Thoughts and Adventures From Greenlite Heavy Industries

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I Tuck My Dung Do Da Pole

We’re in the middle of an unusual cold snap here in Seattle. The temps haven’t crested freezing in seven days, and the mercury had dropped to the teens early last week. Last Tuesday I was helping out in Sophia’s first grade class when a little dude came up and said “I tuck my dung do da pole.”
“What?” I asked.
“I tuck my dung do da pole,” he repeated.
“You stuck your tongue to the pole!”
“Let me see,” I said, whereupon the little guy proudly stuck out his red speckled mangled tongue. I couldn’t help it; I just busted a gut, I mean I couldn’t stop laughing. He found it as funny as I did and laughed right along with me. When we both finally regained our composure I asked if he was ever going to make that mistake again.
“No way, nope.” He said.
Many things change, while a few things remain the same.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tough Girl

This is an image I shot a couple of years ago while waiting in a lift line at Stevens Pass Ski Area. The bluebird sky reflected in this tough girl's chrome dome says it all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

You and I Soar Together

Picture luscious fluff.
Drive under smooth diamond light
in a sweet winter daydream.
No wind.
Worshiping her beauty
through white lather spray.
A vision of the shining Goddess.
Sky girls
storm boys
hit shots
crush the red sun
with a symphony of cool wax music.
You and I soar together.
A little refrigerator magnet poetry I pieced together while staying at Kaj and Mylon's Whistlerhaus. My sole attempt at poetry. Bring on the snow.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Comfort Zone

I’ve been an active guy for about thirty years now: skiing, running, biking, mountaineering, kayaking and more recently Ironman length triathlons. I’ve completed two Ironman races, neither one without at least one cracked leg bone, and quite honestly I don’t know how many races my creaking and groaning skeleton has left. My goal is to complete at least one Ironman totally healthy, to lay it all on the line and to see where I measure up. Where do I measure up exactly? What is that measure of success – Kona? Obtaining a slot for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, would require shaving at least two hours off of my PR, an obviously impossible task – right? The events of yesterday morning caused me to question this previously obvious conclusion.
Every Friday morning Stephanie, Amy and I meet swim instructor/coach Ty Rudolph for what we call “swim lessons.” Ty is unorthodox, to say the least, and at first he had us doing strange, yet surprisingly fun, drills – nothing too taxing. I actually kind of looked forward to these sessions as a kind of play time. Well as of yesterday play time is over. The workout that Ty pushed me through was one of the hardest physical experiences I’ve had, including races, since my high school wrestling days.
I learned two things yesterday: the first being the discovery of untapped potential, doors that I have yet to open. I wasn’t even one third of the way through this workout when I started thinking up excuses to get out of the pool: my head hurts, I have to take my mom to the doctor, the list went on, but somehow each time Ty yelled out I pushed away from the wall and went at it one more time. He kept yelling “get out of your comfort zone, get out of your comfort zone,” my comfort zone was a distant memory. I thought I was dead tired, that the well was dry, but each time I simply concentrated on getting to the other end of the pool, making the turn and getting back, that’s all I focused on and that’s all I did.
The second thing I learned was the real world concept of leaving nothing behind. Stephanie and I are compatible swimmers, neither great nor shameful, middle of the road, but yesterday she kicked my butt. It wasn’t because she has impeccable form in the water or that her fitness level so exceeds mine; she dusted me because she worked harder, it was as simple as that. For the past two years I’ve been kidding myself, plodding through week and after week of half-assed workouts. It’s time for a change and I might as well start now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Natural Human Race

For a shiny brief fortunate period during my twenties I lived in Tokyo. I worked on the outskirts of the compact city in what was once a Mitsubishi Zero factory – the infamous airplane that wrecked havoc over the South Pacific during WWII. Of the hundred or so men in the office only two didn’t smoke: my supervisor, whose throat cancer was in remission, and me. One very macho guy chain-smoked Virginia Slims, and how everyday I had to grapple back the urge to say, “you’ve come a long way baby.” My co-workers were certain that all American men smoke cigarettes and ride horses across the open range – usually at the same time - so my being a mere secondhand smoker stirred up some real curiosity. Inclusion is very important in Japanese society, which put my work mates into quite a stir as nobody seemed to know what box would best fit this odd American. It took a few weeks, but finally the rumor got round that I jogged every morning, and when that knowledge went public the questioning glances ceased – I was a “sportsman.” Suddenly invitations for hiking trips, SCUBA diving weekends and other sporting endeavors flowed my way.
On one memorable occasion Keiko Furusawa, one of the office girls – their words not mine – asked me to join some of her friends on a 10k “fun run.” I was in the “table for one” crowd and consequently never passed up a social opportunity; I immediately accepted the invitation. We arranged to meet that coming Saturday in front of the train station in the mountain town of Mushasi-Itchichiichi.
Walk into any sushi bar in urban America, turn towards the nearest wall and you’ll see what I saw as I stepped from the train the morning of the race. Mushasi-Itchichiichi is proof that the idyllic countryside behind those woodblock prints still exists. Gossamer clouds percolated between the hillside conifers and the steady rumble of a confident river formed an acoustic foundation. After enduring weeks of living shoulder to shoulder in Tokyo this meditative countryside was like manna to a starving man, and by sheer chance I had arrived fifteen minutes early. Two firm yet gentle lessons had taught me that in Japan punctuality reflects respect. Keiko, flanked by her two friends, arrived fifteen minutes later, neither a minute early nor a minute late.
Keiko Furusawa possessed the poise and height of a runway model., and though it was only eight o-clock on a wet Saturday morning she had obviously spent hours in front of a mirror. I on the other hand I hadn’t even given my teeth a good cleaning.
Feeling the familiar twinge of shabbiness and inadequacy I followed Keiko and her two friends downhill, through narrow streets and finally to the river whose melody I had heard from the train station. Near the edge of town we were joined by a voluble American sailor named Duane. “Is this your first Sizenjen race?” he asked from behind the upturned collar of his standard issue pea coat.
“Yeah I guess.”
“This is my third. I’ve never seen another American here.”
Duane went on talking about rivers, rock climbing and hypothermia, but I’d only come to shuffle along in a “fun run” and consequently didn’t pay much attention. Keiko led the four of us to a cluster of tents that had been set up near the riverbank. I began to notice that everyone who appeared to be a contestant in this so-called “fun run” was either wearing or carrying a lime green hockey helmet. I’ve traveled enough to know that if you don’t speak the language you’d better expect some surprises, and about now I was beginning to realize that the words “fun run” hadn’t translated particularly well.
Keiko’s friends had mysteriously disappeared by time she ushered Duane and I into a large tent where a race official was smiling behind a card table. “Kieko-san, where are your friends?” I asked.
“Fun run, fun run.”
“Mike-san fun run too.” I said emphatically.
“No no no.”
“Yes yes yes.”
“No. Mike-san for natural human race.” This time she made a quick waving motion in front of her face. I recognized this hand maneuver and knew that the discussion was over.
Keiko filled out forms while I was fitted with a crash helmet and a pair of rubber coated gloves. With the exception of the helmet the scene appeared to be more odd than dangerous, but when I was asked to place a fingerprint on the application form I got nervous.
Back outside Keiko seemed very pleased with the situation, and when Kenny Loggins’ Dangerzone erupted from half a dozen loudspeakers she prodded me towards the starting line. I cautiously stepped into the rear of the pack. Next to me stood a supremely fit-looking teenager who alternated between pulls from a can of Sapporo beer and drags from a cigarette. He flashed me a big grin, hugged himself miming the international symbol for cold, finished off the beer and then promptly dropped the empty can at his feet. I suddenly realized that it was cold – damn cold. My breath steamed as though I had taken a pull on his fag; the air temperature couldn’t have been much above freezing. My limbs immediately went into convulsions. “Let’s get on with it” I mumbled out load as three race officials circulated through the crowd counting participants – I assume that they did this in order to verify that everyone who goes out comes back.
We stood around long enough for me to be surprised by the crack of the starting pistol, but I didn’t linger as the pack quickly pushed me into full stride up the riverbank. We were running over what appeared to be a pile of gray softballs, and after about a hundred yards the lead runners suddenly veered right and began high stepping across the knee deep river. By the time I hit the opposite shore my feet were numb and I was beginning to question the sensibility of this race, but curiosity and the shouts of “go, fight, win” from the gathered crowd prodded me on.
The next two kilometers followed a fairly sedate trail through the woods, but then we hit the river again, this time we had to cross thirty feet of chest-deep runoff. I clambered up the opposite riverbank out of breath and thankful for the sticky gloves. How could I get myself into so much trouble so quickly? At the third crossing I lost my footing and was swept into a pool, my feet didn’t touch bottom so I angled myself upstream and stroked for shore. I crawled out of the water in the middle of the pack, and with a surprising determination took off through the woods. Two more river crossings and some off-trail scrambling led to the turn around station.
Feeling strong at the midpoint, I picked up the pace on the return trip. I found that a squatting sumo-like stance helped at the river crossings and I even managed to gain a few seconds by staying in the river and swimming between fordings. I crossed the finish line in the middle of the pack, but I felt like a winner when Keiko and her friends rushed over with blankets, towels and a thermos of hot tea. When I regained my senses I noticed a number of my fellow racers climbing into a giant cauldron which – and I swear this is true – was suspended over a wood fire. The scene reminded me of the time Bugs Bunny was being cooked by the witchdoctor. “For too cold people,” Keiko’s friend said pointing to the steaming tub.
Keiko and her two friends escorted me back to the train station where they bought me heated cans of sugary coffee from a vending machine, and though they had driven, the trio graciously waited nearly thirty minutes for the next train. I arrived back at my room in downtown Tokyo as the neon billboards of East Shinjuku flickered to life, I poured a cold beer, dropped into a hot bath and reminisced on just how much I enjoyed being a stranger in this strange land.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Death by Repetition

