Monday, September 9, 2013

"I could be a movie star, if I could just get out of this place..."

 Every summer, around Iron-training time, I put together a mix-CD.  I listen to it obsessively myself, and pass a copy on to close friends who are also training for Ironman.  Usually, I'll get some response from friends (my teenager thinks this sucks! or...I really love the Pete Seeger_) or whatever.  Peter usually says my CD's are totally self-indulgent and only cater to my bizarre tastes, but hell, if it isn't self-indulgent, how does it have anything to do with Ironman training?  And so it goes.  I mention this as a lead-in to a race report, because, as always, the songs have potent meaning, at least for me.  And so, as I pore over the track list, my attention is drawn, again and again to a terrific sing-along, by Billy Joel.  So you know we've got a story here, like it or not!  And thus it goes:

It's nine o'clock on a Saturday
The regular crowd shuffles in
There's an old man sitting next to me
Making love to his tonic and gin

He says, "Son can you play me a memory
I'm not really sure how it goes
But it's sad and it's sweet
And I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man's clothes"

Sing us a song you're the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we're all in the mood for a melody
And you've got us feeling alright

Now John at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my drinks for free
And he's quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
But there's someplace that he'd rather be

He says, "Bill, I believe this is killing me"
As a smile ran away from his face
"Well, I'm sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this place"

Now Paul is a real estate novelist
Who never had time for a wife
And he's talking with Davy, who's still in the Navy
And probably will be for life

And the waitress is practicing politics
As the businessmen slowly get stoned
Yes they're sharing a drink they call loneliness
But it's better than drinking alone

Sing us a song you're the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we're all in the mood for a melody
And you've got us feeling alright

It's a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
And the manager gives me a smile
'Cause he knows that it's me they've been coming to see
To forget about life for a while

And the piano sounds like a carnival
And the microphone smells like a beer
And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar
And say "Man what are you doing here?"

Sing us a song you're the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we're all in the mood for a melody
And you've got us feeling alright

So here's the hook.  We're in a bar, people are connected by their own addiction, their desire to create community, there's a guy or two in the place who have talents beyond their station in life, talents appreciated by few but not seen globally, and then the kicker, "they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar and say 'man what are you doing here?'"  So, considering Ironman many years in, I get it, loud and clear.  It's the community we form, it's the sense of self and ability to share loves and's about the randomness of life.  The randomness that allows some of us to practice sports into forties, fifties, sixties.  The randomness that throws us in community when we might never ever have crossed paths, and the randomness of who we were supposed to be, versus who we became.  It's also the dream. The dream that we could be more...if only...and it's those moments of what-ifs, whether we're actually any good, or were ever any good, or could be any good, that give us our empowerment.  It's the hope, the belief, that we can contribute meaning and beauty to this planet and our lives. 

Here we are, for our pre-race tattoo installment party.  Mine says: Thinkin of a master plan...
Thinking of a master's all about 2014!

 These friends are a sampling, only, of the community I experienced this weekend in Madison.  Not pictured, are the three Oak Parkers that I adore and love, and other assorted athletes that flow in and out of my world more lightly.  Sprinkle in the family that came to support, friends who were on hand for the event, and it's a terrific late-summer activity, one that would be hard to walk away from.  This is what makes it so easy for me to commit, year in and year out the ritual.  How can we not???  As I say, already, "It's all about 2014!"  Cycles, indeed.  And we'll all be there, perhaps with new and improved tattooes.

In this gang, we have three Kona qualifiers (87-present), and about 30 some-odd Ironmans,  plus a handful of Birkibienders, trail races, kids, cats and dogs.  The three to my right are absolute rock-stud heroes. Phenomenal athletes and funny, smart friends.

