Sunday, April 29, 2007

Nice Try

There I was, 3:05 pm Thursday, sitting behind my desk busily reading an article on emergent literacy skills. It was fascinating. What better way to spend the afternoon than reading about reading.

And then my cell phone rings in the ring tone of husband. He had just called earlier that morning, so this follow-up call was a little out of character. Immediately I think to myself either he has sat on his phone and mistakenly dialed me (typical) or something has gone terribly wrong.

Might as well answer and find out. The suspense is killing me.

“Liz, I’ve had a bicycle accident.”

Wait, what? Huh? Who? Where? In my head, red lights and buzzers go off. Quickly my mind registers the fact that this is indeed my husband, and he is still in Texas for a business trip, and he may or may not have been in an accident.

“I ran into something and the pedal spun forward and……” he starts to tell me some story about pedals, and spinning, and a forest and this whole time I’m thinking – huh?

In my mind, I am thinking back to the – oh – the other phone calls just like this. While I hear him telling the story, I’m not quite sure it’s a story I can believe.

You see, he’s cried wolf more than a few times.

There was the time Chris was away for the weekend, called me in a desperate and quiet voice trying to convince that he had a bicycle accident – and – it was terrible – in a lot of pain – season ending injury – because he broke his ------- penis.

Nice, eh?

Then there was the time he actually did crash at a local criterium actually getting run over by another rider and then totally milking the bloody mess of leg by sitting in the medical tent while the Fox television camera crew filmed him. I watched about 3 minutes of it and said he’s fine and went home. Then he came home and demanded sponge baths for a week.

Nice again, eh?

Then there was the time I was watching a race he was in and he was taking a really, really long time on the bike. Just when I started to get worried I heard the clippity clop of Carnacs on pavement and see a tattered bloody version of my husband walking my way. Lesson learned – do not go down at 29 mph.

Not so nice that time. Missing most of the skin on his back – gross.

So at this point, I am thinking that my husband and nearly cataclysmic bike injury go hand in hand, Carnac in Carnac, pedal in crank.

Maybe I should take this phone call a little more seriously.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

He said something about being serious, but he sounded so loopy and happy I couldn’t be sure if he was just doing a really bad job of lying (it’s true, he is the world’s worst fibber) or if he was seriously injured.

I asked him where he was again and he proceeded to tell me in a forest. Great, that helps. Really. Let me locate the ‘forest’ in Texas and send help.

Just then, I had a thought. This is a lie. This is Chris crying wolf - again. He couldn’t have been in a bicycle accident because he shipped his bike home yesterday.

I call his bluff.

He disconfirms – yes, his bike was shipped home but he wasn’t on his bike. He rented a bike from a local bike shop.

Back to being serious again.

“Are you hurt?” I ask.

“I think I severed an artery in my shin.”

Again – what? Huh? Are there arteries in your shin? I didn’t think so. I look at my shin. There is nothing there. But I have no idea. I’m sure there are arteries and capillaries, and veins, and stuff in there. I imagine that somehow blood has to get around.

He then tells me it's bleeding everywhere.

“Are you serious?” I keep asking this question as if it is going to make any difference because every time I ask Chris just keeps laughing which again I can’t tell if it’s a function of blood loss or loss of composure while trying to tell a really annoying lie.

Right then I hear birds chirping in the background. Holy crap, I think, he really is laying in the middle of a forest.

“Why did you call me?” I ask. I mean, it’s not like I can magically reach my hand through the phone and slap a band-aid on his leg. “Call 911,” I said, “tell them where you’re at and they’ll help you.”

He explains that he doesn’t know where he’s at. He was riding in a forest, in Austin, there were trees, and birds, and there is now blood everywhere. He explains this through giggles. Part of me wanted to ask if he was also surrounded by little forest gnomes. Really, was this a serious situation or just the result of too much beer too early in the day?

He talked a little more, giggled a little more, and I thought a little about how I was going to spend the next 12 hours wondering if my husband would be discovered in a curled up ball in the middle of the forest, sucking his thumb, crying for a spongebath. I pity the person that finds him.

And when this weird phone call almost came to a close, I asked him why he called me. I mean, how often do you fall down 1000 miles away from your spouse and give them a call?

“I just wanted to hear your voice,” he said.

They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. But in the case of my husband, who’s been on business for a week in Texas, I think it made him crazier. Or maybe that had nothing to do with distance, maybe that was just from 7 days in Texas. You never can tell.

Later than night, he gave me another call. This did two things, (1) confirmed that he was still alive, and (2) confirmed that he found his way out of the forest. Apparently he did fall, and did get injured by the pedal, and did bleed everywhere but he did make it back out.

So, a lesson learned - when Chris falls in the forest, it will make a sound. Actually, it will make a phone call – a very bizarre phone call filled with giggles, a bloody shin, and birds chirping from the middle of the forest.

But still – even if he evidently lost his mind along with half the blood in his shin while down on the ground – still he will not get a sponge bath.

Nice try.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Law of the Mall

The other night, when I went to the shopping mall with Chris, I should have known better.

In fact, ‘should have known better’ finally resulted in a new marriage law – the law of the mall – that under no circumstances would Chris, the husband, accompany Liz, the wife, to the shopping mall. This new law was enacted after one too many shopping trips in which Chris thought “going to the shopping mall” was code for “walking around the shopping mall” and Liz thought “going to the shopping mall” was code for “shopping”.

And, moreover, this “shopping” is just for “ME”.

When man and woman arrive at confusion at the shopping mall it may or may not result in a man and woman arguing, perhaps slightly louder than library voice, in the shopping mall about mixed messages and unmet expectations.

Enter the law of the mall.

Note that not every woman must rely on the law of the mall. There are the rare, few gems of men out there – like Jerome – who actually enjoy shopping, who are actually good at shopping. Who have Ironman-type-tolerance for shopping with the woman.

But this is not Chris. And this is why we just don’t go well together at the mall.

So when Chris requested that I join him at the shopping mall, I thought twice. But it was a nice night, and going to the mall would be fun, and it was with husband, and…….see – this is how it always starts. This is why I should have known better.

He requested my help in choosing some new shoes. Has he seen my shoes? Totally unhip with shoes, clothes, anything about fashion. Could he not have asked Meredith, his sister, queen of the diva shoes? She would be a much better fit for a shoe shopping trip like this.

Reluctantly about the shoes, I agreed to help.

There we were in the shoe shopping department at the department store. Immediately, one of those tall, dark, foreign, exotic women walks over to us and in her luscious accent asks Chris was he is looking for.

“Shoes” he says. Oh how I love my husband. Shoes in a shoe department. Perfect.

She gives him some suggestions about choosing a dress shoe, displaying an array of attractive black shoes before us. Everything rolled out of her mouth like “thissssssssss, very lovely, beauuuuuuuuuuutiful shoe” and she dangled the shoe in front of us. I felt dirty for listening to her. I wanted her to stop having sex with the shoes but she knew that the sex would sell.

