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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Save me, I'm lost

Thursday

Almost as soon as I arrive in CDA, I start panicking. I honestly don’t remember doing any training, am positive I’ve only biked or ran a handful of times. And while Coeur D’Alene is beautiful, the crappy weather of our Chicago spring has followed me like a lost lamb, with the wind and rain blowing in as soon as I hit town. Shit. On an amusing note, I check into my room and see that in the bathroom there’s a little chair for one to sit on in the shower – I wonder if they put that in ALL the athlete’s rooms? Then I notice that no, I’m actually in a handicapped room, with safety rails in the bathroom and everything. Odd. I wonder if they know something I don’t know.

After picking up my packet, Deirdre calls me, she’s made it here as well, and it turns out that the friend she’s staying with tonight and tomorrow is....in the same hotel. Sweet! Right down the hallway, in fact. And best of all, D! has my Timbits in hand – though we’re lucky they made it here at all.

(Scene: Deirdre is crossing into the U.S. from Canada, and on the passenger seat next to her are 2 extra-large boxes of Timbits and a huge box of donuts, all from Tim Horton’s.)

U.S. Border guard: Purpose of your visit?
D!: Heading to an Ironman. IronSpud, to be exact.
USBG: An Ironman?
D!: Yes, you know, like a really fricking long triathlon? That’s my tri bike I have with me (points at her Cervelo in the back seat).
USBG: Yes, but......(looks at donuts skeptically).....that doesn’t exactly look like race nutrition. (Hesitates only briefly.) Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to pop your trunk open so that I can search it. No sudden moves please.

Yes, not only are airport security personnel protecting citizens everywhere from chamois cream, but our brave border guards are also keeping the U.S. safe from Canadians bearing Timbits. Whew! We can all sleep easier at night now.

But arrive she does, and after the precious Timbits are stashed in the freezer for essential race fueling (what the hell does that border guard know anyway? Duh!), we go to dinner at IHOP, meeting up with two of D!’s other blogger friends, who she’s also never met. And as D! and I discuss all the ways I can use cancer as an excuse in case I have a poor race, and I lament the fact that I didn’t think to have a cycling jersey made up that says “I’m not slow, I just have cancer,” the Ohioans look like deer caught in headlights, looking back and forth at us as if WE have issues. What? Cancer can be pretty damn amusing at times – so I always say, if you can’t laugh at cancer, what CAN you laugh at??

That night, after watching the first of many stories on the news about all the “special” people doing IronSpud (tonight it’s 2 women who had gastric bypass surgery), I find myself even more stressed out, and I haven’t even seen the bike course yet.

Thoughts in my head

What am I doing here? Why did I drive all the way out here for this? I’m so not ready, so not in shape. My training, it’s all a blur. Maybe it’s the brain injury, that’s why I don’t remember any of it. Okay dumbass, look at your training log. See, hours of training! Many bike rides over 100 miles! Daily runs! Swims that.....okay, so maybe I could have swam more. But my swims in the 48 and 53-degree Lake Michigan water were hardcore, dammit, and I swam long enough to know that I can swim for hours, so at least I’ll be fine on the swim. And how hard can the bike be? Everyone says it’s not as hard as Madison, and you’ve ridden that plenty. It’ll be fine. Shit. Why didn’t I do any training for this?

Repeat in an endless loop, ad nauseum. It’s going to be a long few days....

Friday

The weather is getting progressively worse, but surely that means that race day itself will be perfect, yes? Yes, even though they’re now saying there might be hail. Ha, as if! D! and I head off for a morning swim – or rather, I suit up for the swim, she bundles up in a parka, along with every other non-fool out there. It seriously looks like it’s going to snow. I head out and am greeted by 4-foot waves that make swimming verrry slow going. Excellent, just excellent. Though on the bright side, after my swim as I’m attempting to rinse the sand from my wetsuit without getting submerged by the waves, a cute guy offers to rinse it out for me. Hmm. Note to self: stop heading out for workouts looking like a scalded cat or something equally frightful.

D! later updates her blog, reiterating her happiness that she wasn’t dumb enough to sign up for this race, and “calling (me) out”, as she puts it, that she doesn’t see a Thighmaster anywhere in evidence. Sigh. No matter how much I explain my strict training regimen to people, somehow the nuances are always lost. One more time: I’ve already done the heavy lifting, the strenuous workouts, etc. with the Thighmaster. Now that I’m in taper mode, that means I stick to the easier sports, that whole swim/bike/run thing. As if I would jeopardize things by pulling out the Thighmaster NOW! Oy.

That afternoon, D!, Marit and I decide to drive the bike course. First we do the out-and-back along Lake Coeur D’Alene, on what I will come to refer to solely as That Fucking Road. Because not only do we see it twice on the bike, but twice on the run as well. TFR will haunt me in my dreams.

Then we get to the “fun” part, and as we start to drive the main loop, a stunned silence settles over the car. Until we all start muttering our own respective thoughts:

Marit: Okay, so it’s an uphill, but not too bad, kind of levels off, then a bit more uphill, but not too bad....
Deirdre: I am SO glad I’m not doing this race.
Tasha: What. The. Hell. The people who said this wasn’t as bad as Madison are all on CRACK! Crackheads, all of them! What the HELL??!

We continue on in this vein for the rest of the drive: Marit cautiously optimistic and chipper, Deirdre thanking her lucky stars, and me bitterly shocked. Then we debate the definition of “rolling hills,” pretty much unanimously agreeing that there are very few if any on this course. Shit. We drop off our bags and bikes at the race site, with Dino already having his race number on and ready to go. Such a trooper, my little co-pilot. Note to self: don’t forget to take Timbits out of the freezer, to put into Run Special Needs Bag. This is critical.

