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American Past Time
A novel by Len Joy

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

His Last Good Week



I am in Skaneateles this week visiting my Mom and preparing for the Skinnyman Triathlon next Saturday. The Skinnyman is a sprint tri: 800 yard swim, 14 mile bike and 5k run. The water temp is around 70, which will be a welcome change from Tuscaloosa.

This will be my first race with my new Guru Tri bike. I have one week to learn how to ride it. I’ve been out a few times and I’m getting a little more comfortable. The bike is fast, but the rider is still too cautious to take full advantage.

Last year I was also out here for this race. My three sisters, Kendra (who is lucky enough to live here all year round), Carol from Phoenix and Christine from Bozeman had come out with their husbands (Don, Tom and Al) so we could all be together to celebrate our Dad’s 91st birthday. The picture at the top of the blog was taken on the day before the race at his birthday celebration. We spared no expense and had Syracuse's famous Dinosaur Barbeque at a picnic table in the garage. Dad loved it.

Last summer my Dad contracted legionnaire’s disease and was hospitalized for several weeks. He finally came home in early July, but it was difficult. He had a host of drop-in nurses and physical therapists as he struggled to regain his health. At his birthday dinner he rallied, buoyed by all of the visitors. The next day he sat with Mom and my sisters at the edge of the driveway and cheered the runners as they ran past. My nephew Colin, my brother-in-law Tom and my son Stephen all took time out from their run to stop and visit with him. Okay I didn’t stop. But actually when I ran by, he had gone back in the garage for something.

It was his last good week. Over the next few weeks he faded. He couldn’t swallow solid food and he continued to get weaker. His body had worn out. He went into short-term nursing care in September and he died in early October.

My Dad would have loved the blog and my race reports. He liked using his computer and back when we had the business I would always send him the business plans that I wrote. Later when I helped clear out his desk I found the file folder where he kept all those plans. He’d made notes in the margins and I know he read them carefully.

Workout: This week I’m trying to get comfortable on the tri bike and trying to push up my cadence on the swim and on the run. I’m doing shorter, more intense workouts and spending more time stretching and working on strengthening my gluts with ten minutes of side-straddles (with the elastic band around my calves) every other day.

Weight – I’m afraid to weigh myself. My Mom loves to buy cookies and donuts. She doesn’t eat them herself, she just offers them to her houseguests (of which I am the only one) several times a day. It would be impolite to turn her down.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Leaving Home



My son is 24 and technically he moved out of the house six years ago (the picture shown here was taken at that time.) But he went to college at U of Chicago and then worked in Chicago for the last two years so he was never far away. Always dropping in to do his laundry.

But right now I am in a Starbucks on 3rd Avenue and 14th Street (they charge for their internet service here) and Stephen is standing in line to get his photo ID. Tomorrow he starts his Chem PhD program at NYU. Five years in New York. I’ve been here about five hours and it’s already wearing me out. But he’s excited. When I was his age I moved from New York to Chicago so there is sort of an odd symmetry going on, I guess.

When my wife Suzanne and I loaded up our van and made the drive to the midwest in the summer of 1974, I expected that after she finished law school we would return home. But we never did. Just visits at Christmas and a week or two in the summer. Chicago became our home. But we didn’t know that then, and that made it easier to settle into a strange place. It was only temporary.

Okay I was about to post the blog when my computer ran out of power. I hadn’t used up my two hours of Starbucks internet, either. So now it’s a day later and I have driven upstate to my Mom’s house in Skaneateles.

Last night Stephen and I went to Lion King. I’m certain we were the only adult father and son group in the place. There was no symbolism involved. I was being magnanimous and let Stephen choose. That was a mistake. Never ask a Chem major to pick the entertainment. The crowd of teenage girls and little kids loved the show, but for us it was a good thirty minute show that they stretched out for 2 hours and forty-four minutes. And both of us were really hungry after all that moving-in exercise. We raced out as soon as the curtain dropped and had large ribeyes at Frankie & Johnny’s Steakhouse.

