Training and General Outdoors Stuff

The People in My Neighborhood: The Big Dogs

Why do we have friends? Do we keep them around to prevent from being lonely? Do we have them because they make us laugh? Is it because they keep us sane? Because they bolster us?

I think all of my friends are incredible people. They’re all beautiful and they all have something great to offer, even if it is just something as basically vital as a voice on the other end of the line.

But in many ways, my friends are so vastly different from me. Like, my friend Kate is a really good literary agent, but that’s not something I’d ever want to try. And my friend Aileen is a die-hard classic New Yorker, but I don’t know how to be one of those, really, beyond loving the city and knowing it. My other friend Kate is a really good outdoors and travel journalist–something I always thought I wanted to do, but which proved not only outside of my ken, but outside of my area of interest, no matter how much I tried to force it.

So you see, I think of my friends as silos–perfect in their individual pursuits, which may not be for me.

Sport does bind us together. Jim and I have many friends that we’ve either followed into a race or friends we’ve tried to get into racing in some way, shape or form. But I was always more support crew or guide: “Here, you should try this sport. It’s super fun. Don’t worry, I’ll be the slowest on the course, so I’ll look out for you.”

Here’s proof:

Of the ten people in this photo (October 2001), only two did not race. I’m one of them.

Anyhow. I’m sure part of this is self-defense. I know I’m not willing to put in the time to train to the point where I can do a marathon in 3:30, or even 3:45. And I know I’m not a gifted enough athlete, although I did have some kind of competitive streak when I was younger. (Have you seen it lying around? I’d kind of like it back, please. Kind of.)

But last week, while I was mucking around in Surrey with Lara and Jody, I caught a flutter of feeling something new in my chest: aspiration.

It happened while I was chugging up a hill, chasing Lara and Jody. Jody’d just completed a fifty-mile race over the Grand Tetons. Lara is, in general, a conscientious and meticulous athlete. Both are stronger than I am by leaps and bounds, but both are generous with their abilities: they invite me places and whenever Jody comes to stay she invites me to run with her. When I went to visit her in North Carolina, where she lives, she encouraged me to “bring trail running shoes.”

Perhaps I should be more obvious: Jody is a four-time Ironman. Between her first Ironman and her second, she took an hour off her time. Her regular marathon time is well below four hours.

Lara’s first Ironman time was around 13 hours. She’s remarkably gifted on the bike, as far as I can tell, and manages her six-foot frame like grace incarnate. (Why, yes, your friendly local short and stubby over here is jealous. Thanks for asking.)

Anyhow. So there we were, mucking up this hill. Me, panting. I don’t know what Lara and Jody were doing because I could only just see them cresting the thing, and then waiting for me, ponytails mussed in the most chic of ways, pacing, looking not at all like running dorks, but rather like people who were inordinately comfortable in their own bodies, while I, overdressed and sweating up a storm, clomped and chugged like a pregnant sow waddling to the trough.

And then it hit me. I want to be up there, with my friends, where I belong. And where, apparently, they think I belong. although they’d never pressure me to be more than I want to be.

We did a 10-miler that weekend, a part-pavement part-trail race that had Lara elated and me and Jody muttering over the fact that we had to run over plowed farmlands.* I couldn’t help thinking, what a formidable set we’d have been, the three of us, if I could keep pace with them, egging each other on, running smoothly.

It used to be that I longed for a Girls’ Night Out group. It would be me and my girlfriends, walking swiftly down the street, an updated, better-looking female version of the Monkees.

Here we come/Walking down the street/Get the funniest looks from/Everyone we meet

And we’d get the funniest looks not because we were the Monkees, but because people could not believe how much fun we were having together. The looks would be looks of envy: Goodness, look at those girls. They can depend on each other. They are good friends. They are each others’ wingmen.

And then I had that for a brief shining year or two in New York, and it was beautiful and wonderful and everything I thought it’d be.

But I want more. I want to transfer my Monkees image to the race course, or at least to the training sessions.**

It occurs to me that this is why you have friends: They make you want to be better than you’ve been before, more than you’ve been before. I speak of this not only in sport terms; I speak of this in all walks of life: one of my friends has been through more this past year than can possibly be expected of a normal functioning human being, and yet, she’s worked through it, and moved on, with aplomb and good humor. This kind of attitude you just can’t buy. I don’t have it. I’m a moper; I wallow. Not for long, but I wallow.

And the other has a sh*t ton on her plate that I’m not sure I’d even know how to begin to handle. She looks at herself with a sharp, critical eye. She never sees her own skills, but that’s okay, because her friends do see them, and we remind her regularly, when she lets us.

Jody and Lara waited for me at the finish line of the 10-miler. Jody looked for me about a quarter mile before the end of the race course and ran me in, and I think it was then that I finally puzzled it out: My friends are my pack. As in any pack, there are alpha dogs and regular dogs. The difference in my pack is that all the big dogs want the regular dogs to grow up and be big, too.

*Jody did it with a stress fracture in her foot.

**The latter is somewhat plausible with these two. The former is nigh on impossible, but I’m okay with that.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Photo crazy

Is it art?

Sprocket doesn't think so.

I call this one "study in noodles"

We went to the PepsiCo Gardens with Jim's family.

I like this sculpture of a bear crawling out of the pond.

I also like the filagree pattern this tree casts on the ground.

Wow, look at the pooch on me. Not the dog, the belly.

Lillies! I like!

big fat tadpoles were on every stalk of the lily pads.

Love this angular tree trunk. Dunno what happened to it.

I went to Philadelphia last Wednesday. Nice city. Great clients.

