Wednesday, August 27, 2008

30 Days

This morning I saw a news story about a young woman who had a benign tumor pressing against her brain stem. The surgery required to save her life, would mean total loss of hearing. So, she spent 30 days creating vivid memories of the most special sounds around her. She recorded video of herself enjoying the sound of the ocean waves, listening to her favorite song on her Ipod, playing with her dog, conversations with her family, etc.

There are so many beautiful sounds that we take for granted as we hear them throughout our day - the sound of children laughing, birds chirping, leaves rustling in the wind, music and the voices of the people we love.

This particular story was especially timely given a medical scare that my twin sister had over the weekend. She went to her regular eye exam on Saturday. The ophthalmologist noticed three small holes in her retina (of her good eye) and referred her to a retinal specialist. This was even more worrisome since the problem was in her good eye. Her vision is quite poor in the other eye already. Retinal holes or tears increase the risk of a retinal detachment. That can lead to total vision loss if medical treatment isn't obtained quickly.

The next couple of days were very stressful. The news is good. The retinal specialist did not see any need for treatment (such as surgery to prevent retinal detachment). On Saturday morning she merely had a routine eye exam on her daily schedule. From that moment on, until her eye exam with the retinal specialist was completed Tuesday afternoon, the gift of vision and what it might be like to lose it was on all of our minds.

What sounds would you most want to hear if you only had 30 days left to hear them?
What sights would you most want to see if you only had 30 days left to see them?
What favorite foods would you most want to taste if you only had 30 days left to see them?
Who are the people you would most like to have one last meaningful conversation with if you only had 30 days to do so?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Race Report - Tale of Two Perspectives

Saturday was the Railsplitter Triathlon in Petersburg. The short version is that I decided to call it a day after the swim due to back pain. I've been battling an SI joint injury for the last month. Going into the race I was hopeful that I had recovered significantly to complete this tri. I based this on a 17-mile run the previous Saturday (at a good pace), followed by just short of a 40-mile ride the next day (on Sunday) and an 1800 open water swim on Wednesday evening. I also tossed in a 3/4 mile recovery swim, a 5 mile run, a 4 mile run and a 6.5 mile run during the week. Perhaps that was too much to throw into the pre-race week?

I have two versions of my sad tale.

  • Is the sun coming up or is the sun going down?
  • "Pity party", table for one

Version one comes from a wonderful competitor by the name of Lou. After my decision to drop out of the race, we stood on the corner near the transition area. This gave us a nice view of the bikes coming into transition and the runners heading out on the run course. The runners would also pass by this same corner again as they made a turn taking them the remaining couple of miles to the finish.

Lou is a 77-year young triathlete who competes at local triathlons. On this day he was racing the sprint distance. As he approached the water stop at the corner, he had a smile on his face and cheerfully asked the volunteers; "Is the sun coming up or going down?". They replied that the sun was indeed still going up, to which he replied; "Oh good, I wasn't sure!".

What a great attitude! Lou isn't fast any more, but he has the respect of all who watch him race. Often he is last, but not always. (Today he was not the last one to finish the sprint distance. Lou is probably 45-50 years older than the two athletes who did finish last in the sprint.) It's easy to see that Lou isn't focusing on what once was, he instead is clearly focusing on what is. He is out there racing, competing, and enjoying the day - whatever the day happens to bring.

Now that I've written about Lou's attitude, I am somewhat reticent to share version two.

Version two - "Pity Party", table for one

Immediately after I dropped out of the race, I naturally was disappointed. However, I pushed that disappointment aside and was determined to cheer for my friends who were racing. AJ came into transition after the bike portion looking strong and happy. Erin and Melissa followed behind her by perhaps about 7-10 minutes. (Results are not posted on-line yet, so I don't know the exact times.) Erin and Melissa were riding together and both managed a smile along with a "Boy, was that bike course hilly!". Once all three of them were out on the run, Howard and I headed to what we thought was about Mile 6 of the 7 mile run course (for the long tri course). Erin came running by first, looking very strong, followed by AJ and then Melissa. After all 3 had passed, we moved to the final corner heading into the finish line. Erin finished looking just as strong on the run at the end as she had at the beginning. AJ and Melissa were now running together - which was nice to see that they had paired up to help each other. The run course turned out to be .8 longer than it was supposed to be. That had to be more than a little challenging to the athletes on such a hot and humid day.

