Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Resolution (A List Essay)

1. Change and stay the same. All at the same time.

2.  Eat more kale.

3. Look in the mirror and say, at least twice a day no matter what the scale says or what my hair is doing: "Damn, you're lookin' good."

4. Pet the cats simultaneously. With both hands. Synchronized. They like that.

5. Write letters. Real ones. On cards that require things called stamps. To everyone and anyone who has a place in my heart. Which will require a lot of stamps.

6. Watch more sunrises.

7. Read less meaning into sunsets.

8. Ride with the Diablo Cyclists in the bay area if only to hear Jay's banter again. I've missed hearing about baseball, about music, about anything shouted into the wind at 18 mph while I'm breathless.

9. Stop obsessing about thinness and its relation to how people see me. I am more than my body. I am my soul.

10. Read my work in public more. Let my stories breathe. Let them piss people off, let them bore an audience, let them inspire. Let them live.

11. Go blonde. Natural blonde. Back to my roots, so to speak and ditch the chemical-head. I am OK just the way I am.

12. Learn to appreciate the things I hate: running on treadmills, instant oatmeal, skinny jeans, The Today Show. Somehow, these things (too) have meaning and value in the world.

13. Learn a good joke! All mine are pretty awful-- or, they are jokes I learned when I was in elementary school.

14. Sing karaoke with my dad. It's the best thing ever. I hardly do it enough.

15. Sing. Even if I'm not good at it. You don't always have to do the things you're good at. Sometimes it's important to do the things that make you happy.

16. Learn to cook one gourmet dish. The kind where you sauté things in wine and where the mushrooms must come from some obscure store. And make that meal for the most special people in my life and tell them, again and again, they are special to me. Because I hardly ever do that enough.

17. Generally, say how much I appreciate the people around me. Students, colleagues, friends and family. I've taken for granted how much I love--and need-- everyone in my life.

18. Build a community of writers. Since I moved back, all I've said is how much I miss the bay and my writer-friends there. Maybe this is my time to help writers in Reno-Tahoe come together and form a community of our own: fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Let's see what we can do.

19. Visit my bay-area writing friends. Why miss a person if you are so close?

20. Smile randomly. Even when I'm by myself. Because life is good.

21. Stop believing "I love you" is a sacred phrase. Love is not for rationing; love needs to be shared. Love is not always romantic (although it can be); love is appreciation and truth; love is the adhesive between friends and communities, between the hard stuff and ourselves. Sometimes saying "I love you" can make a bad moment OK even if you're the only one in the room and you've been crying.

22. Forgive. Forget. Move on.

23. Don't forget to dream big. You deserve it.

24. Dance around naked. With sticks. Be brave. Scream if you need to. Paint your face with mud. Life is for the living.

25. Three years ago I wrote: "My words are the arrows I lance from the fortress of my soul." (Make metaphors. Stand by them. Love them. Revise them. But never be ashamed for trying.)

26. Trust that you are enough.

27. Cry if you need to cry. Break down, wallow. Crawl on the floor. Write about it. One of the best parts of being alive is feeling it all: the highs and the lows. And if you can't feel the lows, who's to say you can appreciate the "highs"?

28. Never be that person at Starbucks with the five-minute drink order. Or, if you are, own it.

29. Plant a garden in summertime. Nothing says "happy" like a blooming flower you helped to grow.

30. Always glance back the past, but never dwell.  Life is like a long distance run/ride or swim. It's what you make of the discomfort/pleasure/pain. Make the most of every moment and treasure each and all in equal measure. Because life ends too soon and wisdom comes in the journey, not the destination.

31. Never stop believing in old dreams. Never believe you are unlovable or ugly. I'm NOT.

32. Accept that all of this will change and by next year, I may not believe any of this. And that is OK.

Sunday, December 29, 2013


I knew this journey was going to be hard (I'm no stranger to training for an endurance event) but I'm surprised to find that the most difficult part about it so far isn't the training at all, but instead, the loneliness. Or, maybe that's due to the end of my relationship and maybe everyone who breaks up with someone they loved to the point of calling them their best friend goes through this awful sense of empty solitude.

I call it empty because I'm the sort of person who doesn't (usually) mind spending time alone. After all, my two dominant pursuits (writing and running) aren't very social activities. But something about this solitude I'm in now is different. It has sharp corners and, for the most part, it isn't very comfortable. I keep asking myself why that is: why I suddenly dread going home to the empty house that was always empty before. What's changed? To me, it feels as though there's something in the air which has worked its way into my blood, my mind and heart. I know that's not true, though. I suppose what has changed is me.

I remember those days when I expected him to call me, and he would. Or, if I was upset about something, excited about something, feeling elated or depressed or simply bored, I could pick up the phone and dial his number and he would be there for me.  And if there was something that happened (a flat tire on the bike, a garbage disposal with rocks in it because I decided to wash my running shoes in the sink, etc) he would be there, without question, to fix what was broken.

It's like somebody died, that's what this silence is like. Like all those memories are in the past now and it's just me here in this room, just me to fix what's broken, to fill the hours of my days with thoughts and words like I used to, trying not to notice that my phone no longer rings and there's no one in the world to say "I love you" or who cares for me-- at least, not right now.

I guess I'm thinking about this today because today has been mostly silent. I did my long run at dawn and watched the sun rise as I floated over the pavement, feeling about as light as a person could as I crunched over the old ice and snow in shady patches that has yet to melt. And tonight: I took the bike out at dusk to see how it felt under my feet now that it's been properly adjusted to fit my body. The sun sat low and pale in the sky, just hovering over the Sierra Nevada range as I rode West. It's a horizon I know well; a direction I used to associate with him since he lives in Tahoe City and I used to stare and those mountains and imagine sending my thoughts-- my love-- right over them, silent telegraphs lovers send.

But there's no more of that; the West is another direction among three others, arbitrary and relative. But then again, as I turn over my shoulder to glimpse the sky, I can't help but notice the vibrant hues of the sunset; the West is where the sun goes down, announcing night and the fact that I have survived another day on my own, a small victory perhaps, but one I'll have to master if I'm going to become an Ironman.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

CompuTrain... Me?

One thing I have come to appreciate lately is the bravery it takes to change. Not to change your toothpaste or your sheets; but to erase some elemental part of your life and continue living as if everything is just fine. Which is what it means to end a relationship: you cut away an existence, a voice, a body (half of YOU, really)  and pretend you never needed it anyway which is, perhaps, the farthest thing from the truth.

Anyway, I've decided to expand my social circle, at least training-wise, to include as many people as I can. After all, my favorite part of being an athlete has been meeting all the incredible, special, inspirational and exceptional folk who choose to swim/cycle/run (one, two or all three) on a daily basis to be the best they can. Why and how: all ages, abilities, styles. I've met former Olympians and stay-at-home-moms; I've met middle-age people, college-age people; rippled with muscle or comfortably plump; in short, I've been blessed with the best sampling of humanity; the good-hearted folk who love a sport (or, sports) and thank heavens for that.

So today, I expanded my social realm to include Great Basin Bicycle Shop which operates a CompuTrainer studio. I signed up for the 9:00 am class and found myself one of six who came that early (not so early since I usually train at 6am). I always get nervous before training with a new group. I always worry I will be the slowest, the most lame, the reason why they make people sign up (so you can kick them out or bar them from coming later)-- so I didn't know what to think when Rich (the "leader" of the ride) grabbed my bike, placed it on the CompuTrainer and walked me through its calibration. Or, when he said I pushed too hard with my quads, and that my body bounced too much( am I being exiled, I wondered?)-- but no, we rode and rode: me and five others (the names I can't remember. I only remember Jeni who introduced herself to me and who happens to live not so far from me so I hope to see her on the open road.) Rich had a lot of comments, true, but he only wanted to help me improve.

I've never had someone look at how I ride. I mean: riding a bike is simple right? You pedal, you move forward? But there's a lot more to it than that-- how you position your feet, how you need to pull back and up rather than down and forward. After an hour, I know I have so much to learn!  Or, I know since Rich placed me on another machine that showed me how much power each leg was producing and how. I'm only, at best, 80% efficient in my strokes because I'm accustomed to pushing "down" so much (because I'm a runner, I think). He also adjusted my seat height and its distance from the bars: my seat was much too low and too far back: crushing my power and (sorry prim and proper reader) my essential girl-parts.

BUT wow-- what a great resource-- I'm glad I ventured out of my "safe-solitary" zone today and learned something new. Maybe we all need to do that every so often.

