Wednesday, December 14, 2016

On Goals... via a Cozumel 140.6 Recap

I'm not quite sure why or how individuals decipher between the endeavors they continue to pursue and the ones they have no problem leaving "uncompleted" by the wayside. Maybe it's a feeling, maybe it's fate, maybe it's just a timing thing.

I'm also not sure when the right time to let go of something is. Some things you can pick up and put down without regard to outcome and some things you just cannot let go of no matter the personal sacrifices you have to make.

I know that, after five years, I was ready to lay down the goal of getting to qualify to race the Ironman World Championship after racing in Cozumel whether I had punched the ticket or not. I was final content with the decision. And I am still not quite sure if that fact makes it better or worse.

I just felt like I was sacrificing too much for something that had no guarantee of actually happening. It wasn't like qualifying for the Boston or New York Marathon where you have a very finite set of times that you either hit or do not hit to qualify. In Ironman there is a huge grey area that is defined by an arbitrary set of rules which means you could lay down the race of your life and put out everything that you've got and still be left wanting at the end of the day if you don't beat out a set number of people in your age group. I'm not saying it's harder or easier than having a set time to shoot for. It's just a different set of rules that leaves a little bit of the goal to chance.

I am still not quite sure why I had been so hung up on subjecting myself to these standards. A big part of it was fun. I have a lot of fun swimming, biking, and running all day and getting to do it with friends all over the world is even better. But certainly other things are fun and less demanding. I am still not quite sure why I locked into a goal such as this.

First tri!
I just wanted to get to race in Kona. It has been a goal of mine since 2011 and I guess it just with me.
Now, as far as Ironman Cozumel goes. I realize that I am one of the lucky ones just to have a goal of qualifying for the World Championships, though it eluded me in my past 4 races. But I really think that luck only plays a small role and that you (yes, you...) should not impose the limits of others onto yourself - no matter how "crazy" it can seem. I don't think I am talented enough a writer yet to convey exactly how much effort I put out to achieve this goal. I can subscribe to a small bit of it being "natural talent" but no more than a small bit. If you want something - you can find a way to make it happen. Your starting point is just that; nothing more than a starting point.

I remember not too long ago being astonished to cross the finish line of my first 5k in under 30minutes. And not too long before that, thinking that my high school cross country team was "absolutely crazy" for running up to 3 miles every day as I buckled my helmet and shoulder pads before football practice. I was a lineman who hated running 40yards. And most of all, I vividly remember the first time setting up my transition area for my first triathlon. The guy next to me had a super fancy bike and talked about racing 140.6 like it was nothing. I, on the other hand, was equipped with flat pedals and running shoes on my Craigslist, nameless bike also wondering if I could make it to the first buoy without changing to backstroke.

I remember saying out loud (and truly believing it), "I'll never be able to go that far." And, at the time, I also didn't care. But it grew on me and after a few more races I decided that, for reasons still unknown to me, I had to qualify to race in Kona.

Fast forwarding another four years, a whole lot of racing, a bunch of money, unimaginably fun times with friends and teammates, and four more attempts at 140.6 to qualify for a spot to Kona.

I remember FaceTiming with my mom as I waited in the airport to depart to Cancun on Thanksgiving by myself. The conversation didn't last long and my mom has always been my #1 fan but she was crying that I wasn't home on Thanksgiving. I've missed a couple other Thanksgivings from working on ships but this was the first time I had left out of choice. I was bummed I wasn't spending time with everyone and realized I was on the edge of "How much do you really want to keep pouring into this goal?"

The next day, I was on the Island of Cozumel checking into my 6th Ironman and wondering if all my training and race experience would be enough this time. Leading up to the race I didn't tell many people or post anything on any social media about my intentions. This was highly uncharacteristic of me. I felt like my final bout with this type of race was highly personal after my last two races coming within minutes of qualifying but ultimately falling short due to a mental implosion on the run. And because I felt it was personal - I decided to keep things to myself this time. The social media hiatus was very liberating.

As far as the actual race went, I don't have many details for you. I was really on cloud nine for the majority of the day and I think that was because this race was really the culmination of five years of training. Five years is hard to sum up in ten hours of racing but I was  mentally tuned in and in a great mood all day starting with the 3:30am wake up before the alarm went off.

The pre-race routine is pretty much set in stone by now. Eat a bunch of granola and a banana. Do most of a crossword puzzle on my phone and try to go back to sleep. Wake up again. Gather the race stuff. Hugs and hand-pounds to the Capo and Warner team who were kind enough to invite a vagabond like me along for their trip.

Jay, Jeff, and I head down to the jeep which was parked under a tree all night with the top down. Bird turd was everywhere. All over everything. If bird poop is really "good luck" then there was enough "good luck" spread in the interior of this jeep for everyone on the island to have a good day.

A handful of towels and little while later we were off to the swim-bike transition area to set everything up. This part is super easy for me because I don't have many frillz to worry about. I don't race with a spare tire replacement and I don't pack special needs bags.

Jeff and I board the buses silently with game faces plastered on. The only exchange is a tacit fist bump.

Arrive at the swim start and immediately get inline for the portapotty. Still in the portapotty minutes before the race, I heard the national anthem and the pro men's start... Then the pro-woman's start. Still in the portapotty.

Jeff and I depart ways with a hug and a handpound and I head up a little further to the "Under 1hr" group start. This was very optimistic on my part considering the small amount of swimming I had been doing.

