Wednesday, June 27, 2007

West (On My) Side Story

The bags are packed, the bikes are boxed up, the suitcase is full, and tomorrow we're heading west. Ready or not, short course nationals, here we come.

The weekend promises to be full of fun. Jennifer - the coach - is joining us and has promised to be as chatty as ever. She said I better bring my coffee to be able to put up with her (now I see why Jerome does the double espresso shot before bed) - but I told her that just a pair of ear plugs would do.

I know that with bringing Jennifer along comes great responsibility. Caring for the elderly is never easy. I asked her if she packed her bonnet because clearly Chris and I would be driving Miss Daisy all weekend. She said it was already packed. Sorry, Jen, but did you think you were going to get away with being the oldest around us again?

Chris doesn't know what he's gotten himself into. Two crazy women, three bikes, and one stuffed monkey. Can anything good come of this combination? Let's hope. Because airfare to Portland ain't cheap. Someone better bring home hardware to make me feel like I got my money's worth.

Pre-race preparation was going well. Really well. And then tonight I slid out on my bike around a corner. Not so well. It was one of those corners where I looked ahead and thought "that looks slick, I bet I will slide out." And then in a slow motion moment I felt myself sliding out and sliding about 10 feet on the ground. I am grateful I was not run over because it was a busy corner. I got up and was so shaky that all I kept saying was "I'm ok, I'm ok". Then I rode a little more, stopped in a neighborhood, broke down and cried. Maybe it was the burning wounds on every major junction of my right side or the threat of signficant injury or the fact that a major race is less than 3 days away.

But Chris says this is just a test. To see if I can deliver. And I'm going to give it my best no matter what. In a sense, it felt like Buffalo Springs last year when my bike didn't show up. The little adversities were starting to stack against me. But that's ok. When you have clarity of purpose, nothing will stand in the way of you acheiving your goals. Nothing.

Good stories are when you perform when everything goes your way. Better stories are when you perform when nothing is going your way. So I'm going there, weeping wounds, slick roads, hills, rain, whatever Portland decides to throw my way, and I'm bringing a great story home. There will be a great story.

(plus about 1000 stories that we will hear from Jennifer.......ear plugs anyone?)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Short Leash

This past weekend, I let my husband off of his short leash and gave him free range. You see, the women’s only triathlon was in town.

And so, on Saturday we were scheduled to volunteer with local sponsors at the expo. I was excited to talk with women about the sport while Chris was excited to have a guilt-free opportunity approved by the wife to spend an entire day working on bikes – it can’t get any better than this but wait it does – AND talking to hot, fit chicks that would do nothing but give him oodles of attention and hang on his every word.

I was situated at my running sponsor tent while Chris and Jennifer, our coach, were at our bike sponsor tent. This separation was probably a good thing since working with Chris meant I would probably spend the day either wearing out my hand from slapping him repeatedly for staring at the parade of women walking by OR by bossing him around. Neither which would result in a good outcome (for him or for me).

Though Chris and I were physically separated, throughout the day people either felt obligated or oddly entertained to give me reports on what he was doing or who he was talking to. In my opinion this was totally unfair. Because they weren’t doing the same for me. After all, Liz is talking to yet another woman isn’t nearly as incriminating as Chris is talking to yet another hot young fit chick, is it? But still, the reports kept coming in and I guess the flirts, the giggles, and the chatterbox kept coming out of my husband.

It was about 1 pm when Jennifer, our coach, peeked out from behind a sign hanging by my tent.

“Chris is talking to all the young girly girls,” she reported with eyes raised. I wasn’t sure what to say. Or even if I should care at all. First of all, there was a very slim chance that any of the girls actually picked up on what he was saying – the hazards of talking to a fast talker – second of all, there was even a slimmer chance that he was talking about anything remotely of interest to a girl. After all, we are talking about a male Waterstraat known for (wo)man-trapping hapless women into conversations about cars, wheels, metallurgy, trains, or my FAVORITE a few weeks ago - about whether or not I shifted the gears on my 5-speed car when I sensed the shifterthingmabob going off or just by sound. Huh?

“Jennifer, he is way too much of a dork to even know what to say or how to flirt,” I said, honestly. Trust me, I know. After all, I had once met him, I had once flirted with him. Or tried.

Besides, I told her, he just likes the attention. So there is no threat. And this is true of all married men. Admit that most of the attention that married men get out of their women is in the form of when will you do this, or why did you do that. So I believe that most married men are just looking to talk to any woman about anything just as long as she stands in front of him long enough and pretends to be entertained. Because us wives, well, we stopped pretending a long time ago (are you talking to me about shifting gears?).

A short while later, I decided I had to check this out. If Chris was talking to girls and getting attention this was something I had to see. Sure enough, I walk by the tent and there he was. In all of his women’s only triathlon glory. Talking to some girls, hands animated, eyes wide. Not only that but he was sipping one of probably one hundred of the free samples he took advantage of from the Starbucks’ tent.

Watching this unfold, Rich from the bike shop appeared in front of me.

“Liz, do you want any pizza?” he asked. Hmmmm, pizza. Although it is against the very core of all things good and tasty in the world – I just don’t like pizza. I declined. No pizza for me. Which might as well be a metaphor for no fun, no junk food Friday nights, no cheap sausage or greasy pepperoni. No to the pizza.

“Chris says you never let him order pizza,” Rich replied. See what I mean? It’s the scarlet P painted on me in spicy red sauce. This is worse than adultery. She wandered away – forgivable. She doesn’t like pizza? Reprehensible. Mind you anyone around me can eat pizza, I just won’t join in. So, my friends in the bike tent, correction – I would never eat pizza if Chris ordered it but he can order it any time. He can also use the bathroom when he’d like, stay out past 11 pm, and drive the car. As long as he puts gas back into it.

So I replied in my defense; “No, he can eat all the pizza he wants but tell him to go easy on the frozen mochafrappacinos. If he has too many he’ll wet the bed.” Take that. All right, he has never wet the bed. But come on, I wasn’t going to be made to feel like the bad wife, bad person, bad eater, bad taste for refusing pizza. I had to get my jab in there somehow. And actually what I really wanted to say was to tell Chris to lay off the frappacinos with whip on top because he had a 75-minute run later that day which would not be fueled by 1000 ounches of fat-filled imposter coffee drink sloshing in his stomach.

At that point, I left Chris to his questionable at best food and drink choices and returned to my tent. A little bit later, Jennifer appeared.

“Chris ate pizza,” she reported. Great, because I’m keeping track of his caloric intake today and he is way over his limit so would you strap this muzzle on his mouth so he does not eat anymore and also does not trap any more unassuming women into conversations about trains/bikes/metallurgy/etc.

She continued, though. “We’ve made plans to go out for pizza some time so he and I can eat pizza and you and Jerome can eat salad and water,” she said. Obviously she too is a pizza lover married to a non pizza lover but I’m sure I can speak on behalf of Jerome (her husband) when I say this is EXACTLY how we feel about being married to people who do not like coffee. Coffee is our pizza and it is just as wrong not to love coffee as it is not to love pizza.

I’m not sure what Chris ate for the rest of the day because the updates stopped there. After the expo, I joined Chris at the bike tent and he said goodbye. Rich thanked him for his help and coming out for the day.

“Every so often she lets me out of my cage,” Chris said.

I shook my head and we went home. On the way, I learned that Jennifer told Chris he didn’t have to run today. I guess when you share pizza with the coach you get in good with the coach and get out of workouts. Maybe I will start eating pizza.

The next day, Chris offered to join me while spectating at the race. Warning: do not take your husband to spectate at an all women’s event. Nothing good can come from this. Unless you want him to (a) ring a giant cowbell in quiet residential neighborhoods before 7 am; (b) turn the cowbell upside down to show you that his bell is ‘extra large’, (c) comment every time a Her Sports sponsored athlete rides by that “I'd do her sport any time”, (d) read the names on the race numbers and then say inappropriate things like “there goes Ida – I-da-ho, no, U-da-ho.” You-get-the-point.

After watching over 1800 women swim, bike, and run by us in scantily clad sporting outfits, I decided the husband had enough women’s only fun for the weekend and took him home. At which point I put him back on his leash where he would stay tethered for awhile.