All three won awards in their age groups. I was genuinely pleased for all of them. I was also aware of what a difficult race this was. Both the bike and run courses were hilly. The weather was fairly typical for late August - hot and humid.

So, when did I ask for the "Pity Party" - table for one? It didn't really hit me until Sunday morning. 2007 has not been a good triathlon season for me. The reality that this was my last triathlon (with a DNF) for the season, hit me very hard on Sunday morning.

I had just finished a 10-mile run at approx. 8.5 minute mile pace. Even though it was a good run, my tight back served as a constant reminder of the DNF the day before. I tried to make sense of it all. I have trained hard all summer, completing 105 workouts (34 swim workouts or approx. 40 miles, 26 bike workouts or approx. 600 miles, and 45 run workouts or approx. 263 miles) since June 1st. It's very hard to accept the fact that after all that training, I have not seen any favorable results in the form of triathlon finish times this season.

What would Lou have to say about all of this? He would probably say leave what happened in this summer's triathlon races in the past, let the sun go down on the stinging disappointment and trust that the sun is still coming up today. Next season might just be the sunniest season of them all.

P.S. The interesting thing about hosting a pity party, is that you really do only need a table for one. Generally people aren't too interested in the feeling sorry for yourself party. Once again I'm reminded of my good friend Andy who has two favorite sayings:

"Get out of the bitter barn and play in the hay." "Get off your huffy bike and turn that smile upside down."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lessons From the Olympics

I haven't written anything for my blog for quite some time now. The reason? I've been watching the Olympics. Beginning with the Opening Ceremonies, I realized there would be valuable lessons to be found. I told myself to make mental notes of what I learned as the Olympic events began.

One of the things that was discussed during the opening ceremonies was the significance of water in the Chinese culture. The Chinese consider that a life well-lived has the elements of water - flow, calm, ease and taking the path of least resistance. I can't help but notice how many times our lives do not resemble water. That might give a new meaning to importance of staying hydrated.

During one of the spectacular parts of the ceremony, precise circles were formed without any markings on the floor to guide the performers. This was accomplished because each performer had a keen awareness of exactly where they were and where their neighbor was on the floor. I believe we could all benefit by increasing our awareness of where we are in this moment of our life and where our neighbor is in relationship to us.

Deena Kastor (US women's marathoner) was asked about the sacrifices she has made over the years preparing and training for the Olympics. She calmly replied back that she preferred to think of it as choices she has made rather than sacrifices. Often I think we get caught up in thinking of our training in a negative way - "I have to run this morning", rather than "I get to run this morning". We actually always have a choice. We also have a choice in how we view the things ahead of us. We can view them as tasks, chores, more to-do lists, or we can view them as opportunities and choices.

Dara Torres (US 41-year old swimmer) showed incredible sportsmanship when she stopped her own mental preparation immediately before one of her events, to instead go over and inform an official that another competitor had a problem with her suit and needed extra time to come on the pool deck. Dara could have been focused entirely on her own race. Instead, she wanted to race to be started with fairness to all competitors, allowing the other swimmer to compete. She showed incredible grace in the bright smile she had at the end of her races regardless of how she placed. She also was quick to offer a heart-felt congratulations and "Good job" to her fellow competitors. You could tell she was genuinely happy for the other athletes.

I was also struck by Michael Phelps struggle with ADHD as a child. He had difficulty in the classroom and was bullied by other children. Children with ADD or ADHD are easily distracted by the things in their environment. Michael's mom described how the pool lane provided a calming environment. It was free from distractions. It consisted of the black line at the bottom of the pool and the wall at each end. This clean environment provided a place where Michael could focus, be calm and tap into his talent. All of us could probably benefit from finding our own version of a clean environment on a regular basis.

There have been so many inspirational stories and athletic performances during this Olympics. I thought I would have a long list of mini lessons from watching. Now I find it is hard to separate them out from such an amazing series of athletic performances.

