Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Before we were teammates...

We were teammates.

Peace be with you Zilla. Here's to moving forward.

Your friend,


Over Before It Begins

Note from xt4: As you know, there are 2 of us on Team Two - TZilla and myself. I've received a few emails, so to avoid any confusion - the below is from TZilla. I, xt4, am still becoming Ironman. Okay. Read on for an important message from my man TZ.

This isn’t some earth shattering news or big thing so just bare with me. I'm not sure where to begin but I had an epiphany of sorts last weekend. I've come to the conclusion and am going to give up triathlon. For the time being anyway.

The past four months have been a roller coaster. I've been eating and drinking my way to pure bliss but not without repercussions. For the past few weeks, none of my jeans have been buttoned because of the extra holiday weight I'm carrying around, no lie. I've resorted to wearing dress clothes daily that I've had packed away from my husky days, which now fit comfortably again.

During this roller coaster ride, I seemed to have lost track of life and what makes me happy. I've completely forgotten what "normal" is anymore and haven't felt more lost in a long time, if ever. As much fun as I had these past two years competing, continuing that lifestyle and the expectations I've set for myself have now become unrealistic. Going from one extreme to the other has taken a toll on me. Two a day workouts and eating clean and then transforming into a binge eating, dormant alcoholic in the so called off-season is clearly not working for me as visible by my current self destructive lifestyle.

This all came to a head over the weekend and I've realized that, bottom line....I'm not happy. How am I going to right this ship? I have no clue. It's going to be a one day at a time journey. Twenty minutes on the elliptical machine and some dumbbell curls are going to be a victory in my book. I don't need to run a 10K at such and such a pace after a bike ride to prove to myself or anyone that I can do it. I've proved to myself what I can do and that's enough. For the first time for as long as I can remember, I'm satisfied and content, especially just saying this. I don't need to do a half ironman or a full ironman just to say I've done one, completing a so-called life goal of mine. Would it be cool as all hell to do? Of course, without a doubt. But do I need to do this to be happy or prove anything to anyone or myself? An astounding no, I don't.

I have all the respect in the world for multisport athletes no matter what distance is covered as well as anyone who takes stock in their life and works to maintain a healthy lifestyle no matter what it means to that individual. I'll be XT4's number one fan, backing him no matter what.

I cherish a life and look forward to not worrying about how many calories I've taken in at a meal, what's on the agenda for tomorrow's workout and how I'm going to get it in, not feeling guilty for that extra piece of pizza at the lunch meeting, playing rec softball with my best friends while enjoying some beers after the game in the dead of summer, hitting up DQ for a blizzard without hesitation, throwing my shoulder out giving it my all in a meaningless game of racquetball, riding my bike in the non-aero position and not giving a rat's ass that I'm only going 12 mph and enjoying the day, reading the newspaper on a recumbent exercise bike, going on a trip without having to worry about missing a workout, running for fun (if that's even possible for me) without a HR monitor and embracing my huskiness if that's the by product of all this without a care in the world. If I’m rockin a 38 inch waistline but happy as a clam, perfect!

Now I'm not saying I'm going to sell my bike and all stuff triathlon related on Craig's List and give it up forever. Nor am I saying I will NEVER do any sort of race ever again. I may do a sprint here and there, or a duathlon, some more road races. Who knows. Maybe some day when the time is right, a half or even a full IM is in my cards, I just don’t know. But now? It's not the case. That's the beauty of this decision. I'm happy not doing anything at all if that's what it means. I’ve recently just finally realized, life is too short to continue in this downward spiral. My goal is to find some sort of normalcy and moderation which will hopefully in turn, give me peace and happiness in a healthy, maintainable way.

This is pretty hard and emotional for me to get out because for as long as I can remember, I hate, more than anything, letting people down. And this, admittedly feels like I'm letting people down. So to those that this is the case, I'm sorry. But for once, this time, I'm going to make a decision for me, regardless of what others may think....end of story.

Triathlon does not define my life, I define my life.

As cheesy as this's to health and happiness. I'll see you on the flip side.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A few of my favorite things...

Sometimes you come across something that's so splendid, or makes your training universe that much more enjoyable or efficient or easy, that it's good to share. I'm going to try and do that a little more in this space as I come across them - which, for all the geekery and gadgetry in triathlon, is actually pretty rarely (there's a lot of expensive crap out there.)

First up:

It starts with the iPod Nano:

This is the newest iPod Nano, with video. I have the previous version - or "2G" as it's known in Apple Geekdom (meaning "Second Generation"):

The iPod Nano starts at $149. (Sorry, blogger's going haywire with the images here...)

Now add the Nike + kit. This is a $30 little receiver and transmitter - the receiver goes into the dock connector on the bottom of the iPod, and the transmitter you can put on your shoe - you've probably seen these around. With this combined gadgetry, you can track mileage, pace, time, etc. through you Nano, and then use the Nike + website to track your data - you remember some of us used this last year to have "virtual" races or workouts together. Which is really cool, and probably I'll do that again this winter if anybody's interested, but I found that I really like having my Garmin 305 with me, as it's the consistent feedback monitor I have year round; so I know how fast 5 miles feels in January or July. The Nano, while pretty decent, was never as accurate as I'd have liked for actual monitoring of my workouts long-term. But, with the Nike + kit, you have that little receiver, which is the necessity for what I really want to talk about - the Nike Amp iPod remote:

I have the black one, and got it from for $80, I think. It's an extremely useful wrist gadget that has an interesting interface for a normal everyday watch (the "watch" is hidden underneath the stylish black band - it really just looks like a bracelet most of the time - until you press a button. It's actually become my daily watch, as well), but has a really low-profile control panel on it too to control the iPod. When I got this, training with my iPod really became second nature - until this point, I had the iPod on an arm band, which was well enough, but changing the song or heaven forbid the volume was always a hassle, especially in winter with running gloves on. With the Amp, the watch talks to the receiver plugged into the iPod, and I can control volume and back/next track right from the watch, with buttons easy enough to manage even with running gloves on. Very, very cool. Timex has recently come out with their own version of this, called iControl, which is probably even more useful - it's an actual standard Ironman watch, with all the usual functions, plus the ability to remotely control the iPod. I think that's about $90 or so.

The only problem now as been headphones, which finding a pair that fits well and doesn't fall out when ears get sweaty, and which stay in place, and which sound good, etc. etc. is an adventure in its own right. But come winter, trying to cram headphones underneath a stocking hat or ear warmers has never been comfortable at all. Problem solved: For Christmas, Amy gave me this:

Cleverly (or unfortunately) called the "Hatphone", it's a Nike hat with a built in pocket for your iPod, with built in headphones and a cable that connects easily to your iPod's headphone jack. The whole ensemble stays easily contained, and best of all are the earphones that are absorbed into the lining of the hat, so there's no hat ramming earbuds into your ears. I ran with it today and it was toasty and sounded very good, to my surprise - you can kind of finagle the headphones inside the hat to be where you want them in relationship to your ears. Brilliant! I think this was about $60 - which is a hella lot for a hat with headphones built in, no matter how much I enjoy it.

Right, so I know that added up, the whole shebang is approaching $350, which is crazy. But I like to think it's a little more piecemeal than that - where your Garmin, for instance, has really one and only one use - to be along on the bike or while running, the iPod and the watch are certainly multi-purpose. Plus, a lot of us already have iPods. A lot of us will have cause to get a new running watch sometimes - could just as easily make it the iControl from Timex. The hat really isn't a whole lot more expensive than any other functional high-tech piece of outerwear (but it's still just a hat...). The cost is easier to absorb, and justify, if seen in pieces, I think, rather than as a single "this will make running in the winter more endurable" kind of cost.

So - if tunes are an important part of your training, and especially if you already have an iPod Nano or are in the market for one, consider all the pieces you can add onto it bit by bit. I've built up this collection of gadgetry over time, and have finally found an easy, seamless way to deal with tunes hassle free for winter running. Now if only they'd come up with an iPod attachment that cut my 5k pace down under 7 minutes...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Does shoveling snow count?

Well, I'm back. Miss me? Bah, don't lie, you didn't even know I was gone. Too busy reading about Steve's lil' soldier, I'm sure. Anyway, I took some time away from the game after the Thanksgiving Berbee Derby. This meant not only going lax on workouts, but limiting my interactions with the blogosphere. It was kind a proactive exile - I'm finding since after the injury last spring that if I take a bit of time away here and there - just, once every few months, it keeps me fresher, more interested, healthier. So.

But, I'm back now, and gone are the days of "just doing enough to not get fat". Officially back in training, with structure and a plan and the whole bit. Had a great 3 mile run on Monday evening - I really love running in winter. If it's too cold so my face hurts, then no, but I mean if it's a sensible temperature and not sleeting and all of that, I'm really refreshed running in winter. I think it's a lot of fun. That said, all it's done here for the last week is snow. Like, seriously. We've got feet of snow outside. I've fired up my snowblower 4 times this week. Not exaggerating. So on the end of each sidewalk on the block, there are these huge mounds of snow, higher than waist high. They have a rule in this little town that everybody's responsible for clearing their own sidewalks, so generally the sidewalks are clear and then one sidewalk approach to the street is clear - that approach was usually turning 90 degrees away from my path of travel. At first I'd make that short turn to get on the street, then back on the next sidewalk, but it was getting to be a hassle so I thought it'd be in the spirit of things to just dive over the snow piles, leaping up them and then hurdling off like I'm a runningback flying over tacklers. A wonder I didn't slip on my ass, but it went well and I had fun, and told myself there was some advantage to my core or something in leaping around in the snow.

Yesterday I was planning on doing some mountain biking around town - yet another snowstorm would have made for an entertaining ride for sure - but after snowblowing my driveway, then my Grandpa's, then my aunt's (they're all in Florida on vacation), it was 2 hours later and the window was really lost. Maybe today.

