Thursday, July 26, 2012

Three Things Thursday: Cruel, Cruel Summer and Something to Look Forward to

Readership has dropped this summer on SeekingBostonMarathon (SBM) as I've delved into more serious topics which has many wondering, where's the sequel to "Why Triathlons Are Like Frat Houses" and SBM's take on "Fifty Shades of Grey." Yes...a lot to deal with this summer including a loss of a friend, (Michael Fontes,) me stuggling with a new age group bracket, and last week's tragedy in Aurora, CO. Given that, here's my three random thoughts for Thursday which deals with a little bit of that, but has something to look forward to.

Another Loss:
Source: Boulder Daily Camera
It has been a tough summer for Colorado. The state was on fire for much of July and as I mentioned we lost a good man from my running group, Michael Fontes. He died doing something he loved which was running. Last week, Colorado lost another popular runner, Terence (T.J.) Doherty out of Boulder, Colorado. A runner struck down by a car just as Michael was. T.J. was only 32 and was engaged to another runner, Adrienne Herzog. Once again, a reminder for us to run and bike safely and hopefully raise awareness to drivers who have an imposing force advantage over those of us trying to share the road.  Thoughts and prayers go out to T.J., Adrienne and their family.


As I wrote about last week, Colorado is dealing with the tragedy that happened at the Century 16 Theatre in Aurora. Colorado is a resilient state in many ways. We produce many of the world's elite and resilient athlete's in running, cycling and Colorado Springs boasts the Olymplc Training Center. As we move from shock, anger, and depression over the events last week, we are focused on healing and building upon something tragic. Without any "press release" or fanfare, none other than Batman's Christian Bale showed up in Denver unannounced with his wife to meet with victims, police and hospital personnel.

Bale had a bit of a "bad rap" for an expletive rant on the set of his Terminator movie, but given what I understand now, I think that was out of context. This guy just shot up above "super hero" status by visiting our state. He didn't have to. He didn't do it for glory or fanfare, but it made a huge difference to many that have been coping in our state--most notably the victims and the hospital and police that have dealt with this. Batman rocks!

On a much lighter note:

Our family is looking forward to the London Olympics which open tomorrow night. I am especially tuned into the running, triathlon, and swimming events--go figure. Living in Denver, 9News has been running interviews with local swimming phenom, Missy Franklin non-stop before stepping one foot into the land of great pubs and bad teeth. Yes...we're excited! As I'm checking my email, I come upon a clip from Jay Leno on an Australian hurdler, Michelle Jenneke and her unique pre-race routine.

Words can't describe her enthusiasm and she's not on drugs and she's wicked fast. Doesn't hurt that she's a beautiful young woman with many an endorsement ahead of her without lacing up her shoes in "London town."  She's gone viral. For those of you that think, I'm a dirty old man, you might be correct, but not in this case. She's a mere 19 years old and I have a daughter that's 17. What I can say, is that it's refreshing to see her enthusiasm before a race. Perhaps I can learn something about relaxing before a race from a 19 year old Aussie.  Unlikely that my pre-race dance will go viral, but I'm okay with that.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Dark Cloud Over Dark Knight

My two teenage boys had been anxiously waiting for the premiere of the movie, "Dark Knight Rises." As boys do, they "ganged up on me" and tried to convince me to allow them to go to the midnight showing on opening night. I've "caved in" before and actually attended a Transformers sequel at midnight. With work on Friday and not wanting to pick them up at 2-3 in the morning, I gently let them down, but promised we'd see the film over the weekend. While we don't live in Aurora, we live a half hour away from the tragedy at the Century 16 Theatre. Just like many others, I awoke to the news and was shocked to hear it was so close to home.

Colorado is no stranger to such tragedies with the world still associating our city with the Columbine shootings in 1999. My wife at the time was driving my daughter to dance lessons in the area and heard the gunfire and saw students scrambling. My brother lived next door to Dave Sanders who was the teacher tragically lost in the shootings.