And she did her best to make sure it would – stacking a small empire of black dress shoe boxes in front of us. Chris begins to try on each shoe, walking up and down, looking at himself in the mirror. He parades before me, asking my opinion, asking me to compare this one to that one.

This goes on for awhile.

And after looking at what I swear was the same black shoe paraded up and down in front of me for far too long, I am convinced this is a wicked form of reverse gender torture. I mean, I’m sure at some point \I have tortured him like this with clothing or handbags or dresses. But shopping for men’s black dress shoes – oh, this crosses the line from I will tolerate this because I love you to I am totally bored and starting to loathe you. Pick a shoe, any shoe, and let’s get on with shopping at the mall – is that not why I am here, to shop, for me?

Psssssstt……….LAW OF THE MALL.

“Which one,” he asks, holding out two pairs before me, looking for help. Are you kidding? Which one? You mean the black one or the other black one. Let’s see, I close my eyes and pick….THE BLACK ONE?

Finally he settles on one pair, which then complicates the matter by about 1000 percent as he tries to figure out which shoe goes in which box. The hazards of trying on what appeared to be 10 different versions of the SAME EXACT SHOE.

He then proceeds to begin putting the shoes back in the boxes after he has made his choice. I sit watching this completely stunned. The man that will build large piles of papers all over the tables, not close a cabinet door, throw clothing on the floor is now cleaning up the shoe department? Who is this man? And how unfair is it that he is not the same as the one that lives with me?

I don’t like shopping like this. I do not like shopping like this. I will never go shopping like this again. The law of the mall is almost bursting from my lips.

Then it was done - shoe department – cleaned - shoes – purchased - shoe sales clerk – way too sexual for this department – and I think we are finally done. I think it is safe to return this mission to it’s original mission – to go shopping.

“How about a tie, I need a tie,” Chris says. Oh that is it. I have reached my boiling point and just as I am about to say there will be no tie shopping today, he looks at me and in his eyes I see the reflection of more than 500 hundred shopping trips in which I have bored him to the point of him falling asleep in a chair with head back and mouth wide open in a chair in the corner of a bookstore. Finding him like that was so amusing that I decided to top it off by gently placing a copy of the Slow Fat Triathlete in his lap for all the world to see. When he woke up, he didn’t find it that funny.

Fine, tie shopping it is.

The tie department, couldn’t be any worse than the shoe department that was filled with one thousand variations of the same black shoe.

Oh it was worse.

Imagine one thousand variations of the same patterned tie. Except this one has circles. And that one has squares. And those lines go vertically. And those lines go the other way. And that one is brown, and….you get the point.

A day later, we have chosen a tie. And I am released with freedom shop in my choice of stores, as far away from shoes and ties that can be.

Lotion, I need lotion, I need my overpriced, smelly lotion fix please. We enter the giant Bath & Body Works, a flagship store that is seriously the size of a large ship sinking with its own heavy scent of fruit, flowers, and freshness.

We walk into the store and suddenly even I - as motivated as I am to spend large sums of money on large tubs of lotion – am stopped dead at the door.

What’s this? Before me, stands….a man? Wearing an apron? A male employee of an overpriced lotion store? All of a sudden something smells, well….fishy.

“Want to try some new Iced Tea Twist Lotion?” he asks a little too exuberantly for a guy wearing an apron standing in front of a door.

I look at him with an out of my way. I’ve been prisoner of male shoe shopping, tied up by male tie shopping, and honestly the last thing I want to see right now is a man standing in the way of my girlie girl lotion store.

“No thanks,” I say, refusing the possible peace offering of new Iced Tea Twist lotion.

“Oh come on, it smells really good,” he pours out, not so convincingly.

I look back at him, I look at the rest of the store. I want him out of my way. I’ve waited too long. He’s being too pushy. And he just doesn’t belong in this store. I don’t want his iced tea. I don’t care if it has a twist. I don’t care if it only costs five dollars.

I hate iced tea,” I bark back. It was true. I hate iced tea. I don’t understand hot tea so I certainly don’t understand iced tea and having worked in restaurants for many years I especially don’t like people who order iced tea only because it is a bottomless beverage and you end up refilling their glass every 30 seconds with iced tea. They ask for more lemons. Or more sugar. Or a new straw. Or more ice for their tea. I don’t want to drink iced tea and I certainly don’t want to smear it all over my body. I DO NOT LIKE ICED TEA.

Finally, he accepts my snarky snub of the Iced Tea lotion and leaves me alone. I drag Chris through the lotion store searching for something they no longer make and leave lotionless and more than a little disturbed. And on the way out, the man in the apron says to have a good night.

I sneer – OUTLANDER get out of MY lotion store even though I am the one to leave. This store is no place for a man just as black dress shoe shopping is no place for a woman. His presence in this store – a store of froo froo fragrance and other lotiony delights – is so glaringly wrong. It looks wrong, it feels wrong, it sounds wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I want him extracted and gone. Out of the store. You are ruining the only fully female thing that I seem to enjoy these days. Your manliness in a store oozing with woman is making me sick.

Chris asks where else I want to go, and sadly I say home. I’ve had enough of this bizarre trick of a shopping trip. I want to go home. A woman should not shop for man’s things, and a man should not be in a woman’s shopping store. The whole trip was backwards, messed up, wrong. What the hell just happened there?

Perhaps this was punishment for all the times I abandoned Chris in a store while I shopped for myself, perhaps this was payback for years of asking “does this make me look fat/short/small-chested/hippy/thick-ankled/hootchie-mama-ish?”

Or perhaps I should have just pulled out the law of the mall. When Chris first asked, if I wanted to go shopping, I should have just obeyed the law and stuck to my guns that two people, though together and in love, do not belong with one another at the shopping mall.

Be warned!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

This Is Your Safe Place

Flying back from San Angelo to Dallas, I flipped through the airline magazine and read article about a website called Post Secrets. It is a website with postcards, sent by ordinary people, confessing their secrets. Some are accompanied by pictures or the person’s artwork.

I visited the site, and will make a confession of my own – I thought it was fabulous. More than once I found myself laughing out loud because I have thought the same exact thing (the mother-in-law postcard is classic). And that is why this website works – because it makes a connection to something that you also feel. Because it makes you feel like someone else out there shares your secret, crazy point of view, quirky habits, deepest fears, or darkest memories.

I’m not sure I’ll send in a postcard any time soon, but I thought I would make my own list of secrets. You can call it true confessions of a triathlete. But then I had a thought, if I’m confessing things then isn’t it only fair that you confess too? So, after you read through mine you better fess up for yourself.

