competition

Crumbs in my keyboard…

…bees in my bonnet.

I had a dream last night that Jim and I were in a triathlon. It was some kind of weird triathlon/adventure-racing hybrid, though, because there was underwater bush-whacking involved. My friend Pamela was there, for some reason, likely because she has been a huge champion of us during the Ironman thing and many of my previous cock-eyed projects (she is an Iron-peep herself), and do you know what?

I found out during this weird, epic race that I had not actually ever completed an Ironman. Of course, as dream thingys go, this one was in real-time, so I had already done all the things that are required when you finish a race: told your nearest and dearest, celebrated with your friends, blogged about it, told the local paper, notified the charity you’re raising money for that you’ve done it, so they can shout it from the rooftops…It was a horrible, sinking feeling. And then I thought of Pamela, waiting for us with her camera at the next TA, and my black heart sank way, way down to my bike shoes.

I did not know what to do, especially as Jim and I were getting ridiculed and laughed at by the race directors at this point in our Iron-AR, and we were neck-deep in swamp-weed, and it was nighttime.

I guess I did the only thing I could do: I woke up, feeling out-of-sorts and not remembering why until just now.

I think all of this has to do with my work-in-progress. No, no, my work(s)-in-progress. I have three, you see. THREE! One of them, a young-adult novel, I’ve been working on since 1999. That’s a decade ago. A lot has changed about this work, and it’s actually been to editors in its first incarnation (early 2004) and agents in its second (early 2006). So it’s not exactly staid. I personally think this last incarnation is the best. But I’m calling it a WIP because it’s missing an ending.

The reason it’s missing an ending is because I had it turned into my critique group, and so had stopped work on it, choosing to wait and see what they thought of the most recent turn of changes (I went from third person to first person) before I wrote the ending to it. We’re almost there. While WIP I (call it “YA Draft”) was out with the critique group. I started WIP II, which I’ll call, for lack of a better phrase, the Women’s Literature book. I quite like this novel. It’s complete in its story arc and just needs to be fine-tuned, and then I’ll send it out to a select list of agents. I’m not really looking forward to that. But it has to be done.

WIP III was a National Novel Writing Month project. It’s a middle-grade fantasy book that rotates around some talking animals and a man-eating cabbage. It’s the reason my dog, Sprocket, has his own Facebook page. (Someone said it was a good idea to exercise thinking the way I thought my animal characters might think.) I don’t know where that’s going, although it, too, is complete in that there is a beginning, middle, and end.

Anyway. So I think my terrible triathlon dream had to do with these three books, which are all sort of looming over my head. I’m almost done with the women’s book, which I like a lot, although I hesitate to classify it in that genre. I mean, it’s about a young woman, sure. But it’s not Maxine Hong Kingston, and it’s not Barbara Kingsolver, or Jodi Picoult. It’s my own work. It’s a little bit Jennifer-Weiner, I suppose, but only in that there’s some contemporary conflict.

So, according to my dream, the rub boils down to this: I’ve been telling people I’m a writer and that I’ve been working on some fiction. And I am, and I have been. Just Google me, you’ll see. But clearly, some part of me feels quite incomplete. Best get done with these things, then, before they end up doing me in with more dreams of incomplete aspirations. (“What? You mean I never actually graduated from college? Crap.”)

I think, too, that my brain has been on overdrive. I’ve been reading a lot of good work (see the “Stuff Other People Wrote” section for some choice reviews) and really enjoying the added inspiration. I suppose this restlessness might be partially post-race blues, but I think, also, I’ve long seen several things as being on my agenda. Ironman and becoming a part of the disaster-relief community have each been long-term goals over my life; now that I’ve accomplished those two goals; perhaps I am just telling myself that it’s time to move on with the rest of the stuff too. Dispense with the to-do list, in short order, as it were. And then? After that? Perhaps non-fiction. A guide to lifelong to-do lists.

At any rate, my horrible dream has left me feeling high-spirited. There is a lot of work to be done, and I am looking forward to it.

