Monday, August 30, 2010

Chicago Triathlon redux

Hey, quick results from the Chicago Triathlon. But first, follow the link to Phil Hersh's column about me and the race in Friday's Chicago Tribune. I'm not just being lazy here; it's a great column by one of the truly great sports columnists. This was like having Rembrandt paint my portrait. Seriously.

Okay, now read my stuff.

Bottom line:

Supersprint: 6th of 76 in men's 40-49 @ 38:36
Sprint: 7th of 114 in men's 45-49 @ 1:21:30
Olympic: 66th (!) of 248 in men's 45-49 @ 2:50:43 (!!!)

Yeah. Everything seemed to go well and according to plan until that little part in the last leg of the last race where you run in 92-degree heat without any shelter. They won't have the Triple Challenge results until Tuesday for some reason, and they don't seem to have splits, which would be worthless anyway given how spread out the race was and how big the 8,500-racer transition zone was (for example, unless I missed a timing mat somewhere, the swim split would include what must have been at least a half-K of running back to the transition zone).

Swims felt like they went fine. In the sprint and Olympic, I got to the start less than a minute before my wave jumped in. Sprint swim appeared to go fine but I felt awful, I think because I had to rush into my wetsuit and it was hung up and tight in the wrong places. Oly swim was fine. Supersprint swim I didn't bother with the wetsuit and felt fine. The whole swim was barely long enough to get wet, so the difference between a good and bad swim wouldn't have been especially huge anyway.

I think I went pretty fast on the bike in all three. My plan quickly became ride fast enough not to get passed without burying myself. I think maybe a half-dozen people passed me over the weekend and I passed all but one of them back. The road was just mayhem, packed all the way across with the full range of competence and speed and decency, and it was enough work dealing with the people in front of me that I didn't want to mess with people passing me as well, so I just kept the speed up. The supersprint course was just 10K -- and it was three laps of an out-and-back course! The Triple Challenge racers were the first wave off in the sprint Sunday morning, so all I had to deal with was a few faster swimmers, but even some of them managed to be a hazard all by themselves across two full lanes of highway. We were one of the final waves to go off in the Oly, and I think I lost most of my voice from screaming "on your right" (the rule was go slow on the left, pass on the right, which didn't help matters) at escalating levels of urgency as doofuses threatened to force me into the cars. Spent the Oly bike leg with a dragging brake, compliments of a mountain biker in the transition zone whose sense of spatial relations was as bad as his timing, but By God he learned you can get there late and fit that thing into the rack if you just push hard enough.

Supersprint and sprint runs felt easy and reasonably fast. The idea was to hold a good pace but not to bury myself in the first two races, then go ahead and let it rip in the Olympic race. But it was pretty clear right away that the heat was going to be a problem. By mile 2 was walking through the aid stations, and by mile 4 I was walking in between them as well. Humiliating, even though I had plenty of company. One of these days I'll learn how far I can push heat-induces wooziness, but that wasn't the place to find out. Ambulances were carting people off the course like taxis at LaGuardia (the results show 261 DNFs and that strikes me as really conservative). Going home on a gurney would have been embarrassing, inconvenient and a criminal waste of emergency-personnel resources. So I didn't finish as high up in the Olympic as I'd have liked, and once I got my core temp back down I wasn't as tired as I'd like to have been after all that. I can be as hard on myself as anyone, and I think I raced a good plan (thanks, Tom!) and was physically well prepared (God knows how), well nourished and well hydrated; I just wasn't ready for the heat. Oh, well. Still not a bad weekend of racing, especially considering all the time spent Friday and Saturday signing stuff at the expo - which, I'll emphasize, was every bit as fun as the racing. Huge thanks to everyone who came out!

So there we go. Bring on Savageman, and we'll hope the temps stay in the 80s!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Chicago Triathlon appearances this weekend!

 Today's blog is essentially a shameless press release. So there you go: I may pass Blogging 101 yet.
This weekend is the Lifetime Fitness Chicago Triathlon, and I'm maxing it out. I'll be racing their Triple Challenge, which comprises three triathlons in two days, and that may be the easy part. I'll spend most of the rest of the weekend signing copies of my book "Trizophrenia: Inside the Minds of a Triathlete" and just about anything else anyone wants signed, short of legal documents and some body parts more than others.

