The Millie Effect

Looking in the rear view mirror, I see smoke rising from the two cars behind me.  It takes me a moment to register that we’ve been in a three car accident.  Car 1 hits car 2 which hits us (notably the bike rack on the back).  Thankfully, no one is hurt, if bike don’t count as people.

WF Car

Car 1:  Ouch!

With the three carbon triathlon bikes showing minor damage (which is major because any damage to carbon makes a bike unrideable), this year’s Wildflower Half Ironman (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run), literally, comes to a crashing end.

It’s now 8 PM and someone (not naming names) makes a crazy suggestion — go home, get our second bikes (that’s why you always have more than one bike), and do the triathlon.  Of course, this decision comes with a cost — namely sleep.  Without traffic, it’s almost 6 hours from home to the start line.  We are now a over 1 hour from home.  The quick math tells us that we’ll be arriving into the race lot at 4 AM.

We make better time than expected and arrive at our hotel at 3 AM for two hours of blissful sleep (we decided to get a little sleep in a bed instead of going straight to the race lot).  Including changing and prep time, we are setting up in transition by 7:30 AM.  Let the race begin!

With the start gun, I wade into the clear cool water forgetting my lack of sleep.  I plan on a long day and redefine my goal from time to fun.  Plunging my head into the water I tell myself to relax — enjoy it.   Unfortunately, my body doesn’t listen to my brain and I start swimming fast — to fast.  I’m racing and losing by breath.  Only the lack of oxygen slows me down and I am forced to remember — relax.  With this adjustment, I take the first third in breaststroke mode before calming down into a slow rhythmic freestyle.

Coming out transition, I calmly start the bike ride.  I’ve learned — relax.  The first hill is steep and my climbing prowess inflates my ego.  At the top of the hill, I’m in the drops maintaining a high cadence and fast pace.  I’m racing again.   For the first 25 miles I wage the race/relax war.  I see a target and race past them.  Then, I see the coastal oaks, golden hills, and green vineyards and I relax only to find myself speeding past another target.

At mile 25, I pull into a rest stop without a porta-potty line (only one person using it).  Tossing my empty bottle to the rest stop worker, I kindly ask her to refill it while I race to the porta-potty.   Then, Millie happens.

Close to tears, Millie pleads for help changing her flat tire.  The partially inflated tube hanging out of the tire shows that she tried and failed.  Since I was already waiting for the one person in the porta-potty, I walk over and help.  While changing the tire, Millie tells me here whole bike flat story interspersed with about 100 thank yous.  Ever grateful, Millie feels compelled to hug me then hops on her bike and rides way.  In the meantime, the porta-potty line has grown to about 8 people long.

Back on the bike, I realize that I added at least 15 minutes to my bike spit.  Relax.  Should I be angry at Millie or myself for helping?  Relax.  I should have helped her after using the porta-potty.  Relax.

When I finally catch up with Millie, she immediately confesses her regret that she didn’t bully the porta-potty line into letting me go first.  Her next confession is apologizing for ruining my race.  But then, my race was ruined hours earlier in the car accident.  For the next few miles we ride together, tell triathlon stories, and laugh.  Millie didn’t ruin my race, she reminded me of my goal.

Heading into the run, I’m really tired, but relaxed.  The Wildflower run is a brutal, hilly trail run.  With fatigued hamstrings and rising temperatures, I subsist on salt tablets fending off cramps.  Purged from the racing temptation, I employ a “walk uphill – run downhill strategy” and meet lots of others in exactly the same condition as me — tired, but enjoying the moment.

Millie, thank you for getting me to where I should have been all along.

wf medal

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The Expensive T-Shirt

It’s six days until the triathlon (Chula Vista Challenge – Olympic distance).  Under the bright blue noon sky, I head out on my last tune-up run.  The plan — an easy 3 or 4 miles to keep my legs sharp.  The route is familiar — up the hill to the asphalt running path, down the path to the shopping center, along the dirt path for a mile, then back up the road to the office.

In spite of an inconsistent training season, I feel good.  The sore legs from over-doing it in Yosemite (Another Epic Yosemite Hike) are long gone.   And for the past two weeks, I’ve tuned my cycling hitting my highest average speeds in a year.  With the mild 70 degree weather and a spring in my step, I bound up the hill to the asphalt path, smiling and singing, “I feel good”.

Turning down the asphalt path, I straighten my shoulders and think “form”.  The short run is about staying sharp and remembering my form.  I feel like Flash moving quickly and freely until my right foot finds the broken asphalt raised by an overgrown tree root.