Getting close, I turn my head to a familiar shout... "BILLLAY!" and I jumped in line with James and Casey as the line started moving forward and eventually off the dock. More hugs, more hand pounds.
The three of us jumped off the dock and started the day together.
Casey and I stayed tight for the first half an hour or so each breathing to the side and making eye contact every now and again. "Is Casey making funny faces at me?" Casey is the kind of guy that would definitely be making funny faces at me. I couldn't help but laugh and take in a huge gulp of water. So salty. But so crystal clear. The most amazing swim in a race that I've ever been a part of... beautiful coral only a few feet away and fish swimming along the bottom that Crayola colors couldn't even begin to describe. Can all just we stop and just go diving?

Speaking of stopping. It didn't take took long to figure out we were all swimming at an incredibly slow pace. The buoys tethers' were all outstretched and fully taught against us. Meaning that the current was actually flowing against us, and it was pretty strong at that. The first 1650yards took me over a half an hour. It was going to be a looooong morning if this continued.

The current shifted shortly after the half way point. Now we were moooving (Note the paces above). The rest of the swim took about 26minutes. The first transition was quick and headed to the bikes. With all my nutrition in my back pocket.

Ironman racing is extremely boring. It is borderline annoying if you are doing it correctly.  You just have to turn your mind off and stick to the plan. The hardest part about racing for such a long period of time is keeping the negative thoughts out of your head over every time the creep up again and again. Racing for so long never actually "hurts" until the final hour or so.

Cozumel is a bit of a different course because it is flat as a pancake. The challenge on this island is that winds are relentless on the east side. It is three laps around the island. I'll try to be brief with a summary of each lap.

Lap 1 - 34miles - 22.0mph average. It was still early in the morning so I was lucky to get a lap in without the winds howling. They were still pretty strong but tolerable. The pedals were moving themselves and the carbon Zipp wheels were humming. The island is gorgeous.

Lap 2 -  39miles - 21.8mph average. Riding thru the city was remarkable. Pumped to see some familiar faces as we zoom thru town again. Not sure how I missed everyone on the first loop but zooming by the hotel and Sam, Jay, Megan and the kids felt amazing. One more lap! A couple miles down the road right as we left downtown was the Sunny and the rest of the Iron cowboy crew. It is so amazing seeing smiling faces along the course. When I signed up, I thought I was going to be alone for this race. It would not have been the same race if I had been alone.

The locals had all sorts of interesting ways of making noise and showing support. I got distracted reaching for some food and accidentally dropped my nutrition, salt, and caffeine pills. The winds started to pick up. I tried my best to forget about the missing food. It's all mental. I usually complain about eating too much anyways. I rode on knowing it'd be hard but not impossible to get all my calories in via Gatorade. There also was no other option. Also, I realized the last lap is going to suck without caffeine.

Lap 3 - 39miles - 21.3mph average. I've been extremely steady on 230watts. All day pace. But it started to fade on the 3rd lap. I didn't need caffiene after all - I replaced the mental stimulant with the song that Camilla Capobianco stuck in my head the day before... and that same song will be stuck in my head for the next 5 hours. And the same song that I will now think about every time I think about this race... Enjoy it... I did...

I had a super consistent bike ride. (Link to Strava here). People start to get frustrated at the end of a 112mile ride and want to just get off the bike ASAP. Especially when there is strong wind or a hill or whatever. 4 hours is a long time to be on a bike. But surging at the end of the bike out of frustration will easily spoil the run. I thought to myself, "This island is so gorgeous. It's such a shame I've spent the last 5hours staring at damned watch display.

Finally nearing the end of the ride, I force myself to get one more bottle of Gatorade down. I was pressing the limits of human Gatorade tolerance. The lack of caffeine didn't help either. But all the aid stations were amazing. I couldn't believe how helpful the kids were handing off the bottles and then getting out of the way.

Off the bike. Into the tents. Out of the tents as a runner. The run was also three out-and-backs. Which is highly convenient for my story telling efforts.

I pounded back the long awaited caffeine that was in my T2 bag and ate something solid for the first time in hours (Shout out to Garden of Life nutrition - they make the absolute best plant-based bars on the planet).

Lap 1 - 8.7miles 7:42min/mile average. The "suck" of the first mile was dampened by the fact that I came off the bike with the pro women. I spent the first 4ish miles running with a gal named Nicole. She was cool as a cucumber and chatted with me a bit. Her crew yelling emphatically how far behind she was and how close the next chick was. I joked with her a bit. This is where strong runners like her go on the hunt to make up time and where strong bikers like me hang on for dear life. After the first turn around she put on a solid gap. She was definitely on the hunt and ended up throwing down a 3:17 marathon to finish 8th.

The great thing about a run course that is three times out-and-back (Link to strava here) is the fact that the race is broken up in to very manageable 4.3 mile segments. 4.3miles is chew-able. Whenever my mind started to wander or worry about anything other than putting one foot in front of the other I would push up my sunglasses, pull down the brim of my hat, and refocus.

Lap 2 - 8.7 miles 8:15min/mile average. The other good thing about a triple out and back is being able to see everyone along the course. The Capo/Warner crew was cheering from about a half a mile from/after the turn-around and the Sunny/Iron Cowboy crew was right at the turn-around. I made sure to perk up and act like I was having a great time in preparation for them.

The other amazing thing is that you can see where you are relative to the rest of the racers and maybe even your age group standings. Long and short of it all was that I was basically seeing at least a familiar face every mile or so.

I knew I came off the bike in 2nd and I knew I was going to have to fight not to let Jeff or Casey pass me as they are both far superior runners than me. Not that it really mattered. We were all in different age groups - but the friendly competition aspect and bragging rights were on the line.