I once timed an event for a pro and after that experience thought they were the biggest cheater and crybaby I have ever met when they claimed the results were inaccurate because they were not in their favor. BOO HOO

One day I want to qualify for the Olympic trials in marathon. Someone told me I couldn’t do it. I want to do it because I know I can.

I once painted Scott Tinley’s toenails a color called Soldier Boy.

I am more worried about getting slow when I’m old than getting old.

I may have asked Chris to help me buy my first bike because secretly I wanted to get to know more about him. I could have bought a bike with anyone.

My first half Ironman was very, very hilly. I go so scared at the top of one hill that my stomach dropped and I had to go - NOW. I actually walked up a nearby driveway, knocked on their door, and asked if I could use their bathroom. I also borrowed a jacket and lawn gloves from them because I was really cold.

The first time I rode my first triathlon bike with Chris, I got two flats. I had no idea how to change them.

I once tried an aero drinking system during a half-Ironman. I hated it so much that I threw it into some bushes along side the rode after 10 minutes into the bike.

Clear water makes me crazy with fear. I can't stand seeing what's below. If the water is clear I spend the entire time spinning crazy stories in my head about kelp monsters and lake snakes.

I have held Michellie Jones’ silver medal.

There was one year I must have ditched a dozen hats. I would start off in every run part of the race wearing a hat, it would make my head too hot, so I would throw the hat. After that year I started wearing visors.

I have blown my nose on my basement floor more than once.

I take a shower before a race.

I've crashed riding my trainer indoors. I was on the phone with my mom while riding easy. Next thing I knew, I fell to the left and into a table. I broke a spoke, a derailleur, and banged up my arm.

I have walked my bike up a hill during a race.

In my first triathlon, my biggest concern was how to hold my hair back during the run. I actually bought a special headband for that.

I nearly got disqualified from a race for being “glib and combative” with an official.

I ran around, not through, one of the mud pits at Muddy Buddy. I didn't need to get THAT muddy.

Other than the time I got a flat, I have never DNF'ed.

I vowed to myself that one day – maybe in 5, 10, 20, 30 years, I will win my age group at Kona.

The time that I accidentally wore Chris’ timing chip to a race while he accidentally wore mine – that really was an accident. Even though it was a national championship, and you didn’t believe me. That’s why I got glib and combative with you.

I have been pulled out of the water in a race.

The one time I didn't drive the course before the race, I got a flat.

A guy next to me at a race had a plastic stool in his transition area. And you know what – I used it during my transitions and it made them a lot of easier. But I still would never bring a stool of my own.

Things I have ridden into during a race - an orange traffic cone, a dog, another competitor.

I check the entry list before a race and ‘google’ most of the women in my age group.

I have only swam over one athlete in the past 7 years. After the race, I found out that athlete was my husband.

Someone once asked me how many bricks I do in a week. I didn’t respond but I wanted to tell them that honestly I can’t think of a day that goes by when I don’t do a brick.

I don't flip turn.

Someone heard that I did Kona. They looked at me and doubtfully said “you did Kona?” I wanted to tell them that it’s not like a rollercoaster – there is no height or weight limit. Anyone can do it if they’re good enough.

Last year after I heard a pro bragging about her million dollar sponsorship contracts I stopped listening to what she had to say.

I didn't really learn how to swim until I was 24.

Sometimes I read about people that do 50, 60, even 70 miles a week of running. I have only run over 36 miles in a week once and that was during IM training.

I am so picky about mixing my sports drink before races that I even have my own scoop that Chris cannot use.

Someone once accused me of drafting in a race as I passed them. I think they were just angry I passed them. I never forgot that person. And when saw them on the course in Kona, and I passed them again, I'll admit I put the power down a little just to make a silent point.

The more someone posts on Slowtwitch, the less I care what they have say.

I don't keep track of distance when I run, I just run. I have my measured landmarks but even those are just guesswork. I have no idea how fast I can go until race day.

Getting an ITU silver medal was cool. But going to Kona was cooler.

Those are my true confessions - well, as true as they can get with my name plastered all over this page. But for you - anything goes – and for today - this is your triathlon “safe place”. Fess up!

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Chase Is On

Race morning, we woke up to a quiet, overcast sky in San Angelo, Texas. Chris and I loaded up the car, a PT cruiser, a car I had shook my head about when we arrived at the rental car counter at the airport. Texas, land of bigger is better, land of four big wheels with four wheel drive, and we drive around town in a clown car. Barely my bike fits in, and before the race we luckily find someone also staying at our hotel with, of course, a pick-up truck who offers to transport Chris’ bike.

By the time we arrive at transition, the still skies and lifeless flags are far off as the notorious western Texas wind has begun to blow. Even the locals seem a little scared, telling us though it is usually windy in San Angelo, it is not usually this windy.

We reach the start line with the other long course competitors. The gun goes off. About 12 men pull ahead, and I follow behind them. The pace feels comfortably fast. The men keep pulling further and I am, as usual, stuck in a middle ground between those going really fast and everyone else.

The course starts along a paved road for only first ½ mile of the 4.96 mile run. Then, the course rolls over a rocky, dusty path. Rugged rocks are inconveniently scattered everywhere, in every size – both big and small. Soon later, we take a right turn on to what is called the dirt road from hell. It’s a steady incline on a dusty road lined with soft, red dirt and sand. I try to run in the treads from a vehicle, but every so often what feels like a deep pit of sand catches me in a step.

I pick off a few men who have gone out too fast, and begin the climb up towards mile two. Mile two plateaus and then turns towards the turnaround table. As I make my way around the turnaround table, I find the one wet patch of ground in the bone dry desert of a dirt road. SMACK! My feet slip out from under me, my entire left side slams on to the ground.

Quickly, I am back on my feet but there are stinging scrapes on my shin filled with sand, and I am covered in dirt. Immediately, I am surprised at how much my entire left side hurts and aches from this fall once I start running again. I’m pushing through it but not too hard as I realize there is already a two to three minute gap between myself and the second woman.

Upon realizing this, in my head, I hear the words of my coach before I left - don’t go to the well unless you have to. We all know “the well”. It’s a place where you dip into a deep cavern filled with pure hurt and pain. If you don’t have to go there, you don’t want to go there, especially in April. Still, it’s a strange thing to show up at the start line with permission to accept a little less of yourself. But I knew that was the plan, and what I had to do; just do what it takes to qualify for long course du worlds.

I sustain what feels like a comfortable pace into the transition area. I mount my bike to ride not only out of San Angelo, but entirely out of the county. The wind was furious from the south, gusting to 30 mph with a steady fury around 20. I knew from talking with a past participant that the first 18 – 20 miles would be headwind Being from Chicago, I am no stranger to big, boisterous gusts and blows of wind. But this wind is much bigger even than that – but again, everything in Texas – as we know – is much bigger.