As I was processing the news from the early morning hours, I couldn't help but wonder, "what if he'd picked Highlands Ranch," and "what if I let my boys go to the movie." As news of the victims came out, we learned my wife's best friend worked with Jennifer Ghawi. My sister-in-law knows one of the seventy people that were shot in the senseless crime. Just like 9/11, we were "glued" to the TV for most of the day on Friday, trying to understand why this happened and hoping that the number of victims didn't climb above a dozen. After learning about the firepower in the theatre that night, it's amazing that there were only twelve. Twelve too many however.

With a busy weekend of family activities, and going about my running life (I ran on Saturday and swam on Sunday,) I considered the words of the (visiting) President, Governor, and Mayor. Fundamentally, we cannot live our lives in fear and not enjoy the freedoms this country allows us. Last night, I took the boys to the movie they wanted to see last Thursday night. I was not going to let an aberration of nature rule my life or my weekend.

I couldn't help but feel for the victims as we nestled into our seats with our popcorn and candy. A police officer "stood out" in the lobby.  The theatre was practically empty...not what it should look like on an opening weekend of a blockbuster movie.  The exit sign in the theatre had an ominous glow. A similar exit that a coward 20 miles away used to enter and exit and terrorize innocent victims. My heart raced a bit not due to Anne Hathaway in a catsuit, but thinking about what happened thirty minutes into the movie.

It's a tough topic to write about. No words can replace people lost or provide comfort to those still mourning. Not much to learn from, but I had similar thoughts dating back to "Columbine." Where were the parents? Monsters are not born overnight; they were once children with parents who had the opportunity to teach them about right and wrong. Parents are responsible for teaching children respect for themselves and respect for others. If anything, all of this makes me want to work even harder on teaching my three kids what's right and wrong. Since they were young, we have pushed them towards healthy outlets (dance, sports, running, swimming, and the like,) and warned about dangerous paths in life.  I have but a few years left before they're gone from our house and even though many of their values are already "wired," I'll continue to try and mentor them as they head into this sometimes cruel world.

My thoughts and condolences to the families affected.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Uphill Battle

I finally met my match in my newfound sport of triathlon racing. Just as my first passion of marathon racing can humble anyone, I was knocked down a few notches in my last race at the inaugural Evergreen Triathlon. It happened to be this race was the morning after my 50th birthday. Yes...I said fifty...I'm still struggling with that one just as I stuggled in this race.  I figured, if I can do anything I want on my birthday itself, why not race? Mistake #1? Racing the morning after your birthday.

Evergreen is where my Mom grew up only an hours' drive from Denver in a small mountain town with a lake I skated on as a kid. I drank beer at as an adult at the infamous Little Bear Saloon on the short main street with one stoplight. I've taken my kids to the Little Bear for lunch long before the motorcycles line up outside and the beer and music flow. The boys were especially intrigued with all the bras hanging from the stage. "If these walls could talk." A fun little town I'd recommend.

Checking into Highland Haven
The only advantage I had was that my birthday party was the previous Saturday, but I promptly went on the road to California to work for the week (or weak) leading up to race day and my actual birthday. Being an "alpha male," I didn't take the time off from training and managed to fit in running speed work and a swim on the road along with a busy work schedule. Co-workers wanted to make sure I "rang in" the 50's in style and took me out one night as well. Nothing wild, but that would be my second late night leading up to race day. Not enough sleep, not resting...the too hard. Layer on the travel and my body's battery had "one square" come race morning. To top that off, we continued my "birth week" of celebrations with a rich dinner and too much wine Friday night and another one on Saturday night on race eve (Mistake #2; not resting race week.)

Lake the night before the race
In Evergreen, we stayed at one of our favorite Colorado hideaways at the Highland Haven. Think high-end cottages with big comfy beds nestled in the woods along a creek. Fresh cookies were in the lobby, and the owner's dog was sleeping by the front desk. Our room had a fireplace and a hot tub. It only made me want to stay another night.

As I mentioned, my diet for the week was not the best and Saturday continued the trend...after all, it was my birthday. I "paid for it" on Sunday morning as I got up early to prep for my race. Once again, an unhappy stomach had me thinking...crawling back into that big bed sounded awfully good. I "sucked it up" after "crapping it out" for the short bike ride through town to the lake starting area.

