Thursday, June 26, 2008

Put one of those fingers on each hand up...

So about a month or so ago, this 5 mile stretch to and from my regular riding loop was repaved in delicious new black asphalt. Butter. Beautiful. And as there were more than a few cracks and potholes the first time, it was like a whole new world. It meant on my weekly time 20 mile time trials, and my weekly 56 miler, I had a 10 mile stretch of sweetness to look forward to, especially the last 5 miles being smooth as silk. And since that stretch is kind of rolling, it made for pleasant climbs and screaming descents. All was right in my corner of Dane county.

Today I headed out on my time trial, with pretty much exactly an hour window with which to ride before other commitments came into my evening, and as I turn the corner to embark on the blacktop stretch...what the hell is this? The sonzabitchez went and slathered the whole damn thing with pea gravel. Well, I think, maybe it's just to the bottom of this hill. So, I ride my brakes down the hill to the stop sign, having to ride out into the lane where tire ruts have smoothed the gravel a bit - the shoulder, where I'm supposed to ride, is all mushy rocks.

It continues after the stop sign. Well, maybe it stops after the next, which would be okay because after that it's clear sailing for the next 4 miles. Well it didn't, and long story short, some bastards have ruined my road. It's totally worthless. I was in the small chain ring the whole time, just crawling along because my inch-wide tires are no match for loose gravel. My being relegated to the middle of the road made me the bane of every passing redneck, who passed me with loud honks and unfriendly gestures, each wishing for a Calvin peeing on xt4 sticker on their bumper. With each car that passed I was privy to a smattering of pellets across the bow, then a good minute or two of breathing in dust. It was awesome. At the end of the 5 miles it was time to turn around. I ended up going 12 pointless miles in an hour. Awesome.

I don't get it. RB? Can you explain the mindset of the inner sanctum of transportation officials who clearly do not consider the proficiencies of a bicycle when making these decisions? What's the point of the awesome blacktop if you're just going to puke all over it? So now I'm in a conundrum. I need a new way to get out my loop, because having nearly a fifth of my long ride route shot to hell isn't cool. It's also the corner where I stash my water to refill after the first loop. The whole shebang needs to be rearranged now, and my obsessive compulsiveness has barely enough room for life the way it is. Sigh.

Oh - and don't think it's lost on me that a few days ago I proclaimed myself Leader of the Spandex Cabal. And suddenly, mysteriously, they crap all over my road. All coincidence, I'm sure. Bastards!

Screw you guys, I'm going home.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

This is Why

Because I've been still in the hallways of Monona Terrace, one among thousands, with my wetsuit propped up behind me as a pillow, trying to find a quiet corner of my mind to spend these last sacred seconds. We are thousands, but we are a murmur. A low thrumming, like a heartbeat. We are quiet, like in church. And the metaphor should not be lost.

Once, about 20 miles into a ride, the sky ruptured and fell down. The kind of rain where, if I were driving, I'd have pulled over under an overpass and waited it out because the wipers would have been useless. Instead I made it another mile to some woods, pulled over and found what shelter I could. The ground looked like it was exploding - a weird illusion from the hard droplets colliding with asphalt. I never once considered what the hell am I doing out here? because I was laughing too hard.

In 2005 I just barely outran a snowstorm in March, and when I got home after 12 miles I had to crawl up the stairs. I got into the shower with my running clothes still on, and turned up the heat, and tried to thaw out.

Because you wind your way around 3 levels of the Terrace, and seemingly endless checkpoints, but then you come onto the last room, where you sit down with some anonymous volunteer who wraps a wristband around you. And then, just then, it is real. It's no longer talk. And the endless lonely miles at sunset, the beer you didn't drink, the sleep you needed but couldn't get, the countless local races that each time taught something else about who you might be - they suddenly came down to a slice of plastic around your wrist. And there is power in it. Like everything you ever wanted is captured inside it somehow. So you hug the volunteer lady, because your winding road has led you finally to her, and she's your last outpost.

Because the first time I swam 25 yards I thought probably that would be about it. Until I could swim 50. Then 100.

Last weekend I got on my bike at 4:45am. Clear dawn was rising on the left side of my road, and the end of a sinister thunderstorm was looming on the right side of the road. Between them, inviting me to ride into it, was a rainbow. I thought, who else sees this now? People who choose to ride a bicycle at 4:45am, they've lost a bit of their minds. But it's only when you lose your mind that you see some of the best the world is.

Those who hear not the music think the dancer mad.

Quick: when was the last time you high-fived your Grandpa? Your mother? Your wife? Not a hug, not an encouraging squeeze. A high-five. Containing a language all its own.

When bobbing around the water, waiting for the world to turn, with the music blaring and the crowds gathering and the mass of swimcaps all around - we are each of us a tiny universe. With a story, a purpose. We each of us have somebody up there who's breath won't return until they see us safely out of the water. We each answer to something other than ourselves in answering why we are here. It is never a simple thing. And when you toe that line, in the instant before you step into the water to Take Your Mark, you are their ambassador. You represent everybody who believed, or doubted. Who showed up because of, or in spite of. You cross for everybody who hasn't crossed yet, who will one day, and who never would. And you can either pull that weight, or let it pull you.

Because if you know not suffering, or anger, or defeat; if you've never felt like you are more than who you are; if you've never asked yourself what you are truly made of - what absolutes live inside you, and resolved to discover what...well then, of course you'd never be interested in the first place. It is a thing we all have in common out there - a determination, a requirement, to be Who We Are Instead.

