Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Mill Of Dread

Late Sunday night, I took a look at my schedule for the week ahead. The words “rest week” rested on top of the page next to a very small number in total hours for the next 7 days. A celebratory dance was in order. But nothing too wild – after all, it was rest week and when in rest week one must do like the resters do – and rest.

Just when I thought it was looking good, just when I got started on my low intensity happy dance, I noticed something on Tuesday. Something that just didn’t look right. And that’s when I realize I had been bamboozled. Next to “rest week” were the words “test week”. Two words so close, separated by one consonant, one making me think “thank god”, the other making me think “dear god”.

But it didn’t stop there.

I inched closer to my schedule, even squinted. Did a proverbial rub of the eyes and took a good hard look. It was worse than I thought because I never thought I would read the words “time trial” and “treadmill” in the same sentence but lo and behold there they were. 30 minutes, max effort, on the mill of dread.

Max test on the treadmill? Are you kidding? Who’s behind this? The fingers pointed directly at my coach, a recent anti-treadmill turned pro-treadmill convert herself.

“It will give you pop, it will make you stronger,” she said to me on the phone last week.

As much as I wanted to believe, I was skeptical. You see, the treadmill represents winter weakness in oh so many ways. Good old Midwestern girls bulk up in their balaclavas, gloves, fleece mittens, fleece tights, jogbras, turtlenecks, polar vests underneath polar jackets, wool socks, and top it off with an ear-flapped hat. Yes, this is my standard winter running outfit. And it does look ridiculous. And if perchance you are left standing inside dressed like this for more than 1 minute you risk combustion via your own body heat.

But that kind of get-up just won’t do for a max effort test. And 14 degrees with a minus 7 degree windchill won’t do either. So it was time to head indoors.

My plan of indoor max test attack was simple – get to the gym before 4:30 pm, before it exploded in a greedy mess of treadmill hogs and gym rats. I arrive right on time, choose my treadmill, and board for a painful ride.

I warm up to the flow of the treadmill, the monotonous sound of the belt, settle into the sound of music in my headphones (note: indoor runs ALWAYS require music). Then something breaks through what almost feels like silence to me. Two women, probably in their 60’s, have boarded the two treadmills to my right. The woman next to me starts programming her machine.

“Would you look at this, my heart rate is at xxx,” she says with concern in her voice. Uh-oh. I didn’t want her to think her heart rate was on the verge of exploding, so I politely informed her that her treadmill was picking up my heart rate.

“Well good thing,” she said, relieved, “because if my heart rate was at xxx they’d have to carry me out of here.”

I laughed, but figured I should warn her of what was ahead. It was going to get worse than xxx. Much worse. Like xxxxxx worse.

“I’m going to be running faster for awhile, so the heart rate number is going to go up,” I explained. Not sure how far up it would go or how far freaked out she might, I added, “really far up, it’s going to get ugly.”

She seemed satisfied but still it becomes a heated conversation with her friend. They begin talking about the cross talk from my heart rate monitor in a way that makes it sounds like the worst thing in the world, in the way that only two women in their 60’s can do, in a way that makes the treadmill sound like the most useless, ignorant piece of crap in the world. Probably very much in the same way they talk about their husbands. They’ve had years of practice in this technique. Again, women in their 60’s are masters at this.

My 30 minute max effort begins. The pace has dropped about 90 seconds and my feet are moving at a ridiculously fast speed. Within 5 minutes, my heart rate has gone up 30 beats and my face is hot.

My neighbor notices this.

“Would you look at that, it says xxxxxx,” she says. Out of the corner of my eye, I see her motioning towards me to point out to her friend look at this idiot on the machine next to us running that fast, going nowhere fast, what the hell is her hurry.

10 minutes into it I wonder if I’ve started too fast. I see the words DO NOT FRY YOURSELF in my training log written as a fair warning from my coach. I wonder if I am frying myself. 30 minutes is a long, long time.

And it’s non-stop. There’s no coasting on the treadmill. And you know what I mean. Outdoors, you get a little downhill, you get a push from the tailwind. Indoors – nothing. Not even a fan. Which explains why my head is dripping in sweat and my hair feels like a hot rag slapping my back every other step.

15 minutes, I’m halfway there. My music is cranked so loud that I fear if I have to repeat this test every month I may just be deaf by the end of the season. But at least it’s drowning out the conversation next to me.

Which has just gotten back to me. “Will you look at that, she’s up to xxxxxxxx,” neighbor says, again pointing at me. Like there’s anyone else around running like a freakin’ gerbil on a wheel and sweating like an ape.

”She’s running xxxxx miles per hour,” she announces. Really, am I missing something? Did my competition send these two women here to keep a watchful eye on me and relay my stats as I went along? Do they know my coach?

The ipod has to go up one notch louder. And I kick up the pace 1 notch faster.

18 minutes and there is no way I can keep this up. The incline feels like I’m climbing the Alps, the heat is stifling, and my feet are starting to burn. I wonder if the machine has ever been pushed like this. I wonder if I’ve ever been pushed like this. I’ve done my share of hard, fast running. But this, this is different. It doesn’t let up. It doesn’t fluctuate. It’s the same damn pace over and over again. Even at a track your pace fluctuates depending on the turns and the wind. But this – this is relentless.

But I’ll beat this machine. This mill of dread. I’ll show it just how tough I can tread.

21 mintues into it and I want off. NOW. I wonder if I could just sneak in a little break. You know, drop the incline .5 percent. I consider it. NO. Just a little break. NO. Just a tiny rest to catch my breath, to regroup myself. NO NO NO. Must keep going. Must beat this machine.

At 25 minutes I start bargaining with myself. I love this point in a workout. Where part of your mind steps to the side to talk to the other side of your mind. Tangled in a debate of rational vs. irrational, mind vs. body. You try to convince yourself it’s ok to give up a little even though your other half knows that it is not ok. In this case, I made a compromise with myself. I give myself permission to take a sip of my water bottle every minute which quickly becomes dripping water on my face every minute.

At 27 minutes things take a turn for the better. 3 minutes to go – totally within control, totally manageable. But still totally nauseating.

Finally, 30 minutes arrives. I quickly jump off the machine. I feel like throwing up. My body is unable to rid itself of the lactic acid quickly enough, my stomach is queasy, I want to heave. In all of my years of running, all of the races and paces, I have never felt that. Never. Except that one time last year on the track when I felt like I was leaving my body. But that was different.

I head upstairs to cool down on the indoor track. Afterwards, I had to take a seat. I can’t remember the last time I sat down after a workout – or even a race – but damn it felt good. And it took me a minute to gather myself. It was like the moment in San Diego when I stopped while climbing Mount Soleded to gather my thoughts. Or, as Chris said, to pee myself. As I sat on the bench, my feet tingled, my stomach hurt, my eyes glazed. I did not, however, pee myself.

I was done. I walked back into the locker room and noticed something as I walked by the mirror. My face had completely broken out in heat rash with red circles under my eyes.

Excellent.

And so that was this month’s rest week max run test. In another 4 weeks or so, I’m sure I’ll be put to the test again. I’ll board the mill of dread for another half hour of heaveworthy fun. But until then, it’s not so much where I’m at right now – the numbers, the pace, the feeling – but where I’m going. And honestly, I can’t wait to do it again to see where I’ve gone in another month.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Breakfast of Champions

If you are feeling apathetic about the world, do not go to Dunkin’ Donuts in the morning.

My current apathy can be traced back to yesterday. Yesterday, I spent over 12 hours at work planning for a class about nutrition for preschoolers. I know what you’re thinking, but you work at a plant museum. Exactly. It is my opinion – and I’m ready to force this on 20 educators next week – that proper nutrition starts with plants.

It’s the whole ‘eat a rainbow’ idea. Look back on what you ate yesterday. Was it a rainbow of colors (ROY G BIV) or was it all white? Did you eat from the ground up or did everything come out of a package? It’s no mystery that the less processed your foods – meaning the less places/processes it goes through before reaching your plate – the healthier it is for you.

This is easier said than done. And that is why I am educating educators on proper nutrition and how to deliver this message to children and their parents. You see, educators are very, very powerful people. They stand in front of your child every day and tell them things. Then your child comes home and tells you things. Chances are, the educator tells you things to tell your child too. And that’s they key – figuring out how to deliver the message to the parent as much as you deliver it to the child so that the magical moment of synergy occurs where they not only learn about it at school but put it into practice at home.

My planning began with my usual process – first, check my curriculum resource books for nutrition activities, songs, lessons. Then, I checked my usual internet sites for thematic planning and ideas. Eight hours later, I had printed out a pretty sad pile.

It is no doubt to me why we are so fat in the world. There was an absolute dearth of information on teaching preschoolers proper nutrition. In fact, most of the lesson plans, songs, storybooks, and ideas out there were about teaching preschoolers how to make pizza, how to sing about ice cream, or eat pancakes, or make muffins. Yum!

I had a lot of work to do.