That night on tv they have cancer man, who “beat cancer” 2 years ago and is now doing IronSpud. I can’t even be too upset about this, about the total lack of MY day in the sun, so to speak, since I’m obsessively fretting about that insane bike course. That in addition to the hills has some screaming downhills around blind curves, on narrow roads, and many of them ending with sharp turns at the bottom. If it rains, that’s going to be a total disaster. But I’ve been tracking 4 different weather sites, and all indicate little if any rain on Sunday, so that’s a relief. Four sites couldn’t all be wrong, right?

Saturday

Almost there, which is good, because the stress is a bit much. I go for a final ride today, an easy 15 miles or so on the main loop, and it’s not too heinous on the part I ride. One thing I notice – why is it that male cyclists will wave back or say hi to me, but the female cyclists never do? Seriously, are we that psycho competitive? Lighten up, kids.

In addition to the race, the stress of figuring out what to eat is killing me. I know I’m supposed to eat lots of carbs, but after staying away from them for so long, it just feels wrong. A waffle for breakfast seems like blasphemy. Then I’m looking at my different pre-race guides and info, and Rich Strauss says to eat a big lunch while Mark Allen recommends a big but early dinner, or something like that. So I figure I’ll just combine all the advice and follow it all – big lunch, big early dinner, salt tabs, sipping Gatorade, etc. That should work.

1AM

Can’t sleep, so I’m up checking email, snacking on fresh kettle corn that I picked up from a roadside stand earlier today. All I want for tomorrow is NO WIND – that’s not too much to ask for, is it? I’ve been asking that for months now, so surely the Powers That Be will throw this tiny bone my way? Because I’m sure not getting much else these days from them. Wind is by far #1 on my Hierarchy of Cycling Suckiness. Hills you at least know what you’re dealing with – wind, it’s shifty, devious, sneaky, arbitrary. Hate it. No wind, please. But a final check of our 4 sites has given us a general consensus of sorts: between 63 and 67 degrees, light wind of up to 8 mph, rain for literally an hour or two. Okay, not perfect, but doable. Whew. I think it’ll be a great day – I’m so ready, I’ve put in the time, now this’ll be a piece of cake. Looking at a definite PR, maybe even a Kona slot? Okay, maybe not Kona, but at least sub-13. Okay, maybe not sub-13, but at least better than my IMMOO time, so sub-15. Yeah, that’s it. Totally doable. Crushing dreams, that’s what it’s all about. Rock on, baby, rock on....

Monday, June 29, 2009

Trouble in the heartland

Tuesday, June 16th

Okay, so who the hell thought this driving thing was a good idea? This road is endless. Just a vast stretch of bumpy pavement and construction as far as the eye can eye. Fine, so it is beautiful here, with the massive storm clouds on the horizon hovering over the endless plains dotted with cattle and haystacks, but in a stark and unforgiving way. I feel a kinship with Tom Joad and his own epic journey, because that’s what this is about after all, the journey, the striving for one’s dreams and….no, wait, what the hell am I talking about? That’s bullshit. It’s about the fucking race, dammit. And the Timbits. And not necessarily in that order. I don’t even know what day it is. Days on the road, I can’t even remember the last time I worked out – not sure I even remember how. It’s been weeks, hasn’t it? Oh, wait, I rode this morning. Never mind. It just feels like weeks.

I also understand the suffering the pioneers and pilgrims and other settlers went through on their way out here, because I’m feeling it too, the same despair they must have felt as they searched in vain for just one – ONE – station on the radio. Anything, anything at all! Instead, I push the scan button, and it keeps scrolling through, on and on....and on.....

And I now know everything there is to know about protecting yourself in case of a tornado, because there are some out there, very close, so that’s all they’re talking about on the radio:

In a house – go to basement, or shelter yourself with a heavy object like a table or door, or go to an inner room
In a car – don’t think you can outrun the storm. Get to shelter, or lie down in a ditch.
Trailer home – leave or die.

Feel free to thank me the next time you’re caught in a tornado.

* * * * * *

You know you’re in the middle of nowhere when the billboards say things like “Days Inn – 128 miles ahead!” 128 miles to the next sign of civilization? Apparently so.

* * * * * *
Suddenly, however, none of that matters, as I’m in the Badlands. I have no idea what Badlands are, technically, but they sound hardcore. And appropriate. Okay, even if they’re just really cool rock formations, they still make me feel like I’m one with The Boss. Good place to hunker down for the night.

In the morning, I have a difficult decision to make – I only have time for one attraction, so I have to make a choice: Mt. Rushmore or Wall Drug. Hmm. Okay, so that’s not really a tough decision after all. I’ll make it quick though – Spud awaits!

(2 hours later)

Well, so much for my quick stop at Wall Drug – that place is fascinating! I expected the extreme shlock, and there it didn’t disappoint, but instead of the monolithic sterile drugstore I envisioned, WD was pretty interesting, especially the picture and photo galleries with old black and white photos of Indians and settlers. Very cool. And EVEN BETTER – when this place says “Homemade Donuts” – they’re actually made right there in front of you. Wow, will wonders never cease? This helps me keep up with my strict tapering regimen, being able to feast on donuts. Well, with difficulty, naturally, seeing as how I normally embrace All Things Healthy. I think I’ve gotten cynical because of the disappointment of Midwestern attractions, that promise innumerable charms and kitsch galore, and always wind up offering far less. Not out here, no sirree. I wonder if that’s because they realize a simple truth, that they don’t want to be stuck with the angry mob that might ensue if they don’t deliver to people who’ve just spent hours upon hours driving through barren lands with nothing to do but look at hundreds of billboards promising really cool stuff?

