Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What's the frequency, Kenneth?

Last Saturday

Since I have my big “A” race tomorrow (the Wauconda Sprint Triathlon), I’m heavy into taper mode, and thus only plan to ride 60 or so miles today. Starting in Delavan, WI, making my way to Sharon, then back to Delavan. My rides all wind up in Sharon these days, and that’s deliberate – it’s because when I first started doing really long rides a couple of years ago, somehow I’d always wind up in the town of Sharon, the township of Sharon, the county, etc. Everywhere I looked, signs for Sharon. So now I figure, why mess with fate? If all roads lead there anyway, just accept it and act accordingly.

Oddly enough, my ride there is uneventful – even though I yet again wonder what it is about Wisconsin road-layers that they’re incapable of putting down roads without constant jarring seams.

Wisconsin Road-Layer #1: Ayup, woudja hand me that thermos right there, Fred? Wanna take myself a drink of scalding hot coffee while we’re trying to lay this pavement here.
WRL #2: Sure, here ya go Stan, but be careful, it’s scalding hot.
WRL #1: Ayup, I got it, just need a sip or tw.....ayeeeeeeeeeee! Da-yum, that’s some hot coffee there! (Stan jumps up, knocking into the pavement-laying knob, causing a temporary halt in the flow of tar.)
WRL #2: Stan, lookee what you done there now. Another one of them gaps in the road.
WRL #1: Da-yum, I better try not to do that again, though heck, who’ll notice? Say, couldja hand me that there thermos?

And so on.

I make it to Sharon without incident, and make my way to the new Sweet Shop, which has replaced the coffee shop of yore. I had assumed that the “sweets” in Sweet Shop referred to candy, so I’m prepared to just have coffee. Instead, what’s this? Homemade donuts?? Yes, the sweets are in fact pastries of all sorts – donuts, turnovers, brownies even. Normally I wouldn’t even think of having a donut – well, outside of a training ride or race, that is – but I’m tapering, so that basically means that donuts aren’t just acceptable, they’re required. As I sit outside on the little bench having my chocolate donut and Pepsi, I think of how great it is that I really don’t have to train for anything, and can just goof around like this. I mean, training other than for the super-important A-race that is the Wauconda Sprint. Yeah, other than that.

I wander back in to get a coke for my aerodrink for my ride back (a girl needs her caffeine), and make the sort-of mistake of telling the storeowner (she who makes the donuts) what a great little shop she has, and asking if she’s going to sell different things in the winter. Half an hour later, I walk out, now knowing the woman’s history and background (she grew up in Alaska, in a military family), and her entire business plan (pumpkin bars and breads in the fall, fudge in the winter, and she’s adding to the lunch menu, with real Chicago-style hot dogs and Henny Penny broasted chicken). Those Wisconsinites can be a chatty bunch. I head back to Delavan, lamenting the lack of adventure on this particular sojourn into Wisconsin. I feel rather let down.

Later Saturday

Deanna has made it up to WI, and so we set off for the Fontana Lobster Boil/Steak Fry where we’ll meet up with ubercool Mike from the tri club, who has a place up in Lake Geneva. But as soon as we get to the park, our eyes are irreparably damaged by the sight of an older woman, probably late 60s, schlumping along towards us wearing a black loose-knit sweater, the type that would be a cover-up for a bathing suit at the beach.....except she’s not wearing that bathing suit underneath it. Nada. Nothing. This vision of undulating flesh, well - I just have to ask – why, WHY, does god let such things happen in this world? Why such cruelty? It’s beyond my understanding.

Later, after we get our lobster, we look around for somewhere to sit, and finally find a table with several spots. A few minutes after we sit down, a guy sitting near us comments on my “Life is crap” t-shirt that I’m wearing, and I explain that it’s kind of an inside joke, since I did indeed crash my bike just like the hapless guy on the shirt. He seems to accept that. Then he starts chatting with us again – to inform us that:

a) He’s the true leader of the free world, Obama is just a figurehead
b) Wisconsin is in cahoots with the Russians
c) You can read all about it if you google “”

Somehow I manage to keep a straight face as he’s telling us all this and more in a very matter-of-fact manner – and my occasional bursts of incredulous laughter, I somehow manage to disguise as enthusiasm. Though of course I have questions.

Him: Obama is out there, but I give the orders.
Me: What kind of orders? What do you mean?
Him: Orders that protect the integrity of the U.S. militarily and otherwise.
Me: But specifically, what kind of orders? Give us an example.
Him: I spoke to North Korea today, and Honduras will be tomorrow.
Me: Yes, but specifically – give us an example of one order you gave yesterday.

He dodges that and then veered off into more details on the whole Wisconsin-Russia thing – apparently Stalin sent his daughter here way back when to settle in Wisconsin and get the ball rolling, and now the whole state is just a beehive of foment and subversive activity. Especially the areas around Dodgeville. My beloved Dodgeville? What about.......Sharon??

Me: Wait. ALL of Wisconsin is aligned with the Russians? What about the town of Sharon? Don’t tell me one of my favorite little towns is just a sleeper cell of Russian activity?!
Him, looking pensive: Sharon, hmm.....
Me: Don’t tell me it’s all just a big cover! Sucking us in with pastries, as they sell our secrets to the Russians!
Him: Actually, there are a lot of good-hearted people in Sharon. They’ve managed to stay out of things – that town has a very Norman Rockwell aura to it.
Me: Whew!
Him: But then there’s the town that refers to itself as Stailna, to honor Stalin.....

And so it went. At one point he pulled out an “official document” – no, really, that’s what it said on the top of this poorly mimeographed sheet of paper, from the “Dept. of the Air Force”. That was his proof that he truly was a government emissary – the one in charge, so to speak. I did make one mistake, and that was when I looked over to see what Deanna was tapping on her iPhone to post on Facebook: “Deanna is sitting next to a crazy person at the lobster boil. I am sure Tasha will explain him on the blog. He thinks Wisconsin is controlled by the Russians.”

Thank god that as I burst into uncontrollable laughter, “Jack Pickens” (his name according to his many websites that you find if you do indeed google – one of his satellite websites being – and then there are the 8 pages of his rantings on another site) is chatting with the people sitting next to us and doesn’t notice. Whew! I just don’t relish trying to explain to someone who thinks he’s the most rational person in the world why exactly we’re laughing at basically everything he’s saying. Especially since he’s also brought in 9/11 and its connection to the Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin’s history of eating people (Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer), the people working for him who have psychic abilities, his Corvette and other untold riches, etc.

Luckily, he soon decides it’s time to move on, and as he does, he wishes us well and tells me to “make sure (I) use my magical powers.” Hey, how did HE know about those? Then I chat with the Wisconsinites sitting next to us – turns out that good ol’ Jack is a bit of a legend in his own time – or at least around there. Has always been odd, but is in fact rich, having inherited a lot of money, and does have a Corvette that he likes to park by the Starbucks in Lake Geneva and polish up. Okay then. As we walk away, I jokingly say “Dosvidanya!” to the Wisconsinites......and get a chipper but perfectly pronounced “dosvidanya” from one of them in return. Speaking Russian, here? Hmm. And is it a mere coincidence that the colors for the U. of Wisconsin are.......bright red? Hmm.......