I've become increasingly bored with the 80's rock that I've been listening to - well since the 80's. Really how many times can I listen to Bon Scott scream about Big Balls without wanting to scream myself. So in an effort to broaden my musical horizons I've been listening to our local Seattle non-commercial radio station KEXP. Ironically one of the most enlightening things I've heard on the station was during an interview with Robert Smith, frontman for one of my favorite 80's bands - the Cure. Somewhere in the middle of one of his wondering monologues he mentioned death by repetition. Those three words kind of stuck with me and are now pushing me upwards as I try to crawl out of my twenty year old rut.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hee Haw

We hadn’t gotten as far as we had hoped. I suppose the buffalo burgers had slowed us a bit, but camping at the pass was fine; we could make up the distance tomorrow. The temperature was disturbingly warm, so we pitched the tent without the fly, crawled inside and began boiling up our macaroni and cheese. The sky was a haze of salty starlight.
We had to share the one spoon, so eating took a little longer than usual, but I was wide awake and in no hurry. I took my time and did a better than average job of licking the titanium pot clean, but finally I had nothing else to do but slide into my aptly named mummy bag. Frustrated mosquitoes bounced off the nylon mesh just three inches from my forehead. The tent was small – we slept head-to-toe - and Bill rattled the gossamer shelter as he searched for a comfortable position. “You tired?” I finally asked my good friend.
“No.” He replied matter-of-factly. “How ‘bout you?”
“Man that mac and cheese went down good. Was it the powdered stuff or the squishy kind?”
“Powdered.” I said looking at the stars. “You know what else is good?” I asked.
“Yeah Cheetos rock. What time is it?”
I reached for my watch and pushed multiple buttons until the blue face illuminated. “Uhhh almost midnight.”
“Whatta set your alarm for?”
“I’ll set mine for four thirty.”
Bill flipped on his headlamp and spent a long time fumbling with his chew can-sized wristwatch. I fluffed up the meager pile of clothes that formed my pillow and tried to sleep. No luck. “You wanna know what I’m thinking about?” I asked, gambling that Bill was still awake.
“What.” Came a drowsy reply.
“Hee Haw”
“The TV show?”
“Yeah you know with Buck Owens and that other guy?”
“You mean the fat guy?”
“Yeah. What was his name? Willy something I think.”
“No you’re thinking of Willy Nelson.” Bill said. “Yeah I can remember me and my dad sitting around watching that show. A bunch of Playmates dressed like Daisy Duke. Remember that board that smacked the guy in the ass?”
“Yeah I think it was like a fence board or something. Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. I think the other guy was Roy something.”
“What was the deal with the guys lying around on feed sacks? Remember that?”
Normally I’m not much for singing, but we were in the middle of nowhere so what the heck; I belted out “if it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all.” Then Bill joined in “Gloom despair and aaagony on meee.”
“Roy Clark.” I said between fits of laughter.
“Yeah that’s it.” Bill said before singing in his best Arkansas twang. “thipppt you were goooone.”
“No no that’s a different song,” I said. “That one goes like, wheere ohhh wheeer aare you tonight. Why deeed you leave me heere all alone.”
“That’s it!” Bill shouted and then together we sang, “Aye searched the werld over and thought aye found true love, then you met another and thippt you were gone.”
Bill and I were laughing like a couple of drunken teenagers. “Niiice.” I spurted out between giggles.
Our laughter finally gave way to the inevitable silence. “What time is it?” Bill asked.
“Bout a quarter after.” I guessed.
“You tired?”
“Not really. You tired?”

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bring Up The Gimp

Right now I have to question the Ironman lifestyle. Is it healthy to push your body to that level? Being injured has restricted me to swimming and weight training, and despite not running or biking I feel very fit and strong. During the dog days of Ironman training I often, not always, but often feel sore and exhausted. Right now, even though my training levels are low, I feel in superior health. I wonder...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sweet and Sour

Melony and I take Halloween very serously, perhaps we took it a little too far with Sam. That kid is downright scary.

Friday, October 31, 2008

North Shore

Melony and I spent the past weekend soaking up the sun (and some rain) on the the North Shore of Oahu. We rented a broken down house on Sunset Beach and spent most of our time in lawn chairs watching the surfers. Here's a little of what we saw.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cold Fingers

Last Wednesday I took a solo roundtrip ride from Cle Elum to Ellensburg in Eastern Washington. The ride was sixty miles, rolling downhill on the way out and rolling up hill on the way back. I followed Highway 10 along the Teanaway River. It was a clear sky fall day, twenty eight degrees at the start rising to the mid fifties by the finish.