The sky over White Plains on Friday evening was wonderfully Hudson-River-School-like.

I caught Jim mooning over this deluxe edition of Stratego.

We took our friend Anna, her soon-to-be stepsons, and her fiance on a hike in Harriman. Here are the stepsons.

Here's crazy dog Sassafras, Joe, Anna, me, El Jefe, and Sprocket,

Sprocket got wet.

I went into the city yesterday to meet my friend Alexandra for lunch. She was in from Chicago. We had a picnic on the High Line and I got a burnt nose.

The MTA set up a TV in Grand Central so everyone could watch The World Cup finals. Beat sitting in a sweaty bar.

Perfect clouds again over White Plains

Look! The Ritz-Carlton building is the same color as the sky! Or maybe it's just a reflection. 😀

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

‘sTrueth! A good time was had by all.

Jim and I spent the weekend at the Trues’. I had a ridiculously busy Friday that involved a ton of networking (which, it seems, could be a full-time job even if you’re not actually following up on any of the networking with anything concrete); took some time off for lunch with a friend here in White Plains; and then bolted home to throw some final few things in a bag and drive up to Boston to squeeze in an overdue visit to an old friend before heading out to Melrose via the convoluted-but-beautiful Route 1. (Evans: Are you reading this? You are next.)

(Only in Boston would a relatively straight course end up looking like a misguided bowl of noodles.)

This route goes over the Tobin Bridge, by the way, which is stunning, to say the least.

photo: Estrip.org

Anyhow. We went to visit my friend Sarah, who had her baby boy, Jesus Jr., back in late December. I don’t know why there is only this photo of me, Jim and JJ and none of Sarah, me, Jim, and Jesus Sr. It seems people disappear when there are babies involved.

Baby Jesus is cute. He is just like the teddy bear he looks to be, warm and squashy and round.

Jesus and Sarah took us to the really great Village BBQ, where I had beef brisket, and Jim had…something I can’t remember. Jesus had hot wings whose flames could only be quenched by tequila, and Sarah had an entire rack of ribs. Have I mentioned that Sarah is but a mere waif? I never understood where she put the food. For that matter, I’m not sure where she put Jesus Jr.

Then it was off to the True household for a promised weekend of mountain biking.

That didn’t really happen. I mean, Jim and Colin went, and came back suitably muddy. The story is that Jim executed an awesome endo, but there were no photographs. However, as these were the photos that happened that night, I think it’s obvious that everyone had a good time. Indeed, Jim look properly relieved to have gotten out of the afternoon with nothing more than a good endo story to tell:

We girls went to hot yoga instead. It was very, very hot, although I know it wasn’t the 100 degrees on the thermostat. It was aggressive and I had some sort of aggressive woman next to me who flexed her hands wide open when she was doing Warrior and jumped back and forth with an annoying plip plopping noise whenever our instructor said to “jump or step back into upward facing dog.” You could see her tendons and she seemed to be very competitive. Anyway, Carli lost the lid to her WaterBox and it went rolling in a lopsided confused way underneath me before she caught it, which sent me into fits of snorting laughter that, thankfully, no one but Carli heard, I don’t think. This must be why Carli and I look so composed in this photo, because all of the giggling snorts had been sweated out of us.

Lily is a right proper angel.

Most days Carli is, too. I said most days.

Later on that night there was watching of the most ridiculously gleeful movie ever, The Hangover. Bradley Cooper has incredible hair in that movie. And that’s all I’ma say about that.

Photo: David Gabber, TopNews.in

Er. What happened just now? I got distracted. Oh, right, the weekend.

Perhaps one of the most cliché-and-yet-not moments of the weekend was when Colin dragged out his home videos, made back when he was, oh, I can’t remember, eight or so. People. You’ve never seen home videos like this. To be fair, they were shot by someone I think was an aspiring filmmaker (not Colin, but a childhood friend of his). There are sound effects and visual effects and great costumes and fake fighting and everything. They are from “Peter/Paul Productions,” with a proper nameplate, and they. are. hilarious. Seriously. I think I might have liked watching clips of those better than I liked.

Bradley.

Cooper’s.

Hair.

What? Ahem.

Okay, so we knocked off to bed shortly after that, as Jim had to get up the next morning to ride in the King of Burlingame time trial race. People. Watch the video. Sometimes I cannot believe Jim rides this stuff. Sometimes I am sick with envy.

King of Burlingame Time Trial

Other times I look at that and go, “Agh, mud, trail erosion…eeeEEEeee…bridges!” In this case, I was not around to see the actual race; I was inside the car, trying to get a head start on editing the newspaper. We left shortly afterwards, and stopped on the way home to consume what would eventually be The Bane of Our Existence.

Doesn’t it look benign? And lovely?

It was, at the time. And then, four hours later, it was not, as Jim and I were rapidly overtaken with horrible food poisoning. I still haven’t decided if I can write up a Yelp review of this restaurant. Jim has fond memories of it from his days working in Groton, CT at Pfizer, but…oh, le sigh.

Anyway. So our wonderful weekend fizzled to a stop, as we both, in separate rooms, moaned our ways through the night (we didn’t know if it was flu and didn’t feel like passing it back and forth to each other). Jim gamely went to work Monday morning and I moaned my way through all of Monday and into Tuesday morning and now finally feel 100%. I am convinced that the hot yoga which made me sweat out all of the water in my system contributed to a slower recovery time for me.

Anyhow, we’re already halfway through the week, and I ahve a ton of work to do, because I have a houseguest coming Friday and things to do in the city tomorrow evening, I think, and then I am going to Haiti on Sunday.