After visiting the porto-potty a couple more times (Crap!) and setting up my transition area, I worked my way down to the water for the mandatory wetsuit swim start. Mistake #3 was not reading about the race. In the race walkthrough, the race director described the bicycle course as "challenging." For a novice cyclist without much hill training, the first seven uphill miles were going to be challenge indeed. An uphill battle for this newbie that was feeling "over the hill." With only a Sprint race (no Olympic distance,) the field was "stacked" with faster and more experienced triathletes. Perhaps my medal success in this new sport had me overconfident? Perhaps mistake #4.

Before the race...trying to look like I know what I'm doing
In what would be my third ever open water race (and only fourth time in a wetsuit,) I thought I was doing okay as I head for the first couple of buoys in the murky water and (whatever the mountain equivalent of) seaweed. A lot of bumping and jostling "mosh pit style" for the first half. After the second buoy on the return trip to shore, I once again got off course at least twice. If I was a three prop boat, I was missing a blade as I wasn't swimming straight. My 1/2 mile swim was slower than my training run earlier in the week and about four minutes slower than my Denver Triathlon swim.

Adjusting to this number
Perhaps I mentally took it easy on the swim knowing the hill climb I had ahead of me. My wife and I drove the course the day before which promptly freaked me out. "I'm in way over my head"...not on the swim, but on the bike I was thinking. I seemed to start out okay on the seven mile bicycle climb seemingly "holding my own" in terms of passing more riders than getting passed. There were a couple riders with their "50" mark on their rear calf who were in a "cat and mouse" chase up the hill with me. The last couple of hills, I was in my lowest gear, and lowest morale (why did I sign up for this?)

As they say, what goes up, must come down and the best part of the race was flying down the single lane road. With the race course open to traffic, I cursed under my breath at a Jeep that was actually going slower than me on the way down.  I had to brake for the car and pull slightly to their right--precariously close to the shoulder and had me thinking I was in for my first wreck. My last race I averaged close to 20MPH. While I was going probably close to 30-40 MPH down the hill, my average MPH on the bike leg was a disappointing 15.3. (I'd later find out.)

Both transitions were a struggle and showed my inexperience. As I compared to others in my age group, there's room for not just seconds, but perhaps a minute plus of improvement. After my transition from bike to running, I headed out for the (you guessed it) uphill start of the run. Did I mention I grew up going to this town...what was I thinking...that they'd somehow found the flat part of the mountain town? #naive

My post race self portrait
On the run, my tank was completely empty and even had to stop to fix my shoes that weren't quite on right. The run should have been my strongest leg but there was no mojo. After the uphill, the course traversed the dam's stairs up and down. My first race with stairs. Once again, I spotted a couple athlete's marked "50" and recall passing at least one of them and even passed a runner in his forties.  My 5K run segment was dog slow...three minutes slower than my last race.

As the bumper sticker says, "a bad day of fishing is better than any day at work."  The same can be said for running, racing and triathlons.  No doubt, I'm too hard on myself considering this was only my fifth ever triathlon.  I wanted a podium on my birthday, but got Imodium instead. Fifth in my age group and ironically 50th overall. Like many a marathon, I felt disappointed and felt I disappointed others.  A lot to learn and a lot of mistakes to eliminate--most of them before race day. As I was dealing with my race hangover on Monday, I thought, "get some rest." I ignored reason and swam on Monday and followed it with an excellent speed workout on Tuesday running 400's at sub six minute mile pace.  No doubt to erase the pathetic performance from my brain and to start working on improving my game.  No rest for the weary.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fifty and a Conversation with Uncle Ron About it

I've been struggling with how to write about a number...fifty.  As in a new racing age group and (gulp) my age on Saturday.  I think there must be some mistake, but I also know I lived in the sixties so it must be true.

I had the opportunity to spend a couple hours with someone last  night and felt the conversation was worth saving and sharing.  Uncle Ron is my mother's brother and Dad to three cousins who have been a huge part of my life; Chris, Craig and Dan.  Growing up, they lived in Pleasanton, California and we lived in Denver, Colorado.  They were all around the same age as myself and my siblings and we had many a trip back and forth.  We formed a bond that was stronger than cousins...more like brothers and sisters.  Lot's of summer vacations, time with grandparents and as we got older; weddings, divorces, births, graduations, and the occasional funeral.

