Friday, April 27, 2007

People We Miss

We're sure you've thought of it. The time for things to come to an end. A time for things to be brought to a close. It's one of the fundamental truths for all things in life, just as there must be a finish to every race you run.

And we're sure, too, that you've also realized that, for better or for worse, you finish the race very different from how you started.

The beginning of a race is a single crowded frenetic mass of bodies and nerves and energy packed together, jostling tightly against each other in eager anticipation of the race, thrashing for position and impatient to begin. Most of the time, you're just one of many, a nameless face among nameless faces, each one as anonymous as any other, entranced in the silence before the starting gun. Some of the time, you'll see faces and know their names, and they won't be anonymous but rather special, their voices clear in the early morning darkness. Ultimately, however, beneath the sky and upon the earth as witness, you'll all just be the same: a huddled teeming mass all clasped together awaiting destiny.

But once the starting gun goes off, things change. Everyone surges forward in an explosion of released expectations, and the experiences accelerate in a rush of sensations. Everything becomes a single overwhelming continuous cascading blur of sight and sound and smell and touch and effort and emotion. In the chaos, in the maelstrom, things begin to happen. Navigation becomes confused, equipment breaks, accidents arise, injuries are sustained, suffering is inflicted. And people are lost.

But you won't know. You'll be too pre-occupied, too engrossed--too obsessed--with just moving forward.

You won't know, until you get to the finish, and look around, and start taking your tally of the missing and the dead.

And that's when you'll realize that there are fewer people at the finish than when you all began. That's when you'll notice that there are fewer faces to be seen and fewer names to be called...and that among them are ones that are painfully familiar.

These are the ones that will affect you the most. Because they were special, and their voices were clear. And the fact that they didn't make it will affect you in ways deeper than you could ever have imagined.

You finish the race different than when you started. You finish the race changed from what you were before. But some people you'll never see again.

Oh, you won't stop racing--because what then would be point of living your life? But each time you reach the finish, each time you cross the tape and hear your name and get your prizes, each time you stop and collect your breath and look around, you'll know that there are people you've forgotten you will wish you could remember, people that you remember that you will always miss, and people that are missing that should be there.

And in the races that mean the most, you'll find yourself wishing for the people that meant the most. But you will only see them in memories and dreams.

And this will never change. For all the ways a race will make you different, for all the ways it will make you change. It's the ones you look for but can't find that mark your races the most. There are just some people you will always think about.

Especially at the finish.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

endurance sports and kung fu (part 3) - training cycles

the notion of training cycles is pretty well known to athletes, even neophyte ones.

almost every person who has ever engaged in sports knows that training follows a schedule of workouts with very specific goals. most know that athletic growth calls for a progression in workouts of gradually increasing workload. a majority know that progression isn't necessarily consistently or constantly increasing (the mathematical term is "monotonically increasing"), but rather follows a rising-and-falling trend comparable to a furnace being fed by a bellows pump. a large number know that this progression of rising-and-falling trends is marked into training periods with the labels of base, build, peak, and recovery, with each period having very specific objectives with respect to the body's aerobic, anaerobic, and strength capabilities. similarly, many can identify these periods as being organized into micro-cycles of daily and weekly workouts with various duration and intensity, which join to fulfill macro-cycles of monthly or seasonal length building endurance and power.

very few, however, are aware of other perspectives of training cycles.

in my participation in kung fu, i've found a very different take on training cycles, largely drawn from traditional Asian medicine and culture. while not as rigorously researched as modern sports science methods, i still find it offering arguments and logic that is plausible enough to warrant inclusion into existing sports science--if nothing else, as a subject worthy of further study.

i think there's enough substance to each of the differing perspectives on training cycles that both sides (endurance sports and kung fu) could stand to benefit by sharing information with each other.

to see what i mean, reference my cross-posting on my kung fu blog: jonathan on a path: training cycles

Saturday, April 21, 2007

race day: IMAZ 2007


that's the only word for today.


