Thursday, November 30, 2006

sometimes people change

Written for the USC Triathlon Newsletter 11-30-06:

Sometimes people change.

Oh, we know. Your parents told you people never change. They said so very clearly when you started hanging out with the "bad boy" down the street (or *became* the bad boy down the street...but that's another story). They even told you the fables--the ones about leopards not changing their spots and scorpions not changing their nature.

But sometimes people change.

They change because of things that happen in their lives. Because of days that pass, people they lose, things that happen. Because of years lived, relationships endured, lessons learned. They change because of the journey that is life and living and wear and tear of mileage run beneath their feet. They change because the distance leaves a mark and memory of age and sight and sound and emotion stretching as long as the evening shadows of the longest day of the longest trail of the greatest vistas spread out beneath creation's great sky extending beyond reason into infinite. They change, because underneath the eye of heaven, they can do nothing else but change.

And your parents then gave you the caveat that people can only change when they want to change.

Well, you chose to start a journey. You chose to enter a race. You chose to go to practice and train. You chose to find others like you. You chose to listen to a coach. You chose to suffer and hurt and suffer again. You chose to live outdoors or in a gym, by seasons alternating freezing in the wind or baking beneath the sun. You chose to change.

And you chose all this because deep down, in places that we label in varying degrees your mind, your heart, or your soul, you wanted to change.

And you have changed. You know it. You know you've changed when your coach tells you to run 5 miles and you say "That's all?" You know you've changed when you're looking at a 4-hour hole in your schedule and wondering if you can fit in a 50-mile bike ride. You know you've changed when a 3,000 meter descending swim set in the pool sounds like Sunday recreation. You know you've changed when you look around and look back, and wonder how you ever were the person you were then, and realize that you can't--or don't want--to be that person ever again.

Sometimes, people change.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

training round-up, week ending 11-25-06

i was sick most of this week. boooooooooooo!!!

i ended up taking some more rest days than i would have liked, but i just wasn't feeling well. i missed a long run (i had to cut the sunday trail run short because of headache and fever), and i missed a long swim (i had wanted to get in a continuous 3000 yards, but had to swap it out due to continuing headache and fever).

having said that, i did get in the 60 mile bike ride i'd wanted to get in--and which was by far the most crucial workout this week:

sunday, nov. 19

  • trail run (weekly long run), 5.5 miles, aerobic conditioning (zone 2 & zone 3), Rose Bowl arroyo trail, start time 8 am
monday, nov. 20

  • swim (intervals, 4x400s), 2200 yards, muscular endurance (zone 2 & zone 3), macdonald's swim stadium, start time 6 am
tuesday, nov. 21

sick day (i slept in)

wednesday, nov. 22

sick day

thursday, nov. 23

  • bike ride (long ride), 62 miles, aerobic conditioning (zone 2 & zone 3), santa ana river trail, start time 9 am
friday, nov. 24

sick day

saturday, nov. 25

  • kung fu (active rest), garfield park, start time 9:30 am

Friday, November 24, 2006

getting away on thanksgiving

Written for the USC Triathlon Newsletter 11-24-06:

Yeah, it's Thanksgiving. Yeah, it's Turkey Day. Yeah, your local granola is yelling "meat is murder!" Yeah, it's munch time. Yeah, by now you're stomaches are full, you're sitting languoriously on a couch, you've got leftovers rotting on the counter and a turkey-and-ham sandwich calling your name, and the you never ever want to take a physical movement on this earth again.

Great, isn't it?

Hangin' with the friends and relatives. Sharin' some love at the table. Throwin' victuals to the holiday spirit. And opening up the season for the drive to the end of the year. It's all good and fun and righteous and in some ways downright sanctified, by golly!

But admit it. There's some things about it you just can't stand. The obnoxious relatives. The annoying friends. The bratty kids. The smelly babies. The tensions over cooking food and setting tables and making sure everybody's happy (because, *after all*, we're all going to be HAPPY, even if it means making ourselves miserable doing it)...and God forbid anybody isn't happy....ooooooooh noooooooo, we wouldn't, couldn't, *will not* accept that. Even if the reward for making it through the big meal was a distended abdomen, gastric distress, and the misfortune of being dragged out into the rampage and melee of the Friday holiday shopping spree.

Ah yes, nothing like having a meaningful, spiritual, and deeply reflective time of year anointed and blessed by crass commercialism, obscene gluttony, superficial obsession, and passive-aggressive pathology.

