Monday, November 30, 2009

Life versus living, racing style

The improbable has become probable. I am contemplating races for 2010. It is actually quite hard for me to do so. In the last 18 months I have taught myself to recoil in horror at the thought of competition in order to get healthy enough to compete again. How zen is that?

Nevertheless, I have cracked open this process just a bit to see mentally how I will respond. It has not been easy. I vacillate between extremes of my own personal opinion because I realize that all my faults lie on the race clock and not in my training time. I know my current limitations have placed a significant governor on the events I can do but I desire to do them all the same. To race again, oh to race again, could lead me to a very real sense of physical destruction and that must be avoided at all costs. So I think of the exact opposite. I could pull off the feat of becoming the fastest cyclist and runner on my team and never race again. My speed but a legend seen during the week but not in a race. The Ty Webb of triathlon. (Ty Webb, the character played by Chevy Chase in the movie Caddyshack, was the best golfer at Bushwood who never played in tournaments).

If I do race my first attempts must be something that has some fail safes involved ;whether that be a physical governor like a pacer or a time/distance governor based on the course. How that all looks will vary with my idea of my training base, events that are coming up, plus the objective thoughts of Mistress seeing me go through this process. I rely on her quite a bit for feedback as in my mind I do not realize when I am saying things that make no sense.

Currently I am in a place of training consistently but not very hard. Its a good first step. I know where my limit is and staying well within that zone. I am not holding myself to a rigid structure that would normally lead me to peak for a race. I don't want the added pressure, I want to have fun. I want to get to a point in 2010 where any of the the following distances can come from me on any day; swim 2.4 miles, bike 50 miles hard and run 15 miles at will. Not in a race setting and not even as a brick. Just go out and do it.

These are distances that used to be merely foundational base work and now they represent the best I could hope for, the culmination of a good return to the sport. I haven't even come close them yet in training. The roundabout point is that my race goals are still undefined, still not even sure to race or not race. The training however is defined. First it must be safe, second it must be consistent, third it must be fun.

It is not enough to exist, I want to live.

Monday, November 23, 2009

On course.

I promised my good pal and training partner Hardcore Mike that I would spend some time with him during the second of three laps of the Ironman Arizona run course. As things tend to go at these events, it is hard to be in the right spot at the right time and find people. As it happened, I walked up to some friends and was told Mike was just two minutes up the course. What happened next fulfilled a reoccurring dream.

I cinched my pack belt and took off like a bolt from the sky. I was already dressed the part of an Ironman contestant and received no complaints as I entered the course looking the part of competitor. The only clue to my true identity was the pace I was setting in a already exhausted field of runners. I had no reason for this sprint except to see my friend as quickly as possible as the sun was soon setting.

I suppose in hind site, my speed was also the physical expression of joy I feel doing something I love bottled up since my unfinished race last year. Knowing that for all intents and purposes I will never run as a competitor on an Ironman course again, I cherished every crunching footfall, every spectators accolade, the sheer thrill of freedom that comes from running. And I ran.

At my pace I should have caught up to Mike within a mile, certainly before hitting the overpass triathletes must cross over Tempe Town lake. I ran three times that distance along the course and did not see my friend. Is it possible his pace was that good? Anything is possible. I continued to run another mile, seeking jerseys of his color and running that person to the ground until I knew it was not him. It was never him.

I come to a spot that is the neck of a loop. Do I run the loop and chase down my friend, still possibly, beyond rational thought ahead of me? Or do I play it safe and wait here? If I passed him to this point he would run up on me. If he was ahead he would come back this way. There was no hesitation, on I ran.

As a 'bandit' (someone on the course who did not pay) I kept far away from provided aid, I took no water, I took no food. I did take the verbal support. Oh, it felt so good to get this praise. "Good Pace!" "Looking good!" and so much more. To me it all sounded the same, "Welcome back. We missed you. We love you."