A few thoughts:

- It is cool to have a white Christmas. I'm not usually into snow, but this isn't bothering me at all. I'm enjoying it. Makes the world feel fresher or something.

- I realize now - and people in Minneapolis will get what I mean here - that Minneapolis does, in fact, have an abnormal and hysterical fascination with snowstorms. Specifically the media and meteorologists. When snow is on the way in Minneapolis, they go nuts. Interrupting programming, flashing big headlines, leaving sports radio to talk about the weather. So that if you're, say, downtown, all anybody can talk about is when they're leaving work to avoid the big snow storm. Or changing weekend plans to beat the snow storm. Or stocking up on life's essentials at the grocery store lest their doors freeze shut for a week because there's a big snow storm coming. I think I thought it was like that everywhere, but near as I can tell, Madison just kind of takes in in stride. Sure it's talked about, there's a headline, but it's rational. "Hey, snow is coming. Plan ahead. Next topic."

- I bought a pair of inexpensive New Balance trail runners, because they didn't have Asics in my size and I wasn't going to spend a week and a fortune looking for trail shoes. I bought them for snow running. The jury's still out. So far I'm not moved to tears or anything.

- If ever there was a season to try cross country skiing, this might be it.

- In my real life, Polaris (the snowmobile company) is one of my clients. Last year in January we were doing a video shoot, and the earth was pretty brown, and a woman and I were talking about sales are so down, and have been for a few years, and she said that really, if we don't get snow by Christmas, people don't so much buy snowmobiles. Anyway, I've been thinking - business must be booming. Good for them.

- The blog is boring. I mean, Todd's pretty hilarious, but I've become really boring. Back when Ironman was this high-drama metaphor and this vehicle for which I was overcoming all kind of odds and obstacles, I had poignant, meaningful internal discussion and it came out in the blog. Now that I have such peace of mind and my world is so well situated, the posts are all just about the stuff of triathlon. Like this post. Do you really care that I like running in snow? Of course not. I think I'm not a strong enough writer to make my non-triathlon posts interesting, or I'm not funny enough to make them entertaining, or adventurous enough where I'm trying a new cool thing every other day, or my self-imposed rule of generally avoiding discussion of my real life keeps my content maybe a little too limited. (It occurs to me that it might seem I'm fishing for validation. I'm not, just talking here.) Which makes me wonder, lately, what really is the point, and lifespan, of a blog. I'm not asking because I'm considering shutting it off or anything, I just wonder. Who cares, y'know? That said, you guys are all still writing interesting things. Maybe it's just me, then.

- I don't want to get into a big thing here, because in my experience there are a limited number of things you just avoid talking about in public forum, because people get downright ugly. Politics is one of those things. Mac vs. Windows is another of those things. And, being from Minnesota, Packers vs. Vikings is another of those things. Now I live in Packer nation, on this lone Vikings island. Sigh. Between "regional broadcasts" that inevitably involve the Packers or the Bears, I hardly ever see them on TV, and have more than once been relegated to my driveway to listen to the game on Sirius radio, alone in my car for 3 hours. But, my Vikings are - for once - not pretenders, and have somehow become honest-to-god good at football. I don't know how this happened, but I know enough not to wonder, just bask in its glow. My point - and I'm not talking any trash here, just making an objective statement - the Vikings will have something to say to both the Packers and the Cowboys about playoff success. Not saying they'll beat either team (the Packers killed the Vikings 35-0 last time). Just saying, they can't be overlooked.

- See what I mean? Who cares what I think about football? Bah.

Alright well, I'm boring myself over here, so I'll close up. Frequent pointless posts to come, as Becoming Ironman is again underway.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

Race Report: Berbee Derby 5k

I hope everybody had a solid Thanksgiving - mine was fantastic. Good food, good company, good pie. What more can one ask for?

So I got up early on Turkey day and headed down the road about 15 minutes to Fitchburg for an annual turkey day 5k. I've never done a 5k, it turns out. In fact, as I think about it, I've never done a 10k. Obviously I've done those races in context of triathlon, but never stand-alone. Huh. Anyway, we had our first snow the night before, big thick wet flakes, and there was a glaze of ice covering the earth, making driving a little slow and thoughts of running seem treacherous. I did think it a good sign when a gaggle of wild turkeys (herd? flock? pride? pack? murder?) were chilling out on the side of the road on my way to the race.

I guess there were 4000 people who raced either the 5k or the 10k that morning. Which is an insane amount of people. I got there early enough to park and have half an hour or so to warm up and stretch out, so I slowly jogged the first half mile back and forth a few times while others warmed up around me, all in various stages of attire, so that the "serious" from the "fun-runners" made themselves apparent. The running path was pretty clear, with just some icy patches here and there that were easily avoided.

I ducked inside a coffeeshop to warm up a bit (it was a cold morning - 20something degrees, but "feels like" 16 degrees) and while I looked out the window listened to two people chatting behind me. They were analyzing their entire year's race schedule, in preparation for Ironman '08, and chatting about how today's race fitted in. If it's any indication of my general sense of the topic at this moment (I am usually all kinds of down for any conversation, however lacking cohesion to the real world around us, of anything Ironman), I found their conversation boring and I wished they'd shut up. So see, I haven't totally lost perspective.

Which is a good time to recap the day's goals - sub 7:00 miles. When I finished my last triathlon, in September, where I was also chasing sub7 and finished with 7:04, I thought a 5k running race, free of the energy expenditures of a bike and swim beforehand, was in the bag. As I discussed in my last post, I haven't been able to nail this strategy down in training. (I appreciate everybody's comments to that post, by the way.) I knew going into this race that the likelihood of accomplishing this goal was pretty small.

As I sat in the midst of the rest of the gaggle of 5kers (herd? flock? pride? pack? murder?), I heard "X! There he is!" and turned to see my buddy RobbyB standing two feet in front of me, where I guess he'd been this whole time. We shared a greeting and chatted about the weather and the day and the race. Cool guy, that RobbyB. I forgot to ask him his opinion about the roundabout we ran through on the course.

So the gun goes off, and we're all trampling down the road. I tried to find my 7:00 pace and hold it for the first two miles, hoping if I did that, it'd leave me with enough in the tank for a push in the last mile.

I clocked mile 1 at a 6:45 pace, and felt good at the 1.5ish mile turnaround - this was encouraging, since lately after my first mile at pace I fall apart to stumbling uselessness. At the two mile mark I was starting to feel it, but clocked a 7:04 pace. Right on schedule. Alas, the road then shifted slightly uphill for most of the rest of the run, and as this happened about the same time I hit my proverbial wall, my last mile was considerably slower - 8 something. I finished in 22:56 - more than a minute off my goal time, with a pace of 7:23. Good for 12th of 68 in my age group (RobbyB was top 5! Whoohoo!), for those intently scoring at home on age group finishes of a turkey day walk/run.

So, that's that. The race was a ton of fun, and I did my very best, which is a good way to feel after any race. My pursuit of sub7 continues, and next time I try it it will be when I'm back on point, firing on all cylinders. And don't think for a second I won't chase that 7 down sometime, because I will, and when I do, it'll be sweet as wine. Sometimes I think: if I had a shred of natural speed in my body, this game wouldn't be so hard. But there's no point to that, and besides. More interesting this way. And, this is a good time to remind oneself that three years ago if one would have run a 5k on this side of a 7:30 pace, one would have peed himself in glee. So. Everything's relative.

Moving on: "Phase 1" of the 3 Phase training regiment that will bring me and 'Zilla into the Racine Half Iron this summer is over. The point of Phase 1 - just to stay active, healthy, and not get out of shape, finish with a strong 5k: Done and done. Next up - Phase 2, which is base training. Now we start concentrating more on long slow running, getting our systems in shape to hit Phase 3, later next spring, in solid form. I'll be looking for an early spring (late March/early April) 13.1 as the goal race for this phase, and the objective is to P.R. that race, or have very clearly understood reasons for why a P.R. wasn't possible (note - gluttony at the plate of one's mother-in-law's cookies is not a valid reason). The attitude now is less "just glad to get a workout in", and a bit more with the gameface on.

State of the union: I feel great. Not burned out, Phase 1 didn't overtrain me, nothing like that. Looking forward to getting back into endurance-minded training, as I've really been doing short speed stuff since late this summer. I have some weight to lose, but not too much and who cares, we all do, it's November. And starting today, all the bad-for-you stuff is out of the house, and nutrition is back on point.

Well. At least until Christmas.

I Need A Bra

I'm thinking a 46B will suffice. My man boobs are back in full effect.

Holy lord, where to even begin. I'm going to try and keep this short and not make it a pity party, my apologies if I do. The last three months have been an absolute disaster to say the least as far as working out, training, triathlon, fitness etc go. On the flip side, I couldn't have squeezed more fun into that time while keeping the fast food business and liquor sales up in the metro area of MN.

Today was the first time in over two months I made it to the gym and got any sort of activity in let alone a workout (if you can even call it that). Although, I did play a one hour touch football game 6 days ago and was still quite sore on Saturday, 4 days later. Other than that, it's been straight couch potato the entire time.

Have I told you about my love for food? I hopped on the scale today and it wasn't pretty. I'm not going to sugar coat this so brace yourself: In exactly 3 months and 4 days since my last race, I've put on exactly 50 pounds. That is not a typo, I repeat, 50 pounds. This means I'm currently a Clydesdale! Hopefully not for long. So there you have it. The hole I've dug for myself is deep to say the least. I'm not sure there's a light at the top but I'm going to climb like hell and find out.

As Bill Murray's character said throughout What About Bob?: "baby steps." Today is day one of my journey into the unknown. My fitness has been erased and I'm starting from ground zero. I made it to the gym this morning and dabbled with some weights followed with a trot/walk combo on the old dreadmill. My HR was of course through the roof and it was close to the most embarrassed I've ever felt physically speaking but I powered through.

This week, the goal is to try and acclimate myself back into a healthy/active lifestyle without over doing things to the point I need help to sit down on the throne.

