Tuesday, September 18, 2007

If you had gone to the Outlaw picnic, you would know that I wear rainbow-striped undies.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Fun Sprint in Cotton Country (Oil Wells Included)

This entry is dedicated to Kenneth O’Connor, my partner in pace. Ken and I got to know each other long before we ever spoke or knew each other’s names. He was a presence at most of my early races, first running away from me, now running closer. I used to see his name in the results, just next to mine. I learned to look for those long legs, and try to keep up. Ken is 68. We race each other. I’m fortunate that through the years, we’ve continued at a similar pace. It gives me a familiar person to look for, and a smile and a talk after a race.

On Saturday, September 15, we both participated in the Cotton Country Sprint Triathlon in Levelland, TX. I had thought the race was in Loveland or Lovelland, but found out that it was really “Level” land—as in extremely level. No hills here. Just fields and fields of cotton (which I thought were rose bushes), a smattering of oil wells, and a big stinky smell, which I now attribute to the ethanol factory somewhere in the area, although I could be wrong.

The race was held on the South Plains College campus. Low brick buildings, green lawns, locker rooms about as old as the ones you remember in high school. One toilet hidden behind a curtain. The humidity was visible. The cloud cover and relative coolness a nice way to start a race.

Race start was 9:00 a.m. for the initial 3 mile run. I was happy with that, as we had driven 5 hours the previous evening, gotten the last room in our hotel (Best Western), and gone to bed at midnight. Turns out that Texas time is one hour later than our time, so we lost an hour on the drive. The start was divided up into two waves, men first, women two minutes later, to decrease the crowd in the swim pool for the last leg of the race. When the gun went off, some women went with the first group, and two turned back when they realized their error, but it was hard to know if there were other women in the large crowd of men.

“Right, left, right” were our run directions, and they were apt. Sharp turns around corners led us off campus and out onto a small two-lane road with fields on either side. The water station was less than a mile from the start, on a corner, that was easy to access on the way out, but hard to access for the lead men on the way back, due to the women still making their way from the later start. I was lucky enough to find a runner who was slightly faster than my pace, to pull me pretty much through the entire 3 mile run. I was trying to run hard, knowing there were 6 women in my age group, and that both Helen and Marti could swim faster than me. A good gap in the beginning might allow me to place ahead of them.

I gave thanks for the extra oxygen at a lower altitude.

I chuckled internally at the distraction of our race numbers, which noted we were running for the NCAAA national championships for Cleveland Athletics (now, where did they get these numbers?).

I just about choked on the petroleum product smell that wafted thickly in the air.

I saw the lead male, Bobby Gonzales, flying towards me, well ahead of any nearby competition.

I saw my Law-School-Guy-Who-Doesn’t-Have-Time-To-Train-Anymore, following him in 7th place.

I finished 10th female overall in the run, after sprinting to pass a woman just before the transition area.

My transition stunk. Because I’d sprinted just before the finish, I was now out of breath, and couldn’t move well. I was panting so hard I didn’t drink any water. I’m lucky I didn’t put on my aero helmet backwards.

The bike was a left turn out of the transition area, then “left, right, left” onto a two-lane highway. The headwind was deafening. Not to mention, mind numbing, and leg crushing. I always dump into a larger gear as soon as possible, but the head wind wouldn’t let me. It wouldn’t let me do anything, like make head way, pick up my speed, or feel good about myself. The rough road reduced forward momentum even further. Flip passed me with his usual large-geared, low-cadenced effort, but this time he was surprisingly silent, the usual roar of his disc blown away on the wind.

I saw Law-School-Guy-Who-Doesn’t-Have-Time-To-Train-Anymore had moved up to 5th place. Eventually, he hit T2 in 3rd place. Bobby was still out in front.

The turn around was one of the scariest, for me. There was no one around to stop or warn traffic, or warn the cyclists of cars coming up from behind. There were no orange cones or signs warning traffic of a bicycle race, or that bikes would be crossing the road. I turned to look back, but it’s hard to be 100 % sure at high effort, and the turn just flat out scared me. I’ve never done a high speed race turn around across a road without a grounded human to help me out. I didn’t like doing that.

