting for a gun to go off, having no clue whether they'll have a great day or a terrible day. They are there.

They are always there. Every time. Bodies battered, but not broken. Minds challenged, but focused. Souls tarnished, but still gleaming with determination. And hearts.... hearts that refuse to surrender.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

How Do You Handle Stress?

This past week I was in training for work. Actually, it wasn't for work. It had nothing to do with what I do. But I asked my boss, "can I do this?" And he said yes, because he's cool as $hit. What I do for work is sit at a desk and mash on a keyboard. The training was for facilitation, and included team building, leadership exercises, and of course facilitation exercises.

It was mentally draining and brutally exhausting, but I learned a lot. It was also very very stressful.

There is a concept called the Leadership Wheel, which describes you in one of four directions. Norths are Warriors. They are dominant, risk-taking, self-sacrificing; they can also be bull-headed and impatient. Souths are Nurturers. They focus on harmony and relationships; they can also slow things down by insisting that everyone is heard and appreciated. Easts are Visionaries. They're creative, spontaneous and love change; they can also get bored easily and not finish what they started. Wests are Critical Thinkers. They're rational and methodical; but they won't start on something until they have all of the facts and info. And of course you can be somewhere in between.

I'm definitely more of an East than a West. I have all sorts of goals and ambitions, and I act on none of them. That's why I harp on routine so often in my posts. It's the only thing that keeps me training every day (and writing this blog every week). I tend to be a South in my day-to-day life. I like people to feel good around me and I tend to let other folks take charge. However, in stressful or difficult situations, I jump way into the deep end of North. Then I don't care about Democracy. I say, "do this! Now! Worry about your hurt feelings later."

Soothe yourself with these puffy clouds

For most of the week, I was that South. I was talkative and friendly, and tried to make everyone feel good. I sat back while others led conversations and activities, complimenting them on their strong leadership. I'm generally pretty lazy, so I do a lot of "sitting back." And contrary to how many people perceive me, I'm also pretty introverted.

So that's a whole lot of prelude for me to get to my point. Notice how I said most of the week. On our first day of training, we went to a ropes course. The purpose was for team building, which was achieved amazingly well. In the morning we sat through a bunch of talking, then did "low ropes", which were exercises low to the ground. Nothing too crazy there.

The afternoon was "high ropes". And it. was. AWESOME. It was loaded with daunting, super high in the air, extremely challenging exercises that required team work and a whole f@#kton of bravery.

Me soaring through the air like
a ridiculous superhero

There are vanishingly few things that scare me. A lot of folks are scared in open water, but I'll swim across a deep lake with no wetsuit or buoy. I'll run a marathon by myself with no food or water in the middle of the night surrounded by wild animals. I've sparred in karate tournaments against angry-looking dudes twice my size and won. I got in a really nasty car accident not too long ago that totaled the car I was driving ($10,000+ damages) and I was utterly calm and relaxed the entire time and had things taken care of and was back on the road in just a couple hours.

I know, that sounds like I'm showing off. I'm just laying context. Maybe you're expecting me to say that on the ropes course I was suddenly scared for the first time! I wasn't. Not in the least. I was really excited and I volunteered for every terrifying activity first. But - and here's where the context matters - most of the folks in the class were scared. And most of them were managers, bosses, and just people who were confident and in charge of themselves 99% of the time.

The learning moment for me though was this. I take me for granted. I know what I'm like. And it's very easy to project my view of the world on others. The dizzyingly high and wobbly poles, ropes, and platforms pulled on me like buckets of ice cream. And I was surprised that others weren't excited. They were nervous! And I realized, "people are different."

I mean, duh, obviously. Of course we're different. But on that day those differences were multiplied a hundredfold. And as someone who was learning about leadership, it was vital for me to learn and understand how different people handle stress and challenge.

There was one other guy in the class who was a lot like me: Generally chill and laid back. And I was surprised to learn that about him. Because on the first day, he too was utterly unfazed. And like me, he took charge and helped people through the physical challenges. Many of the other folks were dominant throughout the rest of the week. But on that first day, they were intimidated and reserved. It was fascinating to listen to them in the follow-up debriefs. They expressed how strange it was to be thrust in situations where they were so out of their elements.

"I'm out of my element here too. I have nothing
to do with what you're talking about."