This Saturday morning there is a race called the Reindeer Run. It's a fun 5K in Minneapolis. I'm planning on doing this with a really good friend of mine. Whether I'm able to run/jog/trot the entire thing remains to be seen but that's the goal. This is a special race for me as it was my first ever "race" I did two years ago. If I can break 30:00, I will be stoked.

So, that's my story. In due time, hopefully my clothes will fit comfortably again and I'll stop sweating profusely. In the meantime, pass the Kashi and get out the way, CHOO CHOO!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Just Listen

So, as I sit here slightly buzzed on an uber early Saturday morning, I saw this video on VH1 while channel surfing. I'm not here to judge or preach especially on politics but this song, it's lyrics and video struck a chord with me, so much as to get out of my warm cozy bed to post this....

PS, it's on like Donkey Kong starting today (later).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Not Promising.

Not sure just what else I should expect, with the scattering of purposeful workouts, the reckless face-stuffing of my mother-in-laws tasty complex carbohydrate creations, the less-than-ideal amount of sleep, but I really suck.

I've had, all things considered, a pretty quality fall (I'm speaking of training now, not my real life, which is infinitely glorious beyond measure). I haven't fallen off of the wagon entirely, I've not gained any significant weight (despite my gorging - how this is possible, I have no idea), and I've really only had one 10-day stretch where I did no training at all, and that was just after the baby was born and is fully allowed in all the rule books. So if my self-prescribed purpose for the fall is just to keep active, maintain some fitness for "real" training, not get fat and lazy, then I guess mission accomplished or whatever. And, as Amy reminded me tonight, I really should just be thankful that I'm running at all - baby's arrival has not, as far too many fear-mongers promised - ended the days of Becoming Ironman. I'm not really a "it's enough just to" kind of person, though. Which also flies in the face of some of the new philosophies I'm trying to adopt, where I'm not quite so OCD about every damn thing about this game. Alas.

My nutrition is, really, for crap. I'm not eating when I'm used to or what I'm used to. Most meals have been prepared for us since Dakota came. We've taken advantage of the neighborhood Culvers a few too many times (by the way, have you ever had the Jumbo Deluxe burger there? You're kidding me with the half-a-cow-on-a-bun. Good Lord). And, as I've mentioned, way way way too much snacking. It is what it is. I can't bitch about it now if I'm going to go up and grab a cookie on my way to bed.

Which, probably, therein lies the crux: I'm not behaving in ways becoming of myself. Amy's mother leaves after Thanksgiving, and all the special treatment will come screeching to a halt (which is not to insinuate she is to blame for any of my nutritional nightmares; nobody's holding the spoon to my head, as it were). So in my mind, I've conveniently made all of this "temporary", and so allow myself the splurge. Blah blah blah, etceteras, and here we are: I suck.

And by that I mean, I've had a goal since way back for a 5k race I'm doing Thursday morning to go sub 7:00/miles. True that the training hasn't fully been there, and I've just discussed how the nutrition really ain't been there. But I do think I've done "enough", where I should be able to at least take a shot. Maybe get close? Ha - not if my workouts lately are any indication. I am, it seems, unable to "unhitch the plow", as my old football coach used to say. I just have no speed. I get tired too soon. I'm solid for the first mile, then it becomes folly. Every run I've had this last week has ended with me generally kicking stones as I approach my house, hands on hips, breathing hard and pissed off. Bah.

So it is. I don't doubt that when "real" training starts, and the schedule becomes more organized and the nutrition comes back on point and the mindset isn't one of "this doesn't really count until after Christmas at least", my ducks will position themselves nicely in a row. Fine. Sounds like excuses, though. It doesn't take the bad taste out of this. Feeling like I'm capable of more.

I don't wish to feel capable of more. Ever. In anything. I wish to just do more. Do, or do not. As Yoda advises. Which, I was just going to make a joke that maybe at least I could outrun him, but then I remembered he's a Jedi. And a freakshow with the lightsaber, which probably wouldn't bode well for me. Probably, once, Jabba the Hutt was a runner, and it was precisely these kinds of realizations that made him say, "Ah what the hell", and just go get fat.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Today's Moment of Zen

For all its predictability - you already know how this one's going down - here is much to like about this one. The rusty Chevy. The hilarity of owning a bike worth more than that your car (which probably we can relate to). I enjoy conjecturing how the whole process took form in this driver's mind - from, "Geez, I got ta git mah motocicle acrost the way" to his Aha! moment of thinking how he could rig this thing to the back of his sedan to his actually physically getting this thing atop his ride. Did no one in his atmosphere suggest this might not work? I wonder where on earth he was going, anyway.

But probably the best part, which you may have to watch twice to catch, is the righteous irony of the redneck driver giving the cameraman the finger. Just moments before.

File under: Karma is a bitch.

Monday, November 12, 2007


So in what I conjecture is the result of a couple of bored cyclists over several beers, somebody invented Cyclocross. Do you know what this is? Because I have to be honest that when I first heard about it, I thought motorcross, which I think involves jumping motorcycles and wearing neon green. So naturally, I assumed a passing interest in neon green was required for Cyclocross. Turns out, I was wrong.

Cyclocross is the bastard mutated child of road biking, mountain biking, weight lifting and running. On the surface it makes less sense than when those guys said (also bored, over several beers), "Hey! We should get up tomorrow and swim! And then ride our bikes! And then go for a run!" Cyclocross involves riding a road bike that's been outfitted with big knobby tires. You ride the road bike offroad. By "offroad" don't think "mountain bike trails", because it's not meant to be that rugged, but still, you're not generally on asphalt (though you can be). But then, obstacles are placed in the path, either naturally in the form of stuff you can't easily bike over, or intentionally in the form of stuff that's just meant to get in your way. When you approach these obstacles, you get off your bike, pick it up, and carry it over said obstacle before safely mounting up again on the other side. Right, so altogether it looks like: Ride your 700C wheels over rough terrain, look out for stuff in the way, pick up your bike and carry it over the stuff, then carry on riding your road bike over terra firma.

Seriously, who thinks this stuff up?

So my buddy Brazo noted in his blog how he was doing a Cyclocross race, and how it was right here in the same town we both live in. Well that sounded interesting, so I emailed him with a few questions (basics here people. "Can I ride my mountain bike? Do I clip in? Should I carry water with me?"), and thought - if the kid sleeps well through the night, I'll get up on Sunday morning and check it out.

I got there and registered in the morning. The lady handed me my number and said, "This goes on the right side." I said, "Of my bike?" And she looked at me like I'd just eaten a poop sandwich (poop sandwich copyright TriSaraTops, all rights reserved). I quickly recovered with a smile, "Just kidding." And we laughed together at the stupid funny man. Ha ha ha!

So I pull into a parking spot and observe people, typical of race-day, in all manner of preparation. Some were even warming up on trainers. What the. Before me, laid out around the fairgrounds in our fair little burg, was an intricate path laid out with posts and red tape, twisting and winding all around, disappearing across the street in the distance, coming back later to this side of the road, winding over to a sandy beach and back. I saw people picking up the bikes and running across the beach, like crazy people. I set to pinning my number to the right side of my jersey. Don't you know.

Just then Brazo and his son wheeled over, and we shook hands and evaluated the morning before us. Seems his son had taken first place in the earlier youth division! Yeah baby! Unimportant to mention that he was the only one in his division to show up, because hey. As we all know, you can't win if you don't start. So with hearty congratulations, we all spun our way to the starting line with a gaggle of 20 or so other spandex clad crazy people.

The modus operandi seems to be - find a beater road bike, one you loved in 1989 or bought at a garage sale for 20 bucks. Put fat tires on it. Commence craziness. I think Brazo and I were the only ones on mountain bikes (so, it is accepted, but not preferred). The general attitude seemed to me very relaxed, a departure from the Type A personalities that pervade even the smallest local triathlon. The race director got up and gave us some instructions. I listened intently for any idea on just what the hell I was supposed to do. He said things I didn't understand, talking about "pits" ("There are pits?" I turned to Brazo and asked. He shrugged.), and "wheel in-wheel out", and something involving long division about when you hear the bell (there is no typical "finish" line, everybody rides for 30 minutes, then a bell rings, then you follow the leader in to the finish. Who makes this stuff up?) you should note where the leader is and this is your final lap, unless you get lapped by the leader a moment from the finish line, at which time you are already finished, and there are pits?

So the bell tolls, and we're off. The race is deceptively difficult. Most of it was on grass, with a street or two thrown in, then some gravel, more grass, a bit of sand, more grass. No climbing or descending, and pretty technical with lots of tight turns. One thinks to himself, looking at the course beforehand, that this won't be terribly difficult, unless one falls in a pit. One is wrong however, because within minutes one is sucking air. Brazo and I started in the back of the pack, his son joining us. Brazo would edge up in position throughout the race, where I would hold a pretty steady lock on 3rd or 4th from last all day. I felt like the guys who have mountain bikes at sprint triathlons - everybody on 700C wheels just looks like they're working so much less hard than I. We careen around a tree, whiz through a picnic shelter, zip over a curb and around a series of buildings. I check my watch, sure I've been out here for 20 minutes, dismayed to find it's been 3. I decide I need to pace myself a bit, so I back off. Also, I'm confident the field will return to me later in the race. This hardly ever happens to me at any race, but I adopt the strategy to feel better about backing way off, which I like to do. It's a strategy I have locked down and well practiced, backing off. Should pay off for me anytime now. Anyway, we turn a corner and there are red hurdles, less than knee-high, plopped in the path, a series of 3, one after the other. These were the proverbial pits - just a word, I guess, not a real pit. Thank God. So I approach the pits, do a pre-T2-riding dismount with my legs tossed over the side of my bike, then get off at the last minute and pick up my bicycle and jump over the hurdle and run to the next hurdle and jump over it and run to the next one and jump over it and then put my bike down and then get back on it and start riding it again. Who thinks this stuff up?