My eyes open wide as the entire incident slowly unfolds.  There is no right foot to land on the path.  My left hand reaches out to the wooden fence attempting to support my tumbling body.  Failure.  I keep falling.  My right hip finds the ground followed by my right elbow.  Next, the right shoulder roll, and I’m staring at the sky.   I shout,  “*&%!!#$*”.

Rising slowly, I check damage control.  It’s not too bad — few cuts and bruises, road rash, and a slight limp.  I consider running it off until I remember that a tune up run isn’t really necessary.  Walking back to the office, I reassess the damage with each step.  I can’t walk it off.  There is thickening blood on my elbow, and my hand shows a stripe of scrapes and cuts from the asphalt and wooden fence.  I begin to wonder if my race is over before it starts.

The shower stings and I begin to swell.  I want to pray for a miraculous healing, but somehow it doesn’t seem appropriate.  I know God cares, but racing is really not important in the grand scheme of life.  I do pray that the pain stops.

Ibuprofen and ice get me through the night.  In the morning, damage control says that I can’t swim; I can’t raise my arm above my head.  I must have jammed my shoulder in the fall.  The hip isn’t much better.  I can’t walk up stairs normally, and I’m sporting a bruise mark larger than my hand.  How do the guys in the Tour de France get back on their bikes and ride 60 miles after they fall?

Each day begins with a new damage report.  Can I run?  Can I swim?

Each day is better, but not the answers are still “no” and “no”.

Tomorrow is the race and I can’t walk without the limp.  However, I can finally get my hand all the way over my head.   Maybe after one more day of healing I can race.  The internal debate goes something like this.

  • Dumb Self:  Race!  You’ll be better in 24 hours.
  • Smart Self:  Don’t be Stupid, You’re not young and can’t heal that fast.
  • Dumb Self:  Imagine the glorious blog  post when you race through pain?
  • Smart Self:  You’ll be sad when you can’t race like you want.
  • Dumb Self:  Don’t lose the registration fee.
  • Smart Self:  Your health is more important than $150.

Arriving at race registration, I know what I  must do.  Sadly, I withdraw.

Somehow, I thought there would be an outpouring of sympathy at race registration. Maybe they would ask about the glorious fall and my injuries.  Instead, I get a puzzled look and a cold, “I guess you don’t need a timing chip.”

But, that’s okay.  I really wasn’t looking for sympathy,  just my very, very expensive t-shirt.

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Another Epic Yosemite Hike

The 4:30 AM alarm gives me flashbacks to my endurance events.  Marathon, half-marathon, triathlon, century — they all begin with the early  morning alarm.  Yet, this morning is not mine alone.  This time, it’s a family day of hiking in Yosemite National Park.

Yesterday, we stopped by the tourist office in Oakhurst seeking an update on the park conditions, crowds, and hikes.  After the typical warnings about high water rapids, and crowds, the aged information wizard behind the desk, Judy, inspires us to undertake an epic adventure.  The recommendation:

  • Get in Yosemite  Valley by 7:00 AM and park in the last day-use lot right before the exit.
  • Walk across the Swinging Bridge to the Four-Mile Trail.
  • Take the Four-Mile Trail up to Glacier Point.
  • From Glacier Point, take the Panorama Trail to Nevada Falls.
  • Take the John Muir trail (or Mist Trail) down from Nevada Falls to Vernal Falls to Happy Isles then shuttle back to the parking lot.

The path is an estimated 14 miles with all the uphill effort on the Four-Mile Trail during the cool morning hours followed by flats and downhills.  Judy did it when she was 67. Certainly, I, a trained endurance athlete, with a fit wife and strapping teenage boys could do it too!

Sure enough, the recommendation is accurate to Glacier Point.  As we climb 3,200 feet in the cool morning air, the views of Yosemite begin to unfold.  Every switch back demands a new photo of the ever changing view from different angles.  At Glacier Point, the GPS tracker shows we are a bit over 5 miles.  It seems the Four-Mile Trail is really 4.6 miles. With walking over the Swinging Bridge from the parking lot, we are just over 5 miles.

We rest for an hour staring at the amazing views from Glacier Point (Half Dome and the granite faces of Yosemite’s north rim).  Then, we head out along the Panorama Trail.