40mph. sustained. continuous.


unending. unrelenting. unyielding. from late morning into late evening.


merciless. horrific. carnage.

and it all started out so well.


it's 3:45am. the alarm goes off, but i'm already awake. i've had a fitful night of sleep. some of it is the anticipation to get things started, some of it is the hydration regimen from the past few days (which pretty much leaves you a bathroom turnstile), most of it is anxiety and nerves from what is undeniably a very big day.

everyone else is asleep. i take the opportunity to go through my morning stretch and warm-up routine--not that it's necessary now (i can do this when we get to the race site), or advisable (it's several hours to race start, so i'm just going to get chilled again), but i do it anyway to help focus my mind and give myself a few quiet moments to collect myself before we make our way into the inevitable chaos that comes with race day.

people start waking up. we whisper. we eat. we drink. we expunge ourselves in the bathroom. there's little room for niceties in the race; civilization will become just a delusion; we know we'll be reduced to the most primitive state for this day, and we might as well begin now. in silent farewell to dignity, we brush our teeth and clean our faces, wistful in our goodbyes to such pampered comforts of normal life. then, with a rising sense of expectation, we gather up the last of our gear (transition gear, morning clothes, and swim equipment) and pile in the car to the race start.

start time

it's 5:3oam. we're here, walking to the transition area that serves as the morning gathering place for competitors. we snicker at a group of girls standing on the sidewalk, very obviously ogling all the men passing by. being the bachelor, i return their look, nod. but then, with the smell of the water and the glow of the sun rising in the air, i am reminded of more urgent matters and trudge on to what must be my fate.

truth is, at this moment, we're actually excited. standing in the transition area, surrounded by other competitors, you get the welcoming sense of companionship that radiates from other people all sharing a common experience. you're not alone. we're not alone. and we're in this together.

we are all active. we are all moving. we are all alive. and we're beautiful.

the transition prep ritual is the usual: inflate the tires on the bike, do a last check of gears and brakes, review the nutrition, get bodymarked for age and race number (so they can identify you when they pull your carcass off the race course), change into your race suit, pull on the wetsuit and goggles and swimcap, and then line-up for the ever-perpetual eternity of a line leading to the port-a-potties for the last flush before the race start.

i stop to take some pictures. they're awful. but i need something to drain out the tension, and there's nothing better to forget yourself than to think about others.

it's odd how that will become a theme for this day.


it's 7:00am. we're in the water. it's a mass swim start, with an army of heads clustered by the starting buoy. most are floating. i'm sitting to the concrete on the edge with a number of others, saving my energy.

the starting gun goes off, and there is a roar from the spectators lined up on the river's edge and the overhead bridge. everyone in the water goes berzerk, flailing madly in an effort to push forward and make some space and find their stroke. the water is a gigantic churning cauldron of white spray and neoprene suits and white swim caps and bare hands and bare feet, all shimmering in the morning sun.

my swim is good this year. i start off near the front, to avoid the struggle of passing others. i stay near the side, to more easily sight direction off landmarks. and my stroke is much more smooth and controlled than last year. i find myself making my way relatively easily, locked in a 3-stroke bi-lateral cadence, balancing my left and right sides and tracking swimmers to either side. i remember the mantras that other swimmers (incidentally, world-class swimmers, and so who i assume know what they're talking about) gave me: for long distance swimming, good is slow, slow is control, control is smooth, smooth is fast, fast is good.

i'd had trouble making sense of these words, or keeping track of them while moving in the water, so someone simplified them for me into something they thought i could understand: slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

how wonderfully oxymoronic. how quixotically Taoist. how prosaically Zen. but yet, so ineffably true.

my mind starts to wander. i start to zone out. i think, and then i don't. i think of technique, and then i don't. i think of the rest of the day, and then i don't. i think of things i have to do tomorrow, next week, this year, the rest of my life. and then i don't.

for a long, long, very long moment, i think of my grandmother, who i lost. slowly. painfully. i miss her greatly. even now. especially now.

thinking of her leads to think of my grandfather, who i lost much earlier, much quicker, but most equally as painful. i miss him, too. even now. especially now.

i find myself in a silent prayer, and a very long conversation with a God that i cannot begin to know.

and then i don't.

a leg kicks my goggles, a hand digs into my ribs, a body flounders in my wake. i am losing speed. worse, i'm headed off the race course. i was distracted. i lost sight of the crowd around me, and allowed the spacing to close. i scold myself for the lapse in concentration, and focus once again on getting back to my pace. slow is smooth, smooth is fast. locked in a 3-stroke bi-lateral cadence. headed towards the transition space.

there's nothing better to forget yourself than to think about others.


it's 9:00am. i go through the transition slowly, struggling to get my bike shoes on, slather sunscreen on my back, and take in nutrition. i was hungry. i take it easy to start the bike, letting my food digest and my legs warm up.

