So the next race I will for sure be doing is Vineman 70.3. If things get back on track sooner rather than later, then I might add in something else. We'll see.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
© 2013 Larry Rosa (endurapix.com)
Ironman 70.3 US Pro Championships
St. George, UT / 2013.05.04
After my rather ignominious finish in St. George, a single thought (well, at least a single appropriate thought) kept running through my mind. "Well, a wiser fella than myself once said, 'sometimes you eat the bar. And, well, sometimes he eats you...'" And so it goes when you are looking for solace, that "The Big Lebowski" yet again comes through in the clutch.
But rather than solely chalking up my bad race to a case of getting eaten by the "bar," which implies a bit more luck than I expect was truly at play here, I think it's important to recognize that it was not entirely surprising that I got eaten by aforementioned "bar" at this here race. This was not a case of sunning myself in Palm Beach and getting eaten by a grizzly. That is bad luck. Extraordinarily bad. And probably a case of rather lax zoo security. This was more of a case of rubbing yourself in bacon, honey, and salmon roe and laying out beneath the stars on Kodiak Island. It was more likely than not that I'd get eaten. To understand why, exactly, I made this helpful little graph.
As you can see, even if I'd been as fit as I thought I was, I'd still have come up quite short on the day. I don't think I would have been reduced to periods of walking (as I was), but I also don't think that even the best performance I had in me was particularly good. This wasn't entirely shocking; the period after Ironman Melbourne was not the best. I did a combination of too much and not enough training in that sort of random mix that indicates that a bad day is certainly a real possibility. With that said, I've had some really great races coming six weeks after an Ironman off not a lot of training, but in those cases, it was less - but still consistent - training, which this was not. Consistency is critical; for a technical look at why, this article by Brian Stover is pretty good at explaining the concept of CTL.
While I could attempt to follow the trend in current society to "put a positive spin" on this whole thing, the reality is that I should not have raced in St. George. I didn't actually get anything out of having a bad race other than remembering that it's not very much fun. And I'm pretty sure I didn't need to be reminded of that. There was no "new lesson" in all of this, though there was certainly a lesson. It's just a lesson that I've been taught before. Clearly needed a refresher course, though again, I wouldn't say that having one made the race a net-positive. It was a sub-par performance - though not really a surprising one, and I have no interest in delivering sub-par performances. Accordingly, I've decided that I will not be racing in Honu, since the likelihood of getting things turned around by then is not great, and I certainly don't want to have another bad race. The long-ish view is to October 12. And the really long view is towards the October after that, and after that, and after that. How do I put myself in the best position on those days? Well, I know how I don't do it. So now let's see if I can figure out how actually to do it.
So the next race I will for sure be doing is Vineman 70.3. If things get back on track sooner rather than later, then I might add in something else. We'll see.
Thanks to everyone who sent kind words after St. George. Not my best day, but you'd never know it from the support I got. Thank you.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
It's hard to think of a more classic fable than the story of St. George and the Dragon. Villagers must make a sacrifice to a dragon who lives by the spring where they draw water. Typically, they sacrifice animals, but if no animals were to be had, a maiden had to be sacrificed instead. The maiden was selected by lottery, and, eventually, the princess's name is drawn. In typical storybook fashion, the princess does not die because St. George shows up and slays (or, in some versions, wounds and subdues) the dragon. But there's one particular variation that's quite good wherein George is initially defeated by the dragon but then melts his armor and forges it into a box, into which he places his fears and doubts. Then, without armor (but also without fear), George returns to fight and immediately is victorious. The moral, of course, being that it is our fears and doubts (and lack of faith, either in ourselves or in god/God/whatever or both) that ultimately keeps us from being victorious.
This latter version, with or without the religious connotations as you prefer, is the one I like the best. It's also the one that I think is most appropriate to focus on with the Ironman 70.3 US Pro Championships coming up in just under two weeks. The race is in, as you may have guessed if you didn't already know, St. George, UT. It also features several "dragons" in the form of one of - if not the - most competitive fields outside of the Ironman World Championships in Kona. It's also a particularly difficult course, with a lake swim that can be quite rough depending on the wind, a hilly and potentially very windy bike, and a very hilly and potentially very hot run. The weather in St. George is unpredictable in early May, and we may not get extreme wind (in which case it will likely be hotter) or extreme heat (in which case it will likely be windier), but it's almost certain that the conditions will make the topographically challenging course even more difficult in one way or another.