Life is tough for the married man. Especially when the wife keeps you leashed up from things like frappacinos, and pizza, and flirting with girls. But can you really blame the wife? After all, have you ever heard the sound of a cowbell before 7 am? Or been trapped by a man talking endlessly about trains?

But it’s not really that bad. And I don’t keep Chris under tight control. He can do and eat whatever he’d like. Besides, what he doesn’t know is that his leash is really one of those retractable leashes and if he tried to run he’d realize he could get at least as far as the edge of the yard.

Of course then he’d get zapped by the invisible fence.

Monday, June 25, 2007

What Lies Ahead

For the love of Cheez-It’s and other Ironman-induced cravings for salty snacks, what have I done.

I went and signed up for Ironman.

Maybe it’s still too far away, maybe it’s still too fresh. But I keep reminding myself that come October I am doing Ironman. Despite the sass from the better half of my brain that was pleading with rationality, sanity, logic in the form of once was enough, last Sunday sure enough the check was signed and now there’s a yellow slip in my hand.

Actually, there are two. Because I took my husband’s away from him. For safekeeping because I knew he would lose it. Confirmation of this came last week when he spent about 3 hours looking for a receipt, further confirmation came on Sunday when he had to cancel his lost credit card, and daily confirmation comes from the fact that I find his socks all over the place. So there are two yellow slips in my hand.

That Sunday night after the race, Chris lay in bed with his eyes wide with giddiness. The first time you qualify for Kona you are a like a child waiting restlessly the night before Christmas. Except your Christmas is one long day in early October. Everyday until then is a Christmas Eve of sorts filled with the anticipation and excitement of what lies ahead. You lay in bed at night thinking about it. Instead of making of list of what you want, you make a list of what you will need, eat, do every step of the way. Each mile of the race is like a present under the tree that you cannot wait to unwrap. So much that you want to tear a little paper off and peek. The morning of the race you are ready to tackle the Christmas tree to find out what lies beneath. And when you get permission from a parent in the form of a start gun, you tear right in. And like a child, you know at the end of the day you will lie exhausted in a mess of wrapping paper, new toys, emotionally crashed from the build up, the arrival, and come down of the day.

It is so much excitement, waiting, and thoughts of what lies ahead that you almost can’t sleep for weeks. You can’t believe you are doing an Ironman. You’ve swam, biked, and run thousands of miles but for some reason, this set of 140.6 miles is different. This one gets you thinking. Gets you excited, gets you even a little scared.

And like I’ve said before, people treat these miles different than the other thousands of miles you’ve done to get to this point. You could swim, bike, run yourself 140.6 miles on any given day. But do it in an Ironman and that’s different. Anything else – you idiot why are you wasting your time riding, swimming, running. Ho hum. But Ironman? Brilliant, the best choice you’ve ever made.

Not only are you all of a sudden brilliant, but also a celebrity. Note: first time Ironman status only. Second time – you are back to being an idiot – didn’t get enough? Just had to do it again?

But the first time is different. And I think Chris had a taste of this on Tuesday night. We were sitting in the hot tub after swim practice. Other swimmers swarmed around him. The first time Ironman instant rockstar status. He talked with so much excitement in his voice about the race he qualified at, the race ahead. He was all smiles.

But we haven’t started training for IM yet. Give it a few weeks. I’ll see if he’s smiling then. Give your crotch a few hundred miles in the saddle, give your feet a lot of pounding, turn your shoulders over and over again, listen to your stomach growl, find yourself sleeping during lunch, or worse, at your desk. And that’s just July. Wait ‘til August.

Qualifying for Kona is the easy part. It’s what follows that will make or break even the strongest of athletes. And I’m not talking about the training. It’s coordinating flights, lodging, cars, time off of work, two bikes, two people, and countless other details that is the hardest part. The race – well, that’s easy. That’s already planned.

I’ve spent the better part of this week trying to find lodging in Kona. This is not easy. Unless you are willing to give your right arm and leg in exchange for a condo overlooking the ocean. And I might need that arm and leg. There are about one million condos to rent in Kona. Right now there are about six left available, and about two I can afford. And every time I find one I can afford, it seems like just last night somebody rented it. Finally today I found one, it was available, and I wrote a check. Done.

The flights – I put Chris on that one. I can’t carry the weight of two people across the ocean. The lodging was time-consuming enough. He pulled through and found free flights with our mileage plus program. Only catch was that we had to get out there on Sunday. I told him we would go stir crazy. Arriving on Sunday and watching the week slowly go by while you just chomp at the salty bit waiting for race day to arrive. More days in Hawaii? I know, I know, sounds dreamy. But when you can’t do anything too crazy (hike, kayak, drink yourself silly, run around the beach in a coconut bra – Chris, not me) for fear of illness or injury, you just sit and wait, sweat, and wait for Saturday. Wait, and sweat, and wait some more.

Flight – check. Room – check. Now all that’s left is…….to train. Right, we actually have to train for this thing. Trust me, it’s much more fun to talk about than to train for it. But I’m looking forward to it this year. I know the worst of what’s ahead – the rockbottom moments where you find yourself crying on the path clutching your knees wondering how the hell you are going to run 5 minutes back to the car, or the long rides in stifling heat where you head is pounding from dehydration and the advertised 85 mile ride turns out to be 95, laying in bed soaking the sheets all night because your metabolism is so jacked up from riding 6 hours that day. Ah, the good old times.

I’ve tried to give Chris bits and pieces of what lies ahead. He’s already asked a lot of questions and I try to give the best answers. But I’m not saying too much. Part of the fun is to experience it and figure it out on your own. It’s the journey and the discovery that is the most rewarding, not the race itself. I did give him a fair warning that he would never look at a baggie or plastic container the same again. And that he would need to buy a Bento box – a big one, really, really big one.

He said he already bought two – a big one and a small one. Just in case.

So it sounds like he’s on his way to becoming well-prepared for Ironman training. And we’ll get into the training soon enough. And October will arrive soon enough. The century rides, the 22 mile runs, the 90 minute swims. They will all arrive soon enough and I’ll find myself sitting outside Lava Java sipping hot coffee in the hot Hawaii sun with the ocean just steps away. With my husband right next to me.

Does it get any better than that? (ps – don’t even think it would get better with iced coffee….no way)

Friday, June 22, 2007


Yesterday, Chris and I went downtown Chicago to swim in the lake.

After work, we hopped on our bikes and rode over to catch the train into Chicago. Now, I’m not a big fan of going to the city. When you grow up in a city I believe you get like this. To me, the city means ten years of memories filled with sirens, loud motorcycles, crowds, not being able to cross the street alone, crazy people walking down our street throwing potatoes (yes, tubers), loud garbage trucks, being on lockdown in a classroom because some kid went crazy in the hall, gates on the windows, and other things that make childhood oh so delightful in the city.

But if it involves triathlon and making me faster, then I might be game. So when my coach and Chris suggested I take more trips to the city to swim in the sometimes wavy choppy cold waters of Lake Michigan to become a stronger open water swimmer, I said sign me up.

There we were, on board the train with other people who go from the suburbs to the city after work. In other words, a mixed bag of students, young urbanites that spend their weekends in their overpriced flats visiting cultural events and eating at fusion restaurants with one syllable names (“we” – who names a restaurant “we”?), and other random vagrants that look like this might just be the best part of their day to ride the train back and forth just to have something to look at, or someone to talk to.

Aboard the train was a pile of gangly, misfit bikes. Comparing our bikes to the other bikes going to city, though, ours were sorely out of place. You see, we had both front brakes, thick tires, and more than one gear. Plus our bikes were actually made in this decade. Wait, I might mean this century.

The other bikes were a mangy assortment of cyclomutts and clunkers. Single speed with day-glo colors, rusty chains and weathered brakes. Grandma bikes with wide seats and a basket on front. Mountain bikes with mismatched paint. For the first time as a cyclist, I felt very out of place. My bike was too functional, too clean. It was the suburban version of a bike. Not cool enough to be from the city. Perhaps not cool enough to ride in the city. Guess we’ll find out.