Every once in awhile, I’d see something about the Food Guide Pyramid. But even that was useless – what exactly will a 5-year old learn when they stack different foods into a triangle. That the bread is below? That all the tasty stuff is on top?

After awhile, I concluded that our world is fat because we are not teaching our children how eat right. We are teaching them that food gets put in a pyramid and sugar is bad – so brush your teeth! Cognitively, I am not sure a preschooler can assimilate these messages and apply them to their daily life. Think about the math involved. Think about the abstraction. Again, the 5-year old will not sit there and say mom I need to eat 1 more serving of bread because according to that giant triangle in my classroom I need 6 – 7 servings per day and I’ve only had 5.

So, I have concluded that an entirely different approach is required. I’m not saying it will be a successful approach but at least it’s a start. The approach will be three-fold. First, simply teach them to eat a rainbow of colors. Most are learning their colors and most enjoy colors. Most like rainbows. Second, teach them to try new things. We all know preschoolers are picky eaters but they are also imitators – if they see you trying new things they will probably try the new things and if they get into the habit of trying new things they will learn that there are lots of great foods out there. Third, make the parents more accountable and more educated. I’m tired of hearing “I don’t have enough time”. There are ways to choose and prepare healthy foods that do not involve much time. Furthermore, at some point, parents need to decide at what cost they are willing to sacrifice their health and their child’s health. If you cannot afford the time, then are you willing to pay the price in your child’s overall well-being – are you willing to say "time" is worth more than the child's health.

Enough said.

And so, apathetically that is where I found myself this morning in Dunkin Donuts. Before you get your panties in a bunch, I wasn’t there for doughnuts. I was there for the coffee. I woke up with a killer headache courtesy of killer dose of antibiotics and felt a cup of Coconut Coffee with Cream would make me barely tolerable enough at work to avoid disciplinary action.

The fact that I sat in a line of traffic a mile long to even make the turn into Dunkin’ Donuts is not what I’m barking about. It’s what I stood behind in the line at the store. There in front of me was a young woman – probably no older than 25 – ordering what appeared to be breakfast.

“I’ll have a sausage, egg, and cheese bagel, extra sausage,” she said.

Yikes. Somebody pull out the food pyramid for this one. Considering most of us only need 2 – 3 servings from the meat, cheese, and egg group per day she does met her daily allowance in one meal – and then some.

It didn’t stop there.

“And, a chocolate glazed doughnut,” she added, “and a coffee, with cream.”

I’ll let the coffee with cream slide. I won’t even get into the doughnut. But while she was waiting for her coffee, she grabbed – and I am not kidding – at least 20 packets of sugar to go with it. How ‘bout a little coffee with that sugar?

As if that wasn’t enough to fuel my apathetic fire, the next guy in line – about 50 years old – ordered 3 chocolate glazed doughnuts and a strawberry smoothie. Part of me wanted to read him the story about Mr. Sweet Tooth where we talk about all the sugar “Greg” eats in a day while scooping teaspoons of sugar into a bowl. I hope he brushes his teeth after that one.

I’m not saying I’m better than these people. I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’m not saying that I did not shove a fistful of red gummy goldfish into my mouth everyday last week. What I am saying is that there has to be a better way. At what point will we start caring. What will it take? Just how far will we let this go?

There is where I sit right now. At work, with the task of teaching preschoolers about nutrition to hopefully avoid the tendency to stand in the line of a donut franchise while ordering 10 lbs of sugar with a side of meat and coffee – a real breakfast of champions.

Interestingly, most of our preferences, tastes, and behaviors concerning food are formed by age 6. Think back to your early childhood, sitting around the dinner table. What happened? If you can’t remember sitting around a dinner table, that in itself is a very powerful indicator of how you learned your food behaviors. If, like me, you remember sitting at the table being told you cannot get up until you eat your beets – again, that left some lasting impressions. But again, think back to mealtime when you were younger and you will get a good look at why you eat the way you do today.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I’m not even sure I need to go anywhere at all. I’m hoping that if I just plant the seeds (get it?) in your mind to be more mindful about the way you feed yourself and your children that one day they will arrive at adulthood better equipped to make better decisions.

Again, it’s about the cost involved. If not now, then years from now someone will pay the price of our bad decisions about nutrition or lack of education for how to eat right – in a way that makes sense to children, in a way they can understand and apply to their daily life. There just has to be a better way. It has to be worth our time, our money, our brain power to find a better way.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Mashed Potatoes

I’ve got a bad case of mashed potatoes. Before you think to yourself how could there possibly be such a thing as bad mashed potatoes – listen up – these are not your ordinary dinner table mashed potatoes.

Oh no, my friends, these are different, very different potatoes.

Let’s take it back to the beginning, to the origin of the term salty mashed potatoes. Like all good sayings (ie., “I’d touch her with all eleven fingers”), the term was first coined on Ragbrai.

It was approximately four days into the ride when something between everyone’s inner thighs went terribly awry. When fresh shorts in the morning and a shower every night didn’t seem to help anymore. When the surrounding regions started to read as a bad road map of saddle sores, red bumps, and other unmentionable, questionable finds.

I believe we were passing time in a pass through town when Tim mentioned something about his yams being cooked or some pain in his yambag. The yambag, the eleventh finger, the meat whistle, the salty stick, the whatever you want to call it is a frequent topic of conversation on Ragbrai. But that’s what you get when you voluntarily choose to spend a week in Iowa with ten grown men.

Being the only girl in the group at the time, I felt compelled to share my version of yambag pain. I had heard enough about rocking out with cocks out, touching unassuming women with the eleventh finger. It was time to pull my own trick out of my own box. No pun intended. And keeping it within the category of tubers, I shared my version of the barking yambag - the salty mashed potatoes.

Told you that you wouldn’t find these at the dinner table. And you probably won’t see potatoes the same way again.

But admit it – if you’ve ever spent more than 100 miles in a saddle, day after day, hour after hour, sweating it out under the summer sun after several days of so-called “showering” in the backyard garden hose of some farm couple in small-town Iowa – then you have also been intimately acquainted with the feeling I talk about. You have cooked up your own batch of mashed potatoes.

But like any batch of food, sometimes the ingredients go a little off. I mean, you’d expect to mash up your potatoes after miles of riding. But there’s always the chance that something will go bad, go sour, something’s been sitting out for a little too long.

And it seems that is exactly what happened to me. Somewhere between 7 hours of riding last weekend in the 65 and sunny San Diego climate, things went a little off.

It started a few days ago. You know the feeling – it’s that interminable itch. The itch you cannot scratch. The itch that turns you into a raving bitch because really how can you relieve yourself in a socially acceptable way without looking like a freakin’ chimp. Where in our world is it safe to scratch yourself to no end between your legs – at work, at the gym, even in your own home? Absolutely not. So you sit there with the word ITCH ITCH ITCH popping out of your crotch at least once every 5 minutes. And you can do nothing about it.

Enter one box of Monistat 3. Not 7, because really who the hell wants to drag this out any longer than necessary. You find yourself standing in the pharmacy with a smorgasboard of treatments on the shelf in front of you and you see the numbers 3 and 7. And you think to yourself, gee, I’d like to feel like I need to wear a diaper for the next 7 days while simultaneously feeling like I need to rip the walls of my vagina out. No thank you, I’ll take the 3.

Actually, it turned into Monistat 2. I believe last May, after my annual yeast infection (happens every May, it’s getting to the point where I feel I should have a welcome home party for it), I treated it for a day and it went away. Hence the remaining 2. And so, I set about for the next 2 days treating it.

Nothing happened. In fact, it got worse. Every trip to the bathroom felt like someone was scraping my insides with sandpaper. The coarse grade. The REALLY coarse grade.

Back to the pharmacy, staring at the shelf. Time to pull out the big guns. The 1 day dose. You might be asking yourself why I didn’t choose the 1 day dose to begin with. To me, it just sounded too good to be true. I didn't trust it. What have you ever cured in 1 day? Think about it. Nothing goes away in 1 day. Plus, who wants to spend 20 dollars on a suppository. Furthermore, who wants to take the risk at 20 dollars that you are just going to have to go back to the store and buy the 12 dollar package of 3-day treatment anyway. Do you see how much work it is to have a vagina? The thought processes involved? The time and the cost?

Well, my theory broke down because even with the initial “3” treatment, I was still standing there buying the “1” day treatment. So I guess there is no way around it – you are going to pay 32 dollars to treat it either way.

I hit it up with the big gun and waited. A day later, everything was going well. The word ITCH stopped flashing before my eyes and riding my bike became tolerable again.

But then, Sunday night, it returned. It was time to call the doctor.

Note: Having a doctor as a friend is perhaps the most valuable thing in the world. This beats having a money tree in the backyard. I don’t have a money tree in the backyard but I do think if I did it would come in very handy. The doctor, however, has knowledge. And knowledge is power, and it doesn’t come cheap. So having a doctor friend is like have a money tree. In a way.

Enter our doctor friend, who shall remain nameless. Together, he and I have cured a variety of conditions in a single call; ingrown toenails, acne, sinus infections. I tell him the symptoms, he writes me a prescription.