I cannot possibly be this badly out of shape, I'm thinking as I round several more corners and bounce my way over some more hurdles with my heart rate in the low 300's. And, I don't think that I am. This is just really hard. And totally foreign - when else would you have cause to even think of jumping over stuff with a bike on your shoulder? I wend my way back around the course, now towards the beach. Some unhelpful spectator yells, "You have a mountain bike! Plow through this!" so I drop into gear and I start mashing towards the beach, sure that here I'll make up some time on the roadies who are carrying their bikes through. I get 15 yards into the quicksand and teeter to a stop before having to hop off and run through the sand with my bike. I get back on my bike on the other side, turn a corner, and there's more sand. Oh, Come ON! This sand is wet, though, and if I stay low, towards the edge of the small pond the sand borders, I can ride through it. On the other side I think my lungs are going to explode. There is no way I haven't been out here for at least an hour. About 11 minutes had passed.

So, we start another lap, and this time my pace is more reasonable, but the field, alas, is not returning to me anytime soon. S'okay, I'm just happy to be here. For while my lungs are clawing themselves out of my chest and while I'm stuck in some kind of time warp that is causing 20 minutes to take an hour, I'm also having a blast. Probably because I'm surrounded by crazy people, and so one has that liberation that crazy people must feel while in the presence of other crazy people - that nobody will look at me funny for talking to my imaginary friend, because they all have one too. Everybody out there knows this is theatre of the absurd, so it's impossible to take anything about it too seriously. I smiled most of the way through the whole race, I think.

Anyway, at around 27 minutes I heard the glorious words from behind me, "On your left!", and the leader blew by. This meant that when the bell rang, I'd just follow him in, instead of having to do another lap. I did not want to have to ride through the beach for a 3rd time, even though I was starting to get the hang of when to get off the bike, the best way to carry it, when to push it instead of lift it, that sort of thing. Soon the bell rang, and as I crossed the finish line (really a stake in the earth next to a shelter where the race director yelled in my direction, "You're Done!" I was thrilled for it be over. I pulled up next to Brazo, got off my bike and leaned on it, and together we breathlessly discussed how freakin' hard that was.

Apparently they do this Cyclocross thing throughout the wintertime, and I think that would be a blast, to ride in the snow. If I do it again, or with any kind of regularity, I'll probably get my road bike rigged up for it. But it will have to be convenient - maybe right inside Madison, or very nearby - I don't think I'd travel much further, or get really organized to go do Cyclocross. But, it's a great workout, and would be a fun thing to have on the calendar. Oh, and God bless 'em, this race ended with a keg of beer in a picnic shelter. Any race that ends in beer is a good race, says I, and as I downed my well-earned brew, I tipped my cup to the crazy people who thought this up.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Well it's now the first week of November and I'm not any closer to firing things back up again triathlon related or otherwise. I'm not sure what my deal is but am perfectly content right now doing nothing. It just so happened I came across Erin's blog this morning and even though I have not done an Ironman, I couldn't relate more with her and this post. So since I can't get things across nearly as well, enjoy.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Bits & Pieces...

• So I scratched the LTH test I had tentatively planned for last weekend, because my body was clearly telling me it wasn't ready for it, and the last time I tried to push harder than my body was ready for I lost a triathlon season out of the deal, so. More slow running for awhile, and hitting the road when I can on the bike, otherwise the trainer or mountain biking. I am planning to "race" a 5k on Thanksgiving morning, so that's my focus right now. I was on 'Blue for awhile this weekend, and generally had a consistent week of training -and any time you're on a bike in November, it's a good ride. So says I.

• As sporadic as it's sometimes been, though, I'm glad to be training. Last year at this time I absolutely was not - pretty burned out from Ironman, etc. I'm not being all OCD about it, and one part of why I'm training at all is just to know I can do it, with Dakota at home and all of life's new adventures. So far, so good. We'll see this spring, though, when things get long.

• I'm glad Macca won Ironman. I was rooting for him. I think he's arrogant in an honest way, and I'm amused by that. I can't ever get over how Stadler melted down in '05 because he didn't know how to change a tire, and so I think he's a dandy and I cheer against him at Ironman. Macca's new Specialized bike is one weird looking ride, no? Glad Chris Lieto had a good race too. I cheer for him because he's Paul's brother - the Trifuel Jedi.

• How dope was it that the female winner - I don't even know her name - came out of the blue, a total unknown. On a borrowed bike. With a regular cycling hat, not one of those aero gumdrops. Awesome.

• The blogosphere feels lulled. Myself included. Zilla too. Everybody's bored of themselves, maybe. People are posting to their blogs just to have known they posted something lately. This also amuses me. The offseason is weird. It's like we all need rest, but we don't want to miss out on anything, so we don't rest quite as much as we should. Or something. Case in point is this post, which is really pretty useless. I was thinking yesterday about how insane the energy was around here during Ironman. That next year, when the days are hot and the sun his high and the road is long, we'll all be fired back up again. Back on the proverbial bike. Ebb and flow I guess. Such is life.

• Closed circuit to Steve in a Speedo - kickass on those 5k's, dude. Well done.

• Amy's mother is staying with us for a few weeks to help out with Dakota, which is awesome. Also awesome are her triumphs in bakery. Brownies and cookies and desserts and all things glorious such as these. I keep telling her that if I keep up this total lack of discipline and combine it with her cooking, I'll hit 250 by March.

• Closed circuit to Bubba - 50 miles? And it seemed like almost an afterthought. You are an Ironman, dude. Oh, and be careful on the bike. Lest you crack a hand.

• I hate the indoor trainer. It's like a treadmill for me. Sucks all the fun out of it. I'll be outside on 'Blue until the snow falls or my face freezes. I try to do strength training on mountain bike trails. When the snow does fall, I'll try and ride Fyr outside, like I did last winter. Still, at some point I'll have to ride the indoor trainer. Feels wrong.

• Solid running lately. Some speed work yesterday that made me think I'm not a total hack. Good.

S'all from me for now. Hope all is well with everybody out there.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Back on Fyr

This week I was finally able to get back into a routine, and have been running every day. If by "running" you mean "trotting aimlessly", or "shuffling helplessly", or "walking and then bouncing a bit before walking again". Sheesh with the endurance that goes out the window. And it's not like I've been a sloth - I ran 15 miles on October 14th, and was on my bike the day Dakota was born (still trying to figure out how to tell you that whole story), but with taking about 10 days mostly "off", it takes a pretty immediate toll.

Yesterday I headed back to the scene of the crime -the mountain bike trail where 5 weeks or so ago I broke my hand. I had a good, fun, 5 mile, 45 minute ride. I have to say, I was a little gun shy at first to be back on the trail, which surprised me. But, felt good to be back, and I got a good workout in. I snapped the photo above of the sign bewaring all travelers to take caution - the one I ignored last time.

So. My mother's in town this weekend to meet Dakota, which is fun. I do hope to get another couple solid workouts in, and I've pushed a lactate threshold test into the weekend - we'll see how, or even if, it goes. For now, it's just good to get back into the mix.

Monday, October 29, 2007

I should be sleeping.

My daughter has been awake until 4:00 am the last two nights. Today around 5:00 pm I thought I was going to melt down I was so tired. But as is too often the case with me - I reach a state of restfulness, but lack the ability to sleep. For now I'll attribute it to her - I'm just too interested in every cackle and whimper and sigh that transmits over the wireless monitors connecting her room to ours. Not worried (there was that, the first night home especially) or concerned or paranoid, just interested. So I stay awake, and I wait for her to need me, so that I have the excuse to go spend wakeful time with her again.

Admittedly, this is a poor strategy. I'm going to have to get some friggin' sleep over here.

But for now: I am enthralled. She is fantastic.

I have been running just once since she was born, though I swore today I'd be out there. Last week was an allowed week off - today I was just too damn tired. Tomorrow, then. I promise. As it is - she's been asleep 4 solid hours right now. All of which I could have been asleep for.


More soon. Life is good.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I had a dream...

...last night that I think was me in the middle of IMWI 09' but I'm not certain. I remember being in the middle of the marathon and couldn't feel a thing from my neck down. It was like I was floating on air. I distinctly remember how strong and confident I felt. But then my damn alarm went off and reality set in. This is when I realized I can't even run a 5K right now sadly enough and was out of breath at the top of the stairs. Ugh.

On a side note, I foolishly signed up for an indoor triathlon yesterday. It's not until late February so what's that, like 15 weeks out or something? I better get it together soon if I plan on not DNF'ing for the third race in a row.

At least the sun is out and it's not raining...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Greatest of These

Dakota Dawn Bintliff was born on Thursday night, October 18, at 9:04. Her story is a remarkable of revolutions. I'm excited to share it with you when I can.

She was born 6 lbs 13 oz, 19 inches long. She is as beautiful, courageous, and determined as her mother - who is nothing less than a super hero. All are doing very well.

Much more to come. What a wonderful world.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Revolutions: Preface

My father's Dad - my Grandpa of "pick it up and set it down" Ironman fame, he who braved the day with me, he is well, strong as an ox, all is as it should be. Important you know who I mean when I say "grandpa".

My mother's Dad - Grandpa Wally, who I think I've mentioned only once in this blog and don't have time or energy right now to find the link (but that once does not indicate a somehow lesser meaning to my life, obviously, but by nature of our relationship and proximity, I have not had cause to mention him in context of triathlon) - I haven't told you but he's been battling for his life since July 23rd. Friday I got the call: come home. I drove all night. 15 hours, back to the western-most edge of Dakota. I stopped for a few hours sleep. I crossed 3 states to be among his family, who he adored ("I'm proud of you Christopher") at his bedside. He has been unresponsive since Thursday. Still, I told him my girl's name. I brought him a coin from the collection he and my Dad used to enjoy together. I brought him the medal from my last race, which I ran in his honor. I told him what I needed to say, and I hoped in the ether he heard me. He passed away Sunday afternoon. The universe cracked, and another star in my constellation faded away. Even knowing he was going, even feeling its inevitability, it still hit me like a car wreck. I shook, I wept so hard.