The challenging course is only one highlight of what is a pretty awesome town. I've been to St. George twice, once on a mountain biking excursion to Gooseberry Mesa, and the other as a waypoint on a drive from our summer base in Penticton, BC, Canada to Interbike en route to our home in Southern California. It's a wonderful town, and it's become(ing) a training camp destination for triathletes with great roads for riding, great trails (for both running and mountain biking), and good open water and pool swimming (though it's a bit on the chilly side in the winter for open water). It also has some great restaurants, with the Painted Pony Cafe being a great dinner spot and the Bear Paw Cafe being the only choice for anyone interested in serious breakfast. Anyway, back to the dragon...
As someone who enjoys what I'll call "honest" courses, the course itself is one of the most appealing parts of this race. Ironically, this was - as an Ironman - one of those courses I really wanted to do but never got to, unlike, it seems, everyone else, since IM St. George rarely - if ever - sold out; this stands in contrast to the 70.3, which sold out rapidly, and which every single pro seems to have placed on their calendar. And while I'd love to say that the dragon is the incredible pro field, it's hard for me to really feel that's an honest answer either. At the best of times, half Ironman tends to be as short as I'd like to race, and even that can - at times - feel more rushed than the steady grind of Ironman, which is where I feel most comfortable in my discomfort. For me, the biggest dragon in this case is the bounce-back from Melbourne. The first long race of the year always seems especially taxing, and there have been plenty of fears and doubts, both in the brain and in the body, as I've worked to get back into rhythm and routine following the race in Melbourne.
In many ways, it's hard to write something like that, because it feels that admitting to it makes it both more real and also sort of exposes my own humanity. I do this for a living. I *win* Ironman races. I'm not supposed to get the "Ironman blues," which is really a combination of the physical, hormonal, and mental ups-and-downs that follow a fully-taxing effort like an Ironman. But I do. And as hard as it can be to admit that, I also have found that whenever I admit to something like that, I find that it often resonates with other people who may have wondered, "am I the only one?" I can say, with certainty, that you are not. But there's a bit of a stigma within the endurance community to being tired. I said to my coach, "I'm supposed to be super human." His reply was, "You are. But even super humans get tired sometimes..." And that's been a hard - but good - lesson for me. And I hope it might offer some solace to someone else as well.
So I don't know what to expect of myself in St. George. Sometimes, after an Ironman, you surprise yourself with the fitness you have inside of you. I'm certainly not showing up in St. George to go through the motions. I'm going to race. But, at least this time, I think the thing that I'm really going to beat is my own doubts. Where will that leave me at the finish? I guess we'll find out.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Boylston St. © David Abel
"This world of ours must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect." - D. Eisenhower
Monday, April 08, 2013
As an admitted and proud nerd, I was thrilled to be invited to be a panel speaker at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which took place early in March of this year. The panel that I was on was titled, "Stronger, Faster, Better: Technology Analytics." The panel was moderated by Mark McClusky, a senior editor at Wired and the man in charge of the Wired Playbook on wired.com. In addition to myself, the speakers included Dr. Peko Hosoi, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT who specializes in materials; Dr. Benoit Vincent, CTO and the head of R&D for Taylor Made Golf; Tori Hanna, who works in development for UnderArmour; and David McIntosh, an intellectual property attorney with Ropes & Gray. It was a fascinating group of individuals, and I enjoyed being a part of the panel with them and also talking to them both before and after. It's definitely something that I hope I can make a regular part of my calendar.
Every panel of the conference was recorded, and they've now posted the video of my panel, which you can find here: sloansportsconference.com/?p=9835
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
The final kilometers of the run course.
Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship
Melbourne, AUS ✮ Mar 24, 2013
Ironman always takes a lot out of you, though one thing I did not expect to have taken out of me was my voice, which I lost with about 5km to go (I found myself unable to ask for anything at aid stations and just had to grab-n-go), and which did not return until about an hour and a half after I'd finished. I don't know what caused it, and while it might have been a little scary for me and for those who are used to my being an incessant chatterbox at the finish, it also might have been a welcome reprieve for them as well. My words are now flowing freely once again, and I used the long flight back from Melbourne to put together some thoughts on the race.
