Thursday, March 27, 2008

videos: strength training (part 1)

so as part of the post-Ironman recovery, i've been getting back to weights.

not that i ever really went away--i integrate strength training into my endurance sports, and keep some schedule of weight room work throughout the training cycle. this is different from some endurance athletes i know, but it is something that i've seen is increasingly espoused by sports medicine, not only to generate gains in sport-specific power (and hence performance), but also to prevent sport-specific injuries. as a result, i've tried to be diligent about it.

of course, the question is what kind of strength training?

my personal history on this has fluctuated dramatically over the years. in high school and college, when i was largely clueless as to the concepts and principles of sports training, i would trudge along with all the other guys and pound out heavy sets, obsessed with the goal of getting big (or, as we would say "buff" and "huge" and "rocked up" and "shredded"). we had the misconception that strength was strength and size was size and performance was performance and the three were directly correlated with each other.

since that time, i've become a little bit more sophisticated with my training, with the realization that the three are not necessarily correlated, and that there are forms of strength complementary to sports performance and forms of strength that are not. i have adjusted my routines accordingly. there was a period where i focused on a fast-twitch muscle tissue, in hopes of cutting down my 100m and 200m sprint times and increasing my vertical jump for basketball. this, however, eventually fell to the demands of endurance sports, and the focus switched to slow-twitch muscles fibers--but the kind, as so many coaches stress, rich in oxygen-carrying capillaries and low in fat, so as to maximize efficiency in sustained power over distance.

the tricky thing about this, however, is trying to figure out just what strength exercises are conducive to this specific kind of muscle tissue. obviously, it means adjusting the training ratio with less plyometric drills (which generate fast-twitch muscles used for explosive movements) and more of other exercises. various coaches, physical therapists, and sports medicine references prescribe complex, compound, multi-planar movements (reference: endurance sports and kung fu-functional strength & flexibility). they have all, however, cautioned that i have to be careful with these kinds of activities, as they carry a risk of injury if done incorrectly--or if they're just simply wrong, period.

with this in mind, and with the admonition of my coaches and physical therapists to work out the systemic muscular imbalances that seem to persist and throttle my athletic performance, i've been on a hunt for videos demonstrating the exercises that are relevant for endurance sports: complex, compound, multi-planar movements developing a higher ratio of slow-twitch muscle fibers rich in oxygen-carrying capillaries and low in fat.

i've done some of this via kung fu (which, incidentally, has been very rewarding in other ways for a cosmopolitan Eurasian like yours truly). but i've also managed to locate some excellent exercises that i think have started to produce results, and which i found after some time searching on Youtube. here's what i think are the better (or more thought-provoking) ones:

for endurance sports-specific training:
of these, my personal favorite is MarkSandC. not just because he has a plethora of videos and exercises, but also because he seems to cover a good range of movements that address the entire body (i.e., he not only has a triathlon-specific strength training series, but also offers a whole selection of other videos)--which is great for me, since i've so many systemic imbalances that the physical therapist has been having a field day assigning me all kinds of weird funky exercises to do (some of which are, quite frankly, just really embarrassing to do in public).

having said that, i think all of these users offer exercises that are consistent with what most coaches, physical therapists, and sports medicine experts are advising in terms of sport-specific strength training for endurance sports.

as an alternative, for those of you concerned with the tendency of endurance sports to produce athletes a little on the skinny side (don't worry, you're not alone...i, too, am loath to lose well-developed pectoral and shoulder muscles), i have found some Youtube videos that offer more "hybrid" approaches focused on developing overall functional strength that is still appropriate for general athletic performance (as opposed to be endurance sports-focused only). they claim to produce the lean physique of endurance athletes, but with the musculature useful for multiple sports. you can try:
i should note that i haven't tried these (dude, i have enough on my plate between my current strength workouts, my swimming/biking/running workouts, and my kung fu), but i am intrigued. my coaches and physical therapists have told me to be cautious with these exercises, since they very easily can lead to injury if done incorrectly. and i've been advised there is some controversy over some of the exercises demonstrated. but i have to concede they certainly do seem effective.

also, i'd like to point out the gym jones videos. they are not on Youtube, but they have become rather famous for being the trainers for the movie "300"--yeah, you know, all the ripped bodies you saw there. considering some of those bodies were actors in their 40s and 50s, you have to admit the program seems to work.

i don't know. i'll think about these a little more, and hopefully get some more information to make a well-informed decision. i may even experiment with them a little.

i caution that all strength training, just as much as any other form of training, carries a risk of injury if done incorrectly or without supervision or under inappropriate conditions. so be advised, and be careful. and always try to work with a coach or the supervision of an expert.