Lap 3 - 8.7miles 8:45min/mile average. I put 15minutes on Jeff on the swim and 15 on Casey on the bike. By the pace of things it looked like that wasn't going to be enough to hold them off. Jeff looked strong and Casey was down right flying. I allowed myself to think about these things for about a half a second.

Every time my mind got too far off track I pulled the hat brim down a bit tighter and pushed the sunglasses back on to the top of my nose. "You only need to worry about right now." I'd say to myself.

It was true. Prior to the race I set myself up so that I literally only need to think about moving forward. The run was where I fell apart in the past races and it was because I started thinking about too much or worrying about too much. I even set my watch metronome on to buzz at a frequency of 180 steps per minute. My watch was telling my feet when to step to take that burden off my brain as well. The absolute only thing my mind had to do was convince me to eat or drink every so often and to stay focused on the moment.

Though I was slowing down. And I allowed myself to shuffle thru the aid stations on this lap, I never once broke focus. Every time I would get to the last trash can it would be back to the watch's cadence no matter the pace.

After the race, a lot of friends and family congratulated me on finally qualifying for Kona with a 2nd place finish within my age group. There was only one person who worded it as, "Congrats on learning how to push though and having the guts to do so" (Thanks, Sue).

As I crossed the finish line, I had this wave of satisfaction was over me as I collapsed to the ground. I honestly didn't know if there were going to be one or two slots for the M25-29 age group. And I know it is a shift of thinking from how I started this article but I was so satisfied with the things I had finally learned about racing and life along the five year journey that it didn't matter to me as much whether I got a ticket to Kona or not. I had the race I wanted to have and never gave up when shit got real dark.

The main point of this piece is that whatever your goal is in racing or in life - 99% of time it will be achieved by sticking with it thru thick and thin. No matter how "lofty" you set your goals, if you stick with them persistently, you will achieve them. Not enough can be said for raw grit.

The keywords in the last sentence is "personal goals". I think my message got lost in the last article I wrote about IM Chattanooga because I tried to give the masses a dose of "tough love" instead of a gentle pat on the fanny and a, "Nice job, sport!" The point I was trying to make was that nothing of note is accomplished without the "suffer." Or as a friend and fellow writer put it (a lot better than I ever could), You Deserve to Suffer. I did not mean to come across as condescending, I simply think most people give up on themselves a bit too easily. Consequently, giving up robs the person from the glory that is only achieved by finding a way to push through. Coming from someone who has experience in both the agony and regret of giving up, and the awesome sense of accomplishment in persevering - I can honestly say that everyone on this planet deserves the pure and complete elation that comes with pushing through the "suffer" aspect. No matter what the goal is, no matter what time or pace you are striving for... You can get there if you stick with it and push through the awful times. And it will feel incredible. I promise.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Best Man Speech

In the spirit of wedding season, I decided to publish this on my blog in case anyone else out there was struggling with a "Best Man speech." I delivered it this past weekend and upon delivery, I have a few tips/thoughts.

1) Practice - out loud - even if you are the Micheal Jordan of public speaking you need to practice to deliver a good speech in front of real people. You need to hear your voice and how things sound out loud.

2) Unless you are a professional comedian and constantly making people laugh naturally, stick to being sincere. Maybe lob a couple light hearted jokes but if you try to hard - it will be noticed. 

3) Keep it under 5minutes. Tops.

So, hear is what I have... feel free to use it, or parts of it, or ideas from it or whatever. It is unedited and typed mostly how I spoke it. Good luck.

  Hello, my name is Billy.  

So - Over the years Eric and I have had well-intention-ed arguments over engineering topics, movies (lots of movies), beers, career paths, and even love. Eric asked me to be in his wedding and be a Best Man a while ago and that made me extremely happy. Not only because he was planning a life together with the woman of his dreams (Sarah you look gorgeous!) buuuuut - he was finally admitting that after all those arguments and debates - I - in fact - was the best man all along.

So yeah - Bookie and I met on Sea Term my freshman, his sophomore year. I know half of the room is nick-named "Bookie" - but I can't seem to bring myself to call him "Eric" was on what "Trash Compactor Watch". For those of you who aren't familiar with Mass Maritime, I will spare you the description but just know that - like a lot of things at Mass Maritime Academy - it was a boring and seemingly pointless task on the ship... (I am still not quite sure what we were supposed to be doing?)

But anyways - I was a freshman on a training ship for the first time and after I walked into the trash compactor room and saw Eric sitting there I think the dialog went something like this:
(dweeby voice) "Oh hey man whatcha doing?"
For those of you who don't know this is the voice that every freshman makes at MMA
"I'm on trash compactor watch, go away."
"Trash compactor watch... what's that? The senior sent me down here to help."
"Oh - you really want to help??"
"Sure Sure - teach me something cool"
"Alright well here we go - thiiiiiiis right here is the trash compactor."
"Sit in thiiiis seat... and watch it."
"OK cool  - 10-4"
Eric started to walk out.
"Hey wait where are you going, bro??"
"You just sit there and watch! OK?!"
Eric then proceeded to go up to the mess deck and make a sandwich.

He took his sweet time too... I am not quite sure how long he was gone for but I was pissed. The thing about Eric is that - - And I am sure everyone in the room can relate - - After giving me, much deserved, grief as a silly freshman at MMA on a ship for the first time - - He came down back to watch with a half sandwich for me too.