A 30 minute express train ride later, we found ourselves on the streets of Chicago in the middle of rush hour. I looked at the streets thick with cars, the sidewalks hurried with mobs of people, and stoplights that seemed to instantly flash from green to red leaving rows of cars jerking slowly along. This was no place for cyclists. This was no place for pedestrians or even cars. But somehow we were going to have to make our way through it all on our bikes. I looked at Chris, he looked at me, helmets were on, and we took off.

The city was literally zipping with cyclists. While cars waited in lanes 3 deep at times to inch from stoplight to stoplight, the cyclists sneakily snaked their way along curbs, through traffic, and atop sidewalks as needed. Reckless, fearless, riding with flagrant abuse of any rules of the road these cyclists had no interest in riding right or hugging the white line on the side of the road. In contrast to suburban riding where you take your life on two wheels if perchance you veer slightly left by two millimeters from the white line, these cyclists rode smack in the middle of lanes, passed cars on the left, jumped curbs, rode through yellow lights, did everything and anything we as suburban cyclists learned that you never, ever, ever do if you would like to ever get on your bike again.

And when I called these urban dwellers “cyclists”, I use the word lightly. No, there was no spandex to be found here. In most cases, you didn’t even find helmets. Mostly, these were hurried masses that simply found two wheels the fastest way to move from point A to point B. With their right pants leg rolled high, they were reckless, careless, riding nothing but two thin wheels. And all of them – young, old, student, commuter, mountain bike, hybrid, single speed rode with nothing in mind but getting somewhere. They didn’t watch out for cabs, busses, Sunday drivers, or a neverending line of soccer moms driving oversized SUV’s on their cell phone with juice box greedy children in the back watching their entertain me entertain me now DVD players – no. They didn’t care about hazards like this. In fact, they rode right by them, so close to them that if the SUV got too close – they just banged on the back of their car.

And the most bizarre thing was that the driver of the car didn’t honk, didn’t get out of the car, didn’t send a string of cuss words flying into the wind towards the lake. They just kept driving. And the cyclist kept riding. It was the strangest, yet most intimate and real version of share-the-road that I had seen in a long time. In a sense, it seemed like cyclists ruled the city roads. And perhaps because they were the only thing actively and swiftly moving through the city on Thursday at 6 pm.

We were riding down Adams playing a game of chase with the other cyclists heading towards the lake. Except that most of the other cyclists rode while throwing caution to the wind while I white knuckled my brakes. Because I knew that in a windy city like Chicago, throwing caution to the wind could be a very dangerous thing. Near misses with a bus, a curb that was too high to jump, a cab driver that wasn’t interested in sharing the road, manhole covers, spacy on cell phones pedestrians, rogue cyclists cutting across three lanes of traffic coming the other way to cross the street. So what, as a cyclist, do you do when faced with maddening and not to mention unsafe behavior like this? Well, you just join right in.

But joining in wasn’t easy. You see, all of them, each and every one of them, buzzed by me like I was going backwards. For the first time in a long time, I felt slow, awkward, and overly cautious. Two guys wearing matching shirts, skateboard helmets, on clunky old mountain bikes passed me so fast I almost screamed. Some guy with super hairy legs, a white mushroom-sized helmet, and a bike with what I swear had a quadruple ring passed me going uphill. And the girl with the tattoo on her back and the Capri pants with budding butt sweat (of course I noticed) – canned my ass at the corner of Lake Shore Drive. This was urban cycling at its best and my cycling skills at their worst. Ironman finisher, national champion, blah blah blah – didn’t mean a thing, currency not accepted on the streets of Chicago. In fact, if I wanted to get anywhere in the city, I best find me a urban cycling currency exchange. At the very least, lose the helmet, for sure.

The lake loomed in front of us with only a short ride to go along the lakefront path. Over a dozen cyclists were staged at the corner to cross Lake Shore Drive onto the lakefront path. I looked around and saw almost every category of cyclist represented. Recumbent, mountain, single speed, hybrid, men in button down shirts, girls in dresses. If we had engines, we’d have revved them because we were antsy and waiting to cross the road.

And it’s not an easy road to cross. A T-intersection with about 4 lanes of traffic coming from each of three directions. When it started to take too long and the cyclists had better places to be someone shouted out, if we all go across the street at the same time they’ll stop. Fearless. Just like the squirrels in the suburbs, these cyclists darted, en masse, across the road to the median then went some more. At the peak of rush hour traffic in a major city. In my mind, the only thing possibly more risky and restless than these riders would be those doing motorcross. As for supermoto – high speeds, turns, and pavement - these urban cyclists would have those guys canned.

Believe it or not, once we were actually on the lakefront path it got worse. A swarm of recreational cyclists, commuting cyclists, rollerbladers, walkers, runners, and tourists came at me from every different direction. Oddly enough, some path users were close versions of “real” cyclists but in the city you really can’t take this too seriously. I mean, riding on the lakefront path with your souped up road bike, Zipp wheels, aerobars, and Assos shorts….never to exceed speeds of 12 mph as you weave through masses of other path users– come on, that is not riding. That’s just sightseeing along the lake.

But I wasn’t about to tell them that. Nor was I about to tell the girl wearing the designer running outfit and those silly bouncy running shoes that those aren’t the shoes of a real runner. And besides after this whole experience in the city I was beginning to think that judging any athlete by its cover – or coverings – was not really my place.

After our swim, we had about 15 minutes to ride bike and catch the train. The ride back was not nearly as maddening as most of the traffic had died down and we had grown more accustomed to the staccato flow of traffic and people through the city. And once we were back on the train, I was exhausted. Not just from the hour long swim in chilly, choppy water but from the darting, the dashing, and daring to ride through the city streets.

But I’ve got to admit, I think I found the one way I can enjoy the city – in a rush of riding through the city and all of its urban obstacles before plunging into the crisp water of the lake only to go back in reverse and do it all again – cyclocitycross, if you will, so start your engines.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Liz By Numbers

62: Height in inches
10:45: Hours it took me to finish Ironman
8: Weeks before I felt “normal” again after Ironman
5: Years I have been on Ragbrai
500: Most miles I have biked in one week
122: Most miles I have biked in one day
8: Most consecutive weekends I raced in 2002
6: Number of months it took my piriformis to heal after that
21:36: Minutes it took me to run my first 5K
37:46: Number of minutes to run my fastest 10K
1999: Year of my first triathlon
5:56: Hours for my first half-Ironman in 2000
4:32: Hours for my fastest half-Ironman to date
16: Years I have been running
3: Weeks I take off of running each year
5:56: Fastest mile I ran in high school
Number of times I have gone faster 16 years later: Too many to count
8: Years since I learned how to swim
7000: Longest number of yards I swam at one time
36: Socks that I counted out of Chris’ laundry basket last week
130,000: Miles on my car
3: Cars at our house
37.5: Hours I work each week
50: Employees that I manage
2000: Miles I have ridden since January 1st
30: Maximum miles I run each week
350: Miles I will run before I buy new running shoes
1: Brother, Pete
10/5/07: Expected due date of his first daughter
10: Years I lived in New York City
3: Cups of coffee I drink each morning
333: Times I think about coffee between then and the next day
32: Age I will be on July 28th
21: Months of age between me and my husband (he’s older)
4: Seasons I have worked with my coach
About a Dozen: Times I talk to my coach each day
3 ½: Years it took me to finish college
4: Years for graduate school

3: Total degrees I have earned
0: Times a day I use those degrees
21: Months married to Chris
261: Guests at our wedding
5: Bikes that I currently own
2: Times I sold a bike on ebay only to buy it back again
84: Degrees in our house the other day

88: Degrees outside today
89: Pounds I weighed in high school
105: Pounds I weigh now

3: Pounds I lost during a recent run
12: Number of years I was a vegetarian
0: Number of times I got sick once I started eating meat again

4: Races to go this season
313.1: Miles to cover in those races

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Heat Wave

Right now, it is 86 degrees inside of our house.

You might be asking why. That is a very good question.

It started about a month ago when things started heating up. For some reason, we never turned the air conditioner on. Instead, we threw open the windows after what felt like a long, long, very long winter, and kept the air off.