Friday, March 21, 2008

This. Is. Ironman.

You start the day thinking it is your race. Your race, and yours alone.

Because this is Ironman.

You train alone, you race alone. There's really no team, largely no crew, often no partners, frequently no cheering section, definitely no groupies. There's just you, and a wetsuit and a bicycle and running shoes and racing kit, facing the prospect of miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles, in all conditions and in all weather through all lands with you. Just you...all alone.

Because this is Ironman.

It is with this in the mind that you tell yourself that you must turn yourself within. To marshal your strength for the challenge you are about to face. To concentrate on your own energies. To focus.

So you exclude everyone and everything. In the morning, in the darkness, in the cold, you arise alone, you eat alone, you warmup alone. At the race start, in transition, you talk to no one, look at no one, pass by no one. It's not worth the effort, or the time, you tell yourself, not worth the expenditure of self to reach out to the others around you. Too many people, too many cultures, too many creeds, too many languages, too many competitors. It's not worth it. Not right here, not right now. It's your race, and yours alone.

Because this is Ironman.

But then the gun goes off, and the race begins, and then, with all the force and all the power and all the overwhelming of the senses that comes with the reality of the distance, the truth reveals itself, and makes itself known to you. As stark and simple and strong as is anything of supreme significance.

Because this is Ironman.

The truth reveals itself, in the beginning, when the day is most uncertain, in the teeming mass of bodies in the water, collectively thrashing their way over and around and under and through each other in packs and lines and streams of motion weaving their way to the light of morning. There are no words spoken, nothing given, save for the sharing of this time.

The truth reveals itself, in the midst, when the day is at its thickest, as riders murmur greetings of communion, exchanging recognition of the long course that is their common road. It extends further, so far as athletes stopping to attend to fallen competitors, and providing the aid of sustenance or the act of treatment or the assistance of a spare tube or the accompaniment of nothing more than a few sympathetic words of encouragement to continue on. And even as words may be lost in language, there is still the understanding of meaning, the knowledge of intent, and the persistent sharing of this moment.

The truth reveals itself, at the end, when day is reaching its conclusion, with people stumbling, shuffling, limping in the last stretch to the finish. It arises, and is realized, in the reassuring pat on the back, a comforting grasp on the shoulder, and goes so far as to staying with someone as they struggle to walk or guiding them as they start to wander. And although words may fail, they are still raised by voices, across the divide of tongues, so as to become supreme songs of meaning, sung by all the souls sharing this experience.

Because this is Ironman.

And at the finish you finally see.

There are people everywhere. Everyone. Everything. All together. Talking, looking, and passing by and shaking hands and grasping arms and hugging close in laughter and in tears and in triumph and in joy, even though they've never seen or spoken or known each other before today, or can even understand a single word that that any one of them is uttering to one another.

For them, it's worth the effort, the time, the expenditure, to reach out beyond themselves to others around them. To other people, other cultures, other creeds, other languages, other competitors. It's worth it.

Especially here, especially now.

In the way that only something earned with all the force and all the power and all the overwhelming of the senses that comes with the reality of the distance ever can be.

In the way that only a truth as stark and as simple and as strong as is anything of supreme significance ever can be.

And you end the day knowing that it is not your race...certainly not yours alone. It never was.

It is everyone's race, and everyone's together.





