Ironman

Dog under Desk

…This is what happens when I am in a terrible mood.

Ergo, Sprocket is under my desk. Entirely. Where he does not fit. Here is the proof.

This is also proof that I am in a terrible mood. I have never tried writing a post while I am in a terrible mood, so this will be AN EXPERIMENT.

I am going to tell you about my two phobias. Potentially I will address what to do about them, but because I am conducting this experiment as I type, I guarantee nothing. I should lead by saying that I don’t ordinarily fall into the category of a girl’s girl. Sure, I like to get dressed up, but I don’t mind getting dirty or sweaty. Most of my shoes are shoes you can hike in, if at a pinch. I buy clothing to get sweaty in. I paint my toenails before every race. That’s about it. And I’m not generally squeamish. I like bugs and beetles and almost every type of wildlife, yes, even snakes and spiders. I love the outdoors and wonderful temperate forests. So that makes this first phobia really awful.

1. Worms

I am terrified of worms. You’re thinking, “Oh, lots of girls say that. They’re not really.” The answer is, yes, yes I am terrified of them. Really. I am so terrified of them that when I went to do a search for illustrations for this post, I had to actually close one eye and then pick a picture of a cartoon worm. Here it is:

from how-to-draw-funny-cartoons.com

Seriously. When the search page came up with all sorts of pink and brown collared things with no legs, all of the hairs on the back of my neck went up and I almost couldn’t touch the keyboard.

I love rain, but spring is particularly awful because when I take Sprocket for a stroll there are worms all over the sidewalk, escaping the drowning fate by stretching themselves out on comparably more dry pavement. I spend a lot of time and energy and probably shorten my life shrieking and sidestepping, heart pounding a billion times a minute. Even if it’s just me and there’s not one to shriek TO. Pathetic.

It.

Is.

Ridiculous.

And you know what? It gets worse I’m also freaked out by these things:

from in-the-stream.blogspot.com

Yeah, millipedes. Those fat scurrying, undulating bodies, all uniform and segmented…it’s worse when they’re curled up.

I didn’t think I was one of those. And when I’m in the field, or moving with purpose, in general, I can set it out of my mind. But…well, take the time I was with our friend Peggy, watching Jim race in a 24-hour mountain bike race in a forest in New Jersey. I got up out of the camp chair, and there in the dying light of a humid summer day, I spotted a millipede. I froze. I couldn’t move, couldn’t go around it, couldn’t really function. I just stood there, panting, freaking out, and Peggy eventually had to get a stick and move it for me. Even so, every time I thought about it, my mouth would water in that horrible pre-vomiting feeling.

I can’t really pin down why this is. I know that when I was young and we had just moved to Pennsylvania, I used to let caterpillars run over my hands and arms, watching their cute little furry bodies wiggle. I can’t even do that anymore. The feeling of those tiny fleshy feet, hundreds of ’em, wandering over and around…urg.

I also know that, when I was twelve or so, a worm fell off the roof of our house (I don’t know what it was doing up there) and landed on my head. My friend Kate looked up and said to me, “Um, I don’t want to scare you, but…” and, props to her, picked it out. And broke it in half while she was trying to rescue me. So now there was a half a worm, leaking god-knows-what in my hair.

I don’t remember if we went on playing after she rescued me. That night I dreamed a horrible nightmare about being covered in earthworms. We had the segment on worms in science class shortly after that. We had to put a worm on a paper towel on our desks and PUT OUR HEADS DOWN CLOSE TO IT to listen to it moving around. I think I begged out of the dissection. It was awful.

I remember playing with snails and slugs, too–in Taiwan we had these huge slugs that would crawl around in the courtyard, and I’d go out there and poke them in the antennae and watch them shrink back. Yep, I don’t do that anymore either.

But worms. Worms are the worst. I don’t know what to do about this.

2. Sharks

from fcusd.edu

There’s not much to say about this. They are amazing creatures. The thing is, they are perfect killing machines. And honestly, I’m not all that freaked out by the concept of a quick death at the jaws of something this perfect, something that belongs in a native environment that I’m probably invading. But I do have a problem with a lot of pain.