Besides the obvious goal of racing and placing well, my other goal at the race was to learn. You generally learn something from every race - especially from an Ironman, but there are certainly races where there's much more reliance on what you know works as opposed to being willing to take what are hopefully calculated risks. I went into this race prepared to risk on the swim and early in the bike in an effort to put myself "in the race" from the outset, rather than steadily pacing myself and racing largely in isolation, as I did to a large extent at both Texas and, especially, New York last year. My plan to be aggressive in terms of pacing on the swim was foiled by very rough conditions, the likes of which I have never before swam in. I lost four minutes in a shortened 1300ish meter swim, which I truly believe was less than what I would have lost in a 3.8km swim in the smooth conditions they had last year.
While my effort was certainly high, I would not say that I swam as hard - physically - as I could; I think I swam as hard - mechanically - as I could. If that doesn't make sense, imagine running in shoes twice as big as what you normally wear. Your ability to actually run fast would be so limited by the shoes, that even running "as hard as possible," you wouldn't be able to run as hard as you were capable of. This race clearly favored those - like the large number of Aussies in the field, the majority of whom grow up on the ocean and swimming in the ocean - with extensive rough water experience. One of the most commonly repeated descriptions of the Melbourne swim course was that of a "protected bay" (Melbourne itself sits on a bay with virtually no tide) with generally excellent conditions. Not only did last year's conditions not indicate that such a rough swim was possible, the general discussions about the course also did not mention the possibility. I don't say this in an attempt to absolve myself from a lack of practice in rough seas (I live close enough to the Pacific that I could have sought out at least similar conditions), but simply as an explanation of why I didn't think that was necessary. I will certainly make sure to include that in my preparation for next year; losing four minutes on the swim is unacceptable, and I only lost four minutes because the race organizers decided to shorten the swim.
It's worth noting, however, that because Melbourne is a bay, unlike most ocean swims, where the waves are roughest at shore when they are breaking, there is no break in Melbourne. This chop was entirely from the wind, and the shore was the most protected part of the swim, meaning what you see there is actually the best conditions we had for the swim, not the worst. With that said, as I wrote on the Slowtwitch forum, I would have supported a decision to race the full 3.8km (say three loops of the 1300m course we did) *for pros.* I think the conditions did pose a risk for age-group, many of whom were first time Ironman competitors. Rough water swimming is a skill. And at the professional level, I don't think we should mitigate the impact of a lack of skill.
I bring this up to differentiate it from a water temperature issue. Too cold - and even more too warm - water is a very real concern. I'm no more or less resistant to hypo/hyperthermia than anyone else, as evidenced by the tragic death of US swimmer Fran Crippen in overly warm water at an open water swim race in the Emirates. But rough seas? That is something I feel I should be expected to manage. I think logistics thwarted this - the day before, there was no indication that we wouldn't be able to swim 3.8km on the modified course (two loops on the more sheltered southern side of the pier) to concentrate water safety personnel, and to decide on race morning to have two swims and to further delay the age-group athletes would not have been fair. But having seen what happened this year, I hope this race has a plan to execute the full 3.8km for pros if a similar situation arises again in the future. If a race encounters rough conditions for the first time, I understand being cautious. But I hope we can learn from that and make contingencies for the future that don't involve shortening the race. There's no reason that a great swimmer shouldn't get the rare chance to actually capitalize on his/her ability at a race.
As a result of the rough conditions and my lack of experience, I started the bike in a relatively typical position - down a bunch to the leaders. The most effective way to have my best ride would have been to - steadily - pace my way towards the front over 180km. But I thought that same wind that whipped up the ocean might also allow me to bridge up to the front sooner with a strong effort on the first half of the first lap of the bike, where I knew we'd be fighting a headwind. Ultimately, the gap proved too great, and I wasn't able to close the gap within one lap, and I pushed a bit hard in trying to do so and struggled to hold pace on the second lap and ended up losing time on the second outbound leg. Had I paced with the same steady and even output I used in New York or Texas, I expect I would have ridden 4:26-27 (instead of 4:30) and actually ended up essentially with the leaders by T2. But hindsight is always 20/20, and I know I can do that. I didn't know if a riskier plan might get me into the group at the front, where I could experience the jockeying at the front that typifies championship racing and which is so valuable. I also didn't know how I'd respond on the run to a more varied output - with a VI of 1.05, this was my most erratic Ironman ride ever (though a lot of that was the wind more than a hard first lap, since VI is calculated on a rolling 30s timeframe, and you can still have a low VI even with a ride that was "erratic" on a "macro-scale"). My failed bid meant I missed out on the chance to race the run with Crowie and Eneko, which also certainly would have been immensely valuable, but again, hindsight always makes things seem obvious.