But knowing that didn’t make the headwind any easier. In fact, it was hard. The hardest headwind I have ever raced into. So hard that afterwards Chris asked me if I had cried out there (no, I did not). Despite the wind, the difficulty, I didn’t give up. Though I knew it would be windy for least one hour, I knew that it would also be over in an hour. 18 – 20 miles, and that was it. I would get through it. The time would pass – it always does. So I put my head down, spun my pedals, and just rode.

I felt like I was moving fairly fast into the wind. Men were passing me, but I figured it was more body mass and muscular power that pushed them through. And then I checked my speedometer. I thought maybe I was going 18 mph into the wind. I thought I was moving slowly by surely along. Wrong – how about pushing 16 maxed out? I started to curse San Angelo, I started to curse the winds, I even started to curse long course duathlon worlds that stupid race in October that brought me here to these winds in the first place. And then I cursed at myself because that’s what I thought a champion would do. Get over it, Liz.

Around 45 minutes into the bike, a woman passes me. I had been lost in my own thoughts, trying to talk myself through the wind. The woman rolls by me in her small ring. She made the move. And now I had to respond. I thought back to something Kristin V. said to me in February. A woman passed her and she knew she had to respond. So she had a conversation with herself, saying “if ever you’re going to make a move, you have to do it now.” And, so, as I rode out there in west Texas with the woman slightly ahead of me – I thought to myself, “Make your move, NOW.” I dropped into the small ring, gave it everything I had to spin those pedals as furiously as the whipping of the wind to get past her. It was a game I wasn’t sure I wanted to play into this wind. But I had to make the move. I keep waiting, waiting for her to come back by. A few miles later, I looked over my shoulder and she wasn’t there.

I am getting back into a rhythm and have made a peaceful partnership with the wind. After all, if you can’t beat them, join them. It pushes me, so I push right back. And just when I felt smooth, and good, and strong, I hear the sound of a water bottle hitting pavement. I have launched my rear left bottle. Behind me I heard the familiar hum of the official motorcycle that had been monitoring for most of the morning courtesy of me being in the lead. I stopped, turned back around, picked up my bottle, and rode on. Rhythm reestablished.

Finally, just as I expected, we make a right turn. Cross wind. Not as great as tailwind, but for now it will do. We ride along a long road with a series of hills called the seven sisters. You reach the top of one, and the road ahead opens up to reveal an endless view of the other hills ahead of you. To the right, the roads are lined with mesquite trees with wispy leaflets in the most beautiful spring green. Short, spiny cactus are scattered beneath. Buzzards circle above. It is terrain so unique of Texas.

The crosswind is so very much easier than the headwind. Though I was warned about the disc wheel being a bad choice for crosswinds, I am quite pleased with the choice. Occasionally, a gust rushes from my left but in return I tighten my core and put my weight into the aerobars. And the wheel seems to slip through a small opening in the wind, pushing me faster along. Men that pushed by me into headwind I am now picking off steadily, one by one.

From time to time, I look behind and I see no one but men. I seem to be in a solid position plus I’m physically and mentally feeling really good. My head is completely relaxed and lost in my own thoughts. Sure, I’m pushing those pedals and I’m working hard but it’s different. This race is different. As I thought about it earlier in the week, wondering how to approach it, what to do – a thought came to me, “just stay on top of yourself.” And that’s exactly what I did– just staying on top of myself, my nutrition, my effort. This was long course, I knew what to do, I knew what it takes. All I had to do was stay on top of myself to make sure it gone done, to respond to race at it unfolded. Let go and let it happen.

The course turns right again, and it becomes instantly quiet – tailwind. Immediately, I am geared out spinning 104 rpm’s at 31 mph. In a word, it is glorious. I wish I had more gears but one can’t have everything so I just spin as easily as possible and let the wind carry me along. This makes the headwind worth it, this is the reward for the work.

Towards the end of the ride, over two hours of riding choppy, chip-sealed pavement is settling into my legs and my hands are hurting from the vibrations of the road. Not only that, but I forget how long racing 45 miles really is. I forget how much food you have to eat. And how much beverage goes down. My stomach feels a little unsettled and not ready to process all of the calories. But now is not the time to listen. It’s getting a late April crash course in calories. And I won’t listen to anything else. If I can’t silence these thoughts now, I’ll never get anywhere this season. So I tell my stomach to shut up, and trust myself on this one.

Finally, off the bike. I force my feet into my shoes. Upright again, I feel the pain of duathlon settling in – mostly to my backside, my ITB’s, my quads. A feeling I have come to call duathlon legs, noodly and tight all at the same time. My stomach feels good – I knew it would. My legs slowly feel better.

And could it get any better than being only 4.96 miles from the finish line? It did. On the way out, I saw my husband. He looked as comfortable as could be and he was clearly in the lead. Inside I smiled. Finally, I thought. And then I said it outloud, it’s about time you won a race. Finally, he put it all together. And, in his own words “didn’t screw it up”.

Inside I am so happy for Chris, and think to myself how great it would be to also win. But my race is not over yet. The day had grown hotter, the wind stronger, and the dirt road from hell became a dusty devilish mess. The sand seemed about 10 feet deeper and the incline like a mountain. Ahead of me, I passed a few men that had passed me. I made my way through the hot, dusty miles that seemed so much longer than the first run.

At the turnaround, I saw that I had a comfortable lead over the other women and, in the last few miles, just got the job done. I enjoy the last 1/2 mile on pavement, then crossed the line over 7 minutes ahead of the second place woman.

There was Chris, he congratulated me and asked what happened to leg. I said something about sliding out, but more importantly I congratulated him on his win – not just a win, but how about a 10 minute margin over the next man. It was his day, his race. People wanted to talk to him, wanted to know what he did, how he biked that strong.

Later on, after the awards, Chris looked at me with the sparkle of celebrity in his eye. “Is this what winning is like?” he asked. I chuckled, yes. Winning is often like this. Get ready for it. From now on, you’re it. You’re the one that everyone will know. You’ll show up at start lines thousands of miles away, not knowing anyone but everyone will know you – they’ll know your name, they’ll know your race results, they’ll know you’re fast. And they’ll put an imaginary bullseye on your back that only they can see. He laughs.

But it feels good, doesn’t it? I say outloud what I am sure he has been thinking since he crossed the finish line. It feels good to be at your best, to put it all together and see it pay off. And now that you’ve won, you’ll want it more and more again. He says no, no he will not do this. But I tell him to give it time. Wait until the next time you toe the line. You’ve set a new benchmark for yourself. You’ve taken it up a notch and next time you’ll expect nothing less. You’ll chase after it like a rival you can’t see ahead – and when you catch up with it again, it will only reinforce how much you enjoy not only the chase but the reward.

