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American Past Time
A novel by Len Joy

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time


Skidmore College


For the last three days I’ve been living at Skidmore College in one of their “lightly” air conditioned dormitory rooms. I’m a participant in a Masters Class in Fiction, which is part of the New York State Summer Writers Institute. When the program ends next Friday (the 9th) I’ll drive the two hundred miles back to my mom’s house in Skaneateles. Then on Sunday the 11th I’ll travel to Geneva, New York and compete in the Musselman Half-Ironman Triathlon. This will be my first half-Ironman.

When I got the acceptance to Skidmore last April, signing up for Musslman seemed like a really clever way to schedule my time. I was already out here for the conference, why not try that race?

My coach thinks I will be okay for this race as long as I swim straight (which I didn’t do in my last race), but it’s his job to be optimistic. They have good athletic facilities here and yesterday I swam a mile in the pool (the half-Ironman swim is 1.2 miles). Today I was supposed to do a strength building bike ride, but after weaving through the streets of Saratoga for half an hour and finding nothing but traffic and traffic lights, I gave up and returned to campus. I guess it might have been a good idea to find a map or maybe even ask someone for directions. I’ll have to think about that.

My workshop leader this week is Joseph O’Neill. He introduced himself and told the class he’s never attended a writer’s conference or participated in a workshop. But his latest novel, "Netherland" won the Pen/Faulkner award so we all figured he probably had something to offer us aspiring writers.

In a workshop (this one has fifteen people) everyone submits about thirty pages of writing and each day two or three of these excerpts are critiqued by the class. It’s a good group, lots of diversity of backgrounds and experiences. Their feedback should be helpful. So far the stories have been a pleasure to read and comment on.

I also signed up for Skidmore’s manuscript consultation program, so a month ago I submitted the first 150 pages of the novel I’m working on to be read and critiqued by one of the Institute’s fellows. Today I got her feedback on what she had read.

The consultation process is a little bit like doing a twenty mile run through the hills on a hot and humid day. On the day of the race it should pay dividends, but it’s not a really fun experience.

I just hope that there is a “race day” in my writing future. It’s a long slog.


Mile 8 - Musselman Half-Ironman

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Race Against Hate


Ricky Byrdsong


On July 2, 1999 Ricky Byrdsong, the former coach of the Northwestern University Men’s basketball team, was shot and killed while walking with two of his children a half-block from our home. His murderer was a white supremacist who had randomly decided to drive through our neighborhood. After a weeklong spree of shooting violence in which he killed a Korean-American student and wounded several Orthodox Jews and three black men, the neo-nazi took his own life.

His widow, Sherialyn established The Ricky Brydsong Foundation with the mission to “arrest the growing epidemic of hate in violence in our society by and against our youth.” One of the first events that the foundation sponsored was the Race Against Hate, which was started in 2000.

In 1978 I tore my ACL playing basketball. I had the knee surgically repaired, but it was never the same and I was unable to play basketball at the level that I had before the injury. I decided that if I couldn’t play basketball I would become a competitive runner. I’m not sure why I made that decision, but from 1980 to 1986 I “trained” for five and six mile races. My goal was to finish a race at a pace that was under 6 minutes. In July 1986 I ran in the Corporate Challenge along Lake Michigan and finished the 5K in 18:46. That was a pace of 6:02 and I decided that was close enough. We had a two year old by then and more kids expected.

When I learned that there was going to be a race in Ricky’s memory I decided to enter even though I hadn’t run a race in fourteen years. I didn’t train and was out late the night before drinking with some friends. The race morning was hot and humid and I finished in 23:28 (7:37 pace). I was in agony for the final mile.

But that race spurred me to try running again and the next year I finished 2nd in my age group. Three years later I started training for triathlons and by 2005 my time was down to 21:12.

Last year they added a 10K race and I decided that would be a better race for me. I finished with a time of 49:15 in 2009 and yesterday I ran the course in 48:48 – a 7:52 pace. Fourth in my age group out of 23.

This is my favorite race. I guess because it has created something positive out of something evil.

Ricky Byrdsong’s death was senseless and heartbreaking in its randomness. Events like The Race are small measures by which we as a community can fight back against the hatred.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Searching for the Silver Lining



About mile twenty of the bike segment of the Keuka Lake Triathlon the clouds returned and it started to rain. For an instant I sort of hoped it would start lightning and the race would be canceled. That’s a terrible admission, but as a writer I’m trying to be more honest. The moment passed and my wishing didn’t bring any lightning. In fact the sky cleared up so it could be hot and humid for the run segment.