I charged up the lone hill of the run, a place called Curry Rd, maybe he is on this stretch. And I became in tune with the pangs the athletes possibly felt as I ran by. They all must think I am one of them, but my pace is far to fresh for the effort this crowd has put out today. I know if someone passed me so completely at this point in my race, I would be disheartened. I would inwardly begin to doubt my ability. So I slowed down as a token of unspoken honor.

I ran all the way back through the course looking for my friend. I never found the actual one, Mike, but I reconnected with the mental and emotional one in my head. I miss racing so much, not because I am fast or crush my peers, but because its a freedom. Its the power of purpose, vision and direction over Common Man instincts to be decadent, lazy or live a uninspired life. Because of this knowing, I touched a unanticipated point in my recovery.

I will race again. I know it. I will earn the congratulatory statements of the volunteers and sip from watered down Gatorade they hand out in pinched Dixie cups, a chalice to champions if their ever was one. It felt wonderful. I felt alive. I am more hopeful and properly committed to a new life in racing.

It's not enough to exist, I want to live.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A New Shiny Thing: Mountainsmith DAY lumbar pack

For those that know me, they know I am seldom parted from my backpack full of wonderful shiny things. Today I discuss my newest shiny thing, the pack itself. Its a Mountainsmith Day lumbar pack

My first impression of the pack, in Red, is that it is made to take the worst sort of beatings and last for years. The reviews from customers said as much, but seeing is believing. The YYK zippers are quite sturdy on its three pockets. The first pocket modest sized for quickly needed items. The main pouch zipper is close to the top of the pack and holds the bulk of the storage space. A very small zippered internal pocket for keys, wallets and such is inside this larger area. Along the rear of the pack is a thick back pad. There is a hidden unzippered pocket behind this for paperwork or passports. On the bottom of the bag and along the hip belt are cinching straps to even out the weight being carried.

There are four ways to carry the Day. First is the classic fanny pack mode, using the hip belt When not in use, these can be tucked out of the way quite securely behind the back pad. Next, by using the two top bag loops much like a gym bag. The last way the bag can be carried out of the box is by the provided shoulder strap which attaches to the Day by use of two quick release buckles. Mountainsmith has an aftermarket product called Strappettes, which I did purchase. The Strappette is a harness that replaces the shoulder strap and allows the Day to be worn like a backpack.

My one concern was the external bottle holders. I saw a smaller version of the Day, called the Tour while at REI. A standard 1 liter Nalgene bottle sticks out from the top of the pocket an inch or more. This gave me pause to its ability to keep the bottles seated when doing those things that I do. I think these would be just securing tall bike bottles or 1 liter Gatorades that slope inward at the top. When the Day arrived the first thing I did was load two full Nalgene's and the fit is perfect.

I would have to wait a couple weeks before I could hit the trail with the Day, but I moved out of my backpack as soon as it arrived. Using the carry strap, I have had the bag with me daily for work and it holds everything I need, including lunch. On the weekends I have loaded up my DSLR camera, extra odds and ends for the kids and its done very well. I appreciate that the entire profile of the bag is smaller than a standard backpack. It fits under seats and strollers much easier.

When the shoulder strap is removed the Strapette harness attaches to the same quick release buckles on top of the pack but require some visual cues from the instructions to attach to the hip belt on the front. Based on just weight bearing, I don't think a set of quick release buckles on the hip belt would be out of line to make this process easier. However the harness is a great addition, dare I say required for trail use.

I used the Day pack with Strappettes for my Four Peaks summit hike. I carried my standard light hiking kit, added my medical kit, GPS, plus a down jacket. Add some food, two full Nalgene bottles and an extra liter in the pack and total pack weight was a tick under eleven pounds. Using the Strappettes and the pack being located along my hips, I barely noticed the pack on me at all. I felt much lighter than if I had the same gear in a backpack. Much of this hike was done in a steep scree chute and I dragged the pack along sharp rocks and rough ground. The pack was scuffed and dirty but not a tear or fray. The same can't be said for my trail buddies pants.

