I was sort of hoping we’d take a break from awarding so many major sports events to Doha, or at least give it a little time for the whole ‘sports can help push society in a positive direction’ to have some effect first. Also, it would have been cool if the Track and Field World Championships were in the U.S.

I might have messed myself up this past week. The goal was to build on the previous two weeks (also known as the first two weeks) and then take a little bit of easy time going into Thanksgiving, with the understanding that I would probably bike and run a ton while up in the Bay Area for the holiday. After I bailed on lots and lots of swim workouts, I thought I was on the light end of training for the week, but I was wrong. The intensity did me in and by Sunday evening I was laying in a ball on my bed, trying to decide if I had enough energy to make food or if my body could just eat itself.

Monday

Did my own yoga routine that I made up in the morning to stretch out after the UCLA race. Discovered that the massive chaffing on my legs had turned into nasty cuts. Because of this, I wore a dress to school, which was a terrible idea. My body couldn’t handle the mildly cool temperatures and massively shut down. It is possible I was still a little messed up from the race the day before. And, now, I am the new proud owner of a USC outfit purchased at the student store to ward off the chills.

Swam about 1,000 yards easy at tri team practice before running (figuratively) to class in my new sweatshirt and tights.

Tuesday

Ran nine miles very, very, very slowly in the morning. Turned the iPod on — which is pretty much the only reason I bought an iPod shuffle in the first place – and just trotted along the ocean for a while.

Wednesday

Biked to school in the morning, which is an ok way to get to campus in that it doesn’t take much more time than train or driving/parking. But, it still is sort of lame and sketchy.

Was going to do some strength work and swim in the afternoon, but I only managed the strength work because I 1. hate swimming and 2. was tired.

Thursday

Ran seven miles with [4 x 3' at 5K pace, 2' off], except 5K pace was really not my usual 5K pace. I told myself that the slowness was because of the strong headwind. And, um, also the tailwind on the way back.

Again, did not swim.

Friday

The pool was closed, which was fine, because swimming is the worst. So, I just ran four miles easy around the neighborhood and did some drills/strides at Expo Park. Call this pre-race prep.

Saturday

10K Race! with some warming up and cooling down and stuff.

Then, finally, swam — just 1,500 yards very easy to shake out the legs.

Sunday

Because I had to do some interviews down in Long Beach in the morning, and because Steve was in town for the weekend, we rode some Malibu mountains with Justin in the afternoon. The only problem was that the massive wind storm had gotten worse by then and was way worse along the coast. We also didn’t leave ourselves very much time to do the whole 35-mile hilly loop, by the time we tried to find a different route to avoid the wind and then started anyway (and I may have slowed us down with my not amazing riding). Descending back to PCH as dusk fell, I was cold and sketched out, but it was fine. I have been in bad places before on my bike and this really didn’t seem like one of them. It seemed totally fine. And, then, suddenly, my whole body just tapped out. We barely made it home in the car before I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. That lasted through most of Monday too.

TOTAL: 9:55

You would think I’d have learned by now that when your body is done it’s done. You can’t make it not be done. You can’t tell it that that really wasn’t too much training or that other people would be fine on that schedule. If you’re done, then that’s that.

So, I’m having to take a few days really easy this week and then we’ll see. I feel pretty ok about the (slow) progress I’m making, but clearly I need to swim more. And, also bike more. And, sleep more.

Steve and I are right about in the middle of the screen.

Steve and I are right about in the middle of the screen.

Saturday, I ran a local 10K race with some USC kids — though I don’t think they like it when I call them “kids” — and my roommate, Natalie. I won (out of the women, duh), which isn’t really a normal occurrence for me at 10Ks. And, that’s great. It is. I fought for it when the girl in second passed me at halfway and I had to come back on her. Coming back on someone is never easy. Dropping everything I had the last two miles, especially on such a massively hilly course, wasn’t easy either.

But, it was just a race I ran to see where I was at. Arguably, if Steve hadn’t run it with me, I would have bailed out mentally. Arguably, I did bail out somewhat mentally. I don’t know that I ran the absolute hardest I could the whole time. So, it’s not as if I was incredibly impressed with or proud of my effort or of the work that went into it. I was happy with how I did, given everything lately, and that was that.

The question, then, once you’re done cooling down and changing into dry clothes and getting a post-race massage and hanging out, is: Should you stay for awards?

I don’t want to be a dick — in fact, that’s been a November resolution of mine — and I, certainly, don’t want to disrespect anyone’s effort who was behind me. If they ran their hardest and they’re happy with their work, then they should be proud of that, regardless of any other runner out there. But, after over an hour of hanging out, I also just wanted to go home. I had slept four hours the night before and was so tired. And, I had driven down with Natalie and didn’t want to waste her time. I don’t need a plaque. I don’t care about getting a plaque. It wouldn’t mean anything to me, because it wouldn’t be reflective of anything I had put in to get there. How I ran is how I ran, regardless of a medal or a trophy. And, the rewards are only as valuable as they are to you personally.

Eventually, I designated a USC kid to pretend to be me and we went home. But, I kept thinking about that.

Steve told me once that I should always stay for awards because soon I won’t win anything anymore. That’s probably true. But, whether it’s true or not, that can’t make winning mean something to me. The only thing that can make something matter is if it matters to you.

I’m sure there were some people out there running that 10K (or the half-marathon or the 5K) who had trained hard for it and put everything out there to do the best they could. If they ran slower than I did that doesn’t change the fact that they should be more excited about their race than I was about mine. I’ve also done races where I’ve lost to friends who were, at the same time, upset about how slow they went — minutes and minutes faster than me.

One of the trickiest things about races is that, even though you race to race and you want to beat the other people out there, you can only really compare yourself within the spectrum of yourself. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. Me not staying for awards shouldn’t change the fact that someone else loves their award. And, if I work insanely hard and manage to podium in my age group at the L.A. Marathon, my pride shouldn’t change just because I know people who will run 20 minutes faster and be bummed. It only means what it means to you.

Last weekend, I went to a Galaxy soccer game with one of my classmates. It was, apparently, the playoffs. And, the Galaxy won 5-0. It was all very exciting.

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So much soccer.

It was also pretty full. And, soccer crowds, for all that they tend to be small, are scrappy. They make up for their lack of numbers with volume and enthusiasm. I know that everyone is always worrying about how to make soccer happen in the U.S. When, oh, when, is soccer going to become big here?? But, I got news: I think it already is.

I was thinking about this when I was at the USC-Cal game on Thursday night. The Coliseum holds over four times as many people as the Galaxy stadium. (The Galaxy stadium, StubHub Center, actually sits on the campus of Cal State University, amid industrial-looking office complexes, and we got mildly lost wandering around the infinite number of drab buildings trying to find our car.) Yet, the Coliseum didn’t feel that full on Thursday night. It was sort of a low-key game. Sure, they had a horse and Miley Cyrus, but the stands didn’t shake with everyone stomping. No one tried to do the wave and the screaming didn’t overpower my ability to hear. I know there were more people in the semi-empty Coliseum than at the mostly full StubHub Center. But, maybe the number of people at the Galaxy game was enough people.

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At the USC game.

IM Kona aired today on NBC. Triathlon will never attract the fans or the money of football, or probably even of soccer. Ironman races will never have live TV coverage. (There’s only a few of us who will watch a whole eight-hour broadcast of a race.) That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of money to made in triathlon — if there wasn’t then there wouldn’t be so many private equity and venture capital firms trying — and plenty of people who love the sport. NBC broadcasts an hour-and-a-half of highlights for the mainstream and maybe that’s fine for them.

Why do we need to be the most, the best at everything? The U.S. is very good at a lot of sports. Logistically, though, there has to be a limit. We can’t win at football and basketball and soccer and triathlon. Not getting into the whole inevitable decline of America thing, but we won’t be the best forever at everything. No one can be. And, there’s no reason we have to be.

The soccer game was still fun, even though Miley Cyrus wasn’t in attendance. The professional ultimate frisbee players I’m interviewing for a story will still play disc, even though they only make about $50/game. I still like racing triathlon, even though the sport may never happen in the U.S. Maybe I like it a little more because it hasn’t happened, because you have to be there because you want to be there. Maybe part of the appeal is not automatically being the biggest or the best.

Training Week 2: Nov. 3 – 9

November 10, 2014 — 1 Comment

Week two was both better and worse than week one. Under the better column: I got in double-digit hours of training finally and I raced pretty well. On the bad side you can list the minor breakdown I had and overall tiredness.

Part of me knows I need to cut workouts when I have to get work done. But parts of me also know (from previous experience) that if I just power through, it’ll get better. In fact, doing the workouts can help with all the other stuff sometimes, forcing you to be organized and focused and jumpstarting the whole engine.

Monday

Biked an easy hour around the neighborhood to shake things out and to check out if Baldwin Hill would be a good place to run. (The answer is no, FYI)

Tuesday

Ran a bit over 7 miles in the morning with 20 minutes at marathon pace — only it didn’t feel like marathon pace.

Then did some light drills and strides in the afternoon, followed up by some PT and core and 900 yards of swimming.

Wednesday

Yoga class where I fell asleep.

Swam 2,350 yards with the tri team. More 400s but slower than the week before.

Thursday

Rode about 45 miles down to Palos Verdes and around the peninsula with Justin. It’s pretty and the beach bike path to get there was OK, but there was a ton of traffic on the roads. Apparently no one in Palos Verdes works regular hours, which I totally get.

Friday

Rest, so much resting.

Saturday

Rode about seven miles for a pre-race shake-out with the standard few hard pick-ups and race pace efforts.

Then I chess-boxed a little for a story.

Sunday

Race! (Actually two races and some warming up and cooling down.)

TOTAL: 10:05

I actually feel pretty good about this. Now, if I could just carry the momentum and success onward.

The kids (and me) getting ready to go.

The kids (and me) getting ready to go.

I am officially a collegiate racer again. And a collegiate race winner! (Oops, should have buried the lead more.) Oh, how the times have changed — except not really.

Yesterday was the UCLA IronBruin Triathlon. I raced it with the USC team for fun, because collegiate triathlon is fun; it’s supposed to be fun. But, I wasn’t particularly excited about it. I’ve been a scared bike handler since smashing my teeth out back in April. Usually that kind of fear passes, but it hasn’t yet. So, the last thing that sounded appealing was a four-loop bike course with a ton of downhill turns, filled with a lot of people who are just learning to ride their bikes. There’s nothing wrong with just learning to ride a bike. I fell a lot when I was learning to ride my bike on the Cal triathlon team. I was also terrified, then, of crashing or of crashing someone else out.

But, no one crashed (badly) yesterday. And, I did not fall off my bike while trying to dismount this time. The race wasn’t terrible, though it hurt terribly.

For all that collegiate triathlon is growing, it’s still pretty grassroots-y. We swam eight laps up and down a pool, ducking under the lane lines at each end, with five seconds between people starting. I passed one guy who started ahead of me and was passed by two girls behind me, though I just jumped on the feet of the second girl as she went by and that worked pretty well.

The bike hurt, but it’s supposed to hurt. And, anyway, I’m pretty sure my limiter was technical, not aerobic. There were so many sharp turns that I braked so poorly and swore a lot going into. The only thing that kept me pushing it at the end — instead of getting distracted thinking about how to dismount on a downhill — was one girl I had caught coming back on me.

She hit the start of the run right ahead of me too. Apparently, my super fast transition and speed skills are super fast compared to adult Ironman athletes, but not so much compared to 19-year-olds. It was just as well, though. We were both pushing each other to run really hard at the start. Even though, with the five second gaps between start times, I was technically already about a minute ahead of her, I was so worried she would make it up. So, I just hung right next to her. And it hurt. I thought I couldn’t hold it and worried that, with my lack of fitness, I should have started more conservatively. Then, slowly, I started to pull away from her and go with one of the guys on our team, who was right ahead of me. But, I was scared. I was scared she would catch me and I’d blow up. When I caught another girl, who was actually beating me by 10 seconds (with the weird start times), I was scared I wouldn’t be able to gap her enough to make up the time difference. I was scared someone else out there, who I couldn’t see, was probably beating me. I just kept trying to run as fast as I could. I race well when I race scared.

And I would have sworn to you I was running crazy fast, especially as it started downhill in the last mile. But I wasn’t. I was running a 20:15 5K. I definitely benefited during the race from not having a watch going and from not knowing how exactly I was stacking up. These are some high-level mental tricks at their finest.

In the end I won by 35 seconds over some high school girl I never saw, who will probably be much, much faster than me soon.

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Getting fancy for the relay

Then I took the aerobars off my bike, re-set my transition, and ran with my bike back up the hill to get to the start of the draft-legal mixed team relay on time. (Fortunately, it did not start on time. Unfortunately, no one told me that was going to be the case before I ran my bike up the hill with just seconds to spare.) It was insanely rough. I swam the hardest 200m of my life and I came out of the water last, which meant I was on my bike last, which meant I was sprinting to make up time over the entire 17 minute race, which meant I really did want to throw up when I finally finished.

Collegiate triathlon has changed some since I last did it in 2007. It’s attracted more money and people. The top racers were always good, but there’s more of them now and, on the aggregate, they’re faster. Some of those fast people are now doing the draft-legal stuff that’s been added, which I think meant that many of them did not do the regular collegiate race I did. And, there’s more racers across-the-board, at every level, which changes the nature of the small homegrown triathlon.

It’s changed, but I’ve changed more. Sure, I’ve gotten better and I know a stupid amount about triathlon and training now, but I’d like to think what I’ve also learned is when to get serious and when not to. Oh, and one last thing has changed. I raced in a really short pair of spandex shorts, which I’ve done before but not in a few years, since I usually have uniform shorts for races. It’s uncomfortable — because they’re short and the seam rubs on the bike seat and the inside of your thighs – but it wasn’t a problem the last time I raced in them. This time, however, I finished with four inches of chafing down the inside of each thigh, so bad it’s oozy and slightly bleeding and hurts to wear pants (and also shorts and dresses). Apparently, my thighs have gotten larger since I last raced in these shorts. So, that’s new too.

There is a quote in Once A Runner to the effect that the thing about running is you always know how you stack up. There is a time, clear and simple, and that time is either the best or the fourth best or the 37th best or far, far lower on the list. You know exactly who is better and who is worse. You can not lie to yourself.

(Unfortunately, this is not one of the more famous or inspirational quotes in the book — it’s pretty much the opposite of inspirational — so I can’t find it anywhere. But, this is why the book is much-beloved, despite it’s strange word choices and cloud of general late-1970s sexism. It’s beloved because there is a truth in it.)

I was thinking about that section of the book and how hard it is to hide from yourself in sports. I was thinking about it because it’s actually pretty easy in the rest of life to hide. It’s pretty easy to tell yourself that you’re doing better than you are, to pretend that if this was quantifiable you would totally be #winning.

I am not winning right now.

For a variety of reasons, I have been screwing up all kinds of projects. It’s really rare for me to miss deadlines or drop the ball on work. Things always come together. Right now, they haven’t been coming together so much.

There are a number of benefits to playing sports as a kid. It teaches teamwork and hard work. It also teaches you how to deal with failure, which is definitely why the whole ‘everyone wins’ part of youth sports is funny. (Sorry to let you in on a secret, but everyone will not continue to win the rest of forever.) Because of that I’m used to not doing as well as I want at races, to working really hard and not having it work out. You cry for a day. You evaluate what went wrong. Then, you move on and try again.

Or, if you want to be truly great, you forget that you ever failed in the first place.

Too Tired, Didn’t Read

November 5, 2014 — 3 Comments

I just fell asleep in a yoga class — while doing yoga. I’m really identifying with this right now.

Well, I made it to and through week one of training. My schedule for the L.A. Marathon started on Monday. I’ve also added to the plan Collegiate Triathlon Nationals in South Carolina in April, which I’m really hoping to race. You don’t get many chances in life to try again at something and, hopefully, not screw it up this time.

I’m not really back to a regular training volume, but I finally stopped feeling like death. The bronchitis is gone. The overwhelming fatigue is mostly gone. I’m still exhausted and not sleeping much and falling behind on all my projects, but in an almost-normal way. So watch out.

Monday

Swam 1,300 yards with the USC tri team in the evening. Really, I only made it through the warm-up and first set — and it’s a little amazing I even made it through that since I had driven down from San Francisco at 6 a.m. after flying back from Turkey Thursday night and then driving back up to the Bay Area on Friday. I may not have been at my best for a few days there.

Tuesday

Ran track with the tri team in the morning. Fortunately, they were recovering from their race over the weekend. We did a pretty low-key 3 x [4 x 100m, followed by 800m], with warm-up and cooldown. Only added up to a bit over four miles in the end.

Some light strength work, PT, and TRX.

Wednesday

Rode the 11 miles to school in the morning. This is not the most pleasant ride ever, it turns out.

Swam 3,000 yards with the tri team in the evening. Lots of 400s — which we were weirdly dropping in the 5:20s, no problem. (I continue to think the indoor PED pool on campus is oddly short or fast.)

Thursday

Ran 7.5 miles in the morning with 10 x 1-minute pick-ups. It’s one of those things that doesn’t seem like it should be hard, but kind of is. And, if someone could please let me know somewhere to run that isn’t the creek/beach bike path, that’d be great.

Friday

Ran 2.5 miles easy on the treadmill and followed it up with some throwing weights around. As not a 20-year-old guy, getting my pump on in the USC gym is a strange experience. I have to keep asking ripped guys in their ripped t-shirts, “Sorry, can I use that?” And, they sort of look at me like they’re not sure if I’ll hurt myself if they let me use the bar.

Swam 800 yards really easy just to shake things out after all that squatting and jumping.

Saturday

Transition Clinic with the tri team.

Ran five miles easy on the JPL trail, which is pretty nice and may actually meet my trail standards.

Sunday

Rode about 28 miles with Steve and Justin, which is almost always a recipe for a hard ride. Add to that the fact that I am not in super amazing shape and that Justin warned me there’d be “a half mile at about a 10 percent grade.” I don’t know if he was right about the grade and length, but I had to walk my bike up part of it. If I’m honest with myself it was partially in my head. We’d been going uphill for awhile before we hit the steep part — even up a section that I thought was the steep part. And, I managed to make it up the first sharp stretch of 200 yards or so. It wound around, then it leveled off a bit. I did it! No problems! Then, there was another section: straight and up, up, up for another 100-200 yards. I was standing and my wheel was slipping a bit in the dirt patches. I didn’t quite have enough momentum to get over the top of the pedals and began to tip on the incline. Walking my bike up the hill in bike shoes, though, wasn’t a whole lot easier. It was so steep I couldn’t get any traction and just kept sliding backwards. So that was fun.

TOTAL: 8:40

Week one done. On to week two.

Week two includes me racing the collegiate triathlon at UCLA, for which I am woefully unfit. But, why not? Collegiate triathlon is fun and cheap. I even agreed to do a mixed team relay with three of the kids. What won’t be hilarious about me doing flying mounts and trying to out-kick collegiate runners over a 1,000 meter? Basically, if you’re in L.A., you should come watch it.

Can you imagine if the big three sports were covered the way running is covered?

There’d be the story each weekend of the player overcoming tragedy and the third-stringers doing it for their own reasons. You’d have the strange play-by-play that’s more about the weather than the game and the self-reflective essay. And, what would you do without the off-beat slightly related story with its vague misunderstandings of the stats of the sport (not that I don’t like Ben True, because I do, but I’m not sure he’d “get bored” at 4:20 pace)?

Yes, these are all New York Times articles, but it was the New York Marathon, so if anyone should get it right, it’d be them. And, no, there’s nothing particularly bad about any one of these stories. Some of them are a little bit interesting. I’m sure all of them were probably aimed right at the paper’s target market. That’s fine.

But, all together it creates a picture that isn’t entirely accurate or true. It’s like the Kona coverage on NBC that’s almost entirely full of sob stories and people overcoming looming obstacles. It’s not that those people weren’t there or that their stories aren’t important. It’s just that they’re important enough to be told with more honesty.