Thursday, May 31, 2007

Measuring Standard

One of the new people on our Tri Team was telling me about the June Lake Triathlon he'll be doing this summer. It's up by Mammoth Mountain, where I ski frequently, and I always thought it would be interesting to visit the area "off-season." They describe the Olympic Distance course thusly: "This is a very challenging run course on trail...On par with Wildflower but at 8000 feet!" It kind of made me feel good inside to see how they used Wildflower (which I recently completed) as the definititve difficult course to compare with.

Will I be going up to Mammoth this summer? Certainly not! I don't care if it's "only" half the distance of Wildflower; there's no oxygen at 8000 feet and I've suffered enough for a while.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

John Blais: 1971-2007

"It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your hearts longing.
It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dreams or for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your sorrow. If you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and close from fear of further pain. I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fit it. I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with the wildness and let the "Meatheadedness" fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, or to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you're telling is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself, if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. I want to know if you can be faithful and trustworthy. I want to know if you can see beauty even when it is not there everyday, and if you can source your life from its presence. I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still shout stand on the edges of a lake, river or mountain and shout to the silver of the full moon. Yes! I'm a Meathead...

It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after a night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for someone you love.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself, and truly like the company you keep in the empty moments of your life and still remember me... "

- Blazeman, ALS Warrior Poet

Ironman biography on Youtube: Jon Blais - The Blazeman announcement: Ironman Loses Its Warrior Poet
Homepage: ALS Warrior Poet

Live more than your neighbors. Unleash yourself upon the world and go places. Go now. Giggle, no, Laugh. No...stay out past dark
And bark at the moon like the wild dog that you are.
Understand that this is not a dress rehearsal. This is it. Your life.
Face your fears and live your dreams. Take it all in.
Yes, every chance you get. Come close.
And by all means, whatever you do, get it on film.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

That Stinking Axis

I think the Axis of Evil is feeling threatened by me.

Our Tri Team had a brick workout last night, and I did a 5-mile run with the Axis of Evil. About 3 miles in, I was about 30 yards behind (waiting to make my move and zoom past them) when I noticed a disturbance up ahead. In a grassy field, right where the Axis was passing, a dog and a skunk were battling it out. The dog would chase the skunk with the dog's owner screaming at him to come back; the dog would turn around, then the skunk would start chasing the dog. Then the dog would chase the skunk again. And so on and so on. The skunk's tail was fully raised- I didn't realize how tall a skunk looks when he's locked-and-loaded.

The dog chased the skunk on to the trail between me and the Axis of Evil. I had a choice of continuing to run straight towards the skunk in an attempt to catch up, or stop dead in my tracks. I chose the latter. Unfortunately, there was a chain-link fence along the trail so the skunk couldn't escape into the woods right away. Instead, the skunk ran along the fence - towards me - while still being chased by the dog. Every now and then the skunk would turn around towards the dog and I thought I could make my move to get around him, but then he'd come back at me.

Eventually the skunk found a hole in the fence and ran away, but by that time the Axis of Evil was long gone. I think it's a dirty trick that they would foil my run by throwing a skunk at me, but I will get them next time. (* shaking fist in the air *)

(Truth be told, I was looking for ANY excuse to stop running for a bit at that point. So I was more than happy to catch my breath. Even if that breath smelled of skunk.)

Friday, May 11, 2007


Being a triathlete is a series of Initiations of Indignities. There's the indignity of trying on tri shorts for the first time, being passed by little old ladies during a race... Wildflower introduced a brand new indignity to me.

Wildflower is a long race and much of the run is along dirt tails. So by the end of the day you are smelly and dirty and just all around gross. Nothing would be better than a nice long shower. The problem is that the campground doesn't really have "showers"; what they have is a half-dozen spigots spread 3 feet apart along a concrete wall in the men's room. Not to be a prude or anything, but I appreciate a little bit of privacy. I have certainly been in other open-shower situations for Masters Swim classes, but what makes Wildflower unique is that the people washing up weren't the usual fat old men; these were guys who just finished a half-ironman several hours faster than I did. Big Guys. The kind of guys whose abs poke through their wetsuits.