Yes, I’m going to Haiti on Sunday. More on that later.

Bradley Cooper’s hair!

What?

P.S. Carli made this thing out of WikkiStix. I have never heard of them until this past weekend, but I was suitably impressed:

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Perhaps our last snow day

It was near fifty degrees out yesterday, so Jim and Sprocket and I went for a stroll at a nature preserve that I’ve been reading a lot about, but haven’t actually visited myself.

The Teatown Lake Reservation is in Ossining, New York. They are the hosts of Eaglefest, an annual event celebrating that most noble of carrion-eaters, and have 15 miles worth of hiking trails. They’ve been in our local news quite a bit, as they’re about to acquire another 72 acres of land as part of an open space initiative.

It was such a beautiful day out, bright sunshine everywhere, and, obviously, mud, as all of the snow that was piled up from the previous weekend melted. There were lots of people out everywhere–the overflow parking lot was full–and although we didn’t get to visit the nature center, we did have a really nice day.

I wore my slick-soled Blundstones, which proved to be a big mistake–the snow, which was wet and heavy, was also packed down in enough places where folks had walked earlier that day. Anyone who’s ever skied in the late afternooon knows what that means: mini-berms everywhere, some iced over, some mushy, some hidden under kicked up snow.

I had my twenty-pound pack on, too, all of which combined to make our 2.5-mile walk quite adventurous, at least insofar as my core, hamstrings, ankles, and knees went. Here are some photos.

I love this bridge, although I wasn’t able to capture the running water and the reflections it made on the rocks just above the brook. Jim crossed this bridge stomping at the crusty snowy bits and kicking them off, all in the guise of making it easier for future visitors to walk and not slip, but he inadvertently let loose his true intent by muttering, under his breath, “DESTRUCTOR JIMMY!” Sigh. Boys are so transparent.

I love these trail markers. They were everywhere. I was very tempted to pull them off and use them as coasters in my own home.

There’s apparently a permanent orienteering course at Teatown. Very cool. This marker says that if you turn 96 degrees from looking at the sign and walk 23 paces, you’ll find the next marker. Orienteering. The sport that proves that the universe makes sense, after all.

Why does everyone say “mossy green”? Personally, I prefer this color, which I am calling licheny green. Okay, so they’re two different colors. Still, this one is preferable to me.

Some deer had been before us. I did not take pictures of the deer poo. This was good enough evidence.

Spotted this way-cool underbelly of tree. Looks like a massive star anise. Good for a garnish on a massive cocktail.

Overlook Trail is very very short but very steep and slippery and sometimes treacherous. At some point I slid down on my rear. Stupid pack!

I liked this little wishbone in the snow. Sprocket was completely insane on the ride up there. Now he is lying flat on his side, moaning. He must be pretty pooped, too.

I hope this is not the last of our snow days yet, although it’s supposed to rain later this week, and I must confess that standing outside in nothing but shirt-sleeves was really nice this morning.

In May we will have been here a year. It hardly feels that way…!

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Oh, look. It’s the end of the tunnel.

Well, it’s the end of one tunnel, anyway. I believe I am finally fed up with being inactive.

What happened? This:

pizza-main_Full

I mean that quite literally. Over the course of the day yesterday, I ate an entire pizza. I mean that I had a slice of cold pizza for breakfast, two slices for lunch, two slices for dinner–and I think I must have padded the rest of the day–and my waistline–with it.

It was a bizarre, other-worldly experience. I’ve never done such a thing before. I think I might refer to it as a milestone from now on. I’m not sure what I was trying to prove. Suffice it to say that after I had polished off the last piece, at around 9PM last night, I felt quite ill and realized, with some horror, that exactly yesterday a year ago–and about that same time, 6PM PST, I was toasting my first-ever marathon with a well deserved glass of pinot grigio. Sigh.

dv14I mean, crikey! Look at how happy I am! And healthy! Here’s another one, just for nostalgia’s sake:

deathvalleyLookit me, with my dorky little running belt and my loping gait!

Now, I’m not implying that I’ve grown an extra chin, or extra hips (or maybe I have; some photographic evidence speaks to the contrary), but I must confess that it has been an extraordinary experience to see just how little I’ve done since July. It *is* fascinating, however, that I didn’t really miss the activity. I seemed to be perfectly, shockingly happy to Loaf.

Until yesterday, the Day of Galloping-Galooting Gluttony. And then I realized what I miss the most about training. I miss being healthy. I miss knowing that I *can*. Can what? It doesn’t matter. Here follows a short list of things I could do when I was training.

  • Eat whatever
  • Drink, without considering totally useless calories
  • Sleep well, and all through the night
  • Swim two hours at a time
  • Run a half-marathon every weekend
  • Ride 40 miles at the drop of a hat
  • Manage my time better

Heck, back then, I could eat a whole pizza and not take another second to think about what it was doing to my health. ‘Cos back then, then answer was nothing. If I wasn’t eating the pizza to make up for energy burnt during that day’s workout, I was fueling up for the following day’s workout. I hadn’t thought of my activity as adding so much to my life. I only had previously thought of it taking time away. The truth is, I became much more efficient, all the way around, when my time was limited. I was happier. I miss that.

And so, without making too much of a fuss about it, I believe I will go back to being happier, thank you very much.

By the way, here’s a photo of Dan, Audrey, me, Jim, Flat Stanlina, and Sprocket in front of Dan’s Christmas tree. I like to think of it as our alternate family photograph. And…wait a minute. Is that a double-chin I see, hiding behind Flat Stanlina? …

treephoto

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Lost: Mo, size large.

