Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Oracle is fallible

SC du nats
richmond, VA

10k run -- 40k bike -- 5k run

went to duathlon nationals this weekend with the goal of qualifying for short-course worlds in rimini, italy. the Oracle predicted a podium finish; instead i finished way out of the running in 8th place. he was baffled.

- i looked at the results and i saw your first run and i thought 'what happened?' then i saw the bike, and i said 'oh, no.' and then i saw that second run and i thought, 'what the heck was she doing?' what WERE you doing, finn?

he was referring to how i stunk up the first run and the bike, and then came back with the 2nd fastest 5k of all the women, even the pro's.

- did you think you were racing a 5K? - he continued - with a really long warmup?

- i was doing my OWN race - i said petulantly.

the simple explanation is that halfway through 10K my left quad got tighter and tighter, finally seizing up so badly that i had to stop to stretch it out. you must have been panicking - sympathised laf, but there was no panic. i knew the pain, and i thought it might ease up if i gave it time. so while athletes filed by on their way across the Robert E. Lee bridge i gave it time and eventually i could run again, slowly.

i lost even more time in the first half of the bike because i was a bit shattered mentally, and quads that'd been burning all week weren't feeling much better. the lead men rocketed by me as though i were on my trainer, and when a particularly fetching specimen with "severance" white-lettered on his backside passed me i must confess to wandering down a mental detour which involved a lot of "ances": impotence, deliquescence, pestilence and deliverance. [FYI hootchiemama cyrus severance, 28yo from denver, finished 12th.]

the course was slick with rain and there were many casualties: to crashes, flats and dérailleurs that plum jammed on a climb out of riverside; and midway through the bike it occurred to me that if i simply hung in there i might do okay. out of sheer perseverANCE. so i rallied a bit, gained a little more confidence on the torturous curves and finished the bike strong(er).

- but hey, at least your transitions were good!
- the Oracle observed. if i could get all my shit aligned in one race i'd be absolutely fucking deadly... but what would be the fun in that??

after a painless T2 i headed out for the 5K and felt transcendent. i caught a ton of people - what do you expect when they have been working their arses off for the past 2 hours and you've been knocking about in la-la-land? my quad was loose, my hamstrings were open and i could run unencumbered. i passed the 2nd place woman in my age group 100m from the line, on a climb. as i approached the final timing mat i heard julieblue, winner of my AG and 3rd F overall. you're going to worlds, babe! and i am. twice.

though we be fallible, the Oracle and i have got me qualified for short- and long-course du worlds, an impressive feat for april. there is much work to do before belgium and italy, but for the next week or so there's a lot of lazing about, reading of books and tollhouse cookie workouts. and there will be uisge fer shure.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


countdown to short-course du worlds qualifiers: 6 days
status of legs: shit

so muhammed went to the mountain.

just out of curiosity, did your legs ever feel like crap for a week? if so, how did you deal mentally/physically?

being Perfect, the Oracle was probably never this pathetic, but i am fed up.

[the Oracle]
The answer is: Yes. I was trying to think up a nice, technical answer for you on how to deal. I can't. How about just "get over it."

he then prescribed intervals on the bike today, and 400s at the track tomorrow. left to mine own devices, i'd be on the sofa from now 'til sunday demanding peeled grapes from laf, but this season is all about changing the pitch up. and faith.

I know that's not what you want to hear, but you've been working hard, and the hard work will show on Sunday not yesterday, not today, probably not tomorrow. The feeling will go away on Sunday when the gun goes off.

hurrrrr. we'll see about that.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

so i did. ask.

i just looked at results from powerman alabama and got myself into a State. there is no way i can run that fast -- sub 6?? but i am not dashing to you to cry -- much -- because i know you've better things to do and i'm not 5 years old.

[the Oracle]
I only looked at this quickly, and don’t understand why you’re in a “state”. Who ran sub 6’s? The way I see it, you would have been 2rd overall (and there were several pros in the race). It’s hard to compare one course to another, especially when you don’t know the two courses, or the conditions on the day of the race. I’ll take a closer look when I have some more time, but give me an idea of what you’re concerned about.

