Week 6: And On The Weekends, We Nap

Read all my weekly recaps of being a pro triathlete so far.

Last weekend, my mom visited. We picked her up in Reno and showed her Tahoe, while Steve raced. Then, we did the Marin things: Mt. Tam in the fog, Muir Beach, my favorite restaurants, ferry to a show in the city, trainer in the living room, the Toyota dealership. You know, the usual.

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All of this meant that I didn’t even open my computer for four days. Crazy talk. Coming right out of training camp, it added up to almost two weeks where I was basically off the internet.  Continue reading “Week 6: And On The Weekends, We Nap”

Here’s a Fun Story and An Idea 

After Kona I got this weird little bump on the side of my neck. But with so many cuts and sunburn and bruises after such a rough race, I didn’t think about it until a month or so passed and I was like, ‘Hmm, that probably shouldn’t be there still.’ I went to the doctor a week ago and she thought it might be some kind of infection from Kona (just add to the list of fantastic talismans from that race) and gave me a cream to try before the next step, shudder, dermatology.

Fine, great. Then, today I was talking to Steve, who’s at the US National XC Ski Champs (‘natch), and he made a joke about how some guy probably didn’t make the results list because he was on drugs. And I thought, all of a sudden, oh shit, it never even occurred to me to check that the prescription didn’t have any banned ingredients. I almost never go to a non-sports injury doctor; I don’t take anything besides those Whole Foods wellness pills and lots of beer; I’m not used to this idea that I’m a professional athlete and my doctor might unknowingly give me some thing I can’t take.

Continue reading “Here’s a Fun Story and An Idea “

Watching Professional Endurance Sports Events Is Weird

Thursday night, I went to the HOKA ONE ONE Middle Distance Classic (a name which maybe helps explain why track meets are hard to turn into bigger sporting events). It was fun before it started pouring rain. It was also $10 if you didn’t have a student ID. Perhaps unsurprisingly, or maybe surprisingly depending on your point of view, there were about 200 people in the stands.

Even Justin, who was with me, asked if there was anyone big there. Um, yeah, like a bunch of Olympians, some Olympic medalists, World medalists, etc. He agreed he had heard of some of the names I was listing.

The weird thing, if you think about it, is even the people you can’t name, who won’t make it on even the most niche coverage, have to train a LOT to be that good. You train and you train and then you go to a random track at a small school in the suburbs of Los Angeles, warm-up jogging around the neighborhood, then run as hard as you can in front of a few hundred people until it starts pouring rain. Go ahead and try to explain that job to a career counselor.

After graduation on Friday and some celebrating on Friday night, we then rode up Mt. Baldy on Saturday to watch the Tour of California. We made it on TV, though I don’t know if you can see us through the crowds on the side of the road:

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Then, after going for a run Sunday morning at JPL, which is right by the Rose Bowl, we went down to watch the end of the race at the Rose Bowl. I thought we wouldn’t be able to get close, but we basically just parked down the street and walked up.

It actually was really exciting. Peter Sagan, who is best known as a sprinter, managed to do well enough up Mt. Baldy that he ended up just three seconds out of the overall lead. This is crazy. And if he placed in the top three at the last stage (or at the intermediate sprint during that last stage) it would give him enough of a time bonus to take back the overall win.

He actually managed to do it by just millimeters at the line. See, it was genuinely exciting. But it’s hard to explain or to get anyone who doesn’t know about this stuff to care.

I know a lot about triathlon, like for real, a lot. But then I’ll peruse the new TRS Triathlon website (which I actually mostly like) or the ‘Twitch or, god forbid, the ‘Twitch’s forums, and I think, ‘Shit, I don’t know that much.’ I don’t obsess about what every single pro is doing or who did what when or gear, man do I not care about gear. Yet, there are people who do, and in a way you’re riding your bike around a mostly empty Rose Bowl as hard as you can just for those people.

Professional endurance sports are weird.

 

Stop Asking Me Why I Run

In one of my classes the other day, we had an editor come in to talk about his experience and listen to our story pitches. He was funny, a former high-flying New York writer who succumbed to drug problems back in the day and is now on the rebound.

It was all cool until we got to my pitch. I had decided to write about what it’s like to race as a pro triathlete, yet never quite be good enough to actually make it. I thought it’d be interesting to people and interesting to talk about the system of never-was athletes underneath all the successful ones.

I got one sentence in — “I raced as a professional triathlete for three years.” — and he interrupted to say, “As an addict, you know what it sounds like to me, it sounds like you’re addicted.”

Um, yeah, I dunno, shrug, shrug.

He kept going: Why else would you do it? You must be addicted to it. Endorphin rush and stuff, right? I’ve heard of that.

Everyone thought this was genius. I kept shrugging — yeah, I dunno, this sounds more about you than me — until eventually I got really annoyed. Later, the rest of the class couldn’t quite figure out why it was really annoying, what if he just called it “passion” instead of “addiction.” And, anyway, they just all find the question of why anyone would do these sports so fascinating.

It’s not.

People tend to think that comparing a desire to run (et al) to an addiction is super witty. So original. So funny. See it’s supposed to be healthy, but it’s an addiction, so it’s not healthy; you’re addicted to being healthy. Hahahaha, I am so clever.

It’s actually probably the second or third most common thing people say. The first being, “Oh my god, that’s just soooo amazing. I could never do that. I don’t even know how you do that. It must take so much discipline.” Not that I’m not amazing, obviously, but there’s a creating of otherness here that I find strange. At the highest level of sports, yes, there is a degree of commitment and self-sacrifice that is not normal and that is also no different from what you would find at the highest levels of music or dance or writing or competitive holding your breath to see how deep you can dive. Any of these things are exceedingly hard and require a stunning degree of discipline, talent, and luck. But, I am not at that level. Neither are most of the people who run or do triathlon or bike or swim or Crossfit or whatever. I have very little insight into what it takes at that level. I am, most likely, at the same level (in our respective interests) as you, as the person asking the question and acting like I am so different from them.

