November 25, 2019


For the last decade, November has been sort of a second spring.

As a guy who prepares taxes for a living, there are two major seasons during the year. The first crush of work/hours is to make the March 15th and April 15th deadlines, and the second is the extension deadlines of September and October 15th.

After the spring deadlines, we take a breather, get out of town for a bit, but there is still a bunch of work to do over the summer to make the fall deadlines less brutal. After the October 15th deadline, the tax year is really over. Well, mostly but there really is much less to do. This is the time when all those things I ignored and which faded into the background for much of the year suddenly move out of the shadows to be seen. There are days of office cleaning, scanning and shredding prior year stuff to make room for the current year's paperwork, doctors appointments are made, car maintenance is taken care of, etc.

It is the same thing on the home front. After weeks of long hours and few days off, it is time for (second) spring cleaning. After catching up on sleep and arriving home during daylight hours, you see your home in a different light. First, there are cobwebs. Everywhere. There is a large stack of newspapers I haven't read, but couldn't quite admit I wasn't going to get to. I only get the paper on Sundays, but the stack was still pretty high. Similarly there is a large backlog of books I want to read, but since most of them are on the Kindle or still at the library, the stack is less obvious. My desk is covered in receipts and I haven't balanced my checkbook since the end of the previous year. I reconcile other people's books all year, but can't seem to get to my own, like a carpenter that can't seem to find the time to finish the baseboard in his house. It is satisfying to dig into it, but man the list of set aside projects is long.

The other November re-birth for the past decade has been about writing. It began with that first Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) in November of 2010. The other Sean threw down the gauntlet to join in the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month and I could not ignore his enthusiasm. I made that 50,000 word deadline and came away with a novel that first year. However, I have attempted it a few other times but have not been able to recapture the magic.

I have been on the Nanowrimo mailing list since that first year, and the encouraging emails start rolling in each year around early September. This year a singer I follow was going to take it on and she encouraged me to join. November comes and I have the time and mental space to imagine taking it on again.  Like in previous years though, I did not have a sufficient idea to pursue, but also as in previous years, November sparked something inside that made me want to clear away the mental dust that I had let gather.

Back when I was writing more consistently, I carried around a little notebook to jot down ideas that crossed my mind. Now the notes are jotted down on a phone app when they appear, but they appear less often. To no one's surprise, part of the reason is the phone itself. Moments when I previously let my mind wander are now occupied by the world behind the small screen I carry around. There are fewer creative thoughts because I don't make time for them. When I am busy I can make the excuse that my mind is full, but not in November.

Several nights this month I have been reading old posts, and going through the note-taking apps on my phone. I have found posts that I am proud of, and little snippets of scenes I jotted down for possible stories that make me smile with possibility. It reminds me that there was something in there once, and that it could be there again if I allow the time, make the space, and do the work I have been neglecting.

November 14, 2019

Black Diamond Half-Ironman Triathlon

So my summer of triathlon ramped up pretty quickly.

June - Did a sprint triathlon thirteen years ago.
July - Sprint distance - .5 mile swim, 14 mile bike, 3.1 mile run
August - Olympic distance - .9 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 6.2 mile run
September - Half-Iron distance - 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run

As under prepared as I felt for Lake Meridian in August, well you can pretty much double that feeling for Black Diamond. Since the swim was the newest element, I had spent most of my mental energy, if not time, on that discipline so felt OK there. I had some running training in the bank from earlier events, but I wasn't exactly ready. What I really hadn't made enough time for was getting on the bike. And as I mentioned in the previous post, this would only be the third time riding on the new tri bike. Like my marathon in Big Sur earlier in the year, I just planned to do the best I could, and focus on enjoying the experience.