The lack of being able to run at the front did not, however, diminish what I was fairly certain would happen regardless, which is that the depth of field in this race would make the whole marathon a race. There would always be someone to catch and always someone nipping at my heels, and that's exactly how it played out. I came off the bike in seventh, and found myself chasing while also being chased, exactly the sort of situation you get in Kona. Steadily chipping away while also pushing the pace to keep a hard charging Chris Legh in my sites after he passed me at about 8km in made this one of the toughest runs I've ever had in an Ironman. Add in the constant headwind due to the point-to-point run, and it was the sort of run that teaches you a lot about what you can dig out of yourself, both mentally and physically.
My fourth place finish met my expectations of myself for the race. I think had I paced the bike more evenly, I would have finished closer to first/second/third as opposed to fifth/sixth/seventh, but I think fourth was as much as I had in me on the day. I knew that if Craig, Eneko, and Marino all performed to their level, which I think they did, that I'd need to have a best ever race in order to beat them; I'd need to reach a new level of performance. I think I'm certainly capable of that, but that was certainly less likely rather than more likely given the timing of the race. I was in the best shape of my life, but I also didn't have the deep fitness that comes with a full season of preparation and which generally sets up those sort of breakthrough performances like I had at Ironman Texas last year. My goal was to win the race, and I think I am capable of that, but I just was not on the day.
My biggest frustration was that the swim conditions prevented me from showing the real improvements that I think I made in the pool this winter. However, they also exposed a clear deficiency. I knew I was not a great rough water swimmer, but I also didn't not think I was that bad. And the value of a lesson like that is hard to overstate. I didn't get as much as I'd hoped out of the race in Melbourne in terms of experience, but I do think it was a valuable learning experience, which was one of my major goals. I believe that I got enough out of the race that I will be a better athlete for having done it, even if I missed out on some of the challenges that I set for myself going in.
In addition to the piece I wrote on here before the race, I wrote a similar (though not entirely redundant) piece for Ironman.com which you can read here:
And there was great post-race analysis of my own power file from the bike (as well as that of Clayton Fettell and several of the female pros) on TrainingPeaks.com and then in a related piece on Slowtwitch.com. You can find those here:
Thanks again for the all the well wishes leading into the race and the post race congratulations. 2013 is underway. Onwards and upwards. As Simon Whitfield likes to say, the relentless pursuit continues.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
I'm here in Oz for the second edition of the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships in Melbourne. When I started looking ahead to 2013, I fully expected that I'd return to Texas, which is a fantastic race and one that I'm eager to return to again. But I also knew that, more generally, I needed to seek out races that offered me the chance to race from start to finish. The depth of competition in Kona is what really separates that race from every other race I've done. But finding that depth of competition outside of Kona is a big challenge. It's hard to find an Ironman where you really have to race the whole day. Frankfurt has traditionally offered that opportunity, but I didn't want to wait until July to do an Ironman. The other opportunity was Ironman Melbourne, which last year offered up a stellar field, fast racing, and deep racing. Add so when I got an email from the race organizers at USM indicating that they'd like to have me at the race, I jumped on it.
At the tail end of the Australian summer and in the homebase of the superfish of the sport, Melbourne offers a fast ocean swim (like Kona, albeit with a wetsuit), a fast and potentially windy bike course, and a fast but potentially brutally windy run; the run is point-to-point, so a tailwind means it's fast all day, but a headwind means you are punished for all 26.2 miles. Right now, it looks like a headwind. Game on.
The depth of field is again outstanding, with a quality of field that's not likely to be seen at any race outside of Kona until the European Champs in Frankfurt. And with the flat - but exposes - course, there will always be something waiting to pounce in the event of a miscalculation. It's exactly the sort of race that challenges you to refine your preparation and your execution, and to adapt the way you race. It is, in spite of different terrain and climate, a lot like the race in Kona. And with Kona being a once a year affair, it's a very good opportunity to get racing experience at the championship level without having to wait 365 days to get another crack if something goes wrong.