It's enough to make you want to shut everything out and seek some privacy.

You know, solitude. Like the kind you sometimes dread during those early morning and late evening training sessions, but now suddenly find yourself secretly, compulsively, longingly thinking about. Swim, bike, run. With nobody around to bother you.

And all those times you hated being alone. It's all you want now. To get away. Just like you did when you were a kid. Except then it was outside or a playhouse or a treehouse or a shed or a wood or a street or a path, anywhere but somewhere, just someplace, very very...very...far away.... And now it's become a favorite swimming hole or a favorite route or a favorite trail. Miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles from here and today, leading anywhere but somewhere, just someplace, very very...very...far away...

If you're looking for some places to go, these might help:

60 mile bike ride

yesterday was the annual Thanksgiving Day Bike Ride with friends and alumni.

well, actually, it's not quite annual. truth be told, this was the inaugural year. but that's just a minor detail. i figure it'll become annual as long as i'm in Southern California. i figure it's a good way to burn some calories, work up an appetite, and have an excuse to go pig out at the Big Meal later in the day. that, and it was a beautiful day for cycling (72 degree temps, hazy sky, little glare from the sun, and dry).

the plan was to ride 60 miles through some nice cities (at least, nicer than around campus), going from Long Beach down to Huntington Beach and then up to Yorba Linda. you can check out the route at MapMyRun:

there were supposed to be 5 of us. but 1 overslept, and the other couldn't make it because of car trouble. so the remaining 3 of us took off on our own. i almost missed it myself--i got sick a few days ago, and i was NOT feeling this ride, but i figured i'd planned it, organized it, and people were expecting me, so i'd suck it up and go anyway. that, and i'm starting up Ironman training and i can't really afford to postpone bike riding any more.

originally, i had planned on going at a leisurely pace of 16-17 mph. basically, a steady aerobic session. but one my buddies evidently had some place to be and plans with his wife and family, so he ended up pushing the pace and we found ourselves cranking along at 21 mph...that was until we hit the headwinds and found ourselves struggling to maintain 18 mph.

which is fine, except for the winds. the beach communities of Surfside, Bolsa Chica, Huntington Beach, and Newport Beach always seem to have a pretty healthy supply of coastal winds. it's a constant breeze blowing either offshore on onshore. given the orientation of the beach, it makes for a constant headwind or tailwind, depending on which way you go. while the terrain is relatively flat, the breeze (sometimes it feels like a gale) makes up for it with a steady dose of slow agony. if you're unfortunate enough to be facing the headwind, you'll find yourself pedaling harder while going slower.

the winds provided a steady tailwind as we turned up the Santa River Trail at the border of Huntington and Newport Beach and started up towards Yorba Linda. of course, this meant that the return ride flew right into the teeth of the onshore breeze, making for some miserable riding until we managed to hit it crosswise making the turn back onto Pacific Coast Highway.

for all that, i kind of enjoy this trail. the Santa Ana River Trail gets you off the road and away from vehicle traffic. It goes through some pretty ritzy beach communities, and even the trip inland goes through decent middle class neighborhoods. this means you get decent sights and a decent ride and a measure of a feeling of safety. this is in stark contrast to some other rides i've taken--like the San Gabriel River Trail and Los Angeles River Trail, which take you through some of the poorest, dirtiest, grimiest, crime-infested neighborhoods you've ever seen, and which leave you with a distinct flavor of depression, grit, and residue of nasty smells.

we rode until we hit the 30 mile mark somewhere past Anaheim Stadium and the Arrowhead Pond, and then turned around. it appears the trail keeps going on out to Corona, and so it probably has some potential as a century ride path for the future. i'll have to keep this in mind for the future (probably very near future). the guy who'd been pushing the pace peeled off to wherever he had to go for Thanksgiving, leaving 2 of us to go back.

i was in zone 2 and zone 3 most of the ride--zone 2 for the stretch where we had tailwind, zone 3 for the stretch where we hit the headwind. i'd originally meant for this to be an aerobic ride, but it ended up becoming a muscular endurance workout. by the time we hit the end of the headwinds on the return ride, my legs were starting to feel weak. i was, as much as i hate to admit it, more than happy to get the tailwind back up to through Bolsa Chica State Beach, and secretly elated to finish the ride.