This time, however, I was asking him for help on his home turf. You see, this doctor friend is not just any doctor – he’s a urologist. And since urology entails everything down below, I felt very much at home with calling him and asking him for help. I have no shame. I will talk to him about anything.

There I was, Sunday night, sitting in the car with Chris – bitching and moaning about the bitch of an itch between when my legs, when I said that was it, it was time to call doctor friend. Now since I was driving, and driving my car involves shifting gears, I pulled out perhaps the most valuable wild card of all – again, more valuable than the money tree. The old “I’m shifting gears so you’re going to need to make this call for me” wild card.

And so the husband made the call. He was delighted.

The conversation went something like this…

“Liz has a case of bad salty mashed potatoes.”

That’s all it took. It was like some sick code that only our Ragbrai team could understand and since this doctor is part of our Iowan cycling circle, he knew how to crack the code.

From there, they talked about Monistat 1, 3, 7, and every other oddity of vaginal suppositories and discretions you could think of. But the conversation could only go so far because there was only so much information Chris was privy to. We share a lot, but we certainly don’t share a vagina so it was time for the vagina to speak for itself.

By the way, if you have a weak stomach or you are sensitive to the word vagina I probably should have warned you that this blog may not be for you.

Anyways, on the phone, talking to the doctor and he asked the specific name of the specific doses I took. Huh? You mean, there’s more than one kind? I confessed - it wasn’t Monistat, I was just using that as a filler because I actually bought the generic kind. So who knows what I was putting into my neverworld via little plastic stick.

In his doctorspeak, the doctor starts rattling off the names of a dozen different types of creams or suppositories or ointments you could use.

“It started with a T?” I guessed. That didn’t help. Because there were about 3 different versions that started with a T. He suggested I take a trip to the pharmacy to see exactly what I had used.

“Just give me a call back quick because I’d like to wrap this up before dinner,” he said to me – politely, of course, but still I had to laugh and then agree. After all, when was the last time your dinner topic of conversation was about yeast infections? At the very least, it might keep you from eating a lot of bread and potatoes at the table. But that’s neither here nor there.

There I was, Sunday night, driving to the pharmacy to look at boxes of yeast infection treatments. Again, having a vagina is priceless in this sense. Tell me the last time you called someone up about your penis. Or made a trip to the store to see which “ – azalone” derivative you shoved inside of it?

Quickly, and really, who wants to stand in that shelf for more than a split second, I scanned the choices in front of me. This is where you realize the paradox of choice – how something so simple – treating an infection – can become something ever so complicated by choice. In front of me sat at least 20 different versions of vaginal treatments. Each looked as effective as the other. How do you go about making a choice like this? Price? Box design? Ease of pronunciation in the name?
This is like buying Gas-Ex. You’re standing there thinking quick, grab a box, any box right within my reach, I don’t care what it’s called or how much it costs I just want to buy the box and get the hell out of here before anyone notices me walking around with a box of Gas-Ex. Following that same logic, I tried to reinvent the situation where I chose a yeast infection treatment box. And you know what? I quickly identified the two treatment boxes I used and called him back.

Much better. Reading the names right off the boxes, the doctor and I were finally speaking the same language. And so he asked if I wanted to treat this vaginally or orally. Really? I get a choice. Well, let’s see. Walk around for the next 7 days, again, feeling like I need to wear a pull-up full of lumpy mashed potatoes, or take a pill and wash it down with water. I’ll need to think about this for a few minutes.

Of course, there is a cost. I mean, nothing in life is for free. He began to explain how the oral route is not as effective. Something like it goes through your liver so maybe only 20 percent passes on down. But the suppository – well, it hits the infection right at the source.

But I’m willing to take the risk and treat it orally. For now. After all, what’s another $32 dollars when you’ve already spent over $40 on your vagina at this point and counting.

So here we are with yet another lesson learned. Heed my warning – the hazards of training are more than just the traffic, the weather, the costs. At any given moment, your body is sitting there waiting to respond to the slightest change in training techniques, climate, diet, or equipment. And revolt might arrive in the form of ingrown toenails, or swollen armpit glands, or saddle sores, or heat rash, or trenchmouth. All things I’ve collected over the years. But like I said, nothing is free and everything in life comes with a cost. Even the pure enjoyment of exercise. And as expensive as some things in life can be, I’d like to think that payment in the form of potatoes isn’t so bad after all.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Why I Run

Friday night I was sitting in the kitchen, legs trashed from a pretty long run.

Why do I do this? It’s Friday night – shouldn’t I be at some bar with some people my age making some type of small talk while paying ten dollars for an even smaller drink?

Whatever. That is totally not me.

This is the feeling I crave, this is the feeling that makes me feel alive. Legs are heavy with work. Head is completely free. There’s no place I’d rather be on a Friday night.

Earlier in the night, I headed out for a 1 hour and 45 minute run. The longest I’ve run since Ironman, the longest I would probably run for another few weeks. I was ready. I was looking forward to it. There’s nothing hard about a long run; just put your body on autopilot and let your head wander away. One pace, one stride, one heart rate zone, one way out one way back.

The temperature miraculously rose to 38 degrees but we paid the price for it was a stiff southwesterly wind. I headed out to the path, where I often do my long runs, hoping for a soft surface to lessen the impact of over 13 miles. No sooner did I step foot on to the path than I realized I had made a painful mistake.

The path was a mess.

Not just a mess, but take 3 inches of snow, compact it by horses, foot traffic, and bikes, add a few days of melt from warm sunlight, a few piles of horse crap, a week’s worth of thaw and freeze cycles, and what you had was over 13 miles of a mushy, slippery, slushy, snowy mess.

Turning around wasn’t an option. I was going to have to tough this one out.

I’m running along and I imagine this is what it must feel like running through marhsmellow fluff, or on top of wet sponges. Each leg lift feels like a one-legged squat with dead weight. The wind creates a wall that pushes into me with every forward step. Every slight incline feels like a mountain.

I slogged through it. The time would pass. It always does.

People often ask me what I think about there over the course of that many miles. How you entertain the mind and pass the time. No music, no company, just me and my head. So I thought I’d share some of the random thoughts that floated through my head for 105 minutes.

Today my co-worker finds out if she’s having a boy or a girl; what will they name it? What if they name it Emily like that space cadet kid that lives next door? I’ve got to warn them. Anything but Emily.

I feel like I weigh 1000 lbs. Is it the vest? The Fuel Belt? Socks? Shoes? What the hell is going on. Why do I feel so sluggy. Couldn’t have anything to do with all the miles last weekend or the 20 mph headwind slapping my face. Nope. Probably the socks.

It cannot possibly get any slushier out here. What the f*ck. I didn’t even see that hole. Or that pile of horse crap. What’s with the crap. How come I can’t crap on the path but horses can drop anchor all over the place without penalty. I want to be a horse. Especially on these long runs.

Where should we go for dinner tomorrow night? I decide on Clara’s. I decide I will drink Tempranillo.

I think about a certain race course; how the course will look, who will be there, how I will look racing. I picture it all. I haven’t even been there but I’ve got it in my mind.

There’s a lot of random guys walking on the path tonight. I wonder where they are walking to and where from. What if that one, that one there is crazy it. He and his dog. What if he got a hold of me? I better run a little quicker. Put on my ugly leave me alone face. Do you think it will work?

I’m singing a song in my head that I know the lyrics to and keep hearing but never hear who sings it and it’s driving me nuts because I want to get it at i-tunes but don’t know what it is. Speaking of i-tunes, I need to back up my music.

What if I was training for Ironman again. I confirm for about the one millionth time that even if the opportunity presented itself I wouldn’t do it again this year. I think about 5K’s. Running 5K’s fast. That kills the Ironman right out of my head.

A guy runs by me wearing a hoodie and shorts. I think it’s sunny but it’s not that warm. How is he running that fast on this snow? I see if I can pick up my legs a little more. I go a little faster.

50 minutes, almost half way out. I reach the half way point, turnaround. All that’s left is to go back and do it all again. In reverse.

Yellow peppers at lunch not such a great idea.

I wonder how Leslie is doing. How school is going. What races she’s doing next year. Then I wonder how everyone in Missouri is doing. Amy in Georgia. Even Susan that lives in the next town over. I haven’t seen her in awhile.

I start doing math. I often do math on long runs to pass the time. I calculate paces for different distances. I divide. I multiply.

I think about my coach and her coach. For some reason I wonder where her coach lives, England or the US?

I think about Tim, Ragbrai friend. The time he told Marsh he “did a very bad thing” when he polished off ½ a bottle of Jack by himself before sundown. How Meredith and I had to hold his hands walking to town to keep him from running off.

I am so overdressed. This balaclava is totally unnecessary. This snow is totally unnecessary. When did this happen? When did we get all of this snow? This must be making me stronger. If not physically then mentally because I am enjoying this snow about 1 percent. And the other 99 percent is screaming – LOUD – that the roads would have been much more pleasant. Oh shut up head. Suck it up. You run through this snow now and by October you’ll be a brick wall of headstrong. Nobody runs through 3 inches of slush without getting stronger.