I can't say I'm happy on my own, but I think I'm going to be OK. I'm learning new things, meeting new people and looking forward for more to come.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Ironman: A New Journey

I can’t believe it’s post-Christmas and nearly 2014... and I haven’t posted a thing on this blog in quite a while. Truthfully, I’ve been avoiding it because it’s been a difficult year and I don’t know if everyone wants to read about my problems (we all have enough of our own, right?) Plus, I was busy with the demands of teaching-- new demands that, even at the end of the semester, I was still getting used to. And, of course, the training-- but that’s hardly new. 

But I’ve also been wary of writing for another reason: the hardest part about last year wasn’t some of the things I’ve written about in previous blogs or even the end of my seven-year long relationship with S. What was the hardest, I think, was realizing that I’d lost belief in myself as an athlete... and, truthfully, in myself period

Looking back, I’m not sure I know quite how or why this happened, I only know that, day by day, the world began to darken and nothing much mattered anymore. Was it the injuries? Or, was it the time spent apart from S. because I was living in the Bay Area? Was it the move to Reno and all the drama that entailed? Was it the heavy teaching load? I only know that, by November of 2013 I felt old, ugly, and basically worn out with everything. Which is not a good place for anyone to be. 

So, I’m doing something slightly crazy, but something that I need to do because you can’t go through life not believing in yourself. Or, you can’t be defeated and sad all the time. Or, you can’t wake up and wish you could just go back to sleep again because there’s nothing you are good enough for. (Yeah, that was me.) 

What changed was something small. After too much crying one night, I decided to recite, to myself, all the things in life that I was grateful for. I started talking to myself, really, so that I would fall asleep and not cry anymore, and granted, the first night my list wasn’t very long. Ever since, however, the list has grown. It started with small things like I’m grateful for the beautiful colors in the dawn I saw today, and I’m grateful my cat purred when I pet her. But then my list also contained things like I’m grateful for my ability to write and run and swim and cycle, as well as, I’m grateful for unconditional support and love of my family. But as I said, the list grew to include the very big and the very small and all those things in between. I began to realize that there is so much in this world to be grateful for... and so much love, if only you take the time to notice it. 

And you know, little by little these inconsequential words began to change my perception of the world. The dawns became more dazzling and the time I spent with family and friends became more precious. And-- oddly-- I began to feel my old self again on the road/trails, on the bike and in the pool: that ability to push the fear and the pain down beyond feeling it, to feel powerful and strong and worthy.  

So on Christmas Day after a wonderful morning with my dad and stepmom, I took a run in an area called Franktown in Washoe Valley. It’s a two-lane loop at the tree line with ranches on one side and spectacular homes at the foot of the Sierra Nevada on the other. And out there in the pale winter stillness, a fire rekindled itself: I decided I truly want to be an Ironman. 

I have wanted to do this for a while-- since 2010, actually-- but never thought I was good enough. Not fast enough, not strong enough, not fit or brave enough.  At first it was the water rather than the distance which scared me most. Watching the waves of the Pacific break on the Kona coast on vacation with S. was more than enough of a warning and slicing a large chunk of my finger off on a stray bit of coral or the ragged rocky coast was enough to prove me right (then, in 2011).  But the doubt spread to all the sports: running was out of the question because I “couldn’t run” anymore (or, I couldn’t run 70-mile weeks which I equated to “failure”, then). And then, cycling (the old excuses: too fat, too heavy, too much of a body for the miles...). Until there was not a single reason I believed I could do anything at all.

But on that run on Christmas Day, there was none of that doubt. There was only the cold, still air and the pale sun and me on that open road. Maybe not running the fastest I ever have, perhaps not doing anything remarkable, but the thought came and it stuck: I want to be an Ironman. 

And now, the difference is that I believe I can. 

I am grateful for everything--- even the things which, on the surface, are not so great. I am grateful that I found my best friend, S.-- my guiding light who told me, again and again, that I was meant to do something incredible. And grateful for the MFA program which taught me to trust my words (I do, I do) and for all the wonderful people that have, somehow, found their way into my life (all my coaches who are also my friends, my training partners, my colleagues, my old and new friends, everyone...) For all of that-- that’s why I’ve decided to take on this new challenge. 

So many people believe in me and I think it’s really time I do, too. 

I signed up for the Boise Half-Ironman first-- a race which will be held in June where many of my teammates will be competing as well. I don’t have any specific time goals in mind; I really want to focus on training at the highest capacity I can and crossing that finish line. Beyond that, Ironman Arizona is calling me. And I hope to meet that challenge with all of me next November. 

Recently, I read an essay by David Foster Wallace (the title escapes me now) in which he claims that sports writing is (basically and essentially) sub-par because there is something about the physical-- or the physicality of elite athletics-- which necessarily escapes words. I believe that to a point, which is why I wince at the obvious metaphor I’ve committed to. I want to be an Ironman. A body as strong as iron (with a mind and soul to match.) It’s obvious and perhaps the parallels aren’t always true.

But maybe, sometimes, we need the cliché. Clichés are clichés after all, because they are so true they are the shorthand for talking about complicated things. I need to be an Ironman-- I need to do something I don’t know I can; I need to try and sweat and cry in the pursuit of a passion, a dream; I need to trust this beating heart of mine and know that I am OK just as I am no matter where I am: running, swimming, cycling, writing, sitting, single or married, young or old.  

I know this is going to be so hard, but I am ready for it. Ready for the journey, I mean. It’s a new chapter (another cliché, I know), but the page has turned and I’m in new territory now. A land of me against myself. And you know, I think we’re going to do all right.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Finding Meaning in Motion

As you've probably noticed, I don't blog as often as I used to. Of course, that (probably) has something to do with teaching four full sections of Freshman Composition courses at a University (I've never taught four full sections of anything, so the load has taken, ahem, some getting used to). Or, as a former professor said to me yesterday: "If you are teaching four sections of composition, there is no way that you are even remotely doing O.K."  But, admittedly, there's something else: something I realized last week when I stepped back into the racing scene; something I realized when I actually sat down to think about my goals moving forward as an athlete.

My first thought on that starting line and my first thought before I ease into the pool, clip into the bike or slip into my shoes has been for nearly two years: what, anymore, is the point? 

I'm not trying to be overly dramatic here, but setting goals-- and the attempt to achieve them-- is a huge part of who I am. I write in order to convey ideas, emotions, thoughts and to play with the expressive capacity of language. But I also write because I want to publish my work-- I want to become an established, successful writer. Of course words like "established" and "successful" require definitions-- but "establishment" suggests a regular rhythm, routine and presence: I don't want to be the one-hit-wonder of memoirs or blogs or even of a daily writing practice. I want writing to be a part of my life, just like training and breathing are. "Success", too, is not necessarily based in monetary gains in and of itself (although that would be nice) but rather the ability of my words to effect change in the world around me. If I can express something new and interesting that, in turn, inspires someone else to think or do something (or, even to write something) new and interesting, I consider my job as a writer fulfilled.  I know I'm not there yet, but I'm trying and as a mentor has told me: I have all the tools to improve. Perhaps what I need is more pages and more time. Or maybe a lot more coffee!

With athletics, however, my goals are no longer so clearly defined. I wanted to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Trials. I failed to do so. And then, I had a series of  injuries that have kept me away from the sport. Coming back, I've discovered I can no longer maintain the running mileage necessary to compete in marathons. I break down, my tendons snap and those are the types of absolute failures I'd rather not repeat. So, what's next? And why do I keep on practicing?

What, as an athlete, do I hope to achieve? 

I think, in this capacity, my athletic "career" (hobby? obsession? distraction?) shares something with my writing. It's about self-expression. I am many things, but above all of them, I consider myself the kind of person who willingly wakes up every day at 4:45 am so that I can swim or cycle or run and contemplate what it means that it took me X-amount of minutes (or hours) to cover a certain distance.

But it's more than that, too. Perhaps it has something to do with our idea of excellence. After all, the Ancient Greeks arguably invented athletic competition not only as physical endeavors to test the body's strength, but also as a measure of personal (emotional, intellectual and in a way, spiritual) strength. To win was to win on all counts: to be the best you could-- to be strong in all senses of the word.

This is embodied in the trail-tempo run I did yesterday with the team: how I  broke away from the group who followed the coach's instructions to run moderately hard and I decided to run harder than that. Down a dark canyon at dawn that was dusted in frost and up its sides on a switchback trail, Reno awoke to the dawn in the changing guards of lights-- as the sun shone brighter, the casinos resigned their neon lights to sleep until the next coming of darkness. Up the trail, hopping over rocks and drainage ditches, winding my way through the high desert with my breath forming miniature clouds to light my way: I felt like a champion.