And if that's not quintessential Eric Bookmiller in a nutshell - I am not quite sure what is... He is always quick with a joke and to poke fun but this guy cares more about each and every one of you in this room more than life itself.

We didn't really talk or hang out much for the rest of sea term (not intentionally or out of spite - but just because we had other groups of friends) but after we got closer over the years we both still lament about the missed potential of friendship and adventures in ports in the Caribbean we could have had if we had known, at the beginning of the relationship, how great of friends we would turn out to be.

Over the next few years, we became close. Late nights cramming for tests, late nights drinking at POC because we didn't want to cram for tests, early morning engineering labs, early mornings hungover at Leo's. There was a whole lot of movies, and a whole lot of Xbox. All along the one common theme in Eric's head was always Sarah.

Just like Eric and I didn't how good of friends we would turn out to be after the trash compactor episode, I am sure Eric and Sarah (though they made had a good feeling about it) probably didn't know how incredible their relationship would turn out at the very beginning. I think that's how the best things often turn out though. You always be yourself, and you always make an effort. Life has a funny way of taking care of the rest.

Though they were in two different states, and sometimes he was in the middle of the ocean - they carved time out for each other and no matter what the situation was they made each other number one in their lives. When ever Eric would hang up the phone, there was always a "She's the one for me... She's my girl." on the tip of his tongue. I didn't know Sarah at the time but one thing was obvious about their relationship all along. They didn't have to change who they were to make each other smile, and they always put effort in and made it work.

Now, a couple weeks ago I emailed both Eric and Sarah and I asked them not to discuss the email with each other. I asked them, among other things to list qualities that they admire most about one another. Honestly, I thought this was just going to be a way to get some ammo for this speech to poke fun at them but I quickly realized after reading the separate responses why these two are meant to be. So, to wrap this up, I just want to share their responses on the top qualities they each listed.

Number one from Eric: She listens to my rants. (No small feat... as most of you know)
Number one from Sarah: He listens to all my crazy and gory work stories.

Eric's number two: She puts up with my dumb jokes
Sarah's two: He is a goofball with a dry sarcastic sense of humor that makes me smile

Three, Eric: She is smart
Sarah: He is willing to learn something new even if it is just to make me happy

Last but not least...
Eric: She's compassionate
Sarah: He sees the best in life no matter what

Clearly they are on the same page as one another...

So let's raise our glasses to Eric and Sarah... When you combine all the above, let's toast to their new life together... and for God's sake that from now on, no one else will have to listen to Eric's weird rants or Sarah's gory work stories, - but most importantly the most compassionate marriage with the driest sense of humor of them all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Thoreau Introspection

Humidity. Shiiiiit. This may be the only thing in Boston that hits you before the flight attendant's accent.
(Ding) "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Baw-stin. Where the local time is..."
I had almost forgotten about both.

The two main reasons for the trip were to throw a bachelor party for my little brother and then celebrate a wedding the following weekend. I filled up the rest of the week with catching up with friends, workouts, and mini-adventures. 

I was halfway across Walden Pond and just about to fake a flip-turn when the first pieces for this little nugget came into my brain. That, and I had seen a few brace souls dump a myriad of thoughts and emotions into similar lists of their own. I had been off the red-eye for only a matter of hours and Walden was the first place I went. Though he did not have to elbow through tourists or see the ugly construction taking place, Thoreau was really onto something. There is just something really magical about Walden Pond.

Being back at such an awe inspiring place and not being able to call it "home" is a peculiar feeling. Through a swim at Walden and run thru the city, I found myself recounting life events, soul searching, dealing with the overwhelming feelings of such profound connections with people and places but also a gratitude to the next adventure.

I had a hard time organizing these thoughts but finally settled on this. I'm approaching the start line of the final year in my twenties so in true BuzzFeed fashion here's my 29 for 29. Twenty-nine personal lessons or thoughts for 29 years in Boston training for races and life in general.

1. I believe that a bold and hearty "Fahk you" from a Bostonian is equal to a Goose/Maverick-volleyball-style high-five anywhere else.

2. My janky running cadence is symbiotic to my current writing cadence. I love both of these activities and I am going to have to work on both if I want to get any better at either.

3. A polite "On your left" said anywhere else means "Please excuse me and do not be alarmed as I run by you." Roughly translated on the Charles River: "You wanna race, asshole?"

4. I still purposely have my read receipts on.

5. A text response in all emojis is the universal sign for "this conversation is fucking over" - How do some people not know this yet?

6. Any show with a built in laugh track is not inherently not funny.

7. I live by Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening". That poem describes perfectly the feeling of being back home, and with the same exact words, describes why I left. I still smile walking past the tattoo shop in Davis Square where I decided to have it inked into my bicep. I still give a head-nod to the artist in the window every time though I am sure he doesn't remember me.

8. I also don't remember the name of the barista at The Wholy Grain and I am sure she doesn't remember mine. Upon walking in, we both recognize each other and decide tacitly not to acknowledge the meaninglessness of the name-oversight. She remembers my order perfectly (a large black coffee and Swiss Muesli). Interactions like this make me smile.

9. What someone has hanging on their refrigerator might be the best insight into their life.

10. I'm not quite sure when I realized this but I look up to my little brother in more ways than I'll probably ever admit to him.

11. Ketchup is disgusting. It is a microcosm to all that is wrong with the world.

12. I don't follow or care for sports much anymore though I do pretend to for the sole purpose of maintain connections with some friends and family.

13. As a pudgy second grader who was banished to always playing goalie at recess, I tried to change my name from Billy to Will for no other reason than I thought it would make me run faster and be inherently "cooler". Reason being that Will Russel was the fastest kid in school. I realized far too late in the game that it was OK not to be in the "cool crowd".