I am sure that during the 80s, there MUST have been a movie or TV show about a 12-year old child prodigy who gets sent off to college and has to use the dorm showers. That's kind of how I felt.

There wasn't even any hot water left. Stupid Wildflower showers.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Five Brilliant Things I Did At Wildflower

5. Two of the elastic cords that hold the tent fabric to the rigid metal poles snapped while I was setting up, so the tent was very saggy. It was windy the night before the race, which made the tent flap around noisily. At 11:00 at night, I got out of the tent, grabbed one of the poles from the outer tent fly and jammed it across the inside of the tent. It created a rigid beam which stopped the wind flapping. Brilliant.

4. I thought I would give myself a treat by packing some mini-snickers bars for the bike ride. But then I thought that if I ate one Snickers, I would eat them all so I only packed one. Sure enough, at mile 25 I stopped for my treat and started digging through my bag praying there were more Snickers in there. Alas, I only had the one so I couldn't make myself sick on chocolate. Brilliant.

3. The day was starting to warm up by the time I hit T1, and I noticed pretty much everyone was leaving on their bikes in short sleeves. I thought it might still be chilly with the wind and decided not to do what everyone else was doing; I put a long-sleeve shirt on under my jersey. It WAS cold on the bike but I felt pretty comfortable. Brilliant.

2. I taped an elevation map to my bike so I would know when I needed to conserve my energy, and when I could afford to let myself go a bit. Brilliant.

1. The night before the race, I put my tube of Chamois Butt'r cream in my sleeping bag. In the morning, when it was time to lube up all my nether regions, the cream was at body temperature and NOT freezing cold like the outside air. BRILLIANT!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Wildflower Race Report: I shaved my legs for this?

Long race, long race report. Sorry.

I came to Wildflower with the attitude "Race to finish, not for time." That became more critical than I realized on Saturday.

I don't know if it was the 2 days of tent-induced sleep-deprivation, but I was surprisingly calm race morning. I heard a rumor that we had to be out of the Transition Area by 7:15 (I had an 8:45 start) but we could come as go as we pleased all morning. That took away some of the stress because I did't have to worry about putting on my wetsuit 90 minutes early.

The swim starts from a narrow boat launch, and even though I positioned myself in the back of the wave I still found myself being kicked and grabbed a lot. Things opened up a bit, and then maybe 25 minutes later the wave after me caught up to me so I had to fight through that mess again. Then another 10 minutes and the NEXT wave caught up with me. Then finally the THIRD wave caught me. I may not be a fast swimmer, but I was happy with my swim. The farthest I had ever gone before was .9 miles in an Olympic Tri back in July. Saturday I did the full 1.2 miles, and I never stopped swimming to catch my breath or take a rest; I just kept my pace the entire time and I really did not feel tired coming out of the water. I was slow and steady and was thrilled with how well it went.

Transition One was a little awkward. I intentionally walked through the entire thing (race to finish, not for time.) I had trouble taking off my wetsuit because every time I tried to bend over I would get dizzy and stagger to one side. I had to stand up and try to take it off using just my feet, and of course that didn't work very well. It took me a while, but I made it to the bike.

Wildflower is known for its killer hills, but I was surprised how quickly they threw one at us. There's a sharp turn and steep climb less than a mile into the ride. As soon as I started up the hill my chain popped off. That was very frustrating because I was in too high a gear to get a good start back on the bike, and I couldn't even get my pedals clipped in.

The rolling hills in the middle of the ride weren't too bad, but it was very windy. I'm not which was worse: having a headwind to fight or the crosswind trying to knock you over. The downhills were pretty scary because there would be gusts of wind which would suddenly push the bike to one side, and the pavement wasn't very smooth to begin with.

"Nasty Grade" is the name for the Big Hill on the course, and it begins around mile 40. Just before I hit the hill, some girl rode past me, saw the "Neoprene Wedgie" sign on my back and said "I read your blog dude!" That got my totally pumped. So whoever you are, your timing was perfect. Thank you!