I'll also have Frazz materials there to sign (the three collections are sold out, but we might have new ones printed in time for this weekend; it's a long shot, but I wouldn't be here if I didn't learn to believe in long shots), and of course if you already have a Frazz book, bring it in and I'll be happy to vandalize it.

Here's my schedule:

Friday, Aug. 27, I'll be signing and talking from 4:30-5:30 pm at the expo. That's at the Hilton, on 720 S. Michigan Ave, and I'll be happily camped out at the Fleet Feet Sports booth. Fleet Feet will have a whole bunch of copies of Trizophrenia for sale.

Saturday morning, I'm off in the first wave of the Fleet Feet (they're everywhere! They're also awesome) Supersprint, swimming 375 meters, cycling 16 kilometers and running 2.5K. Then it's back to the Fleet Feet booth at the expo, where I'm signing again from 2-3 pm.

Sunday morning, I'm off in the first wave of the Lifetime Fitness Sprint (750 meter swim, 22K bike and 5K run) at 6:00 am. At 9:12 am, in the last wave of the amateurs, I start the other Lifetime Fitness race, the Olympic- or international-distance triathlon (1500M, 40K, 10K) and should be done in time to watch the pros start their race at noon.

Between and around races, you can look for me in the Fleet Feet lounge tent near the start/finish. They're very kindly letting me hang out there, which is wonderful. I've got a place to keep my gear and call home, and I'll be easy to find. I'll be more than happy to mingle there, too. And their merchandise tent, stocked with plenty of Trizophrenias, will be right next to us.

Please come out and say hi! It will be quite a scene all by itself - it's the world's largest triathlon, after all, and it's downtown Chicago, after all - and I'm really looking forward to seeing you.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Vintage iron

I take pride in my ambivalence. Or not. Whatever.

But it seemed to me I could have stood out, if I wanted, with my take-it-or-leave-it approach to the Woodward Dream Cruise. The Cruise is Detroit's (Metro Detroit's; none of it officially takes place within the city limits) own Mardi Gras meets American Graffiti meets the Henry Ford Museum meets Auto-Rama. It's a party, it's a parade where hot rods and classics stand in for floats, where the scent of exhaust, peeling tires and fading clutches stands in for stale beer and embarrassing cocktails, where something, I'm not sure what, stands in for we-have-beads-show-us-your-tits, and, given the demographics, I'm grateful that it does.

Priceless classics swap carbon monoxide with backyard hot rods and vintage muscle in all phases of restoration, amid rumbling documentation of every car that anyone ever first drove, first owned, finally owned, first got laid in, still hopes to get laid in or expects to be laid to rest in, punctuated by mostly question marks: sedans and minivans steered by the fascinated and the confused or maybe, for all I know, the nostalgic for the same but much more recent firsts and modest hopes.

They creep and crawl and stop and start up and down Woodward Avenue from 8 Mile Road to the city of Pontiac and back again, past equally endless gawkers in folding chairs moving almost equally fast. The Cruise passes by my new house just like it passes by thousands of others, close enough to hear it if you try, distant enough to ignore it if you want, and inconvenient as hell if you can't read a map and find an alternate route to where you need to go. People either love it or hate it.

I didn't make any big plans to check it out, but I was happy to walk over with friends who invited me, and I loved it. The spectacle reminded me, as everything reminds me given half a chance, of my own weird hobby of triathlon.

We athletes mess up traffic patterns, take over roads and confuse minivan drivers, too. We take pride in our chassis. We represent a vast range of heritage and model year and an even more vast range of stages of restoration and preparation. We're all driveable, some of us exquisitely so, some of us optimistically so. And a number of us have to pull to the curb before the event is over.

And somewhere, at some point, some genius made it possible for spectators to enjoy it without expertise. I'd wager that in dream cruises and triathlons, the prevailing question humming through the spectator side of the fencing is, "I wonder how old that one is?" and all they have to do is wait and look at the backside.

Hey, hey, hey. Mind the Mardi Gras comparisons, please. I'm talking about the classic license plate. Most of the cars in the Cruise sport a classic license plate that corresponds to its model year. Triathletes in triathlons sport Sharpie ink. With electronic timing practically ubiquitous in the sport, the race numbers on the biceps are little more than tradition anymore. But as long as the volunteers have the markers out, most races will go ahead and put a much more useful number on racers' calves: Their age.