As we're walking off, I look at Deanna and Mike and note the following: "See, and everyone always thinks I just MSU on the blog. Now you've seen for yourself - I don't have to."

Yeah, they have pretty much no rebuttal, as we're all collectively shaking our heads. At least I can say this about Wisconsin: it never disappoints.


About the Wauconda Tri, two things that bear mentioning:

a) A race is starting waaaay too early (6:30 in this case) if you’re taking the dogs out when it’s still dark out, and they’re both yawning. Repeatedly.

b) When you’re out on your rides and you keep having problems with your wheel rubbing against your brake, it’s probably best to do something other than thunk the wheel against the ground a couple of times and pronounce it “fine.” Though, I do appreciate the unexpected challenge of doing the entire bike portion of a race with said brake rubbing against said wheel. I’m just sayin.’

As is always the case post-race, drinks were in order.

Health update: A quick note to dispel the impression that I’m a complete and total dumbass all the time – I do have an appointment with a doctor to figure out this cyst thing, yay! Many many thanks to Susan S., who put in a call to her fellow doctor to have her squeeze me in, because she was the one booked until December. And that doctor then called me, and she sounded very nice, so whew, at least there’s progress. As we say in Russia, za zdorovye!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Trouble been doggin' my soul

Well-meaning friends keep asking me how things are going in CystLand, i.e. when I’m going to do something about it, etc., and the honest truth is this: I haven’t done jack shit. Not sure when I will. Oh, I mean to, and I started out well, by getting the names of different surgeons to contact, for example. I’d add to that list of Things Done, except that I haven’t done anything else. Maybe it’s because I have no delusions about what a fucking pain in the ass this is going to be – attempting to get my records from this doc, getting them to that doc, trying to make the necessary appointments, and oh yes, then dealing with the new onslaught of bills-to-be-denied-by-BCBS, which is a whole other story and/or posting. Seriously, how can what they do NOT be termed outright fraud? Could someone explain this to me?

Anyway, so I’ve gone blithely about on my merry little way, secure in my “it’s just a cyst” attitude, even though after doing some research I’ve discovered that hey, that tumor markers test (which was normal) is basically useless! It’s true. It’s only about 50% accurate to begin with, less so for pre-menopausal women (i.e. me), and oh yeah, most doctors don’t even recommend it as a diagnostic because it’s useless for detecting early stage stuff. So the way I look at it – to paraphrase Rod Blagojevich – I see it as “basically an up.” Because even if it IS cancer, chances are that it’s in an early stage, so I can rest easy. Or something.

In the meantime, I know that one of the lovely side effects of FatSurly (aka Tamoxifen) is that it causes bone density loss in premenopausal women. Why do I know this? Oh, that’s because I’ve done plenty of RESEARCH up the wazoo to figure this stuff out, because either my doctors don’t know, or they just put it out of their heads since they don’t treat many young women with breast cancer. Gee, I wonder why not – with all 11,000 or so of us women 40 and under newly diagnosed each year. And who cares if these medications they give us will cause our bones to snap like twigs in short order. Why would THAT be a problem?

Where was I – oh yeah, so while my cancer doctors didn’t suggest this, the cyst-finding doctor did, a bone density exam, that is. Okay, she didn’t say I should get it, but she mentioned it and I latched onto it, saying yeah, I think that’s something I need. Because I really should know how much FatSurly is affecting my bones, as a baseline measurement, right? I mean, duh.

This morning at the Bone Density Testing place

Bone density testing woman: Why are we testing someone as young as you?
Me: Well, I’m on Tamoxife....
BDTW: Oh, say no more, I get it.

(later, after a machine whirs over my spine and hips...)

BDTW: And we get the results right away, though I’m sure your doctor will call you to discuss them.
Me: So how are things looking?
BDTW: Your spine looks totally fine, and your hip/femoral bones.....oh.
Me: “Oh”? NOW what??
BDTW: Well, those look kind of.....borderline.


I look over her shoulder at the computer, and I can see the numbers, and the fact that the right hip is at a -1. Now, normal bone density scores are between a 2 and a -1, with the higher number being better. And low bone density is from -1 to -2 or thereabouts. So there I am, smack dab on the edge. And I’ve only been on FatSurly for 6 months. This is of course fantastic – because nothing says “Hey, am I a babe or what??” like needing a hip replacement before the age of 45.

At this point, I feel like people must be thinking – wait a minute, she’s just MSUing, aka Making Shit Up. Because really, how much bad luck can one person have? Oh, and did I mention that I almost got flattened by a bus the other day? Yes, it’s true. There I was foolishly trying to cross a city street, and this bus used its turn signal (which should have been enough to make me suspicious right there) to show it was going to pull over – or so I thought – at which point I started crossing.....and the bus kept barreling on through. Yeah, I think heart issues are next on the agenda, because I’m still feeling the aftereffects of that one.

Anyway, the path before me is obvious, of course, and I know the steps I need to take, tough as it’ll be. Yes, it’s clear that I need to transition into an all-ice-cream diet, to add to the smoking and drinking. Hey, people, it’s not like I’m just making this stuff up as I go along, no sirree. There is pure science behind this. Healthy bones need calcium, and what is ice cream if not highly concentrated/dense calcium in an efficiently compact delivery mechanism?? Why else would it be so thick?

And I’m just glad that I have my friends around me to uplift my spirits, as always. For example, on the smoking front, I’m happy to report that I’ve received much support from fans and friends for my endeavors, with notes pouring in from far and wide. In addition to those who’ve suggested I take up chewing tobacco, I’ve also received the following:

Encouragement and wisdom:

Missy: I don't get this doctor, why is she always trying to find stuff wrong with you? I think she's jealous cuz she can't swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and then run a marathon.

Julian from England: Tasha, there is a very real message here: Stay the hell out of Dodge. Er, I mean stay out of Wisconsin!

I mean it's like those horror movies when they always go back into the dark room after someone disappears or screams are heard. You just stay out of WI, young lady.

Helpful suggestions:

George from Canada: BTW does Salome come with a carbon ashtray? I guess you could put it on the top tube right next to the Bento Box, or maybe Bento makes some super light ashtray/BentoBox?

T-Odd: My grandma used walk through the Piggly Wiggly chain smoking the whole time with a little bean bag ashtray sitting in the seat of the cart. I KNOW you can figure out a way to smoke and ride. And think of all the donuts you can eat now - even more than you do already, right?

JoJo: Embrace the vices and go for broke - not just alcohol, and smoking, but fried foods with salt, sugar in abundance, swearing with reckless abandon in the most inappropriate venues, and one of my personal (especially tri-gear, shoes and purses).

And then Bridget stopped by the other day with something I plan to incorporate immediately into my training regimen: a flask. Not just ANY flask, mind you, but a Phat-Surly one. Oh yes. If that isn’t the perfect training tool, well, then someone needs to tell me what is, because I’m at a loss. And my gardening friends, the Tomatoettes – we’re already planning an impromptu get-together, where Ann will bring the harsh 15-year-old Egyptian cigarettes as well as a recipe for Scandinavian milk punch, Mickey’s got the mint for the mojitos covered, CZ will have the apricot kernels and more booze, and I of course will bring the vat of ice cream. And booze. Always with the booze.