One such guy was a boss with some two dozen employees under him. During the week he was direct, confident, and took charge easily. One of the exercises at the rope course had four people climb up a wobbly 30 foot pole and clamber onto a platform literally the size of a pizza box. Four people. And after that they had to all lean back apart, like a blossoming flower, holding onto each others arms until their grips broke. Then the belaying ropes saved us.

Of course I was the very first one up there. Then this guy climbed up. And the whole time we were up there, he clung to me like I was a life raft in the middle of an ocean. And when I say clung, I mean he hugged me as if we'd be married for 20 years. It was surreal to be that intimate with someone I'd met only a few hours ago. But then that was part of the point of the exercise. During the rest of the week I was impressed by his leadership. But on that day, I was his rock. I was what made him feel safe.

And it didn't weird me out. My friends know how touchy-feely I am. I'm a protector. During the final debrief on that day, I explained to the group that I volunteered to go first because I had to verify that it was safe. And I wanted to have the experience so that I could guide the rest of them through the challenges. Even though I was acting very Northish, my South nature still had me nurturing and taking care of these people. Of course, it was also fun for me.

So how does this all tie into training? I've heard a lot of triathletes talk about their fear in open water. And yet they all conquer that fear. Waves, cramps, inhaling water, sea monsters, whatever it is.... They deal with it. And after that day on the climbing course, I realized how brave these people are.

And all training is scary. At the risk of sounding machismo, the women were more apprehensive of the rope challenges than the men. And yet most of them pushed themselves to try (don't worry; they had the option to opt out). I've read countless articles of how much harder it is for women to go on a run than for a man. They get catcalled, they get groped, they get attacked. It's much riskier for a woman to go running. And she'll do it anyway. I'll never be able to really appreciate that, and it's impressive as heck.

Each of us bada$$ in our own ways.

I've been guilty of comparing myself to others. What I learned from this past week isn't that we're just different. It's that we're really different. We all handle stress very very differently. For some of us it's not a big deal. For some of us it's a huge deal. And different people get stressed by different things. For some, the actual workout is intimidating. For some, the anticipation of it is the worst. For others, they need to have every detail of their schedule ironed out, so fitting in training, and then handling surprises or delays can be difficult. My training is loose and spontaneous. While some of my friends hate it if they have to change or miss a planned workout.

This is all a long-winded way of saying this: Know who you are. Use your strengths to their max. Be aware of your weaknesses, but don't beat yourself up over them. Do what it takes to conquer them. And realize that just because something seems easy to someone else doesn't mean they're better than you. They're just different. Some of my workouts are crazy. Ridiculous even. But I could never be a parent. That's just not me. And those who juggle training with work and a family life: Those people are better than me. I make up for it by being a volunteer karate instructor. I contribute to our childrens' futures by helping them be confident and proud of themselves. That's how I deal with that weakness of mine.

You all amaze me. When I did the DoubleMussel last weekend, it wasn't because I'm awesome. It was because I'm lucky. I was blessed to have had the opportunity to do that, and to spend time with some truly incredible people. I didn't do as well as I'd hoped, but I was OK with that. Really truly OK. My friends did better than I did, and yet a couple of them beat themselves up more over it. The South in me wants them to know that they still blow my mind, and I love them. The North in me will make sure to kick a$$ at the next race!

Be different. Different is awesome. Your uniqueness is your power. It's your gift to the world. Your strengths, your weaknesses, and every weird thing about you is beautiful.

Maybe just more weird than beautiful...

Monday, July 17, 2017

I took a nap during a Half Ironman: Musselman Recap

The Musselman triathlon was one of the two Half-Ironman distance tris I signed up for last year during a manic moment of "If Meghan and Geoffrey are going to do it, I'm doing it too!" The other was Patriot. And because we're not crazy enough already, we signed up for the DoubleMussel. That's the MiniMussel sprint tri Saturday, and the Half Sunday.

Here's my advice: Don't do two triathlons two days in a row (but I'm glad I did.... once).

The title of this post suggests a wild and rollicking adventure... and it was! But I have to rewind, because this adventure turned out to be way bigger and more amazing than I had expected. And there's about a million photos to share, so prepare to scroll a lot.

Here's a nice photo!