I suppose it's mostly so when you're passing or being passed, you can tell whether or not it's affecting your place in your age group. (It's an interesting feeling to be passed by someone and actually be relieved to see he's 10 years your senior, or 20, just so long as he's not getting between you and the podium.) But the real value, I think, is its function as a classic license plate.

"I wonder how old that one is?" Clunkers or plodders, hot rods or hardbodies, it's not always easy to tell. Distinguishing characteristics can be subtle, and blurred further by devoted efforts to trick things out. I can't pretend to speak for the car guys, but I can guess they're a lot like us. When the spectators sneak a peek at the numbers on the bumper, we're a little pleased. And when they shake their heads, "that can't be right," well, we have to admit that's a little bit of what we showed up for.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Goodbye Mars, hello trouble

After spending most of this spring and summer wondering if I'd forget what it was like to race, I have a free weekend between the Luray and Chicago weekends and it feels weird.

But it's not like I don't know what to do with myself. Indeed, I've got a ton of stuff to do before I can try and get out on the bike. Miles to go before I can go a few miles, so to speak. But the weekend's big task was also the weekend's first. Saturday morning, Patty and I headed back to our veterinarian's office in Lansing to pick up two cats. One was Mars' ashes. The other was the very much alive Sparky.

We met Sparky when we were there to, as it turned out, say goodbye to Mars. She had been left at Dr. Kimble's office with a badly broken leg that couldn't be splinted because of an accompanying skin wound. Nothing will replace Mars, but this cat was in deep need of a good home and suddenly ours had room.

Her broken leg and open sore should have had her in a bargeload of pain, but she somehow hadn't gotten the misery memo. Dr. Kimble's biggest challenge was getting her to quit playing so enthusiastically that it interfered with her healing and risking re-injury. Sparky is her working name - like all pets, she has to go through Name Probation until we're sure it's accurate - but it seems like a safe bet. She is not, my cartoonist friends will be surprised to learn, named after the great Charles Schulz. She's named after former Detroit Tigers manager and legendary English-language mangler Sparky Anderson and his eloquent quote, the one I hold dear, "Pain don't hurt." †

So there you go. Two chronic overtrainers in the household now.

† Pain may not hurt, but picking up Mars' ashes didn't feel too good. He joins four other pets in our linen-closet mausoleum, and the worst part is always the same. Picking up the urn with his ashes, sad but endurable. Holding his collar is that last real dagger of mourning.

* For anyone who lives in Lansing or near it, that's Zeeb Animal Hospital on North Larch between Lake Lansing and Sheridan roads. Best vet ever. Best vet possible.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Then again, he also said I'm Gonna Walk Before They Make Me Run

You know you've probably let things get a little out of hand when racing two triathlons in two days over the weekend gets in the way of your long run and you have to find a way to squeeze a 17-miler into a Wednesday, but here I am. As important and cool as the Luray Triathlons were, my goofed-up spring and summer reshuffled my race priority hierarchy, and now everything is ultimately aimed at an attempt to meet a Boston Marathon qualifying time at the Detroit Marathon in October.

That's if I don't collapse before then, but maybe that threat is part of why I keep trying to get away with this nonsense. Assuming I'm not going to get it just right - a safe assumption if there ever was one - at least overdoing it is self-limiting. Underdo it, and the big risk is that you'll get used to doing less, and the spiral into senescence begins. I am, of course, wide open to accusations of being full of crap, but I'm used to that, and that's the story I'm sticking with.

And how. My upcoming, August 28-29 Chicago Triathlon weekend has grown. With Peter Sagal going to such great lengths to back out of our showdown in the international-distance event, the race organizers asked if I might like to race against some other media- and celebrity types in the sprint event. One of those celebrities is Miss Illinois, and if I'm ever going to have half a chance at holding my own in a swimsuit competition with a beauty queen, this is it. So I said, sure, but that I'd love to still do the international-distance race as well. They countered with the suggestion that I might want to add Saturday's supersprint race to those two and do their Triple Challenge, and I think you know how I answered.

