Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Iron Tourist (The Long Version of IMZ '08)

“It’s deeper than I thought,” I noted myself as my descent into the murky darkness was paused by the buoyancy of my wetsuit (and maybe some extra fat). Two nights before the race director had claimed the water was only five or six feet deep. I was at least three feet underwater. Luckily, it didn’t feel nearly as cold as it had yesterday. Still, something wasn’t quite right. The last time I had that feeling was moments before I ate a shore break and broke my collarbone in two places in Hawai’i. I was a tourist at a locals’ beach. I’d been in Hawai’i nearly a week and figured I was ready for something more than the relatively small waves at another local beach, Hukilau. So I made my way to La’i’e City Beach, otherwise known as Pounders. The locals’ incredulous looks should given me an idea that I was in over my head. But, I had just enough experience and know-how to be dangerous, but only to myself. Similar looks of disbelief had met me in the predawn darkness as volunteers with bullhorns herded us into the starting pen. It was clear that I was different than the vast majority of the other competitors. The most plausible explanation was that my body type was so much different than most of theirs. Another explanation had to with the makeup of the field. What I mean is, the percentage of A-Types in a field is directly proportional to length of the event. Since this was the longest standard distance in triathlon, it should have come as no surprise that there were a high-percentage of A-Typers. And everybody knows that “A-Type” is just a polite way of saying a$$ hole. So I wrote off the looks as dismissive as coming from people who felt that someone like me was no threat. I also figured that the looks reflected some of their disbelief that someone like me would even think about competing with them. I was in this for me and had no intention of competing with them, so I wasn’t that worried about it. Still, the people huddled into that pen were the Ironman locals. This is their world. People that weigh their food. I was just a visitor, a tourist into this Ironman thing and should have taken note from the looks before hand. But then again, like every good tourist, I thought I was prepared. I’d read the guide book (Going Long by Gordon Byrne and Dirk Friel), I’d purchased the equipment, and I’d been to several other places that I thought were similar (I’d completed five half-distance races before the start). So, I figured I was a more of a local than a tourist. Yet at the start, I was as obvious a tourist as a blotchy-skinned white guy with plaid pants and a straw hat asking the clerk at the Superette in Kahuku what poi is and whether it was any good. Despite my misgivings, I jumped in. Literally. In fact, I pushed some of the more hesitant out of my way, muttering, “Let’s get this over with,” as I plunged into the cold water. I swam to the start line and found myself dead center in the middle of 2200 people. At 7:00 sharp, the starting gun went off. I’d heard horror stories of swim starts in open water. But by now, I’d done at least ten races in open water. Each time it got a little easier to settle in and swim normally. None of those experiences prepared me for this. It was like the push to the stage as a concert begins as I tried to pick my way past hundreds of people to a comfortable, open spot while hundreds of others tried to claw their way to the front. It didn’t get much better at any point during the swim. Throughout the swim, as I reached ahead to anchor and pull I’d occasionally get a handful of foot, or ankle, or swim cap. Or something else. Finally, the final buoy appeared and I turned for home. I felt good coming out of the water. A quick look at the clock confirmed it – I was only three minutes off what I thought was a ridiculously optimistic goal. Nobody seemed really amazed that I’d made it through the swim. Anybody can suffer for an hour and a half. My guide book had suggested a few things – first was that comfort was more important than aerodynamics unless I planned on going significantly faster than 19 mph, a road bike would be a great idea. Second was that I needed to ration my effort, taking it easy on the first third of the bike. So, I swallowed my pride as overweight women and wrinkly old men started to pass me with surprising frequency as we headed out into the wind. Surely I’d start to bring them back as the race wore on. Not so much. I usually do fine into the wind. But, I fall apart going uphill and into the wind. It was windy that day and half of the course was slightly uphill. It didn’t help that I brought the wrong bike. I’d brought my road bike and my position on that bike had me sitting up and taking the full force of the wind when I really should have been hiding from it in an aero position. I’d brought the road bike to be comfortable, to avoid back pain from riding for too long hunched over. But soon I found my lower back in agony from struggling against the wind in my upright position. The irony wasn’t lost on me. I wasn’t thrilled with my first lap time, but at that pace I would have only been ten minutes off my projected time. Near the end of the out portion of my second lap, the wind switched direction, leaving me to fight a head wind again on the way back in. The choice of bikes was now really starting to hurt. Maybe that’s why the vast majority of the ‘locals’ were on tri bikes. My confidence in the guide book was shaken. The next thing you’re going to tell me is that Rachel Ray actually can’t eat well on $40 a day. Or that Guy Fieri raves about anything, regardless of whether it’s actually any good or not. Seven hours later along with several stops to stretch my aching back and feet and the bike portion was finally over. I took my own sweet time in the changing tent for T2 before heading back out for the marathon. This was the part I had dreaded the most. I ran the first mile to the first aid station. After the first aid station, I fell into a motivational hole. After twenty minutes of walking and the first of several long negotiations with myself, I found a groove and ran for nearly 13 more miles except for walking up hills and through aid stations. And then it all came unraveled as the sun went down and it got dark. My motivation faded with the light. Shortly after sunset I found myself working with Alfredo from Miami – a fellow tourist doing his first Iron distance race. We walked/ran the last part of the second lap – I was optimistic we could keep each other motivated. I was wrong. Walking into finish the second lap, Alfredo stepped off the pavement to talk to his girlfriend. As we moved to the side, a pair heading to the finish bumped into me in their haste. “Get out of the way!” one of them yelled in disgust. Since I was standing on the very edge of a 20 ft wide path, I didn’t feel like there was much more they could expect me to do. This prompted an instinctive response: “Go to hell!” I shouted back. In most situations it’s not really smart to provoke the locals. But while Ironman locals are able to beat me handily at racing, they don’t tend to be physically intimidating. As we started the last lap, Alredo was done running and he told me so. Since we were on our last lap, there was no wondering if anyone else was on the same lap as us and the course got a lot less busy as we made our way around the last loop. A third of the way through the last lap, I was sick of being out there and wanted to run to just get it over with. But, I’d already picked my horse and so we gutted it out to the final finishing loop. There, we shook hands and I ran the final distance alone. Since the race, I’ve thought a lot about the race. While the race didn’t get the best of me because I finished, it did get the better of me mentally. At first, I had no intention of ever returning to the full Iron distance and was content to have gotten through it. After all, I’ll never look like the typical triathlete, much less like the typical Iron-distance triathlete. I’d like to think I’ll never fit their profile (A-Type, etc). So, at the end of the day, I’ll never be an Ironman local. I’ll always be a visitor to their world. But, as I sit here, I think of one of Anthony Bourdain’s mottos – be a traveler, not a tourist. I could be a traveler to Ironman world. I think I’ll start planning my next trip.