Monday, we sit in the stupid throes of grief, so familiar and sickening from when my Dad died, in the same town, also on a Sunday. Then: Amy calls after a doctor's appointment. She's over 4cm dilated. Almost completely effaced. This is pregnant-speak for "the time is nigh". "Tell Chris he'd better come home," her doctor said. So the coin flips, and with shuddering suddenness it is time to tend to the living. To my mother and grandmother and aunts and uncles and brother and sister and cousins - I have to go now, I love you all, and they almost cheer me out the door as I swim in this surreality of emotions, on a pilgrimage now to the opposite end of the funereal. "Dad and Grandpa go with you," mother said.

And I drive all night. 15 hours. I stopped for a few hours sleep. The second time in days that I'm flying across the interstate, hoping I get there in time. Please God let me get there in time.

I did. Get here in time, I mean. Amy's beginning to have some significant contractions, but there is still time, and we're trying to get some rest (mostly for my sake) before we start walking around, seeing if we can't unlock the gates a bit. I'm so weary I feel sick, but I have this damned caffeine buzz from the Caribou stimulants that kept me behind the wheel. So I'm waiting for it to subside, and have this moment to tell you: life is underway over here. We don't know if it's days, or more days than that, or what kind of timeline baby has us on. Only that things are in motion, whatever that means.

I will, of course, keep you posted.

And then: my friends got engaged.

Revolutions indeed. What a sublime life.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Today's Moment of Zen

Often enough, I come across something on the web that is usually totally random, and makes me laugh, or weep, or quake, or run away into another room and peer around my doorway cautiously. I've decided rather than experience this frivolity in a vaccum, I'm going to start sharing them with you, as randomly as they come into my atmosphere. Almost always, these will have nothing to do with anything whatsoever. So.

We start the Zen with Miss Douglas. Where to begin with this. The sparkly arm bands? How 'bout the spooky tentative glances at the surrounding lazer beam sound effects? Perhaps the weird Dick Van Dyke-penguin-dance-from-Mary-Poppins dance she does later on? Or when she again pops in and out of character to look up at the sky, in case that really is a Tie Fighter cruising by? No, I think in the end it all has to come back to the tone deaf trumpet playing.

File this one under:



Tuesday, October 09, 2007

And It's Official

Well, if you don't have any plans on July 20th, 2008, why not head out to Racine, WI and get your cheer on? Team Two has just registered for the 2008 Spirit of Racine Half Ironman. Locked and loaded baby! Let's hope I don't back out of this race like my previous two. I'm off to a grand daddy of a start though, two for two so far this week with training.

Back on the wagon...Jageshmash!

Monday, October 08, 2007

New Age Group?

I was just thinking, as I was lying in bed last night, that this year will be my last year racing in this age group, and that by IMWI '09 I'll be in the 35-39 AG. I was thinking, "Damn. I'm old."

Then today, I get THIS!

That's right, it's my very own AARP card! "As a member, you'll have the resources and information you need to get the most out of life over 50." Awesome. The world continues to laugh its ass off in my general direction.

I think I look pretty good for 50. The ol' prostate's in solid form, I hardly ever have to use my Rascal Scooter, and I'm yet to Viva Viagra. Who knows, maybe I'll finally hit the podium after all!

Friday, October 05, 2007



Time to get back to work.

Technically, we're still in the offseason, and we'll stay there until mid-November, when base training really begins. But on Monday Team Two embarks on the Next Great Adventure as we start structured training again.

This season is divided into 3 essential phases. Phase 1, starting Monday, is a sort-of build phase, and lasts about 5 weeks. We'll train similarly to how we'd train for a Sprint triathlon, with short distances and workouts, mostly to blow out any cobwebs and get our systems ready to go for training again, so that we don't start base training with too much a lack of fitness. We cap this phase off with a 5k to keep as a goal and assess our progress.

Mid-Novemberish, we start actual base training. This is 16 weeks long, and will be all about strength and endurance. We'll be training our bodies to ride at high watts, developing the strength to get faster on the bike. We'll be incorporating lots of strength and speed workouts on the run as well - we want to condition ourselves, over the next 2 years, to not just survive the Ironman distance, but thrive in it. This phase is capped off with an an early sprint half marathon, sometime in late March/early April. The goal of that race is to P.R. the distance, or if not P.R. than to have a quality race, true to the fitness developed, and with a clear understanding of why a P.R. wasn't possible.

Finally, we take 2 weeks off and in Mid-March start training for Spirit of Racine, our July 20 Half Ironman. While Ironman is the prize we eye all the time, this season is all about executing the right training and fitness to race - not just endure - a half Ironman. I've never actually raced the distance, just had my ass kicked by it 3 times.

Our training program is generally a concoction of everything I've learned in the last 4 years, and a hybrid of training plans from Gale Bernhardt to Rich Strauss and lots of players in between. 'Zilla's crazy enough to trust me, so we'll see how it goes. Generally, though, there are a few philosophies. First is: flexibility. Workouts can be moved around, and entire weeks taken off here and there to stay fresh, not get overwhelmed, overtrained, or fatigued. Another is: modularization. Is that a word? We're breaking up what is otherwise a reallllly long 9 months (a year if you consider the marathon we both intend to run next October) into manageable chunks, with a race of some distance always on the forseeable horizon to keep our heads wrapped around. This should keep us focused, and hopefully keeps us from getting bored or into a rut. Third: Strategery. We have a series of road races and triathlons on the agenda that are all purposeful - we're running them for a reason, with a strategy and goal in mind. Maybe it's to P.R., maybe it's to rehearse, maybe it's to experiment. Any additional races we do are just "fun" - fun runs, an occasional sprint or olympic distance, maybe. But those are optional to the essential races that will keep us driving forward. Fourth: Sensibility. We're not even getting into the pool until March. This is 3-6 hours a week that we'll NOT be training. Until then, we're focusing on getting strong on the bike and run, and building endurance. When we do hit the water, we should have the lungs to get efficient workouts in, and we should build towards peaking at the right time. We also have lots of days off or x-training days built in, so that we don't run ourselves raw with the grind. Finally: Perspective. We're talking about an end goal that's 23 months away, and it's kind of dumb to even plan that far ahead for anything. A missed workout here and there, a shortened run, a rearranged long bike ride, a few days off - that's not going to kill us. The object is to avoid burnout, get to the starting line healthy, and train smart to race. The rest are just details.

This is my second Ironman, and 'Zilla's first. For me, the objectives are so totally different this time around. I'm much more interested in the training, in the work involved. So much of the personal discovery was taken care of last time, and while I certainly always hope there's more of that to come at every turn, I'm looking forward to not being overwhelmed with it like I was last time. For 'Zilla, I hope he engages in the same crazy awareness of self that I developed for IMWI '06 - the experience made me a changed person.

I also want to do it smarter. If training quantity suffers for the new family developing around here, then the quality has to ratchet up. If I'll be tired and exhausted from real life, then the training has to be a catalyst for invigoration, not further exhaustion. How all of that will manage is yet to be seen, and is part of the fun.

Welcome aboard Becoming Ironman everybody. We'll be leaving the parking lot shortly.


Please put your chairs in their upright positions and fasten your seat belts as we prepare for takeoff folks.

Yep, this is it, this is the big one. Or something like that. Basically all I can say, in a nutshell, is that I'm a giant ball of clay for XT4 to mold. I'm with him and agree 100% on the above. He says bike a 40K at such and such watts...I'll drink a case of beer. He says run a race pace 10K...I'll eat two pints of Ben & Jerry's. He says swim 1600 meters with a pull buoy...I'll float down the lazy river on my inner tube. In actuality, I plan on doing the EXACT opposite of what he tells me in hopes to hit 300 pounds by 2008!

Wow, the creative well of mine, although never that full, is completely empty right now. I'z got nothin. It's been a long week, bare with me.

On a serious note though, I'm getting antsy, anxious and excited as all hell. For the first time in a long long time, I'm basically pain free. I've had some nagging, not so much injuries as they are/were nuisances, in my left foot, hammy and glute. Miraculously and inexplicably, all three went away yesterday. So I'm stoked and feel pretty well rested and ready to go physically. My main goal other than having the most fun I can possibly have is to not over do things and burnout like I did this year for the how every many time in a row this is. 23 months is a LONG time for anything. It's going to be a slow, grueling process and I'm looking forward to the challenge and all the unknowns it's gonna bring my way.

If you're reading this, thanks for tuning in. No doubt, I'll be enjoying the ride one step at a time. 70.3 here we come!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Spark

So, I'm still hanging on by a thread here 6 weeks and counting into this hiatus of mine, dangling near rock bottom and all. Anywho, last week I went on a little spending spree and bought a trainer on shipped today. I just opened er' up and she's ready to roll! This actually has me fired up to workout for the first time I can remember in a while! So that's something. Let's see if I can drag my butt to the gym tomorrow morning for a workout instead of snoozing the alarm for 2 hours.

Baby steps...

Bits & Pieces...

• It's apparently game day for one of my favorite people in the blog-o-verse; TriSaraTops is being induced into labor today, if all goes as she's been expecting (no pun intended! Ha!). She's been an awesome friend and resource to me since before we both did IMWI '06, and is one of those people it's hard to believe I've only "met" once. We've compared many notes in emails back & forth through the whole "'bout-to-have-a-baby" thing. Much love, prayers, and positivity headed in her general direction...

• Iron Wil has a pretty amazing story.

• Shout out to everybody racing the Twin Cities Marathon and Chicago Marathon this year - Bubba's in Chi-town, and our own TZilla's racing the TC10 miler as part of the marathon festivities. 'Zilla, care to chime in with a little race week rundown? Shout out too to Brazo, who's doing a mountain bike race this weekend (sweet!), and CoS, who killed a duathlon in Green Bay last weekend.