the first half of the first loop is uneventful. i've done this course before. it seems the same. an empty road leading out into miles and miles of sage-and-cactus-filled desert. i'm thinking to myself it isn't as hot as i feared it would be. the gradual uphill to the turnaround is effortless to what i had expected. i start to feel a little giddy. i might actually hit my target time this year.

then i make the turn.


it's a roar.


it's a monstrosity.


it's horrific.


it's bringing me to a dead stop, even as i stand in the pedals and crank as hard as i can. just to move downhill.

i wait for it to ease. it doesn't. it just gets worse.

i find myself gritting my teeth. so this is how it's going to be.

the thought occurs to me that the longer i'm out here, the worse the wind is going to get. but there's nothing i can do. i'm in a wind tunnel, and there's no end.

i see several people get caught by gusts. they are lifted off the road. resignedly, methodically, stoically, they simply stand their bikes up and get on them again.

i see Hillary Biscay, a pro triathlete and a friend of mine from school days, on the side of the road walking with her bike over her shoulder, a look of frustration on her face.

i see a dead sagebrush rolling towards me in the wind. me, too tired and too overworked to care, can't divert enough energy to turn away. it's a train wreck in slow motion: you find yourself in macabre fascination watching an accident unfold, but oblivious--or apathetic--to any thought of trying to make things change. the sagebrush slams into me, breaks off into my drivetrain and chain. i instantly lose traction and drop the chain, and get blown off to the side of the road.

it's comical. all i can do is laugh. resignedly, methodically, stoically, i run the chain back on the gears, stand the bike up and get on it again.

at the special needs station, i stop to take a few minutes to think. i have to make a decision whether or not i'm going to continue. this is bad. very bad. i'm getting pushed backwards if i'm not pedaling. people at the aid stations are having to lean into the wind to hand out supplies. the tables of fruit, gels, and gatorade are getting blown away. port-a-potties are falling on their sides. and at the pace i'm at, i'm questioning if i can even make the bike cut-off time.

a friend of mine passes by, yells. i try to say something in reply, but my shout is drowned by the wind. something about his shout snaps my mind back to attention. i look around, and i see volunteers holding onto tables and flagpoles and streetlights and cars--anything to remain upright. i see competitors hunched over their handlebars, pedaling dejectedly into the wind. i see race officials fighting to maintain control of their motorcycles. we're all suffering.

strangely enough, the thought of this seems to be a comfort. we're all in this together. resignedly, methodically, stoically, i stand the bike up and get back on it again.

there's nothing better to forget yourself than to think about others.

later i'll find out that the wind was a constant 40mph for most of the day, with stronger gusts in the late afternoon continuing through midnight. there'll be a high (maybe a record) number of DNFs, with people quitting after the 2nd of 3 loops. even the pros will comment that this is one of the toughest days they've ever seen.

but for right now, i'm just suffering in the wind, pedaling on 2 wheels, trying to hold on for just a few minutes more. with a pace that can only be described as glacial. excruciating. mind-blowing. my effort level is at maximum, i'm dangerously over-extended into anaerobic mode, and there are miles and miles and miles left to go.

and the wind is a roar.

i find myself in a silent prayer, and a very long conversation with a God that i cannot begin to know.

i remember a very philosophical discussion i had once with my kung fu instructor. it was in very dry academics about traditional Chinese perspectives on life. but it was underneath the trees and clouds and sun and--strangely, ironically enough--the wind, and so it had a resonance and life that stuck in the mind, even through a day as miserable as this. i remember he recited a classical proverb popular in Taoism and Zen that in life, we must let things go in order to pick things up. it is oxymoronic. but what the proverb means is that you cannot learn what you must learn, cannot find what you must find, cannot do what you must do, unless you first let go of the many things that impede you from moving forward.

which is exactly what i must do right now. so i can find my way home. so i can learn the lesson of this race.

by the time i pull into the transition, i am a wreck, one of many hobbling in. like the person in front of me, i drop the bike without even waiting for a volunteer, happy to never see it ever again. we walk into the transition, completely uncaring as to time, just grateful that we are finally, finally off. the. bike. and, quite frankly, done with the rest of this godforsaken day.

in the tent, i sit back and take a breath and pause for a moment to collect my thoughts. i notice everyone else in the tent is doing the same. we're all shell-shocked. i look into someone else's eyes. we both shake our heads knowingly. he starts to laugh. the laugh spreads around the room. soon, we're all laughing.

