Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lake Havasu Triathlon - 2010

I competed in the Lake Havasu Triathlon on Saturday for the third year in a row. Two years ago, amidst rough waters, I missed a couple of buoys in the channel, which gave me a really good time for the swim, but also disqualified me. Last year, I managed to become the first person to ever get lost on the run course and ended up running an extra couple of miles and finishing last in my age group. But at least I finished.

I rode out to the race with my brother-in-law Tom and his son, Colin. When we arrived on Friday afternoon, the winds were gusting up to 30 mph. The lake had whitecaps. It didn’t look