* * * * * *
Wednesday, June 17th

Another day of driving, another day of near-insanity. Wyoming – flat and dusty. Montana – same. Though once I get closer to Idaho, still on 90 as I approach Missoula, the scenery changes and becomes, well, rather breathtaking. Mountains, hills covered with pine trees, a river running alongside the highway.....it’s absolutely gorgeous. Almost makes driving out here worth it, though I still think this is one of the most asinine things I’ve ever done. Not sure if I’m talking about Ironman or the drive, but take your pick. I stop in Missoula for the night, find a hotel that’s actually along the river, and I have a little balcony with a view of said river. Ah, so peaceful and quiet, I’ll finally get a good night’s sleep before I head into Idaho tomorrow. Perfect.

(half an hour later)

BRRRAAAAAAAAAAAPPPPPPPPPPPPP! BBBRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!

What the hell? That was the loudest, longest train horn I’ve ever heard in my life. Okay, so apparently I’m now living out a scene from My Cousin Vinnie, where they wind up in a hotel that’s 15 feet from a train track, that VERY LOUDLY sounds its horn at frequent intervals. This, I have to laugh at. It figures. I better make sure I don’t stop at any convenience stores tomorrow, and then wind up in bizarre conversations with small-town police officers. “I shot the clerk!?” Because then IronSpud could be the least of my problems.

Thursday, June 18th

Finally, (!), Idaho! Of course, as soon as you enter the state of Idaho, it tries to kill you. Yep, there’s the “IDAHO” state sign, and immediately you find yourself on a steep, twisty road hurtling down a mountainside, blind curves and “runaway truck” strips galore. I’m so mentally exhausted by this that as I’m later driving past the town of Wallace, which purports to be some kind of historic town, I decide what the hell, I’ll stop there. So I do, and discover 2 things:

- Forgot about that next time change – packet pickup has barely begun. Oops. Or more likely, I didn’t notice the sign for the time change when I had the death grip on my steering wheel.

- Surprise surprise – this is a cool little old mining town. And lo and behold, they’re all set up for a fun fair/carnival they’re having this weekend. I pick up some pamphlets and a local paper, and read about both the Coeur D’Alene Bike Trail – 72 miles of paved trails through the area – AND about the merry band of Shriners from the local Elks Lodge who lead a parade “from tavern to tavern”, to kick off the carnival. Hmm again. IronSpud who??

I eventually make it to the town of CDA, pick up my packet, and suddenly realize this: why oh why the hell didn’t I do any training for this? I am so screwed.....

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What a long, strange trip it's been.....

Tuesday

Minnesota sucks you in as soon as you cross the state line from WI, with a stunning drive along a winding road with water on the right, a gorgeous rockface on the left, and greenery everywhere. That of course is all shot to hell once you drive on a certain distance and come to endless miles of flatness and cornfields, or whatever it is they grow in Minnesota. Turnips maybe.

Of course, as I drive I’m continually on the lookout for Roadside Attractions, the heart and soul of America, as it were. Nothing yet, though I do start seeing signs for something called the Corn Palace, which might have promise though I’m skeptical.

In short order, I’m in South Dakota, having found no appropriate RAs at which to wile away some time. There’s a moment of excitement when I see a sign for Laura Ingalls’ home in DeSmet, so I take the exit to check that out. And then see the sign – “DeSmet – 55 miles.” Sorry, Laura, even for you I’m not going 110 miles out of my way. Honestly, just what does one have to DO around here to see a Roadside Attraction, dammit??

After about the 100th sign, I think, FINE, I’ll stop at the damn Corn Palace. I picture it as a tacky, schlocky, new-age homage to All Things Corn, and as soon as I get off the interstate, start looking for large corn stalks rising from the sky. What I come across is, well, it’s something. In recounting this later to friends, it was suggested that I revisit my thrill over the Corn Palace when I’m not quite so sleep-deprived…but no, I still think it was kind of cool. Instead of the modern monolith I imagined, the Corn Palace is a large building of interesting architecture, with domes and all, painted every year with a different theme and artwork that’s designed by local artists. Even better is the history of the Corn Palace, which I discover when I stroll around inside and look at the pictures/photos everywhere. The first CP was built in 1892 as a showcase for South Dakota, was rebuilt in 1905 to expand it, and then upon the realization that large wooden structures into which thousands of people were crammed at once for various events wasn’t such a good idea, the current CP was built, in 1921.

What impresses me is that every sign in and just outside of town gives directions and proximity based on closeness to the Corn Palace. “Antique mall, 2 blocks south of Corn Palace.” “Indian Village, ½ mile north of Corn Palace.” Needless to say, these people take their corn seriously.

* * * * *
As I drive – and as a side note, why the hell does ALL of I-90 have construction going on? Seriously, through every state, miles of one-lane roads – I take note of some of the billboards. There are the many for Wall Drug, naturally, and as soon as I entered South Dakota there were (in rapid succession) billboards that were anti-abortion, with religious sayings, and for gun shops. But what really made me wonder about our educational system were the ones for some garage/auto repair service, that boasted about the shop’s skills in car repair, and then had this in large print: “24-HOUR TOE SERVICE.” At first I thought, what, they do pedicures too? And then realized that the actuality was far, far worse, that that's how they think you spell "tow"…….


* * * * * * *

It is while in South Dakota (still) that I hear the most odd and disturbing radio commercial I’ve ever heard in my life. It starts with a voiceover talking about John, who left the house that morning never to return, as he was killed in a car crash on his way to work. And yet, before he walked out the door, never to see his family or kids again and leaving his kids without a father (they emphasize this part), he took the time to leave a screensaver message on his son’s computer, telling him how proud he was of him for playing a great basketball game the night before, and that he loved him. Going on, the ad then stated that most people don’t take the time to do those things, “not because they’re too busy, but because they’re neglectful.” Yet John did the uncommon thing, and therefore left an uncommon legacy for his family, and we should all strive to do the uncommon. “This message was brought to you by the uncommon…”

(and here I’m thinking that it’s going to be from the Church of Latter-Day Saints, or some other religious or non-profit group)

“……folks at Gary Marshall’s Chevy Dodge dealer! With uncommon deals, so come in NOW to get yours!”