• Here's a general topic that's been floating about my brain waves lately - what happens now? The blog-o-sphere gets pretty quiet after Ironman, which is very understandable as everybody gets back to their other lives, away from the game a bit. But as far as I & 'Zilla are the only ones out here rocking IMWI '09! Brazo's rolling to Louisville for '08...otherwise, there's an eerie quiet over the Ironscape. That's definitely weird for me, as I came into this part of it all in '06, when a whole crew of us were getting ready. And not that people won't emerge who are doing '08 or '09, or that there aren't a whole lot of people out there that I'm just not yet familiar with, or even that Ironman is the only thing interesting to talk about...but of the core crew that I've, y'know, grown up with...tumbleweed city, baby. Anyway. Just an observation. Feels a little like the halls of high school are empty.

• Oh, and if you ARE doing Ironman '08 or '09, please introduce yourself!

• Hand report: It's kind of a big purply mess right now (actually, improved this morning over last night, so that's good.) The impact point is easily marked because the skin broke there too, so radiating outward from there is this weird purply blob. That part is swollen, too, and also the creases in my hand - you know, those life line thingies or whatever palm readers look at - the top one is much darker, as I guess blood maybe collects in there or something? A la Steve, I tried to snap a picture for you this morning. Alas, it didn't really translate, so that would just be boring. Should've taken it last night!

• Fun things to say to other people when one hand is largely out of commission:

Can you give me a hand?
I think I deserve a hand for that.
You've gotta hand it to me...
On the other hand...

And follow any opportunity to say these things with "no pun intended". I first enjoyed this with my doctor, when he was telling me how he wanted to stitch up the smashed up skin part (which was a total over-reaction), but I said nah, I wasn't worried about that, then he said, "on the other hand, we could actually superglue it with medical grade superglue." Only he got as far as "On the other hand we could -" before I enthusiastically interrupted "No pun intended! Ha!" with a shit eating grin on my face, and he just paused and looked at me sideways a moment before politely chuckling and continuing on. So. Amy loves the jokes though. LOVES 'em!

Happy Tuesday everybody -

Sunday, September 30, 2007


First, I direct you to this post over at Brazo's blog, especially the title, and the part that talks about how he intelligently chose against the route marked with the intimidating "really hard, advanced riders only" sign.

Then, I direct you to this post, especially the story I share at the beginning.


So if you missed it earlier, the gist of this post is: I broke my hand on my moutain bike this weekend, riding a section of trail clearly marked "Really really difficult" but that I chose to risk because I was dumb. Anyway, the original post that I wrote last night, as I read it today a night's sleep away from the event, was kind of whiney and feeling sorry for myself. Normally I think the stillshot-in-time of a blog post is part of the fun, but in this case I felt like the post was taking myself way more seriously than I was really feeling about it. So, rather than irritate myself with its existence, I'm just refreshing the post.

It's not a big deal. It's a pain in the ass. Well the hand, actually, but the ass, metaphorically. I can still type and work for a living. I chose not to have a cast, opting instead for an ACE bandage ("sympathy wrap", as my sister calls it...ha!)whenever I'm not working or working out. I'll be back on my road bike in no time. The mtn. bike, probably not for the next 4-6 weeks. That's really about all. Oh, except that I'll be riding trails from now on that are clearly within my skill level and abilities.

That's all! Carry on!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Instant Idiot: Just Add Wheels

Right, so. Back in the day, I used to rock the roller skates on Friday nights at Wheel-A-While, which was bar-none the place to be if you hadn't yet reached about 7th grade. It was a killer skating rink/hangout, with an arcade (complete with Galaga, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and others), foozball (but the older kids never let us play), skate rental, a little restaurant, a little store (more like a counter) where they sold quintessential 80's fare like fingerless gloves (mine were red) and spiked wrist bands (gray rubber, with black spikes). It's where anybody who was anybody went on Friday nights, and I'd frequently go there my buddy Chad (who was super cool, because he had his own skates, which were black with red wheels. Alas, I was relegated to the boring beige rentals) and, if we were lucky, meet up with the girls, including Jamie Doyle (how I loved her), who once told me that if I didn't take off my shiny red Lionel Richie tie she'd dump me. I held strong fellas. And she did dump me.

Anyway, I rocked those skates pretty well. During couple skating, when most of the losers were holding hands and skating side by side (with the disco-ball in full effect while Madonna swooned she was Crazy For Me), I'd flip around and skate backwards, my hands at my lady's waist (and God willing we wouldn't run into each other's skates...that was not super cool) with my O.P. shirt flittering in our manufactured wind and my jeans rolled just so at the ankles of my skates. Later on they'd clear the floor and have a limbo competition, and once in awhile I'd make it to the final few, though Chad seemed to always be a contender. Life was good when your hair was feathered, your skates were rolling, and the doves were crying.

I wasn't half bad at ice skating either, with an outdoor rink at my elementary school that we'd hit up on the weekends sometimes. I'd jump in and play some impromptu hockey now and then, and I could skate backwards with no effort and do those cool sideways-spraying-ice stops that the hockey players do. I did have my own skates, which my parents got for us for Christmas one year. Cool was indeed my middle name.

This was over 20 years ago. In my head, though, it's pretty fresh. So when I see people at intersections or crosswalks, waiting for the light to change while they teeter on their inline skates...then initiate 5 or 6 awkward pushes as they try and develop some momentum to cross the street, with arms flailing and legs unsure and feet going every which way, I always want to yell out the window at them. "Push with your other foot! It's not like walking you moron! ROLL! It's called a ROLLER skate you ignoramus!" Because though I'd not once in my life actually been on inline skates, I once limbo'd with the best of 'em in the 6th grade, and thus could easily be considered something of an expert.

So this weekend I went and picked up some inline skates. No helmet or knee or elbow pads - are you kidding? Those are for dolts - and as I drove back from the store imagined gliding down the street, the wind in my hair. I figured I'd have a bit of remembering to do, but c'mon. It's rollerskating. I'm sure it's like a bike - you never really forget. Yes, sure, these are 4 wheels in line rather than two-by-two, but that's just like ice skating then. In my mind I had it all worked out, how I'd privately demonstrate to all the goofballs I see on skates just how easy this is. The world, if it would, should watch and learn.

So I sat out on my curb and began wrapping the skates around my feet, these more like ski boots than the old lace-ups I remember. I had it all worked out, mentally. I knew before I even stood up how the skates would feel slippery beneath me. I pictured how I'd gain some leverage. I imagined two or three sudden push-offs, then poof! I'd be gone, slithering down the street. Just then Amy sat down in a lawn chair at the top of the driveway.

"What are you doing?"
"I'm going to watch."
"Oh. Uh. Why?"
"Because," she said, flipping a leg lazily over the other and leaning back, "I think this might be funny."

Bah. I'll show her. I stood up casually, like I've been doing this all my life. Suddenly the world slid out from underneath me and I'm somehow on one foot, my arms grasping the air in search of some kind of leverage that didn't exist. Like in a sitcom, I shouted, "Whooooaaaaa...ooohhhh....whoooaaaaa" while suddenly leaning forward, at last getting my leg back on the ground but now pitching forward. "Aaaaah crap!" I rolled forward a foot or two, bent 90 degrees at the waist with my arms straight up in the air behind me. Finally I came to a stop and, manufacturing some equilibrium, was able to stand upright. Amy was in hysterics so hard she couldn't breathe.

"Holy crap! This is hard!"
Amy caught her breath and said, "I should have grabbed the video camera."

I eyed the road suspiciously, wary that it might suddenly spin underneath me like that again, and thought to take a stride or two, get back some of my old mojo. I put one foot back to push off, but my foot disagreed with the idea and instead went forward, as one does when walking. Suddenly standing on ice again, my foot started sliding out from underneath me, so my other foot thought a great solution would be to place itself ahead of the other, as one would when taking another logical step while walking. Ah geez I look just like the idiot at the stop signs, I thought, and suddenly took 5 or 6 pitter-pattering steps in quick succession, totally against my will, as my feet tried to walk down the street and my brain tried to keep balance. I looked like a total boob.

"Seriously! This is freakin' hard!" And Amy's still over there laughing, not at me but with me, as I'm about to double over too I'm laughing so hard. This does nothing for my already precarious balance, and so suddenly my left leg is again instantaneously shooting out from underneath me, my foot suddenly straight out and waist height, my torso then leaning backwards as my arms wind around helplessly. Just as suddenly I find my composure. "Babe, you better bring me my bike helmet." A couple walking by, who for the last 3 minutes were witness to the show (though I just noticed them) were laughing at me too, and said, "and some knee pads, and wrist guards, and elbow pads...that's one dangerous sport right there!" and we all laughed at my expense as they giggled off.

While Amy retrieved my helmet I finally managed a few strides, and while my brain knew just how it wanted to go, my feet could not figure out that walking was not the order of the day. Finally convincing them of this totally unconventional thing I was attempting, they reluctantly gave in and I was able to push off and glide a bit. Not too bad!, I thought. I'd stride 10 or 15 feet, then come to a stumbling stop, carefully turn around (often while leaning completely forward...for some reason a zone of comfort), and then stride back. A few more back and forth like this, and I wasn't feeling quite so alien.

My helmet finally on, I told Amy I'd head down the block a bit and then come back - she worried that I should take my phone in case I cracked my head open. I assured her I'd be in the neighborhood and wouldn't be much for calling anyway with a cracked head, and began rolling down the street.

The thing is, inline skating is hard. It's just hard. You have all this balance to be constantly considering. You push off on one foot to glide on the other, and you have to manage balancing on the one leg while also keeping your ankle from giving way. The upper body seems to be totally disconnected from the legs, all tense and nervous. My shoulders were hunched up by my ears, my arms bent at the elbows and flapping in a weird bird imitation. None of this was going to plan. I was not cool at all. Where was my old technique? How was it possibly this hard? I thought back to the guy who used to skate by me on my old running trail in Minneapolis. He was effortless! He'd push and glide, push and glide. His arms would swing naturally from side to side. His power was impressive, his form sleek and efficent, his speed consistent. I, on the other hand, looked like a diseased partridge.