Yes, it is. It is that big of a deal. It is that hard. It really is. That's sort of the point.

The rest are just details. The rest figures itself out. There's never a "good time". It's never going to ideally suit your universe. You'll never think to yourself, "Geez, you know what I'm in the mood for? Madness." It will always be hard, you will always have to work to find the balance, it will never make sense to everybody, often not even yourself. And that, too, is part of the journey, and part of the forging. If you have to talk yourself into it, then wait until your time comes. Until you're drawn in. Until the current takes you. But if you're just making excuses...well then. Life is short. Get in already.

Monday, June 23, 2008

(at least I'm moving) Forward

Well, I had a weekend of festivities planned to gauge all things post-cold; 56 miles on the bike followed by a 5 mile run, then a 10 mile run scheduled for Sunday. My week of training last week basically sucked, as you know, so I was curious what the weekend would bring.

Mostly, things went okay. Or if they didn't go okay, it wasn't because of the cold I think I'm officially over, so - shout out to everybody who was right, that the fitness was there and to just be patient. But in other news, I'm still yet to put it all together.

I started out strong Saturday morning, I think a little over-exuberant with returning to the long ride after a few weeks doing races, etc., and maybe with a bit of a chip on my shoulder about proving something to myself after such a craptacular week of training. I felt great that first hour...but I felt like I was racing. Several times I audibly told myself to settle down - I was attacking hills, pushing on straightaways, even getting out of my saddle to sprint ahead after stop signs or slowing to turn. My first third of the 56 mile total I averaged just under 20mph - and on my training course (actually Brazo's, I'm just borrowing it for the next couple years) that's just not sustainable. I settled in better on my second third, averaging 19.1 mph, but almost immediately at mile 40 I could feel the wall. I'd worked too hard, and was starting to pay for it.

I have super obvious "tells" for when things are going south. On the bike, I make a lot of noise. Groaning, grunting, gasping, noisy exhales. When these things start happening, they're mostly me complaining. And when I'm complaining, I've lost my mojo. So that last hour, I spent mostly being noisy. My speed slowed to an 18.1 average, and I finished my 56 mile ride in 2:57:32. On the surface that's a nice time, something to be excited about, but I'd exhausted my bank account doing it. Super stupid. You'd think I haven't made this exact same mistake 1200 times before. Just call me Sisyphus.

So, working so hard to go fast put my average heart rate at 137bpm, and the last hour I was having nutritional issues as well because of it. This is just so vintage me, spiraling just into the moment like that. When I got off my bike, I was so thrilled to just be off the thing. I sat on my front step "transition" and drank a cold water for 10 minutes and tried to justify why I didn't really have to run 5 miles now if I don't want to.

But I did, and it sucked, and I hobbled along at a 9:41/mile pace, walking for a quarter mile stretch halfway-in. Same thing on the run - all my "going south" tells were in play. My hips get loose, and my shoulders falter. I complain in my head about how hot it is. I focus only on the fountain a mile down the road so I can dunk my hat into it. All so typically me. I spiral into the moment.

So - the good news, and it is really, really good news - is that the cold has no lasting effects for the training, which I'm ecstatic about. The bad news is, I didn't have a great Saturday workout, because I was stupid. The good news is, it's a fixable stupid.

Slow down kid. That's all. Just settle down. Consider a few weeks ago, I rode my 56 miles "easy" in 3:11:04 with a low heart rage of 127 - then happily trotted off my bike and settled into a comfortable 6 mile run at 8:28/mi.

It ain't rocket science. Everything's about the bike with me. How the bike goes is how the run will go. Period. If I insist on going as fast as I can, then I can go home from Racine super proud of my sub 3:00 hour bike and just not tell anybody about my 3 hour half mary that followed. Or I can re-friggin-lax and have a solid run that will more than make up for any time I might give away for slowing down on the bike.

Sunday, then, was a 10 mile run, and it went almost according to schedule. 10 miles in 8:22/mi, mostly comfortable, mostly drama free. The only thing was at mile 9, when the heat just suddenly became oppressive for me, and I slowed to around a 9:00/mile. We've had such a weird summer that this is really the first time the heat came into play - and I have suspicions that Racine is going to be hot. I'm not good in heat, and have to take really proactive measures to cope with it. One of my strategies, which I will happily deploy in Racine if needed, is to walk as a matter of strategy - not as survival - every 3 or 4 miles, for .25 mile or so - just to take in extra electrolytes, get short rest, rehydrate and cool off. Anyway, it was okay with me for the heat to come into play and slow me down, and not have it be because of my stupid cold.

So where we are, and where we go: Actually, I'm feeling pretty good about things. It's okay with me to have blown up on the bike this weekend, because it was actually a really strong workout, and gave me definitive lines around some boundaries for me. You obviously want this stuff to happen in rehearsal, and not during the show, and if I can walk away and say, "okay, that sucked, and here's why", then there can only be a net gain from the experience. I was extremely relieved to find the cold had no significant effects and that my fitness was still there - I was really working myself into a lather about that. And finally the heat - I hope to have a few more hot days to train in, come what may, just to acclimate to some strategies. We'll see.