The return on the bike was high speed and smooth. The reward for the outgoing head wind was the tailwind going back. The high speed made the sandy turns apprehensive. I almost caught up with Flip. I was fortunate enough to move up to 3rd place on the bike.

T2 was characterized by donning a swim cap with my sunglasses on.

The barefoot run to the pool was fine, but once inside the pool area, the slippery, puddled tile was a high-risk fall area. Law-School-Guy-Who-Doesn’t-Have-Time-To-Train-Anymore actually slipped, with a controlled lower to the floor—but it could easily have been worse. Does signing a liability waiver mitigate race director responsibility if someone takes a fall with injury? I almost tiptoed to the pool ladder, losing time but saving my skin, unaware that, at this point, I was looking at a top three podium finish.

The pool swim was a short 300 yards, 6 narrow 25-yard lanes, out and back in each lane. The pool was crowded. Somehow, a number of very large men turned out to be behind me, because they all passed me in the pool. It was a splash fest. Bobby and Law-School-Guy-Who-Doesn’t-Have-Time-To-Train-Anymore were watching from the side of the pool. “Wow,” said Bobby, “I’m glad I don’t have to swim in that.” Never thought about that, but that’s one of those first place perks I guess I’ll never get to know.

I was passed by one woman in the pool (amazing, since usually, it’s the whole field) for a 4th overall finish, but first in my Age Group, 1:15:04.

Law-School-Guy-Who-Doesn’t-Have-Time-To-Train-Anymore finished 4th overall, just 11 seconds out of a third overall podium finish, also first in his Age Group, 1:00:32

Bobby won the whole dang thing in 53-plus minutes. That's for a 5K mi run, 13mi bike, 300 yd swim.

Ken, my partner in pace, won his Age Group. He said he looked for me, but the wave starts separated us by too much.

We all took home miniature cotton bale awards, wrapped in blue, for first place.

All in all, a nice day, with the friendliest, nicest race staff and fellow triathletes. The petroleum smell would probably be the only reason for me not to return—and I’ll probably have forgotten it by next year.

Other Outlaws of the day included (but are not limited to): Helen (my competition, 4th AG), Stuart (6th AG), Carl (1st AG), and Brian (1st AG).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Bear of a Tale

My sister is backpacking in Yellowstone.
She went with her boyfriend, Bob, her very good and long time friend Anne from Oregon, and a gentleman from Montana. I think that’s the size of the group. She is going to be backpacking for 4 days, then spend two nights in a lodge. The backpacking is far, far, away from the lodge. They will have to drive “all the way around” to get from the trail to the lodge. It sounds pretty remote to me.

My sister called to tell me from Salt Lake City airport. “Oh yeah, last weekend we were in Yosemite. This week we’re going to Yellowstone.” She always seems to be on the go.

I asked her about bears.

Recently, bears have been in the news.

The ones in Yosemite have progressed from breaking neatly into cars (removing the weather stripping from around the edge of the car window), to breaking messily into houses. The bears have become fairly domesticated. They know where to find food, whether it’s hidden in a cooler or a refrigerator. Yosemite has a comprehensive program to reduce the interaction of bear and man, but the park has over 3 million visitors a year, and human food is highly attractive. This week alone, there have been 22 “bear incidents”. If you leave anything in a vehicle, it could attract a bear. If a Yosemite ranger sees an item in your car, they will wake you up anytime of night, have you remove the item, and fine you $5000.

These are Black bears, and generally weigh in the range of 300 pounds. However, the largest bear ever measured in Yosemite was 700 pounds. That’s a lot of bear.

The bears in Yellowstone are not so domesticated to human behavior. They are much more remote. “Elusive” as the park website describes them. Still, you do not want to stumble onto a bear. Black bears are more tolerant of humans, Grizzly bears less so. You do not want to get too close to a Grizzly.

In 1995, my sister and I were hiking down the wide expanse of a braided riverbed, in Denali National Park. Braided riverbeds are wide due to the meandering of the river, from year to year. The riverbed was crunchy gravel and silty sand, with occasional patches of pale, scrubby willow and brush. The sky was a wide expanse of washed out blue. Away to the left of us, some very nice men waved from the top of a remote cliff. They were tiny, and we could just see their arms moving.

They were pretty persistent wavers.

