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September 29, 2006

Downsizing

This is one of those posts where I want to be very descriptive, without actually revealing too much information about people around me. So I’ll try to be careful here.

When I started this blog last October, I was as settled in my career as a guy could get. I had been working in my position for 10 years, with a kinda-sorta-pretty-much positive assurance of eventual promotion to a director position just by hanging around the department and continuing to do what I did.

Professionally, I was on cruise control. I was very well-skilled with my work, and didn’t dedicate any extra time to the job outside of work hours. That’s when Running and Rambling was born.

At the beginning of 2007, a different opportunity presented itself: a position with the same company, in an administrative role, but quite unrelated to the job I was comfortable with. It would require a greater time commitment and on-the-job training to learn new information and the politics of our business. Essentially, I would be starting a new career almost from scratch, and I was uncertain if the bridge to my old profession would be left standing once I crossed it. Needless to say, I was bit nervous about the decision.

However, the long-term potential for career growth and autonomy (and pay – definitely a consideration) was much greater than I had in my comfortable job. It was also a chance to work with people whom I liked and respected, which was a huge factor in my deliberations.

I took the new position, and everything worked out very well: I settled into my new role fairly quickly, and established a satisfactory balance between work, training, and family time. I even had time to maintain my blog.

Very soon my role with the company will develop further, as I’m taking on more responsibilities, and being promoted to an expanded role for the second time in less than 12 months. (Apparently, someone around here thinks I’m doing good work. Which sometimes surprises me, given that my job has nothing to do with running, writing, or watching music videos - things I consider to be my better talents.)

I’m going to be traveling a lot, learning a whole new set of administrative duties, and participating in a two-year fellowship program that will demand some independent study time. I won’t have nearly as much unstructured time as I currently enjoy.

And by now you probably know where this post is heading.

I need to re-prioritize the places where I direct my time and energy, and eliminate some of the things that distract me from that focus. One of the primary casualties of this reshuffling is my blog.

If you’re sad to read this – believe me, I’m sadder to write it. But I don’t need to blog. I need my career to earn money. I need family time to keep me happy. I need training time to keep me sane. And regardless of how much I enjoy it, blogging clearly doesn’t belong in the same category as those other things.

So this will most likely be the last post in this space for the foreseeable future. Possibly forever. It’s not that I’ve run out of things to say. I’ll just be lacking the time and attention I need to voice my observations and musings in the style I’m accustomed to.

Maybe at some point down the road you’ll hear from me again in one capacity or another. Obviously, I love writing, so I'll certainly gravitate back towards it. I'm thinking of trying my hand at different topics or formats, although those ideas are still very primordial. Who knows what the future has in store.

I’m going to keep my Bloglines subscriptions going, and I'll browse some blogs when I'm able to, and maybe even drop an anonymous comment here and there if the spirit moves me (don’t worry, I’ll identify myself). I'm also keeping my contact e-mail address open if anyone feels the need to stay in touch - for example, I'm more than happy to offer free advice for anyone coming out to run the Bug Sur Marathon next April. So you always know where to find me.

But writing this, I have the same kind of feeling as a high school kid saying goodbye to his longtime girlfriend before going off to college. Sure, there’s a chance that we could ultimately have a long-term relationship - but in the back of my mind, I know the odds aren’t great. It's sad in a way, but if we each move on to something more fulfilling, then it's the best decision in the long run.

Don't feel bad for me, because I'm really excited about the things that I'm doing. And if you've learned only one thing from this blog (um ... besides the fact that I'm an idiot), it's that I'll figure out a way to carve out enough family time and training hours to keep myself happy. It will just take some time.

Finally, it would be bad form to bail out of here without thanking everyone who shared this space with me over the past year. To everyone who left a comment, sent me e-mails, or linked to my posts from your own sites: thank you very much. Each contact was greatly appreciated. I’ve found joy and felt appreciation from a number of talented, passionate people in this medium, and I feel a connection of some sort to each one of you who put your stories and lives out there for all of cyberspace to see.

So thanks again for spending the past year with me. It’s been a lot of fun. I wish all of you health and happiness in the days to come.

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September 26, 2006

Hibernation

"Wake me up when September ends."
- Green Day


One of the downsides of reading a lot of blogs is the inevitable feeling that you’re never doing enough to keep up.

Nearly every day you’ll read about one person’s marathon, another person’s ultra, someone’s 80-mile training week, or somebody else’s hike to the top of some mountain.

And when you’re sitting at home (or – who are we kidding? – at work) reading all of these things, it inevitably makes you feel like your own training regimen pales in comparison. If left unchecked, those feelings can often turn to thoughts of inadequacy and hopelessness.

We’re in danger of becoming like an overweight teenage girl watching runway models at a fashion show on TV: after a while, we figure there’s no way we’ll ever be able to measure up to those standards, so we stop trying.

If that’s a familiar feeling for you, then today you’ve come to the right place. Because with this post I’m going to tell you about all that I haven’t done in the past two weeks.

It’s traditional for me to go into a hibernation phase for a few weeks following a big race, and ever since this month’s triathlon, I’ve been just about as lazy as a guy can get. I sleep in nearly every day, eat as much as I want to, and do almost no exercise while recovering from the recent event. Believe me - when it comes to being a slacker, I can compete with the best of them.

So here then is my workout log over the past 16 days:

Swimming: none
Cycling: 1 day, 20 miles
Running: 2 days, 9 total miles.

