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DIETS OF MINE (12.31.02)
ALPHA, BRAVO AND CHARLIE (11.1.02)
SEASONAL FRUIT AND FILM COMPANIES (8.2.02)
SPRINGS OF LIVING WATER (8.2.02)
I PLEJA LEGIENCE (7.1.02)
I DID A BAD, BAD THING (6.13.02)
SLOWTWITCH SPRINGS (5.1.02)
THE WORST RACE DISASTER (4.22.02)
PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST (4.17.02)
PETER REID (4.9.02)
THIS DIET OF MINE (4.8.02)
MY CONDITION (3.12.02)
WAKE UP AND DIE RIGHT (3.4.02)
FIRST ACROSS (2.26.02)
SUPER GIGANTE (2.18.02)
THINGS FADE (12.20.01)
FORWARD PROGRESS (11.6.01)
BACK TO THIS ELECTION THING (10.17.01)
IT WAS A WEIRD KONA (10.9.01)
TODAY IS GRIEF (9.14.01)
WHAT BEDEVILS ME (8.31.01)
WHIMSICAL RACING (8.16.01)
THERE IS NO SYSTEM (7.9.01)
FURTHER UP AND FURTHER IN (7.3.01)
A COURSE MADE FOR TINLEY (6.1.01)
DODGED A BULLET (4.27.01)
CRUNCH TIME (4.16.01)
SKINNY JEANS (4.6.01)
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DIETS OF MINE
Here it is, the last day of 2002, and I'll hit the ground running for 2003 if I can survive the next fourteen hours intact.
I'm officially 162 pounds and more importantly I'm comfortably into my fighting jeans, i.e., the jeans I'm in when I'm at my fighting weight. It's the first time I've been in them in 14 years and, yes, I have kept them around all this time just for this day.
I did tip the scales at about 200 pounds back in '98 or '99, and it was at that point that I decided that I wasn't going to end up looking like Eddy Merckx. It's taken me from that time until this to get those forty pounds all the way off.
I've been up and down in my 45 years, weight-wise, and it's never fun having to shed pounds, especially if there are more than ten to shed (five or seven, no problem). I thought I'd share my most effective strategies for getting rid of a double-digit bulge.
ALTITUDE SICKNESS: I've gotten the last ten pounds off twice using this method. Once was during a bike tour in Mexico. I had ridden up to about 11,000', and that was two days after being at sea level. I spent the next day in a village that seemed always to smell of diesel fuel, with my head buried in the toilet. Nothing is worse than altitude sickness. I lost ten pounds in two days. The same basic thing happened to me in Boulder. I went straight up there from sea level, rode a 70-miler with Allen, Souza, et al, and barfed for three continuous days. Be advised that if you choose to employ this method for getting the weight off, you can't just go to altitude, you've got to exert too.
HEARTACHE: Some people are eaters during a good heartache. I'm the opposite. When I'm heartsick I don't eat much at all, and I train like a fiend. I recommend this over the other methods, because you can train while losing weight, instead of up-chucking while losing weight. But it'll take you a few days longer to get the extra weight off, so I'd advise being exceptionally foolhardy regarding your affairs of the heart, so as to keep the buzz going for at least a couple of weeks (you don't want to get over him/her too quickly or you'll defeat the purpose). You may come out the other side a bit bruised and jaded, but you'll be ready to podium in your next race.
Be careful with this method, though. You might be an eater rather than a faster, in which case this can backfire. Try breaking up with your girl-/boy-friend just for a day or two, and see how you react. If all goes well, then the recommended ploy is to do something which will cause him/her to break up with you.
FOOD POISONING: This will work just about as well as the altitude sickness tactic, and isn't quite so drastic. There are any number of ways to get food poisoning, but I've found that the most utilitarian is via bad fish. Plan to take a couple of days off work.
The alternative to the above is to slog it out for years, as I most recently have, taking off a pound a month on average. Health and happiness is a real bitch when you're trying to lose weight.
ALPHA, BRAVO AND CHARLIE
I consider myself a tough guy. Don't take this to mean that I'm well-suited to doling out a beating. My talent is in my ability to receive one. I'm the Tex Cobb of triathlon. I don't have the talent to gain a victory, rather I've adapted an ability to remain standing (which sometimes gets one the victory).
If one aspires to develop along these lines a thick skin is mandatory. Therefore, I have worked over the years to steel myself to insult of any kind, mental or physical. This frustrates people who wish I was more perturbable. People threaten to sue me or tattle on me in order to get me to do, or write, or say, something of their choosing. These things don't bother me. Nothing offends me. Not too many things frighten me. Little angers me. But a fair number of things sadden me, and especially one thing.
I'm a real soft touch when it comes to animals. I visited the Antelope Valley chapter of the L.A. County Animal Shelter this past weekend. People were dropping off their unwanted pets, and families were walking past the cages looking for a dog for little Bobby. God bless them, but I still had a hard time of it. It seemed like shopping, as for a pair of shoes. When you imagine your own family pet in one of those cages, you realize these animals are worth more than that. So I had a few rough spots, where I had to go stand over in a corner and recover my composure.
The Animal Shelter is a powerful place. It's a place of hope and of despair all at once. Of the five regional shelters in L.A. County this particular used to be the worst. It had a knickname which I don't recallsomething like the "incinerator"representing the plethora of animals it destroyed annually. Within two years of a fresh administration, though, it's been turned around, and now it has the highest adoption rate of the five shelters.
I was there because I've got a real mouse problem here in Valyermo. I can't stand to use the traps that kill the mice, and I can't manage to capture them alive. So I've reached a decision which is my best effort at a happy medium. Tomorrow I go to pick up Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. They were supposed to walk the Green Mile today. Instead they're going in to have their little surgery, so that they don't make sons and daughters. Then they come home.
I asked the animal control officer to pick me out the three cats most likely to survive as mousers. I realize I'm in for a hard time of it, because they'll live in the garage, and even though I'll make a nice bed for each of them, and feed them, they're going to be nighttime hunters and I expect that the coyotes will try their best to feed their families too. In some measure the coyotes will succeed.
I'm not a cat person (with me it's dogs), but I pretty much love anything furry and so we'll see if I'm tough enough to hack it if little Bravo doesn't make it in the semi-wild. Since I'm afraid of getting too attached, I'm trying to keep this as impersonal as I can, hence the naming scheme. If any of my first three don't make it, then I'll be back for Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot. Next would be "Golf" but that's not a fit name for a cat, so I'll bring home little Gerard in honor of Cervelo's president.
If you come here to visit the camp and you're introduced to Whisky, X-Ray, and Yankee, you'll know we haven't had very good luck.
SEASONAL FRUIT AND FILM COMPANIES
Thank God it's peach season. I've also got to write about Endurance Films, by the way, and I've got to make a correction to something I wrote earlier about that company, but I'm going to hid that inside this article on how it's now peach season (so I can save maximum face).
I've been wading through spring and early summer, somehow existing on strawberries, plums, nectarines and the occasional pluot. Now it's finally peach season, and there's nothing better than a good local peach. Except maybe a good local apple, but we're a month or two away from having them, and I'm going to enjoy peach season while it's here.
About that Endurance Films thing. I wrote in an earlier editorial on the Life Time Triathlon that Endurance Films did the TV coverage. It didn't. It was a sponsor of the race, and certain personalities (in particular Wes Hobson) who've had some historical association with Endurance Films were also featured in that coverage, but Endurance Films did not produce the TV. I might add that I and another party have been working on a certain TV-related scheme, and Endurance Films is #1 so far on our list of who we'll have do the filming and the post-production. It's a fine company that makes a first-rate product, which is why we're speaking to them about doing work for us.
So, simply put, I was mistaken, but what I really want you to remember is not that, but everything I'm writing about peaches and pluotsthe latter of which is, by the way, a cross between and plum and an apricot, with the consistency (though not the taste) of a tomato.
SPRINGS OF LIVING WATER
Today we'll be reporting in the TriBiz Reader on the water "situation" for the Commonwealth Games triathlon swim in Manchester, England. The swim is being held at Salford Quays, part of the old Manchester Ship Canal. Raw sewage used to be pumped into the canal, along with pollutants from industrial plants.
"The Manchester Ship Canal and Docks used to be regarded as the worst waterway in Europe," Mersey Basin Campaign (MBC) chief executive Walter Menzies said. In 1989, the MBC embarked on an ambitious and expensive plan to clean up the waterway by pumping in compressed air.
What do the athletes think about this? "What, we worry?" seems to be the general response. "It's probably going to be a wetsuit swim," Nicki Hackett says, as if that will turn her into a bubble-girl, adding, "They wouldn't jeopardise it by holding it in water that is going to make you sick."
Hah. Just ask the RD of the Springfield Ironhorse race, whose athletes came down with a leptospirosis infection after swimming in a body of water with a much better history than the Manchester Ship Canal. The only thing the Commonwealth athletes seem to be worried about is effect of the pre-race rain on the bike course surface.
Pre-race rain? That would be enough to make any U.S.-based RD cancel his swim (as Ironhorse did this year). Rain means runoff, and runoff means bacteria from cow pastures entering the water and causing sickness in swimmers. And "sickness" means lawsuits. In fact, "health" now sometimes means lawsuits too, after a judge granted class action status to a group of athletes who sued following a swim in a lake in Madison, Wisconsin that the Centers for Disease Control tested and deemed absolutely clean.