Just then two girls, not more than seven years old, bolted around the corner in front of me, both wearing pink helmets and atop their own inline skates. They flew! I was astounded. Their feet were not in argument with their legs! Their shoulders weren't touching their ears! Neither had her butt sticking way out, like some kind of rudder. Just then I'd hit the tiniest crack in the pavement, or the slightest bit of gravel, and suddenly my tideous glide would be interrupted and I'd be relegated to stumbling again, the awkward steps of a newborn. No, this was not cool.

Plus - cripes, it hurt! I turned around at the end of the block and my legs were killing me! My back was sore! I was breathing hard, I was sweating, my heart rate was up - I thought this would be easy breezy, like skating back in the day. Then it occurred to me - you know what, I bet my skates are jacked up. I bet I overtightened the wheels and I'm getting way too much resistance. Because those girls were flying down the street, and there's no way it's this difficult. So, I sat down on the curb, detached my left skate with its series of buckles and straps, and held it up, giving the wheels a spin with my hand and expecting them to turn only half a revolution or so. Instead they rolled on fluidly. Ah, shit. I really do suck this bad then.

Skate back on, then, I continued the rest of the way home and tried to focus. The key seems to be the upper body. Maybe I should've taken lessons first? Do they even have lessons for inline skating? I'm sure they do. Didn't Erin or CoS or somebody at dinner the other night say something about the adult courses you can take for twenty bucks? I wonder if they have an inline skating course. Computers 101, Photography For Beginners, Quilt Making for Housewives, Inline Skating for Idiots. Where do 7-year old girls learn it? Ah crap, a cute girl running with her dog. Try to look cool, like you've done this before. Please don't fall please don't fall please don't fall. Don't smile you idiot, just look straight ahead! Okay, whew. And I stumbled my way mostly from parked car to parked car, grabbing their bumpers like life preservers. The last half block or so was the best, when I figured that relaxing my shoulders and arms, attempting to look somewhat natural, made the rest of me relax and I could then go a little more efficiently.

The next day my back was sore, my legs were sore, my feet were sore, and I considered that a good thing - it meant I was working out new muscles - but it was totally unexpected. I made a stop by the sports store and picked up a new helmet (bike helmets are only meant to withstand a single impact, and no sense ruining my expensive hat when I inevitably fall on my head) and all the pads and guards they sold. No question that I am going to make friends with the cement if I continue this pursuit, so I better be prepared. Turns out if the pads and stuff are for dolts, I am their king.

Yesterday, then, I headed out for my second foray and it was a thousand percent improved. I was able to glide longer and with more consistency, and did a lot less of the weebly teetering that was most of my ride a few days earlier. The key is to lean forward a little bit, but not too much; no need having one's ass three feet behind him. Also, relax the upper body. All that tension just throws off the balance. In fact, I was feeling pretty good when I got to the end of the block and thought I'd continue on down my normal running route. Here I was happy to find myself doing a crossover turn on accident, some of the old technique coming back just a little bit. I started cheerufully humming Lionel Richie's "Hello", which was mine and Jamie's song, the forlorn anthem of sixth graders in love. Reminiscing just a bit, relaxing my mind, enjoying the crisp weather. I imagined I wasn't looking like quite the imbecile I did a few days ago, and would nod or wave at passers-by like just one more casual skater. How come everybody else I see on skates is least 10 years younger than me. Is there an age limit to this sport? Hmmm. it me you're looking for...The helmet I just bought, it has somebody's name on it. Like, somebody apparently famous, or well known or something. I've never heard of him. something something something, or is someone loving you... Did I just buy a teenager helmet? Good Lord I think I did. Do they make non-teenager helmets? ...I can see it in your eyes...but I haven't got a clue...something something something...I love you... Can I push a stroller with inline skates on? Geez, did I just ask that? I bet I'm instantly uncool if I even have to ask that question. I wonder if I'll be a total embarrassment to my daughter before she even understands the concept.

Just then I reached the end of the sidewalk, and it tapered down into the slightest decline before meeting the street. I noticed a bit of mud where the curb met the street, so angled for a narrow section that was most clean. I bent my knees a bit, picturing myself smoothly crossing where the sidewalk met the street and continuing with my stride. All around me cars were stopping at the intersection, all moving parallel to me. I coasted down the decline, leaning slightly forward. Then when I hit the street, my weight was too far foward and I was pitching ahead. In an effort to recover I suddenly leaned way back, and that old left foot again thought it woud be fun to be airborne and kick out to my waist, like a Rockett at Radio City. I stood there, balancing on one foot with my leg straight out in front of me and my arms pinwheeling madly around me, my cool-kid shiny black helmet endorsed by a name I didn't recognize perched atop my head, weird body-armorish knee and elbow pads wobbling away as my limbs tried to sort themselves out, and in slow motion promptly fell backwards right on my ass. I sat down hard with a thud, and was laughing out loud before I opened my eyes. When I did, I saw all the drivers in the cars stopped at the signs around me were laughing me, not with me. Whaaaaat an idiot! Get a load a this guy!" Shaking their heads and wiping their eyes, they drove through the intersection on their way to tell thier husbands and wives about the moron they saw rollerskating down the street. Meanwhile, I attempted to get back up; no easy task with legs sliding away independently of each other while I resorted to that old familiar position of bent 90 degrees at the waist, waiting for the world to stop spinning around underneath me for just two seconds.

I managed three miles, though, which I was pretty happy about. When I got home I told Amy how excited I was that it went so much better, though I'd fallen smack on my ass. I mentioned to her that maybe somebody I'll do an inline skating marathon! She looked at me, her head tilting annoyingly to the side and her shoulders falling in a gesture of are you kidding me? before she said, "Let's just try for awhile to not fall down, hmm?"

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fyr in the Forest

Don't forget that 'Zilla posted over the weekend - go here or just scroll down past my ramblings to check him out.

When I was 9 years old, my Dad, brother and I were at a friend of my Dad's house, out in the country. Jerry, my Dad's friend, lived on a few acres near the golf course, and he prepared his ATV for my brother and I to take turns riding while he and Dad relaxed on the porch over beers. My experience to this point in life with riding an ATV was absolutely none. So it was all new and exciting and slightly dangerous and exhilarating. We rode, of course, without helmets or gear or anything like that - just two kids in shorts and t-shirts who got stuck going with Dad to visit some dude, only to be rewarded with riding around on an ATV. How supremely cool.

During one of my brother's rides, he took off down a gravel road that splintered left into a short loop. If you took the loop clockwise, you rode with a steep gulley on your left, separated from the road by a barbed-wire fence and dropping pretty abruptly into a significant, steep hillside covered in wild, thick brush and thorny brambles. If you rode the loop counter-clockwise, then you'd approach this prairie-cliff head-on as you wound your way around the loop and back to the gravel road to return to home. On this particular ride, my brother had taken the counter-clockwise route, and returned out of breath. "Oh my God dude that is so scary do not do it."
"Really?" I asked, intrigued. "Why?"
He reached his other leg over the seat to dismount. "Because that cliff is right in front of you and you're driving right into it before you turn. It's really scary don't do it."
I don't think I said anything, just got on the ATV with, of course, every intention of demonstrating what a fantastic wuss my brother was and how brilliant I was, now a wise and experienced rider with 30, maybe 40 minutes of hard earned mileage behind me. Danger, after all, is my middle name.

So I careened down the gravel road, wind in my hair, skinny, all-knees-and-elbows frame bouncing atop the giant machine. I approached the loop, took an abrupt left, my knobby tires biting dirt and spraying it away (how cool!). Immediately I leaned right into the loop, then left as it curved, and was suddenly staring down, I realized with some immediacy, a hillside that was much steeper than it had looked, a curving road that was much sharper than I thought it might be, and a barbed-wire fence approaching much faster than it should have been.

You've known all along how this would go: I ripped through the barbed-wire fence, its jagged edges piercing into me then digging as I pulled the rusty wires taught against their old fence-posts, then dragging the wires with me as they finally broke free. The machine dove almost straight down, throwing me head first in front of it, and I landed in some kind of awkward roll onto all kinds of prickly nature. I somersaulted over and over down the angry hillside while the machine toppled behind me end over end, each as stupidly helpless as the other. I remember, when I came to some version of a stop on my back, looking up and a beat later seeing the hulking ATV flying over top of me, somehow not crushing me, moving with frightening velocity through the air and tumbling further down the hillside before finally coming to a clattering stop somehow rightside up. I was stunned, staring up at blue sky through a bed of thorns, and for a moment I think I just lay there, wide eyed and terrified, before finally bursting into a high drama explosion of cries and hiccups and yelps as Holy Shit I Just Totally Wiped Out Did You Guys See That Dad Dad Dad!!!!!! I screamed the gibberish of a hurt and frightened 9-year old.

I remember the 3 of them barrelling down the hilliside after me, and feeling relief that they saw me wreck, that I wouldn't be left here all alone to die of my wounds or be eaten by wolves or whatever horrifying fate might await the Victim of a Huge Accident such as me. "Dad ow it hurts geez Dad seriously it hurts I'm not kidding seriously Dad", feeling like I had to prove to him in case the visual aid of my demonstration wasn't enough that really, something scary just happened. And he arrived first and picked me up quickly and suddenly and without regard for my weight, the way Dads do, and carried me to safety. Probably the dramatic cliff (still quite steep in my present mind's eye) was a more gradual slope than a sheer drop off, probably I'd rolled a few times and not several hundred, probably the ATV was not due to explode any second like any wrecked vehicle does on The Dukes of Hazzard after such an impressive plunder. Dad had me back on the road and on my feet in no time, looking into my face with real concern but knowing if I was this noise-some and animated that probably I was going to live. I did not, in my 9-year-old mind, however, exaggerate the very real fence I busted through, the very violent fall I'd experienced, or the very sharp bed of thorny brush I'd just rolled around in. I was a bloody, punctured mess. But while that hurt - and it hurt for awhile - when I think back on the whole experience, it's the fear that sticks with me. Just the fear of helplessly falling, of not knowing what I was falling into, of losing control of the whole experience like I did.

