Monday, October 15, 2018

Empire State Marathon 2018

Photo cr. Friend of the runners

Empire State has always been a rough marathon for me. In 2016 it was right in the middle of three marathons in a row (4 within 5 weeks of each other). In 2017 it was right after Wineglass. I tried to pace my brother Alex and blew up about mile 18. I barely survived thanks to a new friend I met on the course. This year it was a whole two weeks after Wineglass, and I ran it with Emily and Kristina. It hurt a lot but it was super fun!

None of us were sure what to expect. I'd stalled out at mile 23 at Wineglass and my knee was still hurting. Emily hadn't run a marathon in two years due to some terrible health issues. And this was Kristina's first marathon! Just two months prior she'd run her first half marathon, also with me and Emily (and Alex). None of us were expecting miracles. We just wanted to finish with smiles.

This finish.
I went up on Saturday to pick up my bib. I coasted down Bridge St. looking for Fleet Feet. I'd been there last year and thought for sure it was on this side of the street. Finally I thought I'd missed it and parked in a lot. I got out of the car. And there it was, across from the street from me. Gah! I dangerously crossed four lanes of traffic and went in.

I picked up my bib, and then casually said to the lady, "sooo, I can't get bibs for my friends, right?"

"Well, you're not supposed to, buuttt...." She started, looking around secretively. She explained what a pain it was to give out packets on Sunday morning. Then she called over another guy to do the dark deed.

"So what's your friend's name?" He asked. Um. I had no clue. Kristina had three last names. Who the frog knows which one she was registered under. I tried one; no luck. I stepped out of line. I messaged them. Then I looked up the results from Cortland Triathlon. Proud of myself I gave him her name.

He started typing it in, and I saw her name pop up on his screen with a still different name. "That's her!" I quickly said. "And that's the other one!" I said when I saw Emily pop up under her emergency contacts. I hoped he didn't hear me because I immediately realized that's generally frowned up (using another runner as your contact). Awesome, two rules broken already.

"How many rules did we break??"
Photo cr. Kristina

It still took him a while to find her bib because he couldn't remember which of the myriad names I'd given to look under. It seriously looked like I was making people up and stealing their bibs. I signed Emily's name on her waiver with an "E" and Kristina's with half a "K". Not even a whole K. My finger got tired. Then he gave me a spiel I was expected to remember. Something about the drop bag.

As soon as I had the bags I ran the heck out of there as if I'd just robbed a register. I breathed deep once I got outside, my ill-gotten goods clutched in my grubby hands.

I got up the next morning at 5am. Oh right, this is why I don't sign up for more races. I didn't even eat any food or drink any coffee. I just lounged on the couch for an hour and left at 6. It was cold and dark. I got to Syracuse and it was still cold and dark. I went into the stadium and pretended to be purposeful. While I aimlessly looked out into the ball field, Emily and Kristina came out of the ladies bathroom behind me. Who knows what magical things go on in there. Certainly not pooping. Women don't do that.

As we headed back down the steps together, Kristina said, "I wish I had money. I'd pay you to climb on that horse." She pointed at a psychedelic horse on a wall by the steps. Emily (correctly), stated, "you don't need to pay him. Suggest something crazy and he'll just do it anyway." How does she know me so well?

Photo Cr. Kristina

I climbed up the wall and stood by the horse. I touched it, almost a caress. I pushed on it. That was not a steady horse. I looked at the barely secured bolts. Clearly I wasn't the only troublemaker with this idea. I had to run a marathon and decided not to risk my life. They took a picture.

We sat inside Emily's truck for a while. It was full of saws for some reason. Just.... saws. Emily and I were pretty relaxed. Neither of us were tense at all. We've run too many races. More specifically, we've had enough terrible races that there was no way this one would be the worst. For Kristina, it would be both her best and worst marathon. Ha! I went to get coffee.

Photo Cr. Kristina

"Do you take card?" I asked the lady at the Dunkin Donuts in the stadium.

"No, my boss was late and a cat ate the chip reader and a tornado carried off the wifi," I don't actually remember the reasons why.

"Oh, I don't have cash," I said, my eyes brimming with tears.

"I'll just give it to you," she said in a kindly tone. "What do you want?"