Screw it. Let’s think about some place warm. San Diego was beautiful. I picture the ocean. I think about my next trip out there and the friends that will join me. What would it be like to live there? What would I be like living there?

My neck hurts. What the hell happened in the pool last night. It was hard. I swam hard. It was a new level of pain. I almost peed myself. I almost saw the wizard.

I’m going to pee myself. Really. Right here on this run. Was it the power of suggestion or the cold air? I contemplate dropping tights right there and making yellow snow.

If Chris was out here running with me he would have had a fit about the slush on the path. He would have turned around. He would have been irate with me for the idea of the path. Good thing he is not here. I wonder where he is.

What if I had all of the money in the world. What would I do? I decide I would travel. I would watch the world. I would write about it.

I like to write. Once in high school a teacher told me I was a terrible writer. Know who to listen to.

Music is on my mind. If I made a soundtrack from last weekend what would it be? I think of all the great songs I heard on the radio while I headed north on the 101 watching the blue water roll on to the shore. I think of the song that spoke the loudest to me; Warning by Incubus and the lyric “don’t ever let life pass you by”.

Thoughts take an existential turn as I think about how to live life. How to make meaning of out of each day, taking the time today to do what you want, to live how you want. How most people seem to live their lives waiting for something – waiting for life to begin. What is the waiting for? Why not take a risk, take a day off of work, overspend your limit for a day. What if you wait and tomorrow never comes – what good was all of the waiting?

1 hour 45 minutes, those are my thoughts. Random, disconnected, useless. But as the run goes on, I shed the senselessness and often find myself finishing the last mile with something much bigger on my mind. Something bigger about life or my place in it. This is why I run. No music, no company. Just myself, my thoughts, my feet one in front of the other. This is why I run.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Late Sunday at the Library

Believe it or not, Chris and I are one of the few households left not connected to the internet. No phone, no cable, no HDTV wireless plasma screen anything in our house.

And so, getting online usually necessitates a trip to the local library.

It’s time to confess, I’m a library rat. On any given night, after 8 pm, there’s a good chance that you’ll find me at the local library. We live in a small town, with a small library but it’s big enough for someone like me. It hasn’t been updated since the 70’s, and it surprises me that they can even wire it to anything at all. But still it serves its purpose. With books, CD’s, study corrals, quiet reading rooms. It still has kept up with technology enough to bid farewell to its card catalog and hello to its automated systems.

I’ve got to admit, though, our library is a little shady. It’s set in a secluded part of town, close to the train station, and sure to attract the most curious collection of people. In fact, on any given day or night I have observed the library full of riff-raff in the form of cagey people most who live on the fringe of a normal life; the unemployed, the addicts, convicted felons, train hobos, men with mullets wearing Dale Jr. attire.

Even the staff scares me a little. All of the mousy, moustached women in the world work in my local library. My favorite is one that I refer to as “the skunk”. Apparently after dying her hair jet black she decided jet black wasn’t her color. Now her stark white hair is growing back in. It’s one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.

And then there’s people like me. Still not sure where I fit into it all. But let’s just say I feel like Paris Hilton when I walk into that place.

There’s just something about that place – it’s like a fly paper for freaks. Perhaps that it’s always open, perhaps that’s free. Perhaps it’s the one place that anyone can enter regardless of age, sex or socioeconomic status. And it’s not just me that sees the people this way. After an all too close encounter with a freaky form of library riff-raff, my mom won’t even set foot into that place. It was many years ago while visiting the library when she looked into the quiet reading room to see a man exposing his gleefully erect penis to her under a coat. I guess all the pages really turned him on.

That was her last trip to the library.

Though I’ve never been exposed to a penis at the library, I’ve had my share of unusual situations. And last Sunday was no exception. It was late in afternoon and I hopped over to the library to do some searching on the internet. Across from me sat two young girls and to my left was an older woman. The young girls surprised me – why were they in the adult section – but the older woman did not surprise me. After all, she looked like your standard crazy enough to be at the library late Sunday afternoon women with a moustache, moppy hair, thick circular glasses. The kind of person that makes you wonder how they found their way to the library let alone figured out how to get on to the internet.

Do you ever just get the sense that something is off?

Sure enough, confirmation came from the woman next to me. She started talking. Not unusual – after all, it’s a library and quiet talking is permissible. But she wasn’t engaged in a conversation – she was talking to herself.

I couldn’t help but listen in – really, I’ve seen and heard a lot of crazy things at the library but a conversation with one’s self – this was something new. This beats out the woman clicking her tongue in the corner by the magazines. Or the guy I caught looking at nudecelebrities.com. Maybe even the flasher…

There I sat, eavesdropping on what was becoming quite the heated conversation. From what I gathered, she was not pleased Saturn, the car company, not the planet – though it would have been logical to assume she came from Saturn and was in close contact with the planet and maybe even rotating around her own rings of craziness. Apparently, she was in the market for a new car because she kept commenting, out loud, that Saturn had failed to put their car prices on the website in the form of….

“Where is it?”

“Ok, but where’s the price?”

“Where’s the goddamn price?”

“Right, but NO price?!”

“I WANT THE PRICE.”

Of the 20 computers in the library, why WHY WHY have I parked myself next to this one. She must have missed the day in school where they learned the difference between talking voices and library voices.

This went on – for at least 10 minutes. And the woman just didn’t get it. Look high, look low, click on every link on the site but listen sister, Saturn just didn’t list their prices so give it a rest already and give them a call tomorrow. Obviously she didn’t hear that conversation in my head. She kept talking.

“The price, the PRICE,” she pleaded with the website.

10 minutes, 15 minutes, ok really this is getting out of hand and needs to stop now. Where’s the librarian? Seems like they are there to reprimand you for chewing gum, or not paying a fine, or using the internet express terminal for more than 10 minutes. But here is this woman ranting and raving, even cussing, but no one said a thing.

I was going to have to take matters into my own hands.

Not that I was doing any form of sophisticated work, but I still wanted quiet. After all, this was the library known for implicit insistence on hush-hush words and conversations kept on the down low.

I looked around wondering if anyone else was equally as annoyed by this as I was. Or was it just me. Was I being oversensitive? I wondered if it was maybe the early morning swim that had left me washed out and weary, uninterested in tolerating this stranger.

No, no, I decided indeed she was crazy and I was going to call crazy at her own game.

Perhaps if she has switched subjects or said something other than “WHERE’S THE PRICE” I might have been more tolerant. But that was it. I had cracked. I was going to say something, there was no stopping it, if the library gestapo wasn’t going to stop her I certainly was.

SSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH” I spouted, overexaggerating the messy loudness of two simple letters, looking sternly and directly at her while furrowing my brows and snarling my mouth. I turned back to my computer and continued my work, happily clicking away on the keys.

Silence. It was completely quiet. You could hear the proverbial pin drop. Wow, I wondered, that’s all it took?

Not so fast, my friend.

About 1 minute later, the word “BITCH” broke through the silence. But not just any statement of BITCH. It was a slowly but surely BITCHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH with the “ch” accentuated just as I had accentuated the “sh”, quietly but audibly streaming out of the woman’s two hands cupped around her mouth in a tunnel of amplified crazy. She drew that word out for a good 30 seconds and then put her hands down.

Oh my god. Did crazy just call me a bitch? And I’m calling her crazy because I would expect any normal person would just snicker ‘bitch’ under their breath and let it go. But the whole cupping her hands over her mouth like a make-shift blownhorn while overexaggerating the whisper – now that, that WAS certifiably crazy.

Do not look crazy directly in the eye. Do not look crazy directly in the eye.

Surely a librarian heard that. Where are they? I expected the library police to come out from the shelves and arrest this woman for cussing in the library. There had to be a rule against that. There’s a rule for everything else in this place; no food, no drink, no taking CD’s out of the music room, no applying for library cards after 8:45 pm.

I looked over at the librarian. Oh there is NO way she heard. She has to be 1000 years old. Not only that but she’s the one that upon approaching her looks like a startled deer in headlights or realized she just had a bowel movement in her pants. She would be of no help.

So I had two choices – respond or ignore. Respond or ignore. Both very, very attractive choices. The ultimate response - I could see myself tussled up in a fight with this woman, pulling at her moppy hair, tearing her thick-rimmed glasses off before stomping on them wildly. Sending her straight to Saturn, no ticket back. Bitch.

But I went the other way. I ignored it. I didn’t flinch, I didn’t look her way. I was standing firm. And you know what, she finally stopped talking to herself.

The lesson learned – beware the library on late Sunday afternoons. You never know what you’ll hear or what you’ll find. It’s a sketchy, shady place. Best be prepared to look the other way or look crazy right in the eye and ssh them firmly. Then get the hell out of there before someone visually assaults you with their penis in the quiet reading room.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Threesome

Last Friday night, Chris and I had a threesome. Oh, it was fabulous. It involved him, me, and a small, furry, 4 pound fleabag known by the name of Chewie. Chris' parents have two dogs, Chewie – the lovable terrier with unlovable bad breath – and I Chi – also known as the little bitch.