After the late dinner we took the subway back. My hotel was two stops before Stephen’s apartment. As I got ready to get off he thanked me for driving him out and helping him move in. I told him I was expecting him to take care of Suzanne and me when we got old and he said he would try help when we got old(er), but he wasn’t expecting to make a lot of money so maybe Suzanne should keep working. (I don’t think he’s figuring on my novel becoming a blockbuster bestseller.) I gave him a pat on the back and told him not to work too hard. Then I waved to him as the train pulled out of the station, but he didn’t see me.

It wasn’t that hard to say goodbye. He’s in New York for five years. It’s just temporary. He’ll be back.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Race Day


We got a break on the weather. Saturday morning was clear with temperatures in the 70s to start the day and the humidity was closer to 50% instead of the 90% that it had been all week.

I got up at 4 am, had a light breakfast and made it to the transition area a few minutes after it opened at 5 am. I had my tires pumped, arranged my bike helmet, racing belt, transition Gatorade, running shoes next to my bike and I was ready to go by 6 am. The 55-59 age group was the third wave off at 7:06 am. Some races they let the younger guys go first, which means that the older guys finish the course last. With this approach, while we are getting passed by a lot of the young guys at least everyone is finishing at about the same and as an observer it is nice to be able to see some of the top younger athletes performing.

There were 38 men in my age group/wave. We all got a surprise when we jumped into the Black Warrior River. There was a significant current. I had heard that the river had locks and that they were going to control to water flow so that the current was negligible, but perhaps because of the rain of the last few days, they couldn’t do that. Before the start we had to hold on to the pontoon deck to keep from floating down the river.

The swim course was set up so that we swam west and downstream for about four hundred meters, then across the river about fifty meters and then east, upstream, into the just rising sun for next thousand meters and then back to the shore. It was like swimming in one of those continuous pools that you see advertised in the airplane magazine. Once we made the turn upstream, I was unable to see any of the buoys. The sun was low and reflecting off the water and so I just followed the other swimmers. I hit one of the buoys with my arm, but never saw it until I did so. I was swimming my normal pace, which admittedly is not blistering, but I started to wonder where the hell the yellow turn-to-home buoy was.

Finally I saw it, but as I was making the turn around that buoy I ran into someone. I instinctively stopped swimming for a moment so as not to swim over them and both of my hamstrings cramped. It wasn’t a severe cramp, I just straightened my legs and kicked gently and continued swimming. As I neared the shore my goggles fogged up and with the sun’s reflection I could not see the finish line. Finally I took off my goggles so I could see. The current had pushed me downstream so I adjusted course and swam the remaining hundred yards without my goggles.

I had hoped to finish the swim in 34 to 36 minutes, but I knew it had taken me a lot longer than that. I expected my time to be maybe as bad as 45 minutes. When I looked at my watched I was shocked to see that I had been swimming for 58 minutes.

My legs felt a little crampy and my run to the transition area was slow as I tried to stretch them out. My transition time was just under three minutes. I made sure to take several gulps of Gatorade during the transition. I figured the cramps were due to slight dehydration as I was in the water about twenty minutes longer than normal and the water temp was 83 degrees.

I was, admittedly, discouraged with the awful swim time, but it is sort of like golf where you can’t undo a bad hole, so my new goal was to have a solid bike and run. However I was concerned about the cramping, so I did not gear as aggressively on the bike course as I had planned. On a couple of the steeper hills I dropped down to the small gear in the front so as not to put as much strain on the hamstring. I finished the bike course in about eighty minutes, an average of 20 mph, which was my goal.

However when I dismounted from the bike, both hamstrings cramped. For a moment I was just stuck at the dismount line, unable to move. Finally I was able to straighten my legs out and trotted gingerly back to the bike rack.

I had a lot of trouble getting my shoes on. I kept getting cramps in my quadriceps and hamstrings. It took me a couple of minutes, but I managed to pull them on. My original goal was to run the 10k in about 50 minutes, but my adjusted goal as I left transition was just to make sure I finished. I figured an easy pace of 8:15 to 8:30 was doable. I just needed to maintain a steady pace to avoid the cramps.