During England's foot and mouth scare a couple of years ago, a much-anticipated half-Ironman was cancelled because people might bring disease to the livestock (through running from one cow pasture to another). What's the urgency level about livestock bringing disease to people?
As for the ship canal, I haven't yet seen anyone ask the organizers about quantitative measures, like how many parts per million of this bug or that is in the water. The theme seems to be to grade this water on a curve. "I've swum in a lot dirtier," said Macca, who rates Hungary and Paris worse. Since no athletes died after swimming in Hungary, the canal in Manchester must be safe.
It all comes down to what you value. A cynic might way that American RDs cancel the race when people might be in peril, whereas Brits are more likely to say, "To hell with the athletes, we cancel the race when our livestock are in peril."
In reality, though, our two countries are not so different. We both cancel the race when our finances are in peril.
I PLEJA LEGIENCE
The Pledge Thing happened last week (as of this writing). It was big news all over the U.S., but the story's "legs" are already wobbly. I thought I'd write about it before the story completely bonks.
Being a sort-of, kind-of writer, I'm interested in words. "Under God" were two words that you'd've thought interested people last week, but it wasn't the words that drew focus. "Under God" wasn't a phrase pregnant with meaning, it was a lightning rod fashioned out of alphabet letters. Whatever last week's news was about, it wasn't about meaning and understanding, thought it might've been about the lack of it.
Consider a word I just used above: pregnant. I remember when I was six or seven years old, and people used to say that word. I didn't know what it meant, but I do remember that I'd gotten it into my head that the word meant "attractive" in the feminine sense. I was old enough to know what attractive was, but not to know what was attractive. That is, I hadn't yet figured out what was pretty or sexy to men. But I suppose I had my ideas. When someone would say, "She's certainly pregnant, isn't she?" my reaction was, "Hmm, so that's considered pregnant, eh? Not bad, not bad, but a little fat to my taste."
Likewise, when I was in second gradethe grade of the little girl whose dad filed suit in last week's 9th Circuit caseI didn't have a very good idea what the words of the Pledge of Allegiance represented. In fact, I thought it was, "I pleja legience." I consoled myself that, while a mystery, it must mean something profound and I'd acquire the understanding at the appropriate age.
What I noticed in the national debate last week was the conspicuous lack of interest in all the rest of the words of the Pledge. (Not that I minded too much. I confess to feeling the tiniest bit smarmy when I say it in a group setting, because it reminds me of something lodge brothers would recite at their secret meetings. I'm not a lodge-type guy. Yet the ideas the words represent I hold dear.)
I don't frankly care one way or the other whether the Pledge does or doesn't include the words "Under God." The point of the Pledge is neither to affirm our nation's association with God, nor to form a distinct space between patriotism and religion. The words are what they are, and fretting over the addition, retention, or subtraction is to miss the greater point.
Last week's debate among big people was no-doubt fulfilling for many of them. Most second graders, though, probably still think it's "I pleja legience," or some variation thereof. To a word lover like me, that is the greater point.
I DID A BAD, BAD THING
Chris Isaak sings, "Baby did a bad, bad thing," but I have no one to blame this on but me. I couldn't help myself, and I've got some apologies to make.
First and foremost I've got to own up to Clif Bar, who provided us with this company's fine product$100 worth of Bars and Shot to go to each person who paid us $100 for an Athens Club membership to the TriBiz Reader.
Simply put, I got to packing everybody's Clif Bars and Clif Shot, and I guess one of the problems was that I was using the same boxes that we used to ship the DOS wetsuits in (some Athens Club members requested wetsuits). Basically, it took about $130 or $140 worth of Clif Bars and Shot to fill up the box. And it looked a lot prettier when it was full, all the colored boxes containing flavors like Razz Sorbet, Viva Vanilla, Sonic Strawberry, Mocha Mocha, and then there were the Orange Chocolate Chill Clif Bars. So the upshot is there's not as many of these "Gratitude Packages" to go around as there were, and that's that.
I've got a partner in the TriBiz Reader, Amy White, who is also the editor over here at Slowtwitch, and I've got an apology to make to her too. Amy, basically, there's no other way to put it. I ate the profits. Carrot Cake, Peanut Butter Crunch, Orange Chocolate Chill. Gone. In one pipe and out the other. I was eating them almost as fast as I was packing them for the UPS man to pick up.
Clif Bar has more of our Gratitude Packages to ship to us for future Athens Club members, and if I'm honest with myself and with you I don't see myself behaving better next time I've got to pack up and ship a batch. I've been eating Clif Bars for several years and stopping is not in my future. I expect that when the next shipment comes I'll be diving into the box with my utility knife and some will go out to our TriBiz Reader subscribers and however many I can fit into my mouth, well, that's where the rest will go.
Amy, you're my TriBiz partner, so it's only right that I send some of these Clif Bars up to you. Maybe I will. I'll look around to see what's left.
I wrote a couple of months ago that Monty and I had just put money down on a 20 acre parcel inside the Angeles National Forest. It was our intention to build a training camp / getaway for triathletes. Trails, road riding, MTB, the works. Me, I want the world's biggest fireplace. A walk-in fireplace. And I will have it. But where? That's a good question.
We had the soils engineers, a geologist, and a large backhoe out to the property on Monday. It was our intention to dig all the holes for all the percolation and soils tests. First, thoughespecially since a river crosses the landwe needed to perform a high ground-water test. This is to make sure that when we put in our septic system and leach lines that the neighbors three miles down from uswho depend on a welldon't suddenly start pumping up water with an interesting new taste. You've got to have 15 vertical feet of dry dirt.
This is called the "exploration hole" and there were the engineers, the geologist, Monty and I peering down at the 9-foot deep hole pooling with water. Not a good sign. So we dug another hole, a little further away and up the slope a bit.
All was well for twelve or thirteen feet, then whammo, we struck water. The bad news is that there will be no triathlon training camp here. The good news is, we can always start bottling up the water from Slowtwitch Springs.
We won't, however, do that either. We wrote up the deal so that we could back out of it if our due diligence determined that structures could not be built. So, while we're out of pocket for the testing we've done, that's the end of the pain.
I must admit that the whole things was fun. I also suspect that scouting around for our multisport training facility is as much fun as having it, and we're back on the road again. I'll let you know when we find another location.
THE WORST RACE DISASTER
A paradox lives inside me. While I deplare fatalism and the glass-half-empty approach I, by nature, guard against the downside with vigor. I want to be upbeat and positive, and I achieve this by feverishly running around protecting against the worst things that can happen. This necessarily means mentally constructing a list of potential disasters. This is the private fatalism in which I engage.
That's how I run my life, and it pervades all aspects of it. Many of us do this to at least some degree, and it elicits the typical dreams. My subconscious works with economy by combining all my phobias into one dream. The college professor will say to me, "Nice to see you, Mr. Empfield. We thought you'd abandoned us, inasmuch as final exams are next week and this is the first time you've been to class all semester."
"Yes, well, it seems I'd forgotten that I'd registered for it, and now that I've just remembered it's too late to drop the class. So here I am."
"Better late than never, but really, the next time you attend," asks the professor as my classmates are pointing and snickering, "do you think you could wear some clothes?"
In a variation of this dream I realize that the Hawaiian Ironman is next week and I've forgotten to train. Mind you, it isn't that I've neglected to trainthat I've been lazy or injuredit's just slipped my mind. What does that mean?
I ran a 10k this past Saturday and I notice that I run through worst-case scenarios in my racing life as well. While philosophers wage intellectual war with grand hypotheticals, my what-if is much more real-world: What would I do if I dropped my car key or my wallet down the port-o-pottie hole? Would I dive in after it? Or would I write it off? If the latter, what if my wallet was there in plain view, on top of whatever else? Would I seek to somehow cover it up, so that a less scrupulous and more motivated fellow runner wouldn't retrieve it before I could dash home and cancel the credit cards? Would I go ahead the do the race before rushing home to find the credit card companies' telephone numbers, or add insult to injury by not racing?
This is not a potty joke. I really worry about this. Every race I think about thisnot a tremendous amount, but it does cross my mind at some point of the morning. Yes, I know there's a simple solution: Don't bring keys or a wallet into the port-o-john with you. But I'm sure I'm going to forget one day, and something valuable is going to slip out of my pocket and down into that hole.
We've all heard the expression, "There are two kinds of people, those who blank and those who blank." There are many ways you can split people into two groups. Obviously there are those who have this particular phobia, like me, and those who don't. That's one way to divide up the population. I just hope there is not a deep significance attached to being a portophobiac.
PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
I've just finished watching a press conference on CNN and I must say that it unnerves me in this time of geopolitical unease that neither our president nor his joint chiefs chairman can pronounce the word "nuclear." If a superior intelligence from another galaxy investigating our civilization observed the pronunciation of two of the most powerful men on earthone of whom also said today (arrrgh!) "excape"It would be hard to blame it if it decided to blow up our planet with one big nucular blast, just to be on the safe side.
That off my chest, I'll turn my attention to Israel's prime minister Ariel Sharon. I don't mean to make light of a grave situation. If I was Colin Powell, though, I'd have said, "Look, if I can't go back to the U.S. with a cease fire, or an occupied territories pullout timetable, can I at least get a commitment from you to go on a diet?"
It's embarrassing. Sharon looks like Jiminy Glick. Really. It's a separated at birth type thing. Especially from the neck down. I don't see how it could do any harm for Sharon to say, "We're not going to pull out of the occupied West Bank towns until we're good and ready, but on a positive note I've decided to go on a diet and start exercising."