I love the race in Texas. And I think that I probably would have gone in as the favorite to win again. And certainly, it's nice to go in feeling like a good race will result in a victory, both for the financial rewards that come with a win (the prize money is obviously higher for a win, and so are bonuses) and also because winning an Ironman is one of the best feelings in the world. But Texas is the safe choice. And while I'd still have to perform on the day, I don't know how much Texas would make me a better athlete. I don't know how much winning in Texas would bring me closer to winning in Kona. I don't know what my best race in Melbourne will get me. I do think I'm at the level where it will put me in contention for the win, but I do realize that I might have my very best race ever and still come up short. And as daunting as that is, it's also appealing. That uncertainty is fundamental to sport. It's what makes it worthwhile. If I'd known how my journey to this point, I don't know that it would have been half as exciting. I had a great conversation with Paula Newby-Fraser recently, where she told me that a career is not just the successes but also the failures.
With that said, I didn't sit on a Qantas flight for 16 hours (albeit in an exit row seat with glorious legroom...) with the idea of failing first and foremost on my mind. It's Australia, so it seems appropriate to borrow a phrase from the legendary Chris McCormack. I'm here to win. That's what I prepared for, and I am in the best and most balanced shape of my life. Excellence is what I expect of myself, and it's why I chose this race as a way to test that expectation. Now it's time to race...
Thursday, January 31, 2013
So, after a lot of deliberation - and I do mean a lot - the Shiv has a new home. Or, rather, it has what might be considered an "old" home, but more on that later. One of the recurring themes in the essays - I still hesitate to call them "applications" - that I read was a focus on community. Not just the triathlon community, but how the people who were "nominated" (in the overwhelming majority of cases, people were writing for somebody else) affected their local community in positive ways. Some of it was through being what I like to call a "steward of the sport" - encouraging other people to participate, supporting local events, fundraising for charities, and more. But mostly it was just sharing the love of triathlon. It was truly astounding to read all the ways that these folks inspired others to join them, to follow their own dreams, and to just "do." It was clear the impact these people made on those around them. That made me think a lot about how I impact those around me.
Unfortunately, the life of a pro triathlete means that I have a rather ubiquitous community but also, in many ways, that I lack the same sort of very direct and immediate community that I had as an age-group athlete, or, even more so, as a college rower. My community now is largely virtual - Twitter, Facebook, Slowtwitch, Instagram, etc. - which is fantastic. It's what allows me to do things like this and to have folks from South Africa (!) write in. I got letters not just from all over the USA, but from all over the globe. But one letter I got resonated a lot, and it resonated even more as I read the other letters, because it talked about that real grassroots, hometown community that I think is the true lifeblood of triathlon.
I'm never sure how much detail to give into my thought process on this whole thing. It's tremendously hard to narrow down, and once I get to the very last few, it becomes an agonizing debate. I literally lost sleep over this. I wish I had a lot of bikes to give away. But I only have the one. And my decision making process is as flawed and biased and human as I am, because it's basically the result of my flaws and biases and humanity. I rely on my wife Jill and some close friends to help narrow it down to about 5-10, though even my gritty and hard-nosed compatriots had a really tough time this year, but after that, I shoulder the responsibility of deciding. I *want* this to be my decision. Last year, I thought about putting it out to a public vote, but ultimately, I decided that I should be the sole decision maker about where the bike ended up. That said, I value transparency more than anything else, and so I will share some of how I decided, because I hope it makes folks appreciate what's important to me and why it is that I did this last year and again this year and, hopefully, will continue to be able to do this for many more years.
I was biased towards folks that were in the middle of the age range - say 30-50 - because I felt like these were people that would get the most use of the bike. Some of the older folks (not to say that over 50 is old, or my mother will kill me; and not that I'm saying my mother is over 50... I'll stop digging now...), I wondered how long the bike was really going to be useful for. For the younger folks, I wondered how long before they wanted something new/faster/bigger/better/more. I get, ridiculously, a new bike (at least one) every year. I don't need it, but I get it. It's mostly a function of sponsors wanting me to be on the current generation of products that they are selling, and I like it because I get to do fun stuff like this. But the bikes being made today are outstanding pieces of equipment that will last a decade or more if cared for properly. And I wanted this to go to someone where I felt like it would get a decade of usage. So age was a factor in that.