One thing I simply must address: HEED. Seriously, what in the hell with this stuff. This is what's on-course at Racine, so I started training with it this weekend. I've encountered it before in races, never loving it much. I bought the "unflavored" kind, which is actually quite flavored - like the inside of a goat's rectum. I actually dreaded having to sip it on my bike - like, mentally, I'd think, "ah crap, 2 more minutes until I have to drink this stuff", and then I'd try and do it quickly, without tasting it. Is it just me? Or is this stuff really, really horrible? And - am I reading the label wrong, or does one 24 oz. serving have about a third the sodium of Gatorade? So what the hell? I have to double up on electrolyte tablets to compensate for what my energy drink is missing? I'm seriously looking for some guidance on this stuff, because man. I find it just totally asstacular.

So - next weekend. This is it, full-on dress rehearsal. I'm not sure yet if my long ride will be with the WIBA crew (I know my long run will be), or if I'll do better for myself to train on this route I've been consistent on all season, to really have some accurate measures in place. I'll see how I feel during the week - I'm leaning right now towards a solo ride, I think. No more experimenting, no more stupid-ass mistake making, no more what-iffing. Saturday the goal is to put together a race-ready 56 mile ride and 7 mile run. Sunday is 13 miles, sub 8:30/pace. Should be interesting.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Finish Strong

I'm normally opposed to group activities in the finish chute...particularly at marathon or Iron distance races - but c'mon. It was Father's Day!

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Some numbers for you:

May 8 - 6 mile run - 8:12/mi (pace) - 149bpm (heart rate)

May 18 - 6 mile run - 8:11/mi - 144bpm

May 31 - 6 mile run (after a 56 mile bike) - 8:28/mi - 148bpm

In the intervening weeks, I had 2 Olympic distance races, dealt (to a far lesser extent than so many others in this state) with insane storms and weather that interrupted training for a week, then got a cold from hell.

June 19 - 6 mile run - 8:08/mil - 159bpm

The heart rate tells the story - my rate of perceived effort was high tonight. I was having to push, instead of just stay comfortable. I wasn't enjoying it because I was having to work noticeably hard. I was having to chase miles, instead of letting them come. My splits were awful - sub 8:00/mi on the first 3 miles, 8:20 something on the last 3. Totally inconsistent.

So - what gives? I know the cold is a factor - this is crystal clear. My breathing is labored, and it's sucked endurance out of me - I'm out of breath quickly, and just don't have it to carry me effortlessly over the miles like I did. But, the worst of it is over - you can still hear it in my voice, but it's mostly limited to my sinuses now, it no longer aggravates my day to day, and on a positive note, this is the first workout in 2 weeks where I'm seriously not doubled over hacking for an hour afterwards. I suspect I'm also paying for the inconsistency forced onto my training - week before last were the storms (I should note "the storms" didn't mean "it was raining outside" - it was insane, wrath-of-God stuff; see also the tornado that went through my backyard), then last week was this forsaken cold. So I get that - I understand the variables. But is this it, then? Do I have time to get these numbers back up before Racine - which really means 2-3 serious weeks of training before taper, or will I have to revise my expectations because I've lost something? What's realistic now?

I'm trying not to get frustrated, to stay patient and not force anything, and I know the next few weeks will reveal more. But dammit. I've done everything right this year, and until lately I've had just a great season of training. So pissed I got this cold. Dammit.

Commence pep talk, if anybody's got any. I got nothin' over here.

For your amusement...

This article is of limited value on the amusement scale - some woman ran a stop sign on her bike and got ticketed for it (I personally think getting ticketed on my bike would make for a great blog post, and here's hoping if it ever happens that the officer is kind enough to snap a photo with me), then went all Erin Brokovich trying to get out of it. Anyway, what's hilarious to me in a head-shaking, seriously-who-are-you-people, don't-we-have-other-shit-to-worry-about kind of way is the lengthy discussion by commenters after the article, all flaming each other on the evils of riding a bicycle on the road. Not saying road safety isn't important and all, but - must we be so zealous? My favorite is the guy who calls us the "spandex cabal" - that's freaking awesome and I'm using it from now on. In fact I wish to be its leader. Starting now, I'm starting a rogue band of muckracking cyclists called The Spandex Cabal. It'll be awesome. We'll do things like wear spandex to work, or bike helmets to mow the lawn, or our cycling shoes to church, then sneer at everybody with attitude when they wonder what the hell we're doing. When on the road we'll get cycling jerseys with printing on the back - wait, better yet, cycling shorts with printing on the ass - with a design of Calvin peeing on stuff, like big stupid trucks do, and it'll be of Calvin wearing a cycling helmet, peeing on cars. Or we'll have jerseys that say something like, "Bad Ass Boys Ride Bad Ass Bikes." (Incidentally, just yesterday on my ride I saw a car with "Bad Ass Girls Ride Bad Ass Boys" emblazoned on the back. Claaaassssssy. Why is it that you find all these types of bumper stickers on 1994 Chevy Luminas, instead of truly on anything remotely bad-ass? And who the hell buys this stuff for real? Like, who comes across this in the Calvin Peeing On Stuff/Bad Ass shop and says - dude, this is the bomb-diggity, this will look so dope on my Lumina, I simply have to have this-plus, I totally ride bad ass boys, and can't wait to tell the world - ) This'll be awesome, who's in?

Just in case...