This is quite possibly the only road ride I’ve done in Eastern Washington. The scenery was fantastic with fall colors in the valleys and early season snow dusting the peaks of the Stuart Range. The road surface was smooth, plenty of shoulder and the notorious Eastern Washington winds were barely enough to move the high grass in the roadside ditches.

The highlight of the ride was a quick lunch of coffee and a hamburger at Rossows U-Tote-Em, just outside of Ellensburg.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Trying to Remain Sane

Well we've entered the final three weeks before a critically important Presidental election and it appears that we are now asked to check our brains at the door. I thought that for a while I'd start posting some of my favorite photos. I took this shot of a young Garung woman in Nepal. As an athlete I respect physical toughness, the Garung were some of the toughest, and kindest people I've ever met.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Here's a disappointing diagnosis:

This is the fourth stress fracture in two years. The future certainly is uncertain.

Ironman Canada Race Report

It's a bit long but here is my race report from Ironman Canada

Why do Ironman? Good question. That’s a really good question.

The alarm clock wouldn’t sound off for another ten minutes, but I swung my legs out of bed and looked at the overly bright blue numbers; it was 3:50 AM. I dressed, ate a breakfast of coffee, oatmeal and a blueberry scone, and was out the door by 4:25. Joe was waiting by the car. Melony drove us to within six blocks of the transition area; from there Joe and I made the quiet walk to body marking. Cotton ball clouds dotted the morning sky; perhaps it was going to be a good day.

At 5:15 the transition area was already crowded, the energy at these races is like a thick fog. I arrived at my bike to find that my rear tire was nearly flat. I had splurged and rented some carbon race wheels, and even though everything had worked perfectly the day before I couldn’t get any air into my tire. The presta valve was stuck deep inside the valve extender. I ran the bike over to the mechanics station, and after a few tense minutes the volunteer and I managed to get the tire inflated.

At 6:30 I pulled on my wetsuit and started towards the starting line. I am the first to admit to having an irrational fear of open water swimming, and me at the starting line of an Ironman is like an acrophobe stepping onto a tightrope stretched over Niagara Falls. I don’t fear heights, cats, dogs, mice, snakes, spiders, the dark, open spaces, tight spaces, crowds or anything else that I can think of, so being a little worried about sinking to the bottom of a lake while twenty five hundred frantic lunatics beat the living crap out of you doesn’t seem all that embarrassing. The swim leg of the Ironman is far and away the least physically demanding event, but it’s what keeps me awake at night. As I entered the water I looked at my hands, both left and right were shaking.

I seeded myself in the absolute rear and outside. The cannon went off at 7:00 sharp, but since the beach is so shallow I had to wade out a full minute before I could start swimming. I quickly realized the error of my phobic ways as I had to weave in and out of dozens of people who continued to walk through the chest deep water. The swim course hadn’t been set up until race day morning and consequently I hadn’t gotten a good sight plan. Fortunately I quickly realized that if I just headed towards a big hill in the distance I should be on track for the first turn buoy. My mantra for triathlon swims is to never stop; don’t tread water, don’t breaststroke, just keep grab’n and pull’n, grab’n and pull’n. I was surprised by how quickly I made it to the party boat marking the first turn, and after rounding the buoy I started to increase my pace. I had already knocked off a mile and had done it all on my own, avoiding contact also avoids any benefit from the current generated by the other swimmers. After rounding the second buoy I was headed for home and decided to get into the mix, no use in going solo anymore. I sighted off of the twin condos on the shore and was motivated by how quickly I was making progress. I got into a few scraps but nothing that I couldn’t push my way out of. I should have been here all along I thought, next time I’ll be more aggressive.

I kept a good steady pace to the end, but when I stood up I realized that I was still fifty feet from shore. I debated diving back in, but the crowd was too thick, and so I resorted to the high step water run. “It’s all gravy from here” I said to myself as I ran up the ramp towards the wet suit strippers. My transition was quick; no socks no gloves, no arm warmers, no change of clothes, just shoes, helmet and glasses. Melony, Sam, Sophia and Lori were outside the fence just ten feet from my bike; they cheered me on as I grabbed the most badass ride in the rack and started rolling.

The first few minutes after transition are always confusing; it took me a mile or two to get my bearings, but once I did I started increasing the pace. What exactly that pace was I had no idea as my bike computer picked race day to stop working.

When playing the Ironman game it’s easy to get caught up in numbers: wattage, pulse rate, lactate threshold, anaerobic threshold, VO2 max, and while as an engineer I like numbers I had decided to forgo all data input and just concentrate on maintaining a strong sustainable effort. Knowing my speed would have been nice, but I wasn’t about to stop and play with that stupid computer.

On the way out of town some hairback gave me a nice body check and almost sent me off the road and into the gravel. Worse yet the dude acted like it was my fault. Normally I would have jumped on the pedals and dropped the guy like a bad habit, but I had a long day ahead and so I kept my cool. At about mile 25 the crowds were starting to thin out and just as I was getting into a really fine groove I felt that terrible sensation of metal on pavement. Sure enough I had flatted, and worse yet it was on the rear tire.

My mind went into super focus mode, tire irons out, wheel off, tire off, tube out, tube in, tire on wheel on, irons and tube into rear pocket and back on the road. Don’t think about all of the people going past, don’t even look at ‘em, even when Amy came by yelling “hey Mike” I kept my head down. Once back on the road I realized that I hadn’t checked the tire for any glass or metal, maybe something was still in the tire, what if I flatted again, I’d have to patch the tube, that would take at least twenty minutes. Worse yet I had flatted on this same tire only two days before, just after I’d had the race wheels installed; two flats in less than thirty five miles, no way was I going to make it another ninety. Panic started to push its way in, all these months spent busting my ass only to end up carrying my bike ten miles to the next aid station. Normally I’m an aggressive rider, but now I had to tone it down, I couldn’t risk hitting a pothole or running over a pile of glass, I couldn’t just put my head down and go, I had to keep my eyes locked on the road and hope for the best.

Starting up Richter Pass I spotted my coach. “You got a spare tube?” I yelled. No luck. I hadn’t ridden the bike course prior to the race and so I didn’t know what to expect from the infamous Richter Pass. The grade was steady and moderately steep, no big deal, I stayed in the saddle and just kept turning the pedals over. I was surprised by how many people lined the road, and as I neared the top Cynthia stuck her head out from the crowd and shouted “you look great Mike keep going.” Cynthia, by the way, is awesome. At the top of the Pass I spotted Sam’s plaid shorts, holy cow what a blessing: Melony, Sam, Sophia and Lori were out on the bike course. Having friends and family out there cheering me on gives me such a lift, I was grinning for the next ten miles.