"Oh, uh, 4 bagels, 10 bananas, 3 coffees, um, and those pastries." Just kidding, I got a coffee. The lesson I was getting from this weekend was that I could flash my dimples and get race packets and coffee. Hmmm....

We lounged around some more. I finally put my robe and scarf and hat in my car. I had dressed very warmly. It wasn't even 40 out. Emily and Kristina had dressed like Siberian ninjas. We eventually got back into the stadium.

Would have rather stayed in the car...

The race was starting on the field! Squeal! It was always supposed to but this was the first year it actually did. The race director encouraged us to put our belongings in the bleachers. "Just don't put anything valuable there, lolz!" We didn't do that.

Emily and I were still indifferent about running a marathon. It was just a (very) long run to us. I imagine Kristina was pretty excited, but she was keeping it cool in front of us hardened veterans. She did mention that up until 3 months ago, her longest run had been 6 miles. I said, "it's just like 4 of those! Um, plus a little more. Um, and super terrible at the end. But ya know, no big deal!" In retrospect, I was giving a lot of backhanded encouragement.

Bang! We started running. My legs hurt almost immediately but I ignored it. The weather was perfect. We lost layers pretty quickly, and by mile 8 I'd lost my shirt altogether (go figure). I'm terrible with remembering conversation, but let me see what I can recall by way of "encouragement."

"So this first 3 miles along the parkway... it's going to be absolutely awful on the return trip. But, um, nervermind! We're going to have a great race!"

"So it's just this, then a jaunt through the park, then and out and back through a neighborhood, and then back to the lake and out and back on the other side, and then back through the park again, and then down the super terrible parkway. And then that's it! It's done!"

"See that line in the trees super far away across the lake? We're going to be running there. Isn't that exciting?"

"I used to think a towpath was a toepath. Because you run on it with your toes. Um, get it? I think we're supposed to pull a boat. Um, so be ready for that."

Not pictured: boats.
Photo cr: Friend of the runners

We passed Mason in the park. He's in LUNAR too. He yelled at us and I yelled at him. I did a lot of yelling. We passed by an old guy who said, "looking good guys!" and I yelled back, "YOU look good!" He had a nice beard. We passed a guy with a totally epic shirt. It was silk, or satin, or something, with a crazy pattern. He complimented me on my kilt and I on his shirt. I was in full obnoxious kilted glory.

I was totally on point with the photographers. I spotted every. Single. One. Emily and I would be in the middle of conversation and I would suddenly snap my head forward with a big grin and start pointing and flexing with my arms. She thought I was going insane. Every. Time. I can't wait to see those photos, because I'll be smiling and pointing and Emily will be looking at me sideways with a confused frown on her face.

"How do you see the photographers?" She asked.

"Actually I'm just pointing and screaming at trees," I replied. And from that point, every few miles I would randomly point and yell, "TREE." Always when they least expected it. Super fun for me. And only me.

The first half flew by pretty easily. The out and back on the west side of the lake (the Toepath) is pretty lonely, with all the trees blocking your view. Emily turned on her music and became a one woman party. I noticed at one point a guy who was struggling stuck with us for several miles and only left after her batteries ran out. Coincidence? Kristina and I were grateful for the epic music party; I'd run out of stupid things to say.

"How is her hair always perfect?" Kristina asked at one point as we followed Emily, who was bouncing to the music, her perfect hair tinkling in the sunlight like tinsel. Occasionally I asked Kristina how she was doing.

"Everything hurts, but I'm fine," she replied. "I'm fine" was her motto. I joked about whose idea it was to sign up for the marathon anyway. Each of us shifted the blame to the other.

"Hey, I know you've enjoyed a life of comfort, happiness, and ease. Let me fix that by signing you up to suffer pure torture for 5 hours," I said.

"You think my life has been easy?" Kristina replied. Well played, Batman.

We hit the turnaround at 16. "Only ten more miles left!" I exclaimed. I always forget that marathons are long. "TREE," I yelled at about 19. Then we finally got out of the Toepath and crossed the bridge.

"Alright! Just a run through this park and then super horrible awful last three miles on the parkway and then we're done!" I stated happily. Encouragement to the max.

