Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dream to Dream

Kiana is not exactly a morning person… Okay she’s whatever the opposite of a morning person is. For such a happy kid she’s rather cranky and hard to get up. It’s usually some bout of “dad… why do you wake me up so early…?” Her faces in the morning, I’ve captured a few and if she ever starts dating those will be made into gigantic posters to put all over the house… In fact I set the alarm to snooze not to wake me up but to go back and check if she’s gotten up. A couple of days ago she made my day start with a bigger smile than usual when upon asking why she hadn’t gotten up, she said, “Well I had to finish a good dream.” While I tried to direct her that the best dreams were the ones you pursued after breakfast, I hope she never loses the attitude of pursuing dreams.

There are many different theories as to why we dream… some are more mystical or magical than others. The one I subscribe to is that it’s simply and somehow beautifully a psychological phenomenon that it is how the brain incorporates that day’s events into long term memory, a fact fairly confirmed that if you wake up people during dreams they are less likely to hold onto that day’s memories. People ask whether it’s my short term or long term memory that’s damaged… while there are some specific things like auditory memory damaged, the biggest issue is that there are some memories that never stay… which make me wonder how much of my own life I’m missing. With that said… well, daydreaming or night dreaming is a pretty good way to make memories.

It is why I’ve written this blog from the starter… because of hearing of someone else who lost memories through brain damage and well… if I have to hear this story from someone else, I want to hear it from me. Is this story, this blog true? I don’t know but it is what I remember. Or as someone perhaps more eloquently put it the past is just a story we tell ourselves.

But I’m still grateful Kiana dreams excellently after breakfast as well… She had one of riding her bike to school and that was fulfilled. And it is that idea of trying to echo living from dream to dream that I love. The line comes from a song that, by my current approach, got it wrong:

One day I'll fly away
Leave your love to yesterday
What more can your love do for me
When will love be through with me
Why live life from dream to dream
And dread the day
When dreaming ends

The day where dreaming ends will come... I won't stop for death as Emily Dickinson wrote but it will kindly stop for me. Death comes for certain… while there are those of us who believe in eternal life or karma, those things are at best unknown. I like to believe that they exist at some level… the first person who rode in my car was someone who was leaving the emergency room after an ambulance ride. Still haven’t taken anyone on a date in my car but if and when that comes I imagine it’ll feel pretty special. It’ll be one of those moments that are deep enough to dream in a million colors I have never seen.

I just got back from Tennessee where I had the chance to speak to CAUSE graduates. While I forget what the acronym stands for, it’s a program put together by Chattanooga state college where at risk high school students are selected to be working on being the first in their family to graduate from college and are getting college credit while in high school. This was the speech that intimidated me the most for a variety of reasons. High school students don’t/shouldn’t feign politeness (is this a good or bad thing about growing up?). This was actually the first time I’d gotten to travel to just speak to a crowd that was neither cancer or athletically related and the first time I spoke to high schooler. They just wanted me to talk about grit and endurance and keeping going. I said some of the things from the previous speeches but also told them past stories like when I took my brother out to eat after he graduated from high school to a classy restaurant called Hooters and lectured him for an hour and a half. I’m not sure either of us remember much of what I said but it seemed like not much more than “don’t drink and drive and safe sex.” I told them about how instead of the freshmen 15, I’d put on 35 showing I’d misunderstood what it took to be better rounded out in college. And I stole a line from a book, Supersurvivors that’s coming out next week in which I’m mentioned (http://publishersweekly.com/978-0-06-226785-6?fb_action_ids=10152483639038969&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%7B%2210152483639038969%22%3A692170544177616%7D&action_type_map=%7B%2210152483639038969%22%3A%22og.likes%22%7D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D). The line I stole (I’d say borrowed but they got no credit) was that when life knocks you down, you shouldn’t bounce back but rather bounce forward.