I cruised through the rollers feeling good, I was staying hydrated and maintained my nutrition plan of three hundred calories and eight hundred milligrams of sodium every hour, but by the time I started on the out and back I began to feel the hours in the saddle. The roads were rough and the wind was picking up, I can ride hills all day, but put me on a crappy chip seal road and listen to me whine. At the special needs station I stopped for a quick shot of caffeine, and turned to go, but just as I was leaving I noticed two inner tubes on top of a cardboard box. “Hey can I have these?” I asked a volunteer; “sure,” he said “you want some CO2 also.”

“No, wait wait yes I do. I need a threaded one.”

“You got it man,” he said and pulled out a handful of brass colored tubes.

I stuffed the cartridge along with the two tubes into the already crowded rear pocket of my tri jersey.

Two minutes after leaving the special needs station I heard the clank clank clank of a CO2 cartridge hitting asphalt. “Hey you dropped your CO2,” called a woman’s voice. I pretended not to hear.

A minute later a fit thirty seven year-old pulled alongside me, “you dropped you CO2 back there.”

“Who me? Really?”

“Don’t worry it bounced off the road.”

“Thanks for letting me know.”

“I got a spare. You need one?”

“No thanks, I have one in my jersey.” I dodged a bullet on that one.

Finally we got off the farm road and started to head back towards Penticton. There wasn’t much of a wind and the road was nice, so why couldn’t I get going. I was in my small chain ring huffing and puffing along, I was expecting to get passed, but nobody was going by, as a matter of fact I was passing riders. “What’s going on!” I thought to myself. After about twenty minutes of struggling I spotted a big crowd up ahead, people were lined up tight forming a narrow corridor just big enough for a bike and its rider. Folks were yelling and running along with the bikers, “oh my God,” I said out loud “this is Yellow Lake,” I’d been climbing for ten miles, no wonder.

The last twenty miles of the ride were a Godsend: basically it’s a downhill scream into Penticton. The cross wind was pushing hard on those Zipp 808’s and I had to white knuckle it on the bull horns to keep from going through the windshield. Near Highway 97 the traffic was as a standstill, but just before the turnoff I spotted those plaid shorts. How did Melony manage to get them here, even now I’m still not sure.

The northerly wind blowing off of Skaha Lake nearly sent me skidding across the road; those whoosh whoosh disk riders must have really had a fight on their hands. I slowed down and started spinning as I turned onto Main Street towards T2, no cramps, no stomach issues, and while I can’t claim that I was looking forward to running twenty six miles, I at least wasn’t dreading it.

I handed off my bike, grabbed bag 1058 and headed into the changing tent. I took the first seat by the door and as I was putting on my socks when Joe came over and sat next to me. “How you doing?” I asked as I pulled on my shoe.

“Feeling okay,” he replied.

“Didn’t burn yourself out on the bike did you.”

“Maybe, we’ll see.”

We both got up and headed out the door, “see you in five hours,” he said as we started running.

Within the first quarter mile I could tell that this was going to be a long marathon. My subconscious mind had turned against me – the gutless bastard. My fighting spirit had completely evaporated. I didn’t feel exhausted, my stomach was fine, my legs were heavy – which is normal - but mentally I was gone, I just didn’t want to be in the race anymore. My right hip had been bothering me for two weeks and I had a slight limpy gimp, but the pain wasn’t serious, I figured if I could push through the first few miles the pain would go away.

As I approached the first mile I saw Stephanie and Cynthia, and before they could yell I said, “I feel terrible, I just don’t want to go on,”

“It’s all mental, be tough be tough.” Stephanie shouted as she ran alongside.

Cynthia crossed the road to catch me on the return of the short out and back, she passed on her positive energy, but it just wasn’t sticking.

I climbed the hill out of town and began to feel a little better. The weather was overcast and probably mid seventies, perfect for an afternoon marathon. As I passed the 10k sign the leader passed me on his way into town. The wind blowing off of Skaha Lake was cool but not chilly; I couldn’t complain about the conditions, but by mile eight I was going from aid station to aid station. Still I couldn’t put my finger on the problem, I really didn’t feel all that bad, and I figured that if I could just keep it together and continue with the 4:30 shuffle I could finish in under twelve hours.

At mile ten I started Coke, it was ten miles early but what the heck it kept me going. At mile eleven I made the first of three sit down pit stops at the blue porta-potties. What do you expect I told myself, you’ve drank about two gallons of liquid and haven’t eaten a single thing all day.
Lori was standing beside the road at mile twelve, a welcome surprise made even better because I knew that Melony, Sam and Sophia must be nearby. How did they get out here I wondered. Mel and the kids were at the turnaround near OK Falls. Melony later confessed that I wasn’t looking so good and that she purposely didn’t talk to me so that I wouldn’t be tempted to just have her drive me back to the hotel.

I grabbed a drink of NOxplode at the special needs and started back towards Penticton. At least I was now heading in the right direction. Mile fourteen is up hill and I grunted up without stopping. I knew that if I followed the lead of the majority of the other runners and started walking I’d find it nearly impossible to get going again. Miles fifteen to twenty two are a blur, my right hip was really hurting now and I just focused on getting to the next aid station where I could get some warm flat Coke and a piece of fruit.

The mile twenty two aid station is located in the middle of a long gradual uphill climb into Penticton. I figured that I’d walk the quarter mile out of the aid station to the top of the hill and then I could run the downhill plod to the finish line. I did some speed walking to the top of the hill and started running, no go. I had no strength or stability on my right side, I tried again and again, but I just couldn’t stand the pain of my right foot hitting pavement. If I was going to walk it was going to be fast, let’s get this over with.

Somewhere between mile twenty four and twenty five Tina came by me with an effortless fluid gate, she was eating up the other runners. Tina had played her cards right and was going to finish strong. I hit the crowds at mile twenty five and no way was I going to do the walk of shame, and so I started running. That half mile run down Lakeside was a cruel joke “why the hell are they making me run away from the finish!” I nearly screamed out load. I made the turn around and headed for home, the pain in my hip was making me sick. I motioned Stephanie to run with me for a while, she did and it helped. I crossed the line and two volunteers grabbed me. “Let’s go to the medical tent,” one said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I think you might pass out.”

“I’m not going to pass out,” I replied as I saw Melony, Sam, Sophia and Lori outside the fence.

The volunteers stuck next to me as I went over to see Mel. It was good to see her. One of the volunteers asked if I wanted to go get my photo taken. “No,” I said, “I want to wait for my friend.”

These two folks were dedicated; they walked me back to the finish line and stuck with me while I waited for Joe. While we were waiting a third volunteer asked if I wanted to go to the Med. Tent. “Why do I look like I’m going to pass out,” I said jokingly.

“Yes.” She replied deadpan.

Luckily Joe crossed the finish line just at that moment. We hugged, got our photo taken, picked up our stuff and headed for the hotel. Thankfully I could still walk despite not being able to lift my right foot off of the ground. As I walked down the sidewalk towards the car a lady reached out and gave me a doughnut, man that was one good doughnut, and that’s coming from someone who knows doughnuts.

The best I can say about the day is that two out of three ain’t bad, and I learned if a Canadian offers you a doughnut – take it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


The weather is extremely unsetteled up here in Penticton. I went for a 90 minute ride this afternoon and it went from hot sun one minute to rain and 40 mph winds the next. I also went for a 20 minute swim this morning and was surprised by how cold the water was. It felt more like May water than late August.