That’s it. That’s the list.

But I don’t stop at mere sloth. I like to add a heaping dose of gluttony into my post-race apathy phase. I’ve already indicated that I’m a good slacker – but when it comes to eating, I approach Hall of Fame caliber. Think of Elvis Presley circa 1976 (minus all the drugs), and you’ll have a fair estimate of what my life is like in the afterglow of a major race.

It’s no accident that I don’t keep a nutritional sidebar like some bloggers are apt to do. Otherwise I’d have to account for the vast amounts of brownies, muffins, lemon bars, Dove dark chocolate, ice cream, pizza and French fries that I’ve consumed recently. Not to mention, when I’m in feeding frenzy mode, I’m the Kobayashi of chocolate chip cookie-eating.

So if you’ve been feeling inadequate, rest assured that you’ve probably taken care of yourself way better than I have lately. You know how people say that you shouldn’t make yourself feel good by putting others down? Well sometimes, that’s a load of crap. In some cases you simply want to find comfort or reassurance through any available means.

I’m willing to play the fall guy this week, and for the remainder of the month. So go ahead - feel better about yourself on account of my laziness. It’s OK, really. I’m fine with it.

If you’ve run more than twice in the last two weeks, you’ve done more than me. If you’ve been out of bed before 7:00 AM, you’ve had more discipline. Heck, if you’ve declined even one cookie or said “no thanks” to a third helping of chocolate cake, you’ve shown more self-restraint than I have. Congratulations.

But don’t get too accustomed to all this, because by the end of next month, I’ll be back on the horse. And if you want to keep up once I hit training mode again, you darn sure better be running.

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September 22, 2006

Fantasy Ride

Reason #158 why I love the information age: remote blogging.

Thanks to remote Internet access, I was able to keep up with some blogs, drop a few comments here and there, and even managed to publish a new post on Tuesday, all while my family and I spent the week away from home. Admit it, now – you couldn’t really tell the difference, could you?

If my typing seems somewhat giddy - not to mention a little exhausted - today, it’s because we’ve just returned from the so-called Happiest Place on Earth: Disneyland, California, USA.


During our weeklong vacation, our kids had an absolute blast, and completely forgot about school and soccer teams and whatever other concerns they encounter in their daily routines.

On the other hand, my thought process stayed fairly true to form, in that I kept thinking of oddball blog posts I could have written. Most of those musings centered (predictably) on an amusement park theme, and one of them is the topic of today’s post.

Our kids range in age from 2 through 8 years old, which makes for difficult logistical management in deciding which attractions to visit. The older two kids go on the biggest roller-coasters, while the youngest is limited to areas like the carousels or kiddie rides where her older siblings don’t like to dawdle.

But on our final day at the park, we all spent time together in Fantasyland, on the old guard of original Disneyland attractions: Peter Pan’s Flight, and Mr Toad’s Wild Ride.

It was on this second ride that I wondered what in the heck we were doing there.

Here’s a brief synopsis of Mr Toad’s Wild Ride: Psychologically unstable Toad publicly demonstrates erratic behavior while driving himself to a pub. Departing the pub, he causes widespread havoc while crashing through rural fences and haystacks in his attempt to evade police pursuit. He is ultimately captured, tried and convicted, but somehow allowed to go free – at which point he immediately gets behind the wheel again and crashes directly into an oncoming train and dies. He descends into the bowels of hell to be eternally tormented by what can be best described as Satanic-looking rats. And that’s where the ride ends.

(Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Disneyand! Fun for all ages! Be sure to bring the kids!)

Seriously – that’s the story. I’m not making any of this up. I mean … is there any possible way this ride would be green-lighted today? It’s essentially “Mr Toad’s DWI.”

It also got me to thinking … the ride is basically a 2-minute morality play, teaching that if you do the crime, you’ll do the time - in one form or another. So why couldn’t we update it a bit? Tell the same story, but with a more recognizable character that today’s kids can identify with.

While we’re at it, we could also combine some of the “Star Tours” virtual motion technology with the visual and sensory effects of “Soarin’ Over California” to create a 21st century application of our modern-day ethics lesson.

I’m imagining an attraction called “Mr Landis’s Wild Ride”.

The ride would start with a tough Alpine stage in the Tour de France: your bike (the cart you’re sitting in) would spurt and struggle up an enormously steep hill. You feel your legs get heavy with lactic acid as packs of riders pull away from you. You see and hear the densely packed crowds screaming just inches from your bike as you inch closer to the summit. You feel your energy wilting as the temperature rises above 90 degrees. Maybe you’d even smell the wafting body odor of hundreds of French people who camped out for weeks just for the honor of spitting at American cyclists (timed in coordination with a light misting of water from the auditorium ceiling - talk about a memorable sensory effect.)

Then, without warning, you feel a pin-prick sensation in your backside as you’re injected with an unknown substance. You don’t know what the substance is, or how it got there. Maybe it was an accident. All you know is, suddenly you feel a lot better.

For the remainder of the climb you feel your legs becoming lighter and gaining strength while you’re churning up the hill as if connected to a tow rope. Breakaway riders come back to you so fast you have to swerve to avoid them. The heat becomes less of a factor as you use cold water bottles to douse your shoulders and back.