I kid you not. What. The. Hell. How exactly did THAT meeting go over at the ol’ Dodge dealership?

Bob: “So boss, I was thinking, for our new ad we could parallel this guy’s death in a car accident and how unexpected that is, with OUR dealership and how we have these great unexpected deals! Or something like that.”
Boss: “Bob, I like the way you think.” Barking at another poor sales lackey who doesn’t have the brilliance of Bob, “Mike, get our ad people on this. And why the hell don’t the rest of you come up with these great ideas, like Bob here?”

(to be continued)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Observations


  • Good god, there are a LOT of awful radio stations out there.
  • Do THAT many people really like country? It’s all basically the same stuff, isn’t it? Your old lady left, the hound dog is sick, the beer is flat, blah blah blah.
  • Ditto for heavy metal.
  • Ditto for the Christian stuff.
  • The cutesy/fancy hotel/motel names, like the Doodrop Inn or the Bel Aire, do not inspire confidence. And adding “extra clean rooms” to your signs doesn’t help either.
  • Oh come on now, really – a gas station/store called the “Kum ‘n Go”? Are you serious?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

An ode to Sparta

Monday night

After driving for what seems like an eternity, I decide it’s time to stop, and suddenly I see a sign for Sparta. Sparta, as in Home of the Butterfest? Sweet! Unfortunately, the Best Western I stop at has no rooms, but the nice woman calls the Country Inn down the road and they’ll hold a room for me. Before I leave the Best Western, I ask the woman just to make sure: “Is this the Sparta that’s the Home of the Butterfest?” It is! How exciting! But apparently I just missed it. Damn. Well, at least there’s that Sparta bike trail that I’ve heard so much about from Joe, who’s from Sparta and who’s made us all aware of its charms. I need to do some light riding this week, so tomorrow I’ll check out the bike trail. I decide to watch the forecast on the Weather Channel, to get confirmation of what I’m sure will be the sunny days ahead. What’s this? Tuesday – showers. Wednesday – showers. Thursday – t’storms. Friday – t’storms. Are you fucking kidding me???

Tuesday morning

I get up at 5AM as usual and peek out the window – no rain yet, though the clouds on the horizon look threatening. Better head out now. Somehow, I manage to find the trail – shocking, I know. And proceed to have a nice, tranquil bike ride on a gravel path, which is good since it prevents me from going as fast as I normally would, speed demon that I am. Once in a while it’s good to slow down to a lazy 24 mph or so, see how the little people toodling along on their bikes view the world.

As I’m returning, after seeing not one other person on the bike path, up ahead I see an older man and his dog, right at the point at which I start speeding up in order to end my workout on a high note, as I usually do. I always say, if you don’t end your workout gasping and out of breath, what’s the point? So as I’m getting closer to the Old Man and the Dog, I start yelling: “On your left! COMING THROUGH! Come ON!!!” But to no avail – I approach and they’re still scrambling to get out of the way, so I have to come to a screeching halt, kicking up gravel and getting dust particles on Salome’s frame. Oh, the humanity! Naturally, I start giving this guy a piece of my mind, telling him in no uncertain terms how selfish and inconsiderate he is, because this is obviously a BIKE TRAIL, got it? So people like him have to MOVE FAST to get out of the way of people like me, serious athletes doing a critical workout. I wind up my harangue with the words “….and your little dog too!”, just to make it understood that Harry, as he was calling the dog, wasn’t exempt from my wrath. That’ll teach them. Hmph.

Oh wait, never mind, I was pretending to channel my inner Swimfan. What actually happened was that the guy heard my wheels on the gravel path as I was coming towards them, and tried to move aside, but Harry was having none of it. In fact, he stood there in the middle of the path, paws firmly rooted to the ground, giving me a truculent look that said he wasn’t budging. So I coasted to a gentle stop and chatted with the guy for a while, about how nice the trail is and about yet another successful Butterfest in Sparta and so on. And tried to make friends with Harry by scratching his head, though as I bid farewell and tried to ride off, Harry still wasn’t moving. Oh well. I tried.

Then after calling Joe to tell him about the “situation” we were having in Sparta – i.e. the coffee at the hotel was horrible, so I needed to find a Starbucks stat (Joe basically laughed at that one), I drove on. Idaho or bust! How much fun is this going to be?!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Eye of the tater, baby

Monday

Once I had made up my mind to do IronSpud, I was willing to dig deep and do whatever it takes to succeed. No matter how tough or seemingly impossible the task, you just do what you have to do, knowing that it’ll pay off later. That’s just how it is for those of us who try to set an example for the little people.

Of course, I’m talking about buying speed, or as Triathlete magazine put it in an article, “How to buy speed when you don’t have time to train.” Naturally I do the training as well, but a little bit of assistance never hurts. And finding that assistance can be tough, those little hidden gems of speed and power. But again, that’s the kind of person I am: doing what needs to be done.

So the checklist that I’m going by, and that I’m providing here as a service to all of you, is as follows: compression tights, check; Optygen HP, check, though I have no idea what this stuff is supposed to do – it’s expensive, however, so it must work; aero helmet, ech, just how dorky am I supposed to look out there?; caffeinated GU/Infinit/etc., check; tight clothing to reduce wind drag, umm, yeah, not a problem; the flip-flop exerciser shoes, of course. These are my secret weapon – shoes that give you the equivalent of a strenuous workout just by virtue of wearing them. Between those and the compression tights, which essentially do the same thing, I’m now on a 24-hr workout schedule. Don’t try this at home, please - remember that I’m a professional.