My hip is still bugging me and it's leaving me with a little gimp in my step. It seems to be on the mend and I'll keep my fingers crossed that I won't be limping on Sunday.

Despite my religious adherence to a super well-thoughtout training plan I can't help but feeling underprepaired for what I'll be up against on Sunday. I suppose this is normal, but that's little consolation during my moments of doubt. I'm eager for the race to start, so that I can put all this nervous energy to good use.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Going to Canada

It's 8:30 AM here in Seattle and we'll be on the road to Ironman Canada within the hour. I'm deep into the taper right now and am feeling every little ache and pain; things I would have ignored two weeks ago. My stomach is filled with butterflies, why do I invest so much money and time in something that yields so much angst. Hopefully I'll be able to answer that question Sunday night.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Last Century

Did my final 100 mile bike ride in preparation for the Canada Ironman. Stephanie came along for the first 60 miles, and we made good time despite her picking up the added weight of a 10D finishing nail.

We had to repair her tire with a tube patch, and since the only nearby bike shop had yet to open we kept our fingers crossed that our roadside fix would hold. Thankfully it did.

After Stephaine left for home I pulled into a grocery store where I picked up three candy bars and a tallboy can of Rockstar. Here's a photo of me at mile 72 jacked on Rockstar.

I have a few more big days but for the most part it's a slide into Ironman, thank goodness for the taper.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Kayaker vs Swimmer

Dusted off the kayak on Monday; Sam paddled along with Stephanie and I on a two mile swim in Pine Lake. Sam often rides with me during my longer runs and has been a very supportive crew – carrying nutrition drinks and marking the miles for interval workouts – and it’s cool to get him involved with another aspect of the triathlon world. My new carbon paddle was much easier for Sam to swing than my old wooden one, but I still wasn’t sure if the little man could keep up. I quickly realized that a swimming adult is no match for a boy in a sea kayak; he literally paddled circles around us.
Ironman training can and does take away from family time, especially during the summer vacation months and so it’s good to be able to combine my workout with a little exercise and adventure for the kids.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The More You Have...

I’ve been pondering my consumerism lately. My friend Bill observed: the more you have the more you have to lose, kind of the compliment to Janis’ observation of “if you got nothing you got nothing to lose.” I guess the key is to find the middle ground between having nothing and having too much. How much is too much?

I can’t help but think that the age of American consumerism is over. Watching the Tour I noticed how small the cars lining the road were. A Prius would be considered a full-sized car in Europe. When we lived in Ireland our place was 980 sq feet, and it was comfortable. Times they are a changing; are you going to be a leader or a straggler, this is our choice.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The American Dream?

My wife and I have pretty much lived the American housing dream: small starter house, a lot of sweat equity and then the move to the big house in the suburbs - big yard, three car garage, the works. Now were thinking of moving to a smaller more efficient place, if we get the place we are looking at we would lose 1300 sq. feet. My mom thinks I'm crazy.

My four brothers and I grew up in an 1800 sq ft rambler, we were literally shoulder to shoulder in that place. My mom always dreamed of moving to a larger home, where she could entertain - a home like mine. From my mother's point of view I've arrived, my wife and I have played the game correctly and now we get to enjoy it, but at what cost.

The expense of maintaining a large home is becomming astronomical. It's like having a hole in your pocket through which the money drains until there's nothing left. In addition to the financial burden, a big house means more crap. As the late great George Carlin observed, "a house is just a place to store your crap while you're out buying more crap." I think that the age of crap aquisition is over.

Now is the time to slim down and become more efficient. Keep what you need and ditch the rest.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Getting Lost

Getting lost can definately be an advantage when you need to log those big miles. Yesterday I had a 120 mile bike ride scheduled and was wondering how I was going to go more than a century as I was running short on both time and somewhere to go. I ended up getting lost up by the aptly named Lost Lake and after a few dead-ends and an unplanned back to where I started loop I managed to add 25 miles to my century.

I'm getting closer to being ready for Ironman Canada, but this 125 mile ride reminded me that I'm not ready to jump off of the bike and run a marathon just yet.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What Doesn't Kill You...

Six weeks to Ironman Canada and I'm in the big volume portion of my training. Tomorrow I have a 120 mile bike ride and on Saturday I have a three and a half hour run. All of the effort I put in at the beginning of the season seems to be paying off as I seem to be able to absorb these big workouts without either burnout or injury. Yesterday, however, was a notable exception.

My coach is into speed, just finishing isn't good enough; I guess that's one of the reasons I went with him. Over the course of the past few months I've learned that in order to go fast you need to train fast, and yesterday I had a killer session of ten one mile repeats. I did the workout on a bike trail with my son on his mini mountain bike. He wore my Garmin 405 and rode ahead one mile and waited for me to catch up, dang I never knew a mile could be so long. He was a great coach, always ready with a high five and an offer of a pull from his water bottle. I managed to go sub seven minutes for each interval and even managed a best time of 6:30.

We did the workout during the heat of the day - 88 Degrees Fahrenheit - in order to acclimitize for Penticton, and the combination of heat and exertion had me sick to my stomach and dizzy till about eight o-clock that night. If you were to tell me a year ago that I'd be doing sub seven minute mile repeats I'd of smiled and kept walking, but I guess pain does bring progress.

Friday, July 11, 2008

All Good

Had a great race at the Lake Stevens Half Ironman last Sunday. Ended up finishing in five hours fifteen minutes, that's thirty minutes off of my previous best time. I'm struggling with the race report - I've become so good at writing about disappointing performances that detailing a good experience has become a challenge.

Woke up at 5:00 AM yesterday for a swim in the lake. My open water phobia is starting to subside, which is good news going into Ironman Canada.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Do Your Best And...

Do you best and calk the rest has been my mantra when building the cabin. No need to calk this interface between the wood floor and the center post. Sometimes things go right.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lake Youngs Ultra Race