Finally you crest the summit and begin your descent. You feel the wind whipping against your face and the unsteady balance as it blows your bike unpredictably from side to side across the road. Your bike/cart tilts at 45-degree angles as you experience the hairpin curves of the mountain descent. You sense the exhilaration of descending at 60 mph towards the finish of the day’s stage.

Unfortunately, the ride isn’t over at the finish line. You keep pedaling across the French countryside, evading drug patrol officers who want a urine sample. You smash through fields of sunflowers and blockades of media vehicles, and end up crashing the bike onto the set of the Today show, where a pitchfork-wielding Matt Lauer continually yells “You cheated!!”

You’re found guilty and about to have your title revoked, when suddenly … you just disappear. Your teammates and sponsors stop calling, friends and reporters abandon you, and you’re never heard from again.

And that’s where the ride ends. (Hey – it’s no less gloomy than that Mr Toad ride.)

At least, that’s the 2006 version. Five years from now, maybe there will be an alternate ending that concludes amidst an adoring throng on the Champs-Elysees, with the smell of a victors’ bouquet and the sound of your national anthem soaring overhead. We could always edit that Matt Lauer stuff out later.

But alas, it seems like the 2006 version is the one that’s here to stay.

You know, this might not be such a crazy idea. Maybe I should give those Disney people a call.

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September 19, 2006

Mr. 35 - HM - 3 - FT

At last weekend’s triathlon, I was reminded of one aspect of the sport that I keep waiting for running to adopt: writing each competitor’s age on his or her calf.

It seems like a simple detail, but it has an enormous impact on the competitive dynamic of a race.

I wrote in my race report that I was passed twice during the final mile of the run. I also stated that I wasn’t overly concerned, because neither person was in my age group. Given the way I was feeling, I didn’t feel like shifting into battle mode at that point of the race.

What I didn’t say was, I definitely would have fought them if there were age group places at stake. It would have been ugly and nasty and miserable … but I totally would have done it.

And sure, I’m a competitive person, but I’m certainly not alone in this regard. It’s almost like there’s some primal instinct that kicks in when you know you’re getting passed by someone of the same age. Even if there’s not a competition for age group awards, everyone likes to know where they stand among their chronological peers.

It’s natural to compare ourselves to others based merely upon age. But everybody knows that when it comes to race performance, age is usually only half the story.

So why stop with age? Why can’t we write other pertinent information on our legs, so our competitors will better understand exactly who they’re going up against?

During my next race, here’s what I’d like to see on the calves of runners next to me, and what the markings might say about each runner’s ability:

35: Age. For obvious reasons.

M or S: Married or single. Does being married make someone a better runner? On one hand, marriage usually implies a time commitment (at least that’s what I’m told). On the other, it helps to have a support person during strenuous training periods. So this factor is a bit of a wash – maybe we don’t really need it. But what if we could have…

HM or TM: For “Happy Marriage” or “Troubled Marriage.” Wouldn’t a happy runner train more effectively than a stressed-out one? Or does the guy in a bad marriage spend extra time out on the roads to avoid his problems?

(You know what? Let’s just leave marriage out of it. It's too emotionally charged, with too many variables. But there’s no question about…)

3: Number of kids. Put it this way – which woman would you be more impressed by: a 38-minute 10K runner with “0” on her calf, or a 41-minute runner with a “4” there? I rest my case. And I haven’t even mentioned the women with an “S” as well as a “2” – they deserve some sort of prize just for showing up with two matching socks on.

FT: Full-time job. This is the eternal working man’s (or woman’s) complaint: that if he didn’t have to work so many hours per week, he’d have a lot more time for training, and would do much better in races. I was also thinking we could further break this down into ML (manual labor) or CDJ (cushy desk job), but that might start to resemble classism, and I’d be afraid that somebody might get sued.

Anyway, speaking as an FT guy, I empathize with the working stiffs out there – and whether valid or not, I wouldn’t feel nearly as bad about being passed by a guy with PT (part time) or U (unemployed) on his calf.

SLWP: Still Lives With Parents. Honestly, I don’t know how this affects performance, but at least it would give me a chuckle while I’m getting passed by that mama’s boy.

Clearly, there are all sorts of benefits to knowing this information in running events. But why stop there? Why can’t we establish a similar system with other aspects of our lives?

Take your workplace, for instance. Wouldn’t it be great if your coworkers wore labels with this type of personal information? (This is where my idea stumbles a bit, because except for strippers and lifeguards, most people’s calves aren’t visible at work. But we could come up with some alternative – name tags, patches, lapel pins, something. There's got to be a way.)

You would know how many years away your boss is from retirement age, and exactly how young his hood ornament receptionist is. HM-3 guys wouldn’t feel as much pressure to keep up with the S guy who starts putting in 60-hour weeks. And that SLWP thing would be just as funny.

Now imagine if all businesses did this. When you go out for coffee, you would know the relationship status of that cute barista you make up reasons to buy lattes from four days per week. You’d know the real age of your hairdresser who perennially claims she’s only 39. And you might even be more tolerant if you're ever on the receiving end of rude customer service from the TM woman at the bagel shop.

The possibilities are endless, and generally beneficial. Over a period of time, we’d all come to experience heightened awareness and mutual understanding of those around us.

And all it would take is a little bit of body marking.

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September 15, 2006

Kahuna Q & A

As per my usual custom after races, the next couple of entries here will be a post-event breakdown of sorts.