One other iron-clad rule of triathlon is that one should never change anything before a race. I live by this rule, since it’s so easy to change one seemingly tiny thing and then watch everything fall apart on race day. That’s why this past Sunday, when I went out for another 100+ mile bike ride, the only thing I changed was my aerodrink straw. Oh, and my wheels and cassette. And shoes and inserts (brand new!). That was all – except that when I stopped at the WI convenience store for the requisite beef stick, I did adjust my saddle, raising it a tad. But other than that, I stuck to that rule absolutely. Another one of my pearls of wisdom there for others to emulate.

My ride to and from Wisconsin was not only part of the final Ramping Up phase of my training plan, but it also had a purpose: to find that damn fiberglass ear of corn wonder that I stumbled across on a ride last year, but haven’t been able to find since because I haven’t gotten lost in just that particular way. Sunday, I decided to retrace my steps. So I went to the gas station/convenience store in Darien, wandered up and down a couple of streets and decided they didn’t look right, turned down one street that had promise, went over a highway which made no sense, and suddenly, voila, there it was! Victory!



From there I decided to go for the dufecta, and swung by the ostrich farm for a few pictures. So even though I had to ride on about 20 miles of chipseal, which is what County Road K now is, sad to say, it was worth it.

Now that I’ve totally depleted any glycogen stores I might have had and have ensured that my legs are completely fried and sore as hell, it’s time to taper. For the uninitiated, “tapering” consists of a careful regimen of conserving movement and eating studiously and carefully. At its purest, that means sitting on one’s ass all week and eating nothing but donuts – at least that’s the traditional definition, and far be it from me to tinker with the tried-and-true.

I have also taken the time to perfect my race plan for IronSpud, or the culmination of all my hard work and deep breathing and striding briskly, and that plan can be boiled down into one word thusly: hammer. I intend to go full-out from beginning to end, leave everything I have out there, no holds barred. This will surely be a race against time - not that I haven’t done the work, as there’ve been hundreds of miles of cycling, hours upon hours of running, and, umm, I’ve swam a couple of times. And I’ve managed to cram this all into the last couple of weeks…..

Scene: Dropping off Kona at daycare last Friday, mentioning that we won’t be in for a couple of weeks since it’s Ironman time. Nancy, the lovely woman that works there, knows about this since I had changed up my schedule 2-3 weeks ago to get up super-early in my Ramping Up phase.

Me: So, you won’t see us for a couple of weeks. I’m leaving Monday for Idaho, for the race, and Kona is going to his girlfriend’s.
Nancy: Wow, already! You’ve been working really hard for 2 weeks now!
Me: Well, I’ve been training a bit longer than that….
Nancy: Oh, I guess, but the last two weeks has been the real training, right?
Me, sighing: Sure. Right.

The point being, all of that “pace yourself” stuff is for people who are not willing to be bold in their race execution. I will of course report back on how my plan works, though I’m sure it’ll be a raging success. How could it not be? Though I may also try my friend George from Canada’s suggestion – to go out with the leaders, then surge the last 5 miles. Though I might change that to the last 10, just to give myself a bit more cushion.

And with that, I’m setting off for IronSpud. See you on the road….

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Desperate times

The water couldn’t really be THAT cold, could it??

Yes. The answer to that would be.......yes.

* * * * * * *

It’s clear that it’s never going to be warm in Chicago, and the lake temperature will never warm up enough such that it’s acceptable for swimming for those who aren’t completely insane. That temperature would be somewhere around 80, or where the risk of seeing baby harp seals frolicking and gamboling about is minimal. But enough is enough – I can NOT get into Lake Spud without having done a single open water swim of more than 15 minutes (Tri-Shark).

So off I go, toting along every bit of neoprene I own: wetsuit, cap, booties, gloves. It’s quite possible that water may not even touch my skin. I park my car and start trudging over to the beach, wearing a bathing suit, beach cover-up, and cheap flip-flops, all to minimize what someone would steal if they took off with my stuff, since there’s really no way to lock up my bag. As I’m walking on this windy, grey, misty day more appropriate for March, I notice that everyone passing me is wearing.......parkas. No, seriously. Winter wear. One person has a scarf on, but there is also actual down being worn. In comparison, I look like a total idiot. Or triathlon goddess, take your pick.

The beach is deserted, of course, as I start the process of getting the Damn Wetsuit on. Really, is there anyone who doesn’t curse when putting these things on? But I did learn something from last year, where I put on the wetsuit and then the gloves and booties: this will lead to a situation whereby the booties obtain a windsock effect, dragging behind you as they fill up with water, and the gloves will also fill up with water and puff up to look like Hamburger Helper mitts. Not that great in terms of reducing drag.

Of course, I get everything on and then realize I forgot to tuck my plastic bag with my car key somewhere on my person. Shit. Well, stuffing it down the front of the suit will have to do. Onward!

“Hmm, the water doesn’t seem TOO bad...yeah, it’s really not that ba..oh my god ohmygodohmygodohmygod.”

That was when I put my face in the water – and sure, the rest of me was all cozy and warm, but my face? Insta-freeze. Holy jesus, that’s painful.

However, once I start swimming, my face goes numb and thus no longer hurts. This means that when I stop to adjust my goggles and a parka-clad passerby asks me how the water is and I attempt to say “insanely cold!” – it comes out as “hwebahna hahd.” Yet he seems to understand me, and says that he’s waiting until next week to get into the water. You know, for the miraculous warming up that’ll occur due to the consistent 55-degree air temperatures we’ve been having in Chicago.

I swim for about an hour, just me and the harp seals, as I realize how insanely slow I am and have the fervent hope that 2200 people in the water will create a nice draft that’ll just suck me along in its wake. Either that or I’ll have to create some kind of protocol for smuggling fins into the water with me. I’m sure that’s never been tried before, so it’s not like they’d even be looking for it, right?