Ultimately I will test this pack on a multiday backpack trip, though not as the primary pack. Instead, using the Strappettes I will attach the Day so it sits in front so I can access food, water, maps, camera, rain gear and bug dope without having to take off my full pack. When a campsite is established, the Day will stay on me when I am outside my tent, holding immediate need items which will also include fishing tackle.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hike: Browns Peak / Four Peaks

For many years I stared North and East from the Valley of the Sun and dreamed to climb the Four Peaks. While eclipsed in scale locally thanks to the Superstitions, South Mountain and Camelback Mtn., the Four Peaks do have the prime distinction of being the only visible location of snow covered mountain tops from the city. The photo below is not self generated or indicative of my hike on this day. This is just a very pretty picture.

While there are four peaks, only one has an established route, Brown's Peak. This would be the tallest peak, the furthest left in the photo. It is named Brown's Peak. The other three simply labeled numerically, 2-3-4. Its a bumpy 20 mile drive on a unmaintained forest service road to get to the trail head. Four wheel drive is highly recommended but not mandatory.

At the trail head, around 5,600 feet, it is certainly Fall. Crisp cold air. A golden sun peaking through green fir and scrub. Wind through the trees. Frost on the ground. Its is so nice to see green on something other than cactus and weeds. There is only a couple vehicles in the lot and one hiker with a dog who said he came back short of a summit.

The first hour of the hike is pure high country scenery. I've had enough of desert hiking, I really enjoy the ecosystem that presents over 5,000 feet. The trail is loamy dirt, not sand or crud. There was a fire here a little over a decade ago and burnt tree limbs still liter the area. If anything it gives you an appreciation for the power of nature, almost everything I see is younger than me. There are massive round rock formations all around us that the low growth only accentuates.

The trail reaches a saddle at just under 2 miles. We stood there looking at a soft ridge to our right, certainly not one of the Four Peaks, and what appears to be a straight up rock climbing proposition to our left. A returning hiker shows us the route through a narrow scree chute to the top of the peak. We locate three of his friends on the face and he explains he turned around because the climb was too exposed for his taste.

Many, many years ago I rock climbed on a regular basis. I wasn't a very strong climber but I have found that that carries as much weight as saying, I am not a very good Ironman. It is something held up as slightly crazy and out of norm with society, therefore revered regardless of ability. The final season I climbed, I gave myself two concussions from falling. Mistress watched me fall on the second one. For those counting, these were concussions eleven and twelve for me. On that day she made me promise if I ever climbed or bouldered again I would wear a helmet and that I would never climb or boulder again. Looking at the half mile in front of me, I'm about to break a promise to wife.

None of the guidebooks or online descriptions for Brown's Peak or Four Peaks really does any justice to what they uniformly call, The Chute. It is often described as a scree chute, if at all mentioned. Here is the reality. It's freaking steep. On the rock climbing scale, I would rate four obstacles between Class 3 and 4. We remind ourselves that lots of people climb this chute every year, without injury, so my trail buddy and I keep going.

The chute itself is a capable trail with no way of getting lost. How can one get lost when either side is shoulder width apart. The first exposure is a lateral move of about two meters. It is true bouldering with only hand holds and toe holds to move across. The next exposures are more technical climbing routes of four to five moves each. No need to be roped, but the constriction of the walls and the lack of any soft landing make the anxiety factor a bit higher than required. The true blessing and what I am sure has kept injuries to a minimum is the perfect sized hand hold all and the decent sized foot placements.

The summit is small, the size of a small bedroom. On a clear day I am told its the best panoramic view in the state. It quite possibly is but on this day a haze keeps our view to a just a level of spectacular. Turns out my trail buddy has intermittent cell phone service. I call Mistress to tell her I am okay, just reached the summit but behind schedule. What occurs is two dropped calls and an unsent text messages that leaves her fearing the worst until I call two hours later. During that time she thinks I am calling from a hospital and they have told me to turn off my phone. When it comes to me and mountains, this has happened.