14. Though I love constantly dropping hearts on friends pictures, I am not proud of how attached to social media I am. I realize it is a "highlight reel" and not a true depiction of anyone's life but am jealous of people who go weeks without caring to check-in on the world.

15. The jury was out on dating apps for a while. My gavel has, as of recently, slammed them to be bullshit. It is an easy way to jam a square shaped "fix" into a circle shaped void. It inherently robs two people of the magic of organically connecting with one another and developing a relationship. The satisfaction of an instantly gratifying connection hijacks the sensation of reliving those weightless butterfly feelings whenever anyone asks "So, how'd you meet?"

16. "Maybe we could just get together and eat a bunch of caramels." 

17. Seeing the Milky Way under a clear sky for the first time is the most phenomenally belittling experience I have had to date. If I could wish one thing on every human being, it would be this.

18. Running is church to me right now. I believe in it.

19. I still have not had to experience and endure the heartache that comes with the of the death of a loved one. Knowing that it constantly lurks in the shadows of the sometime-future scares the hell out of me.

20. My favorite thing about myself is my ability to smile and bullshit.

21. Leave no trace. But always leave things (people. places, conversations) better than you found them.

22. You're in charge of your on schedule and priorities. The excuse "I'm too busy." Is the ultimate cop out. If you don't want to be somewhere or do something, be honest and don't lead people on.

23. Having confidence and passion beats being physically attractive/sexy every single time.

24. Knowing how to learn and adapt beats actually knowing a lot almost every single time.

25. I once debated that the hardest thing in the world to endure was the tail-end of an unforgiving, tear filled, conversation after breaking a loved one's heart. (I now accept that this is actually the second hardest thing one is obligated to endure).

26a. The last mile of the Boston Marathon is absolutely breathtaking. I miss taking the T out to Woodlands on Thursday nights and running the final third of the Marathon route back into the city. I also miss the pizza, beer, and people afterwards at the dive-iest of dives that was "the upstairs Crossroads Pub."

26b. I also won't be able to think of that pub without reliving the scene of falling in love for the first time. I mean really falling in love. Hard. Started by an unsuspecting comment to a stranger who I thought had just ordered a "post-run-Martini." The lessons learned and experiences from that relationship had a profound affect on who I am and how I live/love today.

27a. Consequently, I now accept that the number one hardest thing to endure is to sit on the other side of the aforementioned break-up conversation and listen as someone that you've given your whole heart to tries to explain that they do not want to be with you anymore. 

27b. I think the best (read: only) thing one can do in the above situation is not make the situation any harder than it has to be. Sitting in silent acceptance will be your only way to "return fire" as you make it more awkward for the other person. Because fuck them and what they are putting you through. (It will also make it more awkward for the cab drive who overheard the whole thing... because fuck him, too, right?).

28. I live for awkward moments and will crack jokes or movie quotes even knowing that no one around me might get them. And as long as I think that I'm funny, that's all that matters. It also makes it all the better when people do get the jokes.

29a. Weddings are still weird to me. As I watch two friends look into each other and profess an unconditional love, I am both profoundly happy that I am not ready for that yet, but, in the same sentence, admit I am equally scared I will never be able to get on that level. 

29b. I will, however, take the opportunity at your wedding to overindulge and dance with your grandmother.

Boston from the Blue Hills Skyline Trail

Friday, September 9, 2016

Who's the douchebag?

You be the judge. These are the facts of he case, and they are undisputed. Ladies and gentlemen, Who's the douchebag?

So I got on the 2.5hr shuttle van to the airport and sat in the second row. Heading home for a bachelor party and a wedding. The van was full. Most people were just minding their own business quietly. I know this is horrible form but I had to take a call (about a job). I know how lame this is so before I picked it up I apologized to the people next to me and said I'd only be a few minutes.  No one else in the van was talking so I really didn't see a huge deal in this. It's not the best situation but not the worst. And this guy and I have been playing phone tag for almost two weeks now. I need to emphasize the fact that I wasn't talking any louder than a whisper. Seriously, I was wondering if he could even hear me.

Anyways, I pick up the phone and after about ten minutes the driver asked me to hang up so she could call dispatch. I wasn't thrilled but I abided and told the guy I'd call him right back. When she finished I went to call him back. The driver asked me "not to talk on the phone all ride" and said I should only text. I politely told her that my call meant a lot to me and I'd be quick and that it couldn't be texted, I honestly wonder if she could even hear me talking from two feet away.

I proceeded to call this guy back and lowered my volume even more. Every Time I whispered into the phone she got annoyed and made a point to speak very loudly, seemingly just to annoy me. Eleven minutes later after successfully landing this thing (only after toggling the mute button every time this lady opened her ugly throat hole). I again apologized to everyone in the van and thanked them for bearing with me. One guy even commented, "Sounded like a pretty good call." and everyone chuckled and smiled.

She then proceeded to make miserable conversation with the person in the passenger seat obnoxiously loud FOR THE REST OF THE RIDE! On the contrary, no one else in the van spoke the rest of the ride. The passenger she was speaking to, as far as I could see, didn't even want to be talking to her. Her voice was absolutely horrible and I wanted to squeeze the rest of her stupid water bottle down her gullet until she shut the fuck up.

So I honestly ask - what's the difference between me talking on my phone for 20 out of the 150min ride and her babbling the whole time? What if I had been talking to someone next to me? Would that have made a difference?