A week went by, and the temperature in the house hovered around 76 degrees. At first it was uncomfortable, but then after a few days we were either too busy or spent too little time at home to even mind. After about a week or two we didn’t even notice anymore. And finally when the temperature rises above 76 it didn’t even matter. Hot is hot and if it’s going to be 76 it might as well be 86 because it’s all the same.

Thus far, we’ve made it halfway through June with no air. At this point, it has become a battle of how long can we keep this going. Could we make it the whole summer with no air? How hot would things get before we finally gave up? Hot. Because you should not tempt two triathletes with a dare. Not even a double triple hotty hot dog dare. We’ll go all the way. Oh, we’re going full tilt into this thing and we are not giving up.

And full tilt it is. This week it has been above 80 in here every single day. And that’s just downstairs. Upstairs is at least 5 degrees hotter. Any combination of the dishwasher, dryer, or closed door turns the temperature up even more. And perchance you are brave enough to take a hot shower good luck because we’re talking potential heatstroke on the bathroom floor.

This morning, when the thermostat read a balmy, sticky 82 degrees, when the air hung so thick I could see it collecting by the stairs, I started to crack. In a moment of early morning weakness I said to Chris ”it is almost getting too hot in here.” I looked at him for an escape. He had a questionable look in his eyes as if the discomfort of the heat would be no match for the discomfort of giving something up. His eyes shouted but we’ve gone so far if we give up now it will be a metaphor for everything else we attempt this summer. Honestly, I wish he would just shut his eyes so I wouldn’t have to hear all that, and I could just turn the damn air conditioner on.

But if he can do it, if Chris can last it out, so can I. Not only that, but I’ll top him. This is a highly competitive household. So, I’m sitting here drinking a piping hot mug of coffee. And inside my body is about 112 degrees. I’m even starting to envision my coffee on ice. I will say that again – I just said COFFEE and ICE in the same sentence. Someone slap me with a hot towel. Slap me hard.

Whatever. Fine. We’ll keep the air off. And until autumn we will just view this as an opportunity to recalculate our sweat rate every single day. Our only challenge for day to day survival will be in determining some way to replace all the lost electrolytes. We will live like jungle apes and stink like monkeys. Our home will turn into a sweat box of smelly mange. And while we’re at it, let’s just poop in the corner and go completely jungle fever heat wild.

During the day, we can’t even tell. We’re not home much and there is no point in cooling a house when you’re not there. But at night - each night in the house feels like a night of camping on Ragbrai. Except we’re not in a tent, and we’re not outdoors. And there is no beer garden. And no loud drunk people walking by my tent all night long. Plus Tim isn’t trying to barge in to naked steamroll me. I’ll tell you what, though, this whole how long can Liz survive the heat experiment would be a whole lot more fun if a bunch of drunk people would walk through our house or if Tim showed up naked from time to time. At least I’d laugh a little more.

Because there is nothing really all that funny about the heat. Except for the voice inside my head that is now laughing at myself for even wanting to try to outlast it. Or wanting to make life so miserable for the next few months. Why can’t I just be like the millions of other comfort seeking creatures that sit in their houses cooled to a refreshing 72 degrees all summer long? Why?

Because I’m also going to do Ironman. Which means all sense of rationality, logic, and hope left my body last Sunday around 12:30 pm when I crossed the Eagleman finish line. So now I will suffer all summer long with a rash of crazy, uncomfortable, hard core behavior like riding my bike 7 hours, or shopping for sports nutrition bars on Friday nights, or running 22 miles on the path in a long sleeved black shirt in the middle of the day.

Every night in our home, the windows are wide open and the fan moves what little air there is around the bed. All night long, the neighbor’s air conditioner kicks on. I am convinced she is either made of ice or is harboring the devil who gets easily overheated. The darn thing has been running since April. April?

Aside from that, my only other complaint with this whole life in a hot box is the birds. I see no reason why they need to be chirping at 4:48 am. Give it a rest. I get the point. I GET THE FREAKIN’ POINT. You’re up before me and you are going to get the worm.

So each morning when I wake up at 4:52 am (chirp chirp), I get ready for work. I must carefully pick my clothes because if I overdress for just a minute in the house after taking a shower I fear I will have to go through the whole showering process again. So I dress (appropriately) for the season in a skirt and no sleeves.

But this seasonal attire has not really worked out too well. The other day at work I sat in a meeting and nearly died. Frozen to death. The room had to be about 65 degrees. Unbearably cold. I was goose pimply, shaking, and when it came my turn to talk my mouth was almost too cold to make words. When I looked around, I noticed every one else was wearing long sleeves and pants. In the middle of June. When it was 90 degrees outside.

And I got to think how inefficient that was. It’s not their fault – no – but it is the fault that we have grown so accustomed to keeping our indoors so cold. I was reading an article the other day about some city in Canada where they have proposed to make every day causal work wear day in an effort to cut down on cooling costs. Canada is so much smarter than us. Really. It makes perfect sense – if you actually dress like the season you might actually adapt to the season.

Or you might adapt to what life is like in Hawaii. I believe part of this keeping the house hot thing has to do now with our October trip to Hawaii. You see, I would like to believe I will have no problem running in 1000 degrees if I have lived in it all summer long. Last summer I gave this a good try by overdressing on the run or driving without air. But if I’m going to step it up this year, I’m going to have to step up my level of discomfort too. I am going to have to commit to this heat thing full-time. And come hell or high temperatures around our home, the air is staying off.

And Chris isn’t giving in either. In fact, I think he’s trying even harder not to give in because if I can do it so can he. Yes, things are heating up around our house – and it’s not just the air temperature. Now that we’re both going to Hawaii, the competition is also at an all time high.

Just the other day, in a heated moment – right now, they are all heated moments in our house which you can either find very sexy (no), very sweaty (sometimes), or very dumb (yes! yes! that’s the word!) – he came up to me and said “I will not be outrun by you in Hawaii.”

To which I replied, “I am so going to outrun your corn chipped ass.”

“I’ll swim right over you.”

“I’ll throw my bottles at you on the bike.”

“I’ll empty your special needs bag the night before.”

“I’ll tell them you have special needs.”

Ah yes, it going to be a long, hot summer in our house. A heat wave of sizzle and sass is moving through and it’s going to be very long indeed. Not to mention no air.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Grumble Bunny

Understand that I love traveling, and racing, and training, but put it all together and mix it with full-time work, an empty refrigerator, outdoor plants that need to be watered daily, a house that begs to be cleaned, construction barricades that I swear to god are multiplying around our house every single day, and just balancing life with work with play with love, well, it gets me grumpy from time to time.

This is one transition that I have not yet mastered – the transition from super disgruntled daily life as evil museum minion to superhero dreamy life as sporty driven athlete where I spend an entire weekend doing what I love, surrounded by people that I like, and being very far far away from the evil grips of Illinois.

One day I will master this transition with the ease of a flawless flying dismount safely across the transition line between athletic dream and daily nightmare life. But until then, returning to daily life will not be an easy or smooth transition.

Each Monday, I shift gears painfully back to desk slave, sit down, and scowl for the next 5 days. Most often, this occurs the week after racing. Since I race every few weeks in the summer, last year my co-workers – finally - started to notice this pattern.

Proof came as one day I arrived at work, to find this picture on my door:

The resemblance is striking, eh?

There it was, scotchtaped to my door, a little sign with the name LIZ and an arrow pointing to the grumpy grumbly bunny. Of course, the other three happy, playful bunnies had signs and arrows containing each of my co-workers names.

Actually the cover of a children's book, on my door it became a sign warning others to simply stay away, very very far away.

The grumble bunny has been in rare form this week. Trust me. Grumpy, tired, sore, and achy, I don’t want to do anything, talk to anyone, or go anywhere. Without working out, nothing has been actively lifting my mood. Sure, I rode a little Monday, swam Tuesday, but it’s not the same. Recovery is never easy, always takes too long, and leaves me antsy, aloof, combative, grumbly, rumbly, and ready to roar.

So last night I thought maybe my scheduled run would degrumpify my sinking mood. Although every inch of my legs was sore to the touch, I figured I would at least give it a try. 5 minutes and 34 seconds of painfully slow and arduous shuffling later, I stopped and walked 13 minutes back to the car.