When I get out and strip off the gloves and booties, my hands and feet look rather blue and are in fact numb. But I have to say, that really wasn’t too bad. Okay, it was actually kind of.....fun? Yes, it’s true. Once my face went into can’t-feel-it mode, it was kind of nice to be in an actual body of water rather than in a pool, which I hate. Which is why I, umm, rarely get in a pool. Oh, and I’m pretty sure the water was AT LEAST 48 degrees. Practically balmy.

By the way, I’d like to apologize to everyone in Chicago – or perhaps the world, since the weather seems to suck everywhere – for being so foolish as to sign up for an early-season Ironman. Which by definition would normally dictate lots of outdoor riding, swimming, etc. Which means that Chicago has had not only the rainiest spring in history, but also the coldest one in 50 years. A coincidence? I think not. My bad....

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The sound of madness

Saturday was the annual Tri-Shark triathlon, which also marked my triumphant return to triathloning. I was going to go for the age group win, as usual, but then I decided it would be more fun to wear my pink birthday sash during the race – and the drag from that was obviously what cost me those 8 or 15 places. C’est la vie.

That night we go out for my birthday dinner, and I have my pre-race fuel of 2 amaretto stone sours. Read and learn, folks, read and learn. Of course, Sunday is the Udder Century, not a race per se, but if you’re not going to be in peak form and crushing others at ALL such events, then why bother?

After spending the night at my mom’s, Deanna and I wake up at some ridiculously early hour to get ready for the Udder. We step outside and.....what ho? It’s warm and muggy and NOT windy? Hmm – a sign of the apocalypse perhaps? Not to fear – by the time we get to Wild West Town, where the Udder starts, it’s about 20 degrees colder and windy. And then it starts raining. Of course. As we set out, I have a vision of IronSpud......

* * * * *
(cue Wayne’s World dootooloo music.....)

Scene: Ironman Coeur D’Alene has begun. Tasha has finished the swim, changed into her cycling clothes, and is sitting on a chair in transition, tapping her foot impatiently, looking at the sky.

Volunteer: Is something wrong, dear?
Tasha: I’m just waiting for the weather to improve a bit. I’m just not used to this, where I come from.
Volunteer, after a pause: Umm, this is the nicest weather we’ve had in a long time. Warm, not a cloud in the sky....
Tasha: Exactly! You see what I mean then! And then there’s the problem with the wind!
Volunteer: Wind? But......but there IS no wind today. It’s amazingly calm.
Tasha: Exactly! How can I be expected to race under these kinds of conditions?

* * * *

At the second aid station, I’m about to have my standard pb&j half, when out of the corner of my eye I spot.....donuts? Nestled in their box so invitingly? Now, normally my finely honed athletic self wouldn’t even think of fueling with such low-grade carbs, but since I’m planning on proving my theory that an ironman can be completed with only Timbits as sustenance, this bears further investigation. After ascertaining that they are indeed for riders, I pick out a jelly donut, which I eat only under duress, pillowy donuty marvel that it is. Yes, I know, the sacrifices I make for my sport – there’s no end to them. I’m happy to note no ill effects – and in fact, I ride pretty well for the next hour - so Timbits at IronSpud – it’s on.

Of course, as the ride continues, the wind continues to pick up. Deanna has long since decamped, having planned for a much shorter ride, so it’s just me and the elements. And the barking dogs, like the large black Doberman who comes running at my bike. A Doberman? Surely you jest. I admit, I laugh at him – “Come on, I rescue you guys for god’s sake!” – and like a typical ADD Dobe, he bounds off to chase a butterfly or something.

Now, at this point in the ride is where my mind comes totally unhinged - because I had planned to do an approximately 120 mile ride, and in spite of the crappy weather, I’m still planning that. To which I now say, what the hell? So I spend a lot of time looking at the maps and talking to the volunteers, trying to figure out the best place to tack on 20 miles, which is why after I add on my detour, I’m one of the last riders on the road, and the wind is really sucky now. So sucky, in fact, that while talking to other riders at the last aid station, I actually utter the following words: “Hills are great, just the greatest thing ever. I would take hills ANY DAY over this.” Clearly, madness this way lies.

And while I’m pleased that I got in another 110+ mile ride, I still have one pressing concern: the fact that I have yet to do a single lake swim, the short swim at Tri-Shark notwithstanding. Thus, this past Monday, even though it was yet another windy, blustery day, just 59 degrees, and according to the coastwatch site the Lake Michigan water temperature was 46 degrees......I decided I was going in. Fish or cut bait time. The water couldn’t really be THAT cold, could it??

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Everything is wonderful now....

I decide to break from my usual tradition and actually be helpful to someone on our Tri Club message board, who was asking whether the Udder Century was a hilly ride. Now, we all know how much I suck at hills, so if I say something’s basically flat, it’s flat. Period. Flatlined. And the routes for the Udder follow all the country roads that I always ride, so this at least I know about.

Imagine my surprise, then, when in response to my uber-helpful, reassuring post, I get the following reply: “I read your blog post about the recent ride from your mother's house. Sounds like such a sunny, positive, life affirming ride. “

My first thought is of course “Wait, what exactly is she reading? Has someone hijacked my blog??” Then it slowly dawned on me that there was some sarcasm at work here, some dissing of the Triathlon Goddess (ahem, me). WTH? I thought it was pretty clear to everyone that my bike rides out in the country with S├álome are one of the top things that make me happy, that if I could become a professional amateur cyclist, just cycling across the country and raising money for, umm, Doberman awareness, I would. Toting little Kona behind me as I toodle along on my bike.

Plus, I recall my last post about riding as being particularly positive. Hmm.

Then I went back and looked at my last Huntley ride post, and sure, it was a bit realistic, in the sense that having to start a ride when it’s 32 degrees outside is ridiculous and painful. What, like I’m supposed to be chipper about THAT part? But it went uphill from there, right? Except for my fingers and thumbs freezing and falling off. And my nose. But otherwise, wasn’t I just Miss Susie Sunshine?? Hmm.