and with that, resignedly, methodically, stoically, we start the business of pulling on our running shoes and heading out of the tent. i look at the blisters on my feet, then shrug. might as well finish. i get up and follow everybody else.

there's nothing better to forget yourself than to think about others.


it's 5:00pm. i am way behind schedule. hopelessly out of reach from my target time. but i knew that anyway, and have known it since i turned into the wind on the 1st loop of the bike.

i'm not upset. not angry. not sad. not depressed. not tired. not happy. not content. not concerned.

i just know. and that's enough.

i know that at this point, i'm just going to have a very nice, very long, very lonely aerobic workout. and with a setting desert sun, it'll even be romantic.

the only thing making it perfect is the wind, still blowing strong in the twilight. and adding insult to injury, it's loaded with sand.

how lovely.

the run course is uneventful. even boring. it's just running. on concrete next to a lake. with lots of other people.

at this point, i'm descending into a pit of self-pity. not from the thought of being unable to finish--i beat the cut-off time on the bike (whoever thought that i'd consider that an accomplishment...yikes!), and so now i'm sure i'll finish (my running is good enough that doing this marathon is an aforethought). but i'm feeling a rising sense of frustration and disappointment from knowing that i'm going to miss my target time, and may very well be lucky just to match my time from last year (which had been, to say the least, abysmal, and something i'd chosen to forget).

it's not the sentiment of failed ambition--that is derived from the foible of arrogance; it's the sentiment of lost aspirations--which is derived from the fragility of hope. and the loss of hope is a loss of soul...and right now, hope is a whisper lost in the wind.

at this moment, i see my friend Hillary. i do a double-take, incredulous, seeing a pro trotting along with the rest of us amateurs. us losers.

strangely enough, i see her laughing, smiling, clapping. she's cheering other people on. she's cheering us on. us losers.

in response, i grin. i wave at her going by. we share a knowing shrug. yeah, it's just one those days. nothing to do but make the best of it. with everyone else. us losers.

it's now that i have a revelation.

it occurs to me that, for all the jokes, jabs, and kidding whenever we meet, for her this event is a livelihood. it's not just for pride, or hope, or spirit of competition, or catharsis of emotion, or camaraderie, or individuality. it's something that she depends on, even needs, to make a living.

and for all that, on a day when she's lost any chance of winning, and quite possibly lost ground in the competition for sponsors, she's still out here cheering for other people--and more importantly, she's still out here to finish the race.

i start to feel a sense of shame. a realization of my own stupidity. the sight of my own self-pity. it's pathetic. it's reprehensible. it's disgusting.

more than that, it's insulting. to me and everybody else around me out here suffering on this race course. me, wallowing in self-pity.

how utterly selfish, how completely self-serving, how totally self-centered.

why? because on a day like today, in the conditions as horrific as they are, what the people hurting around me want--what the world around me needs--is a human soul sharing itself in a supreme self-expression of conscious celebration of the life we have been given.

we are all in this together, and we were from the moment the starting gun went off. and what we don't need are things that make the world worse; what we need are things that make the world better. and those things might as well begin with us.

i find myself in a silent prayer, and a very long conversation with a God that i cannot begin to know.

i am suddenly aware of an old man next to me. i don't know how long he's been there. his head is bent down, his body his slack, and his walk is a contorted mix of shuffling and walking.

i'm not sure, but i think he's in trouble.

we talk. he mumbles. he's here with his son, who dropped out. he's supposed to be here with a friend, who also dropped out. he's 65. he's done 20 of these. this is his 21st. but right now, he's becoming incoherent, he doesn't know where he is, he's lost, he's wandering, and he doesn't see the finish line.

i'm not sure, but i know he's in trouble.

i walk with him for about 5 miles. whenever he starts to wander, whenever he starts to make a turn off the race course, i casually mention to him that i think the finish line is this other way. we walk, together, for miles, just 2 souls making their way in the darkness.

he tells me i can leave him if i want, since i can clearly make up some time. i tell him it doesn't matter, that it was a pointless exercise anyway. ultimately, he prevails, stopping off at a port-a-potty within sight of the finish. he can see the lights from here. he says he can make it home. he thanks me. he says he wouldn't have made it if i hadn't been with him.

i'm not sure, but i think he's okay.