Back at home later, Chris asked how my run went. I told him it went right into a walk. He then made what can only be described as the one major no-no never in a million years should it be said as one athlete married to another:

”My run felt great this morning.”

Now that – not the legs hurting, not the fact that it was 81 degrees in our house, or 89 degrees outside, or construction, or traffic, or no food in the house - no I can look past all of those things but that – THAT – comment went straight to the core. As in ,the core of the grumblebunny – actually scratch that and let’s just say the supergrumblybitch - that is also known as Liz. Let me pull out my cape, with a giant GB, tie it on, and fly back into the kitchen because now you’ve ticked me off and now we are going to have words.

“Now don’t do that,” I said, flinging my supergrumblybitch cape over my shoulder.

He claimed ignorance. Pretended he didn’t get it. But I knew that he knew that I knew what he was doing.

“You know what you’re doing,” I said. This is supergrumblybitch at her best – the old assigning blame to man when he probably has no idea what he just did wrong because his brain does not work the same way as yours and while he was probably just mechanically and factually reporting that he had a good run you took it as a giant pie of nanny-nanny-boo-boo in your face. And you’re in no mood for pie.

“What did I do?” he asked. At least he was curious and willing to try to figure out why I was wearing a black cape with a giant GB on the back.

“That was a dig.” As in, dig into my sore hamstrings a little deeper, why don’t you – just strip me of a few striations to make it hurt even worse.

“No it wasn’t.” Do not lie to the supergrumblybitch directly in her face. DO NOT LIE. You have been warned.

“Yes it was.” If I keep insisting, he will eventually agree.

“No.” At this point, he was laughing, probably wondering how many more times we would go through this cycle of no I didn’t, yes you did.

“Yes.” I will not give this up. I WILL GET THE LAST WORD.

The conversation continued like that for a little while longer. And it could have gone on like that all night. For that is the super power of supergrumblybitch. Capable of prolonging senseless arguments all night long in a single bound.

At some point either Chris gave up or I went to bed. I don’t know. I think we both had enough of me for one night. When I woke up, he asked how I was feeling and I said I was still tired and sore. And instead of telling me he felt like brand new, he offered to massage my legs. Which was a very, very smart thing to say. Because it was still early, and this little bitchy bunny had not started grumbling yet.

Each day I will get less grumbly, my legs will feel better. But I have found that full recovery after a half-Ironman usually takes 10 days. So, husband – and others – tread lightly because we’ve still got a long, possibly bumpy grumbly way to go.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Lucky Stars

4:40 am Sunday. Chris wakes up wild-eyed and wired. He is up before the alarm shouting angrily about being up all night. Today is not a day for sleeplessness and fatigue. Today he needs to be on. Today he needs to want it more than ever, worse than anyone else. Today he needs to follow his plan with perfection. Full speed ahead with nothing – no excuses, no mishaps, no breakdowns, no room for error.

Today is the day.

One shot, one chance to qualify for Kona. For him, for me. If it doesn’t happen here, it won’t happen at all. There will be no chase around the world, season to season, race to race. If it’s meant to be, it happens, here, now.

The race starts for me around 8 am. I am standing waist deep in the Choptank River. The sky is overcast, the crowd is quiet, and I am cold from the breeze blowing off the water. The river sways back and forth in choppy waves. The water is warm, dark, salty. The start cue is given and we are off.

The first few hundred yards are a swirling mess of arms and legs. I keep trying to kick someone off of my feet while also trying to avoid the blade like swing of an arm that keeps coming at me from the right. To the left is off course, ahead of me are buoys bouncing up and down. The chop is a little discomfiting and makes sighting a mess. When I look up, I see either an orange cap on a woman’s head or a small wave. The river feels like the ocean and I have to keep telling myself to relax, stay on top of the chop, pull through, reach, roll, keep kicking.

At the halfway point, I make the turn at the boat and finally find some open space. The current is pushing us along and there is a rhythm that has settled into the river and my swim. After what feels like a long time, I swim up the boat ramp to the mat and begin the long run to transition, a long tug at my wetsuit, and a quick run with the bike before setting off onto the road.

The first 10 miles of the bike course are quick. Flat, fast, filled with people to pass. The course snakes along some rural roads, smoothly paved. Smooth roads or not – though - the ride would be hard. All one pace, all one gear. Not a hill in sight. I push hard. My legs start to scream but I won’t listen today. And after 20 minutes, they get into it. They start to push, hard and fast. I tell them to ride. Ride like the rear wheel is on fire. Light the match, light the fire, and let them burn.

Each mile that goes by I get more and more excited. I know I am riding strong. I can feel it in my legs. I am asking a lot out of them and they are ready to respond. I was a little nervous about this bike - this is a new bike, a new position. But training has been going really, really well. Maybe it was all the miles from Ironman training, or the new bike, or just busting my ass in my basement all winter long. Whatever, I have finally come fully connected to the pain and power of my bike. And it has paid.

But around mile 30, I got passed by a pack.

And so for the next 20 miles, I worked so hard on the bike to pass, to attack, to surge, and respond that my legs were literally flying off in pieces all over the road. I didn’t know I had that in me, but then again no one (or two or three or….you get the point) had ever enraged me that much on the bike to that point where I had no choice but to get angry and push back.

I arrived at the run fired up and ready to go. If I can control one thing, it is the run. I can control my pace, I can take myself to the edge of threshold, hold it there, and run. I couldn’t wait to hit the run – I sped out of transition – no socks – and just ran.

Running felt good, running felt right. All over my wheel? Take my heels now. I turned around – no one is there. Exactly. I held the pace I thought I could hold to the turnaround point, stuck to my nutrition, and focused on going forward at full speed.

I have no idea what my position was, or who was ahead of me. I passed a few women early on, but then reached a mass of men to weave through and around. At mile 2, Laura Sopheia came running the other way shouting that there was only one woman ahead of me. Not in my age group but ahead of me.

And I knew it would be next to impossible to catch her. She was a professional runner. But dammit I tried. At turnaround point there was about 2 minutes between us. Keep pushing – she could blow up, she could cramp – who knows, anything is possible. Coming out of the turnaround, I also saw a few other women in my age group about 2 – 3 minutes behind. I knew I had to maintain my own pace – if not pick it up – to try to catch what was ahead and try to hold off what was coming from behind.

Holding onto the pace, I hit the 10 mile mark and wondered – for the first time ever – if I could make it the last 3 miles. I knew I could, but my legs were shouting no. My mind said let’s go. My legs said let’s go slow. My heart said you are running in your slot to Kona, my head said you idiot. My back was achy, my feet were tired. But somehow everything started working together and we made it through the last few miles.

At mile 12, it started to set in. Off in the distance, I could see the finish arch. And that is when I realized I was less than 1 mile away from Kona. For the second time. The smell and feel of the ocean, the whir of the wheels along black lava fields on the bike, the sound of my feet on the Queen K Highway on the run. Kona.

And that is when I thought to myself oh shit I have to go back to Kona. To do it again.

The last mile was a mix of emotions – pain, fear of being caught, pain of what’s ahead, pain, weariness, and more pain. When I finally crossed the line (the longest last mile EVER), I stopped. My feet were pounding, my entire body ached. A very nice man tried to get the chip off my ankle. At that point I started to cry. He asked if I was ok, and I said yes but I felt like shaking him and asking if he had any idea what I was going to go through for the next few months, Ironman training, for Kona.

I walked around in circles for a few minutes, to let it all set in. I had accomplished what I came here to do - to break 4:40, to break 1:30 in the 1/2 marathon, and to win my AG. This was one of the hardest races I have ever done. This race never let up, not for one minute, not for one mile. It took everything I had, every step of the way.

But the real story is not my race. In fact, it’s not even a great story. The great story is that of my husband – Chris, who, in his words, didn’t know he had it in him. The AG win, the 4:08. But I knew it all along. I knew it would be just a matter of the right moment where he would fuse performance with potential, mindset with capability, attitude with aptitude to get the job done.

And so here is where the real story begins.