I have to say, after all my complaining about the weather, that in the swim and on the bike ride, the temperature was not uncomfortable. As I started the run, the sun was getting intense, but I felt good as I started the run. Then about a half mile out my right hamstring cramped and I had to stop and stretch it out. It took about thirty seconds and when I continued I slowed my pace and tried to will my legs not to cramp. At this point I just wanted to finish still running.

At the first mile aid-station I slowed to take a cup of Gatorade and the change in pace sent my right leg into a severe cramp. I was stuck at the aid station for a three of four minutes unable to get the muscle to relax.

At that point I realized that unless I just walked the course I would not be able to finish the race so I withdrew. A very disappointing conclusion. Nobody likes to post the result: DNF.

I’m glad that I waited a few hours to write the blog. I was real disappointed yesterday. I felt like I'd wasted a lot of time and money and did not perform up to my expectations, which was true. But it was an interesting experience. I had never competed in a national competition. Those other guys are really good, very fit, very experienced. I have a lot of work to become competitive.

The race organization was first class. They did an excellent job with all of the set up, the volunteers were great and there was a really cool jumbotron where they flashed the finishers name and showed them as they crossed the finish line. I would have liked to have seen my name up there, but I couldn’t make it happen this year. I hope to have another chance.

The key for me reaching my goal of becoming a top ten finisher by 2011 is to become a much better swimmer. I’m close to be competitive on the bike, and when my legs aren’t giving me a problem, I am more than competitive on the run. But I’m getting out of the water five to ten to fifteen minutes behind the top finishers in my age group, which is too much.

I think I can do better than that. We’ll see.


Workout: Loading my son’s van so we can drive him to New York tomorrow.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Countdown to Tuscaloosa - Friday



I thought it would be nice to post a picture of someone besides me or Stephen. The woman in the picture is Jennifer Hutchinson who is sports dietician, a USAT Certified Level 3 Elite Coach and a ten time Ironman competitor, including the 2003 and 2007 Ironman World Championship.

This morning I attended a two-hour clinic on “Nutrition Tips to Race Well in the Heat,” which she conducted. The first thing she told us was that those who don’t live year round in a high temp / high humidity climate should ideally arrive about two weeks before the race to become fully acclimated to the high temperature and humidity. But since that is not a practical option for most, she offered many practical suggestions for what to eat and drink on the day before the race and on race day. I won’t try to reproduce all of her suggestions here, although she did have a really cool slide on the various colors of urine and what they all mean in terms of our level of hydration and dehydration.

She recommended that for our pre-race dinner we should eat moderately, avoid roughage like fresh vegetables (something I have always been good at) and to have some carbohydrates. So tonight I went to the Outback Steak House, which I would be happy to have advertise on my blog – very good service and a nice bar – and had a chicken quesadilla and for a little extra carbohydrate I ordered a fancy Belgian wheat beer with an orange slice so that I would get my Vitamin C.

Nine hours from now I’ll be starting the swim.

Workout: Bike – rode the bike course – 12 miles; Run – ten minute run after the bike.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Countdown to Tuscaloosa - Thursday

The USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals are being held in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on Saturday morning. Even though I only barely qualified (two fifth-place finishes in regional qualifiers) I decided it would be good experience for me to compete this year so when I return as a youthful sixty year old in two years, I will know what it’s like to compete in a race where are all of the athletes are very serious competitors.

Triathlons are full of “bumps” – unexpected developments that you have to deal with. The first bump today was when I got to O’Hare, I looked at the board for the gate assignment for my 6:45 AM flight to Birmingham and saw the dreaded word “CANCELLED.” There was a mile long line at the ticket counter so I called United instead of waiting in line and they put me on a 7 AM Delta flight that connected through Atlanta and dropped me off in Birmingham at 11 AM. On both flights I sat by an empty seat, which is my favorite flying companion even though I am a very sociable person. Well, sort of sociable. It was the best United flight I’ve been on this year.

I’ve decided I’m not going to complain about the weather. So I will just make a few observations. It’s really really really hot here. But when I went out running this afternoon I didn’t notice the heat. Why? Because counteracting the heat is a thick wet blanket of humidity. I think it's about 400%. This humidity blanket keeps your brain from getting the message from your body that it is burning up.That’s my theory anyway.