There have been many reasons I feel privileged to get to go on trips to races and speaking events. It’s honestly beyond my wildest dreams that I’d ever be mentioned in a book much less expected to have anything to share to people running a race or  graduating from a program. It’s been a crazy ride and I never thought it would last this long and when it ends it ends but boy what a privilege. But… after the cancer thing happened and the divorce was finalized… I made a list of dreams and speaking at programs wasn't on that list. There were the smaller ones of achieving certain time goals in running (I’ve hit almost all of them, most of them more than once). There were some in regards to Kiana specifically but there was one about relationships in general about working on the ones you want to keep. And that was actually my favorite part of Tennessee and some of these other trips. Because there were people who flew in, drove in, came in to Texas and Duke when this all started to be there during hard times… And once I started to get my head more level and less emotional, I made a list of them and just tried to say to myself, we will hang out again, where cancer is less relevant. And the dreaming has continued to come true. Meals, card games, silliness where we see each other here down the road. While all my exes live in Texas, in Tennessee, the first night I was there I got to hang out and a meal with Gil, a friend from high school, Juliette a friend from College and Eric a friend from the Marshall Islands. I’ve gotten to have meals in San Diego with Keith and Shannon, in Sacramento with Steve, in San Francisco with Nicole, in Colorado with Leandro, New York with Alycia and all over Texas with friends here. I wish I could fund and take them all on trips… but somehow just having regular friendship time where it’s like old times in the new times. These are as good as my dreams gets. I get to return to California for a Spartan in two weeks and I’m excited about that but the two trips after that are to DC in July and Portland in August and those are with Kiana. Those are always the best trips. I thanked Amie James who let me into the marathon that has turned into all this and well… I often joke that I’m the richest broke man I know and that even with my memory problems, there isn’t a day I forget that. But the reason it matters to me, the biggest reasons is that Gil the last time we had sat and talked to each other was me after brain surgery. And he asked honestly if I remembered much of his stay with me at Duke and I really don’t. But this time in his home in Tennessee we were talking about his ski trips, and about our high school bell choir trips where I made fun of him because he played the little bells while I played the manly base bells (did I just admit in a public blog I was in a bell choice?!?).

Similar to those trips… some day to day dreams still come true most days. There are days where Kiana picks out square socks for me cause she’s wearing a dress with circles… the days where she decides to give me butterfly kisses since my Spartan cut has butterfly stiches… the days where for 5 de Mayo she dresses up in what grandma gave her… those dreams are sweeter than the headline or tv shows I’ve been mentioned in.

So while on the days I’m frustrated with my memory problems… (and in simple honest truth, if and when the time comes for all dreams to end I’ll both be heartbroken and relieved at some level), on days I wonder if things like taking Dulcinea to her chapel are anything more than quixotic impossible dreams…, well, I think everyone dreads the day when dreaming ends… but to me the question should be why not life life from dream to dream? I’m going to bed now… hopefully it’s a good dream while I’m out and a better one that I wake up to. And like Kiana wished, I hope I focus to finish the good dreams. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hitting the Wall

In running, we have a term called hitting the wall. It is when you've maxed yourself so far out that you can't seem to get yourself to go anywhere near your capacity. I don't know where the term started from but while I've hit the wall in road race, it means a whole other thing when I get to do a Spartan race.
I hadn't done one since the championship in Vermont but I was definitely trying to be a little better prepared. I rarely do trail running so I tried to do that a few more times. Once I started subscribing to the Spartan work out of the day, every time I did one it reminded me that I do/don't have upper body muscles. Still, I was determined to be better prepared and more aggressive than I had ever done it before. There were friends and family there this time around that I knew a lot better and that helped. Unlike the first time, I had awareness of the rules and some clue about the obstacles.

Unlike road races where I preprogram playlists... I have no clue how the spartan is going to playout so I just put it on random. Which is exactly how the Spartan plays out for me. Which terrain is going to be what at which point, which obstacle is coming period much less when. And while it didn't apply to the elite heat (there may be events I belong with the elites but I question why that's the one I sign up for in the Spartan), there was even a new thing called the gamble where you had to choose obstacle. Of all the songs to be playing for pre race warm up on shuffle, I got Frank Sinatra's all the way. In my ever cheesy mind, I modified it Spartanly...