...I sounded like some kind of agorophobic super-important ultra serious Olympian back there where I mentioned socializing at WIBA getting in the way of training, I think I meant to say that I'll prefer the socializing, and hope I have the fortitude to also be attentive to the fact that I'll need some serious training, too. That is all, carry on.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Well, it's official - turns out 2 weeks of nothing but monsoon rains and a nagging, relentless cold messes with your fitness. Yesterday I clocked my first speed workout in 2 weeks, and I struggled through the last 2 miles at a 7:15/mile pace. 4 miles total, with the first mile being speedplay, the second mile easy, then the 2 miler. Frustrating. Disheartening. I was at a perfect peak for the half marathon in May - and somehow I only have 2, maybe 3 weeks to continue developing fitness before taper starts for the Half Ironman in Racine. I'm still not perfectly healthy - maybe at 90% or so today - and still with a nasty cough that's exacerbated by exercise that'll likely last for weeks. The whole thing is pissing me off.

The plan is to get back to basics for the next few weeks - each week will give me quality speed run session and a mid-mileage session between 6-8 miles at 10k pace, then a long run on the weekend. This weekend is 10 miles. I'll likely go with comfort and RPE as my metrics for that run instead of obsessing about my time - I need to get a realistic sense for where these obstacles have left my running times.

Same with the bike - 20 miles fast tonight, then maybe a hill workout later this week, otherwise 56 miles on Saturday with a 4-6 mile brick run to follow. Again, this weekend at least will be less about goal setting and more about just seeing what's what.

In a perfect world, I have this weekend and next weekend at WIBA to conclude my training - that means WIBA will be a high-mileage weekend...and I wonder if the socializing will get in the way of the serious training that I need that weekend (so, any WIBA vets out there with two cents to share, I'm listening!) If after WIBA it's just not quite there, then I'll push my last long weekend into the 4th of July weekend - obviously not ideal - and settle for a 2 week taper (when I'd prefer 3).

I'm developing specific goals for Racine that I'll share here soon. Mostly, trying to not be obsessive about things I can't control: I can't help that I got a cold, can't help that it's slowed me down, so no point thinking about it. It is what it is, and whatever it's done to my fitness is what I'm dealt with. I'll have to work around and within that. That's just how it is.

Not sure if I'll get another post out before Friday, so wanted to give a heartfelt shout out to Pharmie and Steve, who are racing Grandma's this weekend. Steve's targeting a BQ time, and I believe he'll do it. Good luck you guys - have a great race!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Race Report: Wisconsin Triterium

Well I woke up to a solid downpour, and a little tired from not having as much sleep as I'd like. I was feeling really as well as I'd felt all week - which was great...though it's not saying a lot. I just can't shake this thing - even this morning I'm maybe 75%. That's probably about how I felt yesterday. I wasn't obsessive about it, though - once I made the decision on Saturday to race, then the question marks were put out of my head about how I was feeling. Just get out there and get it done.

As I pulled into Verona, the rain stopped and the skies cleared, ready for a great day of racing. Transition was a little mucky, and the lake - which is really a small pond, as it's in a quarry - was pretty high-water; like every other body of water in Wisconsin it was flooded - the beach is much shorter than it usually is, beachside playground equipment touching the water, and submerged piers - the lifeguards were standing in knee-high water on piers that usually clear the water by several feet. Crazy.

It was tough to really have a strategy for this race, because I'd felt so crappy all week. I would have liked to execute something specific to working towards Racine, but instead it became a more independent purpose to just learn to race when I'm not at my best. Just, see what's what out there. My only intentional strategy on the day was to hold off on the bike, and try to keep fresher legs for the run. Otherwise, just get out there and enjoy the day.

The race is called "Triterium" for a reason - the swim is 3 loops of 500 yards around the quarry, and at the end of each lap you actually get out, run up onto the beach and around a tree, then jump back into the water. That's hysterical and original to me, and I get a kick out of it. The bike is out, then 2 loops around a segment, then back. The run is 3 2-mile loops around the park where the quarry is. I joined my wave in the water for the start of the swim - no beach start here, and committed for the first 500 to just take it easy and see where my fitness is after the week I'd had.

The swim was mostly uneventful. I felt pretty good - better than I expected, all things considered, and even had a few solid stretches where I practiced drafting off of other swimmers. I had the occasional zig-zag, which is typical, but all in all I got out of the water feeling better than I would have expected.

My time was a little slow - 33:59, which is quite a bit slower than the 32:47 that I posted at this race in 2005. I'll take it though - with my lack of pool time and being sick, I have no complaints.

The run to T1 is a motha, with a run over several hundred yards up the beach to the transition area, then running through a chute all the way around transition, and finally running 3/4 the way through transition to get to my bike rack. Once finally to my bike it was quick work, and with my feet in my bike shoes I trotted my bike out through the squishy muck to mount up, out of T1 in 2:27.

Right away I tried to find 90rpm and then just relax. I tried really hard not to race anybody, which was hard, and I'd consistently find myself pushing before realizing that I needed to pull back. It took some discipline to let others go, to not attack on a hill, to not see if I could eek a little more power out. But, it was the right strategy to see if I could get fresher legs off the bike.