IMZ Redux

I finished. The swim went well in terms of time, but the washing machine did a number on my back. I was three minutes off my pool pace, which I was happy with considering the congestion and the fact that I swam past the buoy because of the morning glare. A head wind compounded the back issues, and I stopped three or four times to stretch my back and my aching feet. In fact, the wind switched direction as I neared the end of the out portion of the second lap, the wind turned. The run was a death march. I ran/hobbled, walked between half and 2/3 of the run - it's all kind of a blur. I know I walked the last 1/3 with someone I met on course - Alfredo from Miami. We initially started running together, then he gave up on running and I didn't have the mental energy left to achieve escape velocity, so we walked until just before the finish when one of his friends caught up. I'm not happy with my time. In fact, I'm pretty disappointed with my mental showing on the run. I could have and should have walked many of the portions of the run that I walked, but I was mentally hammered and so I didn't have it to push. A more complete version will follow. I need to sort out how I feel about the whole thing.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


While my law school class wasn't particularly close as a class, I met a couple of my favorite people while in law school. Jim is one of those people. The first day of orientation we found ourselves in the same orientation group. One of the first things we did was tell the group why we decided to attend law school. After several of the standard BS answers - I want fight injustice, I want to provide a voice for the voiceless, etc., etc., it was Jim's turn. He responded frankly, "I'm a sociology major, so when I graduated I had to choose between folding shirts at the Gap and law school. So, here I am." We've been friends since. Jim also said one of the funniest things I heard in law school. We were sitting in a classroom during our second or third year, waiting for the professor. One our classmates came in and sat down on the other side of the room. It was clear that she'd recently had a hair cut. Her hair wasn't at all even, especially in front. I looked at her, puzzling over her new look when Jim leaned over and whispered, "It looks like somebody got a hold of the scissors," just as the professor was getting ready to start class. The combination of the chuckles and the effort to hold it back had tears running down my face for a good while. Good times.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Latest Perseveration