Here are some more photos from Schweiz.

p7090086

I think the way one building is built into another is hilarious.

I also love this teeny tiny church, perched on a ridge.

I also love this teeny tiny church, perched on a ridge.

I am nuts about this graffiti, too

I am nuts about this graffiti, too, found in an underpass in Lucerne

and just as nuts about this photo of me and Lara.

and just as nuts about this photo of me and Lara.

i like this one the best, though.

i like this one the best, though.

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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.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Riding a bike is not what you thought it is

It’s a sticky, slightly breezy day today, like it has been most days here, with a pretty good chance of thunderstorms. Last night, our neurotic dog woke up needing to potty twice, which is bizarre for him, but…what do you do? You pull on your outside clothes; grab your keys and let him out, down the hallway to the elevator, and then stand out there while he moseys about, looking for an appropriate place.
I swear, he never did this when we had our own backyard. It’s like he’s checking to see how far he can push us. Then again, I’m not willing to rish an accident on the carpet. It would make him feel terrible, anyway.
Consequently, I’m feeling far less than well rested today. That might explain the terrible lateness of this post, or it might not. Whatevs.
Today is the day we discuss the longest leg in the triathlon for many people, the bike leg. There are a few things you should know.

You, too, can look this happy on a bicycle

The few things you should know
-The faster you pedal, the less quickly your legs will tire.
-You are more stable moving forward, pedaling, than you are moving forward, without pedaling.
-Bicycling is an all-body sport.

Why those things are important
The bicycling leg is your best chance to refuel. It’s also where you will spend the bulk of your time on race day, and where you will spend the bulk of your time training. It’s where you stand the most chance of improving your time, so you do *not* want to do like I did this season and willy-nilly skip bicycle workouts all over the place and then pay no attention to things like heart rate and cadence when you do finally get to your bike workout.
Although the advantages of training by heart rate are well documented, some folks still overlook the importance of cadence. It’s really important to keep your cadence somewhere between 80 and 90 rotations a minute. It’ll mean easier pedaling, and you’ll get stronger, faster.
You’ll be able to sustain a longer ride if you can keep your legs from tiring, and cadence is the key to that. Remember, you still have a run to do after your ride, so ride smart, maintaining a good speed, and let it carry you up hills where you can.
Learn to ride smart on the downhills. Know which speeds you can maintain without feeling unstable; a crash at a high speed wouldn’t be much fun at all.
Be sure to spend a fair amount of time on your bike, practicing things like eating and drinking. You won’t be able to stop every time you want to take a drink or eat something, so learn how to do that on the fly, and get comfortable doing it.
You are going to experience a few uncomfortable things your first couple of weeks on your bike. First, there’s a little spot between the shoulder blades that’s bound to cramp from holding yourself up (c.f. “all-body sport” above). And, your butt will hurt. Don’t worry; these things will go away with time, but there are things you can do to immediately alleviate some of the pain.

Things to buy
Triathlon is an expensive sort, and while there are things you don’t need to spend money on, I do think that buying a good pair of cycling shoes and pedals is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my cycling career. A proper cycling stroke means that you use the muscles in your legs on the upstroke as well as the downstroke (think of the motion you make with your foot when scraping a piece of gum off the sole of your shoe). Being clipped in to your pedals means you can use that stroke without worrying that you’ll lose contact with your pedal. If you’re worried about getting your money’s worth, don’t: I’ve had the pair I’m using in this weekend’s triathlon for 13 years, and they’re my only pair of road riding shoes.

Beat up, ratty shoes. These are SIDI Genius 2s. For reference, SIDI is now making Genius 6s.

Beat up, ratty shoes. These are SIDI Genius 2s. For reference, SIDI is now making Genius 6s.

Cleats are the key to staying attached to your bike, and uber-efficient

Cleats are the key to staying attached to your bike, and uber-efficient

Buy a couple pairs of cycling shorts. These are padded in all the right places, for all the important reasons.