It all started when I learned that one of my favorite people in the world, Jenn, was coming to NY to hang out and cheer us on at Musselman. Which led to many more of my favorite people saying, "I'm coming too!" All of the extra days I took off work to rest and recover suddenly turned into days stuffed with adventure. Jenn is an immensely sweet and adorable person who makes, just, everyone fall desperately in love with her. And when I discovered that she burps, farts, and swears like a beleaguered sailor, it somehow just made her more lovable. And as if that isn't enough, there was: Lois, Curt, Aria, Dawn, John, Chris, Shawn #VHLWarrior, Steve, Sue, Carrie, Geoffrey, Meghan and her daughter, and many many more.

Not even all of the amazing people!

I'm still floating on a high of love and frenetic activity. I gotta pound out all this goodness but I will, as usual, miss three quarters of the good stuff.

Jenn was supposed to arrive on Wednesday in Buffalo and ride down with Dawn to Corning. Instead, she had an absolutely terrible experience at the airport, which led to her spending the night in a motel in Omaha. I don't know anything about Omaha, but if it's like the rest of Nebraska, it just has cows and more cows. And it took her 7.5 hours of zero flying before she could get to that motel. And instead of eating a giant pile of soul-soothing food, she had to scrounge for snacks like a raccoon. And to think she was so excited when her handsome husband, Michael dropped her off at the airport.

Dawn's awesome parking job.
Yes, I took a pic.

She had to sit in a plane on a Tarmac, listening to the captain come on every hour or so to say, "I've got a little more unfortunate news." The passengers finally had to get off the plane when it ran out of fuel. Idling. On the tarmac. And all of the food she desperately looked at afterwards had the same label: "Contains dairy." Dairy makes her blow up like an angry balloon. It sucks for her but it was exciting for me. I spent most of the week trying to get her to eat ice cream or cheese so I could see a real life Epi-pen in action! And when that failed I tried rubbing cheese doodles on her.

Curt burning off ice cream and cheese.

I drove to Lois' on Wednesday. With Aria. And her entire life. See, Aria was moving to Lois' that day. So we arrived there with about 100 pounds of running stuff and a couple toiletries (I imagined... those bins were heavy!). Dawn was stuck in Buffalo waiting for Jenn, but she didn't mind. Her mom was thrilled to have her! My mom is always thrilled to see me. She lives only .8 miles from me, but I'm a terrible son. Lois, Curt, Aria and I grilled dinner and chilled Wednesday evening. That's actually noteworthy, becois Lois is terrible at "chilling" and had to be forced to sit in the same place for more than 5 minutes. She and I are polar opposites on the Type A - Type B spectrum. I'm excellent at chilling.
Four of us. Chilling. My belly is huge from eating.

Thursday morning Curt, Lois and I went swimming at Cowanesque Lake (I can't believe I can spell that without Googling it). They swam within the designated buoy area. I said, "how far do you think the opposite shore is?" They thought I was making idle conversation. And then I swam to the opposite shore and back. It was only half a mile round trip. Later we ran (with John and Sue too) and totally ditched Lois. Speaking of Lois, she had no kitchen and her washing machine was in the dining room. That's all I'm saying about that.

Lois really wanted me to share this pic of
LUNARs meeting for the first time in person.

John arrived later at his AirBNB. It was half a block from Lois'. As far as I know he..... slept there? Oh, he made us a pot of coffee there once and brought it over. I'm sure it was very nice, but I never stepped foot in it.... and he barely did either (the house, not the coffee). At some point around that time we started the running gag about John and his "ten foot pole". There is an entire story behind it that he insisted I share... ya know, for context. But NO. You will just have to wonder. I made sure to bring up his ten foot pole every. chance. I. got.

John, looking very fashionable.

No context. Just, "whoa, don't turn so fast, you almost knocked me over."

"Don't sit so close to the fire, you'll singe your tip."

"I'm surprised you drove. You could've just pole-vaulted here."

"Every time John looks at Dawn's legs, he destroys his pants."

And so on.

Jenn finally got to Buffalo Thursday afternoon. She sucks at dealing with that cr@p. She's a total chicken (her words). Actually, she described herself as a "chicken wallflower." That's the note I have; I didn't actually write down her explanation. Anyway, she had to rebook four times, the whole time dealing with douchy travelers who expected her to solve sh!t for all of them. "Did you fix our plane yet, or are you just worrying about yourself?" Yeah. I would've punched that guy.