Judy is half mistaken about the Panorama Trail.  As advertised, the views continue to be stunning, but the trail is not flat.  We  descends to Illilouette Falls then ascends another 3,200 feet to the top of Nevada Falls.  To my tired family and legs, that’s another Glacier Point ascent.  Our paces slows and the hike becomes short hops between shade covering trees followed by gulps of water and fuel-replenishing snacks of M&Ms, beef jerky, and nuts.

We grind our way back to the top where we spy the backside of Half Dome and distant views of Yosemite Falls.  With each step we hear the increasing roar of Nevada Falls, but it feels like the Falls never arrives. Either the mileage markers are wrong or we are moving really, really slow.

After cresting near the top of Nevada Falls we begin the descent to Vernal Falls along the John Muir trail.  It’s supposed to be an easy downhill, but it’s not.  With each step, we discover new leg muscles that have seldom been used.  We reach the Vernal Falls bridge just as we run out of water.  Here, there’s a large crowd standing in the misty winds of the falls next to a drinking fountain – fresh water.  I want to stay here and sit in the cool breeze drinking the cold water, but we are not finished.  It’s two more miles to the shuttle stop.

The final path to Happy Isles is a net downhill, but it’s not as flat or as short as I remember.   We weave through the crowded paved path quickly speeding down the rolling descent only to find a super, super long line to get on a bus.  It looks like an hour wait. After a short debate, we decide to extend our hike walking back to Curry Village (now named Half Dome Village) where we can get dinner and catch a different shuttle.

Ten hours later, the GPS tracker shows (with the Curry Village extension) 17 miles and close to 7,000 feet of climbing.  My muscles hurt and I’m somewhat angry at Judy (17 miles is not 14 miles and it wasn’t flat and downhill after Glacier Point), but we will forever reminiscence about our epic hike.  After all, you can’t have epic when something is easy.

By comparison, Half Dome and North Dome (two other classic epic hikes taken during my younger years) also involved suffering — just not as much.

  • Half Dome (via Midst Trail):  14.2 miles/4,800 feet
  • North Dome (via Yosemite Falls):  15.5 miles/4,760 feet

And, I reminiscence about them too.

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Walleye is on the Menu

After a long day of travel and a sleepless night, I wake to a beautiful day in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  It’s March and there is snow on the ground.  A late winter storm across the east technically missed Wisconsin, but still trapped me in Chicago (my layover) for six hours and dropped a mass of cold air in the Midwest.  It’s below 30 degrees.

My business travel routine is simple.  Work, run and eat.  It’s 4 PM; I’m done for the day and it’s time for the run.  Without thinking, I squeeze into my winter running clothes with multiple layers.   I came prepared after obsessively watching the weather reports.

In the first mile, the cool breeze rips through my layers bringing a chill to my bones. Crazy is the word that comes to mind.  Who runs in 30 degrees?  The treadmill isn’t sounding too bad right now.

Turning the corner away from the Mississippi River shelters me from the breeze.  Now my layers are beginning to work, and I warm up.  Beauty is the next word.  The fresh snow and tree lined river tributaries display a wonder that I rarely see hailing from Southern California.

With so many views, I lose track of time and just keep running.  Thankful is my next word.  I am thankful for the opportunity to run, to see new places, and to feel alive.  I allow my mind to wonder recalling my day, the challenges, and blessings.  I am aware of God’s presence and listen.

It’s a form of prayer — like St. Ignatius’s Examen.  But instead of the a forced disciple, it is free flowing and not contrived.  It’s a simple response to where I am in this moment, in this time.

The end of the road jolts me from this moment. Where am I?  How far did I go?  Pulling my phone out, I check my distance — over 4 miles.  When I’m done, it will be about 8.5 miles, more than I planned.  I turn back, retracing my steps, and think about the time and cold.  The late afternoon sun is getting close to the horizon and I don’t want to be out in the dark.  After all, it’s 30 degrees and dropping.

Returning to the hotel, I’m tired and hungry.  After a hot shower, I’m ready for dinner. Walleye is my last word.  Whenever I travel to this part of the country, I search for this fish — I’ve never seen it served on the west coast and it’s my favorite.  A couple blocks from my hotel is the Waterfront Restaurant.  Walleye is on the menu.

It’s crazy that I have to travel so far for this fish. But’s it’s a beautiful fish and I’m thankful for it.  I love walleye.

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Another Kilroy?