How could I possibly have anything to complain about?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Another fucking day in paradise

The day after I get back from IronSpud, I have an appointment to see my oncologist for a routine follow-up. Now, while I know she’d be delighted and impressed with my triathlon exploits, it’s just not like me to brag about those sorts of things – I certainly wouldn’t bring it up myself. If I mention Spud at all, it’ll only be if it gets naturally worked into the conversation. That’s just how I am, low-key and modest.

So I’m waiting in the exam room when in walks Dr. Von Roenn’s assistant or med student or fluffer or whatever you call the person who gathers all the info from you first, relays it to the doctor, so the doc can then walk in and ask you all the same questions. Which I always find a bit odd, but these assistants are always nice as can be, and I figure they’re learning, so it’s fine by me. And there’s continuity, since I see the same ones each time for each doc.

Cynthia: “Hi, I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m Dr. Von Roe...”
Me: “Woo hoo! IRONMAN!!” I proclaim, lifting my hands in the air with the V-for-victory sign. “Oh, were you saying something?”
Cynthia: “You....what? Seriously?”

We talk and she’s duly impressed, almost out of proportion, telling me that I’m her “hero” and all that, so that makes me clam up, since where’s the fun in that kind of hero worship when it’s coming from other people? At least until Dr. Von Roenn walks into the room.

DVR: “So I hear you did an Ironman?!”
Me, modest as always: “Yeah, I’m a rock star...”

And then last week I went to see the wonderful Dr. Jeruss, and I get the wide-eyed you’re-a-star treatment from Ethan, her fluffer, as well as Dr. Jeruss herself who is so bright and cheerful and congratulatory that she makes me feel silly for being pessimistic about any of this crap, conveying as she does the attitude that it’s all over and done with. Well, plus SHE tells me how awesome I am, so now I’m really getting full of myself.

Then today I have a final followup appointment, where they’re going to also do an ultrasound to check on an ovarian cyst to make sure it hasn’t grown or done anything weird since the last visit. They do the test, and then I wait in the exam room for Dr. Ehrlich to come in, to hear the usual comments about how wonderful I am.

Dr. Ehrlich, bustling in, speaking with no preamble or any of the other bullshit niceties we’re all accustomed to: “Your tests aren’t good – we have a problem.”


Yes, that pesky cyst has more than doubled in size – and here we’re not talking 1mm to 2mm, but from 2cm to 5cm, so she says it needs to be surgically removed to make sure it's not, you know, cancer. SHIT! WTF! I thought I was DONE with this surgery crap, dammit, other than the boob job (the Rackotomy?) that is. Then she starts talking about ovary removal, and the CA-125 test (she’s starting to explain to me what that is, when I interrupt her: “The tumor markers test.” “Yes.” I want to tell her that there’s no one who knows more about that stuff than your average younger cancer patient.), which basically does tell you how many cancer cells you have teeming through your bloodstream. Like I actually want to know that. I mean I do. But I don’t. I thought I did, but now I’m not so sure. Maybe ignorance is bliss.

So I walk out of there after making my subsequent appointments, and as I go off on my merry way, I’m getting more and more pissed off and surly. Sure, it’s probably just a benign cyst, but that’s what the lump was supposed to be, and we all know how THAT turned out.

And in addition to getting pissed off, one of the first other thoughts to enter my head was this: no matter what, I am determined, determined dammit, as god is my witness, I WILL take up smoking! And succeed at it! No, really - I need SOME kind of vice to make this all a bit more palatable, in my view. I mean, this is ridiculous, every time answering their questions the same way: “No, I don’t smoke, never have, don’t really drink, I work out a lot, blah blah blah.” Whatever! Enough!

So smoking it is, and I’m going to start drinking heavily, and instead of salmon and blueberries for dinner, it’s going to be all........corndogs from now on, yeah, that’s it. Corndogs wrapped in bacon! And fuck the exercise! Well, except for the fact that I love riding my bike for hours on end. Hmm. Okay, a compromise – I’m giving up....swimming! Yeah, that’s it. That shouldn’t be too tough, quite frankly. And...and....okay, that’s all I can think of. For now. Suggestions welcome.

With newfound resolve, on my way to pick up Richie, the Dobe I’m watching for the next week, I stop at the Jewel, once I finally find one. I guess people in Skokie and Evanston only need delis, to get something to nosh on once in a while. The grocery store I do find, well, remember Billy Crystal playing a verklempt Jewish old man? It’s that in spades. Average age of 80, these little old Jewish people there to socialize on a Friday afternoon. Not that I’m in a hurry, but it’s still a bit ridiculous. And everywhere you look, not just kosher food, but entire kosher sections. I ask you, how do mashed potatoes, for example, get to be kosher? They don’t tolerate any bloodletting when they dig the potatoes out of the ground? What’s the deal? And WHY exactly does this Jewel not have sour mix for my cocktails??

And then there’s the checkout – and here, let’s just say it upfront – I will clearly burn in hell for the comments I am about to make. But they’re all true. The checkout – it’s like the Saturday Night Live version of Jewish People Go Shopping on the Kibbutz. Every stereotype you can think of, playing out right there in front of me. I’m the third person in line, and I think it takes me half and hour to get through it. Well, 3 ½th person, since the woman in front of me separates her stuff into two parts to be checked out separately, for no discernible reason. EVERYONE around me has coupons. The first person dickers with the checkout girl about the prices on everything. The next person complains about how her groceries are being bagged. I start poking myself in the eye with a dull spoon, because that’s less painful than this, and then when I’m done, bolt out of there, so surly at that point that I almost lay on the horn to a police van that’s driving like an asshat. And yes, I know it’s a police van. But there’s a light, they pull into the left turn lane, then when the light turns green, they don’t turn, but head into the oncoming lanes so they can cut in front of me and then turn right on the next block WITHOUT a turn signal. Asshats. What, the badge takes away your ability to understand the basic rules of the road?

I will note that as I was going about my business, I was wearing my “Fuck Awareness, Find a Cure” t-shirt, similar to my race shirt but made and sold by a young woman on the YSC message boards who has since died. I’m almost willing someone to say something to me, because I have my response ready, to be relayed with a sympathetic smile: “Oh, I’m sorry – you seem to have confused me with someone who gives a shit about what you think.” Alas, nothing. I think they take one look at my face.....and know better.

When I get home, I set about making my amaretto stone sour, the drink du jour (or it will be, as I embrace smoking AND drinking! So there!), sans sour mix. But you know, the lemon drop mix I have in the frig makes a good substitute, and the Tri Club water bottle (which I in general don’t use because it’s made out of the Very Bad Plastic) makes a good drink mixer/shaker. Oh, and did I mention that this past week was my 1-year Cancerversary? Bottoms up!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Shootout at the Eagle, WI corral

Kettle Moraine. The very words conjure up images of dappled roads, dark forests, light breezes on a perfect summer’s day, fish fries, etc. – being that a requisite number of fish fry establishments are required within a certain mile radius in Wisconsin. I believe I did all my camping with the Girl Scouts when I was younger in the Kettle Moraine area. So when Deanna suggested that we head up there to go riding today, for something different, I thought – sure, why not? Some peaceful country roads, communing with nature, getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and even away from the sameness of the roads around Huntley. Off we go.