Saturday, March 15, 2008

cures for the post-Ironman blues (Audrey Hepburn sure is nice...)

every Ironman is followed by the post-Ironman blues.

the sudden sensation of listlessness, loss, confusion, emptiness. all related to the sudden release of energy on race day, combined with abrupt absence of training in the schedule, added to the removal of a focal point that's consumed so much of your life. it creates a vacuum, a lack of direction, even a loss of meaning.

we've all dealt with it. any of us who've done Ironman. those of you who've done one know what i'm talking about.

it's funny. you think that having accomplished something so significant would leave you with a sense of fulfillment that would last long after, and thereby grant a measure of peace welcoming time to rest on your laurels. but it never seems to work out that way.

instead it's questions like: what do i do? where do i go? who am i now? what did it mean? and of course: holy smokes, what's with all this free time?!?!

it verges on existential. even metaphysical.

i tend to take it for what it is: the follow-through of an emotional roller-coaster that marks the recovery phase from a major transformative event...which--and let's be honest--every Ironman is, no matter how many you have done. you just don't go that far on the edge without it leaving an effect on you.

for me, it tends to make me a bit pensive, introspective, even reclusive.

it's at times like these i usually find myself turning to a recurring slate of things that comfort me. food, music, movies...especially movies...and oddly enough, ones with Audrey Hepburn.

i don't know what it is about Audrey Hepburn that does the trick. maybe it was her eyes. maybe it was her smile. maybe it was her voice. maybe it was just her.

all i know is, there are some films with her that seem to fill a void in my life...a void very much akin to the void i feel in the wake of an Ironman. it's weird, i know. i can't explain. something about her--or the characters she played--just seems to make me feel better. invariably, whenever i come across a time when i start to feel a little blue, i find myself watching her movies again and again and again.

a time kind of like now.

i've written about her here before on this blog (reference: so i won't discuss her any further here. instead, i'll just let you see the movies of hers that seem to help me--they're the cures for my post-Ironman blues:

funny face: how long has this been going on?

funny face: he loves and she loves

roman holiday: press conference

my fair lady: wouldn't it be loverly?

yeah. Audrey Hepburn sure is nice...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ironman New Zealand 2008: pics, videos, and anecdotes

i am looking for a truth train.

so i'm back in LA, and in the usual post-race (and post-vacation) process of picking up the pieces of normal mundane life.

it's been a while since my last post, but things have been busy with catching up (or trying to). i'm still a little bit out of it with some weird jet lag (comes and goes) and all sorts of random know the feeling you get when you've just had a pivotal, momentous, deep, meaningful, all-changing, spiritual, soulful, dare-i-say-sacred experience, and then come home to find a pile of mundane frivolous useless superficial profane crap? obscene, yeah? just really wrong, yeah? just an insult to the sanctity of the magic that is life, yeah?

yeah. exactly.

while i sort out the conflict between the sacred and the profane, i figure i needed to at least post some things re IMNZ, and so compiled stuff together travel-related. i should note that this is NOT my race report (that will come later...and yes, it will be about girls and god, or in more academic parlance, about love and enlightenment--you know, the usual random assorted elements that seem to go towards this thing people occasionally call redemption, and if they're really daring maybe even salvation...but then, it's all just really the same thing, isn't it?).

and oh yeah: i'm not religious. i'm just a pagan heathen with agnostic tendencies. ha ha ha yuck yuck yuck...sorry, jet lag kicking in. i won't do it again...or maybe i will.