Or does she hold the trump card because she's driving? I'd totally understand if that were the case but I dont really see a huge deal in quietly taking a call on a shuttle bus. Again- I know it's not the best situation for anyone but is it so bad that she has the right to ask me to hang up?!

Does acknowledging the fact that I was "that guy" rescind me a little from the title? Or am I just a giant bag of douche for taking the call?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Who's the new guy?

I am so new to Flag that I still feel out of place calling it Flag. Like that awkward feeling speaking a foreign language in another country even if you know it fluently. How long do I have to be here before I can use the abbreviation unequivocally? And I don't know why but I told very (very) few people, even close friends, that I made the jump over one more state westward. Maybe 10-20% of me felt like my 3 month stint in Denver was a bit of a failure for more reasons than one. Maybe it was just not the right fit at the time. Maybe I moved out there for the wrong reasons in the first place. "Everyone has a game plan until they get punched in the face." - Muhammad Ali.

I essentially "ghosted" the city of Denver. Judge away; I'm not proud of it but nonetheless that's what went down. On the contrary, the subtle welcoming whispers from a couple of really key friends whom I really look up to on the life spectrum broke thru to me and I couldn't ignore the opportunity (two of these friends I am currently staying with and forever will be grateful for their hospitality). For the second time in three months my entire life was in the back of a UHAUL and the rear view mirror was pointed east. It was actually a Penske truck and there wasn't a rear view mirror but shit I saved some money and the description was on point so let me get back to my story, please?

Day 3: I scored my first date out here. Mother Nature always seems to swipe right. Rapid fire style. She doesn't care about your first picture or your stupid corny description or how tall you are or what you do for a living. I didn't lob a lame one-liner out there or poke fun at any of her pictures to get the conversation going.
She even texted first. "Meet up on the mountains at sunrise." 

"Dang, a little forward." I thought, "But what the hell, right?"
Starting the trek right at 0400. I got to the top of Doyle's Saddle a little early. I waited around for a bit but it was clear to me what was going on. Cloud cover that condensed on my arm hair and cold winds that cut thru the thin shirt I was wearing. No sunrise in sight. The bitch stood me up. I proceeded onward down the back side of the climb until my watch clicked passed the 3hr mark then flipped it back and retraced my steps for another 3 hours. In a town that sees thousands of passerbys, even Mother Nature needed reassurance my intentions were good. "Fair" I thought with a smirk and grinned all the way home.

I had never moved as a kid but now appreciate how hard it must have been.  The new kid feelings were reaffirmed Day 5. Not on the mountains but my one of my next favorite places. A brewery. Dark Sky Brewery to be exact and immediately took a liking to the place in every aspect. OK, you caught me. This was actually my second night in a row here. I popped in for a beer or two the night before and it wrapped up as prescribed. However, Day 5 I accidentally sat down a the right table with two of the couples who founded the brewery (I actually met them back in April on another running adventure) but this time the conversation started with, "Are you staying here for a while or just for a training stint?" in other words "Should I bother to remember your name?" I said something to the affect of, "I'll stay if you'll have me." and two beers turned into hours of laughs and that turned into closing the place. I might have even offered to mop. High quality beer topped only by the high caliber people here. Seriously. Top notch.

Asking me why I moved again would be similar to asking the lead singer of the Beets (Monroe Yoder) why he needs more allowance.

Speaking of which, can someone please tell me where I can order a Honker Burger and get a dog like Porkchop? Though I don't doubt the move from Bloatsburg to Bluffington was hard for Doug, I digress down a 90s childhood of analogies again. I am not sorry.

I am also gearing up to give two "best man" speeches this fall so I am going to try walk the line of expressing a new found point of view without giving away all of my material (who knows if this is the best it'll get?).

Moving (spending hours upon hours driving through a cell-phone-service-less desert and nothing on the radio) got me thinking about how people "brand" themselves. And I think the "brand" one presents to the world is a reflection of the constantly rolling narration in one's head. It mostly falls to the means and methods of which we measure in our lives or what we "keep track of". Instead of thinking of the DNFs, the times it didn't workout, or the number of heartbreaks - doesn't it service us better as humans to mark a tally, instead, for all the times we made it work out, took a risk, or brought a smile to someone's face? Spoiler alert: the latter is more difficult but it is also the only way to change the tone of the voice inside your head and hence redefine your "brand" or what you are putting out into the world. And furthermore, what you are getting back from it.

So what is your brand? Because you have one whether you want one or not. What are you putting out into the world? What's your story? How do you treat people? Are you the person who complains about most things? Who can't help themselves from groaning in the grocery line impatiently? Are you the runner who is "way to taxed" or can't be bothered to thank the volunteers at a race? I guarantee it will never hurt - and most of the times help - your outlook on the race... or life. This next part is in no way meant to be seen as being said from a soapbox but I have recently made it a point to compliment or start a conversation with any major encounter throughout the day. Try it just for one day - I swear to God it will change your day/life. If you are unhappy with the personal narrative or even just a part of it - it is easy to change. And with that change your "brand" (granted moving to a new city makes it a lot easier but definitely not necessary).

It may seem insincere or forced at first. It might just be that. But that won't last long when you see faces light up around you.
"Cool hat, man!"

"I love that necklace/those earrings."
"What are you drinking?"
"What's up with your eye?" (Just kidding - don't use this one)

Just try it. Mood follows action. Key being that you need to act first.