 But I've already promised some sort of race report here.  So here goes:

  • Essentials: rack bike on saturday afternoon. deposit transition bags, saturday afternoon
  • Sunday AM: up at 4AM  breakfast:  1 PB Jam sandwich, 1 instant coffee, 1 banana, 1 energy square, 1 water bottle, 1perpetuum (hammer products) infused with coffee. Bathroom stop. 
  • Leave with friends for transition area: body marking, visit bike, visit transition bags, visit bathroom, apply lube, eat more breakfast, sip fluid, finally, around 6:15, put wetsuit on, and get ready to near the swim start. 
  • Swim: pros start at 6:45.  Us lowly age groupers are huddled together in the driveway that leads out of the Monona Convention center to Lake Monona.  Music playing, video scrolling.  There's a scream that lets out when the pros start, then the de-rigeur anthem-singing.  By 7 we're all in the water, 2700 of us, waiting for a mass start...Yeah, this is a self-seeded event, where everybody tries to pick in which order they might be able to successfully swim 2.4 miles.  Much as I adore swimming, and I adore open swimming, the mass start triathlon will be the end of me.  My focus in these events is to avoid becoming frustrated, angry, anxious, nervous, aggressive, or, naturally, hurt.
  • But I survived, it, the water was choppy, the swimmers were everywhere, and it was a beautiful morning, guided by about 75 water officials (kayaks, boats, boards, etc.).  
  • Run up the helix (twisty up ramp to convention center parking) and into the transition rooms inside the convention center.  A volunteer (one of 3000) dumps out my labelled bag and asks me what I need.  I explain: arm warmers, socks, shoes, glasses, helmet, etc... I've done this enough times to know that a few extra seconds of care at this station can provide increased comfort and success during the next six to seven hours.  I thank my volunteer and am out the door, shoes in hand (I've got a quarter mile jog past 20 porto-lets to my bike).  
  • I find my bike (actually, call out bib number), put on shoes, walk/jog with bike to orange line, mount bike with crowds of others doing the same, and we're off, down the other helix this time.  Our ride begins with an escape from the downtown core, so it's mostly bike paths.  Narrow, bumpy, slow, no passing. Triathletes rankle at this, but I've done the course enough times to know that the hellishly punishing hills that await us will make up for the soft pedalling and city maneuvering that we do in the first six miles.  Patience, friend.  
  • The course is a lollipop.  Eighteen rural, relatively flat and straight miles to Verona, then a hilly, winding loop through varied terrain that is thirty eight miles.  We do the loop two times, then back on the lollipop stick to Madison.  
  • This photo was taken by a coach/friend on one the more popular climbs on the route where spectators gather to cheer/party/celebrate the day.  I've worked at describing this bike course in years past, probably not as thoroughly as more careful bloggers might, but today, I'm trying from a different angle...I've said many times, and it's always true, that this is a relentless bike course.  LF in other regions would argue that challenging terrain can be found elsewhere, and it can, but there's something so awfully hard about the wind, the hills, the shifting directions of the roads, the insanity of a repeated hills with the same insane fans/frat boys/cheering wildly, that it simply is that. Relentless.  
  • This photo?  Lap one, naturally.  My photographer most likely hustled back to town to shepherd in his athletes as they embark on the run portion.  And so it goes.  I'd like to thank, in particular, the farm families that drag their aluminum chairs to the side of the road to cheer us on.  We're playing in their backyard, obviously, and they don't always have friends or family that are racing.  I'm so grateful and attempt to share that gratitude as I ride by. 

  • By the midway section of lap 1, although I was riding strong and steady, I was well-aware that my now-famous-not so legitimate-rib-incident would creep up on me if not during the bike, then surely the run.  After about fifty miles in a tuck position I sat up in my saddle and felt the foreboding stab in my rib area.  Oops.  This is going to make a very long day eternal.  So, I backed off on the riding, sat up a bit more, lightened my pedal load, attempted to breath deep and slow, and took moments to massage my rib cage.  I re-instituted my commitment to finishing this race.  I have known, for most of this season, that this wouldn't be a PR crushing year, but a successful one was completely within my reach. 
  • Mile fifty seven I stopped at the Special Needs station and insisted that it was lunchtime.  Along with chatting up the volunteers and wolfing down a tapenade sandwich,  I lost maybe three minutes.  Totally worth the pleasure of justifying this volunteer station and being able to pass all those cyclists again as soon as I started riding again.  Sometimes you just need to make misery fun.  Anybody else who blogs about this day will mention the winds, so I'll leave that alone.  After last years NE winds, I was sort of expecting the worst.  Minus any discernable heat or precipitation,  it doesn't really get any better.  The wind was a bummer, but I think my own pre-occupation with my ailments was more damaging to my own psyche than anything else.  Ride into wind, ride up helix, dismount bike, run into transition area, once again to be treated in a queenly fashion by willing volunteers.  Pretty cool.

