Sunday, March 30, 2008


Well, I spent the morning finally sorting out, organizing, and registering for the season's races. I gotta say, this was a lot of fun. Last year at this time, I was busy trying to sell our house. I was lucky if I got any kind of workout in, and life revolved around closing dates and move-in dates. Combined with the injury, it was September before racing was any kind of priority at all. So to be able to sit down for the first time in 2 years and really plan things out was cool, and brought back all that race-day goodness that starts flowing through the blood.

You'll see I updated the schedule over there on the right, but the gist:

I'll start out with the J-Hawk Early Bird Triathlon. This is very similar to another race that usually kicks off my season, and which I'll miss for the first time in 5 years, the Chain of Lakes triathlon in Alexandria, MN. I'll be sad to miss CoL, because it's become something of a tradition, but this race is only an hour away and should serve the same triathlon-minded purpose. It's a 500 yard indoor swim, 13.7 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run. Should be a great way to kick out some cobwebs, get some sense for early season fitness, and get some base number for speed or work on the run and bike.

The very next weekend I'll head back to Minneapolis for a pretty special event, the Randy Bauer Memorial 5k. Randy was a friend of mine, but a better friend of my wife and our good friend (and Dakota's Godmother) Susan. Kind of a wise sage type of guy, who finished umpteen marathons in his life, before being outrun by cancer last year. You might remember, I wrote about him. Well, they're organizing an inaugural charitable 5k in his memory, and I'll be there. In fact, I'm going to run it hard, maybe shoot for that elusive sub-7. I think Randy would enjoy that.

In the end of May I'll run the half marathon of the Madison Marathon. Shoot for a PR there as well.

Finally in June we get into real triathlon season, kicking off with the inaugural Capitol View Triathlon. I'll be running the Olympic distance. Not sure what goals I'll have there, as the Oly's I'll be doing are all purposeful to the Half Ironman A race in July. Probably just run it strong and well, especially since it'll be my first Olympic distance in a couple years.

The next weekend is another special race - the Wisconin Triterium, which first kicked my ass in 2005 as I prepared for my first Half-Ironman, on the road to Ironman. It shares some of the Ironman course, and I remember it being a tough course, hilly, hot as hell. I hope to just do better than last time. Whatever that means.

End of June WIBA comes to town, and I'm looking forward to spending some time with friends and having a good couple days' workouts.

End of July, then, is the A race, and the big bridge on the way to Ironman next year, the Spirit of Racine. Going sub-6 baby, believe that.

After that - we'll see. The only real priority race will be a marathon in October, either Twin Cities or Chicago. I'm leaning towards TC, if only because I have lots of friends there that would be fun to spend some time with. In August I may do an XTerra race - we'll see what my man Brazo thinks of his XTerra in May. I may do Dairyland Dare, especially if my girl Erin does it (most hopefully with Chief of Stuff as well!). I had a lot of fun at the Devil's Challenge last fall, so we'll see if that's in store for September. And of course, we'll see about volunteering again at Ironman. I had a blast last year, but I may just want to hang in Verona and State Street and cheer them on this year. But hey - since we've haven't even cracked April yet, I'll just let that stuff come as it does.

I'm really excited about this race schedule mostly because, with the exception of Racine, all the races are right in my back door. In Minneapolis, I usually had a minimum 45 minute drive to any race, and usually further than that. I'm also excited that, since the races are so close, my family around here - much of the core of the Ironman Team - will be able to come out. That makes all the difference.

Meanwhile, I've had a great week of training and nutrition - everything right on point. A long 10 mile run last weekend, a 3 miler early in the week and 6 miles mid-week before another long run later today. I had two solid 15-milers on the bike, then yesterday my first long ride of 30 miles. It was cold out there, and that headwind was nasty - but it made for a great tailwind. I'll be adding incremental miles to my long rides until, by May, I'll be consistently at 60 miles or so. In another few weeks I'll start to work in speed work and intervals. The only thing that hasn't been consistent is the pool - and that's mostly because I hang out with Dakota during the day (in addition to work), and the lap pool hours don't usually coincide with when I'm available. I'll have to figure something out for that, at least until the ice melts and I can head to the lake for some open swimming.