While I’ve long held the belief that writing in a positive, uplifting manner would be boring as shit, I decide that it’s really not fair of me to pooh-pooh that notion until I’ve at least given it a shot. After all, there could be gems of true wisdom to be found in phrases like “It was another great ride today – boy, do I rock! 200 watts, baby!” and so on. Right? I mean really, would it kill me to be a bit more chipper? So, onward.

- -
Friday night

I go out to my mom’s to spend the night so that I can get an early start on Saturday. I have to do a longer ride than Deanna, so I’ll get up early, do an out-and-back, then meet her back at my mom’s for the rest of the ride. I’m sure it’ll be a glorious day.

Saturday morning, 4:45AM

The alarm, already? But hey, the sun is coming up, the birds are chirping, it’s a gorgeous start to the day already!

Well, no, scratch that, not quite. It’s actually still dark out....and cold. But the sun is supposed to come out, and the forecasters are never wrong, so I’m confident it’ll be a warm, sunny, perfect day.

6AM

Still cloudy and cold.......but really, sun is overrated. Have had my delicious oatmeal and robust coffee, so off I go!

Later

Hey look, chicken statues! No, wait, they’re actual chickens! Black chickens! How neato is that? Boy, do they look cool. I don’t have pictures of them, but here’s one I found on cuteoverload.com. Enjoy!

Errr, let’s see, think positive.......hey, at least it’s not raining!

Great, it’s raining. Cold fat raindrops. Or, umm, as I like to put it......god’s healing tears cleansing the earth and washing away the sins and transgressions of his chosen people. Yeah, that’s it.

(Though given that we’ve had a veritable deluge of rain this spring and the farmers haven’t been able to get all their crops in, do ya think you might be able to shut the waterworks off for a while there Big Guy? I’m just sayin’.) (Hallelujah!)

A huge jet-black Great Dane comes bounding towards me, looking for all the world like Cerberus unleashed from the gates of Hell. Or.....a pony. Yes, just like a pony. Good doggy...

My feet are numb, as usual. Ugh. Soon they’ll hurt like hell, I’m sure. But that’s okay! Because as we all know, pain is just weakness leaving the body. Hup hup!

There’s a cyclist going in the other direction, so as usual I give him a friendly wave. He just looks at me and keeps going. Normally this would piss me off – I mean really, how rude! – but now, I just think, he must be retarded. Because he’s riding along on his road bike, sans helmet....and said helmet is in his hand. I guess he didn’t want to mess up his shellacked blond coif. But we shouldn’t make fun of the mentally unable among us, blessed they be.

I circle back, pick up Deanna, and we set off again. We decide that instead of riding together, we’ll select meeting points up ahead, so that we can each go at our own pace. Pretty soon, Deanna is totally kicking my ass, a mere speck on the horizon. In the next county, in fact. (Okay, so this is because we’re riding on County Line Road, and she turns left before me and thus into the next county, but still.) And I did ride that extra 30 miles before she was even up, but who’s counting? But this is all okay by me, yes, sirree! After all, what are friends for if not to encourage each other in all things? Go Deanna!

Ah, the wind, how I love the wind, constantly blowing on the prairie, bringing to mind the days of yore with those intrepid pioneers and their daily burdens! Burdens that none of US have, for which we can be ever thankful. The wind is just Mother Nature whispering in my ear – at 30mph no less – to remind me of her presence. As if I could forget. A test of fortitude, a building of character is that continual, never-ending, omnipresent headwind. Hallelujah!

We get to the road we’re supposed to turn on, and....it’s a gravel road. What the hell? It’s bad enough you people can’t be bothered with road signs, but to not even slap down some concre........I mean.........I meant to say that I think of gravel roads as an opportunity, to seek out adventures on roads not traveled, to partake in the joie de vivre that comes from.....oh, fuck it. You know what? There’s a reason there are some roads not traveled – that’s because they’re GRAVEL, and they suck. You know what else? If you’re looking for sunshiny and chipper, go to happyshinypablum.blogspot.com, not here, not with your sarcastic comments. Because that shit IS boring. And I for one would rather not ride in the cold and rain and on gravel, m’kay? And do you think it might EVER be possible for me to go riding out here once and not have the gale force winds slowing me down to 13 mph? That headwind the whole way back was real pleasant, let me tell you. I mean, I know this is good practice should a hurricane suddenly blow into Coeur D’Alene, but seriously.

And one other thing – cursed iPod, ENOUGH with the fucking Dancing Queen already! Yes, it just won’t disappear. I had double-checked my iPod library, synced (again), and that should have done the trick, but nooooo, of course not. And don’t anyone give me this crap about Shuffle being random. If that’s the case, why does it keep playing the same damn songs, namely every song I have on there from the 70s or 80s, yet not ONCE has it played any Soundgarden, for example? Could someone please explain that to me? Oh, and as for Dancing Queen - today, when it came on AGAIN, I yelled “Come ON!!!!”, stopped my bike in its tracks, and soon found that while the song doesn’t show up when I look under “artists” – if I look under “songs” – there it is. Not once, but TWICE!! So it’s true, my iPod IS evil – it’s spawning hated songs! I believe an exorcism is in store.

Whew. Okay then. Heh heh, that seemed to work out well, didn’t it? However, lest anyone be under the mistaken impression that I didn’t enjoy my ride, I also got to marvel at a border collie that was practicing herding sheep, admire some gorgeous bearded irises growing on one of those country roads, exchange greetings with the farmers out trying to get their crops planted, sing along cheerfully with every song on my iPod that was NOT ABBA-related, and finally, finish up my 105-mile ride with enough energy to then take Kona for a run. Right before sitting down with my mom and Deanna for a late lunch of steak hot off the grill. In my book at least, I’d say that’s a pretty damn fine version of life-affirming.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Swimfan makes the funny pages!