As has been so noted on our forum over the past few days by various Slowtwitch readers, sport and exercise brings people together. There are many problems in the world, and there are serious and diverse proximate causes. Other than malnutrition and disease, however, not very many of these problems are made worse by running. Just think how much differently peace negotiations might go if the parties all went for a morning run first (preferably together).
I have a picture somewhere of Asher and Boaz Redansky and several more Israeli triathletes standing on a beach in Israel in their wetsuits, ready to jump in the water. That photo was taken in better days. I don't know what my friends the Redansky brothers are doing nowadays. It's been a long time since I've spoken to them. I hope they're safe. My last remembrance was of Boaz finishing his startling recovery from leukemia, rising up out of a wheelchair, and starting to work on getting his former healthy life back.
I just think about that photo, and I must believe the world would be a better place if the gun went off and both Israelis and Palestinians jumped in the water together to have it out over the Olympic distance. I suspect there is a sizable silent fraction of both populations that agree with me, but are afraid to say so for fear of what the crazed ones might do to them.
I haven't spoken to Peter since his DNF at Ironman Oz and I have no idea what caused him to make noises about retiring. I'm just glad he repented of that notion (we cover that here). I'm going to write as if I do know what's been rolling around in that noggin of his, because if my guess is incorrect for Peter, it's correct about others, pro and age-group alike.
I'd like to present an anagram of his name that describes his sense of honor, but all I can come up with is tree pride and deer tripe, so I'll forget about that pending a Slowtwitch reader's more appropos suggestion. I'll have to tell you about Peter in some other way. I do know Peter Reid well enough to know that he's got more honor and pride than is good for him. He's been to the top of the mountain, and if it's very rare to find the person who can reach as high as Peter has, rarer yet is the number of those who can stay on top. A person's ability to do that depends somewhat, I think, on one's motivational forces during one's rise. It's only natural to want to show everyone what you're made of. But after you've shown themnow that they knowthen what?
Winners and overcomers like Peter Reid sometimes think, mistakenly in my view, that the sort of effort expended in championship performances in the past is what is expected in the future. When an appearance fee or a sponsor payment is made, pro athletes with a high sense of honor and duty assume that such fees are paid in expectation of encore championship-quality performances. That's just not true. When Peter Reid and those like him deposit those sorts of checks in the bank they ought to look at it much like depositing a prize money check: It's for the performances already turned in. When Peter Reid gets paid for toeing the line at IM Australiaif he gets paid, and I hope he doesit's not in expectation of a great performance, it's because of his great performances of the past. Should he win the race, he'll pocket prize money, and that's for the great performance during the race itself.
The only performance-related responsibility Peter Reid has to sponsors and event directors for the money he'll take from them is to train reasonbly well, which Peter always does. There ought to be no expectation from anyone that he'll race well, or even finish. I might feel differently about the finishing element if this was an Olympic distance event, but these Ironman athletes are performing the equivalent of running a double marathon, and an athlete like Peter Reid only has so many of those inside him. There's only so many times we can ask athletes like Peter Reid to go to the well, both mentally and physically. (That is one reason our sport badly needs races of distances that bridge the gap between half and full Ironmans.)
There are no words I might write that can make it easier to stomach a DNF in a place far from home. The worst feeling in sport is to DNF and know that you've got to wait days before the stagecoach will pass through Dodge and take you with it. There's no worse place to be than in a town full of racers, one of which has just taken the crown you expected would be yours if all went right. The one thing Peter ought to know is that he did his job on race day.
When I heard of Peter's disappointing Oz racedisappointing to him, not to me: my view of Peter, his honor, his work ethic, and his abilities are entirely unchangedI thought of Rick Nelson's song Garden Party: "You can't please everyone so you've got to please yourself." I'm sure I don't know all that bothers Peter Reid, I just hope that in his racing and training he does only that which gives him the most pleasure and satisfaction. He's earned it, he deserves it, and he owes no one anything above and beyond that. Anybody who says anything different is full of deer tripe.
ADDENDUM, courtesy Slowtwitch readers: Tired Peer, Tri Deeper, Dire Peter (plus other notes of support for this fine athlete).
THIS DIET OF MINE, AND OTHER MARGINAL VICTORIES
An agency of some sort just sent out a press release, because I’ve been hearing and reading the same stat this week from various news organizations: 40% of Americans engage in no physical activity whatsoever, and half of the remainder work out only sporadically. I frankly find it surprising that as many as 30% do engage in regular exercise, and I suspect a percentage of them of answering forthrightly. If any of them are triathletes I’m sure of it. As we all know, when you ask most triathletes what their usual weekly mileage is, they’ll answer with the biggest weekly totals they’ve managed all season long, and that’s per sport, regardless of whether all three sports’ high mileages were achieved in the same week. Subract out the liars, however, and you still get the same totals, because there aren’t enough of us to generate any statistical significance compared to the population as a whole.
Anyway, this is the first week that I could look at myself in the mirror and say that my body resembledto mea person not in that 30% group. Prior to this week I felt that I looked, if you were to cut my legs off at the hip, like one of those blow-up clowns with sand at the bottom--the ones that you punch and they keep coming back for more. Now, finally, with two weeks worth of swimming under me and five or so fewer pounds, I see vague but undeniable evidence that there is a body underneath all that plaster of paris that’s been staring back at me in the mirror over the past ten years. Like the coelocanth, I notice that my pecs and lats and intercostals still live, although it was thought that they long ago became extinct. I’ve never exactly had a V-shaped body, but to the degree that I did the V has been turned upside down for the past decade. Now it’s slowly showing signs of righting itself.
I weighed 169 pounds today. This is down from the 200 or so that I weighed three years ago, when it became obvious to me that if I didn’t do something I was going end up like Jackie Gleason but without the variety show. My previous fighting weightand that was back when I was fighting, which was back when Tommy Hearns and Roberto Duran were fightingwas about 163. Honestly, though, I’ve got more than 6 pounds of fat still on me. Yes, I can now get into my old 33X36 Levi 501s (my bellweather of fitness) but they’re still a bit snug. I suspect that if 163 is my good weight I’ve still got 8 or 9 pounds that could come off, and 2 or 3 of the right kind of weight that ought to go back on.
I’ve heard that when you get past a certain ageis it 40?that it’s normal even for athletic type people to put on a pound a year. I don’t see why this is true. Now that I’m fitter, it’s not as hard for me to do the workouts as it was when I was less fit. This means taking off the remaining few pounds ought to be, if anything, easier. I don’t see why 162 or 163 is unachievable. If anything I think I’ll probably end up lighter than I was the last time I was fit, unless I’m able to put on that last few pounds of muscle that I don’t have anymore.
How is my eating going? I’ve not kept to the strict diet I started out with, but I’ve been pretty good. I’m not much tempted by bad food. We’ve had a box of Girl Scout cookies in the cupboard for two months and unless somebody throws them out they’ll still be there in two years. I don’t eat ice cream or candy, no apple pie, no cakes, no chocolate muffins in the morning. I don’t eat nearly as spartanly (and if spartanly wasn't a world it is now) as JulieAnne. The biggest change, I suppose, is that I’m not quite the slave to food that I was.
The collarbone, by the way, is also coming along fairly well. It didn’t enjoy the water for the first few days. It still isn’t a big fan of it. I can’t pull hard, so intervals are really not worth doing. What I can do is just swim, so I’ve taken to simply doing long, sustained swims. I’ve been going 2000 yards worth of a straight swim after a little warmup, and tomorrow I might up that to 3000 if all goes well.
This brings up a point, which is that age does bring with it some benefits. I’ve got a lot more patience than I did when I was younger. I see the long view where I couldn’t see it when I was in my 20s. I seem to be better equipped at dealing with plateaus, disappointments, the blahs, the blues, and all that, and also better able to work around an injury.
(Check that. I don't mean that I've traded in my hot-headedness and impetuousness for patience. A better way to put it is that patience is now available to me. It's still up to me to decide whether to act rashly or to take the long view.) Anyway...
If that means swimming a straight 3000 yards that’s okay with me. In fact, I rather look forward to it. I’d never have been able to suffer through that in my younger days. What was then the height of boredom now feels more like “quiet time.” My favorite kind of run is now not an 8-mile tempo run with my hot-shot friends, it’s a 2-hour mountain run by myself.
In fact, I’ve been thinking about how far I might be able to go with these sustained swims. Other than in an open water race, I’ve never swam further than 3000 yards without stopping. What about 4000? 6000? I don’t know. I’ve never considered how that would be, because I never thought of that sort of thing as the least appealing. Now all of a sudden it might be. (Of course it’s easy to say that while on dry land).
I wonder if that’s not part of the reason certain people well into their post-peak athletic years excel at longer distances. I wonder whether that’s not just a physiological issue, but a mental onewhether one becomes contemplative and is able to accept and even enjoy the longer, slower activities. If that is so, I suspect such an athlete comes to this new mental approach through experiences not restricted to the athletic. A person goes through a lot of living by the time they’re in their 40s and 50s, and the art and science of longsuffering is well-honed in such a person, in a way someone in his or her 20s could not imagine (and will not for 20 or 30 more years).
I’ve received a lot of emails asking about how I’m doing with my diet and my collarbone. The funniest asked for progress about my "condition." The first thing that came to mind when I read that was, "The collarbone is healing, the weight is coming off, and my condition is growing worse all the time, all according to plan."
The collarbone has two breaks, clean through, and one of the twothe worst of the two, actuallyis relatively stable. The other is healing more slowly, but fortunately is the less severe. I start swimming tomorrow, if I get up early enough, and I’ll know more after that. Riding and running are no longer a problem.