i haven't done a bike ride this long in a while--apart from the 40 miler a few weeks ago. but it's time to commence training for Ironman, and i needed a quality ride at distance. my condition on this ride kind of highlights where i'm at right now.

we got back with our odometers showing a total distance of 62 miles and total time of 3:20. which means we were averaging around 18 mph. faster than i'd wanted, but good enough for a aerobic/anaerobic threshold workout focusing on muscle endurance, and so still useful in terms of an early-stage Ironman training schedule. as much as i'd been relieved to finish the ride, my body (apart from my butt) wasn't too sore, suggesting i'm not in as bad as shape as i thought i was.

i'm going to see about trying to get in a 70 or 80 miler in a few weeks before the winter break. but for now, i'll work on the weaknesses i felt on this ride, and try to consolidate the training schedule. more importantly, i'm going to make it a point to stick to it this time. at this stage in the training cycle, there's no way i can hold a 20 mph pace over 80 miles, let alone 112.

but i will by the time Ironman Arizona comes around.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

training round-up, week ending 11-18-06

and now for a really dry posting...the training round-up for this week:

sunday, nov. 12


  • trail run (weekly long run), 8 miles, aerobic conditioning (zone 2 & zone 3), rose bowl arroyo trail, start time 8 am
monday, nov. 13

rest day

tuesday, nov. 14


  • stationary bike (build ride), 80 minutes, aerobic conditioning (zone 2 & zone 3), lyons center, start time 6:30 am
  • weight training (chest), 30 minutes, immediately following
  • kung fu (recovery workout), 60 minutes, aerobic conditioning (zone 2), cromwell field, start time 6 pm
  • weight training (abs), 20 minutes, immediately following
wednesday, nov. 15


  • swim (intervals), 2200 yards, muscular endurance (zone 3), macdonald's stadium, start time 6 am
  • weight training (upper & lower back), 30 minutes, immediately following
  • track workout (intervals), 5 miles, anaerobic conditioning (zone 3 & zone 4), cromwell field, start time 6:30 pm
thursday, nov. 16


  • stationary bike (recovery ride), 30 minutes, aerobic conditioning (zone 2), lyons center, start time 6:30 am
  • weight training (legs & abs), 45 minutes, lyons center, immediately following

friday, nov. 17

  • swim (intervals), 3000 yards, muscular endurance (zone 2 & zone 3), macdonald's stadium, start time 6 am
  • weight training (chest & shoulders), 30 minutes, immediately following
  • barefoot run (recovery run), 20 minutes, aerobic conditioning (zone 2), cromwell field, start time 6 pm
saturday, nov. 18


  • kung fu (active rest), casuda canyon park, start time 10:30 am

Thursday, November 16, 2006

chief joseph

Written for the USC Triathlon Newsletter 11-16-06:

The Nez Perce Indians of the Pacific Northwest had a reputation as being among the most friendly and welcoming to the arrival of the white man to the North American continent. They granted shelter to the Lewis and Clark expedition, freely traded with early trappers and traders, and gave free range to incoming settlers. They welcomed Christian missionaries, going so far as to convert and adopt Christian names, schooling, and culture.

However, as the demands of white settlers for exclusive land ownership increased, the Nez Perce became increasingly disenchanted by their experiences with the U.S. government. Insisting that land was something that could not be owned, bought, or sold, the Nez Perce resisted U.S. government plans for removal and segregation onto reservations. Despite this tension, the Nez Perce were reluctant to engage in open hostilities, and instead tried for peace via land concessions to white settlers.

Unfortunately, conditions erupted into violence in 1877, when Nez Perce Chief Joseph refused U.S. government orders to move his people from their ancestral lands in Oregon. The U.S. government took this refusal as an act of war, and organized a military solution to force the Nez Perce to relocate and surrender their lands.

In response, in an attempt to find freedom for his people, Chief Joseph initiated what has become known as one of the greatest retreats in military history. Leading a force of approximately 200 warriors and 600 women and children, Chief Joseph outmaneuvered and outfought 2,000 U.S. soldiers over 3 months across 1,700 miles of wilderness in hopes of crossing the Canadian border.

His hopes, however, were not to be. Within 40 miles of Canada, the Nez Perce were ambushed by U.S. cavalry in the midst of an autumn blizzard. Besieged, unable to reach Sioux Chief Sitting Bull for help, his people sick and starving, Chief Joseph was forced to surrender and accept the forcible relocation of his people to what eventually became Oklahoma.