We kept hiking along, until it dawned on us, that maybe they weren’t waving just to say hello. We turned, hiked across the riverbed, and scrambled up a steep dirt embankment. At the top was a small construction site. Looking down into the riverbed, the men could see a Grizzly bear in front of us. We had been hiking straight towards the bear.

There was a dirt road that went along the embankment, paralleling the river, so we followed it, because we were pretty excited and wanted to get a closer look. We were pretty high up and could see down into the scrubby bush below. The bear was huge. A big, brown Grizzly. He was on the other side of the river—which at this point, was really just a narrow stream meandering through white, worn riverbed rocks. The bear was beautiful. You could see the power of his legs when he moved, walking from bush to bush, grazing on scrubby willow leaves. He didn’t pay any attention to us.

As we walked, the road started descending down hill. We were so excited, chattering to each other, that initially, we didn’t notice. Then the bear abruptly turned and crossed the stream, and we realized that we weren’t so high up, after all. Up until that moment, we had had this subconscious understanding that the stream, and the hill we were on, were some kind of demarcation of safety between us and the bear. The bear crossed the stream in what seemed to be two steps and started angling up the hill on the same side of the stream that we were on. Suddenly, we realized that we weren’t in a good place. We turned, and quickly made our way back up the road, fear now shadowing our thoughts, realizing that the natural world doesn’t subscribe to the same demarcations as man.

Now, my sister was calling to tell me she was going backpacking in another bear habitat.

When I asked her about bears, she said they had purchased bear spray.

The directions say that bears can run 40 miles an hour. Think about that.

When the bear is 40 feet away, you are supposed to give it a spray from the canister. If the bear keeps coming toward you, you are supposed to repeat this. If it continues to approach, you empty the can. Ha.

At 40 miles per hour, we figured you wouldn’t be taking the time to count your bear spray squirts.

We got off the phone, giggling.

Still, I’m worried about her.


Even though we found the bear spray to be hysterically funny, I promised myself I wouldn’t post about it, until she came back safe and sound.

My sister called from among a throng of people at Old Faithful to tell me she was out of the bush, and OK. Didn’t see a bear the whole trip, but had a great time. Hot springs, good food, great people, beautiful countryside. That’s the way it should be when I’m worrying about my sister. No bears.

(There was another time in Alaska when we were truly scared out of our skin. Caused by a large bird. But could have been a bear. We screamed so loud, lost in a moment of utter, complete panic, that I can’t imagine having the wherewithal to manage a can of bear spray.)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A Visit From A Friend

Renee and her son Harry.
Visiting Albuquerque.
A foreign, beautiful voice.
An unexpected phone call.
A gathering.
I can't believe it. And yet it seems so natural. I haven't seen Renee in over ten years.

On Sunday, July 29th, I missed the phone and heard the machine: "Naomi, I hope this is you, this is Renee..." In that deep, musical, UNMISTAKABLE voice. Renee. From a time in Honolulu, when the world was music and dance, and there was a happening on every day. I used to talk to Renee daily. At work. On the phone. Dance classes and music on the weekends. Weeknights. Gatherings. People. Color. Clothing. Jewelry. Music. Food. We played downtown New Years Eve until just before the fireworks came on, performed for parties in strange, large beautiful houses, eventually were part of a fairly consistent nightclub gig. The multiple threads of a cloth, woven together, torn apart, weaving in and out of each other. So much was happening then. I think of Renee's penthouse apartment. Her sheer joy and enthusiasm for the open lanai, the ocean trade winds, rippling curtains, the sun, Hawaii, life on the Ala Wai canal.

Tonight, Renee and her son Harry are here. They are driving and flying, tripping around the United States. Washington, Oregon, Sedona, Santa Fe (where the hotels were full), Albuquerque (where we visited tonight), and Taos. Renee and Harry spent the day in Taos, drove a dirt highway, with two-house towns which they’d never seen before, cliffs dropping from the edge of the road down to the Rio Grande, boulders, Pueblo Indians, Indian bread, and hot springs. They arrive back in Albuquerque at 11:00 pm, Renee so tired that she can't think of going out to eat. I volunteer to bring food, but she isn't hungry now. So we settle on coffee and chocolate ice cream, which I pick up from a nearby Walmart at midnight and bring to the room. The hotel is a dump. The living room is dark, and the receptionist says that there is no one to fix the lights. The kitchenette has no utensils, dishes, napkins. It is bare. But we are good.