Training is going along fine, and although the running is coming along very well, I lost a lot of strength cycling and it's got me frustrated. I hope that comes back quickly. In my frustration over that I’ve started back with some short but extremely hard Computrainer workouts that leave my legs wobbly. I respond quickly to these workouts, and I hope and expect they’ll help me make up for lost timethough I’ve also got to mix in the long rides once or twice a week as well. Last fall I could ride six hours without a problem; now I get pretty worn out after three.
I’m very happy with the running. The weight is coming off slowly but steadily and I’m feeling just about ready for some fast stuff. For me, "fast stuff" takes the form of one of several different types of runs. When I was a kid I was a track runner, and I can hoof it around the oval fairly well. I might consider doing intervals. Frankly, though, I probably wouldn’t do them unless there was a group handy. Intervals aren’t as much fun if you do them alone. There is a local track club that does intervals at a track close to me on Tuesday nights, and perhaps I might go out and see about that.
I confess to feeling like one of our sport’s self-absorbed caricatures when I write what follows. I’m 45 years old, and at this age I ought to be satisfied with a lot less. But I’m just frankly not, and it’s because of the two-fold reason that I ran at a high level as a young’un and I’ve got a desire to reacquire the old speed.
When I was a junior in high school I ran the mile in 4:19. Then the injuries started coming and I guess I think I’ve been trying to catch up ever since. (Our running editor, Greg Hitchcock, came along and broke my high school record in the mile before continuing on to a high-level running career at the University of Oregon.) I love that distancethe mileand in one of my earlier iterations of being in shape I incorporated running to the track, doing a timed mile, and then running back. I did this workout many times, and started at, say, 5:10 or 5:20. I eventually got down to 4:36. I used this as an indicator workout, and when I ran this fast I knew I could extrapolate this out to 33s or high 32s for 10 kilometers.
But this was many years ago, in my early 30s. What will I be able to do at 45? Can I still actually get to the point where I could run a mile in much under five minutes? I think so. I don’t feel any different than I did when I was 35, or 25, for that matter. The only thing I’m pretty sure I can’t do is run the short stuff the way I did when I was a teen-ager. But at 5k and up, I’m itching to start road racing and to test myself.
I’m still ten pounds overweight. But I’m so close I can almost reach out and grab it. I’m eating a pretty spartan diet. Not entirely the way I’d like, but it’s by far the best I’ve ever eaten in my life. Very little dairy, not too much red meat, much less fat, and almost no desserts. I know I’ll take this weight off. I’m just around the corner.
Fortunately I'll know when I'm "there" because I know just what running at that level is like, what pace I can keep, what it ought to feel like running at that pace, all of it. It’s a very familiar feeling, and I know that if I keep at it, I’ll get there. I know not to stop short of it until it occurs.
Many or most triathletes played team sports in high school, or you swam, or you played the trombone. It’s going to be easier for meknock on wood, and strong bones and muscles willingthan it will be for others who didn't have that running background growing up. On the other hand, I never swam 4:36 for 500 yards in high school, like Kerry Classen did, so I’ll never have a measuring stick like that when I’m in the pool. I’ll stop short of achieving the swim speed of which I’m physically capable because I never came close to that time and never will. In running, for me at least, I’m after two things: reaching the level I’ve set for myself; and experiencing that rare feeling when I know I’ve come all the way back.
Here’s the funny thing. The steps are slow, and the progress is incrementalexcept that last step. You’re on the brink of fitness, but you’rewell, I’mten pounds over, and sort of stuck. That’s the last plateau. You’re in the on-deck circle and you’re there for the longest time. But if you don’t get injured, or boredif you don’t run out of time, or faith in yourself, if you keep onyou wake up one day and you go running and you find that you popped out over the top of the hill you’ve been climbing. You’re there.
WAKE UP AND DIE RIGHT
I’ve got a house full of books. Every room has them stacked in bookcases. Normally I’m a divestor of things not of imminent use - but I keep the books. What photo albums are to others shelves full of books are to me - vivid reminders of adventures and moments worth much more than their cash value.
So when I began to only vaguely remember an idea represented in a book read some time before, I realized I faced a chore. I did not remember in which book the idea was contained. I rolled the idea around in my head, trying to place it in a context so that a theme, and finally a title, would come to me. The idea went something like this: “And the only thing they feared was dying in their sleep.”
Why was it that this idea above others bubbled up from my tar pit of remembered experience? I don’t know. I’ve been going through a mortality crisis for, oh, the last 25 years of my life and now that death - not more than 35 or 40 years distant - is staring me in the face perhaps I feel a subconscious urgency to get a move on. I’ll wake up one day and be eighty or, worse yet, I’ll wake up one day and be dead.
Several months ago Scott Molina wrote something for our site, and a reader on our forum gently chided him, saying something to the effect of You’re a kid and then you’re an adult and just face up to the responsibility of the latter, which necessarily means giving up the youthful motivations of the former.
I thought about that. I thought about that for months. And after having thought about it a lot, I’ve decided that whatever fire it is in Molina’s pants that drives him onward, more power to him.
Long may you run.
And by all means die awake and aware, not in your sleep.
I’m listening to Miles Davis right now and thinking of my favorite Bible themes. I can do without adolescent Jesus the 12-year-old chess grandmaster. I like the one where Jacob wrestles all night with the angel of God, crying out , “I won’t let you go until you give me your blessing!” There’s a man that knows what he wants, and has the cajones to settle for no less. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence,” writes the author of Matthew, “and violent men take it by force.” The "upright" may be needed in this world, but men of action who rub others the wrong way with stridency and dissonence have a special place in my heart for the completely sensical reason that I’m one of them.
No, I don’t think Molina should listen to advice which is designed to bring him into conformity with cultural norms. What happens when he wakes up old and boney and finds out normalcy was really just a hollow construct designed to keep the world safe for the unimaginative?
Better to burn out than to fade away. (My my hey hey).
“His grandfather was the oldest of eight boys and the only one to live past the age of twenty-five. They were drowned, shot, kicked by horses. They perished in fires. They seemed to fear only dying in bed.”
It took me four days to find that, from “All the pretty horses,” by Cormac McCarthey.
The Winter Olympics are over and I'd like to ask you a question. How many events ended with the first person across the line being declared the winner? Not very many. Most of the events are timed races (like time trials) or judged races. Not many are mass start races.
There are a very few XC ski events that employ a mass start, and then there is short track speed skating. But as we now see, in XC skiing it is highly likely that the first person across the line will not be the winner, as it now appears that nordic skiers make pro cyclists look like young righteous churchgoers when it comes to drug taking. Blood as thick as a strawberry milk shake they've got.
No better are the short track skaters, who're always cutting in like L.A. freeway commuters, resulting in gold medals getting won precisely by the guy in last place whose home continent doesn't have any ice.
Winter triathlon has that glorious combination of fun and diversity and rigor and first-across winners who make so little money they can't afford drugs.
Finally, bully for the IOC, and I can't believe I actually wrote that. But in this case they obviously played possum and outsmarted the druggies. I suspect they were in cahoots with Amgen, which has probably taken enough of a PR lickin' through not putting a marker in EPO that they wised up with their new drug -- Aranesp -- and built the test concurrent with building the drug (at least this is my guess). This is not a new tactic. Allos Therapeutics did precisely that last year with RSR-13. This blood booster is still in clinical trials, yet those cagey Italian cyclists got hold of it anyway (we reported on this last year). Cagier yet was Allos, and a company spokesman told me, ""We’ve been pretty proactive, unlike a lot of companies. RSR-13 can be easily detected in urine within 24 hours of use."
The IOC held its fire until the games were about over, and then sprung its trap. Word in the locker room was that Aranesp (darbepoetin alfa) was undetectable, but as the Finn skiers found out last year with hetastarch, you buy into the notion at your own peril that the drug labs are run by a bunch of guys with IQs of 65.
The Winter Olympics may have been a success, but you can only have so many controversies in a row before people write you off as a joke. Yes it's good that the cheaters got caught, but at some point people just don't want to watch cheaters any more. How 'bout we dump sports like winter ballroom dancing and replace them with a real live ass-kicking first-across-the-line sport like winter triathlon?
Flipping through the channels I found a station on which I can watch the Winter Olympicsthe Mexican channel. As is always the case, coverage of any sport in which I have a special personal interestwhich is to say any endurance sportis covered better by any network catering to a non-American audience than it is by the U.S. networks.
I can watch a marathon start to finish and hardly stand to take a potty break. Same with a bike race. To me, every stage is like watching a new Spielberg movie.
Yesterday I watched the nordic 4 X 10km relay. It was due to come on NBC later in the day, but I knew what it would be like: 90 minutes of race boiled down to 90 seconds of action. The Mexicans gave me the first and final legs in their entirely. Viva Mexico.
Inbetween they showed the mujeres super gigante. Even that was better in Spanish. Thank God the Mexicans aren't as worthless as the Americans at putting a sports telecast together. I didn't have to weather a barrage of stories about the misspent childhoods and medical problems of Mexican downhillers in place of watchingperish the thoughta few non-Mexican Olympians race down the mountain.
While channel flipping I did notice that the Daytona 500 was on, and it doesn't appear beyond the ability of Americans to sit and watch two or three hours of cars going around in a circle, so I wonder why NBC and the other networks think Americans have no attention span?