When we registered for the race, the online registrar asked us what we think our finishing time would be. I said two hours fifty minutes, which I could do, if we the weather were, uh, different. Against my better judgment, I looked at the times predicted by the other guys in my age group. Most of them are under 2:30. I might finish last, but I don’t think that will bother me if I run a good race. Not too much anyway.

I picked up my bike that I had shipped here by FED EX because United charges $195 to bring a bike, which is more than my ticket. (I probably am not going to get United to sponsor my blog.) Tomorrow morning I will ride one loop of the bike course. The course is two twelve mile laps so I’ll be able to do an easy ride and still check out the whole course. I’m anxious to try out the new race wheels that I rented for this race.

Workout: Ran for 30 minutes a long the river. Hot and humid.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tom Hebbard

Tom Hebbard died Friday. Tom worked the midnight shift at the Evanston Y. I never knew his last name until I got the noticed that he had died.

I did my first triathlons (sprints) in 2005. That fall I decided I could improve my cycling skills by taking spinning classes at the Y. At that time the Y had four classes that started at 5:45 in the morning. I had never been an early morning athlete. I preferred to workout at the end of the day, but I decided to change my routine. I figured it was “found time” because all I would have been doing at the hour was sleeping. That’s definitely an older person’s mindset, and I can imagine my kids rolling their eyes at the logic.

Four days a week I would show up at the front desk to get a number for the spinning class. Tom was always there. A burly, Vietnam vet with a gravelly voice, a perpetual two-day growth of beard and thick glasses. By the beginning of the third week he knew my name and handed me a spinning number before I asked. He wasn’t Pollyanna cheerful, he was just friendly. He didn’t act like his job was a chore.

He was the first person I would talk to each morning.
It’s a small thing – to remember someone’s name. To offer a pleasant greeting. And during those long winter months when it was ten degrees out and I had to scrape the ice off my windshield and then drive all the way across town, if the first person I met after overcoming all those obstacles had been surly or just indifferent, chances are that more than a few of those days, I’d have just stayed in my warm bed.

Tom made all of us early-bird exercisers feel welcomed. Such a small thing – to remember someone’s name. To offer a friendly greeting. Tom touched a lot of lives. He made a difference. We will miss him every morning.

Weight:
188.5

Workout: Bike: spinning class 50 minutes; Swim: 15 minutes in warm water pool; 10 minutes in cold pool;

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bike Crash!



Fortunately it was my son Stephen that crashed and not me. I know that doesn’t sound very fatherly, but he’s young and strong and durable. And he’s a former high school gymnast who often used his face as a landing pad. He knows how to fall.

After competing in a half-ironman two weeks ago and an international triathlon last week, Stephen decided he could squeeze in one more tri before we carted him off to NYU so he could begin his Phd program in Chemistry. He sighed up for the Pleasant Prairie Sprint Triathlon in Wisconsin that was held yesterday.

As he explained it to us, the first forty two minutes of the race were fine. He did okay on the swim, but had trouble spotting the buoy on the return leg, which cost him some time. He was cruising on the bike. This week he had raised his saddle height by over two centimeters and he figured his speed had increased two to three mph. He doesn’t have an odometer but told me he can calculate the speed in his head based on the mileage markers. He’s a math wizard, but I’m still dubious.

At the eight mile mark there was a 90 degree turn and in the center of the turn three manhole covers. When he hit the covers he lost control of the bike and skidded off the road and into the drainage ditch. The guy behind did the same thing, but avoided the ditch.

He’s a little stiff today and the bruises on his face are much more colorful, but he declined my request for another picture or a reenactment of the crash. We are thankful he wasn’t hurt and it is a good reminder for me as I head off to Tuscaloosa. If I had crashed like that I’d probably be in the hospital now.

Workout: Saturday: 40 mile Bike ride with Start2Finish guys. Sunday: 45 minutes in heated Y pool. The temperature of the pool is about 85 degrees – the sames as the water temp in Tuscaloosa. Not much fun swimming in that water, I’m hopeful it will be more pleasant outside.