Perhaps my problem is not so much with sharks themselves. My problem is likely more related to the ocean, that enormous expanse of unknown. The fact that, in a lot of saltwater bodies I’ve been in, the water is so clear that you can see whatever it is coming for you, with the sure fact that it’s a lot better at coming for you than you are at outrunning it–outswimming it–well, that’s not very palatable, either.

The ocean is an amazing thing. I’d like to feel comfortable in it, but part of me says that that’s a silly  aspiration. A little healthy fear is a good thing, particularly for something more powerful than you are.

But the other part of me says that you should always try something new, always try to push your limits a little.

I’ve tried surfing. I’ve swum in open water, a lot. Maybe this is just a matter of proficiency. Every once in awhile I get panicky, although I didn’t panic once during IM Switz. I dunno. Maybe this phobia is all visual. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I can clearly see the limits of a lake, or a freshwater body of water. I can’t do so with oceans.

So there you have it. My two biggest fears. One I can do something about. The other I’d like to go away, but I’m not sure how. I think the worm thing is all tactile: seeing them reminds me of how they feel. Bleck. Anyone get over such a thing, ever?

image: howstuffworks.com

Yes, yes, I’m still cranky!

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009: Challenge

So Gwen Bell is doing this project, okay? It’s not really about getting people to read your stuff, it’s more an opportunity to reflect on all of the things that have happened over the course of 2009.

http://www.gwenbell.com/blog/2009/11/30/the-best-of-2009-blog-challenge.html

http://www.gwenbell.com/blog/2009/11/30/the-best-of-2009-blog-challenge.html

We already know that I’ve been terrible about blogging this year–yes, yes, let’s face it–and that’s largely because a lot has happened. So I’m going to take up Gwen on her December project. I’m late (they started December 1), but I think this will be good for me. Perhaps I’ll fill in days 1-8 as bonuses later.

In the meantime, although it’s December 10th, I’m starting with her December 9th question: What was your greatest challenge of the year?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Was it Ironman? Was it moving? Was it ShelterBox, or the only really honest novel I’ve written of the four currently gathering dust on my desk and in my hard drive? I have been turning all of these things over in my head, and the winner is ShelterBox.

But you know, it wasn’t the extensive interview and training process, or the fact that I think training for the physicality of the thing was worse than Ironman training; or even that I’m finally a part of the disaster-relief community at large, that makes this stand out. It was more the fact that I learned to trust myself.

Something I haven’t really spoken about when I talk about ShelterBox is that when our teams hit the ground, we’re autonomous. We make the decisions; we tell HQ to send more boxes or keep them back; we deal with whatever problems arise. Obviously, this mean you need to carry around a certain amount of trust in your own decisions and actions.

This is not something I am good at. I mean, I know I’ve done good things and made good decisions; it’s just that, much of the time, I do the thing first and then spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over it, rather than just saying, “Right, okay, you did the thing, so just shut up and carry on.” I don’t know what excuse to offer for this lame, hunted-rabbit-like behavior, but then again, the time is long gone for excuses.

some days i feel like this. sheepish AND nervous in a rabbity way.

some days i feel like this. sheepish AND nervous in a rabbity way.

I don’t know how ShelterBox HQ eventually saw through the fluff, crap, and mutterings I go through while I’m reaching the right decisions, but they did. More embarrassing still is the fact that I *knew* when I was in a place where I didn’t feel secure. At those moments, I was loudest, most strident, uber-aggressive. Awful, and not the way I want to live my life.

The whole experience has taught me an invaluable lesson: If you waste time faffing about with should-I-shouldn’t-Is, well, you’re not only wasting time, but energy, too, and I need all of that I can get. Also, that you are your own worst betrayer: even if you think you’re exuding confidence, if you’re feeling insecure, it will show. This isn’t pleasant for anyone, and it’s absolutely awful to recollect.

It’s hard to learn to trust yourself. Sometimes it takes nine days in the woods with angry British people screaming at you to pack up your kit before the tsunami hits to help you figure it out. But it’s worth it in the end.