We spend the rest of the afternoon traveling through the state park enjoying the sun and the scenery. I think about the race, and the analogy of the chase. It’s not only the rivals you chase, but it’s the perfect race. I think about my race – and pick it apart. Perhaps I should have pushed harder into the wind, picked it up for the second run, not dropped that bottle, worn less slippery racing flats, painfully gone “to the well”.
I see Chris, content, smiling, and think to myself he has the face of a perfect race. I know that place, and know that in the season ahead I will put it all together to perfection, when the time is right I’ll take it to the well.

The season has begun – it’s late April and we are approaching prime time for racing. I’m excited. I’m hungry. The perfect race is out there where I’ll be at my very best. I’m ready for that chase. Everything will come together at exactly the right time. And hopefully, in some divine interaction of synchronicity, perfection, and luck, Chris will be chasing after it too and at that same time find the same exact thing.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Lucky In Love

I was standing in the kitchen listening to music when the garage door opened abruptly with one angry-looking Chris emerging from the other side.

LIZ,” Chris called out by the door. He had been in the garage disassembling our bikes for shipment to Texas. I had been entirely left out of this project – probably for the best – until this moment when he busted into the house to call me out.

Quick, think fast. What do I do? Surely this wasn’t good. The urgency in Chris’ voice suggested that he had either impaled himself with a bicycle spoke or discovered that I had impaled one of tires with a spoke and then ridden it 100 miles on the rim through the rain. In other words, it sounded pretty bad.

At that moment, Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens began playing on my laptop; one of my favorite Louis Jordan songs. I looked around - seriously, did somebody cue that?

“Yes?” I responded with shy weakness and a slight bit of fear. I was like a kid in the corner of the room caught with a crayon on the hand and the threat of anonymously signed scribbles on the wall.

“HOW DID YOU BREAK YOUR DERAILLEUR?” he asked, a little urgent and huffy, but nonetheless the question cut through the air in such that even the chickens ran away.

Really, I thought, you must have the wrong Liz. There’s nothing wrong with my derailleur, I just used it the other day. Bike shifted smooth like butter through 4 x 10 minute intervals in zone 3. Not a word from the derailleur – front nor back.

“It’s broken,” he said.

“It can’t be broken if it still works,” I explained. I didn’t need to have an Engineering to know that if it works it is most definitely not broken. Must we argue the semantics of it?

“It’s broken but it still works,” he clarified.


“How could that have happened?” I asked – remember rule #1 – admit nothing.

“Changing the wheel, pulling on the chain, tugging at the derailleur,” he rattled off a list of things only an idiot would do to their bike. A list of things clearly I had not been guilty of in the past few weeks.

See blog dated March xx, 2007…

“Or dropping the frame?” I added – I figured I might as well make his list complete.


Well in that case, then you have the right Liz.

He went on to explain how I had probably broken the derailleur when I dropped the bike but it still worked. You see, I broke the pin that holds it which normally isn’t a problem until you take the wheel off and then, in his words, the chain goes crazy.

I thought back to my wheel changing experience a few weeks ago, and thought that the chain may have exhibited some degree of crazy behavior.

“You mean like tying itself into knots crazy?” I asked.

“Yes, it would curl all up,” he explained.

Knowing there was an explanation made me feel better because I remember thinking to myself how inexplicable the whole situation was where I dropped the bike and then in some strange twist the chain had twisted itself into impenetrable coils. Crazy chain.

He ran downstairs and reappeared with assorted bike parts. He stood in the kitchen looking at me.

“This only proves my theory that every time you touch a wheel you break something,” he said, reaffirming his own theory by saying it out loud. “And this only proves why I need to keep the parts for an extra bike laying around the house.”

With that, he disappeared into the garage to repair my bike – yet again – perhaps the 10th time this season – and it’s only April – that he has fixed, replaced, overhauled something on my bike because of it’s own death by way of Liz’s hands.

Husband, as I call him, may snore at times, and leave his oatmeal bowl in the sink, but I’ll admit that every time he fixes my bike without charging a fee, or throwing something out of frustration, or making me feel bad for breaking something again, I love him a little more and can’t help but think how lucky I am to have man that knows how to use the tools to fix my mistakes.

Every triathlete should be so lucky in love...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Petty Annoyances

Petty annoyances. We've all got them. Sometimes our life fills up like a list of petty annoyances - things we put up with just because.

I was reading a book recently that suggested we stop putting off these petty annoyances. They drain us of our energy for doing the things in life that we really enjoy or things that really make us feel complete.

And so I set about to make a list of all my annoyances. At first, the list went on slowly but then I got into a rhythm starting to separate each part of my life and record each little annoying thing there.

Some were as simple as the pictures that need to be hung in the basement, picking up junk mail, not having the internet at home, when Chris plugs up the sink drain with his oatmeal bowl (sorry, Chris). Others were more about my family - not talking often enough to my brother, not seeing my mom enough. Then there was the job - I pulled out a separate page for that one. There was a page for things I kept putting off for myself that I really, truly wanted to do but never made the time.

My list went on - and on, and on. It's not that I'm entirely annoyed with life, it's just that there are so many things that I put up with and tolerate - again just because - and so many things that I want to do - so why do I keep letting these little annoyances stand in the way?

That was it - it was full on war for the petty annoyances. I was armed and ready to get things done and I wasted no time.

On Tuesday, I replaced the broken soap dispenser in Chris' bathroom because pumping it a thousand times was just far too annoying to tolerate anymore.

On Wednesday, I ordered high speed internet for our house because driving to the library, banditting in the Panera parking lot, and sitting for hours at Caribou was costing me time and money in gas. By Sunday, we went wireless.

On Thursday, I started reading a book - this time for leisure dammit without anything to learn, gain, or think about. Heck, I hope I don't even remember the title by the time I'm done.

On Friday, I cleaned some old clothes out of my closet and decided to sell them to the secondhand store and then use that money for coffee - woo hoo!

On Saturday, I politely asked Chris to stop plugging up the sink and explained that oatmeal flakes floating in two inches of water all day in the sink was making more of a mess than I cared to clean. He laughed and said ok.

On Sunday, I went out to eat with my mom and Chris, enjoying some excellent food, conversation, and time together.

I've got my list, I've checked it twice. Actually, I've checked off things more than twice this weekend because this list is helping me stay on track and get things done. I'm tired of being annoyed by the little things. Life is meant to be enjoyed - fully, and now.

Try it for yourself. Quick, make a list of everything and I mean everything that is annoying you. For one thing, you'll feel better for just getting it out. For another thing, you're more likely to do something about it because it's written down and proof of how many things you've let get in the way of you enjoying your life the way you want to enjoy it. Plus it makes you more accountable for fixing it when you write it down. Every time you take care of something, cross it out. See how good it feels.

Of course, you can't fix or solve everything. And you can't eliminate all annoying things in your life. But maybe admitting how much it annoys you will motivate you to find a better way to deal with it or improve it. It's worth a shot.