  • And on to the run. What can I say?  I'd like to imagine that there was a day, once, that I got off a bike and was exuberant at the prospect of running 26 miles, but let's face it...half the time I don't want to go for a five mile jog, so why now?  But there is my family, yelling wildly as I set off on my path, and my promises on facebook and all my friends out on the course, and what else am I gonna do?  I practically prepare for this day All Year Long.  The run course is relatively simple.  
  • Not too hilly, not too windy, a terrific collection of people cheering wildly, a variety of scenery, clearly marked miles, abundant aid stations and port-o-lets.  A well-executed 26 mile event.  It's twisty and curvy and there's not a whole lot of boredom available to the easily bored.  To the easily distracted, the course could be troublesome, there's a lot of "oh, look at that"  but I'm sort of used to it now.  I take off my heavy prescription sunglasses and shuffle along.  Except when I'm walking.  In case you wonder about Ironman, what they say is true.  
  • There is a lot of walking, except when people are running/jogging.  In my case, and many other athletes, there is often a chunk of time during race when there's more walking than running, and the opposite, as well.  In my case, this year, it was a sort of all systems off, at about mile 16.  

Mile 6

  • Things were tough for me, my chest was exhausted, I was sick of trying to jog/walk, and so I just started walking.  I knew it was going to be a long night, but I also knew that finishing felt like an important thing, and that with my training history this year, that walking more would be the best assurance.  Deep down, especially with a crash that slowed my down, I really didn't think that I had run enough to justify a fast marathon (fast being a relative term).  So I snagged Peter off the spectator course and we went for a walk, and he talked with me about my friends and my day until I could finish the thing on my own at my usual shuffle-jog.   By the time I rolled in it had been a long run.  I had smiled and joked, I had actually run, I had jogged, I had walked (a lot)  I had taken in a lot of (water/perform/pretzels/bananas/chickenbroth/defizzedcoke/gels)  I had visited multiple porto-lets, I had cried, and I had thought...a lot....and sang some songs in my head, not including the Gangnam Style song that was blasting at mile 25.   
  • And then there  is that magical moment.  It's completely dark but for the bars and restaurants still packed with spectators,  the capital building is lit, I've got a glow stick tied around my neck.  My whole body hurts,  my chest is tired of breathing, my rib hurts,  I pick up my feet and start running and it feels as easy as every three mile jog I've ever done.  I round the capital building and am nearing a finish chute crowded with screaming people (including my family) and I compliment a few people I pass on the way in.  I'm racing to the finish, thrilled to hear the booming voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly, again: Karen Steward-Nolan, from Oak Park, IL, You Are An Ironman!!!!!  Woo Hoo!!!!!

And for the participation-inclined, let's play name that tune!!!! Please submit responses!

IM 2013 CD name that tune contest:

1.  "You're amazing...just the way you are..."

2.  "I lost my mind, and that's not all in Oregon..."

3.  "When you've got wish you well..."

4.  "I've met a lot of fancy dancers, those who can sweep you across the floor..."

5.  "Bumpin booties, havin us a ball, y'all..."

6.  "Wobble baby..."

7.  "You want me down on earth, but I am up in space..."

8.  "Clams on the half-shell...rollerskate, rollerskate..."

9.  "A freight train was my only friend..."

10. "Baby I like it..."

11. "No one can convince me we're not gluttons for our doom."

12. "Young and old...are doing it I'm told..."

13.   "I'd be in trouble if you left me now..."

14.  "Would you turn up my volume in front of the cops, and turn me up every time they told you to stop..."

15. "Everybody here must boogie, let me tell you you are no exception to the rule..." 

16.  "If I could crawl ten years ago, nobody would ever know..."

17.  "Take it all for granted like you're the only one..."

18.  "I could be a movie star, if I could just get out of this place..."

19.   "Looking for my lost shaker of salt..."


  1. Yay! I've been waiting for this.

    You know, every time you do one of these & I look at what it actually consists of (how many miles of each thing, &c), it totally boggles my mind, all over again.

    You're amazing!!! Hope your rib recovers quickly :) xox

    1. funny. i'm always boggled when I get back home. Out there with all those other nuts, it seems so typical, and then I remember what my life actually consists of! ;-)