A chicken wallflower?

She and Dawn got in around 7. Then we grilled shish kabobs. Then we stayed up really late talking. Aria usually goes to bed in the wee hours of the morning... and we outlasted her. At around 1am Jenn finally said, "well, it's almost midnight, I should go to bed."

Some serious shishkabobs
Photo Cr. Lois

"Um, no. It's 1." Her brand new phone that she doesn't know how to use apparently doesn't update for time zones automatically. Oops! And we had planned to to do a big group run at 7:30am Friday morning. I got.... maybe 6 hours of sleep?

This is how Aria takes selfies.
She is now #Vinaigrette

I was supposed to be tapering. TAPERING. Instead I swam Thursday morning and ran a 10k Thursday evening that turned into a tempo run because Curt is blazingly fast. And here we were doing a 5 mile run at the crack of "I'm still asleep." Oh, and getting enough sleep before the DoubleMussel? Hahaha.
Who has time to sleep when you have
all these amazing people around you!!

Shawn came Friday morning to run with us. He's the stalwart leader of L.U.N.A.R. (Lace Up Now and Run) and a VHL warrior. Despite having his third brain surgery recently, he continues to be a powerful representation of strength and perseverance. It's been a long road to recovery, and he's been attacking it with unparalleled dedication. And he came Friday to run with us! Unbelievable man. John, Dawn, Jenn, Chris (#DD!), and Aria ran as well. Awesome! There was a lot of sweating.

Shawn even let me do this, because
he's the best man in the universe.

Sadly I had to leave after that to go home and get my junk for Musselman and then head to Geneva. The LUNAR folks kept on doing awesome things but I wasn't there for that. The group of us competing at Musselman (Geoffrey, Meghan, her daughter, Steve, Sue, Carrie, Lois, Curt, and I) stayed at a fantastic place called the Gridley Inn. It was owned by a wonderful couple, Madison and Stephanie, who bent over backwards to make our stay amazing. They event got up at 4am Sunday to make us breakfast. Lovely people.

Stay here. You won't regret it.

I got to the Gridley first and checked in. Madison was very talkative. I nodded aggressively, the whole time my bladder bursting at the seams. After that I headed to the expo and met up with Geoffrey and Meghan to get our bibs and a huge pile of swag. That was the first sign of how awesome Musselman is. I got a free foam roller! I don't even know what it's for! Yes, I'm a terrible runner. We went to the Lake Front Park to do an open water swim, but it was cancelled because the ramp washed away in the rain. The same rain that ruined Jenn's flight three days prior. It was a LOT of rain. We ate dinner and crashed hard.

Heiko at the Gridley Inn.

We got to "sleep in" till 6am Saturday because the MiniMussel started at a luxurious 9am. Madison and Stephanie had an awesome breakfast and tons of coffee all ready to go for us. We go to the park by quarter after seven and had plenty of time to set up our transition areas and all the other pre-race things. Everything was extremely well organized. These folks really knew what they were doing, and clearly took a lot of pride in it.

The race was a blast. A half mile swim in the canal, which was crazy fun, a 16 mile bike ride, and a 5k. Meghan, Geoffrey and I had all decided to not push it, because we wanted to save some strength for the next day. Instead, we all pushed it to the max. Hashtag worth it? But we were excited and we were fast and we felt good. Screw you intelligent thinking! And Meghan's daughter podiumed! She got second in her division! She's thirteen! That was really freakin' amazing.

Canal! With boats and everything!

After the race we went to the expo to get our chips for the Half. Then we went to the "mandatory meeting". Among other things I learned that it's called Musselman because of the invasive species of Zebra Mussels that are, basically, destroying the lake. Cool beans. The race director was an awesome dude. And I really should have listened more closely when he told us about the awful hill on the run. Race directors will usually say, "rolling hills," when they mean mountains. But when a race director tells you that it's OK to walk a hill.... That probably means you'll be climbing a sheer cliff. More on that later.
No sheer cliffs for us, thank-you.