As for me - next up, the pictures that need to be hung in the basement. Oh, but first the basement.....better pull out another page for that one.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Adversity Advantage

On Saturday, I had a 4 hour ride.

I thought about riding outside. But as we drove back from the pool, and noticed the temperature was 29 degrees, I thought otherwise.

“Do you think I could ride outside?” I asked Chris. Usually, he is enthusiastic about riding outdoors no matter what the weather. But today was different.”Look at those flags, Liz,” he said, pointing to a flag whipping viciously from the west.

He was probably right. But just to be sure, I asked my coach. Usually, she is even more enthusiastic about riding outdoors in any type of weather.

“No way, not today,” was what she said.

But I wasn’t convinced. Something had just gotten into me. An inkling to ride outdoors. And when you get an inkling like this it cannot go ignored. I had to try – I had to at least give it a try outdoors. Chris promised to send me warm thoughts from the basement.

I suited up – fleece tights, wool socks, toe warmers, base layer, jersey, fleece vest, fleece jacket, fleece-lined balaclava, helmet, fleece gloves, fleece mittens. Ten pounds later, I boarded my cyclocross bike barely able to move my fingers enough to feel the bars.

I decided to do a nearby 15 minute loop. The most open part would be tailwind followed by some sheltered loops and turns through a neighborhood and back down through a hilly neighborhood behind our house.

The first part was comfortable – the tailwind pushed me along and I cruised along. Turning into the neighborhood, a crosswind made me work a little harder. The rest of the loop was a little headwind, some crosswind. It was short enough to keep me out of the headwind for too long and long enough to keep me entertained.

It certainly wasn’t warm but it wasn’t unbearably cold – or at least it would be for a few minutes but then I would turn and go back to comfortably warm. The wind tried to tell me at least a dozen times to turnaround and go home but I wouldn’t listen. I thought to myself that this is what I needed to do. Workouts like this in weather like this was what I had to do. It wasn’t a choice – it was what a champion would do.

I lasted for 90 minutes before my feet got cold and my thumbs were numb. My stomach started to feel sick. I lasted it out for another 10 minutes before returning indoors to finish the remaining time. And as I sat there in a fixed position, dripping sweat after 20 minutes, I felt much better knowing that I had given the cold a try and lasted for longer than even I expected.

My ride that day was nothing short of an exercise in adversity. I may have only lasted 90 minutes but what I gained was worth much more. You see, there’s not much that sets us all apart. We all train hard, we all train a lot, we all have the best bikes and fast wheels. We know what to eat, we know how much to sleep. But what sets us apart in the end, what makes the difference are the little things in between. It’s the little things that add up to give you an advantage – and you have to seek out the opportunities for advantages and take advantage of them when you can.

What matters most is seeking out adversity for these advantages. There are uncontrolled adversities – rain, wind, heat, hills, cold – and there are controlled adversities – overdressing, overeating, overdoing it early on – in any case you have the control to put yourself into these situations and learn something from them. Do it when you can, do it when you least to want to. That's when it will count the most.

The other day someone asked me to recall a "perfect" race – honestly, I couldn’t think of one. In any given race, you face so much adversity along the way – 107 degree heat index in Arkansas, Cornernbrook when it poured cold rain, crashing at Muncie, Pineman when the swim start was 38 degrees, losing a water bottle in Alabama – but what matters is that when I was faced with these adversities, I knew what to do because I had done it so many times in training, because my body and mind had memory for what to do.

When I step up to the start line in the races that really count, I know that everyone else will show up with 99 percent of the same things as me – training, preparation, nutrition, hopes, dreams. But what they won’t have are the things that made me tougher – riding when it’s 29 degrees, swimming hard after a hilly run, climbing those mountains, monster swims. Every time I face adversity, I file it away in my mind to pull out when it matters most; when I think there’s nothing left to give in a race, when someone attacks, when I see someone just up ahead.

The advantage that you have is adversity. Did you train with it, did you embrace it, did you make it your best friend? You know in any given race adversity will be your enemy. And you know what they say - keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer so seek out adversity, make friends with it, keep it close. This is what will count in the end.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Brunch n’ Munch

Easter Sunday had finally arrived. I had been waiting, saving for this all week. Completely off the sugar for seven days, I scheduled a major sugar meltdown for Sunday.

The entire family headed out to Easter brunch at a local hotel. It was one of those extravagant food affairs with multiple buffet lines, omelette stations, waffles, pancakes, ham, lamb, potatoes, cheese, rice, rolls, fruit, and…..what seemed like a mile long table of desserts.

First I started with the real food, but honestly I was eyeing the desserts. All week I had dreamed of these desserts, luscious, creamy, chocolately, cakey. I quickly ate through my meat and green things (must always have my green) and then made my way to the desserts.

Meredith suggested a small plate, I superseded that decision by choosing a big plate. I piled it high with chocolate chunk brownies, caramel apple cake, caramel and chocolate covered cheesecake, pecan tortes, and more. Up and down, I walked along the table looking and re-looking to make sure that I had not missed one sugary thing.

“I’ve never seen you eat that much,” cousin Mikey said to me. I looked right back at him – really? Had you not been watching me all summer at cookouts and Sunday barbeques? Did you not know me during Ironman training? He must have caught on because he quickly corrected himself and said “wait, no, that’s Megan who usually eats three bites and then she’s stuffed.” Ah yes, that is most definitely not me. I might eat this piece of caramel apple creamy filled cake in three bites and I still will not be stuffed.

Walking back to the table, I took a detour when something caught my eye. There I was, standing with a plate full of sugary sticky sweets when I stumbled upon delightful looking plate filled with creamy, fluffy cupcakes. I must have bowled over three kids, nearly ripped off their Easter bonnets just to get my hands on one of those cupcakes.

About ten minutes later, I wasted no time, the desserts were all gone and my tummy was completely full. My favorite was the chocolate chunk brownie. The cupcake looked much better than it tasted but it was just as much fun to play with. In fact, Meredith went up to get one just so we could play with the little chicks perched in the frosting on top.

My chick was a little crazy looking. The eyes were looking in two different directions. And after I played with it for a little while, it went and shit itself....

And then Meredith's chick decided to enjoy a little Easter grass.

Anyways, after eating my weight in desserts and playing with the little chicks, Meredith and I decided to chase down the Easter bunny for a picture. So, here it is, Happy Easter from me and Meredith to you.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Don’t Cry Over Spilt Coffee

It’s been a rough week.

Winter has returned to Chicagoland with blustery winds and chilly temperatures. Today’s high – a crisp 32 degrees with wind chills in the low 20’s. For Easter Sunday, there is a chance of snow.

For triathletes that have been trapped in their basement riding or running atop a treadmill for the better part of the past six months, this is not what we would like to see. We want to be free – we want to run without 10 lbs of gear and ride with both wheels rolling. We want to test a winter’s worth of strength training, gear grinding, and indoor run intervals.

