Sunday, June 2, 2013

At a certain age, a woman who can no longer feel her fingers or her toes...

...will say, decidedly, "I quit."  I think that I found that age this weekend.
Prior to race day, Wolf Lake looks inviting to triathletes-in-training.

This is what was blasting through my head as I sat on a grassy field in Hammond, Indiana this morning trying to use my fingers for an array of activities required to finish Leon's "World's Fastest" Triathlon. This race is hosted in what can only be described as a post-industrial wasteland landscape of oil refineries, blocked-off highways, and low slung bungalows originally built to be inhabited by the employees of steel mills and the like.

Kim and me, pre-race.
We arrived after leaving home at a relatively civilized 6AM.  The weather, we knew, would be difficult.  Although it was about 60 degrees this morning, we knew that temps would drop as the morning progressed.  What's more, we saw a dark, ominous cloud heading towards the park where we were racking our bikes and getting ready for race start.  Michael loaned me a jacket, because I had been optimistic enough to assume that arm warmers would do the job.  After waiting a while for race start we were on a dock, anxious to get into the water, because we knew that the water would be warmer than the air.  No worries about the swells, it proved to be a manageable, relatively smooth swim.  Once out and getting ready for the bike, still not too bad, but once I was on my ride I realized that I had no clue as to how to zip the jacket while riding, put on my arm-warmers, or navigate a course that has no less than eight turn-arounds.  I was reaching for the zipper and fumbling around as someone passed joking that neither of us had trained to zip our jackets on the bike.  It was old friend Sam that I hadn't seen in a few years.  Thrilled at his sight, I settled into enjoying a day with so many friends.  The jacket proved to be a terrible nuisance by about mile 9 of 26, so I acted like the race was an ironman and stopped to take it off (sure sign of an ultra-distance racer--or a novice), at which point girlfriend Kim grabbed at me and waved. Kim was to have a fantastic race!

When I was almost half way through the ride and I felt pretty good.  Nothing amazing, but fast and strong for an old broad.  As these races tend to be, lots of men, with a smattering of younger women and us hardy old souls, the tough older women.  The older I get, the faster these other older women get.  Amazing.  Rolling up and down with major wind I was truly awe-struck by the scenery.  What I would do to have my camera on this surreal route.
Phot. Gary Cialdella (web images)
The pock-marked and cracked highway, rolling forward, in it's own gray-ness, with white oil refineries and power lines marking the sky, grey clouds, dropping mist, and triathletes hell bent on mashing their legs to smithereens.

Michael and Jack, pre-race.
Michael and I, early in the morning, had been discussing an apocalyptic world in which we would not want to survive.  I suggested that everyone over forty would be gone soon, but he reminded me that the survival skills that we attribute to our own teenagers are pretty spare.  If Michael survives the end days, I wouldn't be too surprised.  He is a loyal friend, intelligent, gifted in so many ways, and a calm and steady zenmaster.

By the time I got off my bike I was feeling fine.  It wasn't until I got to the transition area that I realized that I couldn't do anything with my fingers and I couldn't feel my toes.  I was freezing.  Should I stop?  I seriously considered this, after about three minutes fiddling with my shoes, helmet, etc., but I also realized that I had nowhere to go.  Somebody else had driven us and there was no indoor space available.   I would freeze, left alone with no run.  So after what is considered a "pitifully long transition"  I hobbled over to some folks standing around talking.  I begged, "I know that this can disqualify me, but will you help me with my shoes/jacket?"  As they obliged, insisting that "It's the hard days that we remember," I noticed that they were USA Triathlon Referees. Sort of funny.  Actually, mostly an indicator that I was far enough behind the contenders that I would be able to accept any sort of simple help.  Thus fortified with shoes, and jacket, I gave to padding along the road, wondering If the stubs that were my feet would ever turn into something worth running on.  It took the better part of three miles, but I finally gained sensitivity in both my hands and feet, enabling me to actually quicken to a jog/run gait, rather than whatever soft step I had been doing for the first half of the run.  I saw friend Matt first, coming in.  He was having a good day, as he is poised for a great season.  Matt is focused, calm, enthused.
Matt and I, pre-race.  Haggard triathletes? perhaps. Most definitely lifers.
And then the parade of friends.  Even Mike W,, our wonderful friend who is taking his family to live in my beloved East Bay showed up to cheer us on.  We become such an unsavory lot here in Chicago and beyond.  I'm thinking, as Mike yells out to me, "Yeah, you're gonna miss this, man!" Maybe.  He'll certainly miss the friends and the constant joking.  We planned to meet him post-race at the Three Floyds Brewery, but when Mike, Jack and I saw the line out the door and the tattooed dude carding people like he was working the rope at Studio 54, we said we'd ditch the affair. When I arrived home, Peter said, "yeah, that's the best brewery around!"  Maybe next year.

Instead, the three of us opted for a burger joint (chain) and we ate a little grub before heading home.  Michael and Jack were discussing the logistical failings of the race, and that Leon himself was most likely out there the night before repairing weed-strewn and potholed roadways.  Michael, a true-blue Chicagoan, turned to me and said, "I think it's great.  This is our back yard.  You saw what this place is like.  It's hard times.  Refineries and little houses that were built for factory workers.  There's nothing going on here.  But Leon gets the whole town out, cheering people on and working aid stations.  These triathletes from Northside Chicago and the suburbs, this is their home, too, but they never see it.  And here they are!"  Yes, me too. Here I was.  Another sad little town on the outskirts of the American Dream.  For one day populated by five thousand dollar bikes and SUV's and Audis.  As Michael said, "At least he's trying."
Triathlete Magazine: Leon

If there were a theme of this year, it might certainly be to put training and triathlon in the back seat.  Certainly a by-product of getting older, there seems to be less and less available time, less and less energy, and, after so many years, lack of the burning desire to train at high intensities with the sort of focus that eludes me most days.  I'm just happy to get out there, feel good, get it done, especially if I can keep my sense of humor, and squeeze into my try-outfit and wetsuit.  So did I quit? Of course not.  I muddled through, and had what I truly believe was a great race.  This isn't easy, man!!!  When Michael joined me to run the last mile in I didn't even realize it was him.  I had seen him pacing Kim earlier and assumed he was finished. Little did I know, that our hero, the Kona Qualifier and Mench and king of cycling, had looped around and run with all of us for some time.  He was in his glory.  Proud of his sport, proud to be competing in a race that he completed in 1994 (wearing just a speedo), and happy to see his friends embracing a thrilling race.  We are our own best friends.  And we're so gifted when we are surrounded by love, courage, passion, and wit.  On this crappy grey, noxious polluted day, it was all I could hope for, and I got so much more.


  1. Go read your email I just sent!!!
    love/miss ya. Hopefully get to see you in a week.

  2. Great post!
    Thank you for sharing your experience!