From time to time, I find myself getting hung up on insigificant details. Nowadays, I know that it's irrational. However, that doesn't stop me from getting hung up and fixating on the thing in question until I get it resolved. For example, once in high school I went with some friends on a one day shopping trip to a nearby town. On the way back I spilled grape juice on my favorite shirt. For some reason, I got it in my head that I needed to wash it immediately. I insisted to the point that we stopped halfway back and washed the shirt. This in spite of the fact that a girl I was sweet on was in the car and thought I was nuts. I know I've got issues - I'm trying to work through them. Last night I found myself hung up on my shoe situation for this weekend. Long ago, I chose my gear setup and had planned to stick with it. Then, last night I couldn't remember how long I've had the shoes I had planned to use. I set about to find out by tracking receipts. No luck. I decided I needed shoes whose cushioning I could not question. New shoes just like the ones I have now were the answer. I felt like I needed to get those shoes last night. So I called around and found that a spot in Sandy had some. We loaded up the kids and drove up there, arriving ten minutes before the closed. The thing is, I could have just as easily waited until today to pick them up. Yup, I'm kind of a psycho.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Kneaders Phenomenon

I hate Kneaders. Let's make that clear right up front. I wish them nothing but ill. And now I'll try to explain why. I've been to Kneader's a few times, and each time I swear I'm never going back. The last time I went was for the pancakes. I didn't want to go, but my brother and I had just finished doing a triathlon and he desperately wanted to try it. We showed up at 10:50 and ordered the pancakes. It was later that we found out that it ended at 11:00. When I stepped up for a reorder at 11:02, I was informed that they already made last call and wouldn't make more. The thing is, last call was apparently somebody in the back mentioning to a co-worker that it was almost 11:00. No offer to make it better, no alternatives. Not even a thanks for coming in. Just a smug comment that it ended at 11:00. I didn't even protest. If there's one thing I've learned from going to Kneader's is that they don't care whether you come back or not. And I'm not sure why. As far as dining experiences go, I think that you need to have at least two of the following things going for you: price, uniqueness of food, speed, service/atmosphere, and quality. There are times that Wendy's fits the bill - it's quick and it's cheap despite lacking in the rest of the categories. For me, Kneaders doesn't really meet any of these qualities. First off, it's expensive for a sandwich place. As far as uniqueness goes, let's face it. It's not that hard to find a place that will put turkey and avocado on expensive bread - Quizno's and Paradise Bakery come to mind. Often, the speed is a joke. Apparently the wannabe Abercrombie and Fitch models they have in back putting the stuff together haven't figure out how to efficiently put meat, cheese, veggies, and sauce between two pieces of bread. This despite the fact that Kneader's only offers pre-formulated combinations. Maybe its the combination of the frustration of having to do such a difficult task combined with the chore of having to simultaneously compete in a flexing contest while keeping their hair perfect that makes the added chore of actually providing a modicum of customer service impossible. I mean, that's a burden that no suburban teenager can be expected to bear. As a result, getting a sandwich is going to cost as much and take as long as if you actually had a meal prepared by someone with some culinary skill. The nice thing is, you get to eat it in a Thai Pan inspired, living-room styled dining area - plenty of busy, kitschy decorations. For some reason, the combination of overpriced bread, tacky decor, and awful service keeps the place packed. I guess their target demographic, whoever that is, feels that if its overpriced it must be quality; that if they're always slow that it must be worth the wait; and that if the service sucks that everything else must somehow make up for it. I don't get it. And I'm not going back.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Short, Rapid Fade

Saturday I did the Telos Turkey Tri. This the second I'd ever done and a race I plan on doing every year. I felt great. I was able to surge several times on the run and bike without having to slow way down to recover afterwards and I bested my previous best time on the course by over five minutes. While I was happy with my time, I know it's not going to last. Unfortunately, I know how this story plays out. Right now I tell myself that I'm going to maintain my base fitness after the race. The reality is that after the race, I'll absolutely no motivation to train. Holiday parties a plenty will pack the weight right back on and by the end of December, I'll be exactly where I was last year at the same time. It's frustrating that in three weeks I'll lose the fitness that took me six months to build.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Shop Tales