But not yet. Instead, all week we’ve lugged out our balaclavas, tights, and toe warmers to brave the un-April like elements.

For most of the winter, this was ok. I was mentally tough, pushing through it, thinking that every obstacle was making me tougher, stronger, harder to beat. I had been thinking and feeling that way since November.

But April isn’t supposed to be like this. It’s not that physically we need a break, it’s just that mentally we're on the edge. Trust me, I’ve been talking to some of the nation’s top triathletes that live in this area – SOME IN MY OWN HOME – and we’re all feeling the same thing. We are weary of the winter, we are ready to be warm. We are ready to let it all out.

This morning, I woke up dreading the day before me. Dreading work, dreading the biting wind, dreading the duathlon brick that faced me on my schedule.

I stood in the bathroom after my shower in silent protest of the day ahead, grumpy and punchy about what seemed like a to-do list of things I most certainly did not want to do.

Today is the day, I thought to myself, today I will crack. It’s been a long time coming. It’s been a long winter of solid training and sucking it up. But today, April 6th, today would be the day. And someone was going to hear about it.

I turned to the obvious – my husband.

I rattled on and on about being in a foul mood – more so than usual. I complained about the weather, about the workout, about work, I may have even said some unkind words about coffee who has always been much more than my fair-weather friend.

And as I sat bitching and moaning in my own world of whiny uselessness, I looked over to see Chris laying on the made bed, curled in a fetal position, and looking my way.

“What’s your story?” I asked, surprising myself that I had stepped out of my own selfish world of pity and dismay to even recognize that he was still in the room.

“My knee hurts,” he said. Say no more, I thought. It’s April 6th, the day is dreary, it’s cold, it’s Friday, and neither one of us wanted to do a damn thing today. Certainly not a duathlon brick, not now, not later, maybe not even ever. His knee hurt, my left leg hurt, we were both in what seemed like a world of physical, mental, emotional pain. It was just one of those days.

After a few more minutes of bitching and moaning in perfect pitiful symphony, we decided to do the one thing that would clear it right up – coffee.

We drove to Caribou, past the construction that has completely enveloped a 1 mile radius around our house. Everything is surrounded by orange barricades and wooden horses, flashing lights, a real traffic mess. Sometimes I feel trapped by my life, days like this I am literally trapped in my life and the barricades, lights, and trucks are living proof.

But at least I had my husband in tow and at least we were going for coffee. We arrived at Caribou and quickly ordered 16 ounces of please dear god perk and pick me up NOW.

I went to pour cream in my coffee when the unthinkable, undesirable, unimaginable happened – my glove – MY FLEECE GLOVE THAT I WAS WEARING IN APRIL – caught on the edge of the cup and it teetered and tilted until several ounces came splashing overboard, all over my gloves, on to the counter, and spilling on to my jeans.

“That did not just happen,” I said, looking down at my once-clean, now-soiled jeans.

“It did just happen,” Chris confirmed, “are you going to cry?” he asked. He may have asked this as a joke, or he may have been quite serious at this point because after all it had been one of those mornings where nothing seemed to be going my way and everything was leaving me on the edge of explosive tears.

I felt like I was living in a bad Shel Silverstein poem, might as well have been standing in my bathrobe with hair disheveled, a smirky frown, a gash, a rash, and purple bumps. There I was little Peggy Ann McKay and I did not want to go to school today, or work, or work out. All I wanted to do was drink my coffee but even that wasn’t going right today.

“No,” I said, “no, I’m not going to cry, I’m going to get another cup.” And that’s what I did, I got another cup and then enjoyed what was left of my Guatemalan cup of joy.

It didn’t bring much joy, instead it just made me jittery before work. That’s what I get for selecting the light roast. When I got to work, I was a little more than wound up and in no mood to do any work today.

“I’m in a foul mood and I don’t want to go to Wal-Mart,” I announced to my co-worker as I passed by her office. She giggled and gave me a polite “good to know”.

I sat down and immediately wrote an e-mail to my coach. It may have contained some desperate cries for help, some self-consumed oh-pity-me statements, some confessions of feeling guilt for feeling so bad, feeling like I was giving up, feeling like I was losing all of my mental toughness in one foul Friday. It had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with me. It was just one of those days.

Like any good coach, like any true athlete herself, she acknowledged my feelings, admitted her own, and then gave me permission to feel this way. That’s all I wanted, permission to feel like a failure, a loaf, a loser for one day. I was living the I-want-to-be-a-world-champion-dream for so many months now that I just needed one day to DNF in my mind. Heck, I didn’t even want to make it to DNF. I just wanted permission to DNS and call it a day.

Later on, I went home to eat lunch. And when I was done, I decided I should probably go get the mail since yesterday I deemed it too cold to get the mail. Today was no better but if I didn’t get the mail it would probably start busting out of our mailbox.

At the bottom of the pile of letters, bills, and catalogues, I noticed the new issue of Triathlete magazine. I returned inside and decided to take the time for a quick flip through.

And in the middle of the magazine, an advertisement caught my eye. It was a picture of Bella Comerford, Samantha McGlone, and Torbjorn Sindalle. All were riding their bikes, and all had looks, grimaces of hard work, pain, and passion. Mouths were gritting, bodies were locked in position, eyes were furrowed and looking straight ahead.

I noticed the word champion in the ad, and suddenly I felt something. It was the desire to strive for that, it was the desire to get on top of my bike and pedal like hell towards a goal no matter how far away it seemed, no many how many more wintry days were ahead.

I closed the magazine, and thought to myself that after work, tonight, I would do my duathlon brick. Because these are the days that count. These are the workouts that I will remember – not the ones that go good but the ones that start out bad but end up better. Better because I did them, and proved to myself that even on a day when I wanted do nothing but cry over my split coffee, I could make something good out of it and push on towards my goals.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Never Break The Chain

Last Tuesday, I experienced a most frustrating chain of events.

Chris was out of town, leaving me to change the rear wheel on my time trial bike. This sounds like an easy task. It should be an easy task. But for some reason, this is never an easy task – something about the size of my frame and the size of the wheels. In other words, something I will probably never understand.

There I was, waiting to start a 2 hour indoor ride. The wheel had to be changed. It wasn’t even a choice. The one currently on the frame was my standard wheel. The one I wanted on the frame was my Power Tap wheel. It was a power workout, so I needed that Power Tap wheel.

Knowing I would be faced with this situation, I had called Chris the night before for back-up.

“Tomorrow I’m going to have to switch out my wheels,” I said with some safety that Chris was over 1200 miles away and had to accept the fact that I was going to take the wheel into my own hands whether he liked it or not.

“Woman, every time you touch that wheel you break something,” he said. Actually, it was more of a warning because it preceded by the word “woman” as he often does when the risk of Liz-inflicted trouble or damage is imminent to a piece of our cycling equipment, a household major appliance, or one of our vehicles.