Weight: 187.4

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Ride

I was anxious to try out the new bike. I got up as soon as it was light at 6 am. I swapped the pedals from my road bike (the Guru pedals hadn’t arrived yet) and then tried to figure out a way to bungee a water bottle to the frame as my bottle holder was also on order. Nothing worked so I squeezed a bottle into the fanny pack that I usually stuff with my cellphone, wallet and toolkit. I sacrificed the tool kit as I wasn’t planning on having a breakdown, and if I did I would just call Mark and have him take the bike back.

My original plan was to drive to the Green Bay trail head at Lake-Cook road and then take the trail north for 7 or 8 miles and then return. This would give me a chance to get used to the bike handling without having to contend with traffic and stoplights and potholes. But it was a nice morning and it seemed like a waste to drive the ten miles to the trail when I had this fancy new bike, so I decided to ride there.

As I pulled out of my driveway and turned east on Foster Street my first thought was that this is just another bike. I won’t have any trouble adjusting to it. As that thought was forming in my head, I simultaneously move into aero position (because I can think and move at the same time, sometimes.) As I did that, the bike lurched to the right and then as I grabbed for the other aero bar it veered sharply back to the left. I quickly returned my hands to the handlebars and managed to stay upright.

That sort of shook my confidence. I pedaled for five minutes winding my way north and east to Sheridan Road. On the smooth new surface just beyond the Bahai Temple, I ventured back out on to the aerobars again. Carefully this time. The bike handled like a goddamn sports car. The slightest push or pull on the aero bars caused an instant reaction. I got a little more confident. I rode for several blocks at a time in aero-position, but was careful to move back to the handlebars when a vehicle passed me. Even when I wasn’t in aero-position, the bike was much faster than my road bike. The ride was physically comfortable, but mentally challenging.

Mark had warned me that it would handle different from a road bike. It has a short wheelbase, and so when I’m in aero position, I’m practically on top of the front wheel. It can almost literally turn on a dime, even when I don’t want it to. I didn’t have a speedometer on the bike yet, but I would guess I was going 21 to 24 miles mph on the sections of Sheridan where I normally would have been riding 18 to 21. It felt faster.

As I turned off Green Bay Road onto Lake Cook I ran right into the early morning rush-hour of commuters streaming on to I-94. Lake- Cook is busy and bumpy and to get to the trailhead I had to pass over the highway and Skokie Boulevard. As I approached the vortex of I-94 my confidence-meter plummeted. I had images of losing control of the bike right as I crossed the entrance ramp and a stream of angry commuters blasting their horns at me as I dragged my bike out of their way. I remembered those times when I got my foot stuck in the pedal and wondered how much damage I would do to my new bike when that happened. When I got within 100 yards of the entrance ramp, I looked at my watch and I had been riding for an hour. I decided a two hour ride was enough and I turned the bike around and headed back home.

As I road back down Green Bay Road I realized it would be foolhardy for me to try and use the tri bike in the upcoming race. I needed to practice shifting (the shift levers are on the aero-bars which is new for me) and drinking (I was just getting the hang of that on my road bike) and staying in aero position for extended periods.

Too much to learn, too little time.

So for the race I’m going to stick with my road bike and rent race wheels from Mark. But next year, watch out. This bike is fast – I just have to learn how to ride it.

Workout: Swim - 34 minutes open water at South Boulevard Beach and then a 42 minute run along the lakefront. Legs felt good. Ran 90% pace;

Weight: 187.0

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Bike Fitting


I showed up at Mark Payares’ Start2Finish studio at 9 am. He told me it would take about three hours and I thought that was an exaggeration, but it wasn’t.

The first thing he did was measure me. Turns out, after years of claiming to be 6 feet and a half inch, I am actually 6 feet and nine-hundredths of an inch. The years have taken their toll I guess. Or maybe back in high school they didn’t bother with those pesky decimals. I don’t care, as long as I don’t slip below the six foot barrier. Then he measured inseam (34.3”) and torso (27.1”). Then he had me lay on a massage table and checked my leg length. My left leg is slightly longer, but not enough that it should require special adjustments.

Next was an assessment of my flexibility and strength. This assessment involved determining how far he could push a body part until it became uncomfortable and determining how much resistance I could provide when he had me lie on my stomach and try to lift my arms as he held them down. I had average to above-average strength (at least for my age), tight hamstrings, very tight quadriceps and weak gluts.