there's nothing better to forget yourself than to think about others.


it's after 10:00pm.

later in this week, i will have family, friends, and strangers ask me how i did and tell me that i did well given the conditions, and that not very many would have made it as far in the wind. they'll tell me that they're in awe of me. they'll tell me that they're proud. they'll tell me that what i did was something few people could have done or do. and then they'll ask me why i'm not more excited. and all i'll have to give them is a shrug.

but right now, it doesn't matter. i'm just happy it's over.

i hear Mike Reilly call out my name. even as he says it, i slow down, and pause, and wait for another man to cross ahead of me. i can tell it means something to him--there's tears in his eyes. i figure it's better to give him his moment. it makes me happier to see him step over the tape before me anyway.

my friends are at the finish. they say it's been a tough day for everyone.

one of my friends, Genaro, says it's not good to end the day the way we did, battered and bruised and tired and sore and empty and spent and dejected and bitter--and worse, unfulfilled. he says we need to stick around to the 17 hour cutoff. he says it's something special, something we need to see, something that'll end the day in a way that it was meant to end. trust me, he says. just trust me. you'll see what i mean.

he's right. it is something special. it's amazing. it's incredible. it's one of the greatest human moments i've ever seen.

the crowd is going wild. people are crying. children are screaming. families are embracing. voices are hoarse. volunteers are jumping in ecstasy. Hillary joins us from out of nowhere, still cheering competitors on. Mike Reilly is yelling out the name of each person coming into the finish chute. the camera lights are flashing as bright as suns. the television monitor is glittering as clear as glory. the air is alive with union and joy and kinship and elation. and everywhere, everywhere, is the sound of souls sharing themselves in a supreme self-expression of conscious celebration of the life we have all been given within God's great creation.

and i find myself in a silent prayer, and a very long conversation with a God that i cannot begin to know.

all i know is that we are not alone. we are in this together, we are all active, we are all moving, we are all alive.

and we're all beautiful.

there's nothing better to forget yourself than to think about others.

and there is no such thing as wind.

Battered and torn
still I can see the light
tattered and worn
but I must kneel to fight
Friend of mine
what can't you spare
I know some times
it gets cold in there
When my legs no longer carry

and the warm wind chills my bones
I reach for Mother Mary
and I shall not walk alone
--Ben Harper, I Shall Not Walk Alone

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Kindness of Strangers

The image of endurance sports is so often one of the individual. The solo athlete, taking on the elements alone. No help, no support, no aid. One person launching into the great unknown with nothing more than the energy and muscle contained within the vessel of a single body, facing the onslaught of a world of waves and currents and hills and mountains and wind and rain and heat and cold and earth and sky and sun and moon and all the minions of the universe and heavens, arrayed in awesome splendor against one solitary soul of humanity. You, against the visage of creation.

And so we grit our teeth and grasp our tools, harden our hearts and tighten our armor, steel our bodies and lift our weapons, and we take our mission with the air of those soldiers of history who marched forward with the intent of somehow, someway, sometime finding their way into the mouth of a monstrous maelstrom. And when the clarion call was heard, they attacked, fear in hand, blood in veins, wonder in thoughts, and hope in chests, into the ultimate horror.

We hope to be like them. We think to be like them. We need to be like them. Or so we think.

We prepare our equipment with the meticulousness we imagine they had. We count our gear with the precision we believe they had. We say our prayers and gather our thoughts and eat our meals with the deliberation and care and faith we say they had. We do everything the way we know they did. Or so we think.

But something funny happens on race day.

Reality is different from expectations. Reality is different from stories. Reality is different from ideals. Reality is different from imagination or belief or mindless stories or purported knowledge. Reality is not the image of a myth. Reality is more.

Reality is where the waves and currents are larger, the hills and mountains are steeper, the wind and rain are stronger, the heat is hotter and the cold is colder, and the earth and sky and sun and moon and all the universe and all the heavens are far more than you could ever imagine...more than anyone could ever imagine. Particularly by one solitary soul of humanity. All alone. Against the full visage of creation.

And that's when we see the other people around us. That's when we see the others beside us. See their suffering. See their hurt. See their anguish and pain. See them, the same way they see us. See that we--we, not me nor I nor my nor mine, but we, us, ours--are not alone. We are not alone. We are together. We are here, facing this race, together. And only together will we all finish.