The rest of our group showed up that evening. They weren't crazy enough to do the DoubleMussel. Lois, Sue, and Carrie were doing the relay. Steve and Curt were doing the whole thing with us. It was Curt's first Half Ironman ever. It was Steve's first of the year. Tensions were high, but Madison and Stephanie did a magnificent job of relaxing us as much as possible. And the dinner they made for us.... WOW.
At the Gridley. Photo courtesy of Madison.

We were up at 4am the next day. We ate breakfast. We got all our heaps packed up and were at the park by 5:30. By this point I had already gone through so much epic adventure that my mind didn't even register that I was about to do a 70.3. It was just one more thing in a long string of non-stop action. The morning went by in a blur and I was in the water by 7am. Musselman did an amazing job getting such a huge number of people organized and moving through the two-stage corrals. I didn't even have a spare minute to stop and think about what was going on before the horn sounded. I was in the first wave, so it was just in the water and 30 seconds later GO.

Our swim in the Cowanesque was a breeze by comparison.

Suddenly I was swimming. I felt solid on the swim. Then I got halfway and turned directly into the sun. I could see literally nothing. All I could do was follow the swimmers in front of me and hope I didn't get lost. Swimming over half a mile completely blind is a unique experience. Apparently on her swim, Lois befriended a kayaker named Jeremy, but she made it with aplomb. None of us got lost on the swim. I even got a PR! Then I was out of the water running towards transition.

Musselman printed us each a label for our spots in transition,
and it included the motivational quote we had put in our registration!

I tore off my swimsuit, devoured a potato and rice bar that Geoffrey and Meghan had made, hopped on the bike and did that thing. So if you read my race report from Patriot, you may recall that I described it as.... long. After that race I honestly thought halves were too boring for me. But the bike segment of Musselman was FUN. There were two beautiful lakes. There were a ton of other riders, some of whom I played bike hockey with. I was super excited, and I pushed way too hard. Out of the 11 five-mile segments, I had 4 that were around 20mph. Weeeee!

My bike is starting to look like a tri bike.

In the last 15-20 miles, I ended up playing bicycle hockey with this one particular lady in purple. We had a fun banter going every time we passed each other. We teased each other, we egged each other on, and we helped motivate one another to.... bike too hard. There was a gravel road near the end that everyone else hated but I loved. It was like biking off road! The gal in purple almost caught up with me in the last half mile. She said, "are you really going to let me pass you now?!" I said no way and floored it.

I pushed hard on the bike because I take the run portion for granted. I'm a runner after all. I killed the run at Patriot and figured I'd have no problem at Musselman. I was wrong.

Me casually typing out how wrong I was.
Photo Cr. Lois

I jumped off the bike and started running at a good pace. The first three miles were flat. Nice and easy along the lake. Around mile 3 you hit the first hill. Sorry, did I say hill? I meant STAIRS. I am not joking, you had to run up stairs. I stupidly assumed that this was the big hill the race coordinator had alluded to. So I said "no problem!" and flew up the steps. Then there was many more miles of hills. Hills hills hills. All going up. I tried to keep a decent pace but I started to think, "oh oh".

I was def missing my fun easy
runs from earlier in the week.

It was HOT. At every water stop I took two waters, one for my head and one for my mouth. And a gatorade. And a wet sponge. And a cup of ice. And all of that did jack sh!t to keep me hydrated and cool. I vaguely recalled from the meeting that the course went up and then down. As I neared the halfway point, I kept thinking, "ok, this is the last hill. Ok no this one. Ok this one has to be it."

Wrong every time. And then there it was: THE hill. Huge. Long. Awash in blazing sunlight. And it was loose gravel. This massive giant disgusting hill was just sand and pebbles. I thought, "f@#k my ego." And I walked. And I thought I was done with hills. And I was still wrong.

We're OK! Really!

There were hills up until about mile 8. There were a couple of big downhills, but I was too trashed by then to take advantage of them. I got slower and slower. At mile 10 I suddenly felt AWFUL. I was lightheaded, nauseated, blurry-eyed. I was stumbling around like a drunk on Mardi Gras. I was going to die. This is exactly the point when Carrie passed me going the other way (she was the last of the relay: Lois swimming, Sue biking, and Carrie running). She asked, "are you OK?" I must have looked really bad. When she crossed the finish later, the first thing she asked was, "did Peter make it?!"
We all crossed it.... eventually.