The bike course is very, very challenging and makes for a great training ride. It's a mix of tough rollers, difficult climbs, and a few heartbreakers. Usually when climbing I take solace that "what comes up must come down", but it seems the descents are less frequent on this ride somehow - there are only a few that stand out, and maybe a handful of miles where it's flat enough to get into a rhythm. Otherwise, we're climbing. My legs felt good all day, though, and I stuck pretty well to my plan to take it easy. I was off the bike in 1:27:24 for a 17.5mph average - an improvement over the 1:31:21 I rode in '05.

Out of T2 in 52 seconds, and on to the first lap of the run. The run course is challenging like the rest of this race - the first mile or so of the loop is various grades of uphill, with a major hill about .3 miles into the loop - the kind that you just put your head down and not pay attention to how long it's taking to get to the top. I focused on getting comfortable with my legs for the first lap, keeping my form on point and having a crisp turnover.

I rounded the first lap feeling pretty good, but hit the big hill on the second lap and my quads cramped up horribly, making me walk, then stop and stretch each leg out. Awful. I could hardly bend my legs at the top of the hill, but I got some relief coming down the big hill and committed to more electrolytes the rest of the way, stopping to drink at each aid station. I had a fun Team out there today, with my aunt & uncle, plus Grandpa and the Captains, Amy & Dakota.

Note the awesome Team shirt D is wearing! Sweet!

Baby, I need more cowbell!

I didn't really start to feel the effects of being sick until the last lap on the run, when maybe the sun and the hills started getting to me a bit - I just kind of had that "out of breath at the top of the stairs" tired-from-being-sick sensation for the whole last lap. I finished the run in 58:59, for a 9:31/mile pace. Improved over the 1:03:27/10:14 pace of '05. Finished in 3:03:40, a personal record on this course by over 6 minutes. 118/196.

Some general observations:

-- Not really concerned about my times, etc. for this one - I didn't have it in me to really "see what I could do", so I was just glad I got out there, stayed mostly consistent, and enjoyed myself with no major drama. Still, I think I don't really know how to race this distance. I don't have nearly the science for it down as I do for, say, Half or full Iron. It wasn't until last summer that I started to feel like I really knew how to race a Sprint triathlon. I don't think my nutrition is as solid as it could be on the bike to leave me strongest on the run, for instance. Anyway, maybe after Ironman next year I'll focus on really trying to understand how to race this distance, and make it a priority.

-- I'm a little concerned about my run coming off the bike. I know I was sick, etc., but don't want that to be an excuse - I want to try and run at a 9:00 half marathon pace at Racine, and I've trained with those numbers, so I know I can do it. With that in mind, I would have hoped for something faster yesterday. Scratching my head there a little bit. I wonder, actually, if I haven't lost a little bit of run fitness after the half marathon a month ago. My training has been a shade scattered since then, with back-to-back races, storms, and illness.

-- Where we go from here: It's all about Racine. Long mileage on the bike, focused long runs, with consistent speed/strength work during the week. My swim will also start getting some attention - the pool hours change, now that the school year is ending, and Amy is taking a new job this fall, leaving her all of July and August open - I should get some consistent water time in from here to Racine, which is much needed. It's getting down to it already, though - WIBA is in a couple of weeks, and will serve as my last weekend of long mileage - I'll start to taper afterwards for the July 20th race.

-- All of that said, though - I may need to continue to take the next few days off until I can really shake this damned cold. Sigh. We'll see.

-- There were pro photographers on the course yesterday, and I think at least some of those photos will be worth showing, so I'll have another post up for them once they come in.

-- Apropos of nothing - seriously, how fantastic was Tiger Woods this weekend?

-- Shout out to RobbyB, who took home some hardware last week at Capitol View, coming in first in his Age Group. Well done, buddy!

-- More to come as I buckle down my thought processes on Racine and my preparation for it. Stay tuned.

-- Happy Father's Day, everybody!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

For Love of the Game

Grandpa said, "It's like you with your racing, I suppose - I remember mornings we'd get up at 5am and wouldn't stop playing until one in the morning."

He was a pitcher. Played semipro. Mostly he just couldn't get enough of baseball, and in a different era - one without the Depression, or World War II or Korea - who knows what baseball might've done for him, I think he was probably that good. That's my curiosity, not his - he's not a "might have been" kind of person. He just loved to play.

He worked for Hormel for 40 years, eventually a supervisor. Hard work. Slaughterhouse work. The stuff you think about not wanting to think about when you hear the words "slaughterhouse work".

"We had a team there at the Plant," he said, "and I wasn't supposed to play with those guys because I had other things to do, but one day they got a game going and needed a third baseman, so I stepped in. Well after our pitcher walked I don't know how many guys, they said hell Doyle, get up there already, so I went to pitch the ball. The catcher...God he was a big sonofabitch." And he laughed then, like he does when his eyes water for the quality of the laughter.

"Anyway," he continued, "I said to him What signs do you want to use? And he just looks at me and says Hell, I don't know nothin' about any signs - you throw it and I'll catch it!" He laughed again, so that we laughed with him. Because it was funny, and because his laughter makes you want to laugh with him. Then, breathless for laughing, "And I'll be goddamned if we didn't strike out 6 or 7 guys in a row!" The punchline is too much, and the three of us fall into hysterics.

I'll bet even now he can feel the threads beneath his fingertips.

Number of tickets just behind first base at Miller Park for Twins vs. Brewers : 3
Miles driven by my brother to come to the game: 700
Hours he spent in the car between Minneapolis and Madison, for the flooded out interstate and surrounding roads: 9
Hours spent on the detour coming home between Milwaukee and Madison: 2

Taking your Dad's Dad to the game for his 85th birthday: Absolutely Priceless.