Shelterbox SRT Training 113

My graduating class, and the day I learned not to bark at people.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

The things they ate

During an Ironman, you consume all sorts of high-tech food. Engineered stuff, crafted to hit the sweet spot between high-quality fuel and optimized ease of digestion. If that jargon isn’t enough to make your head spin, well…you should take a look at the labels on some of the stuff I ate.
Here’s the list:
(5) Gus
(2) Trader Joe’s Sweet,  Savory & Tart bars
(2) Cokes
(1) banana, cut into chunks and consumed over different aid stations on the run.
(5) bottles of Gatorade or Powerade
I added up the calorie count…it comes to something like 1900 calories. I don’t know how many calories I burned, but it’s way more than the above list gave me. Either way, I didn’t feel nauseated and I didn’t once feel hungry, so I think I did right by myself for the glacial pace at which I was moving.

No, the real problems came the next day, post-race. We sat down to a celebratory meal with Lara, of brat-and-potatoes, chicken cordon vert for Lara, and Wienerschnitzel, I think, for Jim. Prosecco for Lara and a summery white wine spritzer for me, and we gabbed happily about the race and debriefed each other.

But as I began to wolf down my food, I realized that there was what felt like a massive lump in the back of my mouth, just where my palate met the soft part of my mouth, and it was increasingly painful. I vaguely remembered there being one other such occurrence before, and I remember Jim saying to me then that he had it too, but I couldn’t remember when or why.  I was looking at my plate, wondering if I should mention the fact that I could hardly swallow to my friends and ruin the festive mood, or if I should just glug down the rest of my white wine spritzer and hope that numbed the problem. Too late, though: my friends noticed my slowing down (also, perhaps, the glassy-eyed staring at plate didn’t help, either) and asked with some alarm what happened.

It turns out, this happens after every race during which you’ve eaten pretty much nothing but soft foods. Your body’s in shock, you see, right down to the fact that all of the dehydration, near-starvation, and sugary content over the course of one long day forces the physical reaction of an angry, swollen palate.

All of this is to say that I think my body’s only recently gone back to normal. I couldn’t eat the hashed potatoes that came with my brat that day (too many rough edges); I could hardly eat the fondue we had that night for dinner because the fatty cheese covered nice crusty bread; I was thrilled to find that gelato didn’t offend anything in my system, and that beer cooled my throat. So sad. The next day was better. We went to visit a lovely mountain via funicular train up the side of Mount Pilatus:

funicularjhyslmh

Me, Jim, and Marilyn on board the funicular train

and had lunch at the top, which looked like this:

crisp greens

crisp greens

and this!

carnivoresplatter

Point being, there was no way I was going to let that gorgeous food go to waste, even if it was all sharp corners and crunchy things.

I still wasn’t really eating right by the time we got home, although I suspect part of that might have just been general aimlessness and a lack of focus and normal schedule. I think I’m back on track though: I’ve been eating good dinners and semi-good lunches. Had a nice burger at a BBQ with friends on Saturday evening; Friday I had shrimp burritos, but I totally neglected to eat the rice on the side, choosing instead to drink a very large margarita. Come to think of it, I think maybe the fact that the margarita was half-done by the time food arrived may have forced me to not see the rice at all. This is because of another side effect of Ironman training: I am now officially an uber-cheap date.

Anyway, I think I’m finally back to normal. I’m starving all the time and thirsty all the time, so I think my body is telling me that now I need to go back to exercising all the time. Ha! Ha! Ha!

Right. Tomorrow, it’s back to our regularly scheduled reading-and-writing based programming. I have a stack of book reviews floating around in my head that I need to process.

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.

Odds and Ends

We leave for the airport to begin our trip to Zurich in about two hours. There are a few things on my mind.

1. I’ve been slowly falling apart over the past week. First, I banged my shin on our square bed-post. This happens every once in awhile, with varying degrees of severity, but this was ridiculous, because it led to me banging my head on that lovely Arco lamp that we purchased recently, and then to the discovery of s bizarre niggling pain in my rib, and then when I went for my run on Sunday I discovered a grossly unhappy hamstring. And then, yesterday, in our open-water swim, coach had us come in on a particularly rocky shore–no, he didn’t see the rocks until it was way too late–and both Jim and I have multiple cuts on our feet. Owtch. They should heal in time, but…

2. My house is falling apart. I woke up this morning and stood over the sink, rinsing my coffee pot, and noticed a leak right next to me. Creepy thing is, it’s coming from the upstairs apartment, where no one lives. Eee. The maintenance guys came right away to turn off the water upstairs. Now, no more leak. But they’ll have to fix while we’re away.