It is not unlike a major descent on the bike.

And that irony is not lost on me.

My brother did, and does to this day, remind me what a moron I was.

It was not the first or last time I'd subjected myself to more than I was sufficiently capable of. Which is all of it prelude to: Hey. This is how I roll.


So last week I googled "mountain biking Wisconsin" looking for somewhere, anywhere, to take my bike. I don't know anything about mountain biking except it looks like fun. But I wouldn't know a good trail from a crap trail. I know that I wasn't looking for a pleasantly paved day-ride kind of thing, and I wasn't looking for old rail beds, which are now frequently used for moutain bike trails - those are all relaxing Sunday afternoon joyrides and I was looking for a Mountain Dew commercial. Finally I found what appeared to be something promising at Kettle Moraine State Forest, only about 45 minutes East of me. So Friday night I got all my gear organized, overpacked every "just in case" thing I could think of into a small backpack to keep with me on the bike, then googled whatever basics I could on mountain biking, including appropriate air pressures, general strategies, avoiding catastrophe, whatever. When Saturday morning came I loaded up my mountain bike Fyr and left the house about 7:30, arriving at the park and getting ready to get on Fyr by 8:30.

I discovered that it is, in fact, a moutain biking park. I believe you hike on the trail, too, if you go the opposite way, but it's generally dedicated for biking. Which I thought was pretty cool. As I was getting my gear and bike ready to go, I was surrounded by other bikers dotting the parking lot, all in various stages of preparedness. There was a shelter a little ways off the parking lot, sponsored-in-part by Trek, and I thought that was a good sign. A good sign for what, I still didn't know. Ironically, later than same day I read a snippet in my National Geographic Adventure magazine about Kettle Moraine, and how it's "the best mountain biking in the midwest." Sweet!

The park has several trails of varying distances and degrees of difficulty, the most difficult of which - meant for "experienced" or "advanced" riders - was the blue trail. Number of times I've actually ridden my mountain bike on anything remotely rugged: zero. Can you guess which trail I chose? Of course I did. Which I remind you is not out of any kind of, y'know, arrogance or something, because I don't have that well a sense of myself and as often as not the whole thing backfires and I have to go back to baby steps anyway. I just like to define my boundaries from the outside in: Where is more difficult than I can handle? Let's work our way back from there. ie: let's poke a sleeping lion to see how pissed off he really gets, rather than quietly approach him to see if he gets pissed off at all. Much more efficient.

So I head out on the blue trail, morning air cool but comfortable, the sun shining hard and bright.

And it was awesome.

Seriously, I had no idea what to expect. I assumed it would be fun, and I assumed it would be difficult. I had no idea how much of each the day had in store. The trail is single-track, which (I know now) means what it suggests - meant for a single bike at a time. It's rich with tight turns, steep inclines, and rocky descents. The trail is mosty dirt, sometimes a kind of sand, and very often totally strewn with rocks; some jagged and angular, many others round and worn. It traverses deep and old forest, and roots criss-cross the trail frequently. The terrain is difficult and interesting and really, really cool.

I had meant to shoot some video...but forgot to swap in a larger memory card into my camera. I meant to shoot lots of pictures...but none of these translate. I can only take so many "see the trail disappearing into the forest" before you get it...but pictures can't really justify this adventure. In fact, it's not something you really picture at all, mountain biking, so much as experience. As it turned out, I had hardly any opportunity to take a picture anyway, much less look around for fun places to shoot them. I know I was surrounded by forest, I could smell the pine and once in awhile glimpse how high and huge some of these trees are, but generally my attention was on the immediate 3 feet in front of me, navigating through rocky terrain or avoiding some calamity or another. I did take this shot which is particuarly amusing for me because I'm looking ahead at a sharp left turn that had just suddenly appeared, covered in jagged rocks and bumpy roots for which I'll really, really need this photo-shooting hand in about two more seconds...

It had rained hard the night before, and while the trail was so well protected that it was mostly dry, there were a few muddy puddles here and there. At first I approached these with the conditioned mind of a road cyclist - "Avoid the water whenever possible." Then I rode through a puddle or two and, I'm ashamed to say, had this reaction: "Ew! Dammit, mud everwhere!" Like some prissy pretty fancyboy. In my defense, it still comes from being a road cyclist. Finally, though, as I approached a particularly long and deep mudbath, I said aloud, "You're on a mountain bike you idiot. Get dirty." And once I liberated myself from any kind of concern, the real fun began.

The Blue loop is about 7.5 miles long, and on my first lap I really was clueless. For awhile I was just so exhilarated to be out there, to be having so much fun, that I wasn't really thinking strategically about how to ride, or what to do. Countless times I barely unclipped in time to catch myself before some kind of crash or fall, if not into the ground than into an approaching tree. A few times I was glad my pedals are reversible - with clips on one side and platforms on the other - so that I could quickly ride with my feet alongside, like ski poles. The descents were always a ton of fun, as I'd try and define the sharp edge between exhilaration and fear.

I wound up my first lap and headed to my car to shed some of the long sleeves and replenish some Gatorade, and as I rode out, all muddy and dirty, I noticed the other riders just arriving, and felt like a cool kid. "Yup, tough trails out there today," I'd say to the guy parked next to me as I lifted my tail-gate, like I had any clue what a tough trail was. "Little bit of mud, huh?" Another would say and I'd tilt my head a bit, confused, then replay casually, "Oh this?" acknowledging my chocolatey legs like this ain't nothin! "Oh yeah, guess there's a puddle or two out there!" What a tool.

I headed out for my second lap, this time feeling like some kind of old pro. The trail was busier now, and once or twice a rider would have to quickly deflect to the right to let me pass, or I'd do the same for the guys behind me. I worried that maybe it would get packed now as mid-morning approached, but I stayed generally alone all day. Those that I did meet were all seemingly nice people - I don't have any idea what the mountain bike culture is like, but I didn't experience anything unkind.

There's a note somewhere on the park's literature that the blue "difficult" or "advanced" trail is meant relative to the other trails in the park not to mountain bike trails in general. Which is probaby true - I found this trail just challenging enough. Difficult, at times more difficult than I could manage, but never undoable. I imagine mountain biking - out west somewhere I suppose, is a whole other animal.

I felt myself taking the second loop for granted - flying through stretches that last time I picked through carefully. I felt this getting out of hand and again had to remind myself I was not on a road bike, where the object is to get there as fast as you can. The whole point I was out there was to just enjoy it, so as I was convincing myself to slow down and enjoy it I twisted around a particularly gnarly (and gnarly is a great word for mountain-biking) turn, covered in roots and rocks, and totally lost control of my bike. I didn't fall, but did end up somehow with my left foot still clipped in, dragging the bike behind me as I violently hopped on my right leg down the trail, trying not to fall on my head. Somewhere in that process I slammed the edge of my left hand against something, and it's still hurting two days later. After that I relaxed again, slowed down, and just enjoyed the new experience.

A few things I learned:

• Mountain biking is deceptively difficult. That mountain biking might be difficult might seem obvious, but if you watch it on TV or in magazines or something, it doesn't really look difficult. I don't mean the crazy tricks and jumping, just riding on a trail. When I was done with my day, about 15 miles in 2.5 hours, I felt totally wiped out. I was mentally fatigued like I am after a 4 or 5 hour road ride. My legs were totally thrashed and they felt thick and alien the next day. But also, my arms were tired, my core was tired. Everything is always working to control the bike. It's a hell of a workout.

• I saw several instances where I was able to apply a direct relationship between mountain biking and improving on the road bike. Besides the obvious fitness advantages, you learn a lot about balance, and boundaries, and limits. It's great for mental toughness because you cannot relax, for even a second. For 2.5 hours I was intently focused, the one time I rode into a kind of meadow and stopped to look around and daydream a second I nearly crashed into an unexpected rock jutting out of the ground. You can also learn some bike handling skills that I think can be applied generally.

• While you do go more slowly to pick your way through the terrain, you're always exerting force on the pedals. Going uphill can be really treacherous as your tires grasp for purchase on anything, and you have to precariously balance and still move ahead. In fact, on both laps this particularly difficult climb kicked my ass and I was relegated to walking my bike up - not because I was physically unable to pedal up the incline or anything, but as a matter of inertia; once I was stopped the hill was too steep and rugged for me to get going again.

• To that point, tires really matter. I think mine aren't knobby enough or something, because a few times I was applying more torque to my rear wheel than it could grip on the road, and it'd skid over the steep hillside instead of grab it and I'd be left screwed.

• One reason that Camelbacks are so popular on mountain bikes is because you really have very few opportunities to take one hand off your bike in order to drink. Another is that my Gatorade bottles were covered in mud, and I'd have to stop in order to wipe them off and get a drink.

This picture doesn't really do the mud was really pretty thick and pretty everywhere.

So it was an incredible blast, and I had so much fun I can't wait to go out and do it again. When I was all done and taking off my shoes at my car, getting ready to go hose down my bike and myself (there's even a hose at Kettle Moraine specifically for washing down bikes - that's pretty cool) - this guy, also ending his day, said to me, "Well, I can definitely tell I haven't been on a mountain bike in two years." "Yeah?" I asked, "Why's that?" "Ugh," he replied as he placed his bike on the mount attached to his SUV. "Hitting every rock and root out there. It was ridiculous."

You're not supposed to hit the rocks and roots? Cuz...uh...I was aiming for them.

Live and learn, I guess.


And On Sunday...

I rocked inline skates for the first time ever. Holy CRAP is that hard! Who knew!?!? More to come on the sordid tales of me on roller skates...