So that's what's up with me. What's up with you?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Return of The Rider and The Machine

When is a 15 mile ride not just a 15 mile ride?

The last time I was on my bike, it was for a funeral.
The last time I was on my bike, my daughter was born.

Spring is working hard to crack open here. The temperatures approached 50 degrees, but the cold wind reminds that winter won't be undone just yet. Even so, it was time, at last, to ride again.

There is nothing - no thing, as my friend says, like being on the bike.

I was thinking, as my mind shifted to auto-pilot, about how synchronous the experience becomes between us, The Machine and me. My fingers flex the gear shifters automatically, feathering them just-so to avoid any chain rub - I don't think about this, it just happens. I push the pedals at 90 revolutions, and I can feel when I'm there, or pushing too hard, or going too easy - The Machine tells me what's happening. Cliche's should be avoided, but there is a weird synergy there. I am thoughtless about the machinery underneath me; if we are not compared to some new organism, then at least let the Machine be like a Gunslinger's worn ivory handles, or an old Cattleman's hat, or maybe the horse and saddle underneath him; time-tested, weather-worn, experienced. So that we fit. Click. There's a sense of us. And when that happens, it's no longer a ride, and it's hardly bicycling, and it certainly has nothing to do with triathlon. There is achieved an event horizon, where those things are left behind, where the experience is all there is. Wind and breath and exertion and the quiet, slightly metallic thrum of chain on gears on wheels on tires on earth.

I was thinking these things - truly doing my best to not turn the first and so splendid ride of the year into some kind of metaphysical exercise in worship, when - and I'm surprised it was 10 miles in before this all came abruptly to mind - I remembered the last time we were Rider and Machine.

When is a half marathon not a half marathon?

My mother's father was sick all summer, arguing first with some illness or another, then fist-fighting with it, and finally in full defense of age's assault. He seemed to almost pull through, only to be flanked by surprise and suddenly take a new devastating hit. My Grandpa's life, and my life with him, is a longer story than I'll share here, but I imagine it's not terribly unique; I watched him age, but never considered he'd not be here. I have thick volumes of memories and laughter and frustration and love shared for and through him. He was one of the brightest stars in the constellations that guided me into becoming a man.

I was told to come home, that it was time. I went as fast I could. I went a thousand miles, back to Dakota, where I'm from. He was in the last throes, then. Not responsive. An icon only. A shrine to himself, for all of us, his children and grandchildren and wife, packed into his tiny hospital room.

A day passed, another. We kept vigil. His daughters sang his favorite hymns. His sons kept quiet watch. His wife dozed, and we dreamed she was meeting him there, wherever there is. His candle burned inevitably lower. On Sunday morning, October 14th, we were told to come in, things were happening. We rushed. He rallied. We waited.

I ran.

I ran to every landmark I could think of in my old hometown, making short distance of spaces that seemed so far between growing up. I ran down my old street, past my old house, where my father lived and died. Down further to Ninth street, turning right, past my other old house, the one I grew up in, the one that I still visit frequently in dreams. Down my old neighborhood then, hearing the echos of bike chases and front yard football and back yard swingsets. Down to First Lutheran, where my parents were married. Where I was baptized. Where Dad's funeral was held. My wedding, my brother's, my sister's.

Straight on, now, past my best friend in high school's old house, our laughter and basketball games and time there the pulse to my footfalls. It's like any small town. I can point to almost any street, any park, any store, and tell you something that happened there once. All threads in the fabric of me.

To the cemetery now, and stopping at the grave of another, and the brightest, of the stars in my constellation. I slow, crouch down on my haunches, breathe deeply. "Pops. I can't think of any reason he should still be here, not like this. He's ready to go. If you have any part in any of this, help him out. Do what you can. It's time."

I hit my fist to my heart twice, like he did once when seeing me off to Boston, then press my hand into the earth above where we buried him 11 years ago. I do this whenever I visit his grave. Always. I wiped my forehead then. I kept going.