3. I am really pretty upset at Twitter right now. I asked someone, quite nicely, to refrain from tweeting Tour de France results, since not all of us get a chance to see it until the end of the day. She refused, and, in turn, sent out a tweet out that asked why people get upset when results of things are revealed. This, in turn, resulted in a bunch of people calling people like me “whiners” and “losers.” I suppose this is going to be one of those web debates. I’m refusing to get involved. I just sent her a note thanking her for clarifying her position, and noted that I’d unfollow her for now and then re-follow her later. After the way she’s handled the situation, though, I don’t think I’ll be doing that. Too bad–she’s a bicycle tour organizer and I was thinking pretty seriously about joining her tours one day.

4. I was really excited for Switzerland last night, and today I’m just nervous. I hope I’ll be able to sleep on the plane! I love traveling, though. I’m sure it’ll be fun.

5. Sprocket is in Connecticut having a blast, or so his facebook page tells me, snort snort. Here’s a photo. p7060074These are Sprocket’s new friends, Murphy and Bella. They are sweet and drooly.

6. Lunchboxes are back. Aren’t these interesting? I spotted these in Connecticut on our way back from dropping off Das Hund. p7060079

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.
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(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.
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(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.
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(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.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Triathlon transitions

I had a very good weekend, training-wise and social-wise. We took our time, sleeping in a little bit and taking our time getting ready in the mornings, since our workouts were shorter now that we’re closer to D-Day, and that made all the difference, since I’m largely a morning person.
At any rate, part of the terrific weekend was getting to know a bloke (Hi, Steve!) who’s doing some important work getting ShelterBox up and running in Denmark. He’s a British ex-pat and heard of my efforts on behalf of ShelterBox in the Ironman, and took the time on Sunday to engage in some chitchat over the Facebook transom. Talking to him made me think that there are perhaps a number of readers who don’t know exactly what I’m doing in this-here Ironman, so I’ll take some space in the days leading up to race day to describe some things like training and structure of races.
Today I’ll go over transition times. You’ve already seen some of the neuroses that happens (how many laps do I have to swim before I hit a mile, again? How many MPH do I have to hit before I can say that I’ll make the cut-off on time?) but one of the things that goes oft-overlooked is transition times. In adventure racing, the transition–the time between disciplines allotted for changing your kit around and prepping for the next leg of the race–can be incredibly slow. There’s re-fueling to be done, re-packing, map-reading, and sometimes, in the very long races, tooth-brushing.
But in a triathlon, the transition times can be remarkably fast, about two, three minutes between each discipline. This makes a relatively disorganized person like me break out in cold sweat. My friend Pamela, who is incredibly organized, is good at these things. Me, not so much. I have to practically write everything down, practice it over and over again.
So here’s what happens in a TA (“transition area”): You stage your bike, your shoes, any odds and ends you might need on the course, all the night before the race. (The Ironman organization practices a “clean transition area” policy, but we’ll talk more about that tomorrow, when I go over race structure.)
A typical transition area looks like this:
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(Assume that my bicycle is on the left side of things.)
Every last minute counts in a triathlon. In the case of next weekend’s Ironman, it’ll count doubly for me, since I missed an entire cycle of training this year, all told, and I will need every minute I can get in order to make it in under the 16-hour cutoff for the race. Transitions are “free time”: you don’t have to get stronger or fitter to execute a good triathlon, and it can save you a lot of time if you do it right.
Things get set up very specifically. Ordinarily, I’d have my helmet, jersey, sunglasses, and bike gloves sitting on top of my bike handlebars, so I don’t have to waste time bending over one more time to pick something up. You can see that my socks are already sitting in my bike shoes, ready for me to pull them on and slip into my shoes. My shoes are entirely undone. I will put these on first.
Next I will pull on my jersey, which will have my number already pinned to the front of it. You can see it’s lying front down, since that’s the way I’ll pull it on. (One time, I put the pins all the way through my jersey. I had a bear of a time putting my jersey on, let me tell you. Lessons learned.)
My sunglasses are open and my gloves are as open as they can possibly be. My feet will be wet and likely covered in grass, sand, and dirt from the jog from the lake to the transition area, so the towel underneath all my stuff will serve dual purpose.
When I come in from the swim, I’ll pull off my wetsuit and set it out of the way. I’ll be wearing a sportsbra and my triathlon shorts underneath already. Then I’ll wipe my feet and pull on my socks and shoes. Sunscreen and lip balm goes on my face and neck only, since I’ll have pre-applied over my body before the swim and it won’t have washed or rubbed off in the water; then my helmet and my glasses and gloves. I’ll probably take a slug of liquid and some salt tablets (we’ll talk about nutrition at a later date) and scarf a bite of real food, like one of the granola bars you see on the towel.
Then it’s off to the bike leg.
Many, many hours later, it’s time to run. I’ll come in, undo my bike shoes, remove my glasses, helmet, bike gloves, slip into my running shoes, slap on my visor, and go after grabbing my water bottle.
A good transition will take somewhere between 3 and 8 minutes. Well, a girl can hope, anyway, can’t she?
Tomorrow, race structure.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