Taller than the tall rope climb
That's how it's gonna feel
Deeper than the murky sea
That's how deep it goes if it's real
Who knows where the road will lead us
Only a fool would say
But if you let me Spartan
It's no good unless you spartan all the way

If nothing else it helped me start the race with a smile on my face and we were off. The guy in the lead took off like there was no tomorrow and less than half a mile into it, I didn't see him again and I'm not sure anyone else did. But I hung out further ahead with the pack than I ever had since the first chunk was not much more than running.

In marathons, the wall usually comes late in the game. In the Spartan less than a mile into it there was a wall to climb under, there was a wall to jump over, there was a wall to crawl through. There would be other obstacles like barbed wire... which I took more aggressively than I ever had and my legs and ankles reflect it (chicks dig scars right? And the first thing they check out about you is whether or not you have a really cool one near your ankle right? someone please tell me this was worth it :)...). There was a place where your legs were tied together and you had to hop up and down a hill. There were sandbags to carry, balance logs to walk across, lakes to swim across, gigantic atlas balls to figure out how to grip and carry. Yet the wall was what felt the most prevalent. Later there would be a taller 8 foot wall to jump over (let's just say that on that one I had more conviction than I realized and landed in a way that makes it unlikely that I'll have any more children). There would be an inverse wall to climb over using mostly just your upper body. There would be a balance beam wall to climb across and ring a bell if you'd managed to not fall off. There would be a muddy 45 degree angle wall to climb with a rope after you'd gone under an underwater wall...

Still, when the Super was all said and done, I had hit many walls but hit them all with conviction and success, it was the first time ever I'd not missed an obstacle. And while comparing this is not quite the same as comparing road races, it was the fastest I'd ever done a Super spartan and the highest I'd ever placed (27th in the elite heat, 23rd in the males which as the Spartan culture likes to say means I got chicked 4 times). 

I would chat with some "pure runners" afterwards who it was the first time they signed up. One guy was literally much faster than me. To give you an idea, the pace I can keep for one mile is just barely sub 5 when on a good day when going out with full conviction, he can do it for a 5k and has broken 15 minute 5ks. He was amazed at how different and hard it was and like me he had been inspired by a post Spartan once put up, if at first you do succeed, try something harder. As we finished, in his first one, he had come in behind me because of burpees and missed obstacles. 

But when it was all said and done, there were people ahead of me and behind me. The walls were all still standing but I'd hit them with enough conviction to where all of me was too. Or should I say I was aroo?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Till You Tri It

An old college friend used to say to me about some questionable habits of his, "hey don't knock it till you try it... you don't have to try it but don't knock it till then." It's an attitude I've definitely adopted since then... while I'll try most things, I try to take the philosophy of not being too critical or too praising of things I have little to no experience with.

That was one of many thoughts going through my head the night before the rookie triathlon. I was trying the same routines I do before all races, laying out my gear to make sure I didn't forget anything... wow that's a lot of stuff... what if I get something wrong? I'm horrible at tying my shoes, usually triple knotting them for running and now I'm relying on being able to pull something tight. I've never run or biked without socks. Wait, I've never done a swim race, wait I've never even done a bike race, all of those were just rides! Are these nerves, excitement, how am I going to relax enough to get to sleep? Oh yeah, they don't allow music in the events, what am I going to think about the entire time?