Chris is adoringly and abnormally attached to Chewie. If Chris treats and cares for our children half as good as treats and cares for Chewie, then we’re set. If our children piss and shit all over the house like I Chi, we are not so set.

We were sitting at his parent’s house with Chris stroking Chewie’s hair and gently rubbing his tummy (why do I suddenly wish I was 4 lbs and worthy of this type of attention), when he looked at me and said, “I want to take Chewie home tonight.”

NO NO NO. In my mind, I shouted NO a hundred times over hoping on some cosmic subconscious level my husband would hear and heed my warning – NO. A dog, an animal, in a human bed is never ever a good idea. Think about it –paws filled with outside germs, a mouth that has tasted it’s own bowel movement on more than one occasion, a tongue prone to excessive drooling. This is not the husband we are talking about – this is the dog, the little fleabag that will NOT be spending the night in our bed.

But, being a loving, comprising, this-is-a-partnership type of wife – sometimes – I thought about it. Now, I’m no stranger to dogs in the house at night. Enter one high strung spotted Dalmatian by the name of Cookie that belongs to my mother and wakes up about 20 times a night to go out, get a drink, eat some Cheerios (yes, at one point my mother in her effort at brilliant behavior modification would sprinkle Cheerios on Cookie’s bed to keep her quiet when she barked at 2 am – perfect).

And that’s when I made an executive decision. I don’t make these often, and usually save them for sensitive, could-be-really-bad situations. “No, he’ll keep us up all night,” I replied. I was going to stand firm, I was putting my foot down. No dogs tonight. Not in my house (note: I get to refer to it as my house when it involves matters that may potentially lead to household mess, extra laundry, or distasteful home d├ęcor, like painting the laundry room bright orange, or putting up black curtains – executive decision NO).

“Come on, he’s small and cute. I really want Chewie to stay with us,” Chris begged. He put his face close to Chewie’s. They both looked at me and smiled. It was useless, Chewie and Chris were sleeping together tonight.

“FINE,” I said. Politely. Ok, bitchily, at best. In my mind, I knew nothing good could come of this. Nothing.

We grabbed Chewie’s leash – my demand, Chris was ready to go leashless but I thought new dog in new neighborhood with no leash = not a good idea. We grabbed some kibbles. You know, for the 2 am snack break. We grabbed Chewie. We headed to the car.

Chewie represents the .001 percent of dogs that do not like car rides. Never trust a dog that doesn’t like riding in the car. All dogs should love riding in the car, sticking their nose out the window, feeling their ears flop in the wind. Not Chewie. Shakes like a crack addict. Jittery, moany, jumpy. A real joy in the car. Though we only had to drive about 2 miles, it felt like forever.

Once inside our house, Chewie did some exploring. He sniffed everything, he ran in circles, he got under my feet, it was a small dog at it’s best.

Then we headed to bed. For something so small, Chewie can leap like an NBA all-star. He has a vertical jump of about 10 feet and upon entering the bedroom he immediately launched himself about 4 feet into the air and on to our bed.

Chewie found his place at the foot of the bed. He seemed content and quiet enough. We turned out the lights.

After only a few minutes, a sound broke through the silence. Either Chris was licking himself to sleep or something was going on with Chewie. I turned on the light. There he was 4 pounds of furriness licking a circle, 5 inches in diameter, on to the sheets.

“Make him stop,” I demanded, this time not so politely and quite bitchily.

“Chewie, stop,” Chris said into his pillow.

Oh yes. That’s going to help.

Chewie moved a little closer to me. In fact, you could stay he started snuggling with my behind.

“How cute, he’s spooning with my ass,” I announced.

Yes, it was cute, until about 5 minutes later when he started licking again.

This continued. It did not stop. The only thing that changed was that Chris fell asleep and I did not. And for the next 4 hours, I was awakened intermittently by a tiny pooch licking, licking his paws, his legs, the sheets. Maybe he needs some kibble?

At 2:20 am, I was awoken, yet again, by the mealy, mushy sound of a dog’s tongue rolling across my bedsheets in perfect concerto with my husband’s imitation of Mr. Frump and his Iron Lung. It had escalated beyond the point of just tolerating it and going to sleep. I had to make a move. This had to stop.

I bolted up, dramatically whipping my pillow out of the bed and making as much noise as a 400 pound gorilla – like only an angry woman can do - and went towards the other room.

“What’s wrong,” Chris asked, as I walked away. Great – gorilla-sized theatrics were a success.

THE DOG,” I shouted. The dog, I desperately pleaded to myself. Really, dog, have you NO idea that in less than 5 hours I must submerge myself in water so cold for so early in the morning and make my way through 4500 yards of probably some ridiculous set of 3 x 400 IM on a 5:00 interval. Totally impossible but that’s the kind of stuff you see at a Saturday morning practice.

I settled into the other bed and looking at the clock realized it was 2:30 am and I was finally sleeping in a quiet, comfortable room. No snorers, no lickers allowed.

It didn’t last long.

I heard footsteps down the stairs, the garage door opens, and a cars headlights shine into the window. About 10 minutes later, the car pulled back into the driveway, the door closed, and the footsteps returned up the stairs.

I fell asleep.

The next morning, after about 3 hours of collective sleep, I returned to our bedroom asking Chris what happened at 2:30 am.

“I took the damn dog back to my parent’s house. It started licking itself again,” he explained.

For the better part of the night, Chewie had licked his bad breath all over the entire king-sized bed sheet. One thing was sure, though, these sheets were getting washed. NOW. And with that, Chris got out of bed and we stripped the sheets. That’s the last time we let a licker spend the night. That is the last time we invite anything under 5 lbs for a threesome. In fact, I rule out anything at all that has a tongue.

We waited for the washer to get halfway through it’s cycle, then left the sheets soaking for the next 8 hours. It just seemed like the best way to get them clean and free of Chewie’s breath.

And the next time Chris looks up at me, wide-eyed and hopeful, and asks if something can spend the night, I will make an executive decision, put my foot down, and deliver a loud and decisive NO.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Power To Weight

Friday night – Chris and I are at home around 10:15 pm and talking about things that triathlete couples find themselves talking about when no one else is listening – power to weight ratios.

I was at my computer, downloading my Power Tap from the evening’s ride and telling Chris about a book I read last week. It was the latest in books about Lance Armstrong. Reading my own power output, it seemed apropos to mention that I had just recently read that in order for one to win the Tour de France a cyclist must have a power to weight ratio around 5.

This intrigued me. If I were a man, could I win the Tour de France? Could I have fame, fortune, and hot podium chicks? Would I wear the yellow jersey while clutching a bouquet of flowers and a stuffed lion?

And, more importantly, if I were a man, could I kick my husband’s ass?

This is often a topic of conversation. If the playing field was leveled out, if all things were even, if Chris and I went head to head, who would win? In fact, we will often do our own equalizer in races, giving me a 9 – 12 minute margin depending on the race distance. This is what happens when two triathletes marry. Yes, I’m sure there are triathlete couples out there that completely separate themselves from this competitive push and pull. But what fun is that? There is nothing like giving your husband a slap on the rear while running by him. Conversely, there is nothing like having your husband start 5 waves behind you in a race and come riding up behind you while shouting YEE HAW in a grainy, loud, rogue cowboy voice as he whizzes by at top speed.

And as much as we try to keep the competitive fire out of our relationship, it sometimes can’t help but get tangled up in our burning love. Sure, he has his own goals and I have my own goals. But when we show up at the same workout, or the same race I know that he knows that I know that he’s watching me as much as I’m watching him. It’s the nature of the competitive beast. It’s who we are.

Of course, each has their own reason as to why they would be the winner in any given race against each other. And anything, any little reason is fair game. For example, we just discovered that Chris outranked me in the duathlon rankings for 2006. He was 2nd in his age group, I was 3rd. For the next year, he gets to throw in “but I still beat you in the rankings” to trump me in any situation. He earned that right.

I’ve had my fair turns, too. But, I suppose my “I outran you by 5 minutes at Halfmax” has just now expired. When I told him this, he confirmed this by saying, “Oh yes, that ship sailed long ago.”

Thanks.

A week ago, I was doing a brick that involved running to a path through the neighborhood behind our house. If you can clear those 1.5 miles in 10 minutes, you’re doing all right. So the other night when I cleared the course in 8 minutes and 41 seconds I felt like I had something to sing and dance about. I walked in the door, sore and shaky from my effort, and asked Chris the fastest time he had ever run “the route”.

7 minutes.

Damn. I thought I might have “won” for once.

Later that night, lying in bed I did some calculations in my head. I realized that his 7 minute course record was……a fib. After all, I don’t think my husband has ever ran a sub 5:00 minute mile let alone averaged 4:50’s for 1 ½ miles.