First of all, I’m very appreciative and thankful to everyone who dropped me a note of encouragement before the race or afterwards. That’s one of the best fringe benefits of having a blog. (Actually, considering that nobody gets paid for this, and that it takes time away from more important activities, maybe it’s the only benefit of blogging. Sorry, I’m digressing already.)

In the comments after my race report, there were a few questions that seemed to come up repeatedly, and since I wasn’t able to respond directly to each one, that’s what I’m doing with this post.

You’ve probably seen post-game press conferences where the players sit behind a table and field questions from the media. If they’ve just won something important, they’ll be wearing a cap with something like “AFC Champions” or “NCAA Final Four” on it, to go along with their stunner shades and big gold necklaces.

So just for fun, let’s do the post this way: picture me sitting here in a black cashmere sweatsuit with medallions around my neck, leaning back in my chair, wearing big dark sunglasses and a cap that says “sub-5” tilted sideways on my head. I’m in press-conference mode, taking questions from my peeps.

***
Q: Is this really your last race of the year?

A: In all likelihood, yes. (And by “in all likelihood,” what I really mean is “unless somebody decides to pay my race fees for me.”) I don’t typically enter a large number of races each year, and in 2006 I’ve stepped back even more than usual.

I’m finding that I have greater success with a “less is more” approach to racing. My race results have been pretty decent, and I haven’t had any major injuries this year. Not to mention, those races get to be pretty expensive – and by doing fewer of them, I have more money available to buy crap I don’t need on eBay, or to support our family’s $40-per-month Papa Murphy’s habit. So it’s a win-win for all of us.

I’ve got one other pseudo-event lined up for next month which I’ll talk about as it gets closer, but otherwise, that’s it for 2006.

Which doesn’t mean I’m done blogging, of course – I mean, it’s not like the subject matter around here has ever been sharply focused on racing. Or on anything else, for that matter.

Q: So did you and Shakira hook up after the prom?

A: Next question.

Q: Are you going to stop being a full-time runner to pursue more triathlons?

A: Or, as Michelle appropriately put it, am I going to forsake the love of my life (running) to run off with the sexy mistress (triathlon) I’ve been tramping around with for the past few months?

Here’s what I wrote to her:

**Right now I’m like the guy who’s just left a “Dear John” note on the kitchen counter and snuck away from the house in the middle of the night, planning to run away with the mistress. I’m sitting in my car outside her house, not quite able to go to the door yet, wondering if I’m really making the right move.

I’m very close to the point of no return. But there’s still time for me to come back home and grab the note before my wife wakes up, and I’m not sure which way to go. That’s me – sitting, wondering, waiting – and running out of time. **

Yes, I know these things never work out. I could run off with the mistress, and one year from now her boobs will start looking ordinary, and I’ll notice that she has some annoying habits or that her breath stinks sometimes or that we’re not intellectually compatible, and I’ll feel like I’m stuck again. Then I’ll look for something even more exciting and outlandish, and end up repeating the cycle by flirting around with some fringe sport like street luge or BASE jumping. It doesn’t make sense - I know all that.

And yet … I’m still sitting in that car. And honestly, things could go either way.

(On a related note – how much mileage have I gotten out of this crazy triathlon/mistress analogy? Is everybody sick of it by now, or can I go to that well a few more times still? Feel free to weigh in on this.)

Q: Do you have plans for 2007 yet?

A: Yes. And no. It’s kind of complicated. I have a definite Plan A and Plan B, but I won’t know until the end of the year which one I’m going to do. I’ve mentioned these plans with just a few people, and for now, that’s all I’m going to say. Except that both plans are pretty darn cool. And they’re directly related to the previous answer.

But you’ll have to wait a few more weeks before I let any cats out of the bag. (How about that for a cliffhanger?)

Q: Did you really dance to “Time of My Life” in high school?

A: Next question.

Q: Do you really shave your legs? (Follow-up questions: If yes, how often? What’s your method?)

A: This seemed to catch a lot of people off guard, and in hindsight I suppose I can see why.

When I was single, it used to drive me crazy when I’d be chatting up some girl I had hung around and flirted with a few times, thinking I might have a shot with her, only to have her casually say something like “That’s a funny movie – my boyfriend and I saw it last week.” That would usually be followed by me locking myself in my apartment all night, watching Mafia movies and eating whole boxfuls of Chips Ahoy cookies for dinner (Gosh, I miss college sometimes).

Anyway, the lesson is this: if you’ve got a bomb to drop, it’s never kosher to do it in an incidental, “Oh by the way” manner. Not unless you want to give somebody a complex.

So I can understand the shock value of my brief mention about shaving my legs, and I apologize. If I had it to do over again, I would have told you all about it up front, so we could still be friends and there wouldn’t be any awkward feelings between us. You know, I really just want things to be cool again, like they were before. OK?

OK. To answer the follow-up questions, then: during the warm seasons - which in California frequently turns out to be something like nine months per year - I use clippers to keep my leg hair groomed and manageable. It's not unlike mowing the grass every two or three weeks: you don't want to take it all the way down, but maintaining a nice short layer makes it look sharp. Then during race season, I'll use a razor below the knee to get extra sleek. People always talk about putting their game face on; I think of this process as putting my race legs on.

I did let my wife use wax on me once, and, um … actually, I don’t want to talk about it. Those wounds haven’t quite healed.