Almost a year later, I return to our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. (see my last visit – Finding Kilroy or a prior one – Rock and Rain DC).  The city is familiar to the point of being stale.  I know the subway system.  I know the monuments.  I know the museums. Without thinking, I default to the same running route — hotel to the Mall — to the Washington Monument — to the Lincoln Memorial (where I run up the stairs and stand for a moment of awe) — back down the stairs to the Capitol — and then circle back to the hotel.  It’s a flat four or five miles.

Today, my route takes me straight down 16th Street to the White House where I circle around to find the Mall and my regular route.  Familiarity keeps me from snapping pictures of the grandiose stone buildings, White House, or memorials to great figures in American history.  Today is a typical training run, only in a different city.

After I pause and stare at Lincoln, I head back along the Reflecting Pool and, well, reflect.  My mind wanders to Forrest Gump and Jenny jumping in the Pool to catch Forrest’s attention.  I think about Kilroy from my last visit and the hidden gems throughout the city calling me to investigate what I have not seen before.

Uncharacteristically, I stop at the World War II Memorial and consider my previous Kilroy encounter .  Is the memorial really symmetric?  Last year, I only looked for Kilroy on the “Atlantic” side of the memorial due to heavy rain.  Now I find myself walking along the “Pacific” side to the end of the columns where I peer down into the maintenance staircase.  There’s another Kilroy — it is symmetric.

One discovery leads to more changing the routineness of my past visits into a game of “I spy” differences.  The scaffolding on the Capitol has been removed.  Martin Luther King Jr. is staring at Thomas Jefferson.  Flowers are beginning to bloom.

Even in the midst of the unchanging, there are new things things to discover.

 

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

 

 

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Thankful for the Rain

All morning I’ve listened to the pattering of my keyboard caused by  my fingers furiously pounding out a proposal.  I’m at 23 pages and still going.  This is why the company pays me; writing proposals, creating miracles on Excel spreadsheets, and magically predicting the future with statistical models.  So with a click-click-clack, I chase a business opportunity until my eyes blur (computer monitor), my wrists become sore (carpal tunnel), and my back aches (poor posture).  I keep reading that working at a computer is unhealthy.  I need a break.

On a good day, I’ll take running lunch — four or five miles followed by a hot shower and a sandwich at the desk.  The break renews my mind and rejuvenates my sore muscles.  But today is different.  It’s raining.

The rain is good. It refreshes the plants and replenishes the water supply (which is much needed in the drought-ridden west).  It washes the roads and cars (yes! my car will soon be clean).  But, it also locks me indoors keeping me from my lunch run.  I still need a break.

Suddenly the pattering turns into pounding.  It’s now a downpour with large drops pelting my office window and streams of water dancing down in the pane   Stopping, I uncoil my folded body, stand and turn to face the view.

I breathe deeply, stretch, and smile.  I’m not running today.

Instead, I thank God for the rain and remember that rest is vital to recovery.  Training needs moments of respite.  Striving is balanced by ceasing.  The rain is not only a gift to a parched city, but also a gift to my aching body.

After all, God grants rest to those He loves (Psalm 127:2).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas, Coffee, and Experience

Yesterday, I was reminded of something I always heard, but never heeded.  When brewing coffee in a French Press, there are temperature and timing requirements.

My first true exposure to coffee brewing was watching a friend carefully grind his beans, lovingly insert a thermometer in his water, and set a timer.  It seemed excessive.  I boil water, coarsely grind my beans (see, I did know something), pour the concoction in the French Press, and “press” — voila “coffee”.  But, my friend spoke a different language (the bloom, dissolution, diffusion), followed a different path, and got better results.

Yesterday’s conversation reminds me that I should try true coffee brewing for myself.  It’s time to heed what I’ve always heard. I have a wonderful Kona blend, a thermometer (thanks to my wife’s tea brewing experience), and my iPhone timer.

I coarsely grind my beans.  The water is at 205 degrees.  I wet the grinds for 30 seconds and experience the “bloom.”  Four minutes in the French Press, then “press” and pour.  Voila — coffee.

I confess.  I still don’t fully understand it (I didn’t do well in high school or college chemistry), but it works.  It’s better coffee.

So, when a group of shepherds meet an angelic being who announces the coming Messiah, I’m sure they didn’t understand it either.  They probably heard about the Messiah and faithfully practiced a their understanding of faith.  But hearing the spectacular announcement, they had to see it for themselves.  They travelled to Bethlehem, met the newborn Messiah, and were transformed (Luke 2:8-15).

Experience it.  Merry Christmas.

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