Anyway, I drank in the nordic ski relay, in particular that final click where the Italian tried to outsmart the Norwegian and outsmarted himself.
As I continued the network criterium, flipping past CNBCthe hockey/curling channelthe Mexican channel and NBC, I realized that three-fifths of the Winter Olympics don't do anything for me. If my cheeseburger tastes are at all shared by the rank and file, well, ice skating is dead (except for speed skating) and I'm not that thrilled about watching snowboarding either. (I guess I just have no attention span for that fast-paced action).
What the Winter Olympics could really use is winter triathlon. No fooling. I think as a spectator sport I'd like it better than summer triathlon. Especially if they included in the nordic ski loop a trip down the super gigante hill.
I’m a Mac guy. One of the six percent. I’m also left-handed. Destined to be the odd man.
I upgraded to OS X. Mac people will know what I mean. A complete departure from any other operating system. Quantum leap. I could do this because I have several Mac computers, and could therefore afford to put OS X on the "non-revenue machine" which was my laptop, inasmuch as I wasn’t traveling anywhere in particular in the near future. God forbid I'd have to learn this new OS on a machine on which I was beholden for a living.
One immediately usable thing this new OS has is a chess program. Another plus: It doesn’t require a pair of intact collarbones.
I hadn’t played in years. The Ruy Lopez? I'll play it to twenty moves while watching the TV. Sicilian Defense? Sure, with the caveat that I prefer to play the Dragon Variation. No chess program ever got the better of me.
Bottom line, the OS X’s chess program was kicking my ass. And on it’s easiest mode. I might as well’ve been playing Bobby Frigging Fisher. After each of my successive resignations it asks me whether I want to “save the game?” Why in the hell would I want to save it?! I just got my ass kicked! Would nostalgia ever prompt me to relive the memory?!
So finally, after my twentieth or thirtieth resignation, I challenged it and my laptop to the match of matches. A fight to the death. No best out of seven.
I took it to my favorite watering hole. It against me. My handicap? Nonstop margaritas (rocks, no salt, and 1800, Conmemorativo, Tres Generaciones, whatever, with Grand Marnier or Cointreau as the orange).
It’s handicap? No electricity. One full battery. Last man standing wins.
Several games were played. I was forced to resign time after time. It played like Capablancapositively swashbucklingits queen deep into my territory with reckless disregard, zipping in and out like an NBA point guard. Each time it won it asked me, “Would you like to save this game?” Somewhere, some son of a bitch Apple programmer is having a belly laugh. Eat <a MacIntosh> and die, son.
On we played into the night. Though it won without a loss I could tell it marveled at my hollow leg, but I in turn respected its battery power. It won. And it won, even though it played black every game. It taunted me with obscurity: French Defense, then stuff I’d never seen.
It thought many moves ahead. If it was a woman, I’d have become infatuated with its brain.
Finally, I keeled over. Its battery was stronger than mine. I never did beat the machine.
The moral of this story? Use your mind while you still have one. If it’s too late for that (as it obviously is for me) resort to using your bodywhich is our privilage as endurance athletes, is it not?
Nine days ago I broke a rib and a collarbone, and I thought it a good time for a progress report. Here it is: I have no idea how I'm doing.
In terms of how I feel, that's the good news. The only significant pain with which I must deal is when I sneeze. But even then it's not that badnot like in the first two or three days, when a sneeze was the worst kind of cruel joke (at which I would have laughed, except that's also on the definitely-don't-do list with a broken rib). The rib's much better now, and I have almost full utility there.
The collarbone's never been particularly painful except when I first broke it. After the first several hours the pain was pretty much gone. The problem with the collarbone is the inconvenience of it, what with it being inbetween my brain and my arm, which up to last weekend had formed a useful partnership. My collarbone's "knob" is quite large, and probably always will be. I just hope it gets smaller than it is now. I have a vision in my head of the Far Side cartoon depicting the joining of the transcontinental railroad, where the rails meet like a "handshake" instead of a "hug" (they're one rail off). In my mind's eye my collarbone ends have met in that same way.
I go in for an x-ray in a few days and we'll see about all that. Meanwhile, I've gotten back in the groove. I rode the trainer both Saturday and Sunday, but caught a cold Monday and couldn't rideyou can't win for losing.
Funny thing, though, I've been in good spirits about it all, and here's what I want to try to convey. Sitting dormant in the rear parts of all our brains are fearsof becoming paralyzed, or going broke (pick a disaster)and my fears fall into two classes. There's the fear of the thing itself, and (perhaps even greater in me) the fear of my reaction to it. The best example I can think of is a serious but curable malady such as cancer or a heart attack. What we often hear is that a heart attack victim will either spiral down or turn his life around based on his post-heart-attack psychological reaction. What will we do when faced with serious advertisty? Will we spiral down or pull ourselves up with a vigor and force that we ourselves never knew existed?
When I reflect on how people like Lance Armstrong and David Bailey reacted, I wonder whether I'll be imbued with the same courage? When I see a millionaire go broke just to somehow regain his feet, and his fortune, I wonder whether I'd be as resilient if I found myself on the street? That's my fear: not of the thing, but of my reaction to it.
Nothing that bad happened to me nine days ago. My crash wasn't the "Ironman" of disasters, just a "3-hour brick" (as catastrophes go). But my response to it was totally unexpected. I was angry. Not pissed-at-the-world angry, or mad-at-myself angry, or assigning-blame angry, but the sort of anger you feel (if anger is the right word, which it isn't) when you see somebody next to you on the starting line that you really want, and intend, and have a strong motivation, to beat. I have had an urgency to get my arm out of my sling, get on with my recovery, get back into my groove, and certainly get back in the saddle.
It's been a small test, and although I'm still in the middle of it I'm encouraged. Of course I hope my disasters don't approach the level of those whom I most admirethose who've passed the biggest of testsbut I have a slight bit less fear now that I won't, or wouldn't, be ready should one come my way.
There is one gentleman about whom I'll write one day. He is an Austrian named Wolfgang Schattauer, and he's been to Hawaii several times. He'll no-doubt try to go again, but this time as a challenged athlete because of a hit-and-run accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. I talked to him some months after the accident, and he spoke with a rasp, because he hadn't quite re-learned the art of breathing. Now, a year further down the road, he's got his hand-cycle and his wheelchair, and he's asking if T1 can build him a special wetsuit. His enthusiasm for life hasn't dimmed.
Somehow I've digressed to a discussion of my heroes, and I'll leave off from that and wheel this piece back 'round to my progress report. As I said, I have no idea how I'm doing, and by that I mean from the neck down. From the neck up, so far so good (except for my sniffle).
I have a lot on my plate today. I get to send our weekly newsletter email out, and I get to vote for my USAT representatives (I'll be voting by fax, and today is the deadline, as you all know, because you've been staying current with Election Central).
I get to finish my sales tax return for the State of California. And I get to finish this little opinion piece.
On any other day I'd say that I have to do these things. Today, I'm able to do them. As many Slowtwitch readers know, I had an eventful Sunday. If I might be permitted (by songwriter Sonny Curtis and hit singer Bobby Fuller) a slight alteration of the oldies standard, "I fought the ground and the ground won." But if I lost the battle I won the war, thanks to a helmet.
I still see themthe Pantani followers, little helmetless il piratasriding around San Diego with bandanas where their helmets should be. I have a message for them. I've been riding bicycles well and often for more than 20 years, and I'm a very good bike handler. The crash I experienced on Sunday, in which I broke a collarbone and a ribwas unavoidable. There was no time or opportunity to alter the way in which I crashed. My head hit very hard, bounced once, and hit again. Not Lance Merckx or Eddie Armstrong or anybody alive could've crashed materially "better" than I did.
I used to be an il pirata in my youth, until one day I became il pinata, with the help of a passing gravel truck. I remember my head hitting, and that was it. I lay unconscious on the side of the road, and was awakened and given a ride to the hospital by a lady who lived out in the country and happened to be going where I was obviously headedshe was entering labor and driving herself to the hospital.
Elements of this story are laughable now. I hit my head sufficiently hard that my atria began fibrillating (I'm not sure why that can happen, but it can and did). So, here I was, being driven in a car by a woman in labor, just lucid enough to know that my heart wasn't working right. So, I decided to give myself CPR. She's doing whatever she needs to do to both drive and keep everything inside, I'm giving myself heart massage. Then I passed out again and woke up four hours later, vomiting in the emergency room.
That crash gave me a subdural hematoma and was the last time I've ridden helmetless.
My head hit the ground with a lot more force this past Sunday than it did on that day in 1981. The result of my recent crashat least above the shouldersis nothing. No headache. No sore neck. No whiplash. I'd have never known the crash happened except for the mess below the shoulders.
How is the helmet? I don't know. I'm having my friend Mandaric bring it over later today. Whether it's in one piece or several, it certainly did its job. In order to forego the emails, yes, I'll be getting a new one regardless of its apparent condition (the helmet I'm talking about, not the head).
BACK TO THIS ELECTION THING
As federation's go, oursUSA Triathlonis pretty good. I hear they occasionally have problems in the archery federation, and when you think about it service in an organization like that might entail hazards. Any of those federations that involve targets at which ordnance is shot would be one I'd think twice about before I ran for election on its board. People get passionate about their avocations, and there's no telling what they might do. It's a good thing germ-growing is not an Olympic sport, because I'm convinced there are more crazies and unscrupulous types serving inside sports governance than outside of it (on a per capita basis).