We would joke with each other and living in Broncos and Raiders territory would provide plenty of material--in the 70's when the Broncos finally beat Raider Nation, we sent a "crying towel" that was literally a sheet with all sorts of "rubbing it in your face" comments.  Beneath the barbs was respect and love as we have shared each other's lives.

Ron before I combed his hair.  He told me that felt good.
Uncle Ron had a stroke two weeks ago which paralyzed his left side.  Tough for any man, but especially tough for an ex-Navy guy who is full of pride and has too many years left to give.  As ironic luck would have it, I had a trip to the Bay Area in California which was nearby his rehabilitation hospital in Livermore, CA.  I skipped dinner and my plans for speed work and sent my rental car Northeast to visit with my uncle.

I skipped pass the hospital security window in the lobby and head to the third floor to find his room and found him sleeping peacefully in his hospital bed.  Daily reports from my cousin Craig have shared details of his stroke and recovery.  The stroke itself as Ron would tell me from his bed happened at two in the morning and struck the stem of the brain and impacted his whole left side.  A long recovery and road ahead.

I sat with him for awhile as I didn't want to disturb him and after stealing a chair from another room, I sat next to him and gently shook his good hand to wake him up.  I spoke to my Mom earlier and she told me to make sure I woke him if he was sleeping to let him know his nephew paid a visit.  As I slowly shook his hand, his eyes slowly opened and he quietly muttered the word, "fifty."  Bad news for me, good news that I'm in a new age group, but even better news that he knew who I was and that I had a big birthday on Saturday.

We talked off and on for close to two hours.  There were no tears, and I was optimistic that he looked quite good considering what he'd gone through the last couple of weeks.  He'd lost twenty pounds and needed to lose it, but this was a crappy way to lose weight.  He was still on a feeding tube and he talked about pot roast, tapioca pudding, and really wanting a drink of water.  None of that was allowed as part of his physical therapy was re-learning how to swallow.

Part of the way through our conversation, his nurse came in to check his feed tube and hook up another "feed bag" to him which looked like Kahlua.  We joked about Kahlua and the times that the family would smuggle cheap versions of the liqueur from Tijuana when we visited his sister's (Aunt Marge's) beach house in nearby Rosarito Beach, Mexico.  Ron told the story about the time he was duped into buying a case of Corona mini bottles and the border patrol informed him he essentially paid the same as he would in the U.S.

Ron was quite alert asking why I was in California and where I was staying.  He talked about where his home was in Pleasanton (seven miles due West) and even pointed in the right direction.  His mind was sharp, but his body will need a lot of rehabilitation.

Along with the Kahlua and pot roast discussion, there was some typical complaints about hospital food.

We talked about his boys (my cousins,) and his grand kids.  His local son Craig has been diligently looking after his Dad.  He was at his son's Travis' baseball practice.  I asked Ron if he'd seen any games and he said "all of them."  #proudgrandpa

Like my conversations with my grandpa (Pop, his Dad,) we had some "off color" conversation as we'd often do over the years.  Nothing disrespectful, but akin to the banter between Clint Eastwood and his bartender in the movie "Gran Torino."  Clint (Walt Kowalski) and the barber would insult each other with off color comments, but there was a tone of love and respect underneath.  I won't embarrass the family, but we had some inappropriate laughs that I'll share offline with my cousins.  Something to do with nurses (sorry Kim...sister who's a nurse.)

I finally stopped talking when I felt guilty that he was exhausted and needed the sleep.  What seemed like trivial conversation to most was encouraging, uplifting and a great birthday present from Uncle Ron.  "Fifty."

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Perfect Saturday

Some days are better than others.  Last Saturday was better than most.  This is not a race report, nor an article about the new bike I bought or the new training program I'm trying out.  An ordinary day that turned somewhat extraordinary.  Practically perfect in every way (holy shit...did I just quote Mary Poppins...and did I just use the word shit and Mary Poppins in the same sentence?)  (Sorry Mom.)