The flexibility and strength assessment is critical because while it is possible for him to set up my bike for optimal efficiency that set-up might, for example, require a higher saddle position, which will allow the leg at the bottom of the stroke to be more extended, which puts more pressure on the hamstrings. So when he makes his adjustments he has to build in to the calculus the fact that my body might not be ready for the “optimal” set up.

The next step was to custom fit the bike using the Retul™ 3-D motion capture software. Mark had the new Guru™ tri bike set up on his compu-trainer. I got on the bike and he velcroed LED tabs to my body. I was going to describe the process in detail, but I suck at the technical descriptions so I decided to steal the verbiage from Retul’s website. I figured they should know:

Biomechanics are Best Assessed in 3-Dimensional Space

Fit data collected in a traditional 2-dimensional plane (i.e. video based systems) is fairly limited because the fitter can only look at one view at a time and those views stand as independent reference points. In order to make the best fit recommendations, the fitter must realize that the front and side view are actually interdependent reference points. In other words, the front and side view must be viewed simultaneously in 3-D in order to see how all the applicable movements of the body are working together.

Retül uses 3-dimensional views to see just these precise mechanics to be able to see knee extension (from side view) in relation to knee wobble (from front view) in order to make the best decisions on adjustments to the cyclist.


How it Works

Using eight (8) anatomical LED markers strategically placed on the wrist, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle and ball of the foot, the retül sensor gathers information in real time and transmits it to the PC. In real time.


It generates a ton of data. There were fourteen specific charts and thirty different statistics for such things as knee angle extension, knee lateral travel, hip angle open & closed, hip to wrist distance, elbow angle, knee travel, tilt, forearm angle and much more.

One of the key measures that Mark focused on was the knee angle extension. He could tell that I had been riding with a saddle position that was too low. My knee angle extension on my road bike before he adjusted it was 57 degrees. The guidelines for an elite triathlete is for an angle of under 40 degrees. Mark determined, given my flexibility limitations, that he could not make that large of an adjustment in my ride.

On the first test with the Retul my knee angle extension was 53 degrees. Mark raised the saddle height a little over a centimeter and that brought my knee angle extension down to 46 degrees.

Another interesting chart that Retul™ generates is a front view diagram that tracks the movement of the knee. Ideally the knee stays in the same vertical plane throughout the pedal stroke. If it does, the chart will show a solid horizontal line. My chart showed that my left leg tracked close to that goal, but that my right knee “tomahawked.” My chart was a long narrow oval. Basically my right knee splayed as I pedaled. Because my saddle was too low, I think it is possible I made positioning adjustments (leaned to the right slightly?) so that my stronger left leg could more fully extend. That caused my right leg to be even more cramped, which made the knee splay.

When he was done with all of this adjustments, I felt much more comfortable on the Guru™ than I had on my road bike. When he tested me on the compu-trainer I was able to crank out 180 watts – at a simulated 25 mph with a sustainable aerobic effort.

It took almost three hours, but I was pleased with the investment in time and money. My road bike has been refitted so I know it is optimal for my current situation and as I improve my flexibility Mark will make adjustments. And I have a brand new super-fast tri bike that I am anxious to try out. I am hoping that I can make the adjustment from road bike to tri bike so I can use the tri bike in the Tuscaloosa race in ten days.

That’s not much time to get ready.

Tomorrow: My first ride on the tri bike

Workout: Brick - Bike 5 miles ran 1 mile; repeated three times; 1 hour 36 minutes; leg felt okay; made good transitions, hard to get much bike speed because of the route through residential streets;

Weight: 187.4

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Road Bike


When I started competing in triathlons three years ago, I bought a road bike, a Felt F80 model. I’ve had good luck with the bike. My only accidents occurred when I failed to unclip my foot, which happened twice on my five hundred mile bike trip from Columbus, Ohio to Skaneateles, New York. I have matching scars on my elbows as a reminder.

I wanted to have my bike fit checked out before the Tuscaloosa race and I also wanted to check out tri bikes. My plan has been to upgrade to a tri bike for the next racing season. My coach, Craig Strong, recommended that I visit with Mark Payares who runs Start2Finish Studio in Glencoe, Illinois. Start2Finish sells custom and stock bikes from DeRosa™, Guru™ and Elite™ and offers custom fitting using Retul™ 3-D motion capture software. Mark is a licensed physical therapist so he can enhance the fitting process by evaluating an athlete’s strength and flexibility limitations.

My plan was to have Mark check out the set up on my road bike and give me some idea of what kind of tri bike I might want to consider for the future. I knew that most entry level tri bikes cost over two thousand dollars. In my real world business Leonard S. Joy LLC I get paid once a year and not until December, and so far this year I’ve made $120 from my writing, so the prudent thing would be to wait on any big-ticket purchases.

But Mark had this really pretty red bike, a Guru Tri bike, that had been very slightly used and while it retailed for $2,400, Mark offered it to me for $1,200. So I abandoned all fiscal responsibility and bought it. It looked like it was really fast and I had dreams of taking it to Tuscaloosa and racing through that course in 22 mph. Well actually my dreams were more like 24 mph. It’s easy to dream.

Tomorrow: Getting fitted

Workout: Tuesday – Bike 60 minutes; Wednesday: Bike 90 minutes; Run 60 minutes;

Weight: 186.7

Monday, August 10, 2009

Acceptance & Rejection

At first I had labeled this entry Rejection & Acceptance because in both writing and sports there is a lot more “failure” than success. But it is those successes that keep us in the game, so I’m going with the positive slant.

Last week, while I was at Squaw Valley, I had two short pieces accepted for publication. That is an alltime personal best for one week. And in the last thirty days I have had four acceptances. I’d like to think that it was because I’ve reached a new level of competence in my writing, but two of those stories were written over a year ago, but hadn’t found any love until now. Before the flood of acceptances, I had gone over a year without an acceptance.

I keep track of all my submissions via Duotrope. According to my Duotrope Submissions Tracker between February 2006 and August 2009, I submitted
42 different stories to
119 different publications (many stories I rewrote and resubmit two or three times) for total of
352 different submissions of which
14 were accepted for publication. That comes out to a
4.0 % Acceptance rate; A month ago that rate was 2.9 %.

Even though those numbers are low, it’s enough encouragement to keep me going. Just like with the triathlon, I’ve never reached the goal that I set for myself in a race, but I’ve usually been able to take something away from each race that makes me want to race again.

Workout: Today I was fitted for a new bike which I will report on later, but before the fitting I thought it would be good to get in a swim workout. The temperature in Evanston has been in the high 80s, but that doesn’t mean anything to Lake Michigan. The wind can blow the warm water over to Michigan,or Wisconsin I guess, because this morning as I walked to the beach I was met by a guy in a wetsuit who told me he had put his wrist in the water and decided it was too cold.

I thought that was sort of wimpy of him, I mean how cold can the water temp be in the middle of August? Well, pretty goddamn cold. I'm guessing about 62 degrees. I swam about ten yards before and my head felt like it was being pounded by a really cold hammer. I stopped and treaded water for a minute and tried again. I made it a little farther, and I controlled my breathing, didn’t hyperventilate and tried to get my head to accept the cold. But my head refused to cooperate. The rest of my body was okay, cold, but okay, but I was getting a serious headache and decided this was not going to help me get ready for Tuscaloosa with its 84 degree water temp. So I quit after twenty minutes.

Weight: 187.1

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley

I’m home again and despite my best intentions only one blog while I was at the conference. Obviously I’m not one of those world-class bloggers who can key in their stories from their cellphones. It’s too hard for me to do revisions on a cellphone screen and I like to revise a lot.

The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley conducts workshops for poetry, screenwriters and fiction writers each summer. This was their 40th anniversary. There were 122 participants in the fiction workshop and we were divided into ten groups of twelve or thirteen. Each day the workshop groups would read and critique two submitted manuscripts so over the six days everyone’s manuscript was workshopped.

I enjoyed the experience. My workshop had a good mix – six women, seven men; a few fulltime MFAs, several with jobs in writing fields like literature or creative writing teachers or film and music critics. One retired lawyer and a handful of other folks with interesting backgrounds. The ages ranged from mid-twenties to late fifties.