first, though, i should say the following:
  • thanks again to ian and adrienne nairns--that's your photo at the top. you made excellent sponsors, and were so much more gracious and generous than any athlete could hope for. i hope that i wasn't too much of a burden on you. i promise i'll stay in touch, and hopefully i'll be doing IMNZ again soon and we can have the opportunity to meet up again. tallyho!
  • thanks to the gang at Endurance Sports Travel--ken, joe, dan, blair, lisa, frank, tai, aidan, you guys did an awesome job and made for a great experience. i hope to meet you guys again...and if you're ever around Los Angeles (or the USA), give me a shout-out and let's try to catch up...and if you plan on doing any races in the next few years, get a hold of me and we'll see about doing them together (high on my list: IM China, IM Western Australia, IM Australia, IM Japan, IM Brazil, IM South Africa). you're all my mates, so good on ya! hope to see you again for many years to come!
  • thanks to my parents--they didn't know anything about triathlon, let alone Ironman. and didn't know anything about New Zealand. but they did so much to come out for this trip, and did a lot to lend me their support. it wouldn't have been the same without you know, traveling with family can be stressful (all the usual family "issues", as you know), but it can also be intensely rewarding (in ways that you can never really describe...).
  • thanks to all you friends and readers--yes, all you friends and readers of my blog. i am so grateful for all the encouragement and support you gave. i've been slow in responding, i know, but i hope my blog makes up for it. there'll be a lot more to come, so stay tuned. it's so comforting to know that we're all part of a community sharing the same experiences...and that Ironman and endurance sports are so great as to provide a connection to the deeper things in our lives. it's about soul, mate. cheers, folks!
having said that, i offer the following travel pictures of my trip from my Flickr account:
for the "real" commentary, you can check out albums i excerpted from the above on my Facebook account:
and, as a treat, i also made 4 videos at the pre-race athlete's dinner of the Maori presentation--it was a real treat, and i found it one of the best parts of the trip:
my personal favorite photos of this trip:
  • the bachelors...rob, me, justin (everybody else brought girlfriends, boyfriends, family, whatever...LOSERS!!! we 3 went solo!!! ooooooooo-rah!):i should note the guy on the left, rob, who has his own blog, which you should check out:
  • 7am swim w hayden and russell (in lake taupo, with water so clear you could see 30+ feet all the way to the bottom):
  • from the front of Tui Oaks Motor Inn (i could get used to this...):
  • didymo dave (that's him on the left...see anecdote below):
  • me--a photo i want to save for my grandkids, so they know their old man was a man (dude, i was IN SHAPE for this race, probably the best shape of my life...if it hadn't been for the lower back strain and bloody feet, i'm thinking i would have finally made my goal of finishing in daylight):
  • bungee jump (not me jumping--too damn sore after race day...but i got this photo being in the right place at the right time--every photographer's dream):
  • i am looking for a truth train...EXACTLY (driving creek railway, coromandel):
  • haurake art gallery (just a dinky little art gallery in coromandel town, but i loved it...yeah, i'm into art, what can i say?)
  • waiheke island (oh god...achingly beautiful in a alluring, seductive, isolated, romantic sort of way):
  • auckland north harbor (yeah, so about this not-quite-extinct volcano sitting in the harbor...):
i'll finish with some of the best anecdotes and facts:
  • sacrifices: you sacrifice a lot for Ironman. money. time. energy. body. mind. love. it hurts. but there are some things of the soul that never stop calling you, and you have to answer them for reasons you can't really explain. this race, just like every race, was one of those times. in the end, all you can hope that it is worth it. sometimes i don't know...but we go on anyway.
  • pain: all we do in life is substitute one form of pain for another. the best we can hope for is that we are allowed to choose the manner of our pain. i felt that on all levels this trip. all levels.
  • we are who we are: we are who we are. and we all must travel our own path in life.
  • the japanese elvis: ok, not really. but apparently dave (one of the guys in the tour group) was running alongside a japanese competitor, and tried to strike up a conversation but the man knew only rudimentary english. turns out, however, that the japanese man was an Elvis fanatic, and his parents had taken him to Graceland, and he happened to know every Elvis song by heart (and not only knew them, but understood the words enough to know how to emphasize the lyrics in the right places). dave and this guy ended up singing Elvis songs the entire marathon leg of the race.
  • the war canoe and the haka: the maoris of waireke village (the local tribe historically tied to taupo and lake taupo) did their haka on race day morning. as a bonus, they rowed their war canoe during the swim, and held a constant maori chant while they paced us on the out-bound leg of the swim course. an amazing experience. probably the best part of race day--or any race day of any triathlon of any distance that i've ever had. i'd do the race again for this experience alone. there's nothing like a war cry to the gods to keep you going.