Sigh.
I do hate losing my mo. One of my favorite lines to trot out about having chosen writing as a career is that you can find inspiration in whatever you do or say. You wake up every day knowing that something is going to strike you as worthy. Everyone has something to offer you. It’s a very lucky thing, knowing that you’ve got that on your side. Inspiration’s not a problem. It’s motivation that’s the issue, motivation to get up and outside and look for inspiration. You don’t find it in a cubicle, although a good friend mentioned the other day that I am the type of person who would do better in a box, entirely closed up, if I am to really focus. Sigh.
Take today, for instance. We went to bed last night at a reasonable hour and I decided that this week was going to be the week that I get back to being physically fit. Yes, yes, I really have done nothing since Ironman. I did this jog on Monday:
mapgrab
and it took me FOREVER. I ran the loop six times, for a total mileage of 1.8 miles, and it took me 21 minutes. Argh. Speed isn’t really an issue–I’ve become quite pokey since I started distance training, and I’m okay with that–really, really–but what I was really struck by was how much my legs ached on Tuesday.
At any rate, I thought, OK, let’s just get back on the bandwagon, do cardio three days a week this week: Wednesday you’ll do the same loop six more times, maybe 7, do the same thing on Friday. By week two you should be working out six days a week, strength training on the days you don’t run.
Guess what? It’s Wednesday. I have not yet gone for my jog. Later, though, later.
The weekend was strange. Friday night I took Jim to Horsefeathers with Peggy, since he’d never been. We got home kind of late for my 5:15 wake-up call to get to the U.N. in time for U.N.-Rotary Day. It was a nice day representing ShelterBox, but I ran, as predicted, on all six cylinders that day and was totally wasted by the time I got home for dinner with Kate. Still, it was awesome to see her, and nicer still to have yet another friend in our home.
We didn’t take any photos with Kate (why not? why not? morons!), but I’ve been charged with a Flat Stanlina until after Thanksgiving, and she got her photo taken at the U.N.
yi@un
Lucky girl.
I spent all over Sunday on the couch. Totally exhausted. It was a gorgeous day, and I read Wuthering Heights and watched the BBC film version, which was unexpectedly moving.
Anyway. So here I am, flabby and unexercised. In other news, though, I’m finally beginning to wrap my head around finishing my applications for the MFA programs I applied for (really, it’s just sending in manuscripts and essays and things), I wrote close to 3000 words yesterday for NaNoWriMo, I just found out my good friend Jody is going to be Chicago the same time I am over Thanksgiving, and I think I am *this* close to convincing my brother that he needs to come out early for Christmas so we can have some quality time before the holidays take over.
I think I might actually have most of my shopping & making-stuff (I do hate the word “crafting,” don’t you?) done, too, believe it or not. Most of it.
Here’s a gratuitous photo of the United Nations building. I’ve always loved this building. It’s due to be gutted, though, because it’s way out of honking code. Asbestos and everything.
U.N.bldg
I forgot: Flat Stanlina and I had coffee together. She ate most of my egg sandwich, the little so-and-so. coffeeandsandwich
More writing now. Some exercising later. Bleh. I have a horrible hankering, by the way, to be back on Dartmoor. Wannh!
Shelterbox SRT Training 103

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Things I Acquired This Weekend

BICYCLE!
Head and chest cold
Bruises
Questionable photographs
New vernacular

HOW does one acquire so many fabulous, varied, tangible and intangible things in the space of one weekend, you ask? The answer is simple: FAT TIRE NARNIA. What *is* Fat Tire Narnia?
Well. Let’s just say that it involves mountain bikes and the never-ending search for good places to ride. Yes, yes, I know I said, particularly after Isabella was stolen, that I really didn’t know if I was going back to mountain biking. i’d invested what I saw as a fair amount of time and never really gotten any better at it, after all. But then, see, Friday afternoon, we crossed the border into Massachusetts, and the leaves were gorgeous and crunchy, and somewhere deep in my physical memory there was a buried a sense of woods, trails, and the curious, fragrant crunch that occurs when you fall off your bike into a pile of soft, welcoming leaves. There was speed, and crisp, cool air, and the joy that comes from being out on your bike in the woods in the deep of the fall. It’s different from riding in the summer, you know. Anyway. Jim and I pulled into Colin and Carli’s house in the early afternoon, and we mucked about Melrose for a bit, getting to know the town. Chris came in later that evening, to a nice seafood dinner at Turner‘s and some nice local microbrews to boot, and then we all called it a night.
The next morning, after some faffing about buying groceries and getting fueled up with coffee and whatnot, we packed our cars and headed off to East Burke, Vermont, home of Kingdom Trails, only to get stuck in a lot of leaf-peeping traffic.
Here is proof of the pretty foliage.
DSC00366
There are no pictures of awful leaf-peepers or the traffic they caused, ‘cos there were’t any when I took this photo. That’s ‘cos I figured out too late that the white screen my camera was showing was indicative of a smashed LCD, rendering my camera useless. So I pointed it around and took random photos of leaves, but it didn’t much feel right (my camera doesn’t have a viewfinder).
I took a bunch more like this:
DSC00371DSC00376DSC00368
and then gave up. Sigh. Too bad, because there were some really good times that weekend. Good thing Boyd had a video camera, and Colin is an inveterate shutterbug.
Anyhow, we pulled into East Burke, Vermont at around 3:30 that afternoon, just enough time for the guys to squeeze in a late-afternoon ride, and Carli and I packed up Lily (Colin and Carli’s gorgeous little 3-year-old girl) and Sprocket and went off to the campsite to set up camp, but not before I looked shiftily at the local bike shop and tried to talk myself out of buying a bike right then and there.
At camp, Carli and I encountered several problems: the campground was shaped like a circle with a couple of off-shoots that we didn’t see at first, making finding our site a small adventure; Sprocket kept on trying to explore the greater area; the hammock Colin had thrown into the car at the last minute turned out to be not-a-hammock, the ground was almost too soft, so on, so forth. By the time we got everything set up, it was time to meet the boys back in town for dinner.
I just about made up my mind to get a damned bike when all three boys came rolling across the street on their bikes, covered in mud, faces covered in shit-eating grins the likes of which I’ve never seen, not even on athletes crossing the finish line after a long race. Cos, see, finishing a race is still work. There’s a very different feeling to doing something that you’re just good at, something that doesn’t involve winning, that just involves being out with friends and riding to your skill level.
We ate at the local pub, finding some terrific beers on tap and discovering the crap service that exists in a small town that revolves exclusively around mountain bikers and locals, and then we went back to camp to experience the hell that is starting a fire in damp weather.
puboutback
I put my Leatherman to good use (also, some handy skills that I picked up from watching Bear Grylls on TV–shut up), shaving wood into teeny tiny bits for tinder and then dumping the entire pile of shavings into the dirt just shy of the fire pit (blame too many micro-brews). At the end of the night, it fell to Jim to save the evening, since he apparently breathes sheer oxygen from his lungs, where the rest of us mere mortals exhale only a shallow mix of useless CO2 and other pointless gasses. At any rate, our dismal fire fell prey to the damp in the air and an eventual rain as we slept that night.