Whether we needed to or not we belayed our packs down the vertical challenge. I don't think it helped or hindered our time but it allowed me to use the short rope I carry in my pack and practice belays. Plus I got to climb without the extra weight on my back. At no point do I feel that I can't make a move down, its figuring the first right move.Once committed the problem is easy to solve.

A constant statement I use on the way up and twice as much down is, "My wife is going to be disappointed when she sees these pictures." Though it is impractical for most hikers, if I do this climb again I will bring my helmet.

Once back to the saddle, its a fairly brisk hike back down to the trail head where the aforementioned follow up call with Mistress takes place and her stress level drops to normal. I haven't heard that sort of relief in her voice in a long time. Not sure if I should be happy or sad about that. The day ends with another major hiking accomplishment in the state of Arizona.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

See your future

I am sorry to say I have never met an obese person in their 70's. Oh, I am sure that with the obesity trends in our society they are all over the place. I just never see them. I don't see them in grocery stores, I don't see them in the retirement communities around my house. I don't see them in the senior citizen classes held at my gym. Sure there are plenty of seniors that are out of shape and overweight but not obese and that's my focus today. Because obese people die young and I am talking 30, 40, 50 years of age.

Just my thoughts. It is my completely unscientific opinion that the lighter you are, the longer you live. I don't mean that a 150 lb man will statically outlive a 200 lb man, I mean that individually, you, yes you, will probably live longer if you weigh less than you do right now. If your a female at 165 lbs, I think you will live longer and have a better quality of life as you get older if weighed 10-20% less. If your a male, I think the same if you weigh 240 lbs.

I think anecdotally you can see this in our children. The more obese the child the more medical problems they have in their teenage years and beyond. The more overweight a person is as they age, the more issues they must deal with regarding blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol and heart conditions. That's just the physical and doesn't even address the mental or emotional.

There is certainly plenty of visually contrary evidence to this thought of mine. Overweight, dare I say obese, people (statically speaking) finish Ironman distance races and run marathons. They have trained themselves for a period of time to be in peak health. But even the most fit person will tell you, that fitness fades, strength and endurance ebb and flow. One year is focused fitness, the next three years a confusing mess.

This is why it's never more important than today to commit yourself to a lifestyle of health and fitness, however you define that endeavor, that leaves you leaner in the long run. Through exercise, nutrition, portion control and healthy living, you reset your homeostatic body weight to a lower number on the scale. You do it today and then recommit every day. For the rest of your life. As you lose weight you win control over your body. People who lose weight take fewer medications than when they were heavier. People who lose a necessary 10-20% or more of their body weight have a better opinion of themselves; their self esteem and self confidence increase dramatically. They love themselves more which enables them to love others more deeply and completely. Dropping a significant amount of additional weight on the body makes a person more productive at work, with less sick days.

Do not believe you were born to be a certain weight. Do not believe you're destined to look or feel a certain way until you die. Don't alibi your conditions or feelings because your a victim. of something. Don't. Just don't think of whatever excuse works best for you today. Don't delude yourself that, "Come Monday, I will start up again." You didn't last Monday.

Start up today. This minute. Right now. Make the choice. Make the time. Apologize and ask forgiveness if you must but do not falter. Stand before the barbs and arrows that will surely come your way for finally taking the most selfish stand you can. The stand for your longer, happier, healthier life. You cannot be 100% the way you want to be next year if you don't get 1% better today. And 1% better tomorrow and then every day of your life try to get a little bit better.

---Its not enough to exist. I want to live---

Monday, November 9, 2009

Searching for something

In 1899, a young man full of responsibility, rides up on his horse. He kisses his girl and says, "Someday, I'm gonna marry you and make you proud of me." He then rides off to do important things.

In 1969, a young man avoiding responsibility, rides up on his chopper. He kisses his girl and says, "Been nice shackin' up with you for the past week." He then rides off in search of more important things.

In 2009, a young man with no responsibility, rides up on his razor scooter. He kisses his girl and says,"I had ten kills on Halo 3 today." He then rides off to bunny hop the curb for the 26th time today.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pay for Play

As I begin ramping up my training, within all agreed upon limitations by my docs and Mistress, the juices come flowing back into me, the drive to be great, the focus, the creativity. The fun of fitness.