We saw a ton of dogs in the park. Emily wanted to cuddle all of them, and said as much every single time we passed one. I saw a little dog on the path on a leash, held by one lady, being photographed by a second lady with her phone. As I ran past I stooped over and gave a thumbs up, trying to photobomb the little pooch. Emily again gave me a confused sidelong frown. "How do you see those cameras?!" After that I forewarned the ladies when I saw a camera, so we could all smile.

Smiles are the best.

Finally we hit the parkway. I pointed out how the sun would blind us and the expansive pavement would radiate heat up at us. They didn't appreciate it. Emily, who'd been 100% fine up to this point, suddenly got super wobbly.

"I've just lost all control of my body and even my eyelids don't work right anymore." She was fine. Kristina, who looked like she'd been through a war, was also fine.

"I feel like I'm running through lava," I said, "lava full of pins. And two sharks.  And there's bears around us, swatting us so we can't get out of the lava pit. And the sharks are clamping on to us; they want us to haul them out of the lava pit, because it's not super comfortable for them either. But the bears won't let us out." It was a very involved scenario.

Kristina refused to surrender. It was the farthest she'd ever run and she just kept on going. We never took a walk break. We were all suffering and we were all totally committed to finishing. Though I did eye the golfcarts jealously as they cruised by.

After a million years we rounded the last bend. "The stadium is right there!" I lied. When we finally saw it we started sprinting with pent up joy.

"Let's fake smiles for the cameras at the end!" I exclaimed.

"I won't need to fake it," Kristina replied. Heart. Melts. Emily lead the way with her perfect hair. We blasted across the finish line and the 5 gruesome hours were wiped from our brains. We took a selfie, mingled a bit, and then scattered. I don't think any of us did any more moving that way. Except to shovel food in our faces.

It was a truly epic and wondrous adventure. My mind is always blown by the strength and will of others. Emily and Kristina ran nonstop for almost 5 hours straight. Pain is like an old comfortable blanket to me, I don't think much about it. To see others demonstrate such indomitable tenacity... that's incredible. I'll never get tired of that. A big thank you to them for tolerating my kilt, and a big thank you to all the race crew, volunteers, police officers, and spectators (and cute dogs) that make Empire State a grand experience! Every year I tell myself it'll be the last time, and every year I'm glad it wasn't.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Wineglass 2018

Almost a year ago Mike Hammond deleted me from his friends list. This past weekend he added me back on. This was somewhere in the middle of him grumbling about how I misrepresented him in my blog about Boston Marathon ("You and Charles dropped deuces too!"), coaching Lauren on her epic *pineapple*, harassing Wineglass volunteers on my lawn, and sleeping in my sun-room. He explained his reasons outside in the dark, where we stood like a pair of illicit moonlit lovers. It was followed by hugs.

That in a nutshell encompasses my previous year (maybe with less poop jokes). I lost a lot of friends, or at least I thought I did. That happened while I was in the middle of buying a house, a difficult and prolonged process. It happened while I was suffering through terrible health issues that landed me in the hospital (but CaT scans are fun!). During one of the most stressful and trying times of my life, I often felt alone (except for one magical person). It was a result of miscommunication, allowing things to balloon in my head (as I'm wont to do), and at least one person who wanted to actively hurt me.

This past weekend I realized that I still have a huge amount of love in my life, many many people who care about me. Wineglass weekend has always been an incredible experience for me. I had no idea what it would be like this year. I thought that it would be comparatively reserved: A little bit of running, a few polite hugs, no big deal.  I wasn't really sure where everyone was at, and I didn't want to place any expectations. I love my friends and fellow runners, but there had been a lot of drama and hardship in the past year. I thought it would be a quiet weekend.

I was wrong.

You were wrong.

It was an amazing weekend. Wonderful people swarmed my house and filled it with vegan snacks, laughs, and love (the laughs and love were also vegan). Stories were told, tears were shed, friendships were rekindled. I was blown away. I had allowed the malice of one person to infect my soul, and I hadn't realized how much damage it had done. In speaking with these amazing people, I realized that they hadn't resented me. They'd been just as bewildered as I by the whirlwind of BS that had swirled up. There still exists some hurt, but the weekend did a lot to heal it. There was a lot of beauty of the heart, and I felt whole.

That's a long and sappy intro.