It can be argued that Chief Joseph's attempt to reach Canada was an act of despair by a man who reasoned that a U.S. government so intent on relocating his tribe would accept such tribe's departure. But this would only have magnified his anguish when he was confronted by U.S. military forces blocking his path to the border, and suddenly realized that the U.S. government wanted to do more than relocate his tribe, but actually sought to break its spirit and control it.

For Chief Joseph, surrender must have been a supreme act of sorrow. But his options were few. Maintain hostilities, and his people were sure to face utter extermination, either from U.S. soldiers or a deepening winter. With surrender, his people's spirit would be broken, but they would at least have life and that most precious of commodities: hope in another day. He knew that his life, and his people's, would be one of humiliation, disrespect, and utter subjugation--and this was proven true as every legal recourse was exhausted and denied to the Nez Perce. But Chief Joseph believed that as a people the Nez Perce could endure, and that so long as they endured there could be a better tomorrow. All they had to do was to hold out for one day more. A day at a time. An hour at a time. A second at a time.

And so when you are at the lowest point of the deepest depths of the most horrific race, when you are on a hill and seeing only yet another curve up a steeper slope, when you are at mile 130 and realizing you have another 10 to go, whenever your world is nothing but the mother and offspring of all sorrows and all despair, just remember that life is about hope, and hope is found in reaching tomorrow, and that reaching tomorrow is about the power to endure. No matter how bad things are. There is hope so long as you endure. All you have to do is to hold out for one...second...more...

Monday, November 13, 2006

saturdays in autumn

autumn always seems to have a certain aura about the season. it's something about the air: the crisp morning chill, the whisper of winter wind, the long early evening sun. and there's the change in atmosphere, bridging the void from the last bright months of august and september to the twilight eves of december and january.

for me, autumn always brings certain memories. especially the weekends. and especially saturdays.

autumn saturdays meant several things to my childhood: involvement in kid sports leagues, a chance to catch up on errands, an opportunity to do chores, and a ritual of watching college football. not always in that particular order, since different activities would be allotted different priorities at different times. but the piece-de-resistance, the highlight of the day, would always be college football.

my grandmother loved college football. loved it. she sometimes pretended not to. but she did. she confided to me that when my grandfather was alive they'd made a deal to sacrifice something for each other--he'd go to operas and symphonies with her, if she would go to college football games with him. thing is, she never told him she loved college football. so all those years he thought he'd been getting a great deal, never knowing that she relished the best of both sides of the bargain.

after my grandfather died, and her saturday chores had lightened to the load connected with a single person, i'd spend the autumn saturdays with her, and we'd watch every college football game on television. she had a particular fondness for midwestern teams (Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa), since that was where she'd spent so much of her youth. but she also had a taste for rivalries, with the big ones being Notre Dame v. USC, Texas v. Texas A&M, Penn v. Ohio State, Minnesota v. Wisconsin, and UW v. Washington State.

funny thing was, it wasn't always about the football.

a lot of it was about things that had absolutely nothing to do with football, or college, or saturdays in autumn. a lot of the time, we actually spent talking. about things in life. about politics, art, culture, traveling, family gossip, paying bills, taking care of pets, fixing houses and cars, classes in school, going to church, babysitting, attending marriages and funerals, planning holiday meals, sharing memories and wishes. we'd cheer, we'd talk, we'd laugh, we'd cry. and then we'd check the score...and if we didn't like it, we'd change the channel.

those saturdays meant a lot to me. they marked a regular, devoted, exclusive, committed, and virtually sacrosanct time in which i and my grandmother were able to connect and communicate and share our lives with each other--in ways in which so many families have forgotten or given up or abandoned. ways which carry a significance reaching far beyond a single day, and that seem to make the biggest difference when things seem to matter most.

i never understood it then, when i was a child. i realized it only after i moved out and started living on my own. but i consider it fortunate that i managed to know their meaning early enough that i could cherish the autumn saturdays with my grandmother before she died. they marked a time when i was able to talk to someone the way we all should count ourselves so lucky to talk to just once in our lives--openly, freely, without expectation or judgement, limitation or lies, just talking about all the things mundane and sacred that we experience with the deepening of the shadows and the passing of the seasons.

my autumn saturdays now aren't so much about college football.

i have no one to share them with.