After parking at the bike store/café at Rt. 12 and H, we start riding. And indeed, it’s lovely. Beyond lovely. There are prairies, woods, few cars, and roads as smooth as butter. A bit hilly, but it’s a nice change of pace.

So we’re rolling into the town of Eagle, WI – eyeing the signs for the “Ice Cream Social” in the park, but alas, it doesn’t start until 1:30, long after we’ll be gone. But it’s that kind of town – quiet, historic, bucolic, serene – as we toodle along on the main road through town to get to our next turnoff. I comment to Deanna on how quiet it is, and she notes that everyone is probably still in church. Well, almost everyone, that is. Because we start to hear yelling, and it’s unclear if this is angry yelling or just people shouting to each other. And there’s a car coming down the road from the opposite direction, and we can see that the passenger’s side door is opening....opening......while the car is still moving, mind you, and oops, looks like the open door might hit that police car parked in the street! Nope, but now......a guy is jumping out of the moving car and starts to cross the street, just a bit in front of us. He knocks on the window of a car that’s going in the same direction we are, and it seems he might know those people and it’s still unclear what’s going on. Are they just goofing around?

Now the guy is walking in front of me across the street to the parking lot of the local fire station, which is right there on the main road. As I slowly go past him, I check out his t-shirt, which has some reference to the Firefighters’ Association on it, and he looks normal enough. Oh, okay. I guess they’re all just being oddly loud and somewhat obnoxious. The guy looks at me, then tosses up his arm in a casual wave to someone behind me.

At which point things really get a bit nutty. Because here there's a slight uphill to a somewhat busy road in front of us, and since I don’t want to lose momentum, I go up the slight hill, check for traffic, and as I’m meandering up the road, I hear Deanna yell “Just get off the road, get out of the way!” Which is the point at which a cop appears, gun drawn, and this guy is rumbling along in a version of Pickup Trucks Gone Wild, as it's headed straight towards me.

To reiterate: there’s the cop, gun drawn, and in his direct line of fire is the renegade truck......and then me and Deanna. And the guy then turns the corner and abandons ship, or truck, as the case may be – a truck that would have plowed me over had I not managed to get out of the way. Meanwhile, I'm watching all this in wide-eyed amazement, while simultaneously realizing that there’s absolutely nowhere to go, to run for cover, since I’m on a gravel shoulder next to a barrier overlooking some kind of ravine. And Deanna isn’t too far away, about 15 feet to my left.

The pickup keeps moving – as I briefly entertain the notion of trying to jump in and stop it, simply because it’s totally unclear what’s going on, and when you see a runaway vehicle, it just seems a bit...unseemly to let it continue on its uncharted course. And the guy is briskly walking – not running, mind you - in the opposite direction of the truck, towards a bar on the corner called (I kid you not) Knuckleheads. Really. I swear. He goes in, and the woman driving the car that he originally jumped out of is bustling up the road yelling “don’t shoot him! Don’t shoot him!” and SHE goes into the bar. As does the cop. At which point we hear a very loud crash – oops, the truck careened down the road, picked up some speed, and smashed into a crossing gate at the railroad tracks, totally taking it out. It suddenly becomes very quiet.

So we stand there. And wait. I’m thinking – maybe they’ll need us as witnesses? But nothing’s happening – no one’s going in or out of the bar, no one else is showing up, except for a few cars now backing up by the railroad tracks. After about 10 minutes, a police car arrives, lights flashing, and that officer goes into the bar. More waiting. Deanna starts to ride off, and as she does, I see 2 guys on their Harleys pull up outside the bar across the street (Knuckleheads, I remind you), so I yell to them and wave them over. “Umm, you probably don’t want to go into that bar just now!” I tell them, and explain what’s happening. My duty to the bikers of the world done, I also leave to join Deanna, since it seems we could be here quite a while, just standing around.

About 25 minutes later, we’re at a 4-way stop sign, a decent distance away from the town of Eagle, when we hear sirens, so we stop and wait. And see first one, then 2 more police cars go flying past, presumably on their way to the town. Later, when we get back to the small parking lot where we started, we chat with another cyclist who was going through that same town after the initial craziness, when everyone was in the bar already, and he said that there were about 8 police cars, while a group of officers wound up dragging the guy out of the bar as he was kicking and screaming – and they wanted to Tazer him, but couldn’t because he kept grabbing onto other people. So at least we know how it ended, kind of, as we were making our way home later and occasionally bursting into incredulous laughter, because the whole thing was But the whole incident does bring to mind the following points:

1. We so could have been killed. Either shot or run over by a renegade truck. In EAGLE, WI, population 1,707. WTH?
2. And my bike crash was in WI. So this begs the question: is Wisconsin trying to kill me? Have I been deficient in my cheese curd purchasing? Is that it?
3. The timing on this is what amazes me. We seriously could not have been more in the thick of things than if we were the ones doing the running. If this were a movie, most people would be scoffing at this – “Oh sure, it’s like in the Wayne’s World movies, how there are always guys carrying a huge glass pane across the street right at the moment the big car chase is going on. Sooooo realistic.” (eye roll)

And of course, the total irony of the situation isn’t lost on me. “Oh, so what got her finally, was it the cancer?” “Well, no, actually. See she went for a bike ride in Wisconsin, and there was a small town shootout, and then a runaway truck.......”

I. Shake. My. Head.

Monday, July 6, 2009

And we'll all float on okay

As I run down the chute, grinning, I slap the hands of all the cheering spectators who are still out there for some reason, and then, wouldn’t you know, YET AGAIN I don’t hear Mike Reilly do his whole “You are an Ironman!” schtick. I swear, that man really has to learn how to not mumble. After getting my pine cone-shaped medal and my $550 hat and t-shirt, I head off to the food/beverage tent, where I find Sean from the Tri Club and a woman who finished just ahead of me (I kept seeing her on the run course) huddled around an electric fire pit. We chat for a bit, hang out, and then limp off to get our stuff – where I find that D! has picked up my bike and transition bags for me. Sweet!! Definite IronSherpa status for that girl.

I get back to the hotel for a race recap with D!, whose other friends finished hours ago, at about noon or so, and I tell her about my various woes, including my POS watch that decided to stop working on me.

Me: Look, see! It just says gobbledyd....oh. That’s weird. It’s working now.

Yep, at some point – likely the moment I finished - it started working normally again. That night, as opposed to post-Madison where I was so amped up that I could barely fall asleep, I sleep like a baby.

Monday, June 22nd

D! has gone to IHOP with Marit and her family for pancakes, but I decide to pack up my stuff, all the while making a mental note to myself to not forget my finisher’s medal, which I had draped over the bedside lamp. I’m a little stiff, but feel pretty good – and, what to me is the key indicator as to whether one did enough training – NO blisters. Ha, so there! After loading up the car, I go to the race site to find my Special Needs Bags, and to marvel at how ugly the IMCDA finishers’ gear is. Too bad, since this race has a nice green/black color scheme, which is really the most important criterion for picking a race.

As I’m walking back to the car, I see someone walking along and wearing their medal, which is odd, but I’m thankful for it. Because it makes me realize –

I forgot my medal in the hotel room.