***
Well, it’s getting late and I don’t want to keep the groupies in the limo waiting for me any longer, so we’ll end tonight’s press conference here. We’ve got dinner reservations at Dolce, and there’s a rumor that Diddy will be there tonight – and trust me, you just CAN’T be late for a Diddy Party.

So thanks again for your interest, and remember to keep it real.

(You know, just like I always do ...)

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September 12, 2006

Big Kahuna 2006 Race Report

"Tell me baby, what's your story ... "
- Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Tell Me Baby"


Good gosh almighty – when I said I had a longer report coming, I wasn’t messing around. Brevity isn’t exactly a talent of mine.

This race report weighs in at more than 2100 words, so grab yourself a cup of coffee, sit back and get comfortable, and make sure your boss won’t come around for the next 15 minutes or so. Then check back - I'll still be here.

(… Waiting …)

OK, are you ready? Here’s my story from the 2006 Big Kahuna Triathlon. Considering the length of this post, I’m skipping the pre-race junk, and taking you directly to the first leg of the race.

Swim – 1.2 miles

Predicted time: 38 minutes
Actual time: 29:40. Um … what?

Honestly, I have no idea how this happened. During this portion of the race, I was primarily focused on three things: 1) staying relaxed, 2) maintaining a bilateral breathing pattern, and 3) drafting whenever possible.

If you have kids, you probably know The Foot Book by Dr Seuss. During the swim, I kept thinking of lines from that book while drifting from one set of feet to another: Big feet. Skinny feet. Slow feet. Quick feet. His feet. Her feet. Fuzzy fur feet. How many, many, feet I met (and drafted). Then before I knew it I was touching the sand and running onto the beach.

Sometimes, as a writer, I wish I could combine mathematics and English together, because there are occasions when words don’t properly emphasize a thought as strongly as I’d like. For instance, to say that I was shocked to see this split time is a vast understatement. “Stunned” doesn’t even do my feelings justice. But if we could do something like (stunned x shocked) to the 4th power, that would be closer to what I thought when I emerged from the water and looked at my watch.

In fact, I was so surprised, my first reaction was to look back over my shoulder at the swim course. Had I skipped a buoy somewhere out there? Did I cut the course short somehow? I could barely contain my disbelief, which persisted throughout the race – but in a good way, as you’ll see.

(Side note: it’s now 24 hours after the race, and I figure I must have worked pretty hard on that swim – because my pectoral muscles have been twitching the entire time I’ve been typing. People don’t realize just how much I suffer for this blog sometimes.)

Transition Area 1

Predicted time: 7 minutes
Actual time: 9 minutes

This is my Achilles heel in every triathlon - I’m completely baffled as to how to make transitions go any faster. I try all kinds of little tricks, and I really move as fast as I can through the process. Do you think maybe if I didn’t stop to do calisthenics or trim my toenails or use Q-tip swabs to clean my ears, that might help?

Meanwhile, back at the race …

Bike – 56 miles

Predicted speed: 20.5 mph (realistic), 21.0 mph (optimistic)
Actual speed: 21.0 mph. 2 hrs, 35 minutes. Boo-ya.

The bike segment is always my favorite portion of a triathlon. There’s the thrill of high speeds, the synergy of man and machine, and the freedom of cruising on scenic open roads.

But in my case, there’s also this: I love passing expensive bikes.

I mean to say, I LOVE it. It would be love squared, if I could use my mathglish idea. And as I hammered down the road, I passed just about every brand of swanky high-end bike you can think of on my old-school Green Machine.

One in particular stood out, only because of a conversation I had with my son the day before at the expo, as a guy unloaded his bike from an SUV:

Me: Whoa.

Him: What?

Me: Oh, nothing. I’m just looking at that guy’s bike. It probably costs about $5000.

Him: Wow. That’s a lot. Is he fast?

Me: I don't know. We'll find out tomorrow.

So I easily recognized the guy when I first passed him. We actually yo-yoed for about 10 miles, with a predictable pattern: him coasting past me on the downhills, me gaining back a bit of ground back on the flats, then me pulling away on the uphills.

The pattern told me two things: Him – nicer bike. Me – stronger legs. I liked my odds as the bike segment wore on. Sure enough, beyond the 35 mile mark, I never saw him again.

Since I started in the fourth wave, I spent the entire bike segment reeling in people who had started up to 21 minutes earlier. You could say I was moving through the field.

Here are some things that stood out from all that passing:

* I passed bikes with thick four-spoked wheels, and bikes with solid back wheels that sound like wood when they’re rolling. Those always sound strange to me.

* I passed a lot of people with wattage/power meters, many of whom seemed preoccupied with adjusting it during the ride. What exactly is the point of these things again? I thought GPS systems were complicated. I’ve just included wattage meters on the list of gadgets I definitely don’t need.

* I passed tri-specialty bikes, ultra light bikes, and bikes without a seatpost. One bike, two bikes, red bikes, blue bikes. How many, many bikes I passed.

* The only specialized piece of equipment I saw but didn’t pass was a few guys wearing those pointy time-trial helmets. I’d love to pass one of those guys someday.

* In all, I must have passed 100 people on the bike phase. I also counted on my fingers the number of people who passed me – and I never had to start on my toes.

* I didn’t get passed by anyone with hairy legs. I was relieved, or else I’d have to reevaluate my rationale for the whole leg-shaving thing. I justify it with racing triathlons – but is it possible that I just enjoy having smooth legs? (Wait, am I thinking out loud again? Sorry … let’s move on.)