The Devil Made Me Do It

The three of you who read this blog have probably noticed that I often mention the devil on my left, and dominant shoulder, and the angel on my right. The angel takes on several different forms depending on the temptation, but the devil, well he always looks like my friend Bill. Bill’s a big guy, but on my shoulder he’s just a little fella, maybe four inches tall, and he’s usually wearing red hooded speedsuit, kind of like a Canadian speedskater, complete with horns and a pitchfork, but no tail. I call him Billezebub, and his usual refrain is “come on, don’t be a wussy Mike.”
Now, believe it or not, running and riding offer a lot of temptation, the lure of going too fast, too far, too soon is ever-present; if you’re going to go for endurance sports you have to keep your head about you. During long training sessions and races the angel on my shoulder looks like my friend Stephanie, complete with halo, wings and a long white gown. She looks to the sky and says, “be smart Mike, be smart.”
Yesterday at the Lake Youngs Ultra run Bill and Stephanie were engaged in a battle royal, a real Texas cage match.
I have to say in my defense that the plan was rock solid: my training schedule called out a two and a half hour trail run on Saturday and it just so happened earlier in the week I had stumbled onto a website for a thirty mile ultra run not more than a half hour from my house. What made this run so perfect was that it was three ten mile laps on trail around a lake. So I’ll do two laps, I said to myself, perfect.
This was my first foray into the world of ultra running, (FYI an ultra is anything longer than a marathon) and I can tell you from my now vast experience that there is no such thing as a “typical” ultra runner. The only generalization that I could make was that there probably wasn’t anyone under thirty, but other than that the one hundred and fifty starters came in all shapes and sizes. Other than a proliferation of clunky trail running shoes and Dirty Girl gators the crowd looked like any other group of marathon starters.
We were off at seven, there was no big fancy starting gun or canon it was just the race director, in a rather soft voice, saying “okay go.” I started out at a moderate, what I thought would be sustainable pace; just cruising along keeping my eyes on the trail. I was surprised by how fast most of the pack covered the early miles. I had imagined a more, shall we say, controlled pace. Thinking back, however, this race wasn’t much further than a marathon and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these guys, and gals, were enjoying the post-race bar-b-que three hours after taking their first step.
Three miles in I passed the one and only aid station – a folding table with two jugs of water – my traditional marathon strategy of running from aid station to aid station wasn’t going to work. Good thing I was only going to do two laps. I hadn’t put much thought into my race plan; actually I had put no thought into it other than deciding to bring a single flask of energy drink clipped to a waist belt. I figured I’d take a drink every twenty minutes and four drinks later I’d be back at the start where I could refill before heading back out for the second lap.
I have yet to find a good way to carry liquid while running, everything that I’ve tried bounces around so much that I end up drinking it quickly just to empty it out and preserve my sanity. A number of the runners were carrying water bottles strapped to their hands, this seemed as undesirable as the hydration packs some of the other runners had strapped to their backs. I think that the waist belt with detachable flasks is the way to go; I just have to find a system that doesn’t bounce around so much.
The first lap went easy. I was mindful of my pace and was running lightly as I didn’t want to bruise my feet on some of the more rocky portions of the trail. The Lake Stevens Half Ironman is coming up in three weeks and a bruised foot could really hamper my training. Back at the Start/Finish pit stop I exchanged my empty flask for a full one and took off. A lot of other runners were milling around, snacking on fruit, potato chips and Oreos, but I guess my triathlon mentality got the best of me as I dropped one flask, grabbed the other and took off hoping to gain a few precious seconds on my competition.
Three miles into the second lap I struck up a conversation with another runner, he was a lean strong runner in his early to mid sixties, and I had to up my pace to keep side by side with him. When we got on the subject of my two amazing children the miles melted away and before I knew it we were climbing the steep hill towards the pit stop. All done.
Or so I thought.
I had covered the nearly twenty miles in three hours and was feeling fine, there was a little tightness in my left quad, but all things considered I was in good shape. I could have easily handed the lady manning the clock my race number and said “I’m out.” Unfortunately saying “I out” isn’t all that easy. I’ve never DNF’d a race and I was feeling too good to start now. I re-filled my flask, grabbed an Oreo and started out on lap three.
I was less than a mile into the third lap when Stephanie appeared on my shoulder, “be smart Mike be smart.” Now I admit if I were born a completely logical person I would have turned around and played it safe. This third lap could totally destroy months of meticulous training, and for what, heck I’m not even getting a shirt out of this deal. With every Stephanie there must be a Bill and sure enough he popped up on my other shoulder, “don’t be a wuss Mike, don’t be a wuss. You can’t quit now, if you don’t quit you’ll never be a quitter. Today’s the day man, go further than you ever have.” Hey it sounded good to me.
I’ve read about how ultra runners oftentimes experience a mental roller coaster, going from periods where the miles slip away underfoot to dark times of self-doubt, pain and even fear. At mile twenty three I slipped into the darkness. I was nearly halfway around the third lap: too far to turn around too far to keep going. My legs were starting to go and I began walking the hills, a strategy practiced by most of the runners out on the course. Thigh and calf cramps were lurking on the margins and I began to worry that if my legs gave out how would I even get back. Would anyone even know if I were still out on the course? My wife Melony had no idea where this race even was. I had to really fight the urge to start walking, because I knew that if I did my legs would tighten up and no way would I get them running again.
By mile twenty five things started looking up, I knew I’d finish this thing, just slow down and keep those legs moving. I got through the final mile by replaying April Skies by The Jesus and Mary Chain on my Zune. I was just going for the third repeat when I saw cars in the parking lot.

The bar-b-que was fired up and many of the runners were already eating pork and chicken off of paper plates. A couple of other guys were sipping Pepsi while sitting in a kiddie pool filled with cold water. As for me, I just wanted to get home so I grabbed two sodas out of the ice bucket, loaded up the car and with a little arm assist was able to get the clutch pedal fully depressed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Whenever I get to complaining about my daily difficulties and challenges I remember this image, which I took on the Nepal/Tibet border. It kind of puts things into perspective.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Issaquah Sprint Tri

A Dark Descent

A rotten swim, totally demoralizing. I knew that the water would be cold, so before the race I swam out to the first buoy for a warm-up. By the time I got out there I realized it was 6:57, three minutes till the start, somehow I had lost track of time. I hustled back to shore, circled around the entrance chute, ran over the timing mat and dove in just as the starting gun went off.

I got into a real free-for-all right from the start. Somehow swimmers were coming over me from behind, which is still a mystery to me as I had started out in the back. Rounding the first buoy, now this is only like a minute into the swim, I started to freak out. I couldn’t seem to get myself under control and I started breast stroking. I knew that this would be a swim killer, “don’t stop stroking, don’t stop stroking,” has always been my mantra in the water because I know that if I start breast stroking or treading water I’m just going to go into more of a panic. I tried to return to the crawl stoke, but I just couldn’t find a rhythm, it was like I was going nowhere. The swim took me a long time and it seemed even longer.

I came into T1 one of the last male elites – so much for elite. I got on the bike in a bad mood and took off at full speed. Going out of the park I hit a speed bump and lost my chain; it got all caught up between my chain ring and my chain stay. Somehow I managed to free it up without getting off the bike. Dang they should have put a ramp or something over that bump. Once I got the chain back on I put my head down and started cranking; at this point I was glad to have gone out with the elites as getting stuck behind a slow rider on the long no passing zone would have been frustrating. One of the elite women sign posted me just before the only hill on the course, I made up a bit of ground on the climb but then she was gone. After the turn around a pack of three gals came by; I stuck close, but had to ride in the middle of the road in order to avoid any drafting accusations.
Coming into T2 I once again hit the aforementioned speed bump at a good clip and knocked my rear wheel off. My Felt B2 has horizontal (i.e. track) rear dropouts and that bump kicked the wheel straight out the back. I yelled something that the kids nearby didn’t need to hear, and then had to make a fast decision as to whether to try to reinsert the wheel or just carry the bike the final two hundred yards to T2. My decision to fix it cost me at least a minute. I think it was the right decision, however, as trying to run in those bike shoes would have probably lost me more than those precious sixty seconds.
In T2 I changed shoes, grabbed my number belt and took off. Unfortunately I took off in the wrong direction. I got all kerfungled and couldn’t figure out where I was going. Luckily Michael Covey from the PRO Club was outside the transition area and yelled “Mike go the other way!” I was fed up at this point and so I said screw it I’m going to run hard and I’m going to keep upping the pace until I freaking pass out. I managed to pass two of the three women who passed me on the bike and I just kept turning it on. The angel on my shoulder was saying “no way can you hold this pace man ease up ease up,” the devil on the other side was saying “roll with it man let’s try to salvage this disaster.” I decided to listen to the man in red.