Thankfully, D! is still there, so I swing back to pick it up, and then hit the road. And here, another word to the wise – just as it’s completely asinine to spend 3 days pre-Ironman driving across the country to the’s equally asinine to finish said race, and then start the drive back. Not that I was sore, but I was exhausted – so after 4 hours of driving, I stop for the night, go into my hotel room, fall asleep immediately for several hours. At which point it’s all of about 8PM, so I watch some news, where I learn about a study that shows that women who get their stomachs stapled are less likely to get cancer (hmm), and go back to sleep. The next day, major caffeine and sugar are the only things that keep me semi-awake on the road. Still alert as to fun places to check out, I almost stop at the “Southern Cooking Emporium” for lunch, but decide against it when I see that it’s attached to the “Happy Endings Casino.” Scary.

I’ve decided to try I-94 this time rather than I-90, hoping there’s less construction, which there is, so while I miss the Wall Drug donuts, I’m making better time. I drive through W. Fargo (slogan: “A city on the grow!”) and Fargo, but still feel the need to see some kind of classic North Dakota town, so I go off the interstate and wind up in one that has a very nice coffee shop, some cool buildings, and general amazement that I've stumbled across their little town.

In the absence of RAs like the Corn Palace, I have no choice but to stop to see some natural wonders, like North Dakota’s own set of Badlands, which are indeed gorgeous. Soon enough I’m in Minnesota, where I find myself forced to take back the slightly harsh things I said on the way out here about how boring MN is. To clarify, SW MN is boring as hell – the central part is beautiful. Maybe I’ll move here? Except the drivers suck – I thought WI was bad, with the “oh, I’ll just mosey along at 50 mph in the lefthand lane, what’s the rush, the cheese will wait” mentality, but apparently it’s a MN affliction as well. Damn, so much for that.

As I’m driving, I finally have a chance to think about something other than numbers. And to think about why this was important to me, because there were a lot of reasons. One, the most obvious, is so that now when people google the words “dumbass people attempting Ironman shortly after cancer treatment” – well, they’ll actually find something. So there’s that. Then there’s the fact that I decided to do this.......because I can. At least right now I can. Because I look at all the amazing women that I’ve gotten to know through message boards or through friends, who’re now dying a slow, painful death. Because that’s what cancer is – there’s no Terms-of-Endearment-esque gentle expiration on one last sigh, with some words of wisdom, or any of that crap. No, it’s breast cancer metastasizing to your bones, so that they break if you so much as move, or moving to your liver, so that your stomach swells up painfully with fluid and then so do your lungs. It’s horrible. And if you’re a young woman with breast cancer, you pretty much’ll be back. It always comes back. So I can’t take it for granted that there’ll be any more Ironman races in my future. And I know that those women in the hospital stuck fighting this fucking disease would trade places with me any day, crappy weather and all, as would I if the situation were reversed, which it may very well be some day. For now, I just wanted some part of my old life back, which I got. Sure, it was the fat, schlumpy version, but at least it was something. And it was great getting there – okay, so I still believe that wind is Satan’s emissary here on earth, and cycling when it’s 32 degrees out is painful....but other than that? Starting my long ride as the sun is rising, feeling like the daily running is finally starting to pay off, and yes, even the exhilarating-but-crazy feeling of a really cold open water swim (it’s true, Deanna!), that’s all pretty cool. So if you don’t like the long-course, early morning stuff or think it’s a chore, why bother? Life is too short to not enjoy what you’re doing, especially for this.

* * * * * * *

You know, with things like this, people talk about the “journey”, about what they learned along the way, about themselves and others, and it’s all very profound and meaningful and all that. Which is great.

But, umm, yeah – that is so not me. Me, I just got pissed off. “Fuck you, cancer,” I thought. “You’re not taking Spud away from me.” And so it was. If I did learn anything along the way, it was this:

- Cancer takes away a lot; don’t let it take away your right to be a total dumbass.
- When driving through South Dakota, never assume that there has to be another gas station “within the next 40 miles.”
- No man is a failure who has friends.

Okay, so I stole that last one from It’s a Wonderful Life, so sue me. But it’s true. Not only all those friends who showed up at my doorstep to take Kona out when I was recovering from cancer/collarbone surgeries, but all the great people I’ve met along the way, some of whom I haven’t even met yet in person, but who I consider true friends. Whose support and encouragement has been just.........unforgettable. I don’t know what word I can use to encapsulate the concept of “without which I couldn’t have done it, wouldn’t have bothered, wouldn’t have had as much fun along the way” – but there it is.

As for the day itself, sometimes you look back at your races and lament what could have been, how things could have worked out differently, the race you could have had, should have had. For me, I’ve realized that a perfect weather day, well, that would have been kind of....boring. Instead of a ho-hum isn’t-that-pretty day, we got one that was almost epic in its absurdity, the kind where the world dares you to cower from it, and asks you if you can hack it. And tells you to prove it. As far as I’m concerned, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

In the end, I can only say this: life is good. was a perfect day to be an Ironman.

These small hours

I set off for the run in the wind and pouring rain, though at least this first part of the run is along the lake, so it’s somewhat protected. It’s an out-and-back along a section where people are partying it up, and then we go through town, through a seemingly endless gauntlet of spectators. It’s amazing how much 2,100 people can be spread out over a course like this, and so there’s plenty of opportunity for spectators to read my name on my bib and shout encouragement – “Great job, Tasha!” “Tasha, looking good!” I can’t stand it. For some reason, it sounds odd to have total strangers saying my name CONSTANTLY…….so as soon as I turn a corner to a quieter section, I turn my bib around.

After town, we wind our way through the CDA neighborhoods, and then, lo and behold, a turn and suddenly we’re back on TFR! Imagine! And since I’m not quite sure how many miles we do on this road, it seems endless. It IS endless. (Note to self: study the course maps a little better next time.) The one bright spot is an older woman standing at the end of her driveway, right before a hill – though it’s redundant to say this, since this section is either uphill or downhill, nothing as silly as a flat section – and shortly before the turnaround, in spite of the fact that she’s standing in the cold and rain, she has a big smile on her face and is applauding all of us. She reminds me of my grandmother, though my grandmother is too practical to do anything like what this lady is doing. So I stop to thank her for her support.

Me: I just have to tell you, you’re a total rockstar, being out here like this, in this weather. Thank you so much.
Her: No, YOU’RE all my heroes, I’m just in awe, you’re so inspiring.
Me: No really, you have no idea how much we appreciate your support. YOU’RE so awesome.
Her: Oh no, I’m happy to be out here, you all just amaze me!

This could get a bit ridiculous. All this time we’ve been shaking hands, so with one last heartfelt shake, I bid her so long, and get moving again.

After I’ve passed the turnaround and am heading back up TFR, I hear someone from behind me – “Way to go, Tasha, good job! But your bib is on backwards.” Now that I have my bib on backwards, I get words of encouragement from other racers, which is fine, as I do the same, and somehow this doesn’t bother me. My response though, to the cute guy in the red shirt who’s just made that comment and is passing me? “Oh, I turned it around because I couldn’t stand anymore to hear people calling my name.” Him, with a laugh: “Well, just don’t forget to turn it back around when you finish for the picture!”