He almost had me fooled and somewhere later that night I’m sure he was laughing a loud, very loud laugh in his head because he knew I was calculating comparing his time to my time and wondering why I was so slow.

I’ll get him for that.

And so, it is no surprise to myself that I was interested in comparing our power to weight ratios. I wanted to know if my maximum power output average for someone my weight put me in a category of those capable of kicking my husband’s ass. And, as you may or may not know, this would be no easy task. My husband’s ability to bike and bike fast is what he does best. A sub 55 minute 40K is not extraordinary for him, it’s par for the course. Longer distances? Even better. This past summer, even as a short course specialist, he pulled me on a 4 hour and 50 minute 100 mile ride – on his easy day.

And so when I threw the carrot out there, about needing a ratio of 5 to win the Tour de France, he took a bite. I knew he would. I knew he’d want to be in on this game. After all, you gotta be in it to win it. And he knows that physics equations, math, and calculations are not my forte. He was in it more for accuracy than anything else.

That’s what I get for marrying an engineer.

We quickly did some calculations. At first, we made the error of using pounds instead of kilograms. This actually worked in my favor and soon had me dancing around the kitchen singing to the tune that pound for pound I could outclimb and outride him. Which obviously meant that if I was a man I would indeed kick his ass. Plus win the Tour de France.

I was so set.

But then we realized that the ratio actually required pounds to be converted to kilograms.

I stopped dancing.

He quickly did some calculations of power to weight ratio and discovered my ratio was 4.25.


“You’d be good, but no winner,” Chris said. Oh, ouch. Somewhere behind me, I heard a YEE HAW coming my way. And saw no maillot jaune, no stuffed lions, not even a stage win.

“What about you?” I wondered. Could he be better than my good? Could he be a winner? He already got me on the duathlon rankings, would he get me here too?

He tossed a paper in front of me and threw the pen down. Under his calculations, I saw the number 5 circled.

Oh. He is a winner. He seemed to glow yellow in return and had a vision of a hot podium chick floating in a cloud above his head.

This will happen again. It always does. It’s part of the fun of sport, the fun of being with someone that also loves sport. And it’s all for fun. For I know that he knows that I know that hands down he’d outswim, bike, or run me as a woman or a man. And that’s ok.

I may not be able to outclimb him or outride him, in numbers or in actuality. But at least I can keep trying, keep training and pushing my big gears to improve my power output or work a little harder to decrease my mile splits. And one day that 4.25 will grow closer to 5.0 and I will pull up behind him on the side of the hill and say “giddy up” as I pedal off ahead of him in my roguish cowgirl voice.

And today he’ll read this, and probably reply that he could outpedal and outpower me even if he pedaled with his tongue. And he’d probably be right.

But one can dream, no?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Mail Call

The other day I was working in the mail room. It’s one of my favorite places to work. For one thing, no one ever suspects I will be in there. I get about twice as much work done in half the time. Another thing, it’s got a speedy fast computer with all of our databases. Lastly, it’s like a revolving door of people and gossip. It might be considered the best seat in the work-house.

And so, the other morning, in stepped an employee delivering some mail. One of my favorite mail delivery guys. One of my favorites because years ago when we worked in the same building I heard the sound of something familiar emanating from his computer. It was Parliament. And you don’t find too many people around here privy to the P-Funk. He is probably the only person around the workplace that would understand if I picked up the stapler, pointed it at him,and shouted I’m gonna hit you with my bop gun.

He walked in, we engaged in the usual banter of where have you been, what’s new, but then I looked at him, something was off. Something was different.

I wasn’t the only one. Another co-worker began chasing him around, telling him something was different. They came to a hault in the mailroom when she asked, “Did you get your hair cut?” She reached for his hat. This is the wonderful thing about a workplace – the opportunity to watch two adults grope and pull at each other like children.

He holds on to his hat, not giving up the reveal as to what was going on underneath. Finally, with a voracious pull and snatch, she stands there with hat in hand, wide-eyed at what it unveiled. For underneath his hat was not just a new hairdo, oh no, it was much more than that. It was a fabulous new hairdo – a la the style of Mr. T. Remember Mr. T, part of the world-famous, world-feared A-Team that drove around in a black conversation van with tinted windows and four of the strangest men who seemed to have nothing in common with each other than a penchant for wielding guns and the element of surprise as they jumped out of a black van.

“What on earth happened to your hairs?” my co-worker asked, a little older than me, perhaps a little less familiar with B.A. Baracus et al.

“My friends decided to give me a haircut.” he started explaining.

Haircuts are not uncommon for this co-worker. He often lets his hair grow long, then lops it off for some generous cause like Locks of Love. But I had a feeling this new haircut was less about generosity and more about debauchery.

He continued to explain, “So they decided why just shave it off, why not shave it in the shape of Mr. T’s haircut?”

Right – a totally normal progression of thoughts that most people have when getting, or giving, a new haircut.

“And they did this after too much _____________,” I interrupted, leaving the blank line hanging out there heavy and waiting to be filled.

I looked at him curiously – too much what, I thought. Jack Daniels? Vodka and tonics? Schlitz on tap at the Squirrel’s Cage? (the Squirrel’s Cage happens to be a bar where employees frequently hang out; I’ve yet to muster the confidence to enter a bar called the Squirrel’s Cage as the words squirrel and cage in my mind go together as well as fire and ice or creamed corn and clams or Elizabeth and decaf).

He looked back at me. “Too much milk and cookies,” he replied.

Ah, the old milk and cookies craze. You’re right, I thought, after dunking too many Oreos my friends are also likely to shave my head in support of the A-Team. This is totally normal behavior.

“What did your boss say?” I asked, curious as to how a workplace that fretted for months over the size of the font on our nametags would fare with this hairdo.

“Nothing. Yet,” he replied, honestly.

With that, I wished him well on his way and suggested he pull the hat down a little lower.

I wondered if he would spend the rest of the day milking this haircut for what it’s worth. For all he knew, in a few hours, the boss could politely suggest he reconsider the cut to better serve our customers, or at least not scare them away. If it were me, I would spend the rest of the mail route screaming “I pity the fools!” like Mr. T would so often do.

I decided to probe a little further into this Mr. T identity. I visited a website called “Ask Mr. T”. Accordingly, I asked Mr. T ‘what is with the new haircut’? And Mr. T promptly responded “Don’t ask me sucka. I’ve got more important things on my mind.”

That made me want to ask him even more.

So I did. I asked another question. Know what he said? “If you don’t stop flappin’ your lips I’m gonna smash your head black and blue.”

I get the point. I looked elsewhere at another site with Random Facts About Mr. T. My favorite was:

Following a special act of Congress in 1989, Mr. T must register his pity as a concealed weapon. His hair is the permit.


I wonder if the mail guy considered his hair a permit for something? Free beer at the Squirrel’s Cage? Permission to carry a concealed bop gun?

I suppose I’ll know how management took to this retro T-do next week when he brings the mail again. Until then, I pity the fool for having to walk around the workplace like that. Lesson learned – what sounds like a good idea at 3 am after too many milk and cookies might not go over so well at the workplace. Next time you want to go out on a limb, do something crazy - just dunk double-stuffed instead.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Staying on the Sauce

It's a little over a week into 2007 and many of you are probably struggling to stay on the path of your new year’s resolutions. The average person maintains their resolutions for about 3 weeks. However, it seems more likely that most of us don’t even last that long. In support, concrete proof was delivered into my inbox a few days ago from a dear, but desperate friend. I thought I’d share his struggle with you; he writes……

“I challenged myself to abstain from ice cream, coffee, and alcohol in 2007. How about that trifecta? Well, one week and I’m batting .666. Dang, am I weak or what. I lost number three when I caved in and began sipping Merlot to mask my early caffeine withdrawal symptoms, and no – not in the morning.”

Dear friend, I’m going to write about you today because I care about you. And I care that you have chosen to eliminate three of the most trifectfully wonderful things in our world – ice cream, coffee, and alcohol. The only thing you are perhaps missing from your list would be peanut butter. But that would make it a fourfecta which doesn’t sound nearly as cool as the three-fold trifection you described.

Let’s start with the coffee. The crux of the matter is why you would consider doing this to yourself. To go a day without coffee would be cruel punishment to every cell in your body. You will become snippy, short, and ornery – more so than usual. Or at least that’s what they told me. You will see a permanent white halo with your vision and feel a fog in your head. You will pass most of your day sleeping to shake off a headache worse than any hangover you’ve ever had. You might even start shaking, foaming, or speaking in strange tongues mumbling Sumatra, Guatemalan Antigua, Peaberry under your un-coffee tainted breath. You may even see things. For up to 5 days you will become intolerable to be around. You will accomplish nothing at work. Co-workers will leave notes on your desk pleading you to please, go back on the sauce. Socially, it will set a dividing line between you, now a non-drinker, and them, the coffee drinkers. You will walk into a coffee shop while the coffee drinkers silently berate you with OUTLANDER LEAVE when you order tea or – god forbid – decaf. You will not hear this out loud, but be sure it is happening in their heads.