After last year's Wineglass, Lauren was looking for a place to stay this year for her first Wineglass. I of course offered my house. I didn't actually own the house yet, but I'm not one to worry about trivialities. So first I had to buy a house. Check! Then I had to renovate a spare bedroom for her. Errr, that took a while and the spackle job is awful and I definitely needed lots of help, but check! Then I stuffed it with stolen (borrowed!) furniture so it looked like a bedroom. Phew! I was ready to host a single guest.

Then two more people came to stay.

Wait, scratch that, three.

No wait, four.


I told them all to go sleep in the port-o-potty across the street from me. No! Of course I told them all to stay. I didn't care. I wanted all the lovelies!

Port-O-Potties were a popular attraction...

First Jenn and Michael, paragons of planning (cough), needed a place to crash. My mystical fey accomplice and I did a rush job on the other unrenovated spare bedroom to make it livable. Air mattress. Pow! Hastily purchased used chair. Boom! Curtains. Whammo! They're two of my favorite people in the world and I would make all sorts of exaggerated promises to lure them to my den. Success!

Marti arrived with Lauren and asked if she could stay too. What? Yes! Lauren described Marti as her "safety blanket" and I wouldn't deprive her of that. You see, Lauren had driven from Illinois to Indianapolis (I just looked up what state that's in... Don't judge me!). Then the two had driven a million miles to get to Corning. Shawn had offered her his home, but he was 40 minutes away. He'd also had some challenging times lately and she didn't want to put him out. Shawn is an amazing and generous person, and anything I can do to reduce his burden I will gladly do. I told Marti and Lauren, I hope you two are OK with snuggling! They were.

And the last person.... hold on! Just wait.

The four guests arrived at about 5. Shawn was hosting a dinner at the Central in Painted Post. Instead, everyone first demanded to go to the Confluence Running Store to get slick Wineglass shades. Apparently they were selling like hot cakes and everyone was feverish to get a pair. Who am I to argue! In fact, they were so eager to get there, Michael ran a red light. He promised to write a letter to Corning regarding the confusing lane markings: Nobody in particular, just "Corning", as in, "Dear Corning, I was so flustered by the lanes that don't go where I thought they'd go, I turned on a red light that said no turn on red. It made me slightly anxious for a couple seconds. Sincerely yours, Michael xxxooo."

Disclaimer: I delve deeply into hyperbole and will admit to no actual traffic infractions.

They bought sunglasses.

We showed up to the Central fashionably late. There were two large tables outside for the many LUNAR folks who gathered. We ate, socialized, and got devoured by mosquitoes. It was a feast for all. There were a lot of self-professed introverts present. I made sure to harass them the most. Runners are super cool. I find that their passion for running makes them passionate in life. They're such vibrant and positive people, even the ones who trek out of their homes but once a year. The waitresses were super accommodating, so I made sure to shower them with silliness as well. The food was delish, and all-you-can-drink water? Bonus!

We came back home. We were family and it felt like home. We kept eating and talking, and stayed up way too late. At some point, Lauren and I went on a 2 mile run. That was more exercise than I'd planned, but I wasn't going to see some vagabond abscond with her. Jenn and I discussed her labia some more (er, labrum...). Curt also came to hang out, so it was a big warm group. Jenn and Michael went to Wegmans for snacks (#1). They love Wegmans (or "Weegmans", as Mike Hammond calls it).

Friday was the first time that Jenn and Lauren - the "twinsies" - met. They don't look anything alike, except that they each weigh less than an overstuffed suitcase. They have the same birthday though. We waited with baited breath to discover that they had been secretly switched at birth, but no, they weren't born on the same day. We reconnected and sucked Lauren into our vortex of giggles and absurdities. Lauren was nervous about the race; she had been training super hard all year. The rest of us were pretty blase about it (as evidenced by lack of sleep and snack choices).

I have a note here that says "port-o-potty". There was a port-o-potty across the street from me. Ummm....  Let's bookmark it for now.

Curt had invited me to bike Saturday morning to spectate the Corelle 5k. In lieu of getting adequate sleep after a late night, I set my alarm and joined him at 7:30. We encountered a number of familiar faces and cheered on the runners. Shawn ran with his wife Kim, and Jeff - the Mayor of Everything - and many other swell folks. It was a great time and I only got splattered by a couple stray water cups. There was one point we almost got chased off the road, but we survived. We'd volunteered last year but it wasn't going to happen this year, so we had to resort to wheeled tomfoolery. I later apologized to Sheila for our trespass but she didn't seem terribly upset. I got lots of hugs though!