my hero!

my hero!

I woke up feeling groggy and snotty, but rallied enough to drag my arse up to the bathroom and brush my teeth. Sprocket came with me, hellbent on saying hello to whoever was in the bathroom stalls. Good thing mountain bikers have a good sense of humor. When I came back we’d decided on abandoning the oatmeal-in-a-camp-pan breakfast and settled on a hot breakfast somewhere in town, thereby putting me in striking distance of the bike shop again.
I wandered in with our friends, trying to stay casual, loose, but then I found a real steal, and, bolstered by four people who clearly weren’t going to let me out of there without a bike anyway, I walked out with a ride I really like, a new pair of shoes, pedals, and cleats, all for a nice price.
Carli and I left the boys for a ride while we drove Lily into the neighboring towns, hoping to get her to sleep, and then we went back to camp for lunch and then geared up for our own ride.
Colin, Chris, and Jim returned with predictable shit-eating grins again, and we suited up, left Sprocket and Lily with Colin, and proceeded on our own ride.
It was a sheer joy being back on the bike again. There’s nothing really unrideable, even for me, about the trails at Kingdom Trails, and I’m hoping that we’ll go again before the season’s out. I executed one stunning crash on a run that involved some banked berms and chose to peg-leg my way down the rest of the trail, but that’s OK–I’ll get better as time goes on.
The rest of the afternoon’s kind of a blur. Our time on the trails went by in a ridiculous flash, all woods, leaves, laughing, and Carli taking out a small defenseless tree, and then we headed off to dinner in a neighboring town and back to the campsite, where the fire lit successfully and we chatted into the night.
It was a terrific trip. There is something really cool about getting together with people you don’t really know, making that leap into friendship, committing yourself fully to an experiment, only to find a good match all around. Lots of laughs and automatic inside jokes, things that can’t be posted here because they won’t make sense to anyone else.
For Jim, I think it was an extra-sweet trip. We know only a select number of people who can keep up with him on a mountain bike, and while he always enjoys riding with me or our mutual friends, it’s not the same as actively pushing your partners–and being pushed–while still having a great time. Onward and forward, to the next Fat Tire Narnia.

Great beer: Switchback, Trout River, Magic Hat, Flying Dog, Dogfishhead

Great food: Poutine! Poutine! Poutine!!! Powerfood on a plate!!

P.S. Congratulations to Laini Taylor, whose book Lips Touch is a National Book Award finalist.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