If two triathletes are lucky enough, they find each other. If they are even luckier, they get along without the destructive clash of their naturally competitive natures. Luckier still, they agree to marry. Luckier yet, the marriage somehow works with the balance of work, training, traveling, and finances. And, if their lucky stars align at precisely the right moment in time – they both qualify for Kona, and they take the slots.

Until October, many miles ahead...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The 1 - 2 Punch

The eagle has landed. Literally. And it left behind two Kona slots - one for me and one for Chris.

What's better than going to Kona? How about going with your husband.....wait a minute - why is it that by late August I will be rethinking that? Twice the laundry, twice the food.Little does he know the pain, misery, and weariness that is about to settle into his life....for the next 4 months.

What a great race. It was flat, fast, and I don't think I've ever hurt that bad. I'll take the hills anyday. The flats just don't give up. You have to keep going, and going, faster, and harder.

But, I accomplished what I set out to do - break 4:40, break 1:30 on the 1/2 marathon, and win my age group. I ended up 2nd *amateur* overall in 4:32.

When I hit mile 12, I thought to myself....oh sh*t, I have to go back to Kona. What have I done? Needless to say I cried when I crossed the finish line. The guy taking my chip asked if I was ok. I wanted to shake him and say DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA of what my life will be like for the next few months - ANY IDEA AT ALL?

Chris did what he set out to do - win his age group and nab a slot to Kona. Plus he went 4:08. Seriously - 4:08?I'll post a complete story of my race in another day or two.

Little does Chris know what lies ahead until mid-October. Lots of long rides, endless pursuit of snacks to satisfy, little containers to hold things like salt tabs, pooping in the woods, all that stuff that makes Ironman training so much FUN.

GOOD JOB to my coach, Jennifer Harrison, who also qualified for Kona by winning her AG for the millionth time at Blackwater. And her husband finished 3rd in his AG, also winning a slot. He didn't know that - and neither did anyone else until 5:30 pm when we were back at our car and heard the Race Director trying to garage sale the remaining slot in M30-34.

So I guess this will turn into a blog about Ironman training again which is funny because that's where it began about a year ago. Until then, I'm going to sharpen my short course legs one more time at nationals in a few weeks. And then I'll be sitting on my bike until mid-October.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Husband Management 101

I was getting ready to teach a class a few weeks ago with a friend when we got to talking about husbands.

“We should do a class on husband management,” I said after she shared her latest story about her husband. She had just gotten off the phone with her husband, and reported that he had spent the better part of the evening chasing spiders. Now, if you have a husband, you know that this is totally a husband thing to do. Nevermind that the laundry is literally creeping out of the closet, or the dishwasher needs to be unloaded, or the plants are crying for water. No, the important thing here is to spend the evening chasing something that is about 1/100th of your size because life will not go on the same until you squash it. Or find it. Or beat it to death with your shoe.

But when you have a husband, these are just the kinds of calls that you have to take. And just the type of things that happen. In fact, if you come home and find the laundry folded or the dishes put away you begin to look for another woman. Or his mom. It’s just the way of the husband and day to day with the husband requires an understanding of this way.

It’s something my friend and I call husband management. And, day to day husband management requires key skills from a wife. Some days require using these skills all at once. Some days require just turning your head and looking the other way. As in, he did not just do that again. He did not just drop another corn chip on the floor. He did not just wipe greasy hands on the good kitchen towels. And, my latest favorite, he did not just blow his nose in the sink.

I've only been married less than 2 years. But I feel in that time I have built a lengthy resume of husband management skills. I have found that most important skill of a wife is locating a husband’s things. Things as in keys, wallets, phones, laptops, sunglasses (three pairs in one racing season), digital camera. If it is not mitten-clipped to the man, he will likely misplace it once a day. In the past few days, I have successfully located cycling gloves in the bottom of a laundry basement, found a wallet in my car, found the wallet again in our other car, in less than 2 minutes found a recent he had supposedly scoured the house for, dug the van keys out of pajama bottoms in the laundry basket (pajamas?), and scraped over a dollar in change out of the washer.

And heed my warning about this very important skill – always, always, always check the pockets; which also helps in locating things. If you do not check pockets, you are likely to wash things that do not belong in the washer, things that may potentially harm the washer; gum, empty gel packets, money, checks, twigs, receipts, and – my all time favorite – the garage door opener which caused the garage door to go on the fritz for the next week going up and down as the circuits dried out.

And as a wife, you better have some skill with socks. The skill may be just learning to tolerate them. Just when I think I have located and washed the last sock, another one pops up. Socks are everywhere, anywhere – the trunk of the car, under the bed, in the bed, in the basement. Apparently, in husband land, clean socks are more important than clean underwear. I am convinced that one day at the end of this trail of socks will be a treasure, a very big treasure waiting for me.

Some days you will find yourself chasing down entire outfits that go missing. The other day, I found the entire lower half of husband's body – in other words his boxers, pants, belt, and socks – fully in tact in the basement. As in, it looked as those he had just stepped right out of his lower half and stepped into something else. The question is – at what point was he walking around the basement naked, and why? And what did he step into instead? Questions like this never get answered with husbands. Questions like that probably should never be asked.

There will be many other clothing-related follies that you will need skill to figure out. For example, I noticed this when Chris was undressing one day – his boxer shorts were completely torn in half. As in, there was a back flap and a front flap hanging from the elastic waist band. When I asked what the hell happened he said that he had accidentally stepped into them while undressing at the gym and they tore. When I asked why on earth he would even bother putting on something that clearly had no purpose at this point with an elastic band hanging there with two flaps of fabric – he said it just seemed like the right thing to do.

There will also be times when you find your husband missing something very important to you that clearly has no meaning to him. This is often the case in the bathroom. You will discover things you would rather not know. For example, how has he been brushing his teeth without toothpaste or washing his hands without soap. Your skill in this case is simply to not think about it too much.

It takes some skill to feed the husband because what you don’t know is that there is a hole in your husband’s mouth much bigger than the mouth itself. You have seen evidence of this hole. Evidence in the form of dropped corn chips, spilled milk, bread crumbs. You may have also noticed that your husband eats twice as much as you but actually loses weight. This is because half of what he eats ends up on the floor. You could reassemble an entire meal from what you pick up off the floor. But I'm not saying you should...

Then there is manspeak, which requires a whole different set of skills. Manspeak is different than women’s words. Specifically because manspeak does not contain words. Instead, it contains acts of physical expression which may cause you to duck from time to time, or put on your helmet. These things may or may not include a gallon of milk, a road atlas thrown from a window at 75 mph which we then had to back up on the shoulder to retrieve because – DUH – we had no idea where we were going, a talkabout radio also thrown out of the window of a car at high speed, clothing, tools, and my all time least favorite – a dozen eggs which resulted in new marriage law – the law that states thou shalt not throw perishable items in the home unless thou shalt desire to scrape egg yolks off of cabinets for the next six months.

Manspeak also means that only half of what you – as woman – say will get through. Though you assume that folding the towels means also putting them away, in man/husband-speak, this means just folding the towels. Putting them away is an entirely separate step that will require an entirely separate request. Same goes for switching loads from washer to dryer. Did you happen to mention that he should also turn the dryer on?

And miscommunications like this mean that you should probably save your breath, and save your requests for skills the husband is good at, for example building things - like bikes or messes. Husbands are engineers of empires of papers, magazines, and mail built upon any flat surface in the home. Oddly enough, there is an order to these piles so you best be advised not to touch them because they will know. You could cut your hair, you could bring home another man without them saying a word. Touch a paper in a pile – this they know.

You will also find that the husband needs you to be there when you are not there. You could be with him all day and he won’t come looking for you. You could be in the house but he’s in the basement. But the minute you’re not there, he needs you there. Or the minute you walk away, he’s looking for you. Or the minute you are out of reach from your phone, he calls. Disappearing is your worst skill or your's your call.

At least once a week, husband management will require turning your head in absolute embarrassment and public humility. You may find yourself standing in the middle of a food court while your husband does a move that can only be described as “the hula hoop” as he stands there with bad bike helmet head and running shorts while girating his hips in front of several children, assorted tourists, AN AMISH FAMILY, and his sister. When you give him that look, the OH MY GOD YOU ARE NOT DOING THAT IN PUBLIC PLEASE NO look he will shout something to the effect that he is just bringing sexy back. In front of the entire crowd. As a result, you will ask him to please never bring sexy back again.