I don't feel too great still, but I'm racing tomorrow. It's been decided just while I was writing this. Because youth, like life, is short, and I want to look back and feel the threads.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Race Week: Wisconsin Triterium Triathlon

I did this race in 2005, and just looked over my race report at First words I write, in the "notes" section, is "Holy shit hard race." Sweet!

First off, nobody will be doing any racing if I can't kick this cold. I have this nasty throat/head thing - no sinus congestion, but my throat is really sore and my ears hurt. It's not inducing the kind of lightheaded/nausea/weakness that the flu brought on to me earlier this spring, but it's still putting a damper on everything. Combined with the storms I already talked about, I've had exactly zero mileage in this week since last week's race. But if we're being totally honest - I'd have to feel seriously miserable - about how I do today - to not show up and race. So I'm hoping 3 days will put me on the mend. We'll see.

That said, let's assume I am racing. The good thing about having raced this once is that I have some metrics to compare to - I finished in 3:10:07. So, obviously, that's the time to beat - but I would really like to come in under 3 hours for once. The bike course shares a few bits of the Ironman course just outside Verona, and I remember it being really, really hilly - a few heartbreaking climbs, in fact, that at least do equal battle with anything the Ironman course has to offer (if not a shade worse!). I'll be forgoing the astronaut hat for the well ventilated regular helmet for this race, me thinks.

Something I'm going to really focus on is settling down on the bike, and really monitoring my rate of perceived effort. I think I felt good last week, but my RPE might have been a bit adrenalized. I'd really love to execute better - I've rode 56 miles at 18-19mph in training and followed it up with 6 miles at 8:30/mile, all comfortably - no reason I can't do that or better at the shorter Olympic distance. Hard as the trail running was last week, I didn't leave myself any margin off the bike. I didn't race smart. (In my defense, seriously race directors, just post on the website "this is a trail run" and I'll be better informed. In race directors' defense, apparently the map for last week's run course had two "scenic lookouts" on it. Perhaps if I paid more attention, I could deduce that "scenic lookouts" don't generally imply "fast and flat run". UPDATE: Robert commented below that, indeed, they DO provide every bit of detail on what to expect from the trail run. I'm just a moron and didn't pay attention. Carry on race directors, you know I love you...) But it might mean sacrificing some bike time, which I need to allow myself to do. I actually think there's a pointless pride/competitor thing involved here, where even despite my best intelligence about it, I really want to crank out a fast bike time, and I think I'm doing it at the expense of legs for the run. So far, in every single race ever, in the history of me racing anything over sprint distance, even when I think I'm being sensible on the bike - I fade on the run. I think because I'm working too hard on the bike, even if I feel like I'm being mindful of not. I don't know if this is a great race to change that philosophy - the hills are a mutha and might leave me shredded no matter what I do - but no time like the present. I don't want to roll into Racine without having executed a race day bike to run plan to the best of my ability, or at least tried - and this is, as of now, my last race before Racine.

One second - Dakota's here and she wants to type...

ewweeeeeea d dzzszssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssxz,

Okay, that was fun. Anyway, one way to remedy this bike burnout would be, of course, a power meter, giving me all the data right in front of me that I want to let me know that yes, even though I might feel good, I'm churning out way too many watts. But you know what? Before the season, that was kind of high priority - another gadget to give me hard, fast, scientific data to go off of. And I think, like any of us, I would benefit from it, and it might still be in my future. But I've had so much fun this year exploring and defining my perceived effort, and figuring out how to train and race according to it, that I'm really not as interested in the gadget providing the information for me right now (that I even typed those last words could be fever-induced delirium, as I can't imagine I've ever said them before...). I know what the science will tell me, but I'm kind of enjoying figuring it out for myself - even the two 56-mile blowups I've had this year haven't left me frustrated, but feeling better educated. So that I was excited to try something new the next time. So, corny as this sounds, I'm not viewing the situation as a problem, but as an opportunity - I know I need to finesse my way around it, take a few chances, try some different things. I know race day adrenaline is influencing my bike performance more than I'd like it to, or maybe even think it is. And I know I need to let go of some personal issues about how fast or strong I ride the bike in order to preserve a better run performance. This is all part of it for me. All part of the game. What I enjoy.

So anyway, that's the plan. The swim - who knows. In '05 I swam it in something around 32 minutes, and that seems about right. If I ride the bike right, and avoid blowing up on the hills, then I hope to just have a consistent and comfortable run. No dreadful shuffling, no merely surviving, and for the love of God no walking. That's the plan.

But first, kick this cold.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Race Report: Capitol View Triathlon

Saturday was an all-around strange day, and the triathlon seemed tailer made for difficulty. It was a fun day, but a hard day.