I wasn't, I know. But I felt it as though it was real. The way I was out in front, leading. The way nothing could cause me to slow down. And the way, today, how I met all the intervals of the swim set the coach could give me: never deviating from the time I set for myself on the first one, even when my rest dwindled to mere seconds, off I'd go: five strokes to each breath and making it back with out an alteration in any of it, as though I was a machine.

But again that question: what is the point? 

I am not young, really, not anymore. I cannot run marathons. I cannot become a fantastic swimmer (although I think I've become a proficient one, which is an accomplishment I treasure.) I'm not even entirely sure that my 2:47 marathon time has much meaning aside from what I know it took for me to get there (the hours of running, the injuries, the sacrifices of not seeing family and friends, the toll--even-- on my writing.)

So, indeed: what does it mean?

I wish I had an answer. The only thought which comes to me-- again and again-- is this: Heraclitus (an ancient Greek philosopher) said that life itself is transitory. Most people remember him not by his name, but his idea that life is like a river or a creek: that you can't step into the same one twice. Things change, in other words, and change itself is the nature of existence.

In stepping onto a starting line-- or even, of running the trails, of swimming hard interval workouts, of saddling up on my bike-- I can only say that I am still here, training despite all the reasons I shouldn't (or can't!) Despite the awful things that can happen to a person-- and, even, despite the good-- I'm here, doing the things I love.

I write and I run, swim and ride. Perhaps I haven't won recognition for any-- but recognition is not the thing itself. And the thing itself is why I wake up so early before the sun and why I endure the awful dry-cold of Nevada-winter and why I probably always will. It's those quiet moments: the light before a storm, the absolute quiet attention of a hard swim; the cadence of a sharp climb on a bike, the wind in my face, the rain and the mud and the rocks which slip from under your shoes  and the hard burn in the legs and lungs and heart and the fatigue and enduring it all anyway-- that define myself to me.

And so, for now anyway, that is more than enough.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

...And we're back: Race Report for the Race for Education, 10k

It's hard to believe it's been a bit over two years since I toed the line at a race. Two years since I nearly ruptured my achilles tendon during an interval workout in the winter rain at Cal's track. Two years since my coach (of the Strawberry Canyon Track club) wrote letters to doctors explaining how talented I'd been, how close to the Olympic Standard and how important was for me to be healthy (and how they should forgive my lack of health insurance--which they didn't.) Two years since the loss of running and the belief of those around me that I could, despite how I look, run fast enough to win races. And then, of course, the belief in myself that I could run at all. Two years since that awful time of long rehabilitation when I stared into my own eyes at the gym while completing set after set of eccentric heel raises only to fall off my bike and crack my hip on the wet pavement of the Oakland hills, misaligning my pelvis and spine (which required, in turn, more rehab.) And months after that, running up Mount Tam and spraining the largest joint in my foot on the way back down so that I could hardly (once again) walk and through all of this: hearing again and again that I would never--ever-- be a competitive athlete in this life.

And for a time, I wasn't.

What is it like to lose something that defines you? I thought I knew; coming out of what amounted to two solid years of injury, I thought I knew what it was like to be stripped down to the bones of yourself, the essence, to ask: what really matters? After all, I knew what it was like to use feet that had been used to solid ground to find footing in water. (I joined a swim team and learned to swim. I competed in swim races. I got more efficient with my handling of water. I won a few medals. I met incredible people on my team who, I am honored to say, became my friends.)

But I thought: that was loss.

The not -running.

I learned I was wrong, though, when I resigned from my position as an editor/ghost writer/graphics designer for a business in Walnut Creek in order to teach writing courses at the University of Nevada, Reno. It took everything I had to come home; all my savings poured into the transportation of what had fit into a 300-square foot studio cottage. Books, mostly; what I can't live without. Printed manuscripts of my work. Paintings my grandmother did (oil on canvas); a glass cat made by Spode my Dad gave me for Christmas-- an object I can't live without. I wanted to be closer to my family-- my parents-- and my partner even though nothing was the same. I wasn't a runner anymore-- or an athlete, really. But I thought I'd make it work. Teaching over 80 students to write and to think.

And you know, I tried.

The world, it seems, is composed of layers. Like Nevada itself with its layers of sediment, the present piles itself on top of the past so that, if you were to cut into time with a knife, you would see the versions of yourself, all piled up like sandstone or lime.
Back, running old trails (not fast) was a comfort, at first. So was being home: the ability to drive for twenty minutes to see my parents, a blessing. My life without the running-- or, competing-- was starting to become acceptable, even normal. I loved my new home-office. My garden. The word "home" had a new, deeper meaning: a place to sleep, yes. But also a place that defines.

I wish I could tell you what happened.

But all I can say is that everything changed. It had been foreshadowed-- the loss of a "home" years earlier, a place where my partner S. and I had planned to live, where a community college had wanted me to teach just a block from our old Craftsman style house  S. had rebuilt with his own hands-- our house that the bank took away. It was the house where I'd had a library to work in and a kitchen where we'd host Thanksgiving together for once and not be apart. Where two lives could converge and mingle and make something new and unexpected. And so, there was--and is-- the absolute loss of that.

And then, the news my teaching position at the University has been eliminated due to budget concerns.

So, the question: what is it like to lose the thing that defines you? became more streamlined, more simple and desperate and sad: what is it like to lose everything and still find something to wake up for and believe in?

So I toed the line today in a race. I wasn't going to win; my new coach's wife, Kristi, stood beside me on the line and I knew she was much stronger than I was today. But I was there: after all of this-- after all the reasons NOT to run, I'm back and I'm running. I'm still here, doing the thing that I loved, once. Running after my younger shadow: the girl who believed she was great. And I don't anymore, but here I am: even though my feelings towards it have changed and I can't say I care so much about winning.

Instead, I care about something more elemental and simple. I care about the running itself.

Before the race, the crowd around us counted down in unison the final 15 seconds to the start. On my left stood Kristi: we'd done a brief warm-up together along with my coach, Scott. I don't know her very well; only that's she's a dedicated, strong and incredible athlete. An athlete who had to endure the awful trauma of mending a son who had cancer. Needless to say, I was grateful to have her by my side. And to my right, I had two ten-year old boys who refused to leave the front line despite the announcer's warning that there were 12 of us "elite" runners going for the prize money. And of me, what can I say? I can't say, and that's the thing. But there I was, on the verge of tears because I was "back", but not-back; happy and sad, me and not-me: running is not so weightless anymore: I carries so much memory of what was, what could-have-been and all the things I've ruined.

Sprinting at the start, nearly tripping on the children: we rounded the Scheels parking lot, crossing Sparks Boulevard and began the first lap around the Water Park. The first time I checked my Garmin, we were cruising at 4:45 pace (much too fast)-- but the pace allowed the 12 of us to break away from the children and other runners in what was, really, a narrow lane. Ideally, I probably should have started slower.

Across Sparks Boulevard (a four-lane road) and around a water park: Kristi was keeping 5:45 pace and so, knowing what I know of the last two months I've been able to run at all, I backed off and held a more conservative pace. I wish I'd stayed with her-- but I couldn't. I'm not strong or fit enough. However, someone along this stretch yelled my name and cheered. I was so focused on maintaining my pace, I didn't see-- or couldn't see-- who it was. Whomever it was, however, made me smile and keep running. Sometimes even a name-- a single word of encouragement-- can do wonders.

The 10k racers re-joined the 5kers at various points of the race: I remember running behind a small (7 or 8 year old) boy who obviously did NOT want to be passed by a girl. He sprinted about 100 yards in front of me, but stopped, exhausted. He was rather disappointed I passed him, saying "gosh darnit" at the turn between the two races: he continued straight and I turned for the additional 3.12 miles.

I ran as fast as I could, really: feeling awful (I always forget how awful you feel during a race), but I can hardly say I was anything spectacular. I lost sight of Kristi after the 5K and 10K runners took different courses and focused on the two men in front of me. One, I'd catch in the final half mile during my "kick" the other, I assume, was too fast for me to see.

The final half mile was, for lack of a more eloquent term, a CLUSTER FUCK of cars and kids. I don't know why the race organizers didn't close the road (to a parking lot!) but they didn't. So, the last half mile had me dodging kids and cars, parents and strollers (from the 5K race) and people who just wanted to park and shop (and who were, obviously, annoyed by all the runners on the road.) So I wove my way home, averaging a 6-minute flat pace for that final stretch (.5 mile, I guess?) Feeling tired and full of lactic acid-- but mechanically sound.