Barely. Right after she passed me, I realized I had to stop. I could barely stand. I also really needed to pee. So I walked behind a bush, pulled down my tri kit, and let loose. I was hoping it would be a sufficient break. It was not. I walked a little and found a park bench.

I sat down. I still felt delirious.

I lay down. I still felt delirious.

I closed my eyes. Finally I felt a little better.

And I took a nap.

Just two and a half miles shy of the finish of a Half Ironman, I lay down on a park bench and took a nap.

People ran by and asked if I was OK. I mindlessly gave a thumbs up, which pacified them all. "He gave a thumbs up! He's GREAT!"
He's great! He just needs coffee and nicotine!

There was a volunteer right there who kept checking on me. She was very nice. She offered me water. I didn't want to put her out. She said, "the aide station is right there." It was like 10 feet away. I hadn't even seen it. She got me water. I went back to napping. Finally after about 20 minutes (more? I finally stopped my watch) she came up and woke me up.

"Um, if you stay there, I'm going to have to call someone."

"Guess that means I have to finish the race, huh? Alright." I got up and kept going. I felt a LOT better. I managed a slow jog. Then two miles shy of the finish, Meghan caught up to me. She was also having a brutal day. She said, "come on. You GOT this." I don't know how, but I ran the last two miles at a 10 minute pace, the whole time Meghan next to me. She saved my a$$. We crossed the finish line together. I could not have thought of a better way - or with a better person - to finish the race with. I f@#king love Meghan.

Epic finishers.

And everyone was there. Jenn, Dawn, Chris, John, and Aria had all driven up to watch us. I was on the verge of death, but they reinvigorated me. I ate about 10 pounds of watermelon and a bagel. I hung out with them. We waited for Curt and Steve to finish. They killed their races. All of us did, even me, excluding the, um, napping portion. It was a really fantastic triathlon. Even the near-death experienced just added some "fun" spice to the adventure.

I nearly died and all I got was this t-shirt...
And this metal mussel. And this recycled gear.
OK worth it.

We hugged, took photos, and scattered. I went back to Corning with Aria because heck no was I done partying. I stopped by Wegmans to get Halo Top, and pizza was waiting for me by the time I got to Lois'. I vacuumed up food like it was my last day on earth. Jenn couldn't eat pizza because it would make her use her $650 Epi pen (but dang I was hoping!). Instead she made an epic sandwich out of left over shish kabobs and Marathon bread. She purred with delight as she ate it.

No joke.

Jeff Holbrook, who is the mayor of just everything, showed up. We made a fire in Lois' back yard and chilled for a long time. We talked a lot. I made a huge number of jokes about John's ten foot pole. I was high on endorphins and greasy food and I gave zero $hits about what I said. When we needed more firewood, I smashed massive tree boughs against a large rock. I was insane. It was amazing. We talked late into the night.
Smashin wood.
Photo Cr. Lois

This morning we ran. I ran two miles with Jenn. Then I ran 6 more miles with her, Curt, and Lois. My body was brutally sore but other than that I felt good. Screw rest. Then we had many tearful goodbyes and hugs. Now I'm here. My cat is avoiding me because she's mad at me. And I'm writing this blog. And I'm just.... overflowing with the amount of joy, love, and adventure I experienced in such a densely packed period of time. I can't overstate how incredible it was. For about 5 days I escaped life and just experienced the extremes of all the best things in life, non-stop.

Moments before a tearful goodbye.

Musselman blew me away with how well it was put on. It was exceptionally fun. The volunteers were amazing. Stephanie and Madison of the Gridley Inn were amazing. And the many many many transcendentally lovely friends I got to spend all of that time with.... I didn't think it was possible for me to love them more. But I do.

Just can't even handle how incredible
my friends are. Photo Cr. Lois

Lois said I should write my lessons from the races. Um, taper. Actually taper. Eat lots (I did that). Sleep lots (I didn't do that). Don't do the DoubleMussel (well, maybe once). Don't blow yourself up on the bike. Take nothing for granted. Two salt tablets is not enough. Drink more water than you think you need on the bike. Pay attention to volunteers who tell you slow down because otherwise you will go for another swim in Cayuga Lake. When a race director warns you about a hill.... F@#king open your ears. And most of all have fun. We train hard. We train like lunatics. We're perpetually sore and exhausted. And the night before a race we're stressed as h3ll. But.... remember why you do this.
I don't think we'll forget why we do this any time soon.