  • the lifeguard: i have a bad reputation of not being able to swim in a straight line in open water. that was really proven this time, with my back in such bad shape that it seized up every time i tried to sight. near the end, a lifeguard on a surf-ski paddled over to me, tapped me on the head, and said in the driest new zealand accent of utter pity: "mate, maybe it would be just better if you followed me...i'll lead you in..." yeah, i know. what can i say?
  • the kid with the mars bars: an aussie friend of mine warned me that the candy in australia and new zealand was different (even the US candy is made differently there). no kidding. on race day they had mars bars at the aid stations. i kept resisting the craving for one, until i got to an aid station with this little kid (probably 8-10 years old) holding a gigantic tub of mars bars. he held up the tub to me, and i finally gave in and grabbed one...and then i took another and another and another and another and the next thing i know i had an armful of them...i. could. not. stop. myself. freakin' mars bars, dude. ridiculous.
  • the wedding party: 2 of the members of our group got married the day after race day. they didn't if they could get a marriage license as international visitors, or if they could get a chapel on short notice. but they found out they could, and also found out they could get a chapel. so they got the marriage license and the chapel. we had discussions about having people from the tour group in the wedding party, but my parents wanted to get out the day after race day and i wasn't able to make it.
  • the man with the brain tumor: tony jackson, with mike ramsay, has done every IMNZ since the beginning. tony had a brain tumor removed this past december, but still came and did this IMNZ with his wife. just goes to show you that Ironman is in many ways about relishing life...while we still have it. yet another one of the fundamental truths of existence drawn from Ironman.
  • the man with the broken toe: another of ian and adrienne's adopted athletes, michael, broke his toe 2 weeks before race day. but he still did the race...and finished. think about it: an entire Ironman on a broken toe. yeah. either you are an Ironman or you are not, either you are a hero or you are not. exactly.
  • the lower back and feet: pretty much my story this race. my strained lower back never really got better by race day...basically, it felt like a giant hand of nails and needles was constantly yanking at my tailbone and erector spinae. i had to stop at every aid station to treat it. it stopped me from being able to sight on the swim or get in the aero position on the bike. as for my feet--well, with conditions being so wet, it rubbed the skin off my feet, and i bled through my shoes quite nicely. for all that, like i said last post, i still had a personal best time...which makes me think that if i'd been good all together for this race, i might have actually met my long-held goal of finishing in daylight--my legs were feeling good this race, really good. i'm thinking it'll be even better next time.
  • advil: i did something i probably shouldn't have done. my back pain was so bad that i took 2 advil every hour after i got done with the swim. all told, i think i took a total of 26 advil on race day. not good for the kidneys. but i was hurting pretty bad. and i wanted to finish. so i figured i'd do whatever it took. i'll try not to do this again.
  • race day: okay, windy and rainy. all day. and worse once the sun went down. not quite as bad as IMAZ last year, so i used my experiences from then to help me through the conditions here. but every local i met apologized profusely for the weather and said this was not typical for new zealand summer. was it cold? well...people in our group got hypothermia (michelle, a canadian of all people, got pulled off the course by race officials when they found her lips had turned blue). but for someone used to swimming in southern california surf of 15-17 degrees celsius, it wasn't really that bad.
  • didymo dave: this was the appellation rob and i gave to a representative of the new zealand ministry of forestry (i think that was the name of the department) who had the job of sterilizing all wetsuits against didymo, a foreign bacteria (especially the US) that has been terrorizing new zealand's fresh waters. the man was the funniest character i met the entire trip, with a sharp wit, great attitude, and supreme earnestness that did the NZ government credit...hats off to him, for waging a neverending battle for truth, justice, and new zealand's fresh waters against the evil scourge of the deadly dangerous dastardly didymo bacteria! good on ya, mate!
  • the eternal athlete: micky shapiro is a celebrity in Ironman circles. she's 71, and IMNZ was her 21st Ironman. she's done 2 Ironmans a year since she turned 60. ?!?!?!?!?!?! i introduced her to my parents, and i think it rocked their sense of age and perception of aging. i know my mother certainly started to become a whole lot more active in terms of walking around with me in auckland and coromandel.