Curt, I think we're in the clear!

I recognize that I make lots of inside jokes, and seem to make light of maybe serious things. I love Wineglass, as does Curt and everybody else who congregates in Corning for this incredible weekend. I want to participate and support the community as much as I can. I'm indifferent to status seekers, which (rarely) irks some of those who go through the trouble to don a reflective green vest. I've worn that green vest and blown the cheap whistle with its broken compass. I'd like to think that the LUNAR family makes WG weekend extra special. I love seeing people with smiles (or grimaces) on their faces accomplishing amazing things they didn't think were possible.

OK, back to the levity.

By the time I returned, my non-voluntary cat sitters had roused themselves. Well, I guess I can't call them cat sitters if there's no cat. You see, she had sneaked out the door and f*cked right off into the darkness. She did eventually return, and immediately fell in love with all the ladies. That turncoat! Anyway she was gone and everyone was worried and we all went for a 3 mile run (non-sequitur ftw).

"She's mine now." ~ Lidka

While I was biking, Jenn and Michael went to Wegmans (#2) and bought me a waffle iron. Then Jenn made us waffles. Many many waffles. We planned to go to the Expo, but first we had to wait for Mike Hammond to arrive. Surprise! Yes, I told him he could stay. He said he could sleep in his car. I told him if he was going to freeze, he might as well do it in my sun-room.

Mike was Lauren's coach. He'd planned on surprising her at the finish line of the marathon, but his schedule allowed him to arrive earlier. Lauren's discussion of his coaching style presented the word "pineapple". Michael still doesn't know what it means, so I will keep it a secret from you too. Just know that the word pineapple was used many times throughout the weekend, and always amidst fits of laughter.

In fact, when he walked through the door, I expected Lauren to shout, "pineapple!" It was a nice surprise. We barely gave Michael a moment to catch his breath before we went to the Expo. We encountered a lot of folks there and did the Expo thing. I discovered that the story of our clandestine bike ride was spreading like wildfire, which was sort of amazing; in fact I even overheard the ghastly story myself being relayed in the kind of voice that's usually reserved for campside ghost stories. I saw Burt Yasso at the Expo; he recognized me by my kilt and we fist-bumped. He'd also run the 5k that morning. Awesome guy.

I ran into Meghan there, which was a treat. I believe she too has felt like she lost friends over the past year, for related reasons. My cohorts and I all spoke of her with love in our hearts and wished we could've spent more time with her. It pains me that distance had been created in our family. There are some connections that I fear may never be repaired; those will be great losses. Anybody reading this who feels alone; you're not. Many of the demons we envision are illusions and propaganda. I'll avoid singling anyone out though.

For each painful moment, there were a hundred wonderful ones.

We all got together at the Raddison afterwards for a LUNAR meet-and-greet. There were familiar faces, new faces, and faces that were missed. I teased Lauren about being a terrible introvert. I teased Siobahn about being a terrible introvert. In fact, I noticed that quite a few runners consider themselves introverts. I certainly do. One fellow in particular, Tony, was so terrified of coming out that the only person he said "hi" to last year was me. I was half-conscious on a bench at the time (a common occurrence). He came to the Raddison Saturday and we all saw his handsome face. Love this group.

We talked a lot. We snacked. There were chocolate chip cookies that were super salty. Like, someone had used salt instead of flour. I joked that they'd be perfect for the runners at mile 22.

"Hey boss, we're out of sugar."

"Just put in something that looks the same."

"Like salt?"


Eventually it was time to get everyone together for the group photo. Shawn told me to rally the troops. I think he expected me to walk around, politely insert myself into the conversation with a "pssst, I'm terribly sorry to intrude; your story about pooping at mile 15 sounds fascinating. Just an FYI, we're going to take photos soon! OK, have a great day!" That's.... definitely not my style. Instead, I yelled out loud, my voice reverberating throughout the entire hotel, "PHOTO TIME." Shawn's reaction can be described as surprised-but-not-surprised.