I can't believe I am seeing Renee walk down the hall towards me, but it also seems as if no time has passed. It's Renee, as beautiful as ever. Slender, white jeans, white decorated top, those signature braids. I meet her son Harry for the first time. He has a daughter who is no longer as small as she was when she visited Renee in Hawaii those years ago. He is lean, fit, braided to his mid-back, and in awe of, and enthusiastic about, the nature, country that he has seen. Renee and Harry have a bottle of wine. I bring coffee, chocolate ice cream, and home made oatmeal cookies. I'm glad I added extra cranberries and blueberries, but regret not having enough walnuts. We talk about their trip to Taos, their trip in general, the red rocks and colors of Sedona, Harry climbing a rock and sitting in a cave so high he was on eye level with a helicopter, the bad hotel (Best Western on Louisiana, which had them walk room to room, carrying their own linens to find and then move into a new room, when their original room was not workable), Hawaii, Harry's work as a fitness trainer and the fitness boot camps he runs in Georgia, a brief review of our recent working lives with Renee having climbed the corporate ladder via computer, her purchase of a five story Brownstone in Harlem in 2000, the crash of computer related work in 2003, my upcoming race and recent athleticism. Somewhere, around, 4:00 am, our conversation becomes vague and wanders off as fatigue hits all of us. I say goodbye, this brief interlude with these special people. Tomorrow, Renee flies to New York and Harry flies to Georgia.

Feed your heart, says Harry. Find what you can do that feeds your heart.
Harry tells me he'd like to be less urban. The image of the single house, in the middle of nowhere, somewhere outside of Taos, on some obscure dirt road, has not left him.

Out of a dark Albuquerque night, in a dark shabby hotel, with these bright, beautiful people.

Feed your heart.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Living My Life As Beautiful

I went for a swim today, and left feeling pretty darn good about myself.

  • I had gone swimming despite trying to talk myself out of it over the entire course of driving from work to the pool
  • I had gone to the weight gym and was happy to note that I had progressed from spindly I-can’t-lift-this arms to doing 15 pound dumb bell bicep curls (yes, the miniature Hulkette in the re-making—ask Mr. T what he thought when he first saw me in a sleeveless feminine dress, during my rock climbing years, eight years ago)
  • I had stretched really well—probably the first time this whole season, so I was patting myself on the back
  • I performed my mitzvah of the day, an unasked for kindness to another individual—who was grateful enough to thank me several times.
  • I had stepped out of my trying-to-hide-behind-the-scenery self, and was wearing a cute outfit—and I felt it, too
  • Some guy named “Biff” thought it was cute, too, and actually tried to pursue me in what was an initially flattering, but became annoying, kind of way (OK—he only looked like he was named Biff. I think his real name was Ben).
  • Due to the fact that I was not in the competition/training mode, I didn’t have that feeling of short-changing a workout (by not going hard enough, or long enough, or skipping an interval)—and that hadn’t happened for a long time (like the whole training season).

All these factors combined to form this inner feeling that just seemed to radiate all the way through to the outside.

I was feeling so good, that I probably let my guard down.
Because, suddenly, it popped into my head how sad it was that I would never know myself as beautiful.

Now, that’s an interesting thought.
Because, in many ways, it’s very true. Not just for me, but for many, if not most, of the female gender. At least in this country, which is the only country/culture I am at least somewhat familiar with.

When I was young, in my pre-teen and teenage years, I had an inner, almost unknown longing to be blonde and willowy (note “miniature Hulkette” reference above”). I went to a primarily Caucasian high school. Fashion advertising in the 1970s mostly used Caucasian models. Those were the days before “ethnic” models. Sometimes, I find it hard to believe that there was a time, when my look, a mixed Eurasian blend, was undesirable in the public arena—and that this undesirability was generally accepted. Blonde and thin was in—and I was imprinted with this model of beauty, and found myself lacking, without being aware of it.

There are other reasons that I’ve never found myself beautiful. Growing up without much in an overly abundant world has certainly contributed. Being called “fat” and “ugly” during my growing years didn’t help. “Frog eyes” was another one—which reflected my “not normal” eye shape, and made me acutely aware of those Japanese women who had surgery (blepharoplasty) to make their eyes look more “Western”.