I had a terrible race. I got off-track on the swim, which is really hard to do, but I almost missed a buoy and had to swim several hundred yards to get back on course. The swim took me ten minutes longer than I expected and I had gone out fast, intent on not ending the race with too much left in the tank. That was the only goal I accomplished as I was whipped by the time I got on the bike and it took me longer to recover on that segment which hurt my time and when I got off the bike I had nothing left. My run time was the poorest I’ve ever had. A combination of expending so much energy on the swim and bike compounded by the difficulty of trying to push the run when I know the race has already been ruined by the first segment.

It’s like having a triple bogey on the first hole. I’m supposed to forget about it and move on, but I never was able to do that on the golf course either. All through the bike and run I kept coming back to the swim and how I screwed it up. I can’t even blame the weather. It rained hard before and after the race, but not during the time I was on the course. The water was perfect, 70 degrees and smooth as glass. Lots of volunteers who did a great job, too. I can’t come up with any good excuses.

Anyway it’s over and my next race is the Musselman Half-Ironman in Geneva, NY on July 11, 2010. This will be my first attempt at a Half-Ironman. I will be at the Masters Fiction Class of the New York State Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore College from June 28th to July 9th so it is going to be a challenge for me to prepare for that race. My goal will be to finish in good form (meaning I don’t walk to the finish line) – it will more of a training exercise. And I’m going to really study the swim course in advance so I don’t get lost.

I hate to post these numbers, but here are the official results:

                     2009 Actual           2010 Actual
Event            Time      Pace          Time    Pace
------------    ------- -------       ------ -------

Swim:             34:31     2:07         39:13     2:37
Transition:        2:20                       2:29
Bike:              83:02  18.75 mph  86:39    17.3 mph
Transition:        1:42                       1:50
Run:               50:40    8:06          55:18     8:55
                 ----------               ---------
Total          2:52:15                    3:05:29

Age Group Place: 5th                 6th (out of 7)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Keuka Lake Triathlon - June 6, 2010




I drove to my mom’s house in Skaneateles, NY on Tuesday for the Keuka Lake Triathlon this Sunday. Took me 11 hours 37 minutes for the 670 mile trip (including 27 minutes for three stops along the way). This beat my last year time by over 30 minutes. I’m hoping for a similar improvement in the race.


I’ve had some minor difficulties this week. I managed to lose the little magnet that goes on my bike wheel to measure speed and distance traveled so I won’t have that feedback during the race. Not a big deal. I know the course and I’m going to push it as hard as I can, so it doesn’t really matter what the speedometer says.

A bigger potential problem has been a pinched nerve in my neck/back which I got while biking in Wisconsin last weekend. There were some challenging hills and I had to work hard to get up and over them and my neck muscles have pinched the nerves. Usually the dull pain goes away in a few hours but this has persisted. I found a physical therapist in Skaneateles and have had two treatments. The therapist gave me a series of stretching exercises that should eventually fix the problem (I hope). It’s an annoyance, but it doesn’t bother me on the swim or run and while there is some pain on the bike segment, there are so many other pains (legs, lungs, hands) that I don’t really notice it. It won’t affect my race day performance.

I think I will have a good race and I expect an improvement over last year’s time. I have more endurance this year, my swimming is more skilled (and the water temp is in the 60s instead of the 50s), and I have new race wheels that are much faster than my old wheels.

The key for me is to use more of my energy. A triathlete is like a hybrid car. We are constantly depleting our battery and then recharging it, but with each successive recharge (active recovery) we don’t completely restore/recover a hundred percent. A common mistake of younger triathletes is to go out too fast and use up all the battery power so there’s nothing left. That can make for a really long gruesome race or a failure to finish.

I have the opposite problem. I’m too cautious. I keep too much in reserve because I put a big premium on finishing the race. I don’t push as hard as I should. That’s been especially true on the swim – as the consequences of running out of gas in the middle of the lake are more critical than on a bike or run trail.

I have had personal best times in my two races this year and in both races I finished with more than adequate reserves – my battery was still probably 50% charged. I need to see if I can use up more of my reserves and finish with the battery almost empty.

It’s easier to say than to do, but I’m going to try. Here is I how did last year and my goal for this race:

                      2009 Actual               2010 Goal

Event              Time    Pace              Time     Pace
------------    ------- -------            ------ -------
Swim:               34:31   2:07             33:00    2:01
Transition:          2:20                         1:45
Bike:                83:02  18.75 mph      77:00   19.5 mph
Transition:          1:42                          1:45
Run:                 50:40   8:06              50:00     8:00
                    ----------                   ---------
Total              2:52:15                      2:43:30

Age group place:    5th                            3rd