And that's when our teeth unclench and our hearts soften and our bodies melt. And that's when we let go our tools and loosen our armor and drop our weapons. That's when we stop, pause, and then turn away from the direction of the race and face one another, and we reach out our hands and look each other in the eye and offer comfort and greetings, and then say "Brother, you need some help?"

And only then do we learn what the race is all about.

When the night has come and the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we'll see
No I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me...
...If the sky that we look upon should tumble and fall
And the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won't cry, I won't cry, no I won't shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me...
--Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber, & Mike Stoller, Stand By Me

Saturday, April 14, 2007

tensions and thoughts: race week, days 6-7

the past 2 days have been by turns a flurry of frenetic activity and moments of supreme boredom. i suppose it's just the nature of sharing accommodations with other race participants--we're all on the same schedule (in terms of having to get prepped for the race), but we're also not (in terms of when we sleep, wake up, and personal habits). it's been fun, somewhat tiring, most definitely nerve-wracking, and now supremely tense.

one saving grace is that the winds appear to have abated. they're mostly gone. at least, now they're just intermittently 15-30 mph, which is a whole lot better than the sustained 50-60 mph of thursday. of course, it's gotten much warmer. but in the desert you have 1 or the other: wind or heat, you can't avoid both. given the choice, i'd rather have heat than wind.

most people would agree; there's nothing more demoralizing than high winds. just trust me on this. there is no suffering like pedaling into a headwind with all-out maximum effort, and seeing yourself only managing 5 mph. it's enough to make a person agnostic.

we'll see. the forecast is for temps in the low 80s, with light wind.

we're telling ourselves positive thoughts. positive thoughts. that's the motto this time: positive thoughts. fresh legs. positive thoughts.

no matter how bad things are, positive thoughts.

no matter how hard things get. positive thoughts.

no matter how we’re feeling. positive thoughts.

will it make a difference? who knows.

but that’s being negative.

we’re going for good karma. good vibes. the welcome mat for good wishes. and luck. good luck. lots and lots of good luck.

remember: positive thoughts.

day 6

friday was spent doing the obligatory shopping trip for Ironman merchandise at the pre-race expo, and getting into race check-in to get our packets.

for those who don't know, Ironman race check-in and packets are a little different from other triathlons. the check-in has the usual assortment of waiver forms, picture ID confirmation, and goody bags. but for Ironman there is the added step of weigh-in (so in the event you need them, medical attendants can determine your actual weight for judging potential cases of hyponitremia, electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, etc.). the packets are also different, with a healthy dose of plastic bags marked with clearly marked titles (swim-to-bike bag, bike-to-run bag, bike special needs bag, run special needs bag, and morning clothes bag). there's also a greater number of race number stickers relative to other races.

we also made the decision to go out and get professional massages to soothe our muscles for race least, that's the theory. i've never had one, and this was my first. i'll say it was nice, but will withold judgement as to its value until after race day.

the rest of the time was spent taking inventory of equipment and supplies, and then making excursions to the bike shop and grocery stores to load up on missing nutrition, equipment, etc.

day 7

today was bike check-in and transition bag drop-off. Ironman races have very clear, demarcated, and time-tested procedures for transition: competitor equipment is kept in bags identified with each competitor's race number; competitors never grab their own bags in transition, but instead wait for volunteers to deliver their bags to them (including the bike); there is a transition bag for swim-to-bike and then another one for bike-to-run. bikes are checked in the day before the race and left overnight in the transition area.

we also spent a good chunk of the day prepping the special needs bags. these are bags that competitors are allowed to access on the race course for emergency rations and equipment. there is 1 bag at mile 60 of the bike and another at mile 13 of the run. you don't have to use them, but almost everyone does--because you just never know when you'll find yourself in dire need of food, liquid, a spare bike tube, extra sunscreen, fresh socks, or an emotionally rewarding memento to lift your spirits and get you going to the finish.

i also took the liberty today of shaving down. it's time. i shaved everything. my head, my arms, my chest, my legs. everything. not that it will make a difference. but i figure it's a mental thing to get me into race attitude, and maybe the sensation of feeling smooth and sleek and tingly and tight really might, just might, translate into a faster time.

right now, as a competitor, you'll do anything to help with race day. because when you're at mile 125, and the sun is set and the sky is dark, and you're all alone trudging through the night with another 13 miles to go, you'll call out for any aid that might be out there in the wilderness, and you won't care how little it might be. because anything will make a difference. and you'll take anything.