As far as my speed goal, this segment went exactly as I hoped. My average at the turnaround point was 20.7 mph, and nearing the 50-mile mark I was averaging 21.2 mph. At that point, I thought to myself, “Wow – this is happening. I’m going to average 21 mph. Very cool.”

Then I started having conflicting conversations in my head. In one, I wanted to take advantage of how strong my legs felt, and gain as many minutes as possible heading into the run. In another, I was concerned that I might be overreaching, and my legs might blow up as soon as my feet hit the ground.

I took the conservative route, and basically cruised it in from that point, giving my legs a bit of a rest heading into T2.

And through the entire bike segment, one pervasive thought kept bouncing around in my head: did I really just finish a 30-minute swim segment? To this point, the day was unfolding quite nicely.

Transition Area 2

Predicted time: 2-3 minutes
Actual time: 3 minutes

I got a rub down from a volunteer, flipped open my laptop and sent out some e-mails, and borrowed a cell phone to order a pizza delivered to the finish line. Whatever.

Run – 13.1 miles

Predicted time: 1:30 (optimistic), 1:35 (realistic)
Actual time: 1:35

Two things stand out about the first few miles:

1) Right off the bat, my legs felt awesome. I had done brick workouts in training that felt much harder on my quads. It was almost like I hadn’t just climbed off the bike. However ...

2) I had no idea how fast I was going. I either missed the mile markers, or they weren’t there. So I might have felt good because I was running slower than usual. (Looking back now, considering the finishing time, I was probably doing 7-minute miles here, but who really knows.) Regardless, I was going purely by heart rate, maintaining an aerobic effort level the whole way.

Oh, yeah, one other thing…

3) I was passing a TON of people.

At this point, I knew sub-five hours would be a relative cakewalk. I can’t describe what an awesome feeling this was. Like awesome squared. Or cool cubed. You get the idea.

Again, I kept thinking back to that (for me) incredible swim time, which turned out to set the tone for the race.

Think of it this way: imagine you had a goal time you hoped to accomplish, and knew things would be tight. Then right off the bat, the race gives you an eight-minute head start that’s perfectly legal (come to think of it, this is exactly what happens at the Dipsea Race each year. No wonder all the old people love it.). How much more relaxed would you be for the remainder of the race? That’s how I felt during the last 10 miles of the run.

The middle miles to and from the turnaround point were on trails, which were very scenic, but became tough on my legs, and I felt my cruising speed begin to fall off somewhat. This is also where I developed my only real problem, in that my stomach was cramping a bit and I couldn’t really tolerate any more fluid or gels. Despite that, I was still passing a lot of people, and I was right on target to finish the race under 4:50.

I continued in that hybrid relaxed/painful manner for almost the entire run, until the final two miles when my stomach started hurting a lot more. Again, the mile markers were inconsistent here, so I never got reliable splits, but I think I was doing something like 7:30-7:45 miles.

Then during mile 13, the seemingly unthinkable happened: I got passed by two runners. Luckily, they were runners that I had passed a few miles back, and neither one was in my age group. Because after the overall great vibes I had been feeling all day, I really didn’t want to go into battle mode at that point – I was just looking for the finish.

The final half-mile of the course is along the beach, and it happened to be high tide around the time when I arrived. Runners had two options: either run through the deep sand (excruciatingly slow), or go along the shoreline (sloped surface, and ankle-to-shin deep waves at times). It’s really a great way to finish a triathlon - especially one with a Hawaiian theme - but it’s terrible if you’re trying to stay on pace to break a goal time.

In all likelihood, I lost my sub-4:50 time during miles 12 and 13, before the last half-mile along the beach effectively slammed the door on that hope. But after crossing the line in 4:51, I had absolutely no worries.

I had a great race. Life was good.

Finish Area

The finish line is right in front of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, perhaps the most iconic beach location in America. After grabbing my food basket, I sat with many other competitors at the open-air stage featuring Hawaiian music and hula dancers. The sun had just burned through the fog, and it was a beautiful day to be a triathlete in California.

(I know this is getting way too long. We’re almost done. I’ve got just two more stories…)

Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better, I looked at the bottom of my food basket, and found a coupon from Senor Ted’s, good for a free burrito for all triathletes. My stomach had settled down by that point, so I took them up on their offer – and it was one of the best burritos I’ve ever tasted.

Let me state clearly for the record: if you give me a delicious free burrito after a triathlon, you’ve got a customer for life. I’ll visit you every time I’m in town. I’ll promote you to all my local friends. I’ll even sing your praises on my blog.

(So next time you’re in Santa Cruz, visit Senor Ted’s at the Boardwalk!! A triathlete-friendly business!! Best burritos in town!! And tell them Donald sent you!)

Finally … when I was filling up my car at the gas station before driving home, I heard the distinctive “ahem” sound of a guy clearing his throat, staring at me. Apparently I had been singing out loud, and didn’t realize it. The song was “Tell Me Baby” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as I recall. It’s quite possible I might have been dancing, also.

All I remember is that I felt happy, to the point that I became oblivious to the world around me. This guy’s staredown would normally have caused me a little embarrassment, but under the circumstances, it didn’t bother me in the least.

That’s what a great race can do for you. And Sunday was just that kind of day.

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September 10, 2006

It Was a Good Day

"Today I didn't even have to use my A.K. ...
I gotta say it was a good day."