One of my commemorative t-shirts from April's Alcatraz and Golden Gate swims has a slogan across the back by Bob Roper, also attributed to Mick Jagger and any number of other people who live life right. It reads, "anything worth doing is worth overdoing." I wear that shirt a lot. Probably too much. Which is, when you think about it, just right.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Thank you

One of those blogs I wanted to write but didn't have time was one thanking everyone for the very kind, comforting comments on our loss of Mars the cat.

It's funny how many of them started with something like "I'm having trouble coming up with the words" and then went on to say just the right thing.

I can sympathize. None of my words seem to say "thank you" nearly enough. So I'll go simple:

Thank you.

The monkey on my back

I train with my friend Ron just about all the time now, even though I moved and he didn't and now he is - or, I guess, I am - an hour and a half away. See, Ron and I are similar in ability, or at least similar enough, which is only a tiny part of it. The larger point is that, at some point, Ron earned a reputation as a kicker, the kind of guy who will hang off your shoulder and punch past you at the finish line. So now, every hard workout, every speed session I do, I picture Ron lurking, waiting to pounce, and there's no letting up, because with his kick, I cannot afford to learn to coast across the finish line.

I just got back from two triathlons in two days in Luray, Virginia. Let me elaborate: Two wonderful, challenging and highly recommended races in two thoroughly enjoyable days. Ron wasn't there, but of course, he was.

Saturday was the international-distance race (1500-meter swim, 40K bike, 10K run). I was 70th overall, out of somewhere in the mid-700s, and 12th in my age group. Not too bad, really -- this was a tough course and a really popular race for DC-area triathletes. And DC is a most fertile ground for very good athletes. And my part of the race came down to not two, but three of us fending off -- and being -- Ron-style finish line surgers. And all of us were in the same damn age group. I passed one guy with about a tenth of a mile to go. He was having none of that, but hung on my shoulder while I tried to wear him down until he had no real kick left. While we were doing that, some other guy comes out of nowhere and turns it into a finale a trois of sorts. The results showed our times as 2:37:25, 2:37:26 and 2:37:27, but it was a photo finish. The results show me in the middle. I comforted myself with, well, at least I'm doing the double, but the guy who won the photo finish Saturday not only raced the sprint with me on Sunday but won our age group in that one. But I at least made the podium, coming in third a minute and a half later, finishing the 750M/17mi/5K in 1:32:25. Cool.

It was a great race, well worth the trip. The course was tough. The swim was beautiful, in a reservoir nestled between mountains. No neoprene training wheels to keep me horizontal, though -- water temp was 84. The bike course was described as "rolling," which on race sites tells you about as much as "medium spicy" does at a Thai restaurant. It could be anything, and this "rolling" course rolled a lot. It had a few climbs steep enough to put me not only in the small chainring but in my lowest cogs as well, and corresponding 45-50 mph downhills, always an attention-getter when you start in a late wave and get to weave your way through a wide range of bike handlers. The speed is an estimate. I don't race with a speedometer, specifically because of courses like this one that was a lot of false flats and headwinds that make you look at your numbers and push too hard ("I should be going faster than this!") and subsequently die on the run -- which this run was more than happy to encourage on its own. The run didn't have any flats at all. It was an out-and-back 5K route that featured a nice (I'm guessing) 10% climb just past the turnaround. So times for this course weren't fast -- which is in a lot of ways a sign of a good race, right?

Lots of fun. Here's the results, if you like:

Next up: I'm racing the Chicago Triathlon with something like 9,000 of my closest friends on Aug. 29. The plan was to enjoy a bit of a smackdown with my friend and Trizophrenia forewordist Peter Sagal, but that won't be happening this year. Check out his blog and get the details, but let's just say I wasn't the only one to have a bad week and fall behind on the blog schedule. He was riding his bike and was hit by a car. He'll be OK, but hardly in racing form by Chicago Tri weekend.

Monday, August 9, 2010


They're all good, but Mars was always The Good Cat.

Well. Mars didn't make it. We don't know what happened. Shortly after we moved, when he started slimming down from his ample 19 pounds, we attributed it to life in a more exercise-friendly, multi-level house. His energy picked up as his weight came down. When the energy trend reversed and his weight trend didn't, something was wrong. We took him back to Lansing -- our vet there is the best, and we weren't going to give her up over a drive -- where tests showed everything working well except his kidneys, his temperature and, well, the obvious. He slipped into a coma last night, and not the kind you come out of.