But, I think there’s another part to this that is shared by a large number of women in America. And, that is, we are immersed in a cultural standard that doesn’t accept women (and, possibly, men, now) for their real, natural, honest-to-goodness beauty, and instead models an almost impossible perfection, that reflects weight, height, proportion, and color standards.

I have somewhat outgrown those currents of my youth, but I still don’t think I am beautiful.

Can you imagine going through your whole life, not living up to SOMEONE ELSE'S standard of beauty? I think that’s how most of us live our lives. It certainly is how I have lived mine. It really is sad, not to know oneself as beautiful—especially, when all of us really are. If I can live my life, with the feeling that I had as I left the pool / gym, then I will be living my life as beautiful. As for knowing myself as beautiful, well, that will still be some time coming.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

A challenging Record

Today’s entry is dedicated to Bones MacKenzie, who, after years of fielding my avoidance, finally got me to ride his disc wheel.

This morning, for some reason that is beyond me, I got up at 5:30 a.m. to participate in the Paula Higgins Memorial Record Challenge USCF District Championship Time Trial in Moriarity, New Mexico.

Of course, I dusted off my neon yellow and purple corporate logo’d jersey that I wear once a year to pretend that I’m cool.
Mr. T, however, was even cooler—wearing an HIC rash guard that is almost as old as he is (it was given to me as secondhand-used in 1987 to promote my fledgling pursuit as a surfer—you can imagine it as pretty aerodynamic on Mr. T).

I drank coffee.
I even stretched.

After that, I didn’t give my race or race strategy another thought.
Kind of the way, that I hadn’t given it a thought all year, until Mr. T surprised me by telling me we had a competition this weekend.
I thought I was done with competing after I had done Barb’s women’s-only half-Ironman distance race on August 4th.
I actually had hoped I was done, after I completed the Honu half-Ironman race on June 3.
I had gamely made the best of the F-1 whatever-distance race on August 26.
Aren’t I done yet?

As with all good triathletes, I haven’t been training much. Although, this year, it’s true. After the Honu, I became subtly ill.
For five weeks.
It lasted so long, it scared me.
I was only able to complete Barb’s Race because,
1) I had a good base from doing the Honu in June, and
2) I stopped training long enough for my body to finally get better.
Five weeks of being ill.
Two weeks of no training.
Then Barb’s.

Now, I get to try to set a National Record.

Last year I was Age-Group 45-49 State Champion, merely by dint of being the only one in my age group.
This year there were over one hundred starters.

The pretty paper certificate I received shows that I rode 40k (24.854848 miles) in a time of 1:08:04.21
That’s something like 21.9 miles per hour.
I am mightily disappointed. So much so, that I can’t even enjoy the fact that I beat last years time of 1:12:24.17 by 4 minutes and 20 seconds.
Now, that’s bad.
Secretly, I was hoping to go under 1:06:00
OK—not really--that’s just a number I arbitrarily chose, about five miles into the time trial, when I was supposed to be cycling my heart out, but my mind was focusing on everything but the ride and I was feeling like “when is this going to be over,” and “I can’t believe I put myself into this situation again,” and “It sure would feel better if I would just stop right now.”
Really, I wanted to break one hour.
At my age and ability, that will never happen.
My Greatest Admirer thinks that of course it can.
Nothing like a little pressure.

I do hope to be like Martha Hanson, who at 85-plus, truly is in the record books.

She was there today, in a national champion stars and stripes jersey, spare and spry, setting another national record.
The second national record was set in the 70 plus age group.
I, on the other hand, was beat handily by over 7 minutes by the first place finisher in my age group--a woman who I have never seen before (that’s the usual way, isn’t it—work your behind off to beat the local competition, and then someone new shows up…), and who, at the speed she rides, I will probably never see again.
She is about 4 feet taller than me, so I figure she has an advantage (us little people can do that you know—find ways to make our littleness a handicap AND advantageous).
Maybe, when I am 85, I will be truly pleased with my accomplishments.
On the other hand, maybe Martha Hanson wanted to do better also.
I bet she has a pretty competitive streak.

The long and the short of it all is that, next year, I should probably train for the darn thing. Then I truly will have a valid reason for being disappointed.