And this week reminded me of that. I survived. I ran two tris in a row and I crossed the finish lines both times and I got two medals. And I felt strong (95% of the time). And more importantly, I was surrounded by astonishingly generous, loving, uncouth, inspirational, self-aware, and powerfully driven people, all of whom I met thanks to my training. For those five days, I was ablaze with love and life.

Thank-you for reading.
Seriously. No joke.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

You Will Have Awful Workouts

You will have awful workouts. Maybe it's because you haven't recovered from your last workout. Maybe you didn't eat enough and have no energy. Maybe you didn't get any sleep. Maybe you have a pulled quad, or it's hot as h3ll, or you're just in a bad mood. Maybe you have no idea why the workout's sucking but it is (that's the worst).

It happens.

And sometimes you have a good workout, or even a great one, and then feel awful afterwards. Like you did this really epic thing: You went faster than usual, or farther than usual, or just did something that you totally didn't think your body was capable of. And then your "reward" is a day - or days - of pain, exhaustion, and all the emotional wreckage that comes with that.

That happens too.

And sometimes you get stuck in a cycle for days, or weeks, or even months, were you just oscillate between the two. An awesome workout that breaks you, followed by a bunch of weak workouts that make you doubt yourself. Then you recover and have another good workout and think, "aha, this is it!" And then it repeats.

Guess what, that is a thing that happens too.

If you're reading this, and you're a person who's just getting started on the long crazy road of training - whether it's for a marathon, or a triathlon, or a tennis tournament, or a powerlifting meet, or just anything - you might be thinking, "ugh. No." It kind of sounds like I'm trying to dissuade you, doesn't it? I'm kind of making it sound like a disaster.

But I've chosen it. And all of that cr@p has happened to me, a lot. And then afterwards I've chosen it again. Except more so. Harder. With more pain. And I know lots of people who've also made that choice, and experienced the pain and struggle and self-doubt. And then afterwards have done it all over again. Harder. With more pain.

It sounds insane right? It sounds like we're all masochists. Like we hate ourselves. Like we're punishing ourselves.

I'm going tell you something that's going to sound unbelievable. We were punishing ourselves.... before we started on this crazy road. When we weren't breaking ourselves and remaking ourselves and breaking ourselves again... that haze of life when we were just floating, living up to the expectations of others, just following a path that we were told to follow without knowing where it would lead.... that's when we were punishing ourselves.

I may doubt my ability to swim a certain speed, or bike a certain distance, or lift a certain weight, or run on dead legs. But I don't doubt myself for choosing to try. That I chose to train so that the next time I try, I have a better chance to succeed. Because that choice is freedom. That choice is power.

There are two signs leading to two roads.

The first sign says, "this is the safe road. There's nothing really exceptional about it. It's comfortable. You don't have to think. It's the same road almost everyone else walks. Parts of it sucks, but it's the same suck everyone else goes through. You can have a beer and eat a cake and whine to each other. And then you reach the end and.... that's it."

The second sign says, "this road is hard. Really hard. You'll have to fight ever step of the way. Very few take this road. It will leave you bloody and beaten and broken. But at the end of the road is you. The real you. The you that's had all fear and hesitancy and sense of purposelessness scrubbed away by all those painful obstacles. At the end you will be a jewel smoothed away of all imperfection."

Oh, I forgot the fine print on the first sign: "When you reach the end of this road, you will wish you had taken the second road."

And that's why I suffer. Over and over. I don't want my life to be just bills, and traffic, and shallow friends (who think you're just as shallow), and insurance claims, and doctors who tell me to just take these pills, and a vague sense that I'm not striving for anything, and a vague promise that I'll do it.... "some day".

I want to be able to say, "I chose this." I chose to fight these battles, because the cause is worthy. I chose to break myself, because when I heal, I will be stronger. And not just in body, though hopefully that too. But in spirit. A spirit that's been washed clean of the emotional poison that we inflict upon ourselves and upon each other.

A spirit that says, "I took the second road, and now I am whole."