iron stuff in my grey matter

For the longest time I thought I’d feel good about completing Ironman, and not in the traditional manner of having done something big and unprecedented for myself. More, I thought I’d be relieved to have Ironman training go away completely, have it be not a part of my life any more. I have been, up until very recently, quite annoyed at the intrusion that training places on my life: the skimpy weekends, the lack of freedom dictated by a need to be physically more than I’ve ever been before, the other various constraints that are too many to enumerate.
But now that it’s really and truly all over; now that I’ve told my coach I’m done and that I’m wearing a real, true finisher’s shirt for Ironman Switzerland 2009, I feel quite bereft, and rudderless. Lara and I spent some time mucking around town the day after the triathlon, and at some point she heaved a great big sigh and said, “Eurgh. Post-race blues.” I didn’t have them at the time, but I’ve got them in full force now.
Part of it, I’m sure, is the letdown after all the intensity that comes with a full-fledged race like this. For a really long time over one day you are giving your all, even if it’s just your physical all. And then there is the immediate gratification: I can’t really describe to you what Heartbreak Hill felt like; how I couldn’t even feel my legs as I entered the finish chute and put on my ShelterBox T-shirt; how I couldn’t feel anything but the stupidly enormous grin on my face as I bolted around the last few turns to the finish line and lifted my arms high in a cliché gesture of victory. You wouldn’t know any of these things unless you’d experienced them for yourself, but I’m sure you’ve experienced something very like it.
There is, also, a remarkably heightened sense of community. As I was setting about the marathon leg of my race, tired and cranky, and falling asleep, I thought angrily to myself that the Ironman organization could do more for charity, and that I’d never do a race like this again unless I could do it as part of a team and for charity. Then I thought that nothing about Ironman meshed with my own personal ethics: there was no sense of team in this event, no sense of helping others; no sense of collective giving. I needed more, I thought; than the mere punishment of oneself for a solid sixteen hours. I watched athletes willy-nilly chuck their garbage everywhere, felt them elbow past me during the run in order to accomplish their own personal goals, and harbored a clear revulsion at their lack of grace.
But then, as the daylight waned and the hours grew on and I came dangerously close to not becoming an Ironman, I noticed something curious: people wearing finisher’s T-shirts, all along the course, straining to sound out my name, written on my bib. They give me all the motivation they could. The encouragement came in many forms: One man, sitting on a park bench, botched my name and then chased after me, calling what he thought would be the correct name: “Go, Go, Yie Shoon! Allez, allez!” He got it right the second time he saw me. A man on a bicycle with a light on it pedaled slowly next to me, blocking me from veering off the trail in a dark section of the woods, talking me down from the rising panic in my chest that I wouldn’t make it. “You’re moving at a perfect pace for this,” he said. “You’ll make it, you’ve found this pace, now just keep it and you will be okay.” A young woman leaning on one of the barriers down the final stretch of my next-to-last lap looked at me, eyes limpid and wide. She shook her head at the limp in my crooked gait, presumably. “Go, Iron girl,” she said, quietly, evenly, and I could sense her empathy, even in those three small words.
And then I crossed the finish line, and I became a group of selective individuals. You only get the finisher’s shirt, a bright red-and-white number, if you cross the line on time, and I have one now. It’s taken me until today, three days after the race, to realize what a feat it is to cover 140.6 miles by swim, bike, and run, but the significance of the community of Ironman, which I’d have never thought existed, began to strike me right away. I creaked ever so slowly away from the finish chute and had to be guided by my shoulders to get my medal and then my photo taken, but no one laughed at my hitched walk or thought my bent posture bizarre. They all knew what I’d done, even if I didn’t, yet.
At breakfast the next morning, we spotted other red shirts right away, and got to rehash the race from lots of different perspectives. We got random congratulations walking down the street. At dinner, someone also wearing an Ironman finisher shirt spotted us from far away and lifted his beer glass to us in silent recognition. And this morning, at the airport, while I slumped over my bike box trying not to fall asleep, a man idly standing by made a downward moue with his mouth and nodded slowly, lifting his eyebrows. I ignored him, thinking him just a perv of some kind, but he pointed with his chin at my chest and said, “Congratulations!” And I thought, “Ohhhhhhh…” It turned out he’d done six. We stood and chatted for awhile, and I enjoyed the company.
I suppose, as with many things in life, it’s only through others’ eyes that I can recognize the enormity of whatever accomplishment it is.
I find myself wondering now how many of us there are in this community, and interested in the fact that I’ve always wanted to be a member of some kind of insider’s club. I didn’t know what it would mean to be a part of one, and now I know. I mean, I just kind of fell into this thing, didn’t I? Lara wanted to do an Ironman, and I said okay. Jim said he’d do it with us, and together we made up a kind of small team of sorts. I added ShelterBox to the mix, and Lara added the Great Ormond Street Hospital, and that gave me the added boost I needed to make it feel as if this sport were something more than self-indulgent.
My friend John, also a ShelterBox Response Team member, said it best. He wrote me that I would use the confidence I’d gained in completing the Ironman to forward myself in whatever I wanted to do. I suppose I’m a few days late in really taking his words to heart, but I finally understand them now. Ironman is just a stepping stone, although I must not allow myself to believe for a second that it was easy, or that anyone could do it without discipline, grace, and a mad level of desire.
Will I do another one? Not without a solid team and a very good reason. Am I glad I did? Yes, yes, I am. I do not regret a minute spent training, any step of the journey, or even the missed nights of sleep. Every bit added to the final experience, which I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Am I getting a tattoo? Heck, yes. I will wear it proudly. I hope the other members of my little team will get them too.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Iron Girl, Iron Guy, and the Iron Maiden (Part II)

Are you keeping track of the number of hours I’ve logged in as sleep since Tuesday night? I was, as I lay awake on Saturday night, the night before the race I’d taken six months out to train for. Jim crowded into my twin berth with me and hugged me while I bemoaned the loss of my wallet and the fact that I was going to attempt an Ironman on roughly 7 hours of sleep spread out over three nights, but Saturday night was by far the worst: I fell directly asleep and then woke up again at 10:30, jet lag again, I suppose; turning over figures in my head and really worrying for the first time in weeks whether or not I’d make the arguably short time cut-off (10 hours after race start) for the bike leg of the race.

I never did get back to sleep. The alarm went off at 3:55, me still staring at the ceiling, and I knew with absolute certainty that I’d have to blow myself out of the water if I was going to finish this race on time. Lara, in her ‘blog, calls my aim “fragile,” and it was, and I was feeling much the same.

I picked my way down to breakfast, where Lara attempted another run at an egg with miserable results and choked down what she hoped were the last two of many, many bagels eaten over the training season. I ate two slices of whole wheat bread, chased with coffee, and crossed my fingers under that table when I wasn’t watching the clock.

We went upstairs and gathered the rest of our kit and were downstairs in plenty of time to board the shuttle for the race start. We set up our transition areas with minimal fuss, although my rack-mate, a cross between Laird Hamilton and Malibu Ken with plenty of Ironman experience, bemoaned the lack of changing tents, clean Ironman-style transition, and lack of space. Apparently the Swiss do differently, and Rick was not pleased. This being his 8th Ironman, I can understand why, I suppose, but he was nice enough anyway, and gave me a good-luck hug and sent me on my way.