we were originally meant to meet up with some other alumni for lunch, but our schedules were so incompatible, and we all were moving so slowly, that we ended up canceling lunch and making do with promises to see each other on the race course.

apart from that, it's just been rest and mellow time.

we got a little goofy from pre-race stress and spent a wasted hour pasting temporary tattoos on random parts of our bodies. don't ask why. it just seemed like a good idea.

i think we're all feeling it. the pre-race jitters. when you're on the eve of a major event, and you know at this time tomorrow you will be in the thick of it, and quite possibly suffering more than you ever thought possible.

the anxiety level goes up the closer you get to the race. everyone starts to zone out into moments of quiet solitude, taking their time to deal with the tension, lost in their own thoughts. not that it helps. but it does in a way. sorting out the emotions and motivations and worries and uncertainties and contigencies that may befall you on the way, and trying to accept that none of it--the thoughts, the worries, the equipment, the nutrition--might make any difference at all.

and so we go to sleep praying to our gods, our last recourse for the afflictions we cannot know that may be yet to come.

tomorrow is race day.

the only day.

a single day.

but for us, everything.

and we'll see each other on the other side.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Positive Thoughts

We're in the meat of the season, and on the eve of the greatest races in the schedule.

Things are no doubt getting busy (race-wise, training-wise, school-wise, work-wise, life-wise). You've seen it coming, and now you're here. Things may be getting tough, time may be getting short, nerves may be getting short, mind and body may be getting fatigued.

This is the time when we do the gut check. Take a moment, assess where you've been, consider where you are, ponder where you're going, and see just how much you energy you have in your tank. Nothing too dramatic. Nothing too excessive. Just enough to figure out what is you have to do and how it is you are going to get there...and deciding which way you'll find a path to continue moving.

Just remember: positive thoughts. Positive thoughts go a long way. They may be wishful thinking, but sometimes wishes are the things that give you hope, and hope is what pulls you through--it gives you something to believe in when you look around and see nothing else. Because in the time when there is nothing else, there is still always you and the power for you to control what you do, even down to just placing one foot in front of another over all the long miles extending far into the distance. With nothing more than the thought that you know you can.

All you have to do is to believe.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

fortune's fools: race week, days 1-5

no more training. it's Ironman time.

it's race week. nothing a person does now can add to, or improve upon, anything done--or not done--in training before. all you can do at this point is get fresh.

days 1-3

i had originally planned a series of light workouts this week. but considering the scare i had this past weekend with lingering soreness and fatigue, i figured to eliminate all workouts and focus on recovery.

following my post on last week's training schedule, i'd gone out to find a massage therapist on short notice. i didn't have much luck. i did get some phone numbers, but after some long deliberation Saturday night, i woke up Sunday and decided i'd forego the massage therapy and gamble that my body would recover on its own given enough rest and proper nutrition.

i will say that i'd been having cravings for yogurt, garlic, and green tea last week (not all together, mind you), and i finally decided maybe my body was trying to tell me something about what it needed. i gave in, and pounded down garlic cloves, and then went out and got as much yogurt and green tea as i could find.

i know it sounds weird, but by Monday i was feeling dramatically better.

Tuesday, i felt positively invigorated...not to where i'd like to be, but definitely much more chipper than i had been.

day 4

Wednesday, i felt good enough to allow myself a short session in the pool (600 yards, technique only), along with a short weight session (chest and abs). that was all. everything was rest.

day 5

today was Thursday, and was spend on a very long drive out from LA to Tempe, Arizona for Ironman Arizona.

i'm not alone. i drove out with a buddy of mine (a schoolmate, and much better Ironman than I). we're meeting up with 2 other friends (also from school, and also much better Ironmans than I). we're all staying with the sister of 1 of us here in Phoenix, who has been gracious enough to host us.

we're a little worried right now. the situation here is WINDY. as in 50-60 mph sustained winds.

bad. very bad.

if it's like this on race day, we're in big trouble. BIG trouble. i don't think i'll even go out on the bike in these conditions. it'd be a miracle to even stay on the road.

we're all terrified.

and while the saying is that no one is every truly ready for the problems we encounter in life, one of the truths of Ironman is that Ironman is the race that commands a high price for inadequate or improper training. the reasoning goes like this: for sprint triathlons and Olympic distance races, the price you pay for mistakes is pain, and at the most injuries you can recover from. permanent injuries are rare. however, for Ironman, the price you pay for mistakes escalates, and very much becomes the threat of permanent injury or even death (people have died doing these races). the margin for error is that slim.