[finn, tues AM]
i think the State's just a delicate mental condition brought on by two tectonic plates colliding in my mind: the idea of having low/no expectations (which i'm used to) and having higher, perhaps unrealistic expectations. that conflict may be the hardest thing about this season.

that's the complicated explanation. the simple one is that the powerman girls laid down some smokin' times for that first run.

[finn, tues PM]
even though my legs were decidely not-perky tonight, i still banged out 6x800, all under 3min with the help of my new friend Laconic David. yay.

[the Oracle]
Way to go!

By the way.....
"Kloner, Frank and Simpson placed first, second and third, respectively, despite being assessed a four-minute penalty for accidentally not running three-tenths of a mile of the run course. The penalty did not affect their order of finish but Kattouf wound up fifth behind Harris by five seconds."

That should make you feel better about those "smoking times". You'd be that fast too if you cut the freekin course. Another lesson learned...never trust the split times and distances of a duathlon.

Go get some rest and dream of gold.

FMC's right. having the Oracle is like having another heart.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

this trick of dark imagining

- hello?
- neens? say when you were little you had this romantic notion of the person you thought you could be. and though you weren't really paying attention while you grew up, one day you took a step back and found you'd become that person. only, it turns out you don't like that person after all. what if you made a mistake? -and now you're wondering if you can change. can you start all over again? can you?
nina sighs.
- hon, you need to go for a run.
- but it's two a.m.!
- yes, it is. not the best time to weigh nature versus nurture. but here, i was reading about a group of monks who raise dogs, and one of the ways they assess a puppy's natural intelligence is by putting a towel over its head so it can't see, and then calling it. a smart dog will toss the towel off and run to the person calling.
- and?
- and i tried this on chloe. when i called her, she didn't even try to shake off the towel. she ran away from me and straight into the bookshelf with all my nursing textbooks. i think she got a slight concussion. she's walking in circles around the kitchen table.
- what does that mean?
- it means i have a dog as smart as a rock.
- what does it mean for me?
nina's fatigue is a fixed presence now, fingers pressing temples, lines in her forehead.
- i don't know. why don't you ask your Oracle.

so it goes.

Monday, April 14, 2008

at macleod's table

fuck trees and flowers and springtime. i don't like it, o'connor. the cocktail of allergy medicines and jameson i prescribed for myself last night had me sweating through the sheets in a feverish state, and at 2am i was back on the isle of skye, clambering up a grassy dunvegan hillside toward the Duirinish stone. i stopped to look up the hill and the sun dropped suddenly. the standing stone rent into equal halves the blood-orange wafer of the day and loosed a trammel of horses riderless and wild, bearing down and closing in on me and i could only stand and wait to be trampled, but they swept around me in a mass of motion and fury and i smelled the sea. they thundered down the hill to the tiny Duirinish kirkyard, then pulled right and careened toward the loch save one -- the only one with a saddle -- which gracefully cleared the 5ft stone wall, hooves divoting the soft earth. the lone horse moved through the kirkyard, the resting place of 5 chiefs of clan macLeod and their musicians the macCrimmons, until it stopped at one rough-hewn stone, the one with the face completely worn down, and there it paused, shook its mane and in the wind off the hill i heard the sound of distant pipes.

that was when i realised i was tired, hungry and still without a place to sleep. an inexcusable bitch on the best of days, i'm even more so when i'm hungry.

so i returned to the car and ventured into dunvegan in search of accommodations. the Dunvegan Hotel looked promising: plain and unpretentious, with a restaurant and bar and a crush of locals out front. no one at reception so i approached the bar, overseen by a mountain of a woman with a helmet of straight gray hair falling to her waist. she punched buttons on the till with beefy forearms and i thought she was probably no stranger to those horses.