instead, now, my autumn saturdays are taken by pursuits of my own choosing. often, the mornings--and sometimes entire days--are spent on a bike out on a lonely road, focused on purposes with arcane labels like aerobic conditioning, anaerobic threshold, muscular endurance, and recovery ride. lately, the hours have been spent in cross-training, experimenting with tai chi and bagua training in a park. occasionally, they'll be devoted to solo swims battling chilling currents in ocean surf. sometimes, i'll even schedule a solitary long-distance run on a secluded favorite trail.

and there's always the mundane tasks that should have been done during the week but which invariably get pushed back to the 2 days we afford ourselves to ourselves: the bills, the groceries, the errands, the car, the dusting, the cleaning, the chores of everyday living that reserve their eternal slots in our lives.

but sometimes, when i take a saturday off, i'll find myself in front of the television watching college football, and i'll think of my grandmother, and all the days we spent watching the games and talking about life and living and our place in it, and the many things that went so far beyond the trivial confines of a field marked by a gridiron and tabbed by a score.

and other times, when i'm out on an open road and i'm all alone and there's nothing around me save the crisp air of morning chill and the whispering winds of winter and the lengthening shadows of evening sun, when all i feel is the atmosphere and the aura and the age of the season, i'll find myself deep in memories, thinking of my grandmother, and all the days we spent watching the games, and remembering all the many meanings of all the saturdays in autumn.

it's then that i miss her.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

one, but not ever alone

Written for the USC Triathlon Newsletter 11-09-06:

There are those times in life when we seek the company of others. You know what I am talking about...those times in life when we find ourselves in moments of extreme uncertainty and danger, when our lives lie teetering on a metaphorical precipice, caught in times of change and environments of chaos, whipped by winds and blinded by the darkness, and with nothing more than the silence of a yawning abyss waiting to receive us in the raging of its storm.

It's times like these we wish for a voice to guide us through the void.

It's times like these that we find ourselves wishing--and often looking--for someone else to lead us from the edge. Or if nothing else, to proffer even sympathy and the assurance that we are not alone.

It's times like these that we realize the value of the others we have around us. Friends, families, acquaintances, colleagues, confidants. People we hold close and cherish in the innermost depths of our minds, recall with the truest murmurings of our hearts. Even if we don't admit to them. We love them still.

And it's in times like these we come to understand the meanings of kinship, loyalty, and faith. Because it's then we know the comfort that comes from given empathy, the warmth that arises from shared emotion, and the strength that appears from unconditional acknowledgement.

And it's then we know what it means to be but one among many, one gathered with a legion, one woven into a network of people stretching across place and time unto infinite, all together facing the abyss and confronting the void. One, but many, and not ever truly alone.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

little steps

Written for the USC Triathlon Newsletter 11-02-06:

Little things. Little steps. Little victories. Everything starts with little things, little steps, little victories.

Yeah, sure, you dream big. Everybody does. Dreams of glory, dreams of wins, dreams of adulation, dreams of joy and perfection, dreams of hope fulfilled and faith requited and experiences of ecstasy that are meant to last forever. Dreams that you hold close and bring out in those quiet moments of solitude and supreme self-reflection.

But the danger is that sometimes those dreams remain just dreams. And they never go farther than the unconscious confines of your forgotten sleep.

Dreams sometimes deserve a life. Sometimes, they deserve to be more than just spectral whispers in your slumbers. Sometimes, they deserve to be real.

And they can be real. Even the big ones.

They just need a little help. Help that comes from you. Help in the form of a little time, a little work, a little thought, a little observation and learning, a little planning and foresight, a little discipline and patience, a little hope and little faith. Little things. Not always all at once. Little steps. Not always together. Little victories. Not always celebrated. Little things, little steps, little victories. One right after another. Until they all add together and you find yourself somewhere very far and very different from where you began but very close and very similar to where you want to be.

And it can be a whole lot easier than you think.

Imagine this: 2 college students. Art school majors in sculpture. Bored out of their minds and sick of school. Making lip-synch videos on the internet. Pretty soon they start to become popular. Pretty soon they start making more videos. Pretty soon they start getting more viewers and more support. Pretty soon they're on national television. And all of a sudden, they find themselves signed to contracts to make commercials for Motorola and Pepsi, with the commercials being nothing more than the same videos they made in school. Not bad for 2 art school graduates fresh out of school.

Who are they? Check it out for yourself:

You can also check out their live performance on Chinese national television ( ), their commercial for Motorola China ( ), and Pepsi China ( ).

Little things. Little steps. Little victories. They add up.

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
--Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching