You have the potential to do really well, but it’s probably going to hurt a lot. Your body’s warning signs will kick in early, so you’ll just have to ignore them.

Advice on how to deal with Big Kahuna tomorrow, in light of the fact that I’m not physically prepared

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These are the prizes you win at Big Kahuna. I have one of those bronze hula girls.

The first time I ever did this race in 2009 it was to be my first half-Ironman, but the swim got cancelled and it ended up being my first 56-mile bike + half-marathon race instead. It was still long and sucked. (My actual first full half-Ironman was the following summer at Barb’s Race, which I did with an injury and which prompted me to decide the half distance was not for me.)

I did Big Kahuna again in 2011 as my last race right before Steve broke his leg and before my surprise temporary hiatus from triathlon. It went better that time, but the half distance is still not my favorite thing.

This is the only picture of me still in existence from either of the times doing the race:

Looking serious

Looking serious

So why did I agree to do it again this year? Especially after Ironman and being a bum for the last six weeks and feeling terrible? Why do we do any of these things? It sounded like fun at the time. We want to see what we can do. Why not.

Of course, usually when I think something sounds like fun and I want to see what I can do, I’ve run farther than seven miles and ridden my bike more than a handful of times. But, that’s ok. Hopefully, muscle memory kicks in. If this was an Olympic distance, I’d feel confident that my muscles would remember what to do. But, it’s a half. And I don’t know that my muscles ever learned what to do in halves in the first place, so there’s not much to remember.

We now know beyond question, down to the exact direction of the punch and the look of the woman slumped over in the minutes after, that Ray Rice hit his then-fiance while in an elevator back in the spring. Arguably we knew that before, but now we know that we can’t pretend we didn’t know.

There is plenty to be upset about in the video — which I don’t feel like posting or linking to here, not because I haven’t seen it, but simply because I don’t like contributing to the turning of someone’s pain (her’s, not his) into entertainment. Yes, you should be upset by the video. Be upset about the existence of violence in relationships that are supposed to be the opposite of violent. Be upset, have your stomach churn, to know that this is what that violence looks like for millions of women. Be pissed off, be angry that we allow this to exist all the time, all around us, as long as we don’t have to face on video what happens behind closed doors. Know that the NFL most likely knew what happened behind those doors — knows what happens behind the doors of more than a few of its players — but finds it more profitable to feign ignorance. Know that you are a part of those profits. Because if you’re going to be angry, be pissed at yourself a little too.

The biggest problem I have with turning Ray Rice into an example of how we aren’t going to stand this kind of domestic violence in our national pasttime is that in doing so we’re taking ourselves off the hook for being a part of the culture that nurtures and creates him. It’s the same thing we do when we demonize dopers or force the exit of an executive for writing an email that said explicitly the semi-racist things that are undoubtably often said vaguely by most people in the upper offices. What we are doing is blaming one terrible person for being awful, making it their fault and only their fault, instead of acknowledging any fault the system might have for allowing them to exist in the first place.

Yes, 100%, absolutely, choosing to hit your fiance/now-wife is a personal reflection of your shittiness, for which no one else is responsible. I am in no way absolving him of knocking a woman unconscious and then dragging her out of the elevator.

What I am saying is that he is not the first and will not be the last professional football player to do so. What I am saying is that we deify these men for their prowess at violence. We shower them with money and ask in exchange that they catch a ball or throw a ball or stop someone else from catching a ball. That is all we ask. And, if they do it well, we throw parties and fund fantasy teams and buy their jerseys. We ignore these players’ many faults, for as long as we can, because it would not be an enjoyable game for us otherwise. (Obviously, football is not the only sport in which we do this, it’s just the biggest.)

Even the smartest and most down-to-earth NFL players, ones who seem like truly good guys, talk about how the violence on the field is hard to escape, how they have to turn themselves into animals to play the game and go into a different kind of mental space, which can be impossible to explain or shake off. There is more and more documented evidence that the damage (brain and otherwise) inflicted on players can change their personalities, can make them more violent and hard to live with. This is what the sport is.

Throwing Ray Rice out of the league and trading in his jerseys isn’t going to change that. (It probably is actually making things a lot worse in that household, in practical terms, if we really cared about helping the woman who was hit.) Firing Roger Goodell might make us feel better too, like real change was on the horizon. And maybe it would be. Maybe. Maybe there’d be counseling and education programs for players. Maybe they’d make some rule changes to get rid of the most egregious unnecessary on-field violence. Maybe NFL executives wouldn’t cover-up what they couldn’t ignore. But, it would take systemic changes that the public would have to call for. It would take us acknowledging a problem that is bigger than just one person.

TSR-cover1

For one of my classes we’re reading a lot about Lance Armstrong and doping in cycling (oddly, not much about it in other sports), so I re-read one of my favorite books on the topic, “The Secret Race.”

Yes, there’s a lot that’s been said on the subject by a lot of people with varying degrees of nuance and sophistication. Out of all that, I would add to my general list of readings I find interesting about cycling and doping: “From Lance to Landis” and the whole USADA investigation. But, “The Secret Race” is still one of my favorites and one of the most detailed descriptions of how things were in professional cycling of a certain time (and still are to a degree I’m sure). Doping is a part of how things were, a large part, but it is not the only part. Losing stupid crazy amounts of weight is a pretty big part too. Oh, and training.

The main reason this doesn’t read to me like just another professional athlete tell-all raking in the money from their own misdeeds is because Daniel Coyle, who wrote the book with/for Tyler Hamilton, is a good writer and a good reporter. He confirms facts and puts in rare footnotes what other information you might need as a reader. The other important reason is that I don’t think Tyler Hamilton is necessarily trying to cash in. I think he’s trying to make a confession of sorts, a coming clean, etc. I think he feels really bad about the lying, but not as much about the choices he made in the first place. Which is interesting. I mean it doesn’t take a psych student to watch his 60 Minutes interview and know that he was wrestling with a lot of demons.

If you really are interested in the sport and in sports, in the questions of how to address doping, instead of just depicting the problem as an individual problem, which makes it easy to dismiss as a moral failing instead of examine as a systemic failing, if you’re really truly interested with an open mind, then I’d suggest reading the book.

At one point, in passing, Hamilton writes/dictates-to-the-writer that he’s known some great guys who decided to dope and some really shitty ones who didn’t. And that’s probably true.

Riding in Malibu

September 7, 2014 — 2 Comments
Latigo Canyon - complete with motorcycles

Latigo Canyon – complete with motorcycles. tim/Flickr

 

This is where we rode this morning: the Malibu Mountains. It was a long way up and then down a little bit and then up some more and then down, down, down. Most of the roads were pretty great — no cars, long steady climbs, nice scenery — but then we had to jump briefly on a busy through road and make a left turn off it. And, Justin almost caused a massive seven car pile-up walking his bike in the crosswalk across the highway/canyon road/whatever. Which he wanted me to know: he was completely in the legal right to do.

I also continued to have my same struggling I’ve been having lately. It was hot and I had a hard time breathing, something down here makes my throat all dry and closed up. And for over two hours I saw a heartrate just a few beats shy of what is my all-out one-hour race heartrate. Except we weren’t going all-out one-hour race pace. So, clearly the feeling shitty is not just in my head.

Still, I’d recommend: PCH to Yerba Beuna Road in Ventura up to Mulholland Hwy over to Katan Rd and then down Latigo Canyon. (You can also do it in reverse.)

Tomorrow is the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Mont Tremblant. The race has really evolved in the last few years from a Kona knock-off to a genuine championships, especially now that you have Olympic athletes meeting with Ironman athletes. I’ll actually be riding my bike in the morning, so I can’t follow the livestream of the race. Hopefully, everyone who loves to live-tweet things as they watch them on TV will live-tweet something I actually want to know about and can’t see on TV.

Here’s who I’m sort of rooting for and think could come out on top tomorrow, though there are certainly a handful of people who could win. Which makes it exciting. (If you want more details, the Slowtwitch men’s and women’s previews are totally in-depth.)

Men: Javier Gomez – it’d be sort of awesome to see him come back after the ITU World Championship win and prove he is the BEST AT EVERYTHING

Women: Meredith Kessler – gotta root for the local (when I lived in the Bay Area) girl, who always stops to talk to me at swimming, especially since it’s been great to see her get stupid fast over the last few years

Chasing the Real Danger

September 6, 2014 — Leave a comment

 

Thursday, Death Valley National Park announced its new rules regulating increasingly popular crazy endurance races (see: The Badwater Ultramarathon above). The park will no longer allow events during the day from June 14 to Sept. 9 because of heat and the chance of dying, etc. That effectively kills the traditional Badwater 135-mile race, moving it out of Death Valley. This comes on the heels of the Grand Canyon’s revised rules about Rim-to-Rim runners. This isn’t the end. We’re only going to see more places and organizers making safety rules to govern what was once the domain of extremists. There never needed to be rules regulating runners doing the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim route in one day, because there never were that many runners doing it. That’s no longer true.

There is a reason we’ve seen such an increase in extreme endurance events, in the (pseudo) intense adventure/obstacle events. It has something to do with a growing societal desire to chase what people are missing in their commuting and their sitting in offices. They want to feel the thrill of real danger, the excitement of the un-doable. Of course, real danger is dangerous. And real un-doable isn’t do-able for a reason.

My sister and I did a Tough Mudder once. It was fun, challenging, and different from regular races — right up until you had to run through a field of wires that electroshocked you at random. That part was stupid. Why would they mix that in with the physical challenges? Because the clientele demands a feeling of having defeated something tough and insane, something they can brag about to co-workers on Monday. But, that same clientele doesn’t have the training to do anything more physical. All it takes to run through electrified wires is the desire to do so. Tough Mudder feeds that desire.

Of course, Tough Mudder is now having to deal with the dangers that come with running these kinds of events. People die. People die in running races, in triathlons, in obstacle races, in ultramarathons. People die chasing the thrill of living. (People also die all the time for no reason.) That’s part of the appeal, even if no one admits it to themselves.

We are not ok with that fact — and for good reason. When we participate in an event, we believe that we will be safe and that preparations and precautions have been made for our safety. We also believe that we will have a real, genuine experience. These things are at odds. They will continue to be at odds as more and more people try to reconcile them. Ironman’s “hard” races tend to go out of business, while it’s “easy” ones sell out in minutes; no one wants to try and fail at finishing. They want a challenge that they can ultimately safely overcome. It has always been dangerous to run through Death Valley in the summer during the middle of the day. That was true when the Badwater Ultramarathon started in 1987 and a half-dozen crazy people tried to run the 135 miles to Mt. Whitney. They wanted to try because, not in spite of, the dangers. It is still dangerous, but now hundreds can do it. Or, at least they could — until we decided it was too dangerous to try anymore.

For the last five to six weeks I’ve felt pretty awful. Whether or not this is ‘since Ironman‘ or ‘since moving to LA’ or ‘since starting the grad program’ is hard to tell. Those things all happened within three days of each other, so who knows. Obviously, I’m not stupid, so I figured at first that I just felt Ironman/moving-across-the-state awful. It would pass.

But, it hasn’t really passed. To a degree, yes, when I started sleeping some, I felt somewhat better. And, eventually, the post-race why-do-my-legs-now-weigh-200-pounds thing went away. The problem is, though, that it hasn’t gone all the way away. Most of the time I just drag myself around. I try to do some workouts, but they sort of mostly suck. Sometimes the workouts suck more than just in a generic way, like Sunday when I was so dehydrated and tired and struggling that I couldn’t make it through a 55 minute easy run without dry-heaving and walking. Somedays I just wake up and can’t even keep my eyes open. It hurts to walk. It’s exhausting to try and converse with people. I find myself standing in the middle of a room trying to decide what to do next.

This past Friday was one of those days, so was yesterday. Yesterday, it was like some mini-depression shit. I was dragging myself around. It was the worst I’ve felt on a random Wednesday for no reason in a long time. Of course, naturally, when I finally made myself go swim — because I have not been swimming and who knows how this Big Kahuna race is going to go — it was fine. It was slow and miserable, but it wasn’t the worst I’ve ever swum.

Anyone who’s ever felt a generic shitty knows that half the problem is the uncertainty. Are you just imagining this? Do you just need to snap out of it, pull it together, stop being lazy? Do you really feel that shitty? Lots of people feel shitty; maybe this will go away? Can you quantify what is wrong exactly? And why do you feel so shitty anyway? Maybe it’s something straight-forward: more sleep, eating better, active recovery? Maybe it’s not? Maybe there’s something wrong with your actual body: low iron, depleted stores that never bounced back, chronic allergies? Or some kind of massive serious illness?

These kinds of things can be hard to pin down for anyone, but for athletes it’s especially difficult I think. You might not even have noticed if you weren’t trying to do more with your body. Or, you might have noticed, but it wouldn’t make much of a difference in your daily life. But, when every tiny soreness and aching muscle prompts concern or cut workouts, then massive general fatigue is going to be noticed. And, it’s going to make a difference.

I’m giving it another few weeks to see if this shit gets less shitty. In the mean time, I’ll sleep and eat and rest and get my life in order and finally figure out my new schedule and unpack and finish all my homework and do moderate workouts to get moving and hope. I’ll definitely hope.

Oh, we’ll invoke lush clichés about the lonely heroism of Olympic athletes, the pain and analgesia of football, the early rising and hours of practice and restricted diets, the preflight celibacy, et cetera. But the actual facts of the sacrifices repel us when we see them: basketball geniuses who cannot read, sprinters who dope themselves, defensive tackles who shoot up with bovine hormones until they collapse or explode. We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think.

David Foster Wallace, on professional tennis

Bikes at IM Frankfurt. That's a lot of money right there. Rupert Ganzer/Flickr

Bikes at IM Frankfurt. That’s a lot of money right there. Rupert Ganzer/Flickr

 

$650 is a lot of money. It’s particularly a lot of money to sign up for one race. But, that’s how much an Ironman costs. Even the non-Ironman brand Iron-distance races cost $400-500. And, since races are filling up and private equity companies are getting into the business, clearly people are willing to pay. So, is it worth it?

There is plenty on the internet written breaking down by line item how much doing an Ironman costs — “x” amount for a bike, “y” for a wetsuit — but if you already do triathlon and don’t plan on Ironman being a one-off thing then those calculations are a little wasted. They also can get silly when people start adding gym memberships and food to their budgets. You possibly might go to the gym and eat even if you weren’t doing an Ironman.

Obviously there’s no question that you spend tons of time and money training, traveling, and competing in an Ironman. A fascinating story in the local Whistler paper about the business of IM Canada said that the average competitor spends between $7,300 and $26,500 doing the race. (Those numbers seem high to me, or else I must have done something wrong in my training/prep/race. But still.)

For all that it’d be easy to rag on Ironman for being so expensive and raking in the profit, the thing is it’s not cheap to put on these events. IM Canada took over Whistler ski village for a week with the finish area/expo/registration/awards. They shut down 50 miles of the highway for us to bike on, closed off the paths and side roads for the run, and blocked off the beach at the lake so we could swim. That costs money. It all came with police and officers to make sure you didn’t get hit by cars either. There was a large transition area at the beach and one in the village by the finish. The shuttle took people back and forth from those places. There were aid stations every 20 kilometers on the bike, including one where you could pick up your special needs bags sorted by number. There were medical crews out there and technical support. On the run, the infrastructure was even more intense. Every mile there was a fully stocked aid station, usually a few hundred meters long. All of this was staffed, even if the majority of it was unpaid staff. Think about the logistics and manpower there. Thousands of people making sure you have whatever you need to do an Ironman. And, of course there were crazy crowds cheering and yelling your name, urged and supported by a whole other set of Ironman staff. The race director for Western States once told me that if runners really paid the cost of what it takes to put on that particular point-to-point run the price would be closer to $800, not the $370 it is. People vastly underestimate the real price of these kinds of massive long-distance events. And, no one would put them on in a meaningful fashion if they couldn’t make money too.

For all that I don’t love Ironman or the World Triathlon Corporation, they know how to put on one of these. Yes, there were problems in the past with some of their franchised races. And, yes, my experience at the Ironman distance is limited to Canada, which is one of their oldest and premier events, even if it’s had a lot of changes recently. But, you pay Ironman more because you know that they won’t send you off course, they won’t run out of water or food, they’ll have enough staff to control cars and traffic, there’ll be medical doctors when you need them. You pay because it will run smoothly. That can’t always be said of every small race organizers.

You also pay for perks. Ironman knows that their races cost a lot of money, so they want you to feel like you get your money’s worth. At Canada, we got a fancy backpack with goodies: a poster, race program, t-shirt, coupons for a free meal at one of the local restaurants. There were samples and drinks and food to load up on. During the race, the live stream was projected on a huge monitor in the village so people could watch or track their athletes. There was a beer garden and food after you finished and got your medal — if you could swallow any of it. The morning after, they played a video montage of the race on that huge projector (which some poor intern must have stayed up overnight finishing) and served everyone breakfast sandwiches and coffee. And, of course, you could buy more stuff!

Ironman swag

Ironman swag

 

So, is the $650 worth it? Yes. If you want to do an Ironman, then you 100% get what you pay for. (And they’re even making some changes so you might not lose all your money if you sign up and then can’t do the race later.) But, would I pay Ironman again? Probably not. Because your dollars are the method by which you make your opinion heard, then there are plenty of other things to consider besides getting your money’s worth. I have a hard time supporting some of the decisions the company is making and the direction they’re heading in. Unless I really want to take a shot at Kona — which is a whole other thing your money pays Ironman for: the dream of Kona — and I get at least 45 minutes faster, I’d probably give my money to Rev3 or Challenge instead. It’d be worth it.