Left past my Dad's old business. Through downtown and the movie theater where I had my first job. Next to the pool where I lifeguarded and taught swimming lessons all those summers. Past the high school.

Into the outskirts now, and all the way to Spring Lake Park. It skirts the old golf course, where I spent so many weekend mornings with the old man, including the very last summer day I'd ever spend with him. 2 miles around it, and I see the small lake where I used to fish for perch. The hill where we used to go sledding.

Coming home now, and my legs are tired and this whole time I've been putting memories in a jar. Thinking of my Grandpa. About a life lived. About what that means. How it goes. Where it is.

I glance at the Garmin, finally. I wonder why I even brought it - I haven't thought or cared. This wasn't a training run. This wasn't even a run. This was something else. Something private and personal. It was, I realized, my time with my Grandpa. Trying to find him in the haze, wherever the essential him was now, with his body uselessly awaiting something else. I thought, maybe if I go look under every stone in this old town of ours, I'll find him.

My watch says, at that moment, 13.1 miles. In under two hours. This would be, I remark, some kind of personal record for me, if it were relevant at all. Such things as records, or mileage. Who cares? Let me run.

I finally turn the corner to my brother-in-law's house, where I'm staying with my sister, to shower quickly and go back to the hospital. Then my sister's car turns the corner ahead of me. She sees me. Stops. Gets out.

"He's gone."

We flee to the hospital directly. I'm sweating and in Under Armour and Asics. We arrive to the whispering, quiet hush of mourning. I weep then. Hard, and loud, and long. He's gone. He's gone. He's gone.

On Monday, we wrote the obituary. On Tuesday, we finalized funeral plans. I was to join my brother and cousins as a casket-bearer. Then Amy called. "Come home." She's 4cm dilated.'s 3 weeks too early? The baby doesn't care! Come home!

Probably all of us suspected then that it was an over-reaction. One of those false alarms. Close calls. I would miss my Grandfather's funeral. My mother, she hugged me as I left and said, "Go now. Tend to the living. Grandpa goes with you."

I flew. A thousand miles home. Calling at every few mile markers, to make sure all was well. Praying to my God or my Dad or my Grandpa or whoever was in charge that I might make it. Trying to make sense of such conflict as comes of simultaneous, nearly equally profound joy and grief.

I got home. Exhaled. And waited.

Part Four
When is a 15 mile ride not just a 15 mile ride?

I got on my bike the morning of Thursday, October 18th, to attend the funeral of my Grandpa Wally. I didn't know what else to do. What am I, supposed to sit in front of my computer and work, knowing that my family is at that moment paying respects? Should I sit quietly and reflect on things? Find a church somewhere and worship?

I didn't know. So I got on my bike. It was the only thing that felt right. It wasn't about being a triathlete, or Ironman, or any of that. It was the only place I could think of where I could dedicate my efforts, my thoughts wholly to the memory of my Grandpa. Where I could process, pay tribute, actively grieve. And, in some way, give of myself.

So I rode, and let the tears stream windblown across my face, and didn't take action to think of anything in particular. I didn't try and be anything, or anyone. I just rode my bike. Because my Grandpa died. And it made some kind of sense to me then. And it still does.

Then, only 2 miles from home, my phone rings. I'm carrying it with me everywhere these days. I stop at the corner to answer it. "Babe? Where are you?" My wife is at work.
"On my bike."
"Can you meet me at the hospital?"

And the Garmin will reflect that the average mph that 15 mile ride was 17.5mph. The max - which was engaged for most of those last 2 miles - was 29mph.

By day's end I would be introduced to a new, brilliant star.

Do other people have this? Do...I don't know. Chefs find solace in chopping tomatoes? Does the sculptor find some kind of zen as he reveals what's hidden inside stone? If I didn't have this, would I have done something else? Found some other means than 13.1 miles to make sense of myself in the shadow? If I look back, to all that I've chanced upon, or discovered, or stumbled upon within the labyrinth of me while simply plotting one foot ahead of the other, or turning cranks - might I have done the same in some other atmosphere? I don't know. Probably? Maybe? Or I doubt it.