“I won’t break anything,” I promised. That was a lie. There was no guarantee. My past record pointed towards a strong possibility that I would break something like a derailleur, a computer sensor, a magnet, a spoke, some cables, chip the frame, or the snag brakes. Have I mentioned all of the major parts of the bike?

“Maybe you should tell me what I do,” I said, hoping that this would at least allay his fears and give me an out in case I did break something. An "out" as in - I did what you said and it didn’t work. This is the mind of a woman at work.

“Whatever you do, take the skewer completely out,” he said. At first this didn’t make sense to me. But then, I remembered that last time it was probably the skewer that had broken the computer sensor so taking the skewer out would probably decrease my impending bicycle disaster by at least, oh, 3 percent.

“Ok, skewer out,” I recited.

“And just be careful,” he added, almost echoing from a distant, helpless cave of over 1200 miles away pleading for me to be careful, pleading but knowing it would probably be of no help.

I went down the basement and looked at the wheels. I eyed the Power Tap wheel propped against the wall. I looked over at my frame with its standard wheel in place. Narrowed my eyes back to the Power Tap wheel. Back to the frame. Again, the Power Tap. Damn that wheel, I need that wheel.

I can do this. If I can swim, bike, run for miles upon miles, if I can ride those wheels, climb mountains on those wheels, then surely I can change that wheel. How hard could it be?

I took the bike out of the trainer. For some reason, I thought balancing the bike out of the trainer would be a fabulous idea. Not so. It was a terrible idea because as soon as I removed the skewer (thank you, husband) and removed the wheel, I was left with one hand to balance a bike - a bike which felt like a 400 pound gorilla had just sat on the aerobars. And I still had the rear wheel in my other hand. Needless to say, it took about 30 seconds before the bike was out of balance and before I could catch it with my other hand it had completely dropped to the floor.

Not a big deal, except for the fact that it had landed chain first on our cream-colored carpeting.

”NOT THE CARPET!” I shouted, cursing the 6 inch line of chain grease that I had just added to what was becoming a collage of 6 inch lines of chain grease, cleat grease, sweat, exploded gels, and other nasty residue (I may have blown my nose on to this rug in a desperate act of forced nasal cleaning one day during Zone 4 time trial intervals after realizing that I didn’t have a towel or tissue nearby and the nose needed to be cleared NOW).

There I was, rear wheel still in my right hand, left hand totally flipping the bird at the bike and chain that lay crumpled on the floor. I propped the bike back up and then tried to put in the Power Tap wheel.

There is where things started to break down. You see, I tried to be patient. In fact, for about 5 minutes I was very, very patiently, and slowly trying to not use excessive force and curse words to cram the wheel into the rear dropout. Really, I did. But 5 minutes had gone by, and I had gotten nowhere and still had a wheel in hand.

And then it hit me. I became possessed with my own frustration as a wave of anger rushed over me and channeled directly into my hands which began jamming the wheel against the frame, the chain clanking on each and every spoke as the derailleur begged me to stop pulling on it for fear it would just snap entirely off.

Somewhere, 1200 miles away, I am sure my husband heard a faint clinking of metal on metal and thought to himself, “woman, you better not break that chain.”

Several attempts at shoving, jamming, pushing, cursing the wheel and chain later, I stood there completely covered in grease and a frame still completely de-rear-wheeled. That’s when I noticed something. I put the Power Tap wheel down.

What in the……how could this be…..I inched closer to the chain……are you kidding me.......this is a physical impossibility……the chain had somehow – on its own accord – twisted and turned itself into 3 separate knots. Has this chain been talking to my vacuum cleaner cord? It takes months for children to learn to tie their shoes yet somehow the vacuum cleaner cord, and now my bicycle chain, have mastered this in less than a few minutes? And entirely on their own (because obviously I had nothing to do with this)?

How in the world was I going to undo this one? It then hit me that there was a bicycle stand in our basement. And I could use that bicycle stand like an extra set of hands. Easy enough, I took the frame, the wheel to the stand and did what I thought was putting the frame into the stand. But like everything else thus far, this was not the case. For the second time, the frame dropped and might have even let out a little cry. I think I heard my husband cry too.

I started pushing and pulling on the bike stand – because that worked so well with the wheel – until I finally figured out the system by which you open and close the clamp to hold the frame. Must everything in this basement have some secret handshake for getting it to work? Is this how my husband keeps this room and all of these things sacred and separated from me? Like he stands there nightly with all of his cables, wrenches, chains, and says “IF THIS WOMAN APPROACHES YOU FIGHT WITH EVERYTHING YOU HAVE TO KEEP HER AWAY” while flashing a picture of my face.

Nearly 20 minutes had gone by, and finally the frame was hanging from the stand. I stepped back and assessed the damage done – I had completely degreased the chain and in exchange greased up myself – and the frame – the bike still had no wheel – and the chain was tied in knots.

At that point, I did what any woman that was just dying to get on her bike to do her damn power workout would do – I cried.

Then I got angry. Because this bike, this basement, this goddamn secret handshake password system that my husband secretly installed when I wasn’t looking, this had to be solved. I will figure you out, bike, and your Rubik’s cube of a rear wheel. Tonight I will ride.

I stood there greasy and almost defeated. But then I noticed another bike next to the stand. Enter Liz, the highly visual learner. I looked at it, rear wheel perfectly in place with chain flowing smoothly with the frame. I stepped closer, studying how this other fully functional bike looked, where the parts were in the frame, compared it to my frame and then a few minutes later wouldn’t you know that I had unknotted the chain, and installed rear wheel safely and securely into the frame with no broken chains, sensors, or even spokes.

I took the bike out of the stand, and put it back on my trainer and let my ride get underway. And by some divine miracle, the bike was fully operational for the entire ride.

Afterwards, I called my husband.

“I switched out my rear wheel today,” I reported.

“Woman, what did you break?” Chris asked the obvious, the expected.

Nothing, I thought to myself, nothing at all – almost my spirit, but that – like anything else – takes a lot more than a few pushes, pulls, and tugs to breakdown. You see, I may not know you the secret password to solving all of the cycling problems in the basement but I know how to try and I’ll work at it to get it done. It might not be a pretty process, and I might get a little dirty along the way, things might even crash and fall, but I’ll keep trying. I guess you could say that this process is the one chain that will never break – the confidence in my abilities to work hard at something – even if it’s something as simple as changing a wheel - until it gets done no matter how messy, shameful or tear-filled it gets.

“Nothing,” I said, this time honestly, no lie, “I broke nothing at all.”

I made no mention of the chain knots, the degreasing of the chain, the dropping of the frame, or even the sad fact that I had broken down and cried. Proverbial links in the chain, you could say, that were just better kept to myself.