- erm, hello. i'm wondering if you have any rooms available tonight?
without looking up she enquired - for how many?
- one.
- one? - and she looked up and truth be told i have never felt odd or discriminated against traveling as a single woman until brunhilde gave me that hairy eye and made me feel as though i'd just escaped from the home for unwed mothers. granted, i was covered with the filth of a day which included much hiking, running, lashing showers and muddy sheep pastures but christ woman, have ye not seen a thousand weary travelers?
- just one.
- well - she pursed her lips - we don't have any single rooms, so i'd have to charge you for the double.
- and how much is that.
- 60 pounds.
i suppose i didn't comport myself well by squeaking oh that's a bit high for me - but consider i'd just come from bucolic plockton, where i had a gorgeous room overlooking the water for 35 pounds. and compared to the plockton inn, the dunvegan looked like a shithole. if i were to shell out 60 quid for a room here, Derek fucking Dick better be at the foot of my bed singing me to sleep.

after my squeak brunhilde and i had a stare-down. surely she'd have some mercy, or realise there was money to be had here, just not 60 pounds' worth. but she didn't budge and neither did i, 'til ms. nosey pants at the bar piped in.
- there IS the bunkhouse.
i didn't break the stare-down.
- bunkhouse. is that like a hostel?
- yes. it's right next door.
funny. i hadn't seen it.
- like, right next to this hotel?
- aye - she piped cheerily. that red building right alongside.
- sounds perfect - i said with great relief, finally breaking away. sweat was prickling me in places brunhilde would surely disapprove of. but not so fast.
- WE own the bunkhouse - brunhilde pronounced, shooting ms. nosey pants a nasty look for opening her piehole.

so ms. macB and i repaired to reception while ms. macNPs guarded the bar.
- and how much is a bunk?
- 15.50 - she answered - plus a 5 pound key deposit.
- perfect. and how shall i return the key and claim my deposit?
- well, you HAVE to be out by 11. and reception here opens at 8:30 or 9.
- oh - i said with a moue - that's tough, cos, i have to be in portree by 9 so i'll need to leave here not long after 7.
this threw her for a loop, for she uttered that amorphous scots grunt of protest.
- snnrphh. well... i suppose then i would have to trust you... and not charge you... the deposit.
- works for me!
but poor brunhilde was utterly torn by this prospect; i could tell by her face and her halting speech. when he observed "i think it is possible that all scots are illegitimate, scotsman being so mean and scotswomen so generous" edwin muir had obviously not come up against helmet-hair. she thought hard for another minute, her brows furrowed.
- all right. if you come knock at my door tomorrow morning i'll take the key and return your deposit.
- and what time will you be up?
- well before 7. i'm always up with the dog, see.

let it be noted that i rang that bitch's doorbell 9 times the next morning, starting at a scant minute to 7. nine rings, and each time i LEANED on the bell, hard and long with james dean ease, because i could have stood there all day. it was now principle, you see, for as i was packing up the car for my early getaway i saw the Dunvegan Bunks sign i'd missed the night before, the sign with the "house rules" which started with this line: "when booking you will be required to pay 10pounds per person before being issued with your key." not 15.50 plus 5. 10.

the door finally creaked open to reveal her in a plaid housecoat.
- getting an early start are ye then - she warbled, in an attempt at amicability that i saw right through.
- that's right - i said, plucking the wadded 5 pound note from her palm and dropping the key - have a GREAT day - and i bounced right outta there to dunvegan castle where there was wasn't another single soul.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

going to long-course du worlds

LC worlds qualifier
6 april, north carolina
8k run - 53k bike - 8k run

in early april i'm usually emerging from hibernation, dusting off the tri bike and slouching into speedwork. this year the first race of the season was the regional qualifier for long course duathlon worlds this summer. who knows the strange ways of USA Triathlon? not i.

because of the rude beginning to the season, and because i'd like to step up the game this year, i appealed for coaching advice to someone whom i revere as much for his attitude as his storied athletic career. he graciously accepted and under this oracle's direction i have bitched, whined and wept over my top tube; but here it is april and i'm standing at the start of an A race feeling entitled to one of the top 2 slots in my age group that will send me to belgium in august. i feel entitled because i've done my homework and the Oracle and i have a Strategy. we didn't want to change too many things in my first race in 6 months, so the strategy is pretty simple: go hard and don't fuck up the transitions like i usually do.