It’s only after he passes me that I realize – shit, that came out kind of rude, and totally not how I intended. So I break into my fastest run yet that day so that I can catch up with him.

Me: Hey, I just realized how rude that sounded – I meant the spectators were driving me crazy, not the racers. Umm, even though I know the spectators mean well.

(Note: could I sound like any more of a dumbass? A churlish, sniveling, ungrateful one at that.)

CGiRS: No worries! I didn’t take it the wrong way at all. Have a great race!

Whew. It’s the little things like that that stick in my head, and it would have bugged me to no end if I hadn’t caught up with him. Now I can rest easy. As I slog through the rest of this 20 or so miles of rain, that is. With nothing to amuse me except....grunting? What the hell is that SOUND? I look back, and coming up is Gastric Bypass Woman – one of the ones on the news, and who was honored at the Athlete’s Dinner for being among those who lost the most weight.

(As an aside, what is it about these gastric bypass people that renders them unable to understand English? The point of the question at the dinner is to see who’s lost the most weight in the LAST YEAR while training for Ironman. Last YEAR, folks, not SINCE THE SURGERY. Which in her case, she implied was last year, so we all wondered how she could train for this. Turns out that the surgery was 6 years ago, as I found out when I looked up her name afterwards, to see how she did and found the articles about her.)

Anyway, she’s grunting like a champ as she runs near me, telling me about her surgery and weight loss and how hard it’s all been – and she’s very nice, so I tell her she’ll be fine, at this pace she’ll definitely finish, etc. But the grunting is going to drive me mad. What is this, tennis??

The second loop brings us back to where transition is, and so those of us out here on the path are dodging those who’ve already finished. Normally this might be a little disheartening, when you still have hours to go and there are people who’re already done, had their pizza, made some origami pine cones just for yucks, picked up their transition bags and are heading home. Today it doesn’t bother me though – they’ve had their race, and I have mine. Besides, they’re still cheering on the people who’re still on the course, offering yet another data point to show that most triathletes, the vast majority, are nice, genuine people –the few assholes definitely do NOT define us as a group, and we shouldn’t let them.

Here is also where Run Special Needs is, so I get the warmer rain jacket that I put in there just in case – which’ll help prevent me from looking like a foil-wrapped baked potato, like most other people still on the course at this point (and I leave GBW behind, with a few words of encouragement) – and I contemplate grabbing the Timbits, but....okay, that’s a lie. I don’t even think seriously about taking them with me – it’s too much to lug along, the weight of my little bag of donuts. The Timbits are there with me in spirit, however – and I’ll note that the one real regret that I have about IronSpud is that the crappy weather prevented me from showing off my special race shirt:

As I’ve been running, I’ve been calculating over and over in my head how much time I have to finish, how fast each mile has to be, how many times I can stop to go to the bathroom, etc. As I’m about to start the second loop, I look at my watch to confirm that it’s about 9PM, and lo, what’s this? “Battery low” is what it says. O…kay. I push a random button to get rid of that display and get back to the time, and now it tells me to push the button to unlock the keys. Which I do. And now my watch reads “Battun lottonss tlock.” In other words, total gibberish. I keep pushing buttons, and pushing buttons – I can NOT have my watch flake on me now – and the damn thing won’t do a damn thing other than show me this garbage. AARGH!! I move on, but now in addition to doing calculations in my head, I keep asking people what time it is, and panic when I hear that it’s later than I thought, rejoice when it’s the opposite, eventually realize that few people understand the need to give me that EXACT time. Some do – “It’s 10:06 on the dot” – and I love those people. The others, well, they tried, and it’s not their fault I now want to take my stupid traitor Polar watch and smash it against a tree.

In spite of the later hour, or perhaps because of it, there’s still a good bit of camaraderie out here. I see a guy puking, offer him some of my medicine (Tums, people, just Tums), ask if he’s okay, and we’re all kind of looking out for each other, which is nice. And necessary, because as we’re on TFR for the second time (4th time overall), it’s pitch black - I seriously can’t see a damn thing, not even the path, so I try to step carefully so that I don’t go tumbling into Lake Coeur D’Alene. At times this seems like a distinct possibility. There’s hoopla and light at each aid station, where I’m unable to pick up anything like pretzels because my hands are frozen (Note to self: next time, even if the triathlon is in late June, BRING GLOVES!), and then we’re plunged into darkness again. However, there *is* just enough light for me to see that the elderly lady is *still* in her driveway, cheering people on. Really, could she possibly be any more awesome?

And while I’m trying to pick up my pace so that I can actually finish this thing – and I have no idea what time it really is, since I keep getting conflicting answers, I’m looking at my compatriots, also bumbling along in the dark. And I think – you know, it’s easy in the abstract to scoff at people who sign up for an Ironman as their first race, or who seem to have no idea what they’re doing, or who we think haven’t trained enough, blah blah blah…..but when you’re out there and you actually see the determination on those faces, it’s a different story. I obviously don’t know the stories of most of the people out there, what their motivations were, how much they did or didn’t train, etc., and it doesn’t really matter. For whatever reason, there they were, trudging along or in some cases limping along, some very iffy in terms of making the cutoff, but obviously determined to try. And how can you not admire and respect that? Even if they never do another triathlon, maybe at some time in their life they’ll be facing some tough times and will think hell, I did a fricking Ironman, I can deal with this, dammit. And that’s never a bad thing.

As I’m within a few miles of the end, I become aware of the 2 guys behind me, or at least one of them, the one doing all the talking. And as I listen to him, I realize that he’s just been walking with his friend, encouraging him, keeping him upbeat, getting on the cell phone to other friends and family members to let them know where they are: “Okay, we’re 1 ½ miles out, he’s gonna make it, get everyone together to watch for him!” For some reason I find this very touching, this group effort to get someone through the tough times in the darkest hours.

As for me, I feel okay, just tired. Like, needing a nap, yawning tired. If I stop, my feet start to hurt, so I try to avoid stopping. Duh. The sensation of the bones in the bottom of my left foot crunching as I’m running, that at least has stopped. Yes, I know, it’s weird – it started happening during my last few runs before the IM, and I of course ignored it, because what else is there to do? So it started up again, the painful bone-crunching, at the beginning of the run, but then either stopped or I just ignored it.

Finally (!), I’m rounding the corner, going down the main street, and before the long finisher’s chute, there’s a cluster of people standing around cheering on the last finishers. One of the people standing there is one of the male pros, who finished HOURS earlier yet is out here at the end, congratulating all of us. That, I think to myself, is true class. And then I’m squinting ahead, looking for the finish - and quite frankly, I’m not even quite sure where the finish is – it’s all just a blur, and it’s hard to see the light after you’ve been running in the darkness for so long. And while I wasn’t at all emotional when I finished my first IM – I thought I would be, but I was just happy – now I am, thinking about just what a long fucking year it’s been, and how hard it was to get to this point, not just to the point of finishing an Ironman, but to the point of saying “Fuck you, cancer, I’m STILL AROUND, and I’m DOING FINE, so FUCK OFF.” Or something almost exactly like that.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Who I really am

As I’m trotting towards transition, I’m facing a gauntlet of wetsuit strippers who look determined to get my wetsuit off of me. The only problem is that last time they did this, the tore the back apart so I had to get it repaired, and I didn’t want that to happen again. Alas, my feeble little entreaties of “But....bu.....ripped.....last.......carefu........please....” get lost in the shuffle, though they do strip it off with a touch less gleeful abandon, resulting in an intact wetsuit. Whew!