- Ice Cube, "It Was a Good Day"

When I was a senior in high school, most of my fellow students wanted our prom theme to be "Changes" by David Bowie. Sadly, our milquetoast student council thought Bowie was too "edgy", and - to their eternal shame - they selected "The Time of My Life," keeping with the Dirty Dancing mania of the late 1980s.

It was a horrible choice. Yet they stuck to the theme, and that song was the final one our senior class heard collectively. To this day, I'm still embarrassed to say that I danced to it.

I bring this up only because it ties in nicely with the prom analogy I used in the triathlon preview. Because I literally had one of the best times ever at this race.

My finishing time was 4:51, almost nine full minutes faster than my best-case scenario from earlier in the week. I'm not sure of the numbers, but I think I was 8th in my age group, and somewhere in the 40s overall. And for the most part, I felt fantastic.

I'll post a longer report soon - either sometime Monday (possibly) or Tuesday (more likely). But if you're checking in on me, for now just know that I had the time of my life at the Kahuna prom.

But if you think I'm using an intro quote from that song, you're crazy. Ice Cube is a much cooler way to roll.

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September 7, 2006

Big Kahuna Preview

“Strike us like matches…’cause everyone deserves the flames…
We only do it for the scars and stories, not the fame … “

- Fall Out Boy, “Champagne for My Real Friends, Real Pain for My Sham Friends”

Remember how I said that triathlon training is a lot like dating Shakira? Well, over the last few months I’ve seen an amazing amount of action at all hours of the day. It’s been more than I could take at times. Borderline unhealthy, honestly. I’ve been sleep deprived and physically exhausted, and usually when I’m getting down to business in the morning, I still feel aches and soreness from the same activity the day before.

It’s been an absolute whirlwind, and an absolute blast. God help me, but I think I’m falling in love with the girl.

This weekend the relationship comes to its apex at the Big Kahuna Triathlon, a half-Ironman distance event in Santa Cruz, CA. It’s my last race of the year, so there will inevitably be a letdown of sorts when it’s all said and done.

In that regard, race day is a bit like the senior prom: it’s the defining moment of a memorable courtship. You look forward to it for weeks, imagining how perfect everything’s going to be. It’s an emotional high water mark, and you desperately try to absorb as many feelings and memories as possible, so when summer vacation comes and you go your separate ways, you’ll still remember all the good times you shared. (That’s right … I’m taking Shakira to the prom. The analogies fly fast and crazy around here sometimes.)

But above all else, the prom is one heck of a party. And that’s my primary approach to this race: I’m just in it for a good time.

Don’t get me wrong - I’m definitely going to have my eye on the clock. I’ll race as fast as I’m able to, but since this is my first time at Kahuna, I have absolutely no expectations about my finishing time. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not pondering it with every waking minute.

Here then is a rough prediction of what I anticipate at this weekend’s race, broken down by discipline, with some workout details to back up my estimates. But keep in mind, above all else … do I need to keep saying this? … that I’m an idiot. Don’t be surprised if these estimates turn out in hindsight to be wildly inaccurate.

Part 1 – Swim 1.2 miles

Historically, this is the hardest aspect to predict, because I’m always unsure of how much carryover the pool training has to open water racing. On one hand, ocean swimming is much harder because of the waves, the chop and swell, poor visibility, and contact from other swimmers. On the other, I’ll be more buoyant with my wetsuit, and the adrenaline of race day might help me go faster. Not to mention, I’m going to draft behind as many pairs of feet as I can find.

It’s nearly impossible to gauge my speed on the few ocean swims I’ve done this summer. I’ve swum in the pool about three days per week, and one day per week I’ve timed a 2000 meter “cruising” piece that usually ends up between 36 and 37 minutes. So let’s guess this number at 38 just to be conservative.

My main goals for the swim are to stay relaxed, use my upper body as much as possible, and avoid going anaerobic at all costs. If I exit the water in the middle of the pack, I’m OK with that – because I tend to get stronger as the race goes on.

Transition Area 1

T1 includes a run from the ocean to a nearby park which is the main staging area. Looking at last year’s results, T1 times range anywhere from 4 to 11 minutes, and the average is somewhere in the 5-minute range.

I’m traditionally a slow transitioner – I’ll take the extra few seconds to put on socks and lace up my shoes so that I’m more comfortable on the course. So let’s guess 6 to 7 minutes for this transition, and anything below that is a bonus.

Bike – 56 miles

The bike course goes out-and-back to the north on Highway 1, with a few gentle hills but no major climbs. There’s typically a headwind going north, which would become a tailwind on the return.

On training rides I usually average just over 20 mph on rolling terrain. Assuming ordinary wind conditions, I’m hoping to push that average closer to 21mph on race day. But to be conservative again, I’ll estimate a 20.5 mph average which would have me on the bike for 2 hours and 44 minutes.

Transition Area 2

Last year’s T2 times are much faster than T1: under 1 minute in some cases, with the average between 2 and 3 minutes. Knowing me, I’ll be closer to three.

Run – 13.1 miles

The run course is also fairly flat, but includes a couple of beach crossings, and a series of turns on the coastal recreation trail. Although I know my legs won’t be feeling very snappy at this point in the race, I’m hoping the run segment is where I’ll find my comfort zone.