I really love hanging out with my tri-pals. but endurance people by necessity are soloists, we are not trying to tackle or catch an object. We are not a collective team trying to outscore an opponent. In reeality our truest competition is not even a clock; its the person in our head. We get up early or stay up late to fit it all in. Our lunches are not sitting with co-workers but dodging traffic and weather windows and rushing to be done in time to not be late getting back to the office. We put in hours of training time each week all by ourselves. The only mention is a blurb on a social network site or the corner of a personal webpage.

I do think that endurance athletes pay more to play, mentially and emotionally. We do not have that collective misery that make teams come together in the big game. Our two-a-days are in the same sweltering heat of summer as a high school football team but what we do we do alone, not with four dozen people going through the same thing.

If we do train with team mates its a true blessing in the sport. But on race day these truest friends become your race markers. You are looking for them, are they ahead, are they behind, do they look fresh or hammered? You want to beat these people but at the end of the day the discussion of who beat who is secondary to the effort you put into your day.

Sure we Pay to Play, mentally and emotionally. We can only please ourselves.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fighting Beeline Demons

I have begun to reinsert myself back into the world of triathlon. And I love it. It will culminate in a race later but for now it's just a reconnection with my team. I went to the OW swim workout Saturday and the bike ride on Sunday. The ride happen to be on the Beeline highway, one full lap of the Ironman Arizona course.

Now I am not a superstitious person, but I will tell you that I thought about riding the Beeline a lot in last few days. For those that feel they are missing the "Why" of this, I injured myself quite badly on the bike course of Ironman Arizona in April 2008.

The team was doing two loops of the course, many of them are doing IMAZ this month. I was emphatic that I would only do one loop. Not just to diffuse any potential goading later on from my friends, but to remind me to not goad myself into doing two.

I have rode this loop a hundred times, but not once in the last 18 months. I still knew all the landmarks and where the slightest changes in elevation was as well as the mileage between points. All the things that become memorized from the boredom of going up and down the road.

Everything in the first few miles had gone right. I was on time for the ride and I had all my gear. I even changed my first rear tire flat in over a year in under six minutes. I had not lost a mental beat in the game, it was emotional. For better or worse we stopped at the gas station on the corner of McDowell and the Beeline to wait for a late arrival. Sitting there at the base of the highway for ten minutes, it felt like someone had called a time out in football to ice the kicker. I wasn't all that sure I wanted to ride to the top. The demons were eating at me.

I was lucky enough to ride with my two primary training partners the entire time. We kept it light and fun. The closer to the top of the course the steeper it gets and the wind was strong so the pace dropped. I think they where playing with me, because they kept saying their computers were screwed up and asking me what the speed and distances were so I would have some more confidence in my ability.

When we reached the IMAZ course turnaround, I was starting to feel the pump in my legs, my butt was sore, my upper back and arms were weakening. I looked at my friend Jeff and I remarked, "I don't know how I maintained that level of pain for four hours. I have no idea how I made it up this hill for a third loop in the shape I was in."

All I heard from him was laughter. A laughter laced with all the nervousness and compassion of a buddy who really didn't have the words or want to express some of the things he was thinking about me too. I realized I had not said what I said with pain but with humor. I laughed back.

The last time I rode back down this course I had a police and ambulance escort. I think the cop was bored but the ambulance guys were truly concerned because I refused their aid at the turnaround during the race because it would take me out of the race. This time I rode strong with my friends. I went to the top and I was good. I didn't cave into fear or make excuses. Riding back I had joy again. When they all turned around at the bottom to go up one more loop, I continued on my way back to the car. Only one lap.

Since last year I had a habit of telling people that every day was a bonus day. Like it was a gift from God, that I had to find some sort of meaning in. Completing that one loop of the IM course Sunday lifted a bigger weight off my mind than I thought I had on it.

I realize now its not enough to just exist, I want to live.