I crossed the line. Finished. I checked my watch: 37:52. Not so great. But I did it and felt, well, uninjured, which is something. The volunteers pointed me toward a blue tent where I learned I finished second-- I was the only female runner in the 10K after Kristi.

After another 10 minutes in the morning cold, officials made it "official": I'd finished second and won $250. The first prize money I've ever won in any sport, ever.

I wish I could say I've realized something new or useful or interesting. I wish I could say I was back, elite and kicking ass! But life isn't simple like that: it's not "one-thing or another"; after all, no one hugged me and said they believed in me again. Because, really, I don't even believe in me again.

So, why would you?

What I felt today, though, was happiness. Sheer and simple and well, stupid happiness at being able to run. To put on the running tights and the racing shoes and the glittery headband that was my staple in the bay. To pin that number on my chest and set my watch and know that what lies ahead will be painful and awful and you won't win.

It's like life, in a way. And maybe that's why I'm still out here doing this.

10K: 37:52
Pace: 6:06
Place: #2

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

I've got tendonitis again... how about those swim lanes?

I’VE GOT TENDONITIS AGAIN; this time in the left peroneal tendon: the string of tissue that attaches the outer part of the ankle to the knee. It’s a little like being stabbed with a steak knife as I walk-- or, especially run-- so I’ve got to take it easy for a day or so. Ice and rest and all of that RICE remedy-crap that’s become second nature to me as I transition from water-creature back to land. 

But now I wonder: have I? 

I’m moving in two days. Or, I will move. The books, the furniture, the cat and dishes and towels (but not the foam roller), the rugs, the lamps, the shoes (but not the running shoes) and the art have all been packed and moved without me. 
Now, I’m living in an empty white box, sitting on the floor with my computer propped up on the only cardboard box I bought from Home Depot which remains, filled with the books I’ll use to teach my various sections of English 101. 

Am I excited? 

I’ve been asked this countless times in the weeks leading up to this life-change and of course the answer is: yes. I imagine all these changes will be exciting: the new color of the walls and the smell of them; the challenge of arranging furniture and, in turn, arranging my life around its new, confined borders of time and place. I know, for a while, the promise of dawn will return. The question: “who knows what the day will bring?” will once again become a valid one because I really won’t know what to expect from my sea of unknown students, the administration under which I’ll work or even the new demands of myself, coming home as a “grown up” (sort of) but not really, solid and strong-- and (unexpectedly) a swimmer. 

What can I expect of me

I had imagined myself coming back to Reno a runner, just as I’d left. Running all over trails and training on the track that’s only a block from where I’ll be staying; running up hills and through the forest even when it snows because-- fuck it!-- I love to run.  But the distance between the 28-year old who left and the 31-year old who’s returning is more than just a body. 

What do three years and a new medium mean?  As I’m currently surrounded by white (walls, carpet, linoleum) I’m tempted to say it could mean anything. But life so far has taught me that it’s unwise to be so blindly optimistic-- everything in life which begins will end and the end will suck and the older you get the harder it is to get over whatever-it-is ending. 

Like my ability to run. (I’m tempted to say: my belief that I can write. Whoops. I said it. Damn.)  Maybe I was drawn to long distance running because of its philosophical underpinnings: that every step offered its own small transformation and the (muted, but present) promise that we all exist in a constant state of becoming, moving toward the more beautiful, the more sublime, the more exhausted. 

Swimming has a different (implied) philosophy. Or, it does for me since I do so few open water swims. When I swim I move back and forth in the pool over terrain I’ve already covered a lot.  Down and back. Again. And again. 50-meters (if you’re lucky) and flip-turn with the quick “hi, legs!”glimpse and then you’re headed back the way you came to the familiar concrete wall. 

Oddly, swimming reminds me of my writing (lately): a lot of going back and forth, feeling (mildly) unpleasant doing so, maybe unpresentable (swim-cap, wet, wearing something that’s skin-tight in all the wrong ways) always vulnerable (letting it all hang out there, dripping wet, no mascara) and, yes, having trouble breathing because of what you’ve just done. 

I hope I can figure myself out in this transition. Writers, you know, have a responsibility to the world: we transcribe reality into some larger thing called “truth”-- some of it pleasant, most of it not and we hope it’s all mildly interesting.  Everything, though, has its history and time and context. Everything is, when you try to write it, to pin it down and define it, is complicated and beyond our methods of human transcription. 

Am I up to this task? 

Of all the questions, this is the one I know I can answer (with a few footnotes, not included here): 

Yes, yes and yes.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Inspiration (Point?)

There is a trail I used to run once a week when I first moved to the bay area three years ago to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. That was back when I was an "elite" runner, or so I thought. Moving from the Reno/Tahoe area, I thought the difference in elevation would make all the terrain down here easy and, well, moot. Just like I thought running held the key to the meaning in my life. How wrong I was... on both counts.

Yet, this was the first trail to challenge me: it was my introduction to "rolling" terrain: constant ups and downs, I was forced to learn to change my stride to match my pace unlike those long, steady climbs I knew back home which taught me to be steady and consistent.

But aside from that: this is a special trail. Maybe it's due to the name of the place it starts-- Inspiration Point-- or maybe it's the view: on a clear day, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge (even the color of it), the Marin Headlands, Suisun Bay, among others. I remember early mornings-- long ago, when running was a part of my life like breathing-- when the fog would literally roll over the crest of the hill and I'd run right through it feeling the cold moist that had just recently been ocean water. I remember running there at dusk just as the sun went down and I'd trace my way back in the low-light of summer-evenings. I remember the way I learned to run that trail and how, after months of practice, I could do the entire thing at a sub-7 minute pace and feel as though I was ready for more.

But then there is a period of time two years when I stopped going to Inspiration Point. I was injured, after all, and was unable to run-- first due to a ruptured Achilles tendon and then to a nagging and sharp pain in my foot that was diagnosed first as plantar's, then as cancer of the bones (I never did have the scan done to confirm this) and finally, as a severe sprain of the Lisfranc joint which may never heal. It was a horrible, challenging time: a time when I had to find a new definition of myself and a new source of meaning in my life. A time when I wondered what it was all for: all the running, all the miles and all that belief I'd conjured up in myself that vanished the second I could no longer run. 

Well, I'm running again-- sort of-- but that question I began to ask myself two years ago is still here. Still, even, as I ran from Inspiration Point today at 5:00 pm when the summer sun wasn't set yet, but the difference in temperature from the inner and outer sides of the coastal hills causes a strong breeze to sweep across the trail.  I set out despite having swam for 80 minutes with the Master's team this morning, knowing I'd probably feel awful the entire run. Past the iron gate and up: running the periphery where there's gravel and dirt and not the hard pavement trail most walkers use. Not a single other runner on the trail at first: the first quarter mile I struggled to find a pace. But after that, I settled in and the running became how I remembered it. Like dancing: fluid; a negotiation with myself and the terrain around me.

It was funny how quickly all that old passion came back; how, when spotting another man running, I increased my speed and passed him, not caring how uncomfortable I was. And all those old thoughts: that I am a runner, an athlete, that I matter in a way that is larger than myself and that my life has meaning. The wind in my face, at my side, at my back; the cows looking on as though they are watching something extraordinary (or do they stare for some other, secret reason?) How I began to wonder when I could race again; when I'd get my name back; when I'd go back to the track and run intervals, faster and faster and finding meaning in that silent struggle, something which said to me, again and again: you matter. 

The entire (paved) trail is 8.25 miles out-and-back. I normally only run 5-6 on days I swim. Today, I made a deal with myself that I'd split the difference and run 7 miles-- adding an extra mile to push myself but not the additional 1.25 since the thing I want to avoid more than anything right now is injury. Out and back. Not stopping. Not even up some of the hills which made my heart beat fast. Not even when I wanted to. Coming back, I passed the man again and my heart cheered, silently. My total time: 52 minutes for a bit over 7 miles.

Nothing extraordinary, even though I felt as though I'd conquered the impossible, today. Some silent something, somehow. Something real. 