The run was primarily on grass, which in one respect is easier on your body than pavement, but on the other hand you really have to pay attention in order to avoid a turned ankle. Most of the time I was looking at the ground, but every once in a while I would look up to catch a glimpse of a gal in an orange and blue tri suit, she was a really strong runner and I made it my goal to catch her. I passed her in the woods just before the final sprint to the finish. I sprinted the final one hundred yards and finished one second behind my buddy Joe. Having a unexpectedly strong run and finishing with my friend put a good end to what started out as a fairly rotten race.
All in all I’m happy about the ride and run, but that swim was bad. Two of my friends, both strong swimmers, each reported having panic attacks in the water. I also overheard two other people saying how much trouble they had on the swim. I’m a strong swimmer and I’m wearing a wetsuit for goodness sakes, there’s no excuse for acting so gutless in the water.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Napa Half Ironman Report

A Wicked Ride on the Cruel Mistress
The Napa Vintage Half Iron

My tri bike is truly a cruel mistress; it’s a lean slick thing of beauty and no matter how bad it treats me I always come back for more.

This whole thing was Lori’s idea. The “thing” being an early season long course triathlon. Oceanside was sold out, I had no interest in going to Vegas, we didn’t have an RV for Wildflower, and so we settled on the Napa Vintage Half Iron. It’s odd how when you sign up for these events they always seem so far away, so far away in fact that you can honestly convince yourself that you’ll probably be hit by a bus in the intervening time so why worry about it. It’s like worrying about college for the kids – I’ll start saving tomorrow. Well the day did finally come and luckily Kris had found us a house in Napa and arranged the flights, Lori had rented the car, all I had to do was get my bike packed. Like the groom who only had to take care of the tuxes, I was out the day before we left looking to rent a bike box.
My carbon mistress was in a particularly good mood and even though I had planned on spending an entire afternoon packing it up I had Black Beauty in the box within thirty minutes. Everything else went into my gray duffel bag. Now that I’m in charge of the household laundry I’ve stopped changing clothes, so all I needed to pack were my tri clothes. I made that process easy by just throwing threw in every piece of tri gear that I own. Who knows what the weather is going to be like I told myself.
We departed on a Thursday and I arrived a half hour late at Lori’s house, but thanks to the carpool lane we arrived at the airport with enough time to grab a bagel and a cup of coffee before boarding the MD80 bound for Oakland. Oakland International was deserted when we arrived and our bike boxes were waiting for us at the baggage claim.
An hour later we were out of Oakland, past Berkley and looking for our Napa exit. What was this big golden thing in that strangely blue-colored sky? The sunshine on my shoulder made me feel like John Denver.
Napa California has a Whole Foods and no lie it’s bigger than the one in Redmond. We managed to fill two bags for ninety eight dollars, not bad considering that we didn’t have to pay for the jar of Marinara sauce that Kris dropped on the floor. We each went for a short run followed by a nice meal of pesto chicken over penne, after which we watched a Steve Buscemi indie film before going to bed.
Lori, Kris and I each have school-age children at home, so the lure of a lazy weekday morning was too good to pass up. I finally got the coffee going, Lori has sworn off the stuff and Kris is decaf, so I had the pot to myself. I eat oatmeal every morning and was surprised to find two other kindred spirits. I’ve been experimenting with the Paleo Diet for Athletes, which discourages eating grains, but nothing else fills my stomach and gets me going in the morning like a big bowl of oats. After breakfast we retired to the garage where the bikes went together like the well-oiled machines that they are. By ten o-clock we were backing out of the driveway to go preview the course.
Lake Berryessa, the location of the race, is separated from Napa by a two thousand foot high crease in the earth’s surface known as the Vaca Mountains. The two lane road that crossed this mini mountain range reminded me of some of the serpentine routes that those tipsy engineers put through the Italian Alps. Unfortunately for Lori, the unlucky occupant of the rear seat, the Dodge Caravan was pretty darn far from a Testarosa, and by the time we missed the Lake Berryessa turn-off she was looking like a Pepto Bismal ad.
Lake Berryessa, like most reservoirs, is located in a deep valley and once we turned off the “highway” (I use the term loosely) we descended a “road” (once again I use the term loosely) for twenty miles before finally reaching the “resort” (and I use the term in its broadest sense) where the transition areas were yet to be set up. Kris was our navigator; “damn do we have to ride that road?” I asked. “Yep,” Kris replied looking at the course map. After a few wrong turns and a short lesson in how to move a mobile home (yeah those things actually get moved around occasionally) we found a group of minimal body fat smiling people straddling bikes and donning wetsuits. Ahh these are my people.
Lori, who has the gift of being able to strike up a conversation with anyone (I remember once we were at a restaurant and sitting next to us was a guy with two broken arms, while I sat there wondering Lori simply leaned over and asked “so tell me how exactly does someone break both their arms?”) immediately befriended a couple who had driven their pickup down from Portland. I definitely believe in the power of positive energy and that’s why I love this triathlon stuff so much – surround yourself with happy positive people and you are bound to feel that uplifting energy. An Ironman start is truly electric with positive vibes - just before the gun went off in Coeur D Alene last year I felt the same shiver I felt when I jogged across a pair of downed high voltage power lines in the rain, but that’s another story. What I’m getting at is the fact that triathlons are cool because you surround yourself with cool people.
Back to the story. We did a short ten mile ride on the course, the road surface was ancient chip seal, it was rutted and pot-holed and scattered with loose gravel, oh and did I mention the hills. This was the first ten miles of the course and I’m glad that we rode it as it was immediately obvious that you’d have to take it easy out of T1 and maintain a cool head and sharp eyes. Despite some of the rumors, the water temperature was comfortable, above sixty five for sure, and thank goodness I wouldn’t need to wear my neoprene hat.
It was well past noon by the time we loaded up the bikes and began driving the course. We should have brought some food, but you can’t think of everything. We drove fifty miles of the bike course and in the interest of finding some food ASAP we decided to leave the last six miles a mystery. This may have been a mistake.
All roads must lead somewhere was our mantra and by the time we got cell coverage and called Kris’ husband to mapquest us out of there we intersected a highway and discovered that we were about fifty miles north of Napa. The first town we hit definitely wasn’t on the tourist track, but luckily Lori convinced the cook at a Mexican place to make us a couple of vegetarian burritos.
We managed to get home in time for a relaxing dinner, a movie and an early bedtime. The bikes were snug in the van, the coffee filter was full, the pot of oats was on the stove and the alarms were set for four thirty. It took me a half hour or so to fall asleep but once I did I slept soundly until two minutes before the alarm went off. We were fed, caffeinated and on the road by five thirty. A sliver of waning moon hung over the eastern sky as we wound our way up the over the Vacas.
The sun was cresting over the far side of the lake by the time we pulled the van into a parking spot. The official start time was eight, so we’d timed it perfectly: not too early, not too late. We racked our bikes, picked up our swim caps, numbers and timing chips and then began that methodical pre-race ritual. I kept a bottle of half strength NO XPLODE by my side at all times, I’d only used the stuff in training but man oh man did it supercharge my workouts, so I figured what the heck let’s give it a try. I’d also decided to run the thirteen mile course in some recently purchased Zoot racing flats, I’d only put about five miles on them, but they were a good five so, once again, what the heck.