And as much as this bike takes a big, big chunk out of the cost of triathlon, triathlon is still an expensive sport. Racing is expensive. But I wanted this bike to be raced. This bike was just a bike. It wasn't going to provide a wetsuit. Or race entry fees. Or running shoes. Or travel. Or... Well, all those other expenses. And I really wanted the bike to be raced. It's a great bike for just riding around, just like any two-wheeled machine, but it's a race bike. It's meant to be raced, and I was certainly biased towards folks that, unfortunately, were the sort of folks that needed a bike but also were not so hard up that they weren't going to race. In many ways, this was one of the hardest set of decisions to make, because what it meant was that I was cutting off some people for being too needy. And that broke my heart. To be honest, a lot of this broke my heart. I get a lot of joy out of giving this bike away, but I don't get any joy out of telling a lot - and this year it was a lot a LOT - of people that I can't give them my bike...
I also was biased towards letters that came from a person writing for themselves; as much as that might seem counterintuitive, I think it takes a lot of guts - a LOT - to put yourself out there and make a case for yourself. It's hard - really hard - to talk about yourself. And I tried to weight that bravery appropriately. So I gave you MORE credit if you wrote in to say, "I need this bike." After that, I gave a lot of credit to wives writing for husbands, because the love and care that was apparent from those letters was truly astounding. Once letters became more removed than that, I started to wonder a bit how truly accurate some folks could be about a "friend's" situation. How well do I know about my friend's finances, free time, etc? And, more importantly, their wants and needs? It's not important to me that I get "credit" for doing this, but I also didn't really want to box the bike up and send it off to someone where it might have been a case of, "wait, who just sent me this bike? And why..." I mean, I get it, very few triathletes are going to turn down a bike like this if it shows up on their front door, but I wanted it to go to someone who clearly understood the get-a-bike-give-a-bike part of the deal. That understood why they were giving to World Bicycle Relief. That understood why they were giving to a charity of their own. And I thought that was something that was harder to really understand once the recipient of the bike became too far removed from the person doing the writing.
All of these things got me close - really close - to picking the recipient. But that sentiment that kept resonating more and more as I read all the letters was a short but simple phrase in one of them, "The bike should stay in New York." The letter came from someone who comes from my community. My original community - the Hudson Valley. I left the Hudson Valley at the end of December, 2006, when I packed up my car and headed to Flagstaff, AZ, with my mom as my copilot. For the prior 26 years of my life, the Hudson Valley was my home. I was born there. We had a brief detour to NorCal, and a not so brief detour to Tokyo, Japan (though we returned to the Hudson Valley every summer to our very small cabin - with outhouse - in Brewster, NY). I am a New Yorker. It took me until this year to actually give up my New York drivers license and a get a California one. That's a long time. I became a triathlete in New York. I did my first triathlon in New York. I bought my first bike in New York. I broke my first law as a triathlete - and got my first fine, for "Illegal Swimming" (in a reservoir) - in New York. And, being that this was the bike that won the first (and, for now anyway, the only) Ironman New York City, the bike has New York roots too, which the letter also pointed out.
And so, this kid from Briarcliff Manor, NY is passing the bike along close to home. Officer Fred Galbraith is a police officer in the Briarcliff Manor, NY police department. Now, to preempt the cynics, I promise that he will have no obligation to save my mother from her admittedly heavy right foot... What he will have an obligation to do is ride the bike on Rte. 100. And by the Croton Reservoirs. And through Katonah. And Rte. 35. And a whole bunch of other places that are probably meaningless to the vast, vast majority of people reading this. But places that mean a lot to me. They are the roads on which I learned to love to bike. And where I became a triathlete. Ironically, an overwhelming majority of the rides from my parent's house take me directly by the Briarcliff Manor Police Department. It's a GREAT place to ride from, and I expect that Fred will ride from there.
Like me, Fred discovered triathlon in the Hudson Valley. He inspired his wife - who wrote to tell his story - to start running; I inspired my mother. He inspired his coworkers to join him swimming, biking, and running; I, uhm, quit my job and decided to become a pro... Alright, let's stop with the comparison, shall we. Well, maybe just one more... And now, in spite of his wife's fear that she may lose her husband to endless hours on a bike, like me, Fred is going to have a S-Works Shiv with Zipp wheels and aerobar, a Quarq, and a couple awesome Clay Smith Cams Mr. Horsepower stickers.