What it comes down to, I considered yesterday as I turned left at that same corner where I answered the phone 5 months ago, is that it doesn't matter, because I do have this. However and whatever This is. The game is great, but it's incidental, isn't it. Take from me Ironman, or the races, or the gadgets or trappings or even the friendships and exhilaration, and I'll still be out here, on my bike. Not seeking greatness, or trying to get better or faster or stronger, or daydreaming about the newest, sexiest rocketship and how stunning I might look upon it. There is a time for those things, and a time to enjoy them in their own right. But they are just trinkets and baubles that decorate. They are not very important to what I'm doing out here.

In my soul, there is a road, and on the road there are many turns, and some lead to the unknown and others lead to safe harbors and still some are dangerous and frightening. If you could see inside my soul, you'd know I ride that road, fast and free. I glance at constellations to guide my way. I know the shiniest stars by heart.

What happens in Vegas... generally pretty expensive.

Don't get me wrong - we had a great time. A really great time. And Vegas really has all of my favorite things. Shiny objects. Flashing lights. Cleavage. You really can't go wrong in Vegas - there's always something to do, something cool to see or experience. But as I said to a friend of mine, Vegas is also a little like whiskey. In the right amounts, it's pretty fun. But if you take in just a little too much, it can make you a little nuts. So. We were there for 4 days, and it was the perfect amount of time. Most fun was reuniting with some very good friends from Minneapolis who we met up with down there.

But it's a lot like Disneyworld for adults. A bottled water is $6. You know how it is. My favorite expense was heading down to the fitness center in my hotel and being told that would be $25, please. For a 3 mile run on the treadmill! I've had races cost less than that! Ah well, whattayagonnado. It is what it is, and it's all part of the experience.

Besides the fun and company, the best part was probably simply sitting out in the sun and heat by the pool. It didn't snow in Vegas. Not once. Though of course we did return to - wait for it - 8 inches of new snow on the ground. Pushing the season total snowfall over here to over 100 inches. Which is more than 2 feet higher than the old record, set in 1970-something. That's more than 8 feet of snow. That's hysterical. But, even with the new snow last weekend, it's all still on the melt. Looks like an archeological dig over here. The snow on my yard - which was truly shoulder high at some points this winter where the plows had pushed it up on the curb (so it was like running through a weird tunnel or something) is about half-way melted down or so, and suddenly I can see the branches and twigs from when I tossed my Christmas tree to the curb in January. Also, it seems we left the lid to one of our garbage cans on the lawn by the curb back in November, because its edges are beginning to reveal themselves under the tons of melting snow. Weird.

Meanwhile, as the scale reveals, this extended offseason has NOT been good to me. Cripes. I've got work to do over here, fo' sho'. But, I'm back into some consistency, albeit slow and steady - I won't even look at pacing until probably the end of April, concentrating just on heart rate, on basic fitness, on generally getting back in shape until then. 10 miles on Saturday were a little tough on my legs, but felt great. Rested on Sunday (and ate too much...sigh...), but 5 miles yesterday felt good. Today we're allegedly going to hit 50 degrees and if all goes well in my universe my old friend 'Blue may just get saddled up. I certainly hope so.

In the meantime, I'll keep you posted. Oh - I'm working on something ridiculous that goes back to the 3-faces logo conversation we were having, so stay tuned for that (not sure when that'll be rolling), and for your amusement this day, I'd like to introduce this season's new co-captain of the Team...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

7 Things

So Teach tagged me, and I guess I'm supposed to share 7 things about me. Apparently with no theme or agenda, just 7 things. Which is kind of a strange tag to get in the blogosphere, since...y'know...all we do here is talk about ourselves. But, I feel like a cool kid whenever I get tagged, so here you go.

1. Sesame Street is hilarious. I watch it once or twice a week with Dakota when I'm having breakfast. She's oblivious, and I'm laughing out loud. Also, it's cool that something that was there when I was a kid is there when she's a kid. So I can say to her how Cookie Monster and Ernie were my favorites. How come Kermit's never on Sesame Street?