  • the pro-turned-age-grouper: ken glah is the CEO of Endurance Sports Travel (EST). he is incidentally also a former pro, and not just any pro, but one of the major pros of the '80s and '90s. i was surprised at just how famous he is. but if you meet him, he's probably one of the humblest, nicest guys you'd ever meet...and you'd never know he was a 2-time winner of IMNZ and 22-time top-10 finisher at the IM World Championships. what was really funny was that even though he was running this trip, he was still racing this IMNZ. amazing. he's racing age group now, which i figure must be a strange feeling (as in: to go from being a major pro to another member of the age group amateurs)--but i guess we all get older, and we all are just people in the end.
  • the overworked masseuse: lisa was a friend of blair's (see below) from their hometown of taranaki. i ended up going to her twice before race day to try and get my back into shape for race helped, but my back was just too far gone to be up to top shape for IMNZ. i love her comment to me the 1st session: "um...really tight there...maybe you should consider just taking a few days and doing nothing, yeah?" yeah. exactly. she was working non-stop at several points giving massages to everyone in the group. i felt for her--and her hands.
  • the drafted aussie: dan was never supposed to be part of the EST staff. actually, he'd only come to IMNZ to cheer on micky as a friend. but he showed up in taupo, and found himself drafted as a bike mechanic (cuz that's his business back in melbourne, where he's from), cook, guide, shuttle driver, and baby-sitter to a bunch of clueless americans. for all that, he held up his sense of humor, positive spirits, and was--with blair--one of the most hilarious people to be around. between him and blair and their attendant task force of aussies and kiwis (they'd brought some of their mates as well), they were absolutely a riot. aussie aussie aussie!!! oi oi oi!!!
  • the last-minute kiwi: our bike mechanic, blair, was invited to be a last-minute entry (as in: the day before the race) into the race. but he had to turn it down because he loaned his bike and wetsuit to one of the people in the group who had lost his equipment on the flight to new zealand. blair, of course, had done no training. but i would have paid money to see him do an Ironman as a last-second entrant--rob, justin, and i talked about it, and we all had the distinct impression that blair is the kind of guy who could have dropped the hammer AT ANY TIME and absolutely destroyed EVERYONE (with the exception of dan and ken) in the group without even thinking about it. truly humbling.
  • the post-race pub crawl: our bike mechanic, blair, told me his tradition with ken after finishing every IMNZ was to walk back from the finish line to the hotel (about a mile) and stop on the way to get a couple of beers at the pub. ?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! i thought he was joking, and then i realized he was being serious. i thought he was still joking, and then dan said they do it all the time. and even then i thought he was still joking, and then i heard that ken did exactly just that after the race. ?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! note to self: goal in life is to get into good enough shape to do this. seriously.
  • the aussie-kiwi rivalry: there's definitely a good-natured rivalry between the 2. my favorite illustration of this was a t-shirt that read: "i support 2 teams: the all blacks, and whoever is playing against australia."
  • rugby: rugby is a freakin' religion in new zealand. god forbid you don't worship the all-blacks. we stopped at eden park while on the Explorer bus in auckland, and everybody fell into awed whispers when the driver announced that this is where the all blacks play.
  • cleanliness is a virtue: actually, this applies for ALL of new zealand. the cleanliness is amazing. it rivals scandinavia--and coming from a eurasian swede like yours truly, that's saying a lot. every toilet i saw (public or private or business) was spotless. the streets were likewise spotless. the parks and forests and trails and towns and alleys were similarly spotless. even on race day, they had gigantic trash bins with massive bulls-eyes with huge signs saying "place rubbish here"--and at every aid station. it warmed my heart to no end.
  • international competitors: as i mentioned, IMNZ is the most international of Ironman races, with over 40 nations, and this is 2nd only to the Ironman World Championships in Kona. what's interesting is that the biggest contingent this year went in order of Australia (with ~180), the US (with ~120), and then Japan (with ~70...!!!...there were so many of them that they had their own race briefing to translate race instructions). to make my dad happy, Sweden had 4.
  • race swag: daaaaaaaaaamn, but IMNZ has some awesome swag. especially if you love black. yeah, i know, it's the official new zealand color (hence the national rugby team name: all-blacks). but wow, it. is. all. black. and very pretty. and it puts the stuff i got at IMAZ to shame. i bought as much IMNZ stuff as i dared to buy on my student budget.
  • maoris: fascinating. in taupo, i had the maori channel on my tv. i ended up watching it most of the time i was there. they're definitely politically powerful and very assertive. i also found all the maoris i met to be very proud, very warm, and above all, very spiritual. i sense their culture is one that respects the unknown mysteries of existence--something definitely gratifying to me, coming from a place (the US) that seems to miss out on so much of it. i know the maoris have an image of being very warlike and have their own societal problems (but then, don't we all), but i found them a great culture to be around.