Monday, July 3, 2017

Running with Aria

Yesterday I was running with Aria, baking in the sun, my body complaining at me. It was her longest run ever, and rather than succumbing to my body's screaming desire for rest, I joined her on her epic adventure. I told her I had to write a post on my blog but that I wasn't sure what to write about.

"You should write how your bicycled for 6 hours on the stationary bike Saturday, and then ran 16 miles with me today," she suggested.

"Well it's not really about showing off. I can't just write that and nothing else. I need some context," I replied, meaning that I needed an "excuse" to boast. I mean, it is my blog, but still.

"Well then write about never giving up. Being strong and always pushing forward."

"I'm pretty sure I say that in every post."

Aria's training for Wineglass marathon. It'll be her first marathon! It'll be my third time doing it. Unlike me though, Aria's got an actual coach: Her father Geoffrey! And he's awesome. And this year it's going to be a massive LUNAR (Lace up Now and Run) reunion, which is explosively exciting.

"How many marathons have you done?" She asked.

"9? I think?" I answered, counting on my fingers," including my solo marathon on New Years." Aria looked suitably impressed.

"What was that like?"

"Long. But it was nice. Just me and the snow, and moonlight reflecting off the eyes of wild animals."

"Aaugh, I don't think I could deal with that," she replied, referring to the nightlife. I shrugged. I told her I did it with no food and water. She said I was an idiot.

"What? It's not like I sweat much. But yes, I am very dumb. For example I'm running 16 miles with you right now even though I'm totally broken."

Dangerous wildlife.

I explained to her the psychology of running. That, yes, you train the body. But even more so, you train the mind. That every time you run, you teach your brain that you can handle a little more. Most of our limitations are imposed by our brains. And every time you do a longer or harder run, your mind says, "hmm, ok, I can handle that." And you push a little more the next time.

Eventually our conversation fell away and was replaced by miles of huffing and puffing. It was hot. I had told Aria that, doing my training for the Ironman, these long runs no longer seemed that big a deal. I ran 20 miles the previous weekend, and told her it felt... short. She didn't believe me. Maybe that was just a fluke though, because I was definitely feeling every single mile of these 16.

There was a time when I was in her shoes, where I was pushing my mileage, training for my first marathon (Wineglass #1 incidentally). Well, not counting Lake Placid, which I prefer to sweep under the rug. There was a time when even 1 mile was hard for me. This led me into a story about my dogs, who got me into running.

Aria's got a much better start than I did. She's serious and dedicated. She's following an actual training plan. I told her how amazing it is that she's doing that at 23. It took me until my 30's before I buckled down and became a grown up. She's got a drive and purpose that I was sorely lacking at her age. 23 is when I started drinking and partying, and it went downhill from there.
This is what I was doing in my 20's.
Boy, that's embarrassing. Just, really embarrassing.

A lot of the folks on LUNAR are older. They're parents. They have careers. They're put-together. And that's awesome. Because for them to balance a crazy training schedule with their busy lives is nigh-unbelievable. For a lot of people, I think they took the responsibility they learned from working, raising kids, and maintaining a household, and applied it to running.

But for Aria, this is something she just decided to do. At the risk of sound like a jerk, she's in the position of a lot of 20-somethings. She's not sure what her place in life is yet, what she wants to do, where she's going to end up. She's a great person with lots of options, but having too many options can be paralyzing. A lot of youngsters are raised with delusions about being "whatever they want" and end up being nothing for a long time.

Running though is a fantastic focus. It trains your mind, your body, and your spirit. It strengthens you in a way that few other things do. It teaches you to pick a single goal that matters to you, and to work your a$$ off every day to achieve it. You're not taught that in school. It's a lesson you learn on your own, often late (as was the case with me).

And thanks to that lesson I'm a
happy and healthy human being!

And on top of that, you join an incredible community. With today's addiction to electronics and social media, many have lost that sense of closeness and connection. To see Aria training hard and sharing her successes and challenges with like-minded people who are all equally passionate (= crazy) is incredible.

I'm really proud of her, super impressed, and excited for her future. I'll keep tagging along on her runs while I can, so I can leach off some of the joy and excitement of running for the first time. To remind myself why I got into all of this in the first place. And to remind myself what I've accomplished. Here's to Aria and all the other runners. Keep going! And don't mind the glowing eyes in the dark!