Switzerland

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.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

p7090081

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.

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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

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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:
dsc06827
(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.

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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.