I’d also invest in a Bento Box for your top tube. It velcroes right to your bike frame and allows you to access things like…food. It’s likely the best $14 you’ll ever spend.
bentobox
Get a computer that will measure your cadence and speed for you. Some of the fancier models will connect wirelessly to a heart rate monitor so you can keep track of everyone right on your bike, but…I’m not that cool.
catseye_
Also, spend the money and get some Body Glide. It’s an allatonin-based product that will keep your clothes rubbing from rubbing against your skin, and prevent chafing. Put it on your butt, and anywhere your skin meets fabric. Do it. It’ll help.
Finally, *do* get a road bike, even an inexpensive one. There’s nothing quite like flying over the course on one of these sleek, silent machines. I’ve hit a top speed of 38 miles an hour on my road bike, and although that’s not nearly as fast as the pros on a good downhill, it is really an unbeatable, unmatchable feeling.
More important, though, you’ll be on a machine that’s engineered to go long distance over an asphalt surface. If you ride a triathlon course on a mountain or a hybrid bike, you run the risk of wasting a lot of energy for no good reason.
Right, that’s it for now. Tomorrow, the run course.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

A triathlon primer

I’ve been involved in multi-sport since 2001, and started doing triathlons back in 2003 as part of a project to get more urban women involved in outdoor sport (“Yes! You *can* have a two-martini dinner and still go for a five-mile run when you get home!”)
At any rate, navigating some of the terminology in triathlon is one of the things I remember doing first, so let’s start from the very beginning.

Base Definition
Technically, a triathlon is any sport that involves three sports, much the way that a biathlon can be anything from a cross-country-skiing-and-shooting-fest to a run-bike-run. But, strictly speaking, triathlon is typically defined as swim-bike-run, in that order.
sbr
(Cartoon images help me to remember which order events are in a tri.)

That Whole “Ironman” Thing
I can’t tell you how many people have asked me, when I’m doing an Ironman, “Wait, a full one?” Sometimes I get the same question when I tell people I’m doing a triathlon. Anything less than a full triathlon would be a bi-athlon, or a running or swimming or biking race. And anything less than an Ironman is a half-Ironman or an Olympic distance or a sprint race. (More on those later.) The term “triathlon” is not interchangeable with “Ironman.”
There is some controversy about the Ironman branding. I was very disappointed to realize that, since the people behind the Ironman brand also operate events at the half-Ironman distance, they are extending the Ironman name to that distance. They’re calling it “70.3” instead (the full distance behind an Ironman is 140.6 miles, exactly), so as not to dilute the brand of “Ironman,” I suppose, but I believe it’s backfired: Now, you can say you’ve done an “Ironman” if you did an Ironman-branded 70.3 event. They encourage it. I find it annoying. I don’t like the idea of making it sound as if I’ve done something I haven’t. For me, that will all change this year once I cross the finish line at Ironman Switzerland, and I suppose that, in the future, the collective memory will forget that Ironman once meant one specific thing, but…eurgh.
Anyway.
imlogo
(This logo is fraught with controversy. Okay, just in my head.)

The Distances
Remember a couple of days ago, when I was geeking out to the math involved in a triathlon? Get ready for some more geekspeak.
In order, from shortest to longest, the triathlons are: sprint; Olympic (or International); Half-Ironman (or “middle-distance”); Ironman. Here are the distance breakdowns:
Sprint
Swim: 400-800 yards (0.25-0.5 mile)
Bike: 13 miles
Run: 3.1 miles

Olympic (International)
Swim: .93 miles
Bike: 26 miles
Run: 6.2 miles

Half-Ironman (Middle)
Swim: 1.2 miles
Bike: 56 miles
Run: 13.1 miles

Ironman
Swim: 2.4 miles
Bike: 112 miles
Run: 26.2

How to Get Started
Start small. Find a friendly local race to train for. Enlist some friends to train with you and race with you. Enjoy the process, as you become competent in several disciplines as once and gain confidence and strength. Swim outdoors when you can. There are a ton of training programs online. I used Trinewbies.com for awhile and enjoyed it.
team-divas-05
(These are the girls who were in my virtual network for awhile. Loved doing a triathlon with them.)
Next, shop. Yes, do get triathlon-specific items. You could spend a ton of money, but you don’t have to: invest in a pair of triathlon shorts that will take you straight from swim to bike and through the run. A wetsuit, if your chosen triathlon requires it, or if you live in a colder-weather clime.