Let’s move next to ice cream. Tyler Hamilton once said in a magazine that he gave up ice cream for a year in preparation for the Tour de France. You see where that got him. Lesson learned – you cannot replace ice cream with dope. Not that you would, but he and you would probably be better off if you just stayed on the ice cream. There are so many wonderful things about ice cream – where to begin. Moose Tracks, Turtle Soup, Caramel Caribou these create purely happy and joyous feelings in your mouth. And there is no substitute. Soy Dream does not count. Your body knows better. Your mind is just making you want real ice cream even more with every spoonful of Soy Dream. And we’ve already had the discussion where soybeans are eaten by cows so real-milk is really soy-milk. So you might as well cut out the middle man and eat the real ice cream.

Let’s now move to the alcohol. A few things here. First, if you are going to give in forget about Merlot. May I suggest some wines that you must not miss – Tempranillo, Argentinian Malbec, Columbia Valley (Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon from Indian Wells, or Australian Shiraz. These would be wines worthy of breakdown. These wines will leave you in the middle of the street shouting about Ironman. Not that I would know. Second, in the words of Ben Franklin, beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy. If it was good enough from the man that did something with a light bulb, then it should be good enough for you. If not, then you might want to think about why you are too good for Ben Franklin and his advice. Third, I’m glad to hear that you are not sipping wine in the morning. Even if you did, it wouldn’t be that unusual and I wouldn’t think any less of you. I’ve seen grown men drink beer for breakfast on Ragbrai or shots of pucker before 10 am. So, Merlot in the morning would actually make you quite classy in my book but it would leave you with purple teeth for most of the day.

Let’s talk about weakness. To give in to what you love in life is not weakness. Why do we feel we must give up the things we love in life to be “good people”. Who says we need resolutions? If you ask me, resolutions smell fainty of made-up media make believe. Kind of like sweetest day – the biggest bullshit holiday. Like you can only be sweet on that day. Like you can only be good if you resolve to eliminate everything you love for an entire year. Life is far too short to limit yourself from these things. You could be gone tomorrow and nowhere will they announce that here lays a man who gave up coffee for the past year and lived a better life because of it. I share this with you because these are the thought processes I have gone through in evaluating all of my own vices or things I should probably resolve to give up – coffee, spending too much time in my closet, drinking wine, spending hours each day exercising. And what I realized is that I should really just resolve to be true to myself, generous to others, and committed to pursuing my passions. These are things they will talk about when I am gone. These are things that will leave a legacy of who Iwe are with everyone we have known.

Good people do all sorts of bad things – drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, drive fast, have a beer for breakfast. These are all things that good people I know are doing. To stop doing these things would make them less who they have taken so long to grow into. Release yourself from resolutions. There’s no need to stop being who you are because other people make you feel like you should change. The new year has nothing to do with being a new or better person. You can be a better person every single day by staying true to yourself and what you love. And by drinking coffee each day - not negotiable. The wine and ice cream are optional on a daily basis. In fact, you might want to lay off of those until the weekend.

So, my friend, join my saucy and sassy legion of sinners and resolve to stay on the sauce – the coffee, the wine, the caramel sauce on top of your Moose Tracks, whatever sauce you please.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Seattle is Full of Surprises

I have arrived in the land of milk and honey, I mean the land of cream and coffee. So far I haven't had any coffee, but it is high on my list for tomorrow.

Touchdown was earlier this morning and since then I've been busy seeing Seattle with my brother Pete and his girlfriend, Melissa.

We're were driving back to Pete's place when Melissa told us about a fabulous party game called "Surprise Tatoo". It's sort of a drinking game, except it's a game you play after you've done the drinking - or at least once the drinking is in full swing. You have everyone write down something on a piece of paper. Something that would be borderline embarrassing and ridiculous to tatoo to your body. Then you put the pieces of paper in a hat. Everyone pulls a piece of the paper out and then must go and get that tatooed to their body. Everyone goes to get the tatooes at the same time. Tatooes stay covered up until they are all complete. The game culminates in a "reveal" in which everyone uncovers their tatooes to reveal what is now adorning their body. One of Melissa's friends ended up with a pickle with a top hat on their body. Another had a tatoo of Michael Jackon's mug shot.

That game sure beats butt darts, a Ragbrai classic.

As we drove back to West Seattle after eating lunch, visiting Pete's workplace, seeing the Bodies exhibit, and having tea, I thought about what I would bring to the table if I were playing Surprise Tatoo.

I would bring the Toys of the 80's Wild Card.

The person that drew my piece of paper would get a choice between three top toys from the 80's; Glowworm, Rainbow Brite, or Teddy Ruxpin. They would have to get one of those tatooed to them.

If I were playing this game and perchance drew my own piece of paper, I would choose Glowworm.

I asked Melissa if she had any tatooes and she said no. Then perhaps it's time we play, eh?

I have a feeling I should hope I don't ever have to play that game. Because with my luck, I'd come back from Seattle with Mr. Peanut tatooed to my back.

Nevertheless, it's fun to think of some tatooes for your own arsenal of what you'd bring to the table if you ever had to play. So what would you bring?

Friday, January 05, 2007

What’s Your Preference?

This is one of my favorite times of the year – the very beginning with nothing but the endless possibilities of tomorrow ahead. Twelve months of tomorrows.

We all have expectations of ourselves as athletes for the year ahead. We expect to place in the top 3 of our age group, we expect to run a fast 10K off the bike, we expect to swim 1.2 miles in under 30 minutes, expect to finish an Ironman. Whatever your goal may be, you begin to expect it because you work hard for it, you’ve put in the time, paid the price in sweat and toil.

But with these expectations are we actually limiting ourselves? By saying “I just want to finish” are we denying ourselves the possibility that much, much more might be within ourselves?

I was reading a book the other day that discussed the limitation in expectation. Yes, you read that right – the limitation in expectation. The authors argued that with expectations, you allow yourself to perceive boundaries. An expectation of something limits you to that one thing. For example, let’s say an athlete expects to win their age group at a certain race. In expecting that are they limiting themselves for winning it overall? Or setting a new personal best?

The authors explained that when you have an expectation you are certain that something will turn out in a particular way. If you expect to place in the top 3 of your age group at a local race, you see it and expect it will happen. You start to look ahead, thinking about it, waiting for it to happen. Consequently, looking ahead tends to distract you from the moment or the training at hand. It makes you unfocused on the today while waiting for the tomorrow.

So how do you keep yourself grounded in the day to day while still guided on the path of what lies ahead tomorrow? The best goals are achieved by day-to-day progress over time. If you focus on the task at hand each day, breaking your expectations into smaller goals, the impossible all of a sudden becomes possible. In the great words of Bill Murray, baby steps.

But what do all of these day-to-day goals add up to? An expectation, right? No. We can do better than expectations. In fact, we can do without them. Without expectations, you allow yourself to perceive the possibilities – more than one thing – the potential in all of the things that could happen beyond that one thing.

And so the author suggests that you turn expectations into preferences. Preferences are directions that you would prefer to travel towards. Preferences are feelings you have about your performance. Preferences direct you on a path towards excellence rather than an outcome. Excellence is something you strive towards, a journey that follows a path of hard work and dedication. It is not an outcome. You cannot achieve excellence. You can only aspire towards it. And so you cannot expect it. You can only act in it day by day, following a path towards your preference.

Reading all of this, and then trying to interpret it, was a lot to handle all at once. So I put myself through an exercise the authors suggested:

List your expectations for an upcoming event

I’ll do an example. At “x” race, I would like to place in the top 3.

Now, rewrite your expectations as preferences. In other words, “I definitely prefer _______ or something better.”

Ok, this year I would definitely prefer to place in the top 3 or something better.

Wait – I got it.

Why limit myself to top 3? Why not top 2 or top 1? Why not break a course record, or beat a pro, or beat all the men? Part of me is being grandiose and facetious. But part of me also takes this very seriously. I mean – why not? Why not strive to be bigger and better than what you expect? Don’t we all prefer to be the best version of ourselves? I don’t know about you, but this exercise was the best exercise I did all day. Better than time trial intervals. Better than a timed 1650.

At this point, you’re probably thinking – aren’t you just talking about goals? Isn’t being in the top 3 a goal? Sure, it’s a goal. But I think the authors are suggesting that what we really work towards is bigger than a goal – it’s our preference. Goals are what allow our journey along the path of excellence towards our preferences to be satisfying and exciting. Short-term goals allow us to build confidence and keep us motivated. They are constantly set or re-set. They challenge you to the next level. They change to meet your needs at that particular time. A goal might be swimming 10 x 100 at a 1:19 pace. Once you do that, it might be a goal to hold a 1:17 pace. These goals would help a person build towards the preference of swimming a faster 1000. You achieve these in training, set a new goal and push yourself in training a little further. Collectively, all of these goals keep you moving along the path of excellence until finally your reach the point at which will probably find your have exceeded your original preference. Nice how that works, isn’t it?