As I said, though, we've got a reasonably good federation, and the election of its board of directors is upon us. I mentioned this on Slowtwitch over a month ago, promising to put up on this site answers to questions posed to those running, and we were going to have a downloadable ballot, and all that. Then Interbike came, and Kona came, and of course September gave us a few other things to write and think about.
But we're back in the saddle on this election, and we've updated Election Central. The downloadable ballot is upat least it's on somebody's website, USATand I want to thank USAT's Tim Yount for sending it across to me pronto. I can also say with a straight face and all due respect to my friend Tim, regarding the ballot: You know where to stick it. (Tim's not responsible for what goes up on USAT's website, but I trust that he'll convey my message to USAT's webmaster).
Also on Election Central is everybody's email address who's running (and who's got an email address we can find, which is every candidate but one, as of this writing). We've emailed them all with questions we hope they'll all answer, and the answers will be posted on this site as they come in.
Finally... look, I'm not going to nag. But really, let's all vote. Jeez, weand I'm writing to myself, toovote for presidents and mayors, etc. But we don't vote for the USAT board. Let's change that starting with this election. Besides, if you don't vote, you don't get to ask the question, "What is this $25 buying anyway?" If you do vote, you do get to ask the question.
IT WAS A WEIRD KONA
I thought '94 was kind of weird, what with an alien winning the race and all. In '95, when Mark Allen won it back, it felt good, like they let me sleep with my blanky again.
But this year. Wow.
It was weird on so many levels it's hard to describe. The backdrop was, of course, the events of September 11th, and here the race is underway and the bombingour bombing this timewas underway on the other side of the world. And there was the anthrax in Florida, and although none of you knew it on the mainland, there was dengue fever in Hawaii at the same time. First it was just on Maui, and then it was in Kona. Not the Big Island mind you, the news didn't say thatthey skipped the mention of the particular island completely. It was in Kona, they said. It's all over the Keauhou Surf and Racquet Club, why didn't they just say?
Dengue fever. What is that, anyway? Do you die? Do you bleed out your eyes? Do your organs disintegrate? You catch it from mosquitoes, they said. What about the mosquitoes that were biting me about an hour earlier, at sundown, as I was feeding bread to the mongeese? Those mosquitoes?
It was also weird because I'd gone from Vegas to Kona within 24 hours. I was looking at the full moon setting behind the ocean in the morning, and I realized I'd just seen the same moon set over the Calico Hills above Vegas as I was rising to prepare for a bike ride and a trade show. Only a trip through San Diego and then through the empty LAXthat was really weirdand I stepped onto a plane and off again in Kona.
Then, all of a sudden, I'm covering the race. During the run I drove from the Keauhou Surf and Racquetadjacent to the empty Kona Surf Hotel to the run-course U-turn. To get there I drove down a deserted Alii Drive. On race day. That was pretty freaky.
And the race. Whoa. Strange field. Dave back in the race, for one thing. Sort of like those dreams where your long-dead grandparents are alive and you're kind of freaked to see them (sorry, Dave). And the breadth of the field. No real favorite. It was like an ITU race. Don't get me wrong, it was neatespecially having Dave backbut it was just freaky over here, take my word for it. Only thing to do to get our minds off it was watch TNN's five straight 17-hour days of Star Trek: Next Generation. We flipped back and forth between that and CNN. Every time we got too freaked out at the futuristic sci-fi events on the tube we turned it back to Star Trek.
Man, the world's a different place. I don't know how I feel about that. Normally, I'm pretty open to change. Fast on my feet. Shifty, even. But this is a lot of change for me.
Good thing an American won the men's race. At least I've got my blanky back.
TODAY IS GRIEF
TodayFriday, September 14thseems to be the day it's all coming home. Tuesday was shock, Wednesday was bewilderment, Thursday was anger, and today is sadness.
There were occasions for pride as well. I felt a striking and clear sense of that when I watched the Islamic personage addressing the heads of our country during the prayer service at the National Cathedral. In my mind it was our most vivid display yet of national resolve. The Rev. Billy Graham spoke, as well as representatives from the Jewish faith and Christian denominations, but to me Islam was the most important religious inclusion on the dais. It was a finger in the eye to those who would destroy us. It was our signal to ourselves and the world that the essence of America has not changed.
Now it's just get through the day. It's only eleven in the morning but it feels like it's already mid-afternoon. Perhaps a run a bit later, which will probably be mostly a walk.
I'll describe my dilemma. I'm too sad to work, or to effectively train, and I can't think of a thing to do, really, that isn't going to make me feel just a bit guilty and selfish. And that impotence just makes me feel weak.
And that's silly. If I sit here much longer my sorrow for others will change direction, and I'll just end up feeling sorry for myself. So I'm going to get up out of my chair and get back at it. I'm not sure what precisely I'm going to get back at, but it'll occur to me. I'll check back in with Slowtwitch readers when I've bucked up a bit.
WHAT BEDEVILS ME
Now that’s a long list.
Jack Kerouac’s legion of devils dogging him was so numerous he used to write his novels on great continuous rolls of paper. On the Road was one continuous projectile hurl of exorcised depravity and, it must be noted, style. (Devils can be stylish.) These were big, punctuationless Torahs of rolled-up Underwood words banged out night and day during three-week-long alcohol-induced exhalations.
I lay in bed last night with a book of beautiful pictures to put me to sleepan Ansel Adams coffee table bookand to remind me of the things I admire and love most in the world. The constant interruptions that shield me from things of beauty and wonder bedevil me. All those interruptions make up my list of devils.
Hollow consolation though this book may be, I put my head on my pillow and opened it for a few minutes of vicarious, two-dimensional beauty. It’s a girlie book for nature lovers. It’s a placeholder until I can stand in front of a Jeffrey pine in person and stick my nose between its plates of bark and smell its vanilla.
The book has Adams’ pictures along with a few paragraphs next to each by well-known writers. Interesting list. Whitman and Kerouac. John Muir and Henry Miller. Clarence King and John Steinbeck. I paired them oddly on purpose.
Some, like Muir and King, saw it. Got it. The others? You can tell a good tale, you can even tell a great story, and you can still not get what Adams’ photos represent. Whitman got it. I don’t know if Henry Miller got it or not, and I don’t guess I care.
Then there’s Kerouac, who came close enough that I do care, because it’s a shame when you get that close and fail. A friend of Kerouac's actually got the man, by then a middle-aged drunk, around the backside of the Sierra Nevada and up into them. I sometimes wonder whether an ornery snowstorm or anything that would’ve kept him and his diseased liver up there a few more days might’ve done the trick.
Sometimes I think my days are spent entirely underground, where I’m doing urgent but not important things. Though buried in inanity I sometimes get caught unawares by rare beauty. My wife, while mopping the floors, flips on the stereo, which with its artificial intelligence chooses random CDs. Gorecki’s Symphony #3, Opus 36 comes on.
What bedevils me is that this unique music, combined with a deep, summer night viewed a mile-and-a-half closer to heaven and the orbs God cast into the skywith a few red firs and slabs of white Sierra granite for companyis six hours by car from where I sit. But it might as well be on Mars.
I’ ve seen and heard and smelled and had resonate through me the truth of the universe or at least the closest approximation I’ll ever be able to discern. It bedevils me that I am kept from it or do not know how to grab it for more than fleeting moments.
On the other hand at least I’ve glimpsed what John Muir saw. That was apparently not the case with Kerouac, gifted though he may have been.
On the Road is brilliant and I love it. But really, how that pot-bellied drunk ever made it into my Ansel Adams coffee table book is a mystery.
I'm not doing any serious races this year. Serious races are those which, for example, qualify one for even more serious races. Serious races affect one's ranking status, or confer a title. These races cause one to worry about the quality of one's taper. Am I resting hard enough, or should I put more effort into it?
Nope. Not doing those this year. Next year, when I age up, I'll do serious races. This year it's the opposite. And what is that? I don't want to call them fun races because that means serious races are unfun, and they aren't, necessarily.
I'll use the word whimsical to describe them. My first whimsical race this season was Wildflower Triathlon, and it was because of the camping. You' can't take any race seriously at which you sleep the night before on the ground in a bag.
My second race of the year is this weekend, the Big Bear Triathlon at Big Bear Lake, which is at 6000' above sea level overlooking the smog of L.A. The only thing serious about this race is when you have to descend back into L.A.
This race is whimsical because of all the fun people who go there and do it, and because the fine people at Syntace own and pour their little hearts into it. If you knew the Syntacers you'd know they're pretty anal. Everything they make must be perfect, and that extends to this race. It'll be expertly run, and lots of very expensive Shimano wheels and cranks, and Reynolds forks, and electronics equipment from Best Buy, and stuff like that will be given away. There'll be good post-race food, a good expo, and 500 people will all agree when it's over (as they did last year) that this is the best-kept secret in all Southern California racing.
I have one more race on my whimsical calendar, in November, and that is the Catalina Triathlon. You can't take seriously any race in which you hurl into the blue Pacific during a ninety-minute boat ride the day before the start.
Back to Big Bear, though. If you live in Socal and have nothing to do, drive up for this race. It's still open. You won't qualify for anything, except the ability to have a rockin' good time.
Branding. I just wrote an entire weeklong series about the World Triathlon Corporation, which is a company dedicated to branding.
I’m going to coin a new term. Overbranding. This is to branding what overlawyering is to prudent legal work. The equity trader’s equivalent is churning. Too much of a good thing. A good thing turned bad.
I’m really worked up.