There was an increasingly significant South wind between 15-20mph that, sunny and warm (and humid!) though the day was, was churning the lake with huge swells. Not white caps, not choppiness, and really it wasn't all that perceivable until you were out in it. So with the shimmering lake as the backdrop, I went about the ritual of transition preparation with the rest of the athletes. I caught up with some of my friends - RobbyB was doing the Sprint, and Erin and I shared a transition rack, so Chief of Stuff was there too. My buddy Thomps was out there somewhere (I'd see him later on the run), and Simply Stu was the finish line announcer for the day. I went over to shake his hand and say hello - here's the thing about Stu. I've met him several times, but always he has ten thousand other things going on. So I think I'm one of those people who he knows he knows, or at least recognizes, but can't really place. I'm pretty sure he doesn't know my name. So I am to him like my next door neighbor is to me - we can have entire conversations, but as soon as I'm out of earshot I say to Amy, "Is he Mark? Steve?" and Amy will say, "I thought he was Jim?" This totally amuses me, and I hope if I spend time with him at WIBA that I can continue the confusion. Maybe I'll ask my friends to call me different names at random.

Anyway, finally suited up I went to get adjusted to the water temp - it was cold, but I expected worse. I bumped into Erin and she and I hung out while waiting for our wave to start - all Olympic athletes, male and female, age 30-39 started in the same wave. Soon enough, we were off.

It was pretty clear right away that the swim would be an adventure - breathing on the right side became an exercise in hydration. I felt like a bobber on the ocean - I could feel my body rolling in huge motion with the waves, and as often as not I'd catch a face full of water when breathing on the right. So, I tried to breathe on the left and sight to the right - as long as I could see other orange swim caps around me, I knew I was okay.

We rounded the first buoy, and turned directly into the waves. Total insanity. You'd roll up and down these waves, and I kept imagining the movie Perfect Storm (no, they weren't anything like that, but hey - that's where the mind goes). You'd cover some distance, only to have the wave you're on crest and push you back a body-length. This was the longest stretch of the race, distance-wise, and it was really difficult. Two steps forward, one step back. I laughed out loud once when I kept sighting the same boat on my left - which was anchored and standing still - for a solid 30 seconds; as though I didn't move at all. But, everybody else was having the same day, and I never got too far detached from other meandering orange swim caps. We finally turned the last buoy (the swim course was a huge triangle), and now - finally - the waves were at our backs, pushing us along. It was a shorter stretch, but it was a bit like having a tailwind, which was nice after all that hard work into the waves.

Except for the conditions, I actually felt pretty good out there - I didn't feel like my lack of consistent water time was really affecting me much at all. My arms were a little sore the next day, but that was some serious work against the waves, so it's understandable. Otherwise, I felt comfortable - all things considered. My time in the water was 37:29, which without context seems really slow (I was thinking anywhere between 30-35 minutes would be likely, and consistent with past performance - and I would have been thrilled with "consistent with past performance" considering how little I've been in the water). Actually, though, with the conditions it put me just into the back-half of the pack - of the 254 Olympic athletes (men and women combined - this is how the results are provided...I don't know my splits relative to just my age group), My place was 183. Not great, but not too bad. Probably just right, all things being equal.

So - into transition, do my thing, and get out. Felt great to get on the bike, as it always does, and I quickly got comfortable and into a rhythm. It was more insanity on the bike course - mostly we dealt with a cross-wind all day, and a serious one - the kind that suddenly makes you a little off-balance with a big gust, or generally leaves you tilted into the wind as you lean against it. The long stretches were with cross-winds, and some shorter stretches had us going into the wind - which sucked - or will a killer tailwind - I was reaching cruising speeds in some places of 35mph or so. Even without the wind, it wasn't an easy course - a few significant climbs and lost of rolling hills. But, it was a great day to be on a bike. As always.

I came into transition in 1:17:44, with about an average mph in the mid 19's. This again seems a little slow, until you consider that was 54th of the 254 athlete - in the top 25% (ish). The whole field slowed down for the tough day.

I had a glance at my watch as I started the run, and my overall time had just reached 2 hours. I had hoped to finally puncture that 3 hour limit that I've never overcome in an Olympic race. I felt good starting the race, and confident that even if I kept 9 minute miles on the run, I'd have plenty of time to reach my goal. Alas, not to be - it was a friggin' trail run.

By trail run I don't mean some kind of XTerra, single track, Stuff-my-sister-in-law-thrives-in kind of trail - I mean ankle-deep grass, cross-country course-ish, think-really-hilly-golf-course, state-park-walking-trail trail run. I suck at trail running. I'm not saying I don't enjoy it - the single track, mountain-man stuff, I do - even if I'm not good at it. The golf-course thick grass kind, yeah, I don't really enjoy that too much. But in any case, I suck at it. I know that soft ground is good for you and all, but basically - if it ain't asphalt, I might as well be walking. The ground feels too spongey to me, like it's sucking up all my energy. The hills on this course were just constant. Climbing is tough, but there's not that payoff on the descents, because the rough terrain makes it impossible to just open up and let fly. All the switchbacks and twisting makes pacing impossible. These are all the things that I suppose make trail running fun on its own - but for me, in context of a triathlon, not so much. The day was getting increasingly warm - as Erin said later, if we weren't being baked in the wide open, we were being steamed when we'd head into the humid woods. I don't mean to bitch about it - it's not like I was ever miserable or hating the day or anything, just not in my element. Which is okay. It provided for a solid workout. It was quite beautiful. I saw Thomps as he was going and I was coming to a turnaround, and he offered a shout of encouragement, which was welcome because I was working hard.

Anyway, I gave the best I had, which were 10:01/minute miles. I finished in 3:01:15 - missed my goal by just over a minute. Good for 107/254 overall, 10 of 19 in my age group. Just a middle-o-the-pack kind of day, and where I placed indicates the kind of overall day it looks like everybody had.