And lastly my all time favorite skill – management of drunken husband. Let me think back to the many places where husband has passed out over the years – an elevator in a Lake Placid hotel, along the boulevard in Las Vegas, a lawn chair in Iowa, the car in our own garage. None of your skills are strong enough to drag a 160 lb+ giant drooling rag doll so best leave him there.

I met my friend the other morning for coffee and she was talking again about her husband. They were having friends over and she asked him to go through a pile of papers to see what could be tossed out for trash. Rather than going through the pile, he moved a picture frame in front of it to hide it. Ah yes, the old out of sight out of mind trick. We've got closets full of that trick at our house.......

Sounds to me like another skill to master for husband management 101. Coming soon to a course schedule near you. Along with wife management. But then again, all you really need to know about managing the wife is to just learn to say "you're right" more often, eh?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Grace Under Pressure

At 7:45 pm Monday night, I found myself in the pool. Again. Weren’t we just there yesterday? And two days before that? Two days before that? Again, we were in the pool and had another one of those workouts that went something like 12 x 200 with 50 moderate 50 easy 100 fast, 50 easy 100 moderate 50 fast, rest 10 seconds, rest 20 seconds, repeat whole thing two times through, touch your nose, touch your toes, do the whole thing in reverse with one arm. One of those.

We got into the pool, and Chris realized his workout was not the same as my workout but he had forgotten his workout so he would be doing my workout. To top that off, he didn’t like my workout. Huh? Anyways, he wanted to write the workout down on the dry erase board at the end of the lane but I said I was not waiting one minute longer to start this swim and if he wanted to spend the next day writing out the most detailed swim workout EVER – fine – but I was swimming. NOW.

We swam in separate lanes.

Both of us got through it, until I think the last 200 when Chris seemed to succumb to either leg cramp or boredom – you never can tell – as he quickly got out of the pool, said something about going home, and disappeared.

I finished the cool down, and as I touched the wall on the final lap of a pull set, I heard a strange voice beckon from the next lane.

“You’re very graceful,” a man said.

Wait, what? Who? Me? Have I swam so much this week that I’m starting to hear things? Is it water in my ears? Certainly me and graceful don’t belong in the same sentence. Or even the same paragraph. No, no graceful has never lived here in this body.

“You don’t splash when you swim. You’re absolutely quiet. How do you do that?” he asked.

Uh – oh. I could sense this was more than a question – answer session. Think fast. Creepy lonely guy or possibly some guy with very extra special needs? I had fallen for this one before. At the other pool. The guy in the hot tub that was a little weird looking and always stared at me with wild bug eyes. Who one day told me “I like sports”. Great. I suspected extra special needs but when I saw him a few weeks later making out with some chick in the hot tub I just chalked him up to creepy guy with a really hairy back. And there’s nothing special about that.

But back to the question at hand. How do I do that. How do I do that? Let's see.....put yourself into the pool several times a week. Which isn’t a big deal if you enjoy going to parties where people say “something smells like chlorine – oh, it’s you” or if you like blowing chlorinated snot out of your nose for the next day, or if you like raking your brush through your overchlorinated hair. If you like any of those things plus following a black line to one end of the wall then to another repeat about a billion mind boggling times, well, that’s how you do that.

Glad you asked?

But I didn’t say that. I just said a casual “I don’t know” because really I didn’t know what to say, how to break down years of technique, drill, lessons, videotaping, yards, yards, yards and it was too late to answer anyways so I set out to finish with 200 reverse IM hoping that he would just swim away.

But when I finished he was still there standing in the lane.

“…..25 years been swimming….” he said a little too fast, plus I think I missed the first part of the conversation he was having with himself as I came up to the wall.

“Oh no, I just learned……” I started to say. I thought he was talking about me, that my grace in the water was the result of 25 years of swimming. And I was just about to tell him that I haven’t been swimming for 25 years, I had just learned how about 8 years ago.

He cut me off, “no, I have been swimming for 25 years. And I can’t do that, no splashing, swimming with grace,” he sounded a little miffed. Like it was my fault he was the world’s sloppiest swimmer. And for the record, he did not look like he had been swimming for 25 years. In fact, he looked like he had been sitting on his couch for the better part of 25 years because he also happened to be one of the world’s biggest men. Easily over 300 lbs. Easily. Which is not a big deal – hey, you never know what’s in the cards for you tomorrow or 30 years from now….which is why I suspect one day I will I wake up a 300 lb man – but I will just say that it has to – simply has to – take some personal effort – or lack thereof – to get your body that big.

And as he seemed ready to argue with me about his swimming history, I seemed ready to take that as my cue to exit, lane, now.

So I took myself to the hot tub. I started stretching, with my back to the rest of the hot tub. Mostly because I’m not one of those people that sits in the hot tub looking for conversation with the 1000 lonely men that seem drawn to the hot tub on any given night. But single-women be warned. You will not find Prince Charming in the hot tub. No, instead you will find an overheated smorgasboard of freaks, weirdos, and card carrying members of the lonely hearts club.

And I find the less eye contact you make with them the less likely they are to ask you questions like “are you a swimmer” to which you are dying to say no I just touched the wall 160 times because I felt like pacing my aquatic cage today.

So I have found if I turn my back to stretch, I can’t see their eyes, and avoid conversation - so there I was, back turned, stretching away.

“So you’re one of those people,” a voice calls from across the hot tub, extra snarky emphasis on the word those. Ok, I have got to start swimming less because this whole hearing voices is getting to be a little too much. I look to my right and see a little lady, about 80 years old that hasn’t blinked or cracked a smile since I’ve been in here. I look the other way. And wouldn't you know there is the guy, the same large body – large mouth guy sitting across from me.

Talking to me. In the hot tub. Looking for lap lane love or maybe just conversation in all the wrong places with all the wrong people but tonight he chose me. But this does not surprise me. After all, you are talking to the woman that once had her palm read in New Orleans to which the palm reader took a long hard look at my hand and said, “you tend to attract weirdos and you can spot them across the room.” Say no more, Mr. Pink-Haired-French-Quarter-Palm-Reader. In that short sentence you have summed up the story of my life.

But back to the guy….

One of those people?

Ok, listen lunchbox, I’m sorry I don’t want to talk to you, make friends with you, or get to know you as we both boil in this vat of hot water that is probably collecting more gross stuff from your body alone than it has in the past year. I don’t want to hear about how 25 years ago you were the world’s best swimmer. And I certainly don’t want to spend too much time distracted by conversation in front of you because I feel that if I boil in here long enough you might just eat me.

Finally, after going through a fit in my mind, I respond, this time out loud, about being one of those people. “Oh no, no, I’m just stretching,” I said. Code for I'm one of those girls that is too nice to admit that I’m ignoring you so best you leave me the alone and I won’t feel compelled to swing my 4000 yard pumped up arms right at you.

“I’m sorry,” he said, apologetically, a little pandering, “I’m just one of those people that talks to other random people and says things.”

So you’re admitting you’re a weirdo that preys upon quiet graceful girls in the hot tub at late hours of the night. Perfect. Thanks for clarification. But still I’m not feeling any better. Is there like a freak panic button in this pool? Will someone come for help?
I’m trapped. I’m right across from him in the hot tub with only the little old 80 year old lady to get my back. And she still hasn’t blinked. And why do I think he is starting to see this hot tub as a light butter sauce that I marinating in.

Help, a little help here….. Husband? Oh, that’s right, he left me here looking like Lane Bait all alone in the pool at 9 pm. I look towards the therapy pool for help, just a short distance away. In it, I see what can only be called the Lawrence Welk dance team made up of a dozen 70-something men moving around with colored foam noodles. Perhaps they could help? Throw me a noodle here for safety?

Wait, scratch the noodle request. Again, we are talking about a boiling pot that I am floating in with a man that might mistake a foam noodle for the linguine that he’ll have with me on the side.

No response from my quiet cries for help from the therapy pool or the older woman next to me. I suppose I could just leave, exit the hot tub and erase this night. But I have waited all day – a very long day – to sit in this heated tub to let my mind and worries melt away. I am not the one that will leave. I earned this. Come hell or hot water with big man, I’m staying. He’s going. Not a choice.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” the guy asks while imitating me stretching my arm across my chest.