8k run
the run course is flat and fast, if you're fast. i'm not. i'm safe, content to sit with the lead group of women, none of whom i know because i don't race this far from home. i recognised only 1 name on the pre-reg list -- Stacey R -- who's studly enough to be out of my league and coaches other studs. i peg the woman beside me as stacey based on body type and the fact that she chatters and chirps encouragement through the first half-mile. who talks that much during a race?? someone who's saving something for the bike, i now realise. but anyway.

a chick wearing compression socks that look suspiciously like arm warmers has had enough of the chatter, or maybe wants to win the race, because she shoots up the road at the 2 mile mark. no one else responds, so after a half-mile of indecision i do, and for the rest of the first run i linger in no man's land about 20sec back from her. she runs well, i note, but she doesn't have a cycling ass, so it will be interesting to see what she does on a bike.

into the transition zone... and so much for Strategy. i put my helmet on over the sunglasses on top of my head, i lose my balance trying to kick off my shoes and plant one foot in a puddle and the other in the helmet of the person next to me. i swear every time i enter a TZ i turn into a total moron.

i never thought anyone could have a slower transition than me unless they were maybe a beaver or reclining chair, but i make it outta there before compression-sock chick, and when i mount the bike i'm first F.

53K bike
how do you ride the beginning of a 32mi bike when you're in first place? good thing i don't have to worry about this for long! i'm toodling in my small ring when a tightly compact aero-human in a pointy helmet shoots by me like a bullet train. now SHE has a cycling ass. hmmmm - i strategise - i think it is time for snacks - and i am enjoying a tasty e-gel and accelerade when stacey rips by. let's chase her down! - she yells chirpingly while i gape at her, drooling gel. who talks that much during a race??? people who've got their shit together, maybe, because i don't. i can't get in a groove, the mental jukebox is skipping all over the place, and i've forgotten how to time-trial rolling courses.

i endeavor to keep stacey and aerogirl in sight, but i'm struggling and at mile 16 they're small specks. like insects. i am watching all the insects march along... and then i have my song. my legs feel better -- or maybe we've left the worst of the rollers behind -- and by mile 20 i've gained some ground on aerogirl, but stacey's still way out there. when another woman passes me i use her as motivation to leave aerogirl behind. the woman in front of me wasn't part of the lead group of runners, so unless she was totally dogging the first run i should be able to take her in the second. still, the voice of the Oracle's there telling me every second i make up in the bike is one i don't have to make up in the run, so i'm at her heels coming into transition.

8k run
T2's smoother: the only malfunction i have is trying to put on two left shoes. the Oracle suggested 2 pairs of flats; what he neglected to mention to the moron is that they should not look exactly the same. aerogirl and i leave the TZ at the same time, stacey's 2min up the road with second place 20sec ahead of me. i know second's within reach; i don't know about stacey.

i gain on second slowly and pass her in the first mile. i can't make up time on stacey, though. she's too good, too experienced; and i finish 1:37 back from her, roughly a minute of that lost in transition.

this is going to be easy - said the Oracle afterward. there is no question that you can go A LOT faster.

there is work to be done.
and i am going to belgium.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

countdown to worlds qualifier: 4 days

- where are you going? - D grumped when my watch chimed at 4:10 this morning.
- swimming.
his arm tightened like a boa.
- i thought you were laying off that until your race.
- no, that's *whiskey*. two different things.
- mmm. they're both vices.

'tis true, though -- the hooch is on the shelf 'til sun nite.** last night i knocked out one final hard ride, and between now and sunday's race it's ez street. what is ez street? i'm a grizzled veteran and i still don't know. so i approached the bench.