Next, set some goals. They can be anything: weight loss; time spent outdoors; a time goal. Just pick something and stick to it.

Finally, pick a nice, casual restaurant in which to celebrate your first triathlon. If you don’t finish the race feeling good enough to have a margarita (okay, I’ll admit this is my own personal benchmark), then…well, try again. Then repeat.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk some about the specific legs of a race.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

It’s a fine day to indulge in some ice chips

I only say this because it’s gloriously sunny out, and I’m recovering from a nasty bout of food poisoning. People, let me just dispense one fine piece of advice: when you are three weeks out from a major race and just barely beginning to taper, it is a really, really bad idea for you to eat food from the hot/cold buffet at any eating establishment. The risk just isn’t worth it. Since I didn’t pay attention to this advice, I had to skip yesterday’s jog, which would have been an awesome walk in the woods with Jim and the hound. There is nothing in my belly except for ice chips and my eyelids feel as if they have been coated with sandpaper (this is no doubt a result of dehydration).
Jim and I had been looking forward to Saturday’s ride, which would have been our longest to-date and the first that we’ve had specific instructions to stay together. Jim is a much faster cyclist than I am under ordinary circumstances. Just to give you some sort of measurement, he does our usual loop, the 14-mile race loop we did for the first time this year four weeks ago, in about 45 minutes. I do it in about an hour and ten minutes. But our coach specifically has asked that I work on my cadence, and she thinks that following Jim around will both give me more confidence and a better feel for faster riding.
She’s right on both counts; it’s just a little disheartening to realize how little I retain of my desire for competition of this sort. Imagine, being told that you need to follow someone around in order to get some sort of feel for speed!
Well. I wasn’t any faster than I usually am, but my legs felt so much better, and I did get a feel for the speed I’d want to be traveling at. Plus, Jim bought me a neat little computer that tracks my cadence, and while I wasn’t as bad as I thought I’d be on the flats and the very slight uphills, my cadence on the uphill-uphills was absolutely dreadful. Oh well.
Anyway, here’s the loop we rode.
We did our prescribed 15-minute run at the end, and piled into the car for home and dinner, only to get stuck in traffic and not be able to go anywhere for a good long while. I slept. When I woke up again Jim was wearing the heavy-lidded look that says he’s not long for the conscious world, and we were still so far away from home.
A normal thirty-minute ride turned into a marathon hour and a half.
Anyway, home, dinner, and sleep, with the knowledge that the next day would be better, but not without the geeking-out that I seem to do every night now before I go to sleep. It looks like this:
723×8=5784
5784/3.3=1752
1752>1260
70/6.25=11.2
112/11.2=10
5280/3=1750
1750/50=35
35×2=70
1750x.2=….
and so on. All of that, of course, is the amount of time it’s going to take me to do the Ironman, based on the distances I’ve traveled and the training I’ve done. By my current calculations I shall barely eke in under the 16-hour cutoff point, and I’m OK with that, just so long as I finish.
We ran a few errands Sunday and had the aforementioned buffet lunch, and then I crashed hard on the couch for several hours. I thought I was just tired, but my beleagured little body was waging a war against either the corn-and-edamame succotash or the roasted cauliflower. I woke up, piled leftover fish and chips and grape juice on top of the mess in my belly, and promptly paid the price.
Mmhmmm. Lovely.
So after a sleepless night, I’m staring at a day of incapability to do work and possibly being late returning my library books. I’d like to actually pick up some new ones and write a book review and some more articles for The Examiner, but…I’m so tired. And hungry. Maybe I can stomach some chicken broth.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.