I was both intimidated and inspired by the fact that I think I only saw one person walking his bike up Nasty Grade. It is a long, slow, tough climb. After a while, it became more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I would pick a telephone pole and say "I just need to get to that pole." Then I'd say "OK, I just need to get to THAT pole." I was riding the hill in 50-yard segments all the way up. And I made it. Thank goodness Evil Jon made me do hill training. I thought everything would be easy once I crossed the summit at mile 45, but the 2 smaller hills afterwards seemed almost as bad. They may have been half as long but I had so little energy left that they killed me.

(on my way home Sunday, I drove back up Nasty grade. My camera didn't have enough memory to record the entire hill so I had to delete the first section. Click for Quicktime movie.)

Tri Team Tammy drove up Saturday morning to see the race and she was camped out on the side of the road around mile 50, so I stopped and chatted with her for a little bit. You stopped in the middle of a race?! Yup, that's how I roll. Race to finish, not for time. If I can't enjoy a race, it's not worth doing and believe me, chatting with Tammy for 2 minutes was much more fun than riding a bike for 2 minutes at that point.

I allowed myself a conservative 5 hours to do the bike, and I finished in about 4:30 so it was another good leg for me.

Then I got to the run. I was passed a lot during the swim. I was passed a lot during the bike. As I started the run, I started passing people. Not many, mostly because there weren't very many people left on the course at this point, but clearly this was going to be my strength. From my brick workouts, I know that starting up the run is a bit of a mental game. It just FEELS wrong. You think you're more tired than you really are simply because your muscles are confused. I know that if I can just make it through that first mile, I'll get into "the zone" and then my legs will know what they're doing. The problem with Wildflower is that the very first thing you do when you leave Transition is that you have to run up a flight of stairs. Then there are a bunch of very small hills along a dirt trail. After 56 miles of hilly bike riding, I just couldn't make it to that first mile-marker and took my first walking-step after only about 6 minutes.

(I often talk about how I feel intimidated at triathlons because many of the athletes are so much bigger than I am. How do you think Wildflower made me feel?!)

I spent the first couple of miles walking up every hill, no matter how small, and then jogging the downhills and SOME of the flat terrain. I mistakenly thought the cut-off time for the race was 5:20, and I was constantly doing the math in my head: I had to do 13-minute miles to finish. Piece of cake under normal circumstances, but I was pretty drained and I had a lot of steep hills I had yet to climb. Around mile 6, I gave up. Doing the math, with a combination of doing X minutes of running for every Y minutes of walking, it was impossible for me to make the cut-off time. I was also slightly concerned about my health; I was feeling a little dizzy and light-headed. I decided that I would walk to the next Aid Station and just stop, and have them call for a non-emergency medical van. I didn't think I was in really bad condition, but I was thinking it couldn't hurt to have someone take a look, just to be safe. (I'm sure it was "only" dehydration.) Another runner came up behind me and said the usual "keep it up, doing great!" I told him "nah, I don't think I'll make the cut-off." He was very supportive: "Sure you will! We have until 5:45!"



It was sort of a relief when I realized I couldn't finish at all. Now, instead of doing 13-minute miles, I only had to 17-minute miles. My heart sank a bit at the idea that I was going to have to go ahead and finish this damn thing after all.

The run course went back through the campground, and I passed within 10 feet of my tent. Inside there was cold Mountain Dew and Chocolate Chip Cookies and I desperately wanted to go inside. But I knew if I went in I would never come out, so the Dew would have to wait.

The campround was very busy with people returning from the race, but I was impressed with how many people were still planted in their beach chairs cheering those of us still on the course. Every now and then someone would yell out to me "Good job! Looking strong!" And I was thinking "ya know what? you're lying. I am walking, my tongue is dragging on the dirt road and I look like death warmed over. I do NOT look strong. I know you're lying, YOU know you're lying... and I love you for it."