Jim, Lara and I and our new friend Dennis, who happens to be from Chicago, wandered over to the race start with a world full of other wet-suited folk. We’d barely gotten our feet wet and floating in the water for the swim start when I heard the teeny tiny crack of a gun, and we were off.

We’ve been workign with a swim coach in the water, and I knew that I was going to be tired this day, so I took his advice and found a couple of people to draft. A few times it was like being in a merging lane while someone else edged me out of the draft line, but I was marginally pleased to see my first lap time came in around 47 minutes, not far from my goal of 45 minutes. I was really enjoying the swim, anyway, with the absolutely tasty Lake Zurich water keeping my mouth from getting too dry and the ridiculously clear water all around. I think the color of the lake itself must have been soothing to me.

The drafting didn’t work for me at all the second time around; although I swam comfortably behind someone else, my internal body clock was telling me that time was seriously ticking, and I began to get confused about where I was in the race course.

race start. looks like a mess, felt like a wonder.

race start. looks like a mess, felt like a wonder.

I think maybe I was drafting someone on the too-slow part of things, but the Ironman volunteers, standing waist-deep in Zurichsee water, had me pulled out onto the steep landing slope at 1:45, a fairly decent time, although it meant I have 15 fewer minutes for the bike course than I had originally planned.

I hurry-hurried through the transition, struggling with my wetsuit, swearing a little, and multitasking, but was out on the bike in good time, not even bothering with arm-warmers despite the cool temps and the beginnings of a small cleansing rainshower, which only served to remind me that I’d forgotten to pee on my way out of the TA. Couldn’t worry about that, though–it was time to hustle. I needed to bank time to make up for the 15 minutes I’d lost in the swim. I now had exactly 8 hours to make the time cut-off, where I was banking on more. I know it sounds like a small time gap–it’s not, when every minute counts and you know you’re slow and weak on rolling hills and the descents are steep enough to make you want to cover your brakes every second.

The first third of the course is a treat: fast and literally pancake-flat, it makes for great leg and lung recovery while you’re spinning comfortably, and I did it averaging maybe 17 miles an hour. I pictured myself banking MPHs and time and reveled in the speed; and then I turned the corner, bladding aching like crazy, and found an OOMPAH band honking at me, cheering me on. This was maybe the third rest stop, and I finally stopped and had a pee, the strains of some polka thing wafting over to me. I hopped back onto my bike, happy now, and zipped over the rollers, marveling in the support of people along this part of the course, who stood on corners and leaned out of windows and yelled, “Hopp, hopp!” Some people ran along wtih you for a little bit, and there was a big group of guys at a bar (yes! at 9 in the morning!) who made a great big roaring noise that carried me up right a small hill.

The Beast, as they call it, is nothing more than the same climb we do at home in Harriman State Park, only I usually do that with a nice eight hours of sleep under my belt. A little under two miles on a steady uphill; I got into my low gear, pressing along comfortably, and continued the rest of the mostly downhill-and-flat course to the back side of the course, where I’d encounter Heartbreak Hill.

They don’t call it Heartbreak Hill because it appears close enough to the end of the course for you to want to weep over it. They call it that because the number of people gathered all around you, and the support they show you, is enough to crack even the toughest of hearts. They get way down and do the wave. They chant at you, and your cadence can’t help but get faster. They call your name. And at the very, very steepest, they gather you in a live tunnel of waves and hands and noise and that bouys you right up and over the crest.

the crowd looks so small here. from my view, it was ten thousand people deep.

the crowd looks so small here. from my view, it was ten thousand people deep.

Everyone, once in their lives, needs a Heartbreak Hill and its corresponding cheerleaders. Everyone should feel this much like a rock star at some point. It gave me an idea of what the rest of this race would be like.

I rode down the backside of Heartbreak Hill and started out on my second lap. And then I started to fall asleep. I was drowsy and tired, and knew this lap would take me longer. I did some quick math and figured out how fast I’d need to go, and then I settled into a nervous speed that would just barely get me to the cutoff on time. In the end, I made the 9:45 cut-off at Heartbreak Hill with 15 minutes to spare, and Marilyn a lonely figure at the top, waiting for me. Thank goodness for parents. I got passed by a guy in a clown suit (!) and a small Italian sexagenarian who pointed at my feet and said, in heavily accented English, “Same choooz!” and went on with a smile. I guess, if you have to passed, these are okay peeps to be passed by.

An Ironman and a guy in a clown suit walk into a bar...

An Ironman and a guy in a clown suit walk into a bar...

I made a quick transition and stepped out for my first loop of the four. Again, the crowd support was incredible. It buoyed me all the way around, and around, and around, and around one last time, as did the thought of folks at home who’d be watching on the computers and following our success. I met Jim on my first loop, and he seemed to be running well, but didn’t find Lara until her third loop. They were both pleased to see me, and I was in turn heartened by their happiness to see that I’d made my time goal.

I had to dig really deep on my third loop around, as it was where I began to have very serious doubts that I’d make it. I happened to clock myself between kilometers and saw with horror that it was taking me close to ten minutes to slog through the mileage. It wasn’t going to be enough time. But I thought more about how many people were supporting us, and of all the happy comments left on my fundraising page, and simply could not stomach the idea of not coming in in time.

So I left my aches and pains behind and slogged through to the finish, feeling like I was on wings for the last 200 meters. Folks who’d finished had stayed behind to cheer, and the noise of the crowd was almost too much to bear. I’d have cried, if I had any tears left.