When I walked into Gourmet Bicycles all those years back and offered to work for free in exchange for training, I had no idea that the shop would end up being the source of so many friends. I also met some very strange people at the shop. Dug's post today reminded of one particular customer in particular. Alarm bells went off in my head the first time I saw this guy. He was relatively short, wore glasses, and had a neatly trimmed mustache - pretty much the perfect creepy computer geek look. The kind of guy you're afraid to make angry because doing so could result in you being buried in his back yard. Yeah, he was creepy. One of his favorite past times (apparently, from how long he spent doing it) was to come in and ask about every single bike in the Bianchi range. Or least ask about the bikes we didn't carry. And this after he'd read the brochure. I didn't mind a customer seeking to make an informed purchase, but this guy was just nutty. He'd ask about a particular model and ask how much. I'd tell him, and then he'd ask when we anticipated getting one. I'd tell him that we weren't going to be getting any different models in during the rest of the year, but we'd be happy to special order one for him. We'd just need a substantial deposit to get the process going. Without pausing, he'd move to the next bike in the line that we didn't stock and ask the same questions. Once he'd been through the line, he'd start over. Finally, I figured it was worth the risk of upsetting him by cutting him off to get some work done on the repair I needed to finish. Undeterred, he followed me back to the repair area to continue his questions and I'd answer them the same way. He came back a few weeks later, and a few weeks after that. This continued periodically even after Gourmet closed and Frank's opened. We had a routine. One day he broke the routine and showed up with an actual repair. He brought in a mountain bike wheel that needed truing. The tire and wheel were immaculately clean - not a speck of dirt or grease anywhere. Despite this, he carried the tire wearing a single brown gardening glove. We trued the wheel and he returned several hours before it was scheduled to be complete. Here's where my plan came into play - by now I knew he'd show up well before it was time, so I had the wheel in place behind the work bench. As he walked up to the door, I could see that he didn't have his glove on. So, I waited behind the bench with my hand on the wheel. When he asked me if the wheel was ready, I cheerfully told him it was and swung the wheel into his hand. Reactively, he grabbed the wheel. As soon as he realized what he had done, he dropped the wheel as if it were a hot rock and ran for the door muttering unintelligably. He returned after a few minutes with his glove and took the wheel with him. I'm pretty sure he's still washing his hand.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Conversation Deja Vu

Saturday morning Dan, Pat and I ventured up AF Canyon to try a little riding. It had rained the night before and the trail conditions were questionable. But, we were there and Dan and Pat decided to risk it. (I've led enough ill-fated rides to be dubbed Gilligan by Dan's wife - you know, the three-hour tour - so I left the decision to them.) Dan brought his single speed, which meant that Pat and I were left to ourselves as we made our way up the road toward Timpanooke Campground. As we pedalled along, Pat and I chatted about gear and such, which led Pat to discuss his latest gear purchase. "I'm in the doghouse with the wife," he started. "I bought some new gear without consulting her," he continued. "But I got a great deal!" he explained. "And it wasn't that much money, anyway." Clearly, Pat had met the necessary criteria for purchasing something without spousal consent. Unfortunately, his wife didn't see it that way. The trail was a disaster as motorcycles had chewed up the entire Ridge trail. It was clear after less than a mile that discretion was the better part of valor and so we turned down to Salamander Flats and from there to Timpanooke. The trail was in great shape where the motorcycles hadn't been, which was the route we took. As it turns out, the motorcycles didn't tear up the paved road at all - which we took the rest of the way down. When we got to the car, Dan took a look at his watch. I noted how it was a good thing we bailed when we did, otherwise he'd be in trouble with the wife. "I'm already in trouble with the wife," he answered. "I bought some stuff without consulting her," he continued. "I was at Circuit City and they had an awesome deal on speakers and a receiver," he explained. "And besides, it wasn't that much money anyway, so it wasn't a major purchase." Dan had also met the necessary criteria, but he went even further - "I'd waited for almost a year to get that stuff." Unfortunately, despite Dan going above and beyond, his wife didn't see it that way. I couldn't help but chuckle as Dan told almost exactly the same story that Pat told on the way up - and that I've told to others on any number of occasions. Good times.