Some people play video games. Some people sing a cappella. Some people are in competitive chess leagues. Some people are recovering drug addicts and former hard-partying New York writers. And, some people run. We are not so different, you and I. And, we are not all the same either.

Here’s the answer to your question: People do sports for all the different reasons that people do anything.

 

 

David Foster Wallace, on professional tennis

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.

How Serious Do You Have To Be To Be A Serious Athlete?

This weekend we were down in LA at a wedding with a bunch of friends. It was fun and exhausting and probably not amazing Ironman prep. All weekend people kept looking at the wine glass in my hand or the piece of pizza and going, ‘OH MY GOD, don’t you have an Ironman next weekend?!’

Clearly, I should have been locked in my bedroom resting and eating appropriate amounts of lean red meat and kale.

Friday I got fried swimming in the sun. Saturday my planned long trail run + open water swim turned into 40 minutes of running early because when the groom wants to go early you go early. Duh. And, then I needed to nap and meet up with other friends and OOPS! Saturday night I had four glasses of wine at the wedding and then was suddenly very sick. It didn’t seem like I’d drunk enough to feel as abruptly terrible as I did, but I didn’t think too hard about it. Sunday, though, when I got up, I started breaking out in a cold sweat and my stomach felt like it was ripping in half. I had to lay back down until about noon — when I was forced to get up to check out of our hotel. By then, I hadn’t kept any food down in 15 hours, so I was pretty pale and shaky. (It seems the burger I had earlier in the afternoon Saturday may have not sat great and the combination of things made me pretty sick.) Eventually, I had some soup and then a sandwich, but any workouts for Sunday were out. Now, I have blisters on my feet from my shoes — even though Erin lent me flip-flops halfway through the night — and one of my ankles is twisted and my stomach still hurts a little and I could sleep for days.

This does not seem like ideal Ironman prep.

There are lots of very good athletes I know who are very, very good because all they do is be athletes. They skip going out; they eat at home where they can control the food and know what they’re getting; they go to bed at 9 p.m. and pass on social outings. They’d have worn comfortable sandals and gone home early from the wedding after splurging on one glass of wine.

There’s a degree to which you have to be serious if you want to be serious. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time and setting yourself up for failure. But, in the times I’ve tried to be super serious, turning myself into a swim-bike-run machine has never gone well. It’s too easy for me to get burned out and over it. What’s the point if you’re not having fun?

The problem with this philosophy is that if you’re not the check on yourself, then who is? In the past, Steve has been the backstop, since he’s not as prone as I am to eating a brownie sundae every night or throwing ourselves a party of two for Cinqo de Mayo. Only Steve isn’t training seriously anymore, so there is no backstop anymore.

People asked a lot of questions about Ironman this weekend. (Also I asked a few people some questions about it too: like are you sure it isn’t a mass swim start?) One of the most common, though, was how did I think I was going to do? I was just doing it for fun, right? Just to finish? But, I’d definitely win my age group, right?

No, no, and no.

When I decided to do Ironman last fall and started training for real again, I was going to do it for real. Train for real, be serious about it, take things seriously. I don’t want to pay as much money as Ironman costs, go all the way to Canada, and spend all day racing without aiming to do it well. But, no, that doesn’t mean I’m the most serious or for real athlete there. I don’t expect to win my age group. That’s sort of the GOAL; winning would be winning. I expect that there will be a number of other people in my age group who didn’t accidentally drink and eat too much this weekend (or didn’t have their car break down on the way to a race last weekend, or didn’t go out the night before their last big workout, or screw up all the other things it’s possible to screw up). I know that my “serious” is not the same as other people’s “serious.”

What I don’t know is if my version of taking things seriously has set me up well enough, created a better balanced athlete, enabled me to deal with whatever comes my way, gotten me in the right spot for ME. I hope so. Because things are really about to get real. This week is serious.

Earlier this week it came out that Alan Webb was probably quitting running to become a triathlete. Sure, whatever, do what you want. But, this post written by his wife is sort of insanely sad and messed up? He was tired of losing, so he’s moving to triathlon? He didn’t think he had a shot at podiuming at Worlds in running, so he’s moving to triathlon? The US needs better triathletes, so he’s moving to triathlon? Not to mention some of the little side notes she makes just don’t add up or seem right. Really not sure what I think about this.

http://runteamwebb.wordpress.com/2014/01/25/the-wifes-perspective-on-a-career-change/

Tour of California!

Steve and I are headed over to the East Bay to watch the Tour of California stage that’s finishing on Mt. Diablo. (Fun fact: I can bike up Mt. Diablo in 1:03. Steve can do it in something under 50′ — I dunno 46 last time he did it a few years ago? He’ll probably be mad at me now if I got that number wrong.)

Mostly, I’m just going to cheer Nate on, hopefully get some beers and burgers and maybe a free ice cream again from people setting up tents on the side of the mountain, and meet up with Courtenay to ride up the hill. It’s like a cyclist version of a parking lot pre-game rager. If you want to join, the road up the south side of the mountain closes at 2 p.m. to cars. North side stays open the whole time to the ranger station halfway up, where the two meet. The riders are supposed to hit the bottom at 3 p.m. I’ll be somewhere around 3/4 of the way up?

Sunday, the race comes through Marin for the last day’s stage. I wrote all about what the general viewer needs to know (roads will be closed!) and where to watch.

I’ll be out covering the race and spectators and the scene on Sunday. So, you can also find me if you want to make it into the paper or something.