What happened was, last week I went to the market and bought $20 worth of fruit. Peaches, plumsyou just can’t find a decent plum nowadaysand nectarines. Every last piece had a sticker on it. Some had two stickers. CALIFORNIA FRUIT.
Me, I guess I’m picky, but I don’t like stickers on my fruit. When I tear the sticker offwhich to begin with I don’t think I should have to doI can only assume that there is adhesive still on the fruit. I don’t want glue on my fruit. If I wanted that, I’d get some really good tasting glue, like Elmers, and I’d pour that on my fruit. Maybe some chocolate ice cream, sliced nectarines, and a little white Elmers on top.
One beautiful thing about running and cycling is that the more I do it, the better I want to eat. After awhile I even get to the point where I consider energy bars junk food. A good piece of fruit, that’s what God intended.
Am I overreacting? Sure. But when you multiply all the peaches times one sticker each, that’s a lot of stickers, and they just ought not to be on all that fruit. I figure I’ll eat close to a thousand pieces of fruit in a year, and that’s a thousand stickers I’ll have to peel off. Let’s say that’s 10 pieces of fruit a minute I’ve got to de-sticker, times 60 minutes, that’s close to 90 minutes of fruit de-stickering a year. That means I’ll do one less long run this year, just because I’ve got to de-sticker fruit.
You better not be the guy who made the decision to overbrand California fruit. You made me miss my run
THERE IS NO SYSTEM
My mother remarried, and we moved to Lake Tahoe when I was 15 years old. I started my gambling habit at 16. I ended it at 16 and a half.
I worked as a busboy at a steak house right next door to Harrah's club. The restaurant was the first building inside California, and when you stepped over the state line, there was Harrah's, ready for you.
I got off at midnight, six nights a week, and promptly took my tip money$5 on a decent nightover to Harrah's. I liked the 21 tables, but I had to keep my mouth shut because I had braces on my teeth. Thirty seconds after I opened my mouth security would have me out the door. So I whispered "hit me" between pursed lips.
Less exciting but more cerebral were the wee hours spent in the coffee shop with my restaurant's chief cook, and older black fellow who perfectly fit my stereotype of what a mentor should be. We'd talk politics, religion, and systems for winning at the tables. And I played keno. I preferred keno because it took me longer to lose all my money, and you could play it in the coffee shop.
A Keno machine features a lot of numbered ping-pong balls that get sucked up into a tube and if you've guessed which balls are going to get sucked up then you win a million dollars, or several hundred thousand, or several hundred, or ten, or five, or no dollars. I won no dollars, and win this amount consistently.
I never actually won a game of keno. I won at keno when I wasn't betting. Just not when I bet.
The cook grew weary of my keno habit and told me one day, "There is no system to sucking balls." Hard words, but true as it turned out.
It is now 2001almost 30 years laterand "there is no system to sucking balls" has become a private mantra of mine (private until now). Whatever success I've earned in this life can be traced back, at least in part, to "there is no system to sucking balls."
My life has been a continuum of working and wagering. While many of my life's wagers have panned out, the longer I live the more I rely on work and the less on wager. Also, as I age, I more firmly and deeply understand that There is no system to sucking balls. Perhaps there is a relationship there.
Three days ago I looked in the mirror. My body looked OK to me. Then I looked straight down and my stomach, from that vantage point, looked not unlike Jackie Gleason's. I resolved to renewagainmy attack on my final 15 pounds. I thought about a plan. Then I remembered that there is no system to sucking balls, and realized I was just going to have to eat less, eat better, and train more regularly.
FURTHER UP AND FURTHER IN
Our Wednesday riding group frequently drops into De Luz Canyon. It's not a canyon per se, but a set of canyons divided by Fitness Opportunities.
De Luz Canyon is way off the beaten track. It might encompass 200 or so square miles, half of which are on the northern edge of San Diego County, the rest spilling into Riverside County, yet I'd be surprised if 1 out of 50 San Diegans have heard of it. But then I heard on yesterday's news that 1 in 5 Americans couldn't name the country from which America declared its independence, so I guess a failure to identify De Luz is apropos of nothing.
Road builders in De Luz were in a hurry or on a budget. Why cut three switchbacks for an 8 percent grade when you can just pave straight up and over a 24 percent grade? Hard to argue with that.
You know you're looking at a steep grade in De Luz when you can see, approaching the hill, a line of concrete poop up the incline. The streets are made of asphalt. But when cement trucks climb hills with grades of more than, say, 20 percent, the contents start to dribble out the back. Hence, concrete poop.
There is a maze of tiny, winding roads in De Luz Canyon that droops over the hills like a clock in a Dali painting. Even the cyclists who do ride here are only, as a rule, aware of one or two of them. You go in one end of De Luz and out the other. No loitering. There are no stores, no places to refill with water, no telephones, it's easy to get hopelessly lost, and it gets Africa hot in the summer. You could enter this canyon and never get out, like a spider in a dry bathtub.
But our little Wednesday group keeps going back there. And now I'm going back there on weekends with Pete, one of the Wednesday group's riders. And now we're getting weird about it. We don't just ride there, we're now looking for the steepest and longest Fitness Opportunities in De Luz.
This sort of thing has happened to me before. When I start to get fit, and if I'm around somebody else who's like-minded, well, there's a dynamic that occurs among people born with a certain type of wiring. It's not unlike, I supposealthough I do not knowwhat goes on with people who are into bondage and discipline. There's a pleasure gained through the ability to withstand pain and hold up to a workload that would be considered unusually high to others in your circle.
Not just a pleasure, but a satisfaction. It's hard to explain or describe, and there ought to be a word for it, because it's not akin to any other emotion or state of mind with which I'm familiar. It's like a shit-eating grin of the soul. That's the best I can come up with.
Take Pete, for example. A very durable guy. He's a little fellow, like Pantani. And, like Il Pirata, Pete can really climb. There are some differences. Pete is almost twice as old (but he has a full head of hair). He's Il Prorata: He'll dole you out your fair share of pain. And now our habits have taken a destructive turn. One of us dare not mention a particularly bad route"dare" being the functional wordas the other cannot appear to back down. We've therefore taken some routes lately that would've just plain frightened me six months ago.
Thing is, as I said, I recognize this. The most vibrant time of my life, athletically speaking, was while in high school. This was just what it was like. I was at the peak of my physical ability then, and these sorts of friendly dares and rivalries were always what put me over the top. They made all the difference.
One thing I've noticed in all this. I recognize who it is I'm gunning for in my return to fitness. I've begun to recognize my competition. It's not Pete. Nor is it the others in my age-group. It's the "me" of the other times in my life. Can I approach my old capacity for performance in triathlon's three disciplines?
I don't know if that is good, or possible, or healthy. I haven't reached my old levels of competence in any of the three activities yet. But it doesn't bother me that I haven't, and it gives me hope when I dream that I can. As I lay my head on my pillow at night and think about what I did with my 44-year-old body-under-reconstruction, I get the twin satisfaction of a job well-done and a trick well-played.
A COURSE MADE FOR TINLEY
Jim Curlfounder and owner of the U.S. Triathlon Series, the only game worth playing in the '80stells the story of USTS Atlanta in (what year was it?) perhaps '85. Curl had a local race director heading up the event, and when the traveling show rolled into town and Curl went out to inspect the swim course the morning of the race, he found the lake embedded in a thick fog. He was assured, though, that the course had been well-marked with buoys.
Eventually, not long before the start, the fog lifted. Buoys there were, but not many.
"Where are the rest of of the buoys?" Curl asked.
"That's all of them," came the answer.
"Is that a 1,500-meter swim you've got out there?"
"How big do you think a meter is?" Curl countered, still grasping for an understanding of what he saw out on the lake.
"It's about equal to a foot, isn't it?"
"Scott Tinley was watching all this," said Curl. "He just about leaped out of his pants when he heard that."
Tinley, it should be noted, was the good friend and, of course, arch-rival of Scott Molina at this time. Molina, not to mention Mark Allen, Dave Scott, and just about every other top pro on the circuit, was a much better swimmer than Tinley. But you just couldn't hardly beat Tinley in the run. This would be Tinley's race.
The old USTS Atlanta course is what we've got in Lake Placid this weekend (as of this writing), according to this morning's announcement. You've got a swim of 1,500 feet. Why? Because race organizers are afraid the country's best age-groupers will get cold going downhill on their bikes. They've made wetsuits mandatory, but they haven't thought of making clothing mandatory.
I've got news for USA Triathlon. This is a sport in which risks are taken. They are freely taken. They are gladly taken. This is a sport of challenges, and risk is the flip side of challenge.
I'm reminded of religious men who try to remove us from the unpleasantness of doubt. Finding archaeological evidence of Jesus' tomb, or remnants of wood from Noah's Ark, in an effort to bolster our evidentiary data in what we might believe, misses the point. Doubt is the flip side of faith. Without doubt there is no such thing as faith. "Doubt," wrote popular theologian and novelist Frederick Buechner, "is the ants in the pants of faith."
So is risk the ants in the pants of challenge. Tinley liked the short swim because it gave him a competitive advantage. But he can't be liking the removal of a challenge in order to remove the risk.
Yes, we ought to be apprised of the risk before us. And yes, unreasonable risks ought to be avoided. But we can't take away the part of the course that might be a hazard to the least fit or able among us. We ought not, as Mark Montgomery put it, to "wimp down the sport." That is the biggest risk our sport is taking this weekend.