Around mile 11 a group of girls from the Warner Bros. Tri Team came up behind me. Seeing my jersey, they called out "let's get moving, Disney!" I told them I was more than happy to let them pass, but they weren't hearing any of that. They MADE me run. I pretty much stayed within 50-100 yards of them the rest of the race: sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, but they definitely got me moving faster than I would have gone on my own. Thanks WB, you guys ROCK!

By the end of the race, I figured I had about 30 seconds of jogging-energy left in me, which I wanted to save for the absolute very end. As I got closer to the finishing chute (which was ENORMOUSLY long) I saw the Axis of Nice waiting for me. (They had to wait a long time for me to come in, so I can't really call them Evil this time.) Normally when you see your friends, you puff up your chest and pick up the pace. Nope. Didn't care. I just kept on walking. Race to finish, not for time. They had a camera out and demanded that I run for the photo, so I obliged. Gerald started jogging alongside me for a bit, and I jokingly said "you really think you can keep up?" and broke into a super-fast sprint. OK, it was probably 4 mph as opposed to my previous 3 mph, but it sure felt fast at the time. Big mistake. In about 5 seconds I burned out all the energy I had, and I still had to make it down the final chute. I had to throw it down a few gears, but I did cross the finish line with a jog. 20 minutes before the cut-off time.

Overall I placed 1834 out of 1855 finishers. Which I should point out is ahead of all the people who didn't finish at all. I don't care about my time or placing, I just wish I had a stronger run. Had I been 30 minutes slower on the bike and faster of the run I would have been fine with that. I'm not proud of how I did the run. But you know what? I wear the exact same Wildflower Long Course Finisher's Medal as the guy who did it in 4:37. And I think that's pretty cool.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Were you at Wildflower?

How was your weekend? Did I meet you? Leave a message!
(race report soon)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Wildblogger Day 2

I am exhausted. I didn't sleep well last night (damn crickets) and then this morning I did a 7-mile bike, 20-minute run, and a 15-minute swim. Wiped me out. Part of the problem is that although Wildflower is known for being a hilly course, the campground is hilly too. I made four trips down the mountain to the festival area and back today.

I was struggling to put on my wetsuit and I couldn't figure out why it felt so tight. I have been doing a lot of biking the past six months but surely my legs couldn't have bulked up THAT much, could they? No, idiot that I am, I put my wetsuit on backwards. Not inside-out, backwards. There were plenty of people around so I'm sure somebody saw what I was doing.

I like to wear signs on my jersey and made a new one for Wildflower. I print them out on special fabric paper that you can load right into an inkjet printer. Because fabric handles ink differently than paper, it took me a couple tries to get it right. I had my good version in the tent and my sweaty jersey fell on top of it. Ruined. I do have an earlier version which I am going to use but I'm not happy with it.

The Axis of Evil showed up this afternoon, so it was good to see some familiar faces. We went to I had the special "carb load pasta dinner" for $10. Rip-off. I am well known for eating very small portions and even I thought it was a skimpy portion. It didn't even come with a drink. For one dollar more people got a big chicken dinner. Total waste.

Speaking of food, here's something odd: I packed bread to make lunch sandwiches. I took 3 Ziploc bags, put two slices of Wonder in each, and placed them in my cooler to stay fresh. Somehow, in all 3 bags, one slice is stale and the other is soaking wet. I cannot explain it at all.

I know I will not finish Wildflower slower than my predicted time. I should be starting the bike around 9:45 and allowed myself 5 hours to finish at 2:45. As it turns out, that's the cut-off time for the bike. So I pretty much have no choice; it's all or nothing.

The campground vibe tonight reminds me of the movie 300. There are basically a bunch of overly-athletic people preparing their gear for a great battle in the morning. I guess I'm the hunchback. Even the wind is picking up for that nice dramatic touch.

I strangely do not feel very nervous about the race. I'm actually more worried about the weather. And even then I'm not concerned about the weather affecting my time, I simply don't want to be cold. I'm dreading the cold at 6am when I have to go to the transition area in my shorts. 4-5 hours on the bike is going to be miserable if there's a cold wind.