Everyone took the process seriously and gave the manuscripts thorough critiques. I thought the quality of commentary was excellent throughout the week. It's probably not a good idea to workshop something that you think is perfect, because people get tired of praising the work after about ten minutes – and most of the focus is on the problems that readers encountered. I was pleased with the feedback, even though in my case, the manuscript really was perfect. Now I know how to make it even more perfect.

A typical day:

5:00 am- Read the two manuscripts that were going to be workshopped that day because I usually fell asleep reading them the night before. They always looked better in the morning.

6:00 am - Ran along the bike trail for forty minutes. (This was an optional activity. They didn't make us run.)

8:30 am - Walked a mile to the Lodge where the workshops were held (the writers were housed at spacious ski lodge housing throughout the valley.) On a couple of the days I walked in with one of my housemates who had this terrible dilemma of having to decide between two high-powered agents who wanted to represent her.(I would have hated her, but she was really attractive, a genuinely nice person, and obviously extremely talented. Still, two agents, that really does suck. I'd be thrilled to just get a personal rejection from either one of those agents.)

9:00 to Noon - Workshop sessions;

1:00 pm to 4:00 pm – lectures and panel discussions on craft of writing, the role of agents and publishers and other aspects of the Writing business. Interesting stuff, especially when the panelists didn't all agree with each other. Those were the best. We all love conflict, especially in the middle of the afternoon.

4:00 pm – open workshop where some lucky participants (like me) got to read three minutes worth of their writing and then get instant feedback from the group;

5:30 & 8:00 pm – staff readings by a variety of the workshop instructors including Leslie Daniels, Carol Edgarian, Sands Hall, Gregory Spatz, Dorthy Allison, Jason Roberts, Sandra Scofield, Al Young, Alan Cheuse, Lynn Freed, Dagoberto Gilb, Jane Vanderburgh, Lisa Alvarez, Mark Childress, Michale Jaime-Becerra, Ron Carlson, Karen Joy Fowler, Glen David Gold, Rick Wartzman and others that I’m sure I missed.

After that some of the participants would congregate at those houses that had really nice views of the valley and hot tubs so that they could continue to talk about writing stuff. Very dedicated folks.

It was a great experience. This was the second year that I’ve attended. I plan to come back when I can be invited as an distinguished alumni – or maybe as an instructor. That would be cool. Hope I’m not too old for the hot tub by then.

Workout: Last week I ran about 40 minutes every day; Hamstring felt better each day; Today I ran about six miles in 56 minutes. An 85% effort, and no problems. It was almost 90 degrees - so a good simulation of Tuscaloosa weather.

Weight: 186.9 - I broke through the 187 barrier. Probably because I had to pay for my drinks one at a time - that always slows me down. NO cheese and crackers either. Probably a diet lesson here someplace.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Squaw Valley

I am at Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference this week. Wireless is only available in the main lodge so in order to keep up with the blog I have to lug my laptop a mile, which I am happy to do, about every other day I think.

This is a great place to workout, the air is clean and really really dry and there are great paved bike baths. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my bike and the conference schedule is so full that the only time I have to squeeze in a workout is early morning.

I’ve run the last two mornings. Perfect conditions, about sixties degrees, sunny and it is neat to run with the ski slopes rising up on all sides. I am recovering from my dual hamstring strains, and so I have been very careful to stretch before and after and so far I have not pushed any of the runs.

Confidence for the Tuscaloosa race is going to be a big thing. Right now every twitch or minor pain in either of my legs gives me concern and I find myself slowing down, worried that the muscle is going to tear. I know that before the injuries I had those kinds of random pains, and didn’t pay them any mind and that is where I have to get back by the time I race.

But I have time. Today’s run was better than yesterday’s so I am hopeful that I can slowly rebuild confidence.

The conference is great. I’ll report on that tomorrow.

Workouts: Saturday: 30 minute run; Sunday: 55 minute run; Monday: 35 minutes:

Weight: No idea, but I’m sure I have lost many pounds. No serious deserts and no wine and cheese. Just wine and beer and sometimes some more beer for the evening sessions.