At the finish line I caught up with my buddy Mike and Amy and Dakota - D had been going about 5 hours now without her normal morning nap, so she was losing humor. Was great to celebrate the finish with the Team, and I always enjoy trading the "how was it out there" with Mike.

Favorite Things That May Interest Only Me:

1. Having friends racing, to catch up with before and after in transition, to shout out to on the course. That's all new for me this year. I love it. Changes the whole game for me.

2. Walking near the beach while waiting for the Sprint swimmers to finish their waves, this dude stops me and says, "Hey, do you have a YouTube video?" "Uh, yeah?" "Dude! I totally watched that whole thing this morning to get psyched out for the race!" "Really? Uh, how did you know that was me?" "Just, recognized your face." "Huh. Cool!" His name was Jeff. Hope you had a killer day Jeff. Kind of blew my mind right then.

3. Super tricked out white Corvette in the athlete's parking lot, with killer wheels and performance tires that were shiny with car. IM Lake Placid license plate frame with personalized plates that read ENDURE. Sweet.

4. "So Stu, you're announcing today!" "Yup!" "So Stu, you organized this whole race?" "Uh, no, just announcing." "So let me get this straight - you're announcing, and you organized the whole race, and you're doing the Sprint and Olympic courses?" "No. Just announcing." Not only is Stu not really sure who I am, he totally does not get my humor. Hilarious.

5. My man RobbyB was first out of the water. This dude is a JEDI. Big ups, RobbyB, way to go dude -

Later That Same Day...

Right, so with all this juicy humid air, severe weather was a no-brainer of later that afternoon. Who knew, though, that a tornado would blow through my backyard!!!! What the hell! Seems at this point the weather experts can't agree whether it was a tornado or straight line winds, but I can tell you that the whole house felt like a huge wave just pummeled it as me, Mike, and Dakota went sprinting down to the basement (well, D was with me, not much for sprinting on her own just yet). When we emerged after the storm, I had an uprooted tree in my backyard, massive branches off of big old oaks snapped like twigs, and younger trees in the woods behind my house uprooted or snapped in half. My neighbor is lucky he still has a house - huge, big, timeless oaks fell right across his back yard, and a huge branch ("branch" is too small a word - think "third of a tree") snapped off of one of my trees, ricocheted off another tree, and landed just a few feet from going through part of his house. The the tornado/wind kept climbing the woods behind our houses - snapping apart more trees as it went - and tearing through the yards of my neighbors behind us, with more massive trees being uprooted. About a mile away, on my Grandpa's street, 2 hours 3 block away from him lost roofs. And a barn just behind his house is nothing but ruins. Total insanity. Thankfully, nobody in town was hurt. Anyway, any more training for the weekend was lost to storm cleanup and chain-sawing. Crazy.

Anyway - another race is up for next weekend, and I have thoughts about it, so I'll have another post coming up soon. Hope everybody else had a happy -and safe! - weekend!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Race Week: Capitol View Triathlon

I was trying to remember the last time I raced an actual Olympic distance triathlon. Turns out it's way back in July of '05, at the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon. I did the same race in '06, but it was so hot that they shortened the course. So - 3 years! Geez, talk about another lifetime ago.

I'm really excited about this race - excited to be doing the Oly distance again, excited to be racing in Madison again, excited that Amy and D will be Team Captains, and I have friends and family coming to be part of it, as well as racing in it. It's supposed to be a bonafide summer day - highs in the mid-high 80's, lots of sun, lots of humidity.

I've never had a good showing at the Olympic distance, which is maybe another reason I'm looking forward to this race - 3 years ago I was still learning so much, developing so much - I was pretty clueless. I've been known to turn in 11:00/mile pacing on the 6.2 mile run. Ack. I've never finished in under 3 hours. It's always proven to be a really challenging distance for me - or at least, it was, back before Ironman, back when there were spoons.

No major goals for this weekend, except to race fast and hard. This is my first of two Olympic distance races in two weeks, and is part of 3 races in 4 weeks. The point would be to come out of those 4 weeks with some more strength and fitness, as well as to practice some race-day nuances and get into that groove that only race-day can provide. I have no idea what to expect of the swim - 3 years ago I swam anywhere between 31 and 35 minutes for the 1500 yards. I'd say, with the limited pool time I've had, those are fair numbers to expect. I won't chase anything in the water, just get into a comfortable groove and do what I can. My buddy RobbyB, who is a swimming Jedi, seems to consistently work with a strategy for drafting off of other swimmers - a skill I've totally not developed. Still, might give that a shot if I can. At the very least, maybe I'll try and keep the zig-zagging to a minimum.

Transitions should be interesting, with wetsuit removal, etc., and noting the foot-still-in-shoe dismount (not to mention the puke-on-the-bike-fest) that I displayed at the early-season race in May. I hope to push the bike - really get a workout on my legs - and really attack the run. Not sure what "attack" means, but I hope to do more than just survive it, like I've been famous for doing. Maybe get comfortable for a mile, and then turn it on and see what I can manage. Anyway, no big time goals or anything like that, just hope to feel strong out there and, by day's end, feel pretty shredded, knowing I did all I could. We'll see how the heat might play in, and I have no idea what the course is like (this is the inaugural run for this race), so who knows what the day will bring. In any case, I'm hoping to just have a blast, work hard, and enjoy the day.