Enjoy, Fred, the bike is coming home to New York. See you on Pleasantville Rd. I'm sure of it...
The story from Fred's wife Lyzz, who wrote on his behalf, will appear in the next blog, along with Fred's selection of charity.
The story from Fred's wife Lyzz, who wrote on his behalf, will appear in the next blog, along with Fred's selection of charity.
Saturday, January 19, 2013
If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down. - David Foster Wallace. "This Is Water."
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,Do not go gentle into that good night. - Dylan Thomas. "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night."
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. - Matthew 12:30 (NSRV)
It seems pretty much everyone has something to say about Lance. And Lance and Oprah. I didn't want to add to that, because I don't think it really matters too much what I think about Lance. Or Oprah. Or Lance and Oprah. But watching Lance made me start to think (or, more accurately, it made me think about some rather specific things in particular), and it made me realize that I had some things I wanted to write down, as much for myself as for anyone else. So I suppose the short answer is that this is about Lance. And it's not about Lance. Anyway...
I've been an in patient in a hospital twice in my adult life. I was also, briefly, an in-patient like most newborns, and in my case it didn't help that I was born orange and had a slightly extended stint under a black light until I de-jaundiced; but I don't really consider that to be applicable, mostly because I don't remember any of it and it doesn't seem to have shaped me in any deep or meaningful way (I'm not orange anymore...). But the other two times I remember very well. Too well, sometimes. The first was a three day affair - 72 hours, for those who recognize the particular significance of that number - in 1999 - 2000; it actually occurred over the millennial changeover, the irony of which is still not lost on me. I was admitted because I thought I might kill myself. Now, to be clear, it wasn't that I had any desire to commit suicide; I did not. However, I seemed less fond of self-preservation than is advisable, and I was worried that I might do something that would ultimately result in my dying, like voluntarily putting my head through a window, which I had done a couple weeks prior (the irony of this is also not lost on me), thankfully without much consequence beyond picking some glass out of my head the next morning. While the difference between killing myself and committing suicide may seem like splitting hairs, I assure you that it is not, literary roots aside (sui+cide = literally self+killing; thank you six years of Latin).
It was a surreal 72 hours. I watched the ball drop on New Year's Eve in a room with chain link fencing covering all the windows. I had to ask permission to get my electric razor from the orderly desk to shave. I ate every meal with plastic utensils. I had a guy with heavy scar tissue on both wrists from repeated slashings tell me that I was crazy. I was put on Depakote (a mood stabilizer, because they thought I might be bi-polar), Celexa (an SSRI, because they thought I might be depressed), and Adderall (because they thought I might be ADD/ADHD). I remained on some combination of those three medications until I graduated from college two and a half years later, though ultimately - in my case - I'd be hard pressed to tell you that they did anything. What I think I really needed was perspective. I needed to grow up. Now, this is not to say that growing up is a substitute for neuropharmacological treatment. I have my own reservations and issues with the state of neuropharmacology, but these medications can help people, and I would never say that those people just need a bit of perspective instead of their pills. But in my case, the former seems, in retrospect, to have been what I lacked. I don't think I was bi-polar; I think I was "monochromar."
My problem, to put it in the simplest terms, was that I wanted - needed - the world to be black and white. Unfortunately, the world is rather grey. And when you leave a very structured home and academic world for the very unstructured combination home and academic world of college, the world gets a whole lot greyer in a hurry. And I struggled with that. A lot. Failure. Success. That was the basic split that I tended to view the world as having. Black. White. After three days, I left without a very different view of the world, but with quite a different view of my own self. And, over a long period of time, I think I learned to stop seeing things so monochromatically. Getting married helped with that. Becoming and being a parent helped with that a lot. And, I think more than anything, my second go as an in-patient helped me the most.