What is revealed as you go through this process, is just how much work goes into one preference. As you look ahead to the upcoming season, you have to find that one thing that is your preference. Looking ahead, what do you really want, where do you really want to be? What makes you salivate, makes you goosebumpy, makes you want to throw your arms in the air in victory while standing in the kitchen just thinking about it? What makes you proud that you would even consider that as your preference? This is where your path of excellence will lead. Towards this preference. Along the way, set up smaller goals that are tangible, attainable, and meaningful. Set yourself up for success and works satisfyingly towards your preference.

I wrote this because I just went through this process, of looking ahead to the upcoming season and planning out my preferences and goals. I was all over the place and didn’t know where you begin. But once I seriously thought about my preference for the season, it all fell into place. Everything I do along way will be a stepping stone to get there. I hope you find it helpful when you look ahead.


Here’s to a successful and limitless year ahead!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Let Her Eat Cake

Last night, I just had to have cake. It was one of the uncontrollable, must have it NOW urges. And I didn’t just want a sliver of cake. I wanted to 3 x 3 inch square of cake with about 2 inches deep of frosting.

This was a serious cake craving.

Now I’ve lived in my body long enough to know about urges like this. When faced with this feeling, there are two options; (1) completely and fully give in allowing myself to eat cake without abandon, or (2) spend the next 2 weeks eating bits and pieces of little things to substitute for but never quite satisfy the taste for cake.

And so I gave in.

I headed to the grocery store. Knowing I should be in bed getting ready for tomorrow’s run and lift, I went against my better judgment and went with better taste instead. I had to have this cake. It didn’t matter the cost. It didn’t matter that the sugar right before bed would leave me jittery and restless all night long, that I would wake up with weary bags under my eyes, that I would probably turn away desert for the next 2 two weeks. This was cake we were talking about. It was different, it was worth it.

Walking into the store, I wasn’t quite sure if it was cake or the ingredients of cake I was seeking. In other words, was it the spongy texture, the creamy frosting, the buttery taste, the batter, even dough? What? What was I looking for?

This necessitated a trip up and down every aisle narrowing in on everything naughty and sweet. If cameras had followed me, for sure they’d think they had a ready to binge, obsessive cake-compulsive tiny clown on the loose. After all, I was wearing a pink Ironman shirt, green pants, and hair like a nest on my head. Nothing good can come from someone looking like me in a store. We the random, disheveled few that frequent the grocery store late at night after a long workout or after too long since their last meal craving something – anything – but not sure what so we walk through the store picking up and putting down about twenty items before making our final choice.

I started at the refrigerated cookie dough aisle. I thought about it. Not sure if it fell under the category of baked goods I currently craved, I moved on to the frosting aisle. I was soon surrounded by colorful tubs of creamy goodness. I wanted each and every one. Vanilla, rainbow chip, cream cheese, even german chocolate in all of its artificial coconutty sweetness. I made a left turn to towards the ice cream aisle. None of my favorites were on sale but still I gave the others a fair chance. Caramel Tracks, Moose Tracks, every carton displayed some type of edible animal track that sounded like sweet heaven to me.

But it was cake I came looking for. And so I wheeled myself to the refrigerated cake section. It’s a silly section. I mean, who would pay $1.99 for a slice of cake when you could bake the whole thing for less. A woman with very little time to satisfy a serious cake craving. Out of my way.

Four choices; carrot cake, german chocolate cake, vanilla cake, chocolate cake. Four very fine choices. I pick up vanilla. Always trust your first instinct. Upon inspection I notice it’s a hearty size with double layers of vanilla frosting with a tiny frosted rose on top. I scan the case for the most heavily frosted piece compared to overall size. I’m willing to sacrifice a little on size for more frosting. I find my precious plastic box filled with vanilla goodness and put it in my cart.

But what is vanilla without chocolate? Salt without pepper? Peanut butter without jelly? Lonely it is, I could see it’s longing and lonely vanilla-frosted rose staring back up at me. It needed a chocolate frosted friend.

Same selection process, this time dark instead of light. Large piece, excessive frosting, double layers, even a rose to boot. It finds its way into my cart.

Now, cake mission almost complete. But what is cake without a cold glass of milk to wash it down? I approach the milk cooler and I sense a mutiny in the making. Two random, suburban housemoms desperately searching for skim milk. 1 percent, 2 percent, whole, organic, skim, chocolate, rice, soy. But no skim. Housemoms ready to riot. How could this be? How does a large, national grocery store chain run out of skim milk in a suburb like this?

Let’s face it, no one is walking out of this store with milk. I refuse the other version, the substitutions and just settle on my cake. I wheel my cart the other way. That’s right, I am wheeling around a large shopping cart with two 3 x 3 inch cartons of cake. It was quite the chariot and throne for my little cartons. I take my cake very seriously.

Departing the store I realize there are thirty minutes before Chris arrives home from swim practice. Ten minutes later I arrive at home ready to get to work. There is no way I will share my cake tonight. Oh no, tonight I eat cake with all the reckless pleasure and none of the careful guilt. Tonight this cake box is mine. And so is the other one too.

I get to work. The vanilla goes first. Layer by layer. The rose is gone. I make an executive decision that it would be better to leave my mouth flavored with vanilla, so I save a little vanilla to savor as my final pieces. Then, I dabble into the chocolate. Oh it’s good. No wonder why Chris always chooses this flavor. For sure he would like some of this. For sure I am giggling as I eat it, thinking of Chris in the middle of some ridiculous 5 x 500 main set at the pool. I take another bite on his behalf.

The only thing that could possibly make this better is if Justin Timberlake was here singing to me while I ate my cake. Don't fight me on this one. Adoration of Justin is not negotiable. I could hear it in my head....


I could see us eating cake,
Eating the frosting,
Licking the plate,
I could see chocolate cake in your eyes,
Double-layered sweet surprise.
You could be my baby,
Your cake-eating skills,
Girl you amaze me,
You eat cake no matter the size,
Ain’t no other woman who can eat frosted cake like that,
Like that,
Like that,
Ain't no way you'll share a piece of cake like that,
Like that,
Like that....

I lick the fork, the frosting from the plastic box, my fingers. I might have eaten the cake box if it wasn’t stuck with a large sticker reading ‘you paid $1.99 for a piece of cake when you could have just baked the whole thing yourself.’ Yeah, I know.

After too short of a time, both pieces are mostly gone. Defrosted, only a few remnants of crumbly cake are left mournful and naked in the box. The cake is gone. And so is the craving. About 1000 calories later, I am 100 percent fully satisfied.

What is it about cravings like this? Do they have a rhyme or reason? Are they purely true or pure evil? Is it our head telling us to give in or our body telling us to give it more? And is this just what the body needs, are we wrong to refuse it?

About once a month I find myself in this position – stricken with overwhelming craving for something sugary, processed, purely bad but oh so good. During race season, it’s easy to channel those cravings to post-race. But in the winter, the race or release isn’t there. So the cravings build, and build, until finally you find yourself in the store double-fisting cake boxes.

It’s a funny thing – guilt. This evening I did a bike LT test. I worked so hard for 30 minutes that I thought my legs would just stop, just stop pedaling, lay down, and give up. I pushed out a strong amount of wattage, heart rate was high, sweat dripping. At one point I even drooled. So how is it that I feel that I don’t deserve the cake? What does it take? Do other people go through thought patterns like this? Is it limited to women, or athletes, or just me? And how did I get to the point where my thoughts when through this process?

I blame this on Ironman. After Ironman all I was looking for was cupcakes. But I never found them. And so I substituted with cookie dough and other delights. Had I just found the cupcakes, this would have been out of my system. But here I am over 10 weeks later, still craving the frosted cuppy-cake type treat.

Chris came home after swim practice and I wondered if I should confess my cake-laden crime. Forgive me husband for I have sinned. I had my cake and I ate it too. And I didn’t save any for you. He told me they did a 1650 timed swim tonight. I shuddered to think of how hard that felt with cake sweet on my lips. By the 1000 mark I started to feel the pain, he said. Yes, I feel your pain – after the tenth forkful of vanilla cake I started feeling a little pain too – and I believe 10 is a multiple of 1000 so maybe we went through the same thing. Stomachs aren’t meant for chocolate and vanilla at the same time.

After he ate his dinner, he looked at me woefully, a man longing for something sugary sweet to signal the end of a meal, and said “I wish there was dessert.”

I looked the other way. Perhaps he knew? Could he smell it? Sense it? Were there cake crumbs on the counter? Did he know about me and the cake? I thought about confessing but thought it would be best to savor this memory sweet for myself.

“There’s no dessert here,” I said. It was a half truth. Not a lie. After all, there was no dessert here. But had you been here 30 minutes ago, there was a smorgasboard of cake.

Now that the cake craving is out of my system, I feel better. No, I don’t think we need to eat cake like this every night or even every week. But every once in awhile, it tastes so good to eat something so bad. Be greedy, be sugar-rushed, don’t share – eat cake in your closet or as soon as you get the grocery bag in the car. Have your cake – how two pieces of cake – and eat them too.