The Weekend that Started Early and Would Not End

Egads. It feels like I’ve been running on weekend time forever. It sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? Except, see, for us, in these peak weeks of Ironman training, well, the weekends are when we do our long workouts: five-hour bike rides on Saturday; three-hour runs on Sunday. After that, there’s not much to do but sleep and eat. There’s not much we’re capable of, really.
This weekend, we had a wedding to go to, so our long run was moved to Friday, leaving our Saturday free to travel. We also had a friend in town, apartment-hunting, although she wasn’t staying with us. And there were a few occurrences that made things feel as happy as weekends used to feel, before the days of long workouts that leave no time for regular life.
My sense of time is all screwed up. I know we only have a few weeks left until the Ironman, but it still feels a long way away. I guess we do have to get there, after all. At any rate, all of this is a round-about way of saying that I have a ton of impressions that are weighing with various pressures on my mind. In order of “weight,” then:
First, the wedding: My first-ever New York roommate got married. She also graduated as a Doctor of Osteopathy. Very, very cool. It was really nice to see her and participate in the wedding. (She had me do a reading. Yes, I got all weepy.)
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Second, the awesome guys at Braithwaite Wallets donated a fairly large amount of money to ShelterBox by way of supporting me, one of their first clients, and my Ironman effort. I’d say something about how great their wallets are, and, in particular, how the one I bought from them has made my life easier, but all of that pales next to the the donation they made, and the level of gratitude I feel at their generosity.
Third, an old friend from junior high school has found an apartment in Brooklyn and will be moving here mid-summer. It will be nice to have her in the same state–we haven’t lived in the same state since college, really, and we weren’t really in touch then–and interesting to discover Brooklyn with someone who’s interested in some of the same things.
Third, I took this picture of Sprocket recently. I think he looks very thoughtful: “What am I going to make for dinner tonight?”
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Fourth: I had a workdate yesterday with a new friend. I don’t think it was as successful for him as it was for me, but I’m grateful that he let me hang out with him. It’s always nice to get out of the house.
Fifth: I went to my friend John’s cafe to meet Tim for lunch. It was a really nice experience. Zanny’s Cafe is the result of a lot of hard work and I’m really proud of John for making it happen. I think it’s so awesome to have tangible proof of something you built and worked on.
Sixth: We saw another old friend on our way up to the wedding. Matt and Karla and their little boy Korbin are fascinating people. I love seeing them and I’m happy we’re on the same coast again, even if we’re not likely to see them more than a couple of times a year. The northeast is so much smaller than the midwest, and there is such a concentration of reasonably large cities (New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, for instance), that the act of going to visit a friend in another state does not immediately pack an entire weekend. I mean, obviously, it’s nicer if one can spend an entire weekend with friends, but it’s not as prohibitive as, say, driving to Indianapolis was. Here are Matt, Karla, and Korbin in front of their awesome little condo. p6130082
And here is the awesome radiator re-seller that we saw on the way to Matt and Karla’s (we passed it twice, looping around and around the Somerville streets). p6130078
What else? Oh, yes. We had a massive surf-and-turf dinner at Sarah’s wedding. She is not one to skimp on food, and she is also one to ensure that her guests are very, very happy. This combination leads to fat, happy guests. p6130087
Okay, fine, one more. Here is Sprocket’s poor hedgehog toy. I stitched up one of his eyes after Sprocket ripped it out, but I think it is finally beyond repair. Sigh. p6090075

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.