The day did not start out great. Well, really the day before. I had some shall we say, intestinal issues the day before. This did not bode well for being squeezed into a wetsuit for an hour, or out on a bike for 56 miles. Then I couldn't find my swim goggles when I was packing up the gear the night before. I fortunately had bought a similar pair that were tinted and mirrored for sunnier days, but had never worn them. One more thing to go against the adage of "nothing new on race day"

I drove down to the start area early, but you actually had to park about two miles down the road from the event. They offered a shuttle and you were allowed to take your bike onto the bus, but they encouraged people to ride to the start to try and eliminate a logjam. Though I had my gear in a backpack so I could ride to the start, I hadn't thought ahead that it would still be before sunrise and the country roads would be dark. Luckily I found a headlamp in my car, so I followed the little circle of light down the road to the park.

The early arrival meant that I found a good spot in the transition area, had plenty of time to wake up, pee, chat with other runners, pee some more, and just get in a good frame of mind. As I wandered around I saw Kathleen and a few other friendly faces in the volunteer tent, and was early enough to see them setting up the swim course.

My watch has a countdown timer for my next event. It counts down for weeks and months, and then suddenly you are there with just minutes to go. Time to start.

The lake was small enough that we had to do two loops. There were different colored buoys for the different events/distances, so you had to keep aiming for the right color. It was another crowded start and I tried to stay to the side of the main pack, but I found myself crawling up on people and having to steer around to find a lane for much of the swim. Overall the swim went pretty well. The goggles worked fine, if a little dark for the overcast day. Other than steering around people I didn't wander off course too much, and I came out of the water feeling pretty good.

I ran/shuffled to the transition area. I am always surprised how awkward I feel walking out of the water since I feel like I barely use my legs during the swim. I somewhat clumsily stripped off my wetsuit, dried my feet, put on my socks, shoes and other bike gear and ran to the exit. Ann was there cheering me on, encouraging as she always is, and snapping some good photos.

When transitioning to the bike you have to run for a bit to a specific area before you can get on and start riding. After crossing the grassy area, cutting down a trail we found pavement and the place where could start. I hopped on and started pedaling.

And my legs felt...empty.

They weren't sore, there was just nothing there, somehow already completely spent.  I tried not to panic, but I had more than five hours of riding and running ahead of me. I stayed in a low gear and started spinning, hoping they would wake up and come back online.

The bike route was another two loop course. I had looked at the elevation profile ahead of time but that doesn't always translate. With riding around it twice we got to scout it out on the first lap, and decide where to be conservative and aggressive on the second lap. Well that was the theory. I just did not have anything in my legs for the hills. I took them slowly and tried to make up for lost time on the downhills and flats. I tucked into my tri position and it really felt like I moving faster than my body was capable.

As a follow up to the discussion about body position and wind resistance in the last post, here are photos from Lake Meridian on my road bike, and from Black Diamond on my tri bike.

Even feeling pretty weak I was encouraged by my average pace in the first hour, around 17 mph. I continued to try and ride conservatively, knowing there was little juice in my legs, and that I had a half marathon to run when I finished riding. I did a better job of fueling during the ride than I had in the past, but I still think I needed to take on more calories. There were a couple of water stations and I managed to grab a bottle and squeeze it into the container on my handlebars without crashing. I was not feeling completely at home as I would have on my road bike, but I am still surprised at how quickly I felt comfortable on the new bike

I rolled into the transition area after 56 miles and a little over three hours on the bike. Time to swap out for running shoes and then back out to take on the half marathon. As I hit the pavement once again I headed left. Ann was there to tell me I was going the wrong way, but I assured her I was not, pointing to the porta potties. Apparently I had hydrated well on the bike because I had needed to pee for the last hour of the ride. Very fortunately, none of my intestinal issues from the day before resurfaced.

After the quick pit stop I was back on course. My legs, feeling dead on the bike, actually felt pretty good on the run. I mean I was definitely tired, but they absolutely felt better than during the bike-to-run transitions on the last two triathlons. Man I love this new bike! I checked my pace on the first mile out of curiosity but did not check it for the rest of the race. I just ran by feel. The route certainly wasn't crowded, but there were generally a few runners up ahead to encourage you on.