But that thought-- and feeling-- isn't quite what it was two years ago. Today it was tempered with-- what? age? wisdom? I'm not quite sure-- but the sense that a person's worth is more than a number. We aren't entirely our social security numbers or the figures on our bank statements, the number on a scale, the time it took us to run this distance, the number of years we've lived, the cost of the house we live in, the number of times we've been married or divorced, the number of facebook friends, the number of carats in your diamond ring and the culmination of voices which say "I approve of you." Are we more? Or, I should ask: am I more than all those numbers?

I honestly don't know.  My rational mind says "of course." But running was my measure. And the thing that replaced it-- my writing-- has  been no more helpful. I get rejections in the mail nearly every day for the things I write. Maybe I'm just an awful person, I wonder? Maybe I'm not good at anything?

And so, that's the allure of Inspiration Point. Of the Lafayette Rim Trail. Of all the places I run. It's the way I tell myself you matter in a world that tells me again and again-- in spite of those rejection letters and injuries-- I might, one day.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Why you have to FAIL

I wish this was a blog about how hard my training is going. In some ways, that would be an easier post to write because, after all, physical strain is something that's tangible and real in a way that psychological stress or strain is not.  Yet, it's not all doom and gloom here in my little world: I've gotten my mileage up to about 50 miles a week and I'm happy with that. I still swim with the Master's Team Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings; those are my "double days" when I get out of the pool and run. Tuesdays and Saturdays are my long runs (one medium-long, one long-long) and Sunday a day to run and just enjoy it.

I never thought I'd be able to enjoy running again. I'm not fast. I'm not fit. But for now, I'm moving and it means so much to me to be able to wake up, pull on those smelly shoes and hit the trails with nothing to power me but my own body.  Which isn't to say I don't like swimming or cycling: I do. Swimming is keeping my ankles loose and stretches the tendons from the running efforts which tighten them so that I've managed to stay healthy (fingers, arms, legs and eyes crossed while knocking on wood) so far.

And so, what's up, you ask? Well-- a lot, actually. A few months ago, I was accepted to the Tin House Writer's Workshop-- a HUGE honor for me-- but since, I've struggled with my writing. What on earth was I going to submit? My self-confidence shrank as though submerged in cold water and it hasn't-- even now-- recovered. To assuage these demons, I've spent every night for the past three months working on this new project I finally submitted last night because I was literally sick of looking at it (the deadline is Saturday.) I simultaneously wish I could un-submit it and clean up all the errors and incorrect nuances I can see now in the clarity of the morning after; but then, the sane part of me argues that I've done enough and I should just let it go.

But-- and how can I say this-- my life is defined by failure in ways I never thought it would be. And maybe this is what happens to us all in one way or another. I was reading On Boxing by Joyce Carol Oates the other night (research for my new project) and she had this interesting thought that the premise of boxing is failure and therefore, boxing is this unique metaphor for life while nothing is a metaphor for boxing. We all fail and are measured by those failures: it's the "didn't quites" that matter most. I don't mean not trying or giving up-- I'm talking about those moments in life when you pour yourself into something and try and try and try and then you come up short.

Or maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better. My book manuscript was rejected by Hawthorne Books today-- a publisher I've admired for so long which said my work simply wasn't their cup of tea. And how awful it is to hear that! Does it mean that my writing is crap? Or, is my story-- my life-- trite and uninteresting? Either way, I immediately thought of that quote by Joyce Carol Oates and I don't know: maybe failure is a painful indication that you are still trying.

Just like I keep trying in the pool when I really don't want to swim a 50 meter butterfly but I do because I can. Or, when I'm running those hills around the Lafayette Reservoir and I don't want to keep going, but I do and I can and then, I simply do. Those moments might be failures, but they are also small victories. At least I'm out there. At least I haven't given up on my story, my voice and my body.

I still want to be an athlete again. And there is not a moment in my life I can remember when I didn't want to be a writer. I hope it happens. And I hope I and Joyce Carol Oates are right about this failure-thing. Lace up the shoes again. Snap on the swim-cap. Pump up those tires and type, type, type those stories.... victories are born of many failures.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

On Catching Up or Falling Behind: Another Study of Perspective

photos by Jay

There was a moment at the end of this Saturday's ride-- around mile 89 for me-- which succinctly captures my experience of the past two weeks in the intimate, wordless way only cycling can: I found myself in a pace line with Ward, Jay and Cisco D-- and worried that they would drop me because they can all go much faster than me on the flats. But somehow, I always found myself tucked behind one of them, until mile 89. And then, feeling guilty about staying on a wheel the entire time, I used what was left in my legs (not much) to pull ahead in order to pull the last little bit before I'd go my own way, toward home.

Only, it didn't quite work out that way: I pulled ahead, and perhaps they all got the wrong impression and thought I was racing. Or, maybe I am just slow and I pissed everyone off by becoming the human roadblock. Either way, a pack of three would cruise right on by, leaving me where I have consistently been in running, swimming, writing, riding and... life. Breathless, exhausted and feeling pretty awful about what I've got to offer the world.

At the top of Morgan Territory. At this point, I wanted to go home where it was warmer. Cisco D, however, suggested a map stuffed in my jersey might make a difference. In the end, it didn't.
I'm sure it has something to do with effort. With having too much of one sort and not enough of the other. Granted, I've been spread pretty thin as of late: work at work is exploding with the increased pressure of book promotions as summer publication dates approach. I have taken on another job as a news editor of an online music magazine-- a fun job, but one that requires me to write a lot more than I would otherwise write which would be a good thing IF I wasn't also approaching a HUGE deadline for the Tin House Writer's Workshop-- an honor that I've been graciously granted by some strange twist of luck (someone liked MY writing?? Weird!)-- only to find myself now, ten days before the deadline with absolutely NOTHING to submit because my writing is absolute crap.

Needless to say, I've developed an ulcer which feels like knives stabbing me in the gut, GI issues that feel worse and a habit of sleepless nights. All of these have required a lot of effort to obtain, but unfortunately, they have taken whatever reserves I had left for what I consider the "important" parts of life: everything I do when I'm not sitting on my ass at a desk. (Well, aside from the writing I do for myself. That is the one ass-sitting activity that is completely acceptable. That, and sitting in the saddle of my bike.)
At a crossroads. And I should have bagged it here. But I didn't. I decided, against all sanity, to keep going. 

I half wanted to bag the Saturday ride. The guys are in incredible shape and, due to my new schedule, I'm, well, not. Or, that's not quite true: I still swim three days a week and this would be my first week of running 50 miles in 7 days. Not a huge effort for many: but a milestone for me since, for the past two years, my body just couldn't take it. I haven't been on the bike, though and I have no excuse for that other than 1) I'm lazy 2)I'm running a lot more and 3) I have an expensive deadline coming up that makes me feel as though I'm going to vomit nearly every hour of the day.

So. That's me, starting off at 9:00 am on a Saturday. We were headed, first, to Morgan Territory, an area that's just past Clayton and among my favorite rides. I think, in some ways, because it reminds me of home: this is horse-country where the landscape, though hilly, opens up. Stables, corrals and a narrow, winding lane: if there was sagebrush, maybe I'd be back home. This isn't to say it isn't a challenging climb-- it is-- but this, too, is one of my favorites: once you're in the narrow canyon, you're under the shady cover of trees as the road turns and undulates up.

Today we would ride as a pack for the first part of the climb. Dave and Jay out in front; Ward, Matt and I exchanging positions in the second row of cyclists. Political banter laced with the ridiculous would keep us company until the incline increased and the front pack pulled away leaving Ward and I (and whomever was behind us) to climb on our own. It's one of my biggest fault that I go into a "zone" when I'm doing something--riding, running, swimming. I just find a pace and stick to it: fast or slow. That's what I did for that first climb and so I remember only the flicker of shadows and the sound of my own breathing. I passed a few other cyclists-- guys with hydration packs, or those who had stopped by the side of the road-- but really, it was a solitary effort which was fine with me.

The wind at the top, however, nearly drove me home. It was sunny-- but COLD. Damn, it was cold. As I left the bike by the fence and sat down at the wooden table for my water/snack, I was seriously considering going home, wrapping myself in blankets and working on my Tin House submission. I nearly had a reason: Cisco D said he felt awful, too (although his awful would be a pretty stellar day for me.)

How did I get talked into doing more miles? I didn't want to and I knew it would be a shit-show because no matter what I do these days, I feel awful: about my work, about myself. But then, I don't know, I just sort of wanted to and did and it isn't so hard to imagine what the rest of the ride was like: I'd go out in front and turn back to see the rest of them, in a pace line, streaming past me. Again and again.  But they are a nice group: even if I'm in the back, they always waited for me to catch up.