In a total reversal of my first trip to the hospital, I ended up in the ER on March 23, 2010 through no actions of my own. A driver pulled out in front of me, and, after my head taking an involuntary trip through one of the windows of his car, he drove off leaving me in the road to die. And then Tom Sanchez decided to get out of his car and stick his hand inside a gaping hole in my neck. And then some very capable EMTs and surgeons took over. And by the time I woke up, I was no longer about to die. I never - as Lance did - had to stare my own death in the face. In that way, we are very different. My overcoming death was not the result of my own determination, as some may say that Lance's was. My overcoming death was entirely the result of other people's goodness. But I was certainly made aware of my own mortality. And in that, I share a lot with Lance. We both should be dead. But we are not. But I think that, perhaps, Lance's fight with cancer lead him to believe even more in himself, whereas my fight lead me to believe even more in other people. We both came out of our ordeals with faith, but faith of a different sort than I think many people understand that word to mean. I do not believe in God. I don't know that I'd call myself an atheist; it's more that I don't believe in the capital-G god that people pray to. I don't believe in an "active" god. What I do believe in is people. Tom Sanchez picked me up off the pavement. Brian Kimbrell, Hillary Cholet, Gil and Zol Kryger, and quite a few others stitched me back together. I believe in them. And I believe that they are more - rather than less - representative of humanity.
Those who read a lot of what I write will know that if there is anything that I despise right now, it is the dysfunctional politics that have paralyzed and crippled our country. The polarization in our national organizations of government and in our country at large are not something I want to see pervade every area of our lives. I am tired of the "for me or against me" attitude that is rotting us a species from the inside out. I am tired of the lack of respect for other, different, contrary points of view.
I do not agree with the decisions that Lance made. But I understand them - at least in part. I know what's it's like to be a wildman raging against a "dying of the light." I think every man who wants to be the best at whatever they do knows that feeling. In this particular area, I think there are fundamental differences between men and women. Two of the most critical - and well written and thought out - pieces on Lance have been written by elite female athletes, Nicole Cooke and Lauren Fleshman. Certainly, female athletes can dope. But I think, in general, they do it for different reasons. The want - and need - to win is obviously common to both genders. But the why that's at the root of it is, in my opinion, different. I haven't yet read an equally harsh condemnation of Lance and his decisions by a male athlete; I'm sure one is out there, but I also think that the idea of alpha-maleness is something that is so common to a lot of male beings, especially at the pointy end in competitive fields, that it can be hard to really and truly condemn it the way a woman can. Lance didn't just want to win. He wanted to be relevant. I know what that's like. It's the exact same reason I railed against him on twitter.
My reservations about Lance making a return to sport are largely the same as they were when he made the move to triathlon. But I don't believe, as Lauren does, that there is any "unforgivable sin." I don't even believe that to be true of people. Are some people beyond help? I expect there are. But does that mean we don't try and give up on them entirely? I'm not ready to take that position anymore. Lance will always be the ruthless, manipulative, driven, maniacal narcissist that he admitted to being on Oprah. But I don't think that's all he is. I think that's his "black." But I also think that there's a lot of "white" - the guy who had to tell his son to stop defending him because the accusations were true. Lance is both. He's grey. He's a human being. And I believe in human beings.
Not knowing the first part of this story, I had a friend, recently, tell me that I, "needed more black and white in my life." We were not discussing Lance, though he was a topic on which this particular friend and I had disagreed quite strongly. And that assessment was also something with which I disagreed. I don't need more black and white. I don't want more black and white. The world is very grey. And I want more of the world. A lot more. I've almost lost my chance at having more of the world, and I will not give it up voluntarily. Not that he needs it from me, but I forgive Lance. Not that he needs it from me, but I would give Lance another chance. Why? Because I think everyone deserves that.
Monday, January 14, 2013
Sorry for the long delay in giving an update on the Shiv-away Giveaway. I received 117 messages - it feels weird to call them "applications" - for the bike. Yup, one hundred and seventeen. In order to not be affected by judging bias (psychologically, you are biased by time - what you read first, what you read last, etc), I did not read any of the messages until after deadline passed (and I gave some leniency to some people who just missed the cutoff), and then I just compiled them into a master list. So now, with the help of the same folks that helped me last year, we're weeding down 117 to hopefully a more manageable number. And then that manageable number will get narrowed down to some finalists. And then I'll pick someone.
My goal is to pick someone by the end of January, but it might take a bit longer than that. Anyway, sorry for not giving an update sooner. It's been a very busy winter, and I was also overwhelmed by the number of folks writing in. Thanks.