Then of course it’s time to change, and here’s where my propensity towards bundling up like a Russian babushka in Siberia whenever I go riding looks like sheer brilliance. Which it is, of course. In addition to cycling shorts, I put on a base layer, a long-sleeved jersey, a rain jacket, long-sleeved gloves, and I’m pretty much set. I briefly debate the toe covers, but decide to tough it out, because that’s just how I am, the very definition of hardcore. Thus outfitted in my 10 pounds of fresh clothing, I get my bike, turn on my bike computer.......I said TURN ON my bike computer......shit, it won’t turn on. I keep trying, then realize I need to get going regardless, so I set off. Right into the wind, which has been picking up hourly. So that means that my first sojourn down TFR (That Fucking Road) is, yes, right into the wind. As if I’m not slow enough as it is when I first start out on the bike.

So this first part of the course, on TFR, is all hills – long down, long up, long down, etc. Then you turn around at the bottom and reverse your route. Long, not extremely steep, but steep enough, and it looks to me like the cyclists on their way back are struggling a bit. However, I have to say that apparently the tailwind gods were smiling on me for the only time that day, since going back up was a breeze. And as I’m cruising, a car with lights flashing goes past me, and I think, FINALLY, they recognize they have a celebrity in their midst and they’re giving me the escort I deserve! It’s about time! And then I hear the disc wheel as the first pro goes flying past me. Oh. I’m THAT slow?? It takes me many hours until I remember that the pros actually started about 45 minutes before we did, and I had The Longest Swim Known to Man, so that makes a bit more sense.

Then through town, down the main commercial strip, and the start of the part of the loop that goes along Lake Hayden. Or, as the guy biking next to me briefly put it, “where the fun begins.” He said that just after we had scaled one very steep hill, so of course I asked him – “Wait, way more fun than that?” Him: “Oh yeah, there are a lot more, worse than that one.” Shit. I think I blocked the finer details of the bike course drive from my memory, other than remembering that it was a bitch of a course.

I’m not sure there’s a way to sum up the bike course at IMCDA other than to say that if you know the Madison course, and the 3 hills that everyone refers to as the Three Sisters, or somewhat less charitably, the 3 Bitches, then this is those hills, over and over and over again. There is exactly one true roller – and trust me, my non-sveltened self picks up enough speed on downhills such that if anyone could get up the subsequent uphill, it would be me. One. Roller.

And did I mention that my left knee, which has not bothered me AT ALL during training, decided that it was going to be extremely painful during my bike? Yes, the knee. At one point I felt a twanging kind of pain, as if something were ready to pop, but luckily that didn’t happen. But really, what the hell? Again, not once have I had any knee pain, not even on my longest rides, and here I am 12 miles in and it’s killing me.

I’ve finally gotten my bike computer to work, and as I go over the mat on the first turnaround, I have a profound revelation: holy shit, I need to pick it up, or I won’t make the bike cutoff. So whereas before I was cursing my knee pain, now my only thoughts are about the time, my speed, the speed I need to be going at, etc. I guess this is good, because during my ride instead of thinking about anything else – dark, weighty thoughts, for example – I’m just calculating, running the numbers. Over and over. And in the meantime, having points at which I wonder if I’m even on the course, since there are that few people about. Which, again, I see as a positive – at least I don’t have to worry about congestion on some of the narrow, curvy hills. I also start singing to myself – “The days are better, the night are still so lonely.......sometimes I think I’m the only cab on the road....” This is what happens when you train with an iPod – songs enter unbidden in your head, appropriate to every occasion.

The only thought that does pop up once, before I quash it down, is this: “Why exactly did I spend so much of my precious time training for this?” In retrospect, I think that was more a function of the early season training, crammed into an already hectic time where I was (and still am) trying to get my life back together, and the fact that the training seemed to culminate in this one day, this one race, whereas with a later-season Ironman, you have incremental steps along the way where you can see the benefit of your training. In any case, that thought was banished as I finished loop 1, started loop 2, and had a blast flying down Main St. that 2nd time, the only cyclist zipping through a street lined with people, the cops holding back traffic. Very rockstar-esque – which is only appropriate, of course, for someone of my stature.

The hills on loop 2 are, well, the same hills, but now I’ve caught up to more people so there’s a bit more traffic in both directions. I wind up doing a lot of yelling of “on your left” to the slower people who are weaving all over the road on the hills, and later “cheaters!” to the huge packs of guys clearly drafting as they’re going the other way down the main business stretch of road. And yes, they had a choice, since they had plenty of room to spread out. But there’s a decent amount of camaraderie here at the BOP – I ask people if they’re okay if I see them at the side of the road, we chat briefly when passing each other, a female pro (# 13 or 14) gives me a “good job” as she passes me – clearly on her second loop to my first.

Yes, this wasn’t exactly how I envisioned my second IM when I signed up for it, but considering the circumstances, I’m just happy to be out here, shit weather and all. And the thing is – I’m planning on finishing, I’m determined to finish, they’d have to drag me off the course for me to NOT finish, and this race is very important to me for a number of reasons.....but I’m also okay if I don’t, for some reason. If something happened and I couldn’t actually finish, I wouldn’t be crushed or feel like I had failed. For IMMOO, based on the comments I got when people found out I had signed up for it – “you do have to train for that, you know” – I knew they thought I couldn’t hack it, and I felt like I had something to prove. For IronSpud, I knew my friends cared only as much as I did. So if I felt I had to drop out for whatever reason, but had given it my all and was okay with that, that I could count on D! joking that at least I had gotten my Timbits out of it, and other friends guessing that I probably stopped at Starbucks for a latte and decided to stay there. I guess I realized at some point that if you have true friends around you, everything else fades away, and that while Ironman – and all these other huge goals we set for ourselves – is important, it isn’t everything.

One of my last stops is at an aid station to go to the bathroom, and as I emerge, the young girl holding my bike has an encouraging word, after I tell her they must be chilly standing out in the cold: “Well, at least it’s not raining!” I laugh and tell her she’s now jinxed us. Her: “I said the same thing to someone an hour ago and it didn’t start raining then.”

10 minutes later, it starts pouring.

It’s getting colder now too, somewhere in the 40s, and the wind is now at, what, 35 mph? Strong enough so that I actually have to work at not being blown off the road. So I yell up at the sky: “Oh, of course, RAIN! Thanks! Why don’t you send the locusts down now, huh?” Luckily there’s no response to that. Note to self: bike canopy next time?