Talking to Mike-- a real inspiration. A true long-distance rider, I wish I had his grit and determination.  Instead, I will feel awful for pretty much the entire ride.

Out to Livermore and Del Valle Reservoir: a steady two (or three?) mile climb up. It's usually the type of climb I love: steady, nothing too steep. The key is hitting an aggressive pace and sticking to it. But Saturday, I just felt "off"-- my stomach feeling like I'd eaten knives for breakfast, my left knee tugged by a too-tight IT band and the constant reminder that I am not really good at anything.

Feeling awful, but the scenery's great. Del Valle's behind me.

I made it, though, to the top where people fly electric gliders in the wind and down the other side to the reservoir where they hold open water swim events I've signed up for and decided I can't do. The campground was filled with tents of all sizes and colors-- and kids. Cisco D. joked he wanted a hot dog. The mere thought made me want to throw up. I ate some of my second bar but I couldn't finish it; by that point, my insides were doing gymnastics. It didn't help that Jay told a story about a woman they used to ride with who would eat full meals (hotdogs?) in the midst of these long rides. His story was funny, and I laughed: but I worried, with the laughing, if I wasn't about to throw up, too.

What can I say about the rest of it? I made it, obviously, because I'm writing this post. I made it to Livermore and past the water tanks painted with whales and the stink of sewage. I made it to our stop just past the Livermore Airport where I bought a big, cold jug of water and Fig Newtons for everyone to have because of how guilty I felt about my own awfulness. Then, there's Collier Canyon when I thought I had a thorn stuck in my front tire (it was only a rock) and the way the rusted old windmill turned at the top of that last climb in those desolate, brown-hilled miles and how that somehow reflected how my body felt: old and rusted. With knives in its belly.

I'm the fat cowboy, on the right.
Down the boulevard; at first I didn't keep up. And when I did, I tucked in behind a wheel for self-preservation so no one would have to wait. Until mile 89 and then... well, you know.

I woke up and ran today: the ridge trail, around the Lafayette Reservoir. I received correspondence from my contacts at museums for the research I'm doing for this writing project which have given me promising leads; I attended the graduation of my colleagues at Saint Mary's College.

The wonderful thing about sports is that there is always the promise of getting better: you just have to train harder, try harder: the human body will respond. It isn't like that with writing: sometimes you create something amazing; most times you don't and you're rejected. I wonder what it means that I'm focusing on the capricious half of my life. Or, that my body is beginning to respond to the writing and not those other things I do when my ass isn't in the chair.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

First week of Double-Century Training: The Solo Century

I went to bed last night with a lot of questions-- mainly: was I really going to do a double-century? One supported by Planet Ultra, no less? Well, luckily one of my ride-mates gave me another, much more sane option: another ride in the Eastern Sierra that's held in September called the White Mountain Double. The hardest climb begins at mile 17 and results in riding through the sort of high country that sports bristlecone pines. SOLD.

Oh yeah: but you have to ride the rest of the 180 miles for it to count as a Double-Century. Hence, today's ride.

The lovely club I usually ride with decided-- long ago back when registration was still open-- to ride the Wine Country Century. I, alas, did not make the cut-off before all slots were filled and so this week left me with two options: ride alone or putter around the house, doing things like laundry. So, I thought: well, if I'm going to be able to ride 200 miles in September, there's a good chance I'll have to do those miles-- most of them-- alone. And what a way to kick off the training than by riding the distance of a century-- 100 miles-- all on my own.

You see, it's kind of a big deal for me since I've never ridden that far by myself. I've done 80-mile rides. And I've done 120-mile rides with the Diablo Cyclists. But neither one is quite like riding 100 miles all on your own-- or, that's the lesson of the day. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

6:00 AM: THE CAT WENT OFF.  (who needs an alarm clock when you have a CAT? Or, if you have my cat who absolutely will not stand for me to be in bed once the clock's display changes from 5:59 to 6:00 am.) Trill-chirp-eow and then a catapulting-jump-to-the-stomach and I'm up.  While the water boiler does it's thing I start to think: what if I started today's ride by climbing to the summit of Mt. Diablo?

I questioned my sanity while I poured the water over the coffee: Mt. Diablo? Really?  I sort of hate that ride.  Or, I tell myself I hate that ride because I remember hill sprints I did on that mountain and tempo rides and rides after full swim workouts and the junction is about enough if you're going as hard as you can... and, usually, the summit, for me, is out of the question. But there was something in the air today; or, some new focus I have that said, gently: you don't have to go fast. You just have to do it. 

From there, I decided I'd just tack on a club ride-- what we call the "Peets Coffee Ride" which includes the following climbs: The Pig Farm, The (3) Bears, Wildcat Canyon, Grizzly Peak, Tunnel Road, Redwood/Pinehurst and for fun I added Glorietta (not really much of a climb, but a fun downhill) at the end.

The best decision of the day came moments before I rushed out the door, hopped on my bike and began this solo journey: I made myself an almond butter and jam (Mom's homemade plum jam) sandwich. Little did I know: it would be the thing that would save me.

1. MT. DIABLO. I got to the gate around 8:00 am and already it was warm.... and windy. DAMN. I think my teammates might be right: I'm a jinx when it comes to wind. If you've never climbed Mt. Diablo, let me describe it for you: this sort of sucks, sort of sucks, then the road levels (funny, it feels downhill) before the climb to the 1,000 foot elevation mark when "this sucks" turns into whatever word would describe what it would feel like to throw up a lung because it's steep. I passed a guy there who had stopped-- he was the first one I saw at all today, which was so odd. There are usually a lot of cyclists on Diablo on the weekend; but starting out, I had the impression I was the only one.

I soon caught up with another: this one, wearing white bike shorts (the kind with suspenders) OVER a thermal blue shirt. What people think is OK to wear in public.... I didn't see him again (thank heavens.)

Up the switchbacks, I passed one other (male) cyclist but hardly saw anyone on the road. I kept telling myself to drink all the water I had--- I nearly did-- before reaching the junction (about 6 miles up.) Once there, I did see a group of cyclists but they seemed to have no intention of moving (to say nothing of cycling) so I quickly refilled my bottles and headed up for the final 4.5 miles.

You know, it wasn't as awful as I remembered it: I just kept a steady cadence and heart rate-- nothing outrageous, nothing too low, either.  I would pass another guy maybe two miles later before the expansive lookout, before the 3,000' foot marker. But otherwise, the road was mine. I worried about the wind: would it be in my face for that final climb to the top?

From the Summit of Mt. Diablo looking toward the bay, the Pacific Ocean and beyond. Hard to see much from all the fire-smoke.

This would be the first day I didn't stop en route to the summit. I just kept up that steady pedal stroke, a steady heart rate, feeling slow (seeing visions of the guys I ride with passing me and shaking their heads) but just going.  Sooner than expected, there was the last push to the summit--and it wasn't so bad. It was windy as F*** but not so bad.

I tried to refill my water bottles at the top, but the wind kept the water from coming out of the water fountain the way it was supposed to. I tried holding my bottle on the opposite side, but I would only catch stray droplets.  I decided to refill at the junction after taking a few quick snapshots of the incredible view, obscured in the distance by fire-smoke.

My trusty steed at the summit; lucky she didn't blow over from all the wind. I couldn't even refill my bottles since the wind made the water from the fountain spray in the opposite direction.

2. THE PIG FARM & THE BEARS: There's probably nothing more fun than riding down Mt. Diablo. Wow. I wish I had a video-thingy on my helmet. But you'd probably still not "get" it: the wind, the road, the swerve: it's a roller coaster you control.  Back down to civilization: I had a dingle-berry (another rider on my wheel) the entire way down. Why-- I have no idea. I'm pretty slow on downhills, in part, due to falling hard in 2010.

To get to the Pig Farm-- and to the Bears-- you have to ride through Walnut Creek and through part of Pleasant Hill. I hate city-riding: and I was the only cyclist on those sections of roads today. Looking back: I wonder if I ought to have stopped at one of the gas stations for more water. The sun was higher in the sky and it was, already, HOT.   But these are the details which become important in retrospect.

It would a 30-mile stretch between the junction on Mt. Diablo and the next water stop. I decided I would ride it was quickly as I could and refill at the top of Wildcat Canyon. It wasn't the smartest decision I've ever made; but I made it. And, once Pleasant Hill faded into farm and ranch land, there wasn't anything I could do but ride.