  • rampaging drunk underage new zealand teenagers: the night of IMNZ featured random roving hordes of drunk teenagers rampaging through the streets of taupo. joe (ken's brother) joked about this, and blair told me that they were all definitely under the legal drinking age in new zealand. lisa told me that this was a definite problem in new zealand, and a couple of tourists i met in a taupo souvenir shop said it also stretches to australia as well...the problem isn't the drinking, but the binge drinking, which there is a lot of--sounds a lot like the US.
  • pies: oh god, the pies. everybody kept talking about them, and i kept wondering "what's the big deal?" but then i had one...and then another and another and another and another and another. the pies are meat pies, with beef, lamb, venison, etc. and absolutely freakin' addictive as all hell. of course, they're incredibly bad for you, but whatever. have another one, on me, mate. and while you're at it, i'd like to have another...
  • drinks: ok, so i heard that the native New Zealand drinks to have are L & P and Frank's ginger beer. both are (sort of) equivalents to U.S. root beer (read: non-alcoholic...i think). my response? good. but in a weird tickle-your-taste-bud-and-mind-sort-of-way. personally, i prefer the ginger beer, not just for the taste (surprisingly good) but also the awesome motto on the bottle: "Frank's Ginger Beer: A damn good beer, a damn good drink".
  • lamb, beef, dairy, shellfish: if you're not into any of those, then you're going to be SOL in new zealand. oh they have vegan and vegetarian stuff, don't get me wrong. but all their famous cuisine revolves around just those 4 things--and in various order depending on who you're talking to: lamb, beef, dairy, shellfish.
  • the truth train: the driving creek railway in coromandel (see below) is an artist's commune for glass, clay, earthenware, and sculpture. the founder funds it by maintaining a scenic mini-railway up into the forests of the coromandel mountains. start point of the train had a sign that read "i am looking for a truth train" (see photo above). all i could say was: exactly. i labeled the train the "truth train." i loved it. it became my motto for this trip.
  • taupo: and lake taupo. phenomenally beautiful. i really could get used to living there...really get used to living there. for all that, everyone kept telling me it was nothing compared to the south island. hmmmmmm...note to self: honeymoon place. my only caveats are that taupo is becoming a retirement home catering to wealthy vacation visitors, meaning that the food and shop prices are high. the land supposedly is high, but compared to the prices in LA, the land in taupo is cheap--i checked out a real estate catalog while there, and they had beach-front 3-bedroom homes going for $NZ300-400,000, which is obscenely cheap compared to the cost of a beach-front home (or, for that matter, any home) in LA. note to self: buy land in new zealand.
  • auckland: ignore the tours (very crowded, very pricey, very hectic). take the Explorer bus (a bus service that goes in a loop around the major city neighborhoods...$30 for a 2-day pass, unlimited get-on-get-off, very casual, and very relaxed). major sites i'd recommend: sky tower (go on a sunny day...amazing views of the city--see my photo albums above), auckland national museum (the maori collection is fascinating...and one of the most educational things about new zealand i saw), mt. eden (an extinct volcano w views of the city), and victoria market (if you want tourist souvenirs at 1/3 of the price of other places, this is the place).
  • coromandel: a weird mix of nature, environmentalists, rough forestry-and-gold-mining-past, and hippie artist communes. but incredibly beautiful forest, surrounded by an amazing mix of very alluring, very secluded, and very romantic islands...note to self: great place for a honeymoon (should i, god forbid, actually ever find a girl and actually ever get married...)
  • new zealand: as i've been telling people: ridiculously clean, ridiculously nice, ridiculously happy, ridiculously beautiful. standard of living, quality of life, whatever. it was really hard getting on the plane to come back to Los Angeles, which in comparison is a cesspool with incredibly disturbing income inequality. say what you will, but what i saw in new zealand was an ideal middle-class-based economy living in a democratic society with a clean environment and all the modern amenities and superb education and health care...i'm worried that the U.S. is none of the above, especially since it seems we've become a feudal economy, with an upper class that holds all the wealth and lords over the remaining peasant populations slaving away beneath them.
  • Ironman New Zealand: i can summarize it as this: do. this. race. oh my god. do. this. race. the best race course, the best volunteers, the best host town, the best experience i've had with Ironman...of course, my only prior experience has been doing IMAZ twice. whatever. this race is a must-do. for any Ironman. for anybody. you. must. do. this. race...and then hang out in new zealand and come to your senses and get a clue as to what life is really about.
well, that's pretty much it for now. i'll try to get the race report up soon.