DODGED A BULLET... MAYBE
The Good Book says God created the heavens and the earth in six days, and then rested on the seventh. I, on the other hand, rested six days, and then commenced trying to create somethinglike a bit of fitness. When you read Genesis it sure seems like God was on a schedule and kept to it. My two-week schedule all fell to hell four days after I started it.
But, I'm back in the saddle, so to speak, and have three days of solid workouts behind me in that period which ought to be the beginning of my taper. Oh, whatever. I've been tapering for a decade. I'll taper later.
I consider myself lucky, if I actually shook off this bout of illness, because this nasty bug has occasionally stuck around inside me for weeks and weeks.
I got my tri bike off the rafters, blew the dust off, and rode it about 15 miles on Tuesday, just to make sure it was working properly (and to adjust a new-fangled thingy I had Ves Mandaric make for me). Then I went out and rode it pretty hard for 65 miles the next day. I rode over hill and dale, yon and hither, and it's now Friday and I haven't sat on it since. I'll ride tomorrow, and I just hope my tender spots aren't any tenderer for the experience. We'll see. Riding with a flat back in the aero position is no big deal to me. My back doesn't get sore. It's that other spot.
I still have a little bit of a sore throat. I don't know what's up with that. Just one particular spot, where one of my nostrils hooks into my throatI can't see back that far in the mirror, but that's what it feels like. I always figure it's viral, because I'm not hurling big hunks of yellow stuff, so the doctor will refuse to give me antibiotics. So why even go to the doctor? I'm just setting myself up for disappointment.
I really don't like swimming in the morning. Let me put it another way. I've got no problem swimming at 11:30 in the morning. But 6:30 in the morning is not the time God intended for man to swim. It is an unnatural act to strip all one's clothes almost entirely off and jump into reasonably cold water at the crack of dawn.
And to think I gave up this lifestyle for more than ten years. What was I thinking?
I'm writing this with scrunched-up pieces of toilet paper littering my work area, bottles of echinacia and other worthless herbal remedies sitting (mockingly, judgmentally) next to me, and with a couple of grams, more or less, of Tylenol running around inside me, playfully fooling me into thinking my symptoms are on the wane.
I should be out riding my bike 75 or so miles today, in my better-late-than-never attempt at achieving Wildflower semi-readiness. Instead I'm sitting here at home exhibiting bad symptoms, where I've been sitting since Tuesday after one workout too many.
I've just put up a new installment of The Long Run from our newest columnist, Greg Hitchcock. It comes only two days after his original piece. Usually I spread these out a little. But I thought it apropos, since his theme in Give me a ticket for an airplane is topical in a way I can appreciate.
I have some bug running around inside me. I've been getting sick two or three times a year for the past three years, and it's the same sickness. I don't know what it is, but it's something my doctor hasn't identified, but that I'm sure is always lurking, waiting for an opportunity. Like malaria (but not).
It's not into my chest yet. It usually ends up there, where it sticks around for a couple-three weeks. Perhaps the Gods will take pity this time.
Regardless of the fact that many or most of you are prone to say and maybe even believe this, things do nothappen for a reason. Things just happen, and you make the best of them. In that spirit I confess that this is not an unredeemable occurance. I watched a great Wallace Beery western this morning.
I'm entered in the Wildflower half-Ironman. This will be the first time I've done a triathlon in twelve or so years, andwith a bit less than three weeks to goI'm shockingly unprepared. As I analyzed my predicament day before yesterday I thought it best that I buckle down and do some training.
At least I'm not the hippo I was A couple of years ago. At that point I weighed in at a svelt 200 pounds and when I went out on the bike with my wife I had to walk up the hills. Now I'm down to 175 or so, with about ten more to lose. I started running a month or six weeks ago, and tomorrow I start my fourth week of swimming.
Finishing is not an issue. I can get through it. I've done a couple rides in the 100-mile range over the past year, and a lot of seventies and eighties. My body has enough memory to get through the swim and the bike. My problem is that my brain has a memory too, and it remembers my body doing all three sports at a much faster clip than now.
I must face the fact I am exactly 15% slower in the pool than I once was, I'm riding three miles-per -hour too slow, and I'm running 45 seconds-per-mile too slow. But I'm not worried. I've still got two good weeks of land-based training before I have to taper, and I've got a plan.
I figure over the next sixteen daystwo weeks and three weekends (counting this past weekend)I've got to get 500 riding miles and 100 running miles in. That oughta do the trick. It won't make up all the ground I've lost, but it might lift me into the realm of respectability. I'm not harboring any dreams of competing in my age-group, but I do have one or two side-bets going. And there's the smack my wife is talking. There is an issue of honor.
I started off my 16 days with pair of bricks this past weekend. I hadn't done any bricks so far this year, and thought it best I start remembering that (unique) feeling of running off the bike. I chose hilly terrain for my weekend bricks, which was an easy choice because that's the only terrain around here. It's actually hillierboth running and ridingthan the actual Wildflower course (which is good, because I don't want to be surprised by an extra serving of topographical difficulty during the race).
On Saturday I rode 38 miles at just below race effort (for a half-IM), followed by an eight-mile run. It all went pretty well. I did the run at or close to race pace, and was comfortable. On Sunday I rode 32 miles somewhat faster than race effort followed by five very tired, very slow miles. One thing about bricksyou know you're always going to feel bad in the early part of the run. If your legs don't come 'round by the two-mile mark, though, you're in for a long day.
The hard truth is, a 3 mile-per-hour deficit on the bike is a lot to make up in two weeks. Not to worry, though. I'll make up some ground through equipment. I'm still training on my road race bike, and I suspect my tri bike, race wheels, and a few extra pounds of tire pressurealong with the buzz of the race environmentwill get me one mile-an-hour. 500 more training milesand the accompanying weight lossmight get me another mile-an-hour. For that last bit of speed I'm going to have to break out the Computrainer. These are hard workouts. Nasty workouts. Grinding out high-cadence repeats at 350 watts. I really don't want to do these, but I see no other option.
The run is a little more complicated, because I've got a pair of lame knees. They complain a lot, and I can't seem to get them to go past 8 miles. The fitness is there, but not the cartilage, apparently. I tried a pair of those strap-on bands you put just below your patellas yesterday. It seemed to help one knee, but not the other. So I'm going to start taking glucosamine. Unfortunately, the only glucosamine we currently have is what we feed the dogs. Hmm, maybe I'll sprinkle some on my eggs. What can happen?
The swim is not a problem. I figure I'll swim 4 or 5 times a week for the next two weeks, and then when I start my taper I'll just live in the pool for a few days. I can swim during my taper and still give my riding and running muscles a rest.
So that's my plan. Unrealistically hopeful, perhaps, but hope is what keeps us going. Besides, if none of this goes the way I've orchestrated, I have a fallback plan: public humiliation. I'll take solace in ridiculous platitudes like "Everything happens for a reason," and, somehow, the whole experience will become balm for my soul.
As regular Slowtwitch readers know, our editorial staff consists of folks who all exhibit considerable personal transparencymaybe to the point of occasional discomfort (yours, not ours).
Many of you know, therefore, that I am engaged in a personal journey toward that place of fitness I remember with fondnessa place I'd not visited in so long I barely remember it at all. During this journey I have passed, and am passing, certain landmarks I recognize and embrace. I revisited the pool for the first time a few weeks ago. I did a 5k footrace last weekend. My USAT card showed up in the mail yesterday.
I revisited another long lost landmark yesterday.
We don't have a scale in our house. I want one of those hanging around like I want a live-in IRS agent. I'm all for truth-telling. Abelard's "Dear is Aristotle, dearer still the truth," is a statement I'm fond of remembering, and even fonder of helping others remember. There's the cold, hard truth, though, and then there's the mean, vicious truth. The former I embrace, the latter is just too much for me. A bathroom scale represents the latter. Call me a fat, old, hairy bore. That's water off a duck's back to me. Please just don't tell me how much I weigh.
One must have a measuring stick just the same. So I keep around the old jeans. I've got jeans from 15 years ago. My wife wonders why I don't clean out the closet that contains the Empfield relics. Like my letterman's jackets. Throw those away? Yeah, I'm so sure. They're like finisher's T-shirts, and finishing high school was a lot harder than finishing the Ironman. I've got suits in there with shiny bellbottom pants. I've had them this long, may as well keep them in the off chance they'll return to style.
Actually, the real reason I keep all these old clothes is they represent a former, smaller me. Every now and then I sneak into this closet andwith the secrecy of a guy squeezing on his wife's undergarmentsI try these old clothes on.
Then there's the jeans. These are the most prized, because I can actuallytheoretically, if I could ever fit into themwear these on the street without fear of being fashion-challenged. Levi 501 shrink-to-fit jeans will never go out of style. I've got jeans in all stages of my metamorphosis, like the ape-to-man evolutionary chart. I've got the fat jeans, the reasonably fat jeans, the somewhat overwight jeans, the barely-over jeans, and my prizethe skinny jeans. Theseor duplicates of this same sizeI wore 25 years ago. Whereas a bathroom scale represents failure, these represent hope.
I tried them on yesterday. For the first time in 12 years, they fit. Well, perhaps "fit" isn't the best word. They fit me like a Beverly Hills divorcee shoehorns into her jeans for a waltz down Rodeo Drive. But, hey, I buttoned them up all the way, and I could actually wear these outside, push comes to shove.
This puts me to within perhaps single digits of the goalhigh single digits. But that beats the heck out of my starting point, which was deeplyand I do mean deeplyinto double digits from the goal.
I am bound and determined to drive into the Wildflower wearing these jeans. Hey, I may even race in them.