As I said I ran by feel, and for the first half I felt pretty good. Then after mile seven the wheels started coming off. I was pretty done in physically. I started walking up sections of hills, and then I started walking at regular intervals no matter if the road was pointing up or not. Like in Big Sur, I just took it as it came. I tried to find a comfortable pace when running, and walked when I needed to. I find that running at near my normal pace and then walking is easier mentally if not physically than just running really slow. I smiled, I waved, I pressed on.

The route returned to the park at about mile ten. The course then took you around the lake twice before reaching the finish line. I saw Ann again as I started the first loop. She encouraged me on, telling me I was doing great, but I told her I was struggling. She would have none of that and had me smiling as I ran past.

The route around the lake was groomed trails and was quite lovely. I was walking more often with each mile, but staying in the moment. There were a couple of volunteers near the end of the first loop to make sure we went the right direction, and soon I was passing by the finish line, teasing me as I made my way onto the next loop. More trails, more trees, more run/walking. As I approached those volunteers for the second time, I started walking. They encouraged me on, telling me it was just around the corner, and I smiled and said, "I know. I'm taking my last walk break so I can run across the finish."

And then there it was.

Ann was there chatting with her trainees and I got to debrief a bit, sharing the experience of the day. Soon though, a wave of nausea and stomach cramping hit and I had to walk away. There was food at the finish, but I couldn't stomach anything at that point. Though spent, I had felt pretty good crossing the line, but my body was rebelling soon after.

About ten minutes after I finished, Joe and Jenica arrived and they brought with them the thing that would turn my day around - an ice cold Coke. I don't drink it all that often anymore, but there is something about the sugar and carbonation that revives me like nothing else. It has saved me before during a hot STP, and has brought me back to life after burying myself on a couple of marathons. The Coke revived me once more, and soon I was feeling human again and I could enjoy the fried chicken Jenica brought as well.

After chatting and regaling in the day, we packed up and headed back to our cars so we could find a brewery and share more stories over a cold one. The two mile bike ride back to the car were the hardest miles of the day. I really had nothing left.

At some point Jenica asked if I had cried when I crossed the finish line. It was a great question. After decades of stoically keeping emotions in check I am more of a crier these days, and nothing gets me like seeing someone cross a finish line, whether it is me or someone else. Even though this was a big accomplishment for me, one I was not entirely prepared for, emotions did not overwhelm me this time. It might have been the two loops around the lake, knowing when the finish was coming, and the rest break before rounding the corner. Maybe it was the state of mind during the day. Maybe my mind was just empty, not even thinking about what I had just done.

Emotional or not, I am pretty proud of what I did that day. Some stats for those that are interested in those things:

Swim: 43:06, 1:55/100 yards
Bike: 3:07:28, 17.9 mph
Run: 2:12:39, 10:06/mile
Total time: 6:10:35

Triathlon season is over, but I already have the next one on the calendar. Sean and the other Sean will be back together again, headed to Oceanside in April for the Half-Ironman. I can't wait.

November 13, 2019

The fastest thing on two wheels

I have had my road bike for about thirteen years now. I started biking a couple years earlier, first using a rust bucket I had from college, and then slightly upgrading to a hybrid bike I picked up for about $150 at a bike shop no longer in existence. I rode that hybrid for a few years, and it actually carried me through two-day, 200 mile STP bike rides for the first three years that I rode that event.

But the road bike changed things.

As I have mentioned previously, I hesitate to replace things that still work. Of course the biggest part of riding is fitness, but the hybrid wasn't really built for more "serious" biking. I couldn't quite justify the upgrade, especially since there was lots I could do toward fitness and weight loss, but I did want it pretty badly. Then I had the opportunity to build a deck for my brother, and that earned me enough money to buy a good entry level road bike.