We went outside and took some photos. I sat on the ground with my legs spread eagle. Aria suddenly got very concerned about whether I was wearing underwear under my kilt. After the photo we... stayed there, for another hour I think. I zoned out. My social juices were drained. I finally made an effort to extricate my cat sitters. Turns out they'd all been ready to go eat, but had been too polite to do so. Go figure. Maybe I should have yelled "DINNER TIME." We went and got burritos.

We returned to the house to eat, some of us anyway. Lauren, Mike Hammond, and Marti vanished. I still don't know where. Jenn and Michael went to Wegmans (#3) to get super absorbent......  things. And Halo Top. After we all regrouped we hung around and discussed which college football fans are the worst. I didn't know you could get your car keyed for being from the "wrong" school. Then Michael went through Lauren's race plan for the following morning. Pineapple. He had her entire mile-by-mile pace breakdown typed out. Pineapple. He told her if she ran a sub 8 on her last mile, that would be great. Pineapple pineapple pineapple.

We noticed a couple volunteers stop outside the house to plant a sign for the water drop. Mike Hammond went out to cause some trouble. "Did you get permission to cross this lawn?" He boomed. Deer-in-headlights look. He smirked. Death glare. He then tried to follow with polite conversation and failed miserably. Mike returned and relayed the interaction. I was surprised-not-surprised. Mike has very little in the way of a filter. Pineapple. That's why we love him. Also, I'll probably be blamed.

All sorts of shenanigans happened.

We again stayed up too late. Some of us were nervous wrecks. Some of us were still blase. Jenn and Marti and Mike Hammond were spectating, so they were just cheerful about not running (#jealous).

Sunday we said screw the race and slept until noon. At least that's the dream I had. We were all up by 5. Coffee bubbled. Bagels and bananas were devoured. I apparently was nervous enough to have six (6!) poops, not quite a record. Michael had to resort to the Port-O-Potty (Carrie said it made my place a 1.5 bath house...). None of us were like, "omg it's marathon time!", except Lauren, who was effervescing pineapples. Mike Hammond came out in running cloths and for a moment she panicked that he was going to run with her. He was just going to run back home after dropping us and the car off.

It was still dark as we crossed the bridge to get to the buses. We ran into Chris #DD and got mucho hugs. This year he was volunteering. Last year the bus had me, Chris, Michael, and Carrie. This year it was me, Carrie, Michael, and Lauren. It was the anniversary marathon for me and Carrie. The whole weekend had been delightfully sprinkled by her presence, like an ephemeral sprite. I tried to recall our conversation from last year and only remembered "barnacles." Lauren was worried that it was going to rain, but Carrie told her it was just "drippy fog". It was a bold-faced lie.

Of course, I insisted the rain would stop by the time the race started. I checked my weather app. I spoke with authority. The whole time we hung around at the race start they were convinced the rain would stop. They were like, "Peter knows! He wouldn't trick us!"


We kept our robes on for as long as we could. Yes, robes. Carrie lent Lauren Chris's bright orange XXL Ragnar robe, which she drowned in. The two ladies were bright orange beacons that I could see from a mile away. I never lost them. We encountered Curt, Dawn, Aria and Jeff at the race start. We were all wet and excited. At the last minute we stuffed our robes into our drop bags and rushed to the start. I punched through the crowd with Carrie and Lauren following in my plaid wake. Then the race started. Eek! I yelled at Sheila and we were off!

It rained. We ran with Lauren for a couple miles before her super legs carried her away. We ran the very familiar course, making the same old jokes about how stupid we were. Our promises of "never running again" were obvious lies and brought little comfort. It rained. The crowd of runners was very dense. We darted around like gazelles trapped in a pride of lions. People cheered. We spotted Meghan and Geoffrey at about Mile 5. It rained.

That sounds depressing. I was having fun. Running a marathon for me is about the people I'm with. The race itself is just a long run, but the people make it cheerful and energetic. That's why I pick Wineglass every year: For the people. It certainly isn't for the weather!

Jennifer caught up with us in Savona. She had messaged me a few months ago about pacing her. I couldn't commit to that as I knew I'd be running with Carrie, but it was nice to bump into her. Carrie stopped to pee after many comments about how nice it would be to have a penis. We continued. It rained.