“No, it feels good,” I said. Hey, you ask the world’s dumbest question and you will get the world’s dumbest answer. Does it hurt. Yes, that’s why I’m standing here doing it because after that swim set I couldn’t wait to hurt some more.

I had just about had it. My temper was rising about as much as the heat from the tub. My grace was under pressure and I was about to explode in the most unquiet of ways. In less than 3 sentences, I had become convinced that this guy was certifiably creepy, freaky, weird. Either that or really hungry. And the fact that my body was sitting in the same hot saucy liquid as his made me want to barf up perverted bubbles of disgust.

And just as I was ready to explode like the hot bubbles in this tub, the encounter came to a close because he turned his back to me and then verbally assaulted one of the staff that happened to be walking through the pool at just the right/wrong moment when he started yelling, and complaining, very loudly, about the black squiggly lines at the bottom of the pool.

I will repeat that – the BLACK SQUIGGLY LINES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE POOL. Exact words. No joke.

How many ways is this wrong?

First, when was the last time you heard an adult use the word ‘squiggly’, and second is that any way to get yourself taken seriously? Third, of all the things you could complain about in the pool – floating band-aids, frigid water temperature, cloudy overchlorination, visual pollution from people that wear see through swimsuits but have no clue, hair, scabs, all the people you KNOW are peeing in there, you’re telling me the only 'bad' thing that caught your eye was BLACK SQUIGGLY LINES?

For the second time that night, I took that as my cue to get out, mumbled to myself as I walked into the locker room that I was probably lucky still to be alive, lucky to be safely out of that hot tub, lucky to be on my graceful way and if I was lucky enough I would never run into this guy again.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Legs? Paging Legs?

Have you seen my legs? Has anyone heard from them? Or noticed which way they went? I tried calling them up this weekend, but just as soon as we would connect the call would get dropped or they would just hang up.

I know for sure they were with me last Monday on a long, hot run. We did about 14 miles together with 10 miles at tempo pace, descend, finish all out, standing on the path hands on knees head in a world of hurt. They made it through, but not without much protest for the remaining 4 miles as we shuffled back to where we started. True, it was hot, they were tired, we all needed a rest. But come on legs. 14 miles? Remember at time when we did 26.2? Non-stop? Still they would hear nothing of this. And I didn’t blame them. Especially since it was holiday. They weren't too thrilled about running in the forest preserve on Memorial Day, a holiday, when most people - and their legs - were busy visiting with friends, or playing volleyball, or eating grilled meat.

Tuesday seemed to catch them in a better mood. So I promised them a day of rest, in the form of a swim. But you know how this goes. Especially at this time of year. There is no such thing as an easy swim without the legs. Somewhere in the midst of 10 x 400 they were called out, But a few minutes in the hot tub afterwards seemed to make nice with my legs again, letting them stretch out and hopefully warming them up to what would probably be a harder Wednesday ahead.

Wednesday I woke up pleased to hear back from my legs. There they were. Both of them, right there. Ready and willing for an early morning ride. Even without coffee yet, the legs were perky and fresh. They plugged away at a steady pace, strong climbing hills. Standing, seating, spinning, stomping. It was an early morning play date, and we once again made friends. But I knew it wouldn't last long.

You see, Wednesday evening we had another hard swim. Wait – didn’t we just swim hard yesterday? The legs are starting to see through my lies. They are starting to doubt the system. They are angry and waiting, two masses ready for mutiny. They are filled with nothing now but memories of our angry fights in the form of long runs, track bricks, and other random torture throughout the past few weeks. And they never seem to forget. They prefer to remind me of this every step of way. Even in the water.

Thursday would see no rest. Not for me or the legs. Because Thursday was the day I put my bike on the track and geared up for a run-bike-run-bike-barfathon. Something, though, must have gotten into the legs because they - like the track - were on fire. Fast, furious, ready to push big gears and then throw it into my land gear as I blasted through 1600 reverse ladder on the track, descend. They negative split, they powered through, and just when they couldn’t take any more they dropped it the reserve gear and turned those feet over faster.

You could say I was surprised by my legs. But not surprised by the fact that when I woke up the next day, my legs were gone. I didn’t realize this until I headed to the pool. And tried to get through yet another hard swim in a neverending string of hard swims this week. I didn’t think I’d need them but upon reading 100-max-all-out-rest-5-seconds-go-immediaetly-into-200-tempo-pace-repeat-4-times, I knew I’d need their help. You don’t max a 100 without kicking the last 25. All out. I tried to recruit them but they weren’t there. Enlist them, engage them, cajole, coerce, finally force them...with no avail. They had checked out, they had run the other way trying to recollect pieces of themselves from last night’s tussle with the track.

Saturday morning Chris must have found what was left of my legs to harbor for himself because he woke up ready to roll out of bed and ride while I woke up ready to roll back over. I wanted to explain to him that somewhere along the way last week I had lost what was left of my legs. They were in silent protest from all of my pushing this past week. But Chris was already in the car waiting so he wouldn’t hear my or their quiet cries. While he waited, I was still trying to pull on socks. A very difficult task with angry, absent legs.

Finally, we are ready for our 3 hour ride. I rode alone, me and my legs. And after a short while they seemed to be ready to ride. We rode hard into the wind on the long, flat straigthaways. And then we pushed hard up the hills. I can’t explain it when just a day ago they had completely ambled away. So it surprised me this morning, whether to spite me or tease me, when they literally rode away.

And I guess they forgot to come back. Because afterwards was a run. I stood at the car pleading with the legs. Come on, legs, we have to get through this. If we don't, we'll remember it and come the next race this memory of defeat will be fresh in our head. And we can't have that. Plus we never give up. But we can bargain. We can push for 10 minutes, then if we push really hard for 15 minutes we can back off for the last 5. Fine, we shake legs on that deal and we get the run done.

Sunday morning I woke up and my legs were just walking in. I believe they spent the night dancing the tango in three inch heels while I was sleeping. Because judging from their heaviness, there was no way they were laying in this bed with me all night long.

It was war between me and my legs. Not permitting them to give in, not yet, I decided to put them on a leash to keep them in line and take them for a swim. I thought it wouldn’t be so bad. That we could even fake it, me and my legs. It was a swim that started easy but all of a sudden after something like 16 100's into it, it got to the point where I could barely shout the interval to Chris and barely touch the wall before I had to go again. Of course I had to kick like crazy with my legs. And since they were still leashed, they were not happy. Tethered in this lane of pain. They only started talking to me when I had a pull buoy between my legs but once it was removed - silent treatment all the way.

I decide to give them a rest for awhile before dropping the news of the early evening run. Not the type of news they wanted to hear. But at this point, it has nothing to do with the legs. It’s mind over matter and what matters is that my mind is going to win with or without the legs. Like it or not, legs, we push today for one day more. Because this is where it counts. This is the work that makes the difference. Not when we’re rested, or fresh. It’s when we’re tired, and walking – I mean, running, or biking - that fine line of breakthrough versus exhaustion.

One more workout, legs, one more and then for one day we can call it a day. I drag my legs weary to the path and put them out for a run. At first they are tired, they are muttering. They are begging for no more. But the mind keeps plugging away, visions of the next big thing, the big thing that leads to bigger things, bigger visions, bigger goals ahead. My mind is hungry for this, and my legs must follow. Now is not the time for them to run the other way.

Wait a minute……….I think I hear the legs shuffling back. All this talk of goals, visions, dreams that lie ahead. They too are hungry, no matter how beaten. They too have the same desires. And wouldn’t you know just like that they pulled themselves together again. They show up just in time for my pick ups and we pick it up. When they feel like giving out, I kick it into a speedier gear and turn my legs over faster. Together we work in unison with one vision, one goal – for now, for tomorrow, for the next big thing – full speed ahead.

Afterwards, the legs are tired. Good thing because the mind finally follows. It is tired too. It is Sunday night, and time to rest. And in front of us is the taper week ahead. To let the good work settle in, to build the hunger, and recharge the legs for next big thing.