Usually for races, I get there as late as reasonably possible because while the atmosphere of pre race excites me, it also builds up nerves so I put off but at the triathlon I got there pretty early for many reasons. (I am easily amused at the way people try to be inappropriate, so a bumper sticker about a threesome made me smile). And the smile helped the nerves calm down to set up my transitional spot. Luckily my friend Julian was there giving me some guidance on how to do that to make the transition as smooth as possible. There were bikes on the "rookie" racks that were way nicer than some of the ones on the veteran bikes (there were also some basic ones, some fixed gear ones (a term I learned), some mountain ones). For a guy whose spent most of his last two years with cycling as his primary form of transportation due to the biking restriction, I've not paid that much attention to bikes since I got mine used. I noticed for the first time how there were triathlon bikes where the gear shifts were at the end of a long extension so you can shift while being the most wind efficient and apparently where you sit a little in a bit of different position so that your legs are more prepared for running. Anyway, I put down my bike, the helmet, the glasses in one area and the running shoes and the running bib in another. (There's a lot more rules in triathlons than in road races, running is stay on the course; triathlons, transitions happen here, you can't get on the bike till here, you have to be off by here, this is how you have to pass, have to wear a swim cap, your bib has to show during the run etc)

The start is a staggered start between the open division (the really fast people), the veterans division (3 or more triathlons) and the rookie division of the rookie triathlon with the men and the women starting in different waves. .300 meter swim... when I first heard about it, not being much of a swimmer, I thought well 300 meters can't be that much. I can run that in under a minute... But wait I can't walk on water so much less run on it. There were people there who were like me, just wearing normal shorts or bikinis (no I wasn't wearing a bikini). But people with a little more experienced in swimming were wearing things specialized in it from very little swimsuits to full bodysuits (it was an interesting experience to watch people take those off as they ran or to laydown in a spot after the swim and see volunteers taking their bodysuits off... giving a whole new definition to people tearing off your clothes).

Finally when it was time to start... I got in the water. People had warned me that I'd probably get slapped by people who were swimming by, not to let it bug me. It happened a few times in the first little bit with me ignoring most of it until one guy incidentally caught his finger in my shorts and pulled them down for just a split second (and he hadn't even asked for my number!). I was amazed as I tried to look up efficiently to not get lost towards the turn at how quickly some of these guys glided while mostly I was thinking, don't die, don't die, don't die oh yeah breathe. While it felt like forever swimming is not my thing but as soon as it was done, I was relieved and while most of my wave was jogging or walking up to transition I ran pretty hard.

The transition to the bike was fairly smooth and seeing the bucket Kiana had made for me got smiling again after the swim. Then the cycling started in and out of the wind, up and down hills, I pedaled the fastest I ever had. There was a certain beauty to being a bad swimmer... not a beauty to being a bad swimmer but the result that came from it... On the bike ride from very early on, I was passing people getting the instructions of saying "on the left," "on the left" right as often as I had the breath for it (on certain uphills, I imagine it was questionable to many people including myself whether it had been said out loud). In the end, on the bike, I got passed by only one person with about a half mile to go who was within eyesight as we both went into transition and I left it before he did.

The run was supposed to be easy for me... It was my forte but they weren't kidding that the legs feel funny going right into it after a bike ride. I had aimed for a sub six pace on the run but when I looked down at my watch when I thought I was pumping it I was at 6:15 and I was just getting started. I decided to stop looking at it and to just give it what I had. I'd see a few more people I had to pass along the route to keep moving up and so something had to be working.

When I got to the end of it, there were friends and cute girls cheering for me. It wasn't the most tired I've ever been after an event by far but it was a very different feeling all around. I'd watch some more people finish. The results would eventually come and I'd realize just how bad of a swimmer I was. There were people who had beaten me by over more than a minute per 100 meters of swimming... I know it's not quite the same but even world class olympians would only beat me by a few seconds in 100 meters of running so I felt spanked even more metaphorically than I had in the lake.

In the end when the results were posted, I had come in 57 minutes and change. I had come in 114th on the swim, 5th on the bike and 1st on the run (my pace would end up being 5:38 there). This would result in me getting 2nd overall out of the rookies and 1st in my age group. If I have to be a rookie, it's nice to take a rookie trophy home. The next day I was surprisingly sore both upper body and lower body. My friend who said don't knock it till you try it was right. While I'd never knocked this threesome of swimming, running and biking but I had a lot of fun tri-ing it out.