* * * * * * *

I have to make a couple of points here – the first is that I’m not complaining about the crap weather per se. Yes, it sucked, but we all had to deal with it – at least those of us out there long enough, since it kept getting worse as the day went on. But it’s not as if I was racing in a bubble of crap weather all my own. And while I was used to training in cold, rain, wind, etc., I just didn’t want that on race day, since it detracts from the fun of the race, at least for me. And as far the aches and pains – again, not complaining. Par for the course. After your first IM, you fully realize that that’s why it’s so hard – because stuff like that crops up, for no apparent reason. My last one, I had a terrible backache from the beginning of the bike, which was equally inexplicable. Again, it’s the nature of Ironman, which is why it’s not as “easy” as some people claim it to be. “Oh, anyone can swim at a slow pace, bike at a slow average pace, walk the run, and finish an Ironman with no training. Big deal.” Yes, people do say things like this. If any of you ever meet the random person who can just go off and swim for 2+ hours, then bike for 8 hours, then walk/run for 6+, please let me know, as I’d like to meet this marvel.

Second, the reasons I picked this race to do were because I had heard that it was a beautiful course, had great crowd support, fantastic volunteers, etc. And all that is true, in spades. When I would poke my head up from dying over those hills or trying to stay on the road, the pine-tree forests and lake roads were indeed gorgeous and tranquil. The volunteers were amazing, staying out there all day in the cold and rain, giving us whatever we wanted, with a smile. And the spectators – well, they deserve all the praise one can heap on them. Even though they had to haul out their sleeping bags, blankets, stoves for hot beverages, etc., they were still out there, cheering even us laggards on. Saying thank you then and now just never seems like enough.

* * * * * *
As if sensing that I’m going to make the bike cutoff, the wind picks up even more. Every time I turn, there it is, even stronger. That soul-crushing wind. But hey, at least I’m still pretty toasty, thanks to my now 20 pounds of rain-soaked clothing. Okay, so my face is frozen and so are my ears, but for whatever reason I haven’t gotten a headache from the fierce crosswind whistling through my ears, as I usually do, so who can complain? Believe it or not, not even me.

I swoop to the Bike In, and the bike catchers take Salome efficiently from me, to my comment of “I never want to see that bike again, it’s all yours.” Blasphemy at any other time but then. I then head back to the changing tent clutching my T2 bag, feeling a bit shell-shocked and windblown, contemplating the thought of spending the next 6 hours on my feet. And not liking the idea – but who am I to argue with those older ladies in the changing tent? I have a feeling there are many people who want to quit after a long bike like that one.....but like me, they look at the volunteers who have enough determination for all of us, and not a peep emerges. You just let them get you dressed, and then send you off on your way.....

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Did I ask too much?

After my token 2 hours of sleep, the alarm sounds and I get up to immediately go to the window to check out the day’s weather. It looks like a, wait, it’s not a perfect day to be an Ironman. In fact, it looks like shit out there: grey, windy, cold. I believe this is when the temperature peaks for the day, at a high of 50. Well, as the saying goes, you go to a race with the weather you have, not the weather you want. I have breakfast with Marit and D!, with Marit trying to choke down some vile-looking concoction of yogurt and bran flakes, D! having a waffle, and me trying to figure out what the hell to eat, since my usual pre-race breakfast of a cheese stick and a Pepsi seems a little....inadequate. Marit looks a bit haunted, and I’m quite sure I look the same.

Off to the race site, where we easily find parking on a side street, and D! helps me schlep my Special Needs bags to the transition area. After sending her off to find her other friends, I get my stuff together, realize I need to go to the bathroom (again!), so I stroll over to the porta-potties outside of the transition zone where the lines are shorter. I stand there chatting with the other people in line, and.....wait. Where are my goggles? Where the HELL are my goggles??!

Yes indeed, I have dropped and lost my goggles approximately 15 minutes before the swim start. However, dear reader, this is where being Schleprock comes in handy, because while I’m supremely annoyed, I’m not panic-stricken, due to the fact that.....I have an identical 2nd pair of goggles in my Morning Clothes Bag, just in case. Yep. Just because I'm so used to my typical bad luck that I wind up being prepared for the worst. So I go over there – do in fact have a moment of panic when they can’t find said bag – but then breathe a sigh of relief when I get my 2nd pair of goggles and go wait in the closest porta-potty line this time. Whew.

I get to the beach and start asking people around me what they anticipate their swim time to be so that I can seed myself properly. Apparently I’m in NewbieVille, however, since my question (“What’s your planned swim time?”) elicits the most random of responses (“7” - “What do you mean?” - “Under the cutoff?”). I wind up talking to a guy named Chuck, doing his first IM, and determine that this is the 1:30 crowd, so it should be fine. I reassure him that he’ll be fine on the swim, and then he gives me a big bearhug before going off to find a clear spot. Nice guy, that Chuck. And then....we’re off. I barely hear the cannon since I’m so far off to the right, but I head into the water along with everyone else, and.....holy shit, these waves are terrible. Worse than Friday’s. I discover much after the fact that I lined up at the worst possible spot, according to numerous bloggers, one of whom provides this handy-dandy illustration:

That’s exactly where I start, where it says “do not start here.” Why that was a bad idea, I don’t know exactly, except that it seems the chop was worse there, as was the current, and you lose all draft benefit. All I know is that it’s early in the swim when I think, shit, I don’t know if I can deal with this all day, this crap weather and the frustration of moving so slowly. To compound things, I keep stopping to look at my watch, to remind myself EVEN MORE how slowly I was going, thanks to the 4-foot waves. And then once I hit the part where you swim parallel to shore but at the far end of the rectangle, which is basically in the middle of the lake, well, all hell breaks loose. And even before that, as I’m sucking down water and trying to figure out how to breathe, I almost start hyperventilating, so I stop to tug at the neck of my wetsuit, and.....

Well, you know how things go. Once you realize that something might be taken away from you, you stop thinking about giving it up voluntarily and fight like hell to hang onto it. So it was with IronSpud, and especially the swim. When I do the math and realize that I’ll be close to not making the swim cutoff – something that had NEVER even remotely entered my mind – I take some deep breaths, tell myself to stop being a dumbass, and I begin to hustle for all I’m worth, thinking, I’ll be damned if I came all this way just to not make it through the fucking swim. This would be the theme of the day, in fact: chasing the clock. Thinking, fuck you. To what, I’m not exactly sure, though I’d say there was a lot of variation on a theme: fuck you clock, fuck you wind, fuck you waves, fuck you hills, and of course the classic, fuck you cancer. You get the idea.

Besides, I had given up a lot to even get to this damn race, and while just toeing the line was important, just as important was my need to make it to the run, so that I could wear the special running shirt I had had made up. I wasn’t about to give that up so easily. Not to mention that fact that I have no friends left since I’ve had to ignore them all for the last 2.5 months to train for this. That was a lot to give up for 2 hours of swimming.

So I finish loop 1 of the swim, and at that point you have to get out of the water, go over the timing mat, then get back in. Whereby I make the mistake of going back in immediately and swimming diagonally, instead of doing the smart thing, i.e. running along the shore and THEN getting back in. Oops. No matter – this was going to be my fast loop – no looking at my watch, just swimming. Great, except for one thing – the waves and chop have gotten worse, so it’s even slower going, if such a thing is possible. I know, hard to believe it is. Even I marvel at how slow I was swimming, but then I recall how every time I looked up to sight, I’d see no buoys, just a huge wall of water, which made just swimming straight a challenge. But finally, finally (!) I make it out the water.....14 minutes to spare. Sheesh. Not how I planned to start the day. And those clouds. Why the hell does it look like it’s going to snow??