"We are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it." -Seneca

At the grocery store, just make a quick effort to smile or say an extra "How are you?" rather than the usual BS. I was recently talking with a friend on the subject of how someone actually makes new friends after high school/ college or outside of work. Well half the battle is just to show up. Don't get so caught up in yourself all of the time (some of the time is perfectly fine) but make room for the small stuff rather than the majority of your day moving from "I need this" to "I don't have time for that". The other half is usually as simple as be nice.
It goes a long the longest way. Be weird. Be different. Have a story. Have something to say. Mean it.
Otherwise your life is on autopilot and it will be over in a blink.

Fast forward to now. Day 6. I've been posted up in coffee shop for hours now and I swear I stopped in for a quick coffee and I was going to be right out but the song playing when I walked in was Dave Matthews Band - "Grey Street" (I am not sure how many other guys my age will admit that they are still DMB fans. Again, judge away). I thought how appropriate that song was and opened the laptop. I hadn't talked to barista who initially poured my coffee since I complimented her crazy turquoise jewelry. I quickly learned it was her late grandmother's jewelry and she had once lost it and she finally got it back and it meant the world to her and she appreciated the compliment.

She came by a couple times as quietly typed away with a smile and silently placed another ice-java-mocha-whosie-whats-it in front of me. I only really drink black coffee and I still don't know the difference between any coffee drinks but the free-ness of unbidden beverages was certainly an added bonus to the day. I didn't send the compliment off in the hopes of getting anything in return but the exchange brought on a mood was prohibitively pleasant the rest of the time I was there. I can't say for certain but I have an underlying feeling that the vast majority of the people in Flag are on the same page whether they are conscience to it or not. I think I'll fit in fine here.

There’s an emptiness inside her
And she’d do anything to fill it in
And though it’s red blood bleeding from her now
It’s more like cold blue ice in her heart
She feels like kicking out all the windows
And setting fire to this life
She could change everything about her using colors bold and bright
But all the colors mix together - to grey
But she says, “Please"
"There’s a crazy man that’s creeping outside my door,
I live on the corner of Grey Street and the end of the world”

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Try the Hot Pockets, They're breathtaking...

Let me set the scene first. Four half-opened eyes in a borrowed Toyota Tacoma on I-70 at 0315 heading from Denver to Aspen. Specifically the Maroon Lake Trailhead. 
Patrick: "Dude, I made some excellent grilled cheese sandwiches for this run. Thick cheddar melted to perfection in between two pieces of double buttered bread. Probably still warm." He didn't leave out a detail.
Image result for spongebob transition
Cut to the trial head (with a Spongebob-esque transition), Patrick (my partner in crime's name... not the cartoon starfish) searching thru his bags. "Dang! Must have forgotten the sandwiches! What a let down!" 

The whole day was filled with these movie-type goofy transitions that felt like they were to be accompanied by a laugh-track.

It is now 0715. Just a few minutes past sunrise. "Oh, well." I said. "At least the trail is clear and we can get started before it gets crowded."

Image result for spongebob transition
0.15 miles later... "Oh yeah, we just had to close the trail. There is an injured moose right up ahead. You can wait him out or go home."
End story. We went home...
Image result for spongebob transition
"Any other options?" I asked with a little bit of left over Boston smartassery that is usually never appreciated.
"You could bush-wack around the lake a bit but you better go deep because you're in some real danger. That would definitely be ill advised though."
Cue the off trail adventure. After about a half a mile, we circumnavigated the moose and got back on trail. The sun rose at 0640, meaning it was light out, but just like Patrick and I, it was still slowly making its way over the mountains and struggling to break the horizons of the peaks and ridge lines that surrounded us. At the very moment that I started to get into a running groove, I simultaneously made the mistake of thinking, "Hmm, at least the super steep stuff hasn't started yet."
The increase in grade dope slapped me almost literally as the side of the mountain shoots up 26-42% grade for the next 2.7miles. Trying to run from 10,200ft to 12,500ft in such a short distance brings about a few Seinfeld-esque chess matches.

Image result for seinfeld chess match
The first is whether your eyes should try and take in the surrounding views that are so astounding that even seeing them makes you question if they are real OR should you stare at the ground and navigate the rocks and place your foot on a surface that will keep your ankle right-side-down.

A couple big keys to ultra-trail-running is breathing and eating. Seems simple, but the second chess match consists of your stomach vs your lungs. The air is so scarce that it often takes 2-3 breaths to get the oxygen of a normal breath... Sometimes I have no idea whether it is better to get the needed -oh-two or try and get some sugar down.

Trying to keep pace as your body desperately craves both and only being able to fully satisfy one at a time is sometimes a sport in itself. Gasping, stepping, taking a small bite, gasping, gasping, stepping, "Look at those mountains!"... repeat...

We made it to the top of Buckskin Pass a few minutes before 9am. Not a bad pace for the moose detour but still slower than we anticipated. I guess I should describe the "we" as Patrick was a stranger to me all but two weeks ago and this adventure was probably the 5th or 6th time we have talked. The first was right outside my Denver apartment. He had just moved in to the same complex and was exiting with the same bike-over-the-shoulder mannerisms I was entering in. He was also looking for a job in the area at the time which made it easy to meet up for a day-drinking session. Long story short is that I mentioned my idea of hitting this loop in 4 days... He said he hadn't been running in a while but was over-ecstatic about joining me (not sure if it was the beer or the trail running he was pumped about). A day drinking, bike riding, job-less dude not afraid to take on a colossal Colorado trail on little training... Bro-mance at first sight one might say.

And here we stand - Four days later 4.5 miles into a 27mile trail and at 12,500ft. Patrick made the next mistake of saying, "OK cool - let's eat quick and try and make up some time on this descent."