My Specialized Roubaix has a basic aluminum frame, and though it was definitely faster than the hybrid, it was still built for the comfort of long haul rides rather than for pure speed. It is nothing special to look at, but it feels like a sleeper vehicle that has some hidden power you can't see. It has taken me on a couple one-day STP rides, around Mount Rainier twice, over the Continental Divide, and on a 1,000 mile trek from Seattle to San Francisco.

Of course I see all manner of beautiful bikes when I am out riding. Feather-light carbon frames with gorgeous construction and higher grade components. But I have never really considered getting another road bike. For one, I didn't feel that my stock Roubaix was holding be back, and for another I sort of embraced the beat up old classic taking on the shinier new vehicles.

Then I got into triathlons.

When I first started thinking about triathlons a decade ago, I had read that a tri bike can make a real difference even over the nicest road bike. The differences are two-fold. First it is about aerodynamics for the bike segment of the event. The frames of tri bikes are more blade-like and cut through the wind more easily than the more typical road bike frame. More importantly though is the body position. The largest aerodynamic drag is not the bike, but your body. On a tri bike (also called a time trial bike) you ride in a lower, more stretched out position. On most other bikes you are sitting upright and your chest/body creates a lot of wind resistance. On the tri bike, your arms are stretched out and your torso more horizontal. Less frontal area, less resistance.

The other difference is also related to that stretched out position. Since the triathlon is a multi-discipline event, you need to constantly think about saving energy from one section to the next. From what I have read the position works slightly different muscles than you use when you are running. The theory goes (and my later experience would confirm) you finish the bike leg of the event with fresher legs for the run.

This new sport gave me a little better excuse to get a new bike. However, even though I had three triathlons planned for 2019 I had no plans to get a tri bike until at least next year. I planned to see how much I enjoyed triathlons, then hopefully I could pick up a used bike somewhere when I started to get more serious about the clock rather than just finishing.

And then of course I won a bike.

As I mentioned earlier, the bike that I won would've been an upgrade to my current road bike, but since I didn't really need/want another road bike, the bike shop owner was willing to use it as store credit toward a tri bike. I went down to the bike shop a week after the raffle to see what we could make happen. They of course had some very nice bikes, but as before with moving from hybrid to road bike, the largest jump in performance was just moving from one type of bike to another. I was looking at a (still very nice) entry level tri bike.

They had two brands to choose from at the entry level and I took each one on a test spin. While they were getting them set up for me I commented to one of the guys working there that I had a triathlon in a few weeks, but had no plans to ride the new bike. He looked confused so I explained that I figured it would take some time to get used to the new bike and riding position, and I just didn't feel confident I could would be comfortable enough in that short of time. He assured me I would be.

And he was right.

The test rides did feel a bit weird, but I felt much more comfortable than expected. One bike felt much better than the other, so it made the choice easy. Since I was setting up a new bike there were several additional purchases to be made at the store, so they got a little of my winnings back. I had to wait another week to get the exact bike I wanted, but it was so worth the wait. I think she's gorgeous.

I was able to get out on my new bike for two Saturday rides of about 20 miles each before the triathlon. Certainly not the best plan to change things so close to the race, but with each pedal stroke felt a bit more comfortable, and I definitely felt faster.

When I talked to my brother about buying the new bike, he was blown away at how much bicycles cost. My original road bike cost $1,200, but I have had thirteen years and thousands of miles to enjoy it. And it is not retired. It will continue to be my regular bike for group rides, and it will carry me around Mount Rainier for a third time in July.

The tri bike was $2,900 before all the additional equipment, so I was very fortunate to have basically won a $1,500 down payment at the raffle. I would not have otherwise made this purchase happen, and hopefully it will see fifteen years and thousands of miles as well. This bike has already made a huge difference after only one race (next post) and it is probably the nicest thing I own.

It certainly isn't a sleeper.