2. I like scary movies and scary books. Not gory, or startling - the kind of horror movie that just has the slasher crash through the window and make you jump out of your seat - those are stupid. But genuinely frightening stories. I think it takes a profound imagination to scare other people. The list is short of entertainment that really frightened me. Salem's Lot by Stephen King was frightening. Blair Witch Project. The Ring was when it first came out - before every other movie ripped off its techniques and made them silly.

3. I'm a musician. You maybe didn't know that.

4. I'd written a really long piece about this last fall, but it was the kind of thing that the more I said, the less I was able to say. So I'll just tell you simply and let you ponder the mysteries: My daughter was born on October 18th - the same day that my Grandfather was buried. But also the day that my Dad was born in 1950 - Dakota and her Grandpa Don share the same birthday. If you've been here for any of the long story, you understand the impact my Dad's life and death had on me. My daughter was born 3 weeks and 2 days early - nowhere on the proverbial radar was an October 18th birthday considered. Yet, it was. If you think about that for a second, how totally random and impossibly unlikely something like that is - it hurts your head.

5. That's not the only example. My Dad died on my mother's birthday. My birthday is April 14. My younger sister was born 4 years later, on April 12th. We have all kinds of "born a day before her aunt died" stories in my family. It's a bit surreal, and
makes me feel part of some vast mystery, that the two families from which I'm sourced seem so metaphysically connected.

6. I have a twin brother. No, we don't look a like (well, actually as we grow older we seem to...), and no, we're hardly anything alike. At least, not with the superficial stuff - he's not athletic; I'm not as charismatic. Probably, though, you'd be pretty aware that we were brothers if you spent time with us in the same room.

7. Probably I'd like to write a novel someday. But I A: have no idea what I'd write about. All my ideas seem stupid. 2: It may have to wait until I'm 60 and retired. I just can't imagine having time for it. There are apparently 50 million things "I'd like to do", and since I'm generally in process to some degree of doing them, I'll have to wait. And D, when I read something like what my friend is writing, it humbles me into realizing that some people are really born to do this, and do it well, and that I'd probably just hack my way through the rules and techniques, but without the required soul to make it authentic. Alas. Doesn't mean I won't try someday. :)

So speaking of which, Erin, you're it. Pharmie, you're it. Brazo, you're it. Steve, you would be it, but is there really anything about you we don't know?

That's all from me until I'm back from Vegas baby. See you next week!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


When is a 3 mile run not a 3 mile run?

When it's the first meaningful, intentional run in more than 6 weeks. When it's cracked 40 degrees and these mountains of snow are on the melt, at long long last. When the icy, rutted sidewalks are now just wet, with the occasional slush, so that you arrive home with legs gloriously spattered with mud and your dog requiring a hose-down before entering the house. When it feels (he was surprised to realize) like spring in high school track season. Speaking of which, when you pass the high school track team coming the opposite way. When you meet other runners, and toss a casual wave that says so much more - "we survived, eh?"

We may get more snow, and it'll likely get cold again. But I officially declare the end of winter. Huzzah!

In other news, the White Witch is dead, and Aslan has returned to Narnia.

I have been woefully absent here, but it was all with good purpose. I told you that the endless winter was messing with my mojo - but the peak of this cold and blustery misery coincided with a juggernaut work project that I'm wrapping up this week. I made the executive decision not to fight it - I swam a few times, I ran a few times, but mostly with a spirit of just waiting it out. I concentrated on work, on my family, and these other things. Kind of a proverbial rainy day, only it was snowy, and it lasted for a long damn time. But the sun is coming out at last, and the season feels upon us.

Still, the strange winter means I'm in the least-good-shape (that was a horribly worded phrase, sheesh) I think I've ever been in spring, and will have to spend probably until the end of April just in solid base training. I have to have a look at my tentative race schedule to see what that might mean - but s'okay. That's all just part of it. Working it all in.

Anyway, my girl Teach tagged, me, so I'll get to that in my next post. I'm headed to fabulous Las Vegas next week to vacation with friends, which I'm really looking forward to. It'll be time to go get some new Kayono's soon, and before you know it, me and 'Blue will be hitting the dusty trail once again. It feels good to be back.