The race was to be started in three waves, if you planned on finishing in the top five of your age group you were encouraged to go in the first wave. Kris and I planned on going in the number one wave – what the heck – and Lori decided to go out with the second group. At seven fifty eight the first group was called out and I swear at least sixty percent of the athletes stepped up, so at the last minute Kris and I pulled back and joined Lori in Wave B. It was a water start, I love water starts, they are so much better than running into the shallows and doing some kind of funky dolphin kick bounce thing.
Anytime I start an open water swim I have a five minute panic attack, it doesn’t matter if it’s training or in a race. I know now that this feeling will pass, and that I just have to keep my head down, my pace slow and above all don’t ever stop stroking. A couple of minutes into the race I had to fight off an almost irresistible urge to make a sharp left and head for shore. The first buoy wasn’t very far and I knew if I could just get to it I’d calm down and settle into a steady stroke.
As expected within five minutes I was relaxed and swimming easy. I didn’t need to sight very often as I simply concentrated on keeping the pack a half dozen feet off of my left side. On every left breath I simply looked for the yellow hats. On the second lap I noticed that the yellow swim caps were getting further and further off to the port side. I sighted off of the orange course buoy and determined that I was the best open water swimmer in the race. “Suckers,” I thought as I continued stroking for the far buoy. I was really going strong when a kayaker cut me off, she was yelling something at me but I couldn’t really understand what she was saying due to my earplugs. Finally I realized that she was pointing to an intermediate buoy about fifty yards off to my left. I turned ninety degrees and sprinted towards the forgotten buoy. I was swimming hard with my head down and ran straight into a navigation buoy. It was like running into a boat and I caught it right on the forehead. It kind of wanked my goggles and they took in a little water, perhaps I should have tried to adjust them, but in the end they were on good enough.
The swim course had a lot of turns and figured that having to fight my way around all of those buoys would really slow me down, but when I exited the water and looked at my watch it read 30.00 minutes. I have since concluded that the swim course was a bit short, but the exhilaration of besting my previous half ironman swim time by over eight minutes lit a fire under me and I sprinted past Kris who had come out of the water with a three second lead.
I was surprised by the heat so early in the day. I had originally planned on wearing a bike jersey over my tri shirt for the ride, but I left it laying in transition. The first nine miles of the bike course were hilly and the road surface was cracked and potholed; I had a difficult time finding my rhythm, and was continually passing and being passed by the same riders. My heart was racing, over ten beats per minute above my anaerobic threshold, and so I decided to slow down in order to get my heart under control. Slowing down during last year’s Ironman was no problem as I had no delusions of being competitive – I only wanted to finish without crapping my pants – but here in Napa I wanted to race and slowing down and letting riders glide past me proved a tough sell. Within the first ten miles I could feel feathery twinges of a cramp coming into both quads. I had the same problem last year at Oceanside, only there it happened much later.
These cramps are a mystery, my muscles rarely seize up during training, but, with the exception of the Ironman last year, I always get some cramping during races – even sprint length races. I’m starting to think that it’s either the elevated heart rate associated with racing or it comes from swimming in cold water.
Mile ten to mile thirty was predominately up hill as we were climbing out of the valley that forms the basin for the reservoir. I was taking it easy, staying in the saddle cranking lower gears, and had to resist the temptation to go after the half dozen or so racers who cruised past me. I knew I’d pay later for a quarter mile jump out of the saddle now.
At mile thirty I crested the hill and started to wonder about this little rubbing noise I’d been hearing all day. I pulled over and spun the rear wheel; it did one revolution and stopped: the rim was rubbing on the brake pad. I opened up the brake spun again; no rubbing so got back in the saddle and started making up lost time. Luckily nobody passed my during my little pit stop.
The scenery was beautiful - winding roads, green fields a few rolling hills – but the road surface was beaten up chip seal. I barely managed to slow down for a sharp corner and crossed the centerline as I came around. It looked like one guy wasn’t so lucky: he was on a backboard being lifted into an ambulance.
I quarter mile into the second out and back I saw the leader on his return trip. He was a quarter of a mile in front of numbers two three and four who were riding nearly together. I started counting the riders in front of me as they passed. I was number eighty five going into the turn-around. The ride back was a gentle descent on good roads, finally some cruising. At mile fifty we turned down a long straight road heading back towards the lake. This was the portion of the course we hadn’t driven; my legs were cramping up and I was hoping that our assumption that this would be a smooth glide into T2 would prove correct. I desperately needed a nice easy end to this ride, something that I could just spin and maybe even do a little quad stretching. No such luck.
At mile fifty two I hit a crazy steep hill, this is nuts I thought. I downshifted and stayed in the saddle, but my thighs were completely seized up. It was going to be a miserable run. At mile fifty four it was up another hill, this one steeper than the one before. My legs were so bad, I don’t remember my legs ever being this bad, climbing, skiing, biking, running, I’ve had some rough days, but this was the worst.
At T2 I nearly fell over when I got off of the bike. A rational person would have probably called it a day at that point, but rational thought seems to be no match for race day excitement. A half mile into the run I stopped to try to stretch out my thighs, it seemed to work – for ten steps. Gimp along, stop and stretch, gimp along stop and stretch this was the formula for the next thirteen miles.
Dan, who is an artist friend of mine, once told me a story about a student he had that, she was full of energy and excitement, but neither made up for her serious lack of talent. Dan told of how this student would pour all of her energy into a painting only to be time and again disappointed with the mediocre product. Dan has a way with words and finally he had to put his arm on the shoulder of this student and say, “honey, you’re just going to have to relax and lower your expectations.” At mile two I thought of Dan’s sagacious advice; “relax and lower your expectations Mike, relax and lower your expectations.”
The run course couldn’t have been worse. I speak the truth when I write that there wasn’t a flat inch on that course, okay there was a bridge that was fairly flat, but it was only about one hundred feet long. Going down was actually much harder on my cramped thighs than going up. In the end I finished the run is just over two hours which to me is still pretty amazing considering that I spent what felt like half an hour either leaning against a road sign or walking.
The bummer was that I crossed the finish line feeling quite fresh, and I knew that had I not suffered the cramping I could have run that course at least ten minutes faster. The cool thing was that Kris came across the line a minute after I did.
While we waited for Lori, Kris and I had a leg soak in the lake. We weren’t the only ones with this idea and once again we were able to meet up with some truly positive happy people. Lori came across the line after a tough run (she had a great swim and bike), and after a short rest we loaded up and got the hell out of there – the wine was waiting. And just ask Lori and Kris I did do some wining or was that whining.