I have been reminded of the importance of "heart". Many times the Gold Medal winner has not been the favorite, but instead the athlete with the most heart, the athlete who wanted redemption from a previous Olympic experience that did not go as they had hoped.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Steelhead 1/2 Ironman Decision

The photo above is of Lake Michigan on race morning. Notice the waves!

I have to admit that I was still questioning my decision not to race the Steelhead 1/2 Ironman on Saturday morning. I looked at my watch often throughout the morning and afternoon, estimating where I would be on the race course. I thought about the friends I have who were in Benton Harbor for the race.

As far as I could tell the weather forecast from earlier in the week, calling for temps in the mid 90's with high humidity, had modified. It appeared to be an almost perfect weather day - with temps in the low 80's. The water temperature had gradually risen over the past 10 days from a low of 51 degrees to about 74 degrees. The lake conditions on Friday evening were good, with calm water and waves of 0-1 ft. Lake Michigan doesn't get much better than that.

So, as we headed to my sister's house in Elk Grove Village for the weekend, my head was still wistfully thinking about the race. My back still hurts - I haven't been on the bike in a week, the couple of swims that I have done have been very short (1/2 mile or less) and bothered my back. Sitting hurts. I have to watch how I move in order to protect my back.

I did still get some cycling experience over the weekend. It came in the form of spectating, however, not competing. The "Tour de Elk Grove" took place Friday-Sunday. We watched the pro cyclist road race (150-k) Saturday afternoon, which consisted of ten loops in Schaumburg and then the ride to the finish from Schaumburg to Elk Grove Village. Tyler Hamilton (former teammate of Lance Armstrong) was among the riders. On Sunday, we watch the Cat 1/2 criterium race.

Once back home, we had an opportunity to check the results of the Steelhead 1/2 Ironman. The swim portion of the race was cancelled due to 4-6 ft waves, swells and especially due to the very strong undertow. Apparently even the kayaaks were having difficulty getting out into the water without being pulled under.

So, the race became a duathlon, with a 2-mile run, a 56-mile bike and the 13.1 mile run. This would not have given me the practice I wanted with the 3 elements of triathlon and the corresponding transitions. It would not have allowed me to improve on my 1/2 Ironman time since it was not officially a true 1/2 Ironman.

I'm still hoping to be able to race the triathlon on Aug. 23rd and staying open to the possibility of a 1/2 Ironman yet this fall. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, August 1, 2008

No Finish Line This Time

I've made my final decision about the Steelhead 1/2 Ironman race - I won't be racing. I was hopeful that my back injury was resolving after a massage on Tuesday afternoon. The massage therapist was very good and seemed to be quite familiar with SI joint injuries. The relief, however, was short lived. My back tightened up again by later that evening and was really flared up by Wednesday evening.

I know I could complete each of the three events individually. I also know that stringing the 1.2 mile swim, the 56 mile bike and the 13.1 mile run together, one after the other, would not be possible with my current injury.

I've talked with my coach and he agrees that rest is most important to allow the injury to settle down. I'm hoping to be able to do the "Railsplitter Triathlon" on Aug. 23rd. The distance is a bit longer than the traditional Olympic Distance Tri, with a 1 mile swim, a 36 mile bike and a 7 mile run. I can still register for that race up until Aug. 21st, which allows me time to evaluate my recovery progress.

Even though it is very frustrating to be hurt after training so diligently all summer, it does give me a renewed appreciation for being able to participate in athletics. I don't regret the time and effort I put into following my training schedule, even though I didn't make it to the start line of the Steelhead 1/2 Ironman. I know it is not wasted time. It has helped to give me additional experience and strength for future races.

I already have a motivation for my next race - I watched the ABC television special on celebrating the life of Randy Pausch. He talks about the final score sometimes turning out differently than you had hoped or expected.... and he says that is ok when you know you left everything you had on the field.

I plan to do my next race in memory of Randy Pausch. Along the way, I plan to incorporate some of the lessons he shared in his Last Lecture series... paying attention to whether I'm racing as an "Eeyore or a Tigger", what I do about the "brick walls" I encounter along the race course and looking for the "next best part of the day" that might still show up between the start and the finish.