Car is definitely a better way to go, or at least drier

I hadn't trained for a marathon. I knew I had the endurance; I'd done Lake Placid 70.3 just 3 weeks prior. My legs though weren't used to that much nonstop running though. Between 22 and 23 they were hurting. I have another marathon in two weeks, so rather than risk injury I just told Carrie to go on without me. She was having a fantastic race and had a real shot of beating 4 hours. That surprised her. She'd been unhappy with her training and wasn't expecting any magic, but she was going strong and didn't want to stop!

I slowed down a lot and took it easy. I had no goal. The three Wineglass marathons I had run prior had finishing times of 3:14:30, 5:42, and 3:59.... sooo, it didn't matter much. Right next to my house, Curt caught up with me. He saw I was struggling and stuck with me. I kept trying to take breaks and he didn't let me. We encountered a man running with his wife on their 26th anniversary, on the same date that they had met. He was running around in circles and yelling jubilantly; she was just trying to survive. It was cute.

The last few miles of the course were different than last year. It no longer crossed the tombs of kings (Kingsbury Ave.). Having moved to Corning, the neighborhoods were familiar, and made the end seem much shorter. Before we knew it, Curt and I were crossing Bridge St. As we turned onto Market St. we both picked up our pace until we were sprinting to the finish. It wasn't a race. We just wanted to finish strong, with love and pride in our hearts. It rained.

Then I was done.

Then the awesomeness swept me up.

Carrie had figured as long as she beat 4:25, she'd be OK. She not only beat 4 hours, but she beat her last year's time by almost two full minutes. It was ridiculous. It was stupid. It was impossible. She was laughing. She got hugs from Chris and many cheers.

How did Lauren do? You already know because she's been shouting it from the rooftops. She BQ'd. She finished under 3:35.  Her previous PR was 4:11. That's a ridiculous improvement! She annihilated the race. She was a kid in a swimming pool of candy. She couldn't contain her joy. She almost froze to death, but a quick visit to the Med Tent, with Martha snapping and growling at the medics to treat her "daughter" right, fixed her up. We all congregated at Poppleton's afterwards with huge grins and space blankets. The mood was euphoric!

Mike Hammond couldn't repress his joy. He cried big fat tears. We were all overwhelmed. When one of us achieves something amazing, we all celebrate. Their hug stretched out so long that I finally said, "Pineapple!" I understood: It was like watching his own daughter succeed. Eventually most of us headed back home. Lauren, Mike and Martha took an extra half hour. Apparently Poppleton's had to make her an extra special coffee, brewed from the nipple secretions of mystical unicorns.

We collapsed, only stirring ourselves to take turns showering. Shawn invited us to a get together at his house. He pushed it back 2 hours and we were still an hour late. I showed up in sweat pants; everyone else dressed nice. I gorged myself on tacos and pizza and fruit. I made vague attempts at socializing. I crashed into a lady and splattered the world with dressing. The guys sat outside for a while and got eaten by mosquitoes. I watched Lauren be an ecstatic celebrity (introvert my a$$!).


We gassed out pretty quickly and headed out, leaving the food table a half eaten disaster. Kim offered me leftovers and I just stared, dumbfounded, unable to process the concept. We got home and Michael and Jenn immediately went to Wegmans (#4). In the meantime, we threw a mattress on the floor, and when they returned we had a snuggle party while watching Scott Pilgrim VS the World. We also watched Lauren pop the world's largest blister. It was like a blister that had a foot attached to it. I took a 3 minute video. There was plenty of oozing going around.

Marti and Loren had to get up super early to leave. I set my alarm for 5:40 so I could see them off, but they had already left, so I went back to bed. When I got up again, the remainder of us met Curt on Market St. for a shakeout run. It was slow and painful - a squadron of toddling penguins. Eventually everyone left, and I was left alone with my cat and a pile of snacks.

What an astonishing weekend! Thank-you Jenn, Michael, Lauren, Martha, and Mike Hammond for filling my house with affection, gross jokes, and Maxipads. Thank-you to Carrie for being responsible and making everything come together so all the guests weren't sleeping in my garage, and for being a heaping pile of divine wonder. Thank-you Shawn for making all of this love possible through LUNAR and your kindness and inspiration. Thank-you Curt for being such a noble human. Thank-you to the many many folks who make the running community so amazing. Thank-you to Sheila and the many people involved in making Wineglass the best marathon!

The end!

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!