The day Tasha decides to be less of a total dumbass

So Monday I woke up with a bad cold. Tuesday, still there, but I also noticed that I had some kind of rash on my right eyelid, and my eyes are itchy. Odd. Wednesday, I wake up, and my right eye is swollen halfway shut and my whole face is itchy. Huh? What fresh hell is THIS? Hives, poison ivy, scorpion bite?? I decide to see the doctor, to be on the safe side.

Doctor answering service: Hello, may I help you?
Me: I need to make an appointment to see Dr. Boholst, as soon as possible.
DAS: What is your problem?

I pause. This could be a long conversation. To spare us all, I decide to go with the short answer.

Me: Umm, poison ivy?
DAS: Why do you think it’s poison ivy?
Me, thinking, if I KNEW all this stuff, why would I need to see a doctor?: I have a rash on my eyelid, and I was camping, so.....
DAS, undoubtedly marveling at how astute I am at putting this all together: We have Thursday at 6PM.
Me: I’ll take it.

Thursday morning my eye is even more puffy and swollen, almost all the way shut, so I do the only logical thing and wear my sunglasses all day. Even indoors. Finally, my appointment. Dr. Boholst randomly guesses that it’s some kind of “irritation” and prescribes anthistamine eyedrops and pills. But since I’m here, they’re also going to do some blood tests, to make sure nothing else is wrong. A simple blood draw, how easy is that?

As I follow the nurse down the hallway, I explain to her that they usually have a hard time getting blood from me, but that the left arm is better and lately they’ve been finding a vein in the back of my hand. And that we should avoid using the right arm, to lesson the risk of lymphedema developing – lymphedema being one of those nasty little cancer secrets that you don’t hear much about, whereby if you’ve had any at all lymph nodes removed, at any later point your arm can suddenly swell up and basically stay that way forever due to a damaged lymph/drainage system. Fun stuff. So clearly that’s something I’m hoping to avoid. This nurse is very nice, and chatty, so she reassures me.

Nice Nurse: Oh, I’m sure there won’t be a problem. I’m pretty good at this. Let’s give it a shot.

Half an hour later

I’m sitting there with 3 bandaids on, sipping a cup of water as NN hopes that’ll “plump up” my veins. She’s been very apologetic as she keeps poking around and getting absolutely nothing, though I don’t really care since I’m used to this. The apologizing, on the other hand? Enough.

NN: Oh, I don’t want to hurt you, I’m so sorry, so sorry. (poking another vein on the back of my hand) Now tell me if this hurts. I'm right near the bones.
Me: I’m fine, really.
NN: Are you okay? I’m so sorry, I don’t want this to hurt. I’m really really sorry.
Me, gritting my teeth: It’s FINE. I broke my collarbone last year; pain is relative.
NN: I just can’t find a vein, they disappear. Maybe you’re dehydrated.
Me: How about this vein? They usually have luck with that one.
NN: That's an artery, and we're not allowed to use those.

Now I'm thinking, just who do they have trying to draw blood here??

NN adds: And I don’t want to hurt you. I'm so sorry about this.
Me: It’s better than having to come back - so here, why don’t you look at the right arm? AyeeEEE, I think you just stabbed a bone...

Another half hour later

I now have FIVE bandaids on me – no, wait, it’s actually 4, since we took one off to poke at the same spot, then put a fresh bandaid on the same spot. And still no luck. This nurse is sweet, but she really has no idea what she’s doing, and now I have to come back here tomorrow so that their “technician” can make the attempt. Great. Though I have to chuckle at the dehydration idea. What are they going to tell me next, that I have scurvy? Please.

On the drive home, I see the irony in the fact that my veins are the only part of me that are unplump, and I start to laugh. It figures.

The next morning, I go at the designated time, and finally I get called by the technician, a woman I christen BloodZilla. This woman could crush stone with her flinty gaze alone, and there’s no idle chit-chat with her. She calls my name, I follow her down the hall, and the only words she says are “Roll up your sleeve.” Alrighty then.

But that’s okay, because after poking at my arm for about 4 seconds, she expertly puts the needle in and voila, gets blood on the first try. Though there seems to be a problem.

BloodZilla: Are you dehydrated? Your blood’s flowing very slowly.
Me: Umm, I don’t think so? By the way, that was amazing, how quickly you found that vein. Bravo!
Bloodzilla, thawing slightly: Thank you.

Might as well get on the good side of the person poking at you with sharp needles. We sit there and watch as the bloodflow stops entirely. Hmm. Luckily, BloodZilla finds a vein in my other arm just as easily, and I don’t say a peep about the possibility of lymphedema. I’d rather risk that than face her wrath.

Me: You really are a master at this! Seriously – you know about yesterday’s fiasco, right?
BloodZilla: Thank you. Yes, I heard about it. Even though you’re dehydrated, they should have known where to look. This is what I do – they do other things and sometimes draw blood as well. Me, I just draw blood. So I’m pretty good at it.
Me: That you are. Wow!

Even though I’m partially trying to see what it’ll take to get her to thaw out a bit, I really am impressed, as that was the quickest and most efficient blood draw I’ve ever experienced. Though as I toddle out, I’m thinking more about the fact that while deciding not to eat, I apparently also forgot to drink anything, especially water. Oops.

That night I think about the fact that I can continue on my crazy diet and have horrible workouts, feel like crap, be lurching around in an apparent state of dehydration, oh, and STILL not be losing a single fucking pound. Or I can eat a more “normal” amount, like a whopping 1200 calories, and perhaps have a tiny bit of energy, a decent workout once in a while, and still not lose a single fucking pound. Hmm, tough call. I think...I’ll go with Option B, at least until after IronSpud. Then I’ll go with total fasting and kidney removal, or something. I’ll think of something. In the meantime......Munchkins, anyone?