The trail replied with a resounding "NO"

Or rather "(S)NO(W)"...

It had hailed last night and then froze over. The sun rays hadn't made it's way over the backside of the pass yet. Damn you, Fermat. We slowly slid down the next 3.5 miles as gracefully as Ryan Lochte slid into that sponsorship from a crime prevention program. 

Rolling hills for the next mile and half were brought us to the start of our next pass climb. But not before the epic sight of Snowmass lake. We turned a corner and the thing popped out at us like a jack-in-the-box.

Once I got over the overwhelming feeling of the sight of the lake I got to thinking about the past week. The combination of the mountains and the lake reminded me of Coeur d'Alene and the Ironman race that I took on 9 days prior. I was disappointed in the result mostly because the marathon didn't go as planned and I knew deep down I could have done a lot better. The feeling of being so sure I could have done better and not being able to prove it on race days threw in into a semi-depressed state. It was a rough 9days and anyone who has texted or called me since knows that I have been a less than perfect friend.

I try to shake things like this off but it gets to me like nothing else does. It's easy to say things like, "It's just a race." and "You still did great"... blah blah blah. As much as I hate to admit it, these races mean a ton to me. I don't quite know why yet. 

The only way to describe the very real post race depression I go thru is this: Imagine you are tasked with baking the worlds best cake. Every day you are only allowed to put in a little tiny bit of one ingredient. You keep putting in a bit of flour every day. A tiny bit of sugar the next. And you repeat this every day for nine months. Towards the end you put in an egg and the bigger stuff. (I realize this is an absurd way to bake a cake but bear with me)... The batter tastes delicious and you are getting ready to put it into the oven... You wait even more as the thing bakes. You started this cake at the beginning of the year and you know you have made the world's best batter.

The oven dings and you get mitts on to take this perfect piece of confection out and taste it and present it to friends and family.

Except when you open the oven a midget doppelgänger of Zoltan Mesko jumps out and punts you in the groin sending you 60yards downfield in a perfect human spiral and you slowly roll to a stop at the half yard line.

Ironically the last time that I was really proud of a race was Ironman Mont Tremblant back in 2014. The time was exactly the same as Ironman Coeur d'Alene. 10hours 11 minutes. The only difference being that this was the last race where I know deep down that I gave every last bit of energy (physically, mentally, and emotionall) I had to finish with the best possible time. I emptied the tank 100% and dug deeper than I ever conceived possible back in August, 2 years ago. Though I have raced faster times since; I haven't really had that feeling since. I'm after it like a junkie after their next fix.

Yeah. It's like that... but this run was the yang to the race yin. So I chose to write about this instead. I still don't know how I do these mountain runs for hours on end but I can't put together a 3hr 15min at the end of an Ironman but I will figure it out. Runs like these are just how I bounce back from the post-race low.

Hitting the ridge of Trail Rider Pass was just as glorious as Buckskin and even a little warmer than the first. It is now almost noon.
This was my favorite section of the trail. We really opened up and got into an amazing flow. The mountains threw us through this valley with warm sun shine and a nice gentle breeze. They spoke to us in a way that two foreign people exchange laughs. Laughs are universal throughout the world even if they can't speak to each other with words. It was like the way babies will instinctually dance or bop their heads when music is playing... This isn't a learned behavior. It is just what feels right and needs no further description.

"It is awesome to be warming up a bit, eh?" I declared to Patrick...

"Oops... my bad." I thought as we jumped right through the river thwarting the trail.
At least I clean my legs off? We refilled bottles via a water filter at the next river. I am not sure if the filter actually worked or not but I think I was doing it right... If I come down with jhardia next week I will know what it's from... worth it though.

The trail beats on to Frigid Air Pass. Mile 17.5. 12,400feet high. It lives up to it's name even in August.
Can you follow the trail down the switchbacks...

We got asked more than once by back packers and hikers, "Where is the rest of your stuff? Are you guys doing the whole loop in a day?" 
After we smiled or laughed to confirm, they'd reply, "That's crazy!"
That got me thinking... and it gave me the opportunity to perch myself on top a soap box for a minute: What's crazy to me is that these breathtaking trails are out there all the time and more people are NOT running them! These pictures are all of real things, damnit... Go see them. Or something like them. As often as possible.

I am convinced that the opposite of happiness is not sadness. Happiness and sadness go hand and hand with one another and are both feelings that deserve equal attention. Just as the opposite of love is not hate. As the Lumineers sang me through a break up a while back, "The opposite of love is indifference." The opposite of happiness is definitely not sadness... but boredom. The realization of time passing is a horrendous thought to me.
 Things are looking up at this point. 
Image result for several bad puns later

Yup... I did just pull that pun off. One more pass to climb...

 Maroon Pass came next right about at mile 20. It was welcomed. We had been running a while. And were ready to cruise back down to the trail head. We were both smart enough not to mention how ready we were to be head back and I am convinced if we did, something else may have come up to make that a little more difficult!
 It was all downhill from there. Everything in me rejoiced. Except for my quads... They screamed at me to keep going up but they were out voted by every other part of my body. It was like the youngest sibling trying to negotiate their way out of sitting on the hump of the middle seat on a long trip in the car with the AC broken... probably to a funeral.
Passing Crater Lake. 2 miles to go.
Closing the lollipop. 1.4 miles to go and we were still running! Luckily the moose was off the trail...
Finish line. A little over 9hrs. 27 miles. 8,000ft of elevation gain between 10,000 and 12,500 ft.