and oh yeah: i am looking for a truth train!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

the skinny blues

ok, i have to make this quick, since i have spotty internet access (booooooo, Auckland youth hostel!).

i should first say that i'm physically hurt after this race. weird. 1st Ironman i was emotionally beat up. 2nd Ironman i was mentally drained--and felt like i'd gotten part of my soul sucked out. this time, i'm physically beat up. seriously. worse than any other time. i've got:
  • bloody feet. really bad. the blood soaked right through my shoes. i'm not walkig right.
  • bad back. really bad. i thought i had things together, but race day proved otherwise.
  • bad knees. really bad. it's tough to walk.

apart from that, initial comments about this race:

  • wind and rain. the wind was not as bad as IMAZ 2007, but the rain really put a pile-driver on things. and things really whipped up by nightfall during the run. but what else is new? bad things follow me like the plague...and as someone on the race course told me: Ironman is the kind of thing that punishes the weak and rewards the strong. it reminded me of my 1st triathlon coach, who constantly quoted a Navy SEAL axim: "it pays to be a winner." i thought about that a lot this time.
  • a number of people in my group qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Kona. congrats guys. as for me, i got a personal best time, but that doesn't mean much. i can say i would have gone faster if i'd had healthy feet and a healthy back, but whatever. i did what i did in the conditions that i did. the rest i have to accept as a learning experience.
  • Endurance Sports Travel (EST) is GREAT. looking back on it, considering the logistics and expenses of getting to an international Ironman, i don't think i would have had anywhere near the time i had without the assistance of EST. Ken Glah and his mates put on a super awesome professional job, and they provide a great environment to meet people and support one another--i'd recommend him and his crew to anybody.
  • the race was GREAT. the course was GREAT. beautiful. it puts IMAZ to shame. i don't know why anybody would ever turn down a chance to come to New Zealand. seriously. one of the most beautiful places on earth...and one--courtesy of the Maoris that i met--that remains one of the most spiritual as well.
  • the people of Taupo are GREAT. sooooooo supportive. the population of Taupo is 20,000, but they had 2,000 volunteers and many others cheering everybody on...the entire day, even in the wind and rain. hard core. it made all the athletes feel very, very, very special.
  • i was adopted as an athlete by a host family (thanks, Ian and Adrienne!). they were sooooo generous with their time and hospitality, and really went out of their way to make my family feel welcome. i wish the world had more people like them--it would be a much better place.
  • the people of New Zealand are GREAT. i love their smiles. i love their sense of humor. i love their attitude. just like mine. and they are QUICK on the wit. faster than even me. i wouldn't have done this without them.

as for post-race and non-race issues, there were quite a number of things that made this a mixed experience for me. things ended up being very stressful for me, and maybe it affected my race day. all i know is, i'm coming home to some discouraging conditions:

  • i have a pile of rejection e-mails from jobs and postdocs. not good.
  • i have a pile of rejections from girls. even worse.
  • i have a pile of rejections from summer funding. worst of all (boooooooooo USC).
  • i found out the reason my dad has become so physically inactive is because he has a heart condition. my mom gave me the medical term, but i promptly forgot it. all i know is that when we listen to his heart, we don't hear the regular "lub-dub, lub-dub" of a healthy heart, but rather the "lub-swish, lub-swish" of a weak one.

some humorous comments, with my responses, inspired from my New Zealand mates:

  • someone else: "wow, i am tired." me: dude, you just did an Ironman.
  • "wow, i lost weight." dude, Ironman.
  • "wow, i am skinny." dude, Ironman.
  • "wow, i feel like a broken old man." dude, ditto.
  • "wow, i feel like i just got WORKED." dude...hello? Ironman?
  • "wow, i can't describe what we just did...i don't think anybody can understand what we just did." dude...that. is. Ironman. most people will not get it...and some never will.
  • Ironman. life and death. sacred and profane. honor and dishonor. substance and emptiness. meaning and the void. you have to earn it.

and oh yeah, i spoke to god. the conversation isn't over. i'm going to write up a race report--one of the long ones, with the threading of thoughts and race day.

my 1st Ironman was about my grandmother, the 2nd was about my grandmother. this one turned out to be the women in my life. all of them. i'm going to write about them...and about love.

and god. especially god.