The climb to the Pig Farm (I guess it was a pig farm at one point, though I've never seen any pigs here. Goats. Some Cows. No pigs.) It's an undulating up with trees until you get to the climb and then, it's all sun and UP. The downhill's fun, but it killed a guy last year when he ran into a wild turkey who was hidden by the shadows.

From there, you continue to "The Bears"-- a series of long, steady climbs in full-sun.  IT WAS HOT OUT and I hated every drop of sweat that fell from my helmet knowing my water was limited until I could refill at the top of Wildcat.

Once again: I was alone. Hardly another person on the road. Even the cars were scarce and I started to worry that the world had ended an no one had bothered to tell me. I saw one guy after the climb on Mama Bear-- I caught him, passed him-- but he passed me again at the top of Papa Bear and he turned toward Orinda when I would head up Wildcat.

I FELT AWFUL. My knees ached and it was an effort just to MOVE. (I think I was dehydrated.) So, climbing Wildcat was awful, which is unfortunate because usually I love this climb. It's not steep, but steady: I love shifting into the absolute hardest gear I can handle and really passing others on the up. But today:  no one else was on the road and I had nothing in my legs. I kept telling myself to get to the water stop. If nothing else: drink all the water I could and then I could quit.

But you know, the funny thing is: I didn't want to quit.

3. WILDCAT TO GRIZZLY PEAK: I drank an entire bottle of water and more when I stopped at the "top" of Wildcat-- at a restroom which was populated by Porche enthusiasts and not a single cyclist but me. I ate the first half of my impromptu sandwich and felt-- almost immediately-- better. I drank another bottle of water and refilled everything to the brim.

The Porche convention from my spot in the shade. About 25 cars all lined up; and a group of people, below with chips and salsa. I was giddy enough with water and the half of the sandwich I didn't think I'd need.

Up Shasta to Golf Course and then Grizzly Peak: it was strange, these empty roads. The fact that my cell phone offered me no coverage made me even more wary: what on earth was going on? But I chose to ride, because, I guess, that was my only option. Up Grizzly Peak and down into Berkeley to the Peets across from the Claremont Hotel. There, I'd guzzle a coconut water and eat the other half of my sandwich, knowing I was not yet done with this ride.
The bike outside the Berkeley Peet's. I'm the only cyclist there; so odd for a Saturday. The coconut water was delish.

4. TUNNEL ROAD TO SKYLINE TO REDWOOD: There was not another body on the road: hardly any cars, either. So strange. The first few miles up Tunnel Road--taking me out of Berkeley and back into the Oakland hills-- hurt. My heart rate was rather low, but it was as though I had nothing left in my legs.

I stopped and tried to take a photo: the bay was clear and you could see out, even to the ocean, but I re-saddled quickly since I was hardly feeling 100%. I wanted to finish: I wanted to ride this stupid 100 miles on my own.

I had originally planned to take Pinehurst home-- a windy descent that would lead me into Moraga, but I was worried I'd come in under 100 miles, so I decided to extend the ride and do Redwood Road before Pinehurst. That meant another (2) climbs; nothing too crazy; but my legs were tired.

Yet: I really wanted to ride a century on my own and that goal was enough-- even at mile 75-- to keep me from turning back early. Why? I still have no idea. but yes: I made the decision to go the long way home. To climb more. To hurt more. Alone.
Once again, my trusty bike, this time in Sidley Park after the climb up Tunnel Road. 

5. PINEHURST, GLORIETTA, HOME.  Have you ever had a moment when your body supersedes your mind? Like: your mind says: there's no way I can do this! And your body simply, efficiently, well, does. That would be the best way to describe my final miles. Half of my brain was ready to be done. The part that kept me going was the body-part: the part that said, again and again: you can do this. One more mile. Just one more. And then, another. 

Down Redwood and then up again: that would get me to Pinehurst, to Moraga Road. I decided to head back toward Orinda; I was afraid I wouldn't even come close to 100 miles if I just rode by Saint Mary's College.

Wind in my face; nothing in my legs. Moving, them, though. Riding. Alone. Down the boulevard. Turning onto Glorietta. The slight climb. The descent. Riding by the reservoir. Riding through town.  My lovely driveway. The disappointment that I only rode 93.7 miles. Event though I felt worse than a used wash rag.

BUT WHAT A DAY! I climbed to the summit of Mt. Diablo: and rode nearly 100 miles without any help or any one. I hope I can finish a 200-mile ride in September.
HOME! HOME!  The most amazing bike EVER on my deck at HOME. I am so happy to have made it, considering the wind & the heat: my two greatest foes.

For now: dinner and bed. I've got to get up and run and then another 40-50 miles to make this solo weekend adventure worthwhile.

Friday, May 3, 2013

What am I afraid of?

Taken in Smith, Nevada last year when I rode to Bridgeport (about 44 miles) one morning at dawn.
I'd be lying if I didn't admit that there's a certain sense of malaise about my life: there are far more "didn't do's" or "didn't make-its" than I thought I'd ever have. I didn't turn out to be the sort of person who runs a marathon every weekend; I didn't turn out to be the person who has a family or a house or even a car I truly own; I didn't turn out to be an Olympic Trials Qualifier; I didn't turn out to be a swimmer (or, at least one that can do the backstroke); I didn't even turn out to be a writer. And today I feel the weight of all these failures more than usual. Maybe it's the weather; or maybe it's time I try something new.

I wish I could say it was something I came up with on my own; but when you're depressed, the world looks a little darker, like you're in a hole in the ground and you can't always see very far that way. I guess there's a reason why they call it "tunnel vision." It took an email chain started by a guy I ride with who just completed the Devil Mountain Double-- a very challenging 206-mile ride to get me to wonder that old-question-- the one I used to use a lot more in my twenties: "what if?"

I should preface the rest of this with a disclaimer: I ride (and swim and run) with some pretty amazing people. Fascinating, strong and kind people; the sort who devote hours of their lives to a sport that may never pay them back. People like me-- but better.  Anyway, when it came to talking about future double-centuries, the question was posed to me: would I consider doing one? 

Maybe it's a small thing: but I guess the question meant they believed I could. They asked not if I could but if I wanted to. Even though I don't consider myself much of an athlete anymore. I go to swim practice; I ride up Mt. Diablo on Tuesday mornings as fast as I can and do 100-mile rides with the group on Saturdays (most Saturdays.) I've even started running again, slowly, building up my tendons and ligaments to handle a more challenging load, later. But I wouldn't call myself an athlete. I am lucky enough to surround myself with several; but me, I'm just a person who didn't do a bunch of things and who feels, increasingly, like life has lost its glow.

But the what-if question trickled down to my fingers and I did a search and I found out that there's a Double-Century on June 1 in the Eastern Sierra, not too far from where my family resides and where I-- long, long ago-- might have called home. And you know, I really, really feel compelled to do this. Even though it's supported by Planet Ultra which, well (sorry Planet Ultra) sucks. (Yeah, sucks. And I hate to say that because their events raise money for a good cause. But I'll continue because I might be a jerk but I'm not the only person I've heard with similar-- or near-similar comments. I'll never forget the 2009 Solvang Century, the way I ended up riding more miles because I got lost because the route wasn't marked AT ALL and the way there was hardly enough food at the support stops and the best part of the ride was the people I chanced to meet that were riding along with me. Oh, and the end, when I got to stop after 6 hours and thirty minutes, two hours too much for me, then since it was the first time I'd been on a bike that year-- but decided I still had it in me to ride 100 miles. OK-- maybe that last one wasn't your fault.)

But I don't know: why is it I think that getting up before the dawn and riding into the darkness of morning and riding long after the sun has gone down will make me feel better about my life? A part of it, I think, is because I'm afraid of it. Afraid of getting lost out there, in the dark, alone. But in a strange way, I think that's about where I am right now. And why riding might be the perfect metaphor: if I just keep going, the sun's got to come up and light my way.

And you know, maybe I'll find it. The thing I'll "do." Finally.


Monday, April 22, 2013

I learned I was not FAST... and LOVED IT

A big reason why I write this blog is because I believe there is a connection between writing and all the crazy things I do which I will group under the term "athletics". Maybe it's not an obvious one: as an athlete, you move and as a writer, you do the best work when your ass is in the chair. But the mentality:  the sticking with it even when it sucks, the loneliness of being "in your own head", the temptation to "not try so hard" those things-- the writing and the athletics share.   

So I guess that's where I start today, on the near 103-mile ride that would sneak up on Saturday after a challenging week at work and, as rides like this do, bite me where it hurts in all the wrong moments. And on Sunday, I'd head to Lodi for a stroke clinic and learn how wrong I've been all this time on how I do freestyle and back (with an emphasis on my creative interpretation of back.)