We started the day by having coffee with some old friends.  Tom Costello grew up down the hill from us as kids.  My sister baby-sat for them.  His dad would offer me my first shot at a job out of college and his Mom helped me buy my first house.  I always admired their whole family and was excited to catch up with them over a "cup of joe."  Two of my kids were excited to meet "THE" Tom Costello from NBC News and "Today Show" fame as one watches the "Today Show" and another is considering a career in journalism.
Catching up with Tom

Tom's dad told me a story about a day he ran into me in the mall when I was in Jr. High.  I had just been diagnosed with arthritis and was out shopping for Christmas presents.  I was "parked" in a recliner chair at Sears...taking a break.  Tom tells the story that he'd asked how I was doing, and I replied that "I wasn't having a good back hurt...and I'd run out of money for the rest of my gift shopping."  While I was down, I was not out...I think he probably offered me a few bucks to finish the shopping.  Likely feeling sorry for the scene in front of him.  I told him, I'd be okay, and I'd figure out how to scrape together the money to finish shopping and my back would be okay.  He told the story with admiration, but didn't realize that I held an even higher regard for him as a role model throughout my life.

As we enjoyed the Corner Bakery coffee, we shared more stories, laughed and they asked about all my run and triathlon exploits...amazed that a skinny little redhead with arthritis somehow turned into a weekend warrior who runs marathons and picked up a new sport of triathlon racing.  As we parted, they spoke with admiration about my kids using words like poise and maturity.  The best cup of coffee I'd had in a long time for sure.

After coffee, I took my oldest son to martial arts for his brown belt testing.  Brown being one step removed from a black belt.  A pretty big deal.  The coffee and the belt testing ruled out a long run with my running group that morning, but both meant more...much more than a regular run.  I must be getting more emotional in my old age (that's next week's blog) as he passed the test as expected and I went for a hug.  As most teenage boys would do, he started to pull away after a quick hug, but I wouldn't let go.  I let loose a couple tears of pride.  Like his Dad trains for races, he had put months and months of work that culminated in that brief day.  A proud moment and a proud dad.
Keenan and Crowie

Without a morning run, I squeezed in a fairly typical short bike ride in the blazing hot Colorado afternoon.  Nothing special as far as the ride, but I'd planned to go see Craig Alexander that evening who was in town.  I couldn't meet this guy without working out myself that day.  If you don't know Craig, then you must not be a triathlete or follow the sport.  He's the "Lance Armstrong" of the tri world with multiple world Ironman championships to his credit.

Alexander was signing autographs and speaking at my new favorite store; Kompetitive Edge, in Denver.  Kompetitive Edge is the only store in fitness-crazed Colorado that caters to triathletes selling product in all three disciplines of swim, cycling, and running.  I had literally discovered the place the day before after hearing about them at the Denver Triathlon.  How did this oasis exist and I didn't know about it?  I digress as I often do, but I was drooling over all the gear and could not turn down the opportunity to meet "Crowie."

Me with my biggest dork expression
I took my youngest who's a swimmer and a triathlete himself who wanted to meet "Alexander the Great."  After test driving some Newton shoes and waiting in the forty minute line, we both got our autographs, photos, bitchin' poster for my boy's room, and a few exchanged words.  More impressive than his resume was the guy's demeanor.  He struck me as quite humble and even more genuine.  Talk about some motivation.  As my marathon persona continues to battle my triathlon alter ego over which sport I focus on, that evening certainly "stoked the fire" to reach more goals in my tri game.

As I left the event, I told my running club buddy Ted to make sure he gathered my doorprize when they called my name.  I had to leave early to catch a movie with the rest of the family, but I was feeling "lucky."  I was certain that I'd win something; they were giving away several door prizes if you test drove the Newtons including an Ironman entry.
My new race Oakleys

After the movie, and after a perfect Saturday, I logged into Facebook almost certain that I'd won.  Sure enough, I had a message from Ted that my prize was waiting at the store with my name on it.  "Winner, winner, chicken dinner."  Not knowing what I'd won (Ted thought it was sunglasses or goggles,) I stopped by yesterday to redeem my prize.  Not a $20 pair of goggles...I could pick out ANY pair of Oakleys I wanted, so I'm the proud owner of a $300 pair of bad ass Radarlock Oakleys.  Some days are better than others and this Saturday was better than most.

About Me

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Average guy w/ an above average appetite for marathon racing and triathlons. Ran my 5th Boston in '15. 3:21, 1:29, 19:21 PR;full/half/5K Opinions & wit are mine