There are two phases of a race: nervousness, and misery. The nervousness is the worse. All I need to do is get into the water; once my race starts I'm no longer nervous, just miserable. And I can handle that.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Wildblogger, Day 1

And the adventure begins...

I arrived at the Wildflower campground around 4:30 or so. There were plenty of sites available, and I found a beautiful location: it was on top of a small hill, perfectly flat, with several tall trees providing ample shade. I started unpacking my car when a guy from the next site came over and said to me "yeah, we looked at this site too until we saw the giant bees nest up in the tree and didn't want to disturb them. Ah. Good thinking.

There were still many other quiet, isolated places but then I was thinking that maybe I shouldn't be isolated. I can't impress people with my split times, but maybe I can make an impression with my branding, So I picked essentially the very first site as you enter the camping area. Pretty much everybody in this section of the park has to walk past my site on their way to the event. Good PR.

I unpacked the tent and layed it on the ground in an enormous rectangle. I put together the 3 pole assemblies. And then just stared at them. How do you use 3 poles to build a rectangular tent? Not only that, the poles didn't fit into the metal "cap" at the peak of the tent. I stared. And stared. And panicked. After maybe 30-45 minutes I called IronmAnnie, thinking that she would enjoy this story. She did. She told Tri Team Gerald, and 60 seconds later he called me with advice.

I tried to describe the problem but wasn't very good at it. He went online and looked up the instructions for my tent. (As he pointed out, it was very "24" of us, although it took much longer than it does for Jack Bauer.) Gerald confirmed that yes, the tent needs four poles. Those morons at the rental place must have mispacked my tent.

I called 411 to get the phone number for the rental place to read them the riot act. I continued to unpack my car as the phone was ringing when I found the 4th pole. Oops. I also found the instruction sheet which clearly showed that I was connecting the poles upside down.I tried for another 20 minutes to put the tent together but it isn't a 1-person job, I finally grabbed two neightboring campers and they helped me put it together. It isn't pretty, but it's a tent.

Unfortunately, while all this was going on I was watching lots of people going out for runs and rides, stretching out before the big day Saturday. That's what I was supposed to be doing tonight, then I could take tomorrow off. Now I feel I have to do at least a light run tomorrow just to stay limber (I haven't run in 4 or 5 days.)

I know things will get better, but right now I really hate it here. I hate living out of a tent. I hate the feeling of being unprepared for the race. I hate the enormous weekend guide, which makes it impossible to find all the information you need.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Yes, I am freaking out a bit about Wildflower. Mostly about the logistics. I am not an infrequent traveller; but usually when I go some place there is a bed waiting for me. That's not the case at Wildflower. Typically, I can find food wherever I go. Not at Wildflower. I have to pack all the food I'll need for 4 days, drive 4 hours to the middle of nowhere, and set up a tent where overnight it should drop down to 38 degrees. Oh, then I have to a half-iron at some time.

I'll be there for 3 nights and although I may be sharing the tent for part of the time it's mostly just for me. I was looking to rent a tent, and scoffed at what they call "2-man" or "4-man" tents. If I'm gonna be stuck someplace (with a chance of scattered showers) I want to be comfortable. I went with a "Family Tent". An 8-man tent may sound like overkill for just one person, but it really is still kind of small.

It's hard to predict my times for the race because the Axis of Evil has instilled the Fear of God in me regarding the hills. But I'm hoping a conservative estimate will be: 45 minute swim, 5 hour bike, 2:30 run. That has me finishing around 5:00, and the course closes at 5:45. That's a bit tight, but I'm hoping my bike will be considerably less than 5 hours.

The scariest thing about the weekend is the sense of isolation. I can't just skip down to 7-Eleven if I forget to pack Saline solution. I'm so worried about all the packing I need to do it's completing overshadowing the idea that "wow, Saturday's race is REALLY gonna suck!"