But how I needed to learn I am not fast or as strong as I thought. And how happy I am I went and knew: I could survive and learn and still-- even as old as I am-- become better. 

The group on Danville Blvd headed out to Sunol and the Reservoir.  Notice I'm not wearing arm-warmers!! For the first time in months I DIDN'T HAVE TO!!
The 9:00 AM start today was glorious. I didn't even need my arm-warmers and they immediately became an ornament on my handlebars, like a flag.  We had a large group, starting out and we rode, peloton-style, along the flat of Danville Boulevard and I took my turn pulling early, eager for the miles, I guess, but also to forget the other life I lead when my ass is in a chair and not a bike saddle. 

I wasn't sure I wanted to do the bonus miles, even from the start: I kept worrying about the swim clinic on Sunday and I didn't want to blow my legs out for that; but HOT DAMN it was nice out and there was no wind (for the first time in AGES) and I thought: will there ever-ever be another day like this? So I signed myself on for the bonus miles at about mile 10, regardless of how I did. Strong. Shitty. Not matter: I was going long because the sun was out and the poppies are blooming orange and because I CAN. 

So: the ride out past Dublin to Sunol is mostly unremarkable. I kept up in the pace line, but when it broke, I fell behind at first, before I was able to get my legs going and catch up and pass riders, one by one. One person rode to the far left which made passing treacherous (I don't want to have a face-on collision with a car) and when I'd shout out to him, he wouldn't move over. Grrr....) But that was probably a good thing since he would be turning back early due to a bad spoke and bald tires around mile 60 or so. 


Cisco Dave and Chris in front of the Steam Train.

The first stop at Sunol: there was an ACTUAL STEAM TRAIN THERE and I got all nostalgic: my grandfather had a particular fascination with the trains and spent is spare hours building meticulous models by hand of the old steam engines in scale-- so meticulous that the miniature boilers fed by coal would would actually run.  He made every rivet, and every bolt by hand; and I still remember those mini-trains. They remind me of home, oddly. 

It was interesting to learn a lot of the other riders had family members who had- in some way-- worked or had some connection with trains. This almost over-sahdowed the browning SaniHut that hadn't been cleaned since 1/31/13. ALMOST because a bathroom with no attention shouts with its own distinctive-- and hardly ignorable--voice.  

From there, we could climb into Calaveras Reservoir: a mostly up, but sometimes down and curvy, affair. Franco-- a newer member of our group-- shot out in front after I'd alternated the lead of the pace line with Chris-- and I just assumed I was slow and he was annoyed. Jay, however, came up to my rear wheel and assured me we'd catch him in the hills. 

Too soon, it's ALL A-WARD! With Ward (right) and me as we continue the ride to the reservoir.


I can't say we worked together on this one... it was more like a race to the top! The road would turn, climb, descend, turn a bit over 90-degrees and climb again before repeating that pattern. It took a while for me to get the pattern of the changing undulations and soon Ward, Jay and I were trading leads, pushing hard, not wanting to be left behind. Cisco Dave, Jose and Franco were so far in front of us that I could no longer see them; but I-- being a cautious downhiller-- wasn't really looking out in front too far. I was more worried about the terrain immediately in front of my wheel.

Early in the climb, Jay surged ahead of me and took this shot with what-- at the time-- seemed mere inches from my face. I thought it would be awful. But in fact, it's my favorite cycling pic yet. I look so happy; you'd have no idea how awful I felt climbing that hill!

I would be lying if I said it wasn't a hard battle. Both Ward and Jay are incredible cyclists and the fact that I kept up at all amazes me, looking back. Retrospect also grants me the insight that I attacked at all the wrong moments-- just before a downhill when Ward's ability to fly down the hill, corner the turns, etc were an immediate disadvantage to me and Jay's steady climbing a virtue when I had no idea how far an ascent would go. I tried to bring it home, pulling up and pushing down on the pedals, my heartrate at 181, cornering sharper than I normally do, but I was no match for Ward who is simply--tactically-- a better cyclist than I am. Ward, after the ten mile of turns and climbs, the head of our pack followed by Jay and I. 

Then we did the silliest thing EVER: we rode DOWN A STEEP HILL, TURNED AROUND AT THE BOTTOM AND CLIMBED BACK UP AGAIN. I had no idea this was a part of the program; and after the lovely rest on my legs, was somewhat irked I had to climb up that damn thing again. "Whose f***ing idea was this?: I felt like saying, but didn't since I had to focus on the climb and trying to salvage my pride since I am not, my far, the fastest member of this cycling group. 

Climbing back up the ridiculousness that is THE WALL! I'm in the back since I didn't actually think we were climbing up that hill we just went down

Climbing up THE WALL and wondering why I was doing this, LOL! But it was a lovely place;  thank goodness it's warm again.


We re-grouped on some person's driveway in the shade of an oak tree. Chris, who should be careful of feeding me too much lest I start to depend on her generosity like a stray cat, gave me my favorite ride-treat: a PB n' J Bonk Bar. Along with the last of my water in the bottles, it was heavenly. I could have sat on that rock, savoring the bar, for another hour, probably. The team regrouped quickly, however, and after a few quips about Ward's leg-gash, and the result of Cisco Dave's hydration control on a road sign, we were off to go back and up (and down) to Sunol to continue our ride. 

Ward and I lounging in the shade of a driveway. Chris gave me a peanut-butter and jelly Bonk Bar (HEAVEN).

I rode with Cisco Dave most of the way down. I asked him about his upcoming event-- the Devil Mountain Double-- and if he felt ready for the 206 miles. After all, he'd be riding by here, too... but instead of having only ridden, say 50 miles, he will have done (perhaps) 100 more. I looked for Eagles, too, that apparently keep nests in the area. I don't believe I saw a single one, though there were a number of larger, darker birds that always circled high, as though searching for prey or carrion, below. 

The flats before Sunol again became a race. Franco, Chris I and I; then Cisco Dave shoots by with Ward and Jay behind him. I tried to close the gap sinking low in my drops to become as small as I could, but even at 27 mph, I couldn't (quite) do it. 


Back to Sunol again our ride group parted ways.

Our group headed up Palomares. Here is Cisco Dave (left) and Ward (right). 

Those on the 80-mile loop would head back to Walnut Creek, turning right. The rest of us would turn left and climb Palomares Canyon. I love this side of the climb: the other is shorter but significantly steeper so that you might contemplate killing yourself to end the pain once or twice on the way up especially if you have some miles on your legs already. This side, however, is longer and the climb more gradual. Also: you get to move at a slower pace and see the scenery which is both beautiful and slightly strange: the large ranches, the odd piece of furniture (thrown?) into the creek, the dappled light of trees, the winery in the middle of nowhere (with an open tasting room?) an estate sale, a peacock. I sometimes wonder if I'd even blink if an alien walked up to me on some of these lonely roads or if I'd simply nod and keep pedaling, assuming it was a part of the landscape. 

I really tried to keep pace with Cisco Dave but I'm not that strong or fit anymore. He pulled ahead of me and I did my best, on my own, to keep moving. I would get to the top after Dave, though and wait beneath the shade of an oak tree before we all descended back to Dublin and back home.

On the ride home, I would see the group leave me and be saved by a red light; I just don't have the sprinting legs for the flats. On hills, I'm fantastic. On level ground, I am a lazy cyclist: doing only what I want and not what I can. How I loved those red lights coming back down the boulevard. They meant I would not be left behind.

We ran into a woman on the way back-- in a full racing kit. She would end up riding with me, home. I learned her name was L* and she started racing two years ago because her husband, who had been racing for years, suggested she try it out. She told me she was-- after the first race-- hooked.

She was what my spirit feels like after a good ride or run or swim: bleeding optimism, happiness and a thirst for more. I admit my legs were having trouble keeping up with her pace, but I didn't mind, listening to her stories of racing: of victories and crashes, of long training hours, and of wanting to pursue the sport for the sheer joy of it and purposefully not engaging in the drama of a large all-woman team. I wish I was fitter; I'd have signed on right there; but I'm not. And I let her ride on when I reached my street.

But I don't think I'll forget that attitude: you ride because you love it. And I do: I love all the sports I do, otherwise I wouldn't wake up so early each morning to make them a part of my day. Or wake up the next day for a swim clinic, either. 

But it's all in the hope I can be better. And you know, if I keep it up, one day I might be.