- I think you should do what you usually do the 3 days leading up to a race (I've changed your routine enough already, I don't want to mess too much with your lead-up to a race). Everything should be easy through race day. What do you usually do in the 3 days before races?
honesty is the best policy with The Oracle.
- what i usually do 3 days before a race is stop drinking whiskey and pray a lot, to a whole host of deities.
- That's a start. Also try doing some (4 to 6) 20 to 30 second pick-ups during your run(s) and 1 min pick ups on your ride(s).

then he gave me a bunch of hot tips for improving my transitions but i won't go into that because you'd be bored senseless and then i'd have to kill you.

- And Finn?
- yessir.
- Get to the race at least half an hour earlier than usual.

PAH. that's just crazy talk.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

animate the trivial days...

was on my way to the pool in the way early pre-dawn when i saw flashing red and blue lights reflecting off a tattoo parlor and adjacent billboard (Boulden heating -- we'll keep you warm this winter). drove by the scene as in a dream: no sirens, no sounds, no activity as far as i could see, just two firetrucks, an ambulance and a paramedic unit. floodlights turned the 5am darkness into harsh noon and set in stark relief the single motorcycle on its side in the middle of the road. you die like you live - said the hospice chaplain at grandmother's service - only harder.

depending on your mood, you might find this piece called Life Before Death featured in the guardian morbid or illuminating or both. says the G:

This sombre series of portraits taken of people before and after they had died is a challenging and poignant study. The work by German photographer Walter Schels and his partner Beate Lakotta, who recorded interviews with the subjects in their final days, reveals much about dying - and living.

i hope your day counts.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

fuck fear, and death, and illness

talked to nina last night. she's finally home from the hospital, where she spent a week and a half in ICU battling a pathogenic strain of streptococcus pyogenes, the same kind of bacterial infection that killed jim henson at 53. she's really weak and she lost a lot of muscle mass in those 10 days.

- it takes me forever to get from the bedroom to the bathroom, and by the time i get back i have to go again.
- that's a pretty extreme way of giving up smoking - i said. she snorted.

- yeah, that won't last long.

- neens... don't you think you should be setting an example for your patients?

- fiiiinnnn - she mocked me - they're the reason i smoke in the first place.

- still. just stay off 'em another week, see if it makes a difference. can you do that?

- can you stop talking to me like i'm 5? so anyway, my sister came to see me the second day i was in ICU. i was sliding in and out of things, but i would overhear the docs talking and i got the gist of what they were saying. when my sister walked in she did a double-take, because she didn't know i was intubated, and she got flustered and started patting me all over. like there were bits of me escaping and she could stop them, you know? then she asked if the doctors knew what was going on and since i couldn't talk i wrote down "s.pyogenes" and "jim henson" on my notepad.
she read the note, and then she said...
nina made a funny sound, like hiccups.

- she said "jim henson. oh."

more hiccups.
- then she said "did he come to see you? is he a friend of yours?"

- she didn't know who jim henson was?

- no. "did he come to see you?" yes, i wanted to say, and kermit was there with ms. piggy and animal the drummer... - nina fell into a fit of hic-ing which i then recognised as laughter which though feeble was welcome and terribly contagious. it was also an enormous release.
- heh heh heh - nina weezed, while i spiraled into a coughing fit.
- i told you not to make me laugh, you big jerk - i whined.

- cos that was really bad for you - she retorted.

a sudden thought occurred to me.

- hey, how's chloe?

- my sister took care of her and brought her back last night. since then she hasn't left my side. she does the bathroom trek and sits there looking at me while i'm on the crapper, and she's there at the side of the bed when i wake up. goddam dog. i think she's waiting for me to die so she can eat me. but, it's about time for another voyage of the good ship lollypoop.
- 'kay. love you neens. i'm glad you're okay.

- you and me both sweets. she hung up.