In the end, I came in at 15:44, exactly where I’d calculated I would, and I’m okay with that. Tomorrow, race de-construct. For now, though, a massive thank you for everyone who supported me. No way I’d have been able to do this without knowing you were all behind me.

Hopp, hopp! indeed.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Iron Girl, Iron Guy, and the Iron Maiden, Part I (pre-race days)

…Me, Jim, and Lara, respectively, that is.

It’s over. Almost exactly 24 hours ago to the minute, I crossed the finish line at Ironman Switzerland 2009, and I must confess to harboring all sorts of unresolved emotions about the thing. I am proud of my friends and eternally grateful to Jim’s parents for coming all the way out to see us, and very happy that I was able to raise enough money for ShelterBox to house thirty more people after disaster–but I’m no closer to understanding why we pursue such sport, which I think is the reason I keep on seeking out more and more of these different challenges.

But you didn’t come here to read about that, just yet: You came to get a race report.

We deliberately booked our flights to Switzerland to arrive well ahead of race day. We had a sleepless night on an airplane, punctuated very frequently by the drunk yellings of the under-age tippler sititng just in front of us (that’s another story), and landed in beautiful Zurich on a cloudy day punctuated also very frequently by rain showers. Jim and I looked thoughtfully at the thunderous sky and wondered if race day would look like that. We hoped not.

My bike, Grub, and The Other One get loaded into the belly of our plane.

My bike, Grub, and The Other One get loaded into the belly of our plane.

ominous pre-race clouds & thunderstorms

ominous pre-race clouds & thunderstorms

We spent that morning wandering around town with Jim’s parents after we’d checked into the wonderful, very accomodating Comfort Inn Royal, which would be our home for the next week, and had breakfast. Zurich is a beautiful town. Have you ever been there? Still, the race course hadn’t been set up yet, and the streets seemed very empty for a Thursday morning–we wondered where everyone was.

Marilyn and Jim, Jim’s parents, had done a fair amount of research already, so we’d left much of the tourist planning to them, and I’m fairly certain that, without me knowing it, set the tone for the trip. We were there to race, and that was the bottom line. I suppose it’s always been that way, but being in one of my favorite places and not mucking around, looking at art stuff, was a distinct change of pace.

Okay, I wasn't entirely blind to Zurich's gorgeous landscape. This is the Limmat River, which runs into the lake.

Okay, I wasn't entirely blind to Zurich's gorgeous landscape. This is the Limmat River, which runs into the lake.

We came back to the hotel, crashed hard, had dinner out at a great place that Grant and Jill recommended, and then went back for a good night’s sleep.

Yeah. It worked for Jim. Not so much for me. We went to bed at about 10, and I woke up around midnight, stark raving awake and unable to go back to sleep until four. I woke up again around seven. All in all, not terrible odds, really.

We went down on our bikes for our first look at Ironman Village, and noticed that Zurich is extremely bike-and-pedestrain friendly.

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You can't see it against the white, but the bottom of the sign has a bicycle icon on it. Parking, reserved just for bikes. Who'd'a thunkit?

We went and looked at all of the Ironman-branded kit, but I refused to buy (it seemed pre-mature to me, really, to get the stuff before I even attempted a full Ironman), but something unpleasant was around the corner was awaiting me, and I ought to have bought something just to assuage the agony I felt on registering and signing all the proper documents, only to get this in my official race documentation:

harumph!

harumph!

Yeah, what the hell?! Not that I haven’t sent roughly, oh, I dunno, three e-mails telling them to FIX THE PROBLEM. I’m still “Shun.” I fixed it myself with a big black marker and walked away with Jim, registration done with.

Lara arrived later that day, and she and I scooted along to the pre-race meeting, taking the tram down and enjoying the nice ride along Zurich’s high-end brand-name boutique road. We caught up along the way and went into the big tent and listened somewhat half-heartedly to some information that we already knew and some very little we didn’t, while I scanned the crowd, looking for Jim. We finally found him, and looked around the Expo for some last-minute stuff. From there, Jim and Lara went to go listen to some alpenhorn schlock and I went off to meet some awesome ShelterBox peeps who run our Switzerland affiliate. The group here in Zurich is run by some very cool, very enthusiastic 30-something Rotaractors, and I was happy to spend the evening talking to them about ShelterBox and the SRT program, and getting to know them all. Highly enjoyable way to pass time.

Saturday morning dawned way too early. I once again went to sleep at 11:30, only to pop awake at midnight. I stared at the ceiling until 4:30 and slept until 8, when it was time to go to breakfast. I promptly threw a tantrum of a most unsatisfying sort, moaning that I desperately needed more sleep, and that this was no way to run a race. Breakfast with friends, however, fixed it, especially after Lara tried to eat an egg, entertaining me with her ill-fated attempts to peel it properly.

Lara resorts to spoon for her egg. Jim thinks this is so funny that he's squinting.

Lara resorts to spoon for her egg. Jim thinks this is so funny that he's squinting.

We had a really nice day at the Ironman grounds again, racking our bikes and chatting with other racers, and I began to realize that this was actually happening. After a too-long walk home, we caught a tram to meet Roj, Lara’s husband, who was in town to watch the race, for dinner, and it was shortly afterwards that I discovered I’d misplaced my wallet. Yes, that lovely Braithwaite dealio I bought awhile ago. I can’t for the life of me figure how it happened. I can only think that the lack of sleep combined with juggling a number of things in my hands resulted in the loss. I’m quite bereft. But that’s another entry.

Anyway, it was already 8PM. We needed to sleep. Ironman was the next day, and I’ll fill you in on that tomorrow.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.