Patty and I had rushed to Lansing Saturday either to encourage a or to say our goodbyes. I guess it was both. Yesterday's news was good. He was more alert, his vital signs were better, his temperature was improving if not stable. He was still getting syringe-fed, but he was keeping it down. The news looked good.

Or very bad.

Look. I race. I know how it works. Some races, the ones we call character-builders, I guess, you hit a point where business as usual isn't going to get you there and you have to decide: Do you quit? You decide no. But that decision's not free, and the surge costs everything that's left. Whether it carries you the full distance or wipes you out a few ticks sooner than coasting is not your decision anymore. I think I recognized Mars' surge for what it was Saturday. Now I guess I have to accept his DNF for what it is: An honorable one.

Rest in peace, Mars. Say hi to Fiona. Please, please, have to wait a while to see Mr. B.

God, it's been a long year.

Friday, August 6, 2010

And you thought this was going to be a rant about cheap newspapers

I had an editor once who liked telling stories about himself. I ultimately didn't get along with him too well, but now that's what I do for a living, so I guess I took his example.

He came out looking pretty good in most of his stories, which is something I seem to need work on. But I remember a story that made him look especially good. It was the one where he was going over the reporting staff's expense reports and noticed the paper was saving big money on mileage reimbursement. Bargain! Right? Wrong.

Not that he disliked pinching pennies, but that's not what reporters are for. He figured it meant they were spending too much time at their desks, reporting by telephone call, and not enough time out on the streets.

I don't know how he solved the problem, whether he rethought the stories they were typically assigned to write or if he just yelled at them, but that's not the point. The point is that he looked at his own good fortune as suspiciously as he looked at all news, and I've always admired that. And remembered it.

I log my workouts through an online program called TrainingPeaks. I can't fully express what a good tool it is, but I can begin by stating that I actually log my training now, something I had never done before the magic combination of coaching, TrainingPeaks and Batman-fantasy electronic stuff like GPS receivers and power meters that do all the work for me. One of the things TrainingPeaks keeps track of is the miles on my shoes. This, too, is something I had neglected, and my purchasing patterns had a suspicious tendency to share the same peaks and valleys as my injury patterns.

The downside is that the miles on my shoes pile up like peak-season laundry, only more surreptitiously. I spread the miles between two or three pairs of running shoes, and in spite of the rotation it seems like I'm constantly approaching the 500-mile limit on at least one pair. Make no mistake, it's fun to buy running shoes, but it gets expensive - especially if you have the discipline of a beagle near an unattended wastebasket, or me on the loose in Playmakers, Running Fit or Hanson's Running Shop. I like spending money, but feel like sooner or later I'm going to have to explain it to somebody, like my editor would explain the newly high expense reports to his publisher.

And I'm reminded that sometimes saving money isn't all it's cracked up to be, and that lasting forever isn't what running shoes are for. Those miles are empirical if pricey evidence that I'm doing what I need to become a better runner, or at least taking care of a key part of it. And I haven't had a running injury since I started springing for new shoes on time.

How about that? I told a story where I came out looking good.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


These are two of my favorite conversations from the past few days.

First one takes place while I’m violating my cholesterol probation at the lunch counter of Hunter House, a venerable, must-get-acquainted-with, landmark burger stand near my new home.

Woman just off my shoulder, after struggling to order: “I am sorry. I do not speak this language well.”
Late teen, early-20s guy working the grill: “What language do you speak?”
Woman: “Russian.”
Grill guy: “So do I.” And a short unintelligible-to-me transaction later, one more happy customer has her burgers.
Second one is between me and a neighbor with daughters on the swim team that practices at the city pool where I’ve been wondering for about eight weeks now why my splits are a tick slower than I think they ought to be.
Me: “Is that pool 25 yards or 25 meters?”
Neighbor: “Meters.”
Okay, that second one neither sounds interesting nor makes me look especially bright, but I very much liked the information it yielded.

The first one just made me happy once I could believe it was actually taking place.

Life is good, and once in a while the pleasures really are that simple.