I’ve done bike/run brick workouts and hit 6:40 pace for a few miles, but on race day I anticipate this will be closer to the 6:50-7:00 minute per mile range. Taken alone, I can bust through a half-marathon in 83-85 minutes. Optimistically, during the tri I’m hoping to get close to 90 minutes for the run segment, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s more like 95 minutes instead.

So where does that put me overall? Using the above estimates, I could be anywhere from 5 hours to 5:15 or more.

Now here’s a big disclaimer: about 650 words ago, I said I was just doing this race for fun. But if I come out of T1 ahead of schedule, or have stronger bike legs than I guessed, I may be knocking on the door of sub-5 hours heading into the half-marathon.

And if that’s the case, I’ll kick fun to the curb in a heartbeat, and bring on the pain.

One of my easily predictable traits is that if I’m close to a milestone time in a race, I’ll battle all the way to the finish, regardless of the physical toll it takes.

I drive myself insane this way sometimes - but as much as I try to ignore the clock and enjoy the last miles of a race, I frequently end up inflicting horrible agony and misery upon myself just to shave a minute or two off my finish time. So it’s 100% reliable that I’ll turn the run into a sufferfest if the conditions are right.

Whether or not that trait of mine is an admirable one is open to question. Whether it ultimately makes my race experience satisfying or disappointing may depend on how successful I am in reaching the goal.

But in either case - if it comes down to that – I’m sure I’ll have a lot of scars and stories from the race to share next week.

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September 5, 2006

New Predator in Town

With my triathlon less than one week away, it’s time to cool the jets and taper down a bit before race day.

Since I’m not doing much in the way of actual training, you’d think I’d have more time for blogging – but I’m trying to resist the urge to go that route. I think I’ve finally hit a happy medium where “more free time” doesn’t automatically translate into “spend an insane number of hours blogging.” And hey, it only took me 10 months – a relative blink of an eye compared to other lessons I’ve learned.

Anyway, I’ve got a triathlon preview on tap for Thursday. Until then, here’s one more (generally unrelated) post to share for the week…

***
Today’s post centers on a noteworthy new denizen of the Monterey Peninsula. He’s 5-foot-8, 104 pounds, and happens to be one hell of a swimmer. Unfortunately, he would make a terrible training partner, on account of his troublesome predilection for chewing your arms or legs off.

That’s because he’s a great white shark.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a working arrangement with several commercial fishing companies, such that they are alerted whenever a young great white is inadvertently ensnared in fishing lines. If the shark can then thrive in a 4-million gallon containment pen in the open ocean, the Aquarium uses a life support transport vehicle to bring the shark to its Outer Bay exhibit showcasing pelagic fish.

It’s all done very responsibly. Marine biologists and Aquarium shark experts monitor the operation, and if the shark demonstrates any signs of stress or failure to thrive, they tag and release it immediately. Meanwhile, they study the great white closely; for obvious reasons, it’s one of the lesser-studied species among all animals. Keeping a great white in captivity, however briefly, also gives them a platform to educate the public about how threatened this powerful animal has become.

They’ve been successful once before. From September 2004 to March 2005, a baby female great white resided at our Aquarium for 198 days. She coexisted with her tankmates reasonably well before her hunting instincts developed. Then suddenly, over the span of two weeks, two soupfin sharks turned up dead, and the great white was released to the ocean three days later.

So it’s understood that the current address for this new shark is quite temporary. He’ll be released at the first sign of poor health or aggression. (On that note, here’s a quote from Saturday’s Monterey Herald attributed to an Aquarium veterinarian, describing when the white shark first entered the tank: “A hammerhead shark swimming in the opposite direction approached it, then turned around and split. It was remarkable how fast it went.” Um … hello? What did you expect? That same hammerhead was probably in the tank when the soupfins died last year.)

Knowing that their window of opportunity is limited, many locals will be flocking to see the shark over the next few weeks. My kids and I will be there, too. The great white is an awesome creature, and not many elementary school kids get the chance to see one up close.

Plus, after my recent ocean swims and the feedback regarding them, I have a secondary motive for observing the shark.

I’m thinking I might do some scientific investigation on behalf of triathletes out there. Remember how several people suggested that my bright yellow swim cap might attract sharks in the open water? Now’s my chance to put that theory to the test.

Maybe I’ll smuggle my cap into the Aquarium, put it on my head in front of the Outer Bay exhibit, and run laps back and forth in front of the tank – circling my arms in a mock swimming motion, of course - to see if I get any response. Would that be considered research? Can I apply for federal grant money?

After all, I might need some help to interpret my findings. I mean, sure - if the shark charges the glass, that’s an obvious cause-and-effect outcome. But would I have to repeat the process without a cap to establish a null hypothesis? Do I have to duplicate the experiment in a pink cap to compare the responses? How many other colors would I have to test and exclude?

And what if he ignores me? Is it because I’m not in his normal field of vision (the tank is above ground level, so the shark would be above me)? Or does it mean my starting premise is flawed? Does the shark have an awareness of his surroundings, and realize that he can’t reach me outside the tank? Or does he recognize that I’m simply an idiot, and not worth an extra second of his time? From a scientific standpoint, all of these conclusions appear equally valid.

Now that I think of it, there’s a reason I didn’t pursue a field in research after grad school. It’s a completely obsessive, often confusing, frequently frustrating, overwhelmingly time-consuming discipline that requires complete dedication to see small gains. And I’ve already got one of those.

I think I’ll just to stick to being a runner. But you can bet I'm still going to visit this shark.

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