which is why we're all standing outside right now, looking at the trees swaying in the wind and cowering in the sandstorm blowing about us.

and all we can do is pray that things get better.

we are fortune's fools.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

training round-up, week ending 04-07-07

now things get really interesting.

i have not felt well this past week.

i don't know why. and i can't explain how. but things just aren't feeling right.

i'm feeling sluggish. i'm having very low energy. i'm having trouble sleeping. i'm having digestive problems. and my legs (especially the quads) have become very sore--and not just superficially, but the deep-tissue soreness that i dread because in the past it has taken weeks to go away.

and i don't have weeks.

Ironman Arizona is 1 week away.

yeah, it's the last taper week, and so i'm supposed to be resting up. but that's not the issue. i wanted to be feeling fresh at this stage. but i'm not.

not quite cause for alarm, but i am concerned. enough that i'm trying to find a massage therapist who can work on short notice and help work out the soreness in time for me to recover for race day. and definitely enough that i'm laying off all physical activity this week--i'd rather try to optimize the chances of feeling fresh, as opposed to worrying about conditioning. the thought of going 140.6 miles on sore legs terrifies me. i can probably do it, but it would not be good.

i'm not quite sure as to what else i can do.

there's a lot of questions in my mind right now.

i'm feeling pretty sober.

sunday, april 1

rest day

monday, april 2


  • swim (technique), 1200 yards, aerobic conditioning (zone 2), mcdonald's swim stadium, start time 6am
  • weight training (chest, legs, abs), 90 minutes, lyons center, 6am
tuesday, april 3

rest day

wednesday, april 4

  • weight training (abs), 30 minutes, lyons center, start time 6am
thursday, april 5

  • stationary bike (maintenance), 50 minutes, lyons center, start time 6am
  • weight training (lower back), 15 minutes, immediately following
friday, april 6


  • weight training (chest, shoulders, abs), 60 minutes, lyons center, start time 6am
saturday, april 7


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

Friday, April 06, 2007


We sacrifice so many things to this sport. Time. Energy. Money. Muscles and lungs. Blood and sweat. Emotions and words. Laughter and tears. Things. Pets. Possessions. People.

Especially people.

We pay this price because we believe that somehow the experience of early mornings and late evenings and hours of exertion all come together to mean something special. That somehow the combination of obsessive nutrition and metered rest and scheduled exertion and regulated heart rate all sum together to make of us a greater whole. That somehow, somewhere beyond the unbroken miles stretched out far unseen into the distance, we'll find something that makes us some kind of some person in some way so much more than who or what we were before.

That is, we're hoping it makes us better.

But what kind of better is it if we lose the people who mean the most to us? What kind of better is it, when the people we claim we love are the ones we leave at home alone, wondering where we are and why we do what we do and who it is we think we are trying to become? What kind of better is it, when we are not there at the exact time when the people we care for need us the most?

Are we better if we fail to fulfill the promises we made? Are we better if we do not share ourselves with the ones we love?

Sure, they tell us they understand. Sure, they encourage us to chase a dream. They wish for all their hearts to see us find what we wish to find, and to continue seeking what we are driven to seek until we do. But that still doesn't make it right.

We somehow think we don't need to find what we already have. But if we lose them--and lose them we will--we'll never find them again.

We talk of honor, character, code. We talk of resolve, determination, persistence. We talk of strength, power, skill, ability, pride. We talk of glory. We talk of fame. We talk of adoration.

We talk of faith, piety, sanctity. We talk of enlightenment, harmony, inner peace, the center, being at one with creation. We talk of finding ourselves and our world and our god and our life and our place in it.

We talk of so many words that are supposed to mean so many things explaining everything we seek.

We talk of many things, except the one thing that remains when all of it is gone and there is nothing but the silence and the darkness and us all alone: it all means nothing unless there is someone there to share it with.

Because in many ways, it's not about us. It never was. It's about us and them.

Especially them.

Because in this life, and in this world, we're in it together.

I returned, and saw under the sun,
that the race is not to the swift,
nor the battle to the strong,
neither yet bread to the wise,
nor yet riches to men of understanding,
nor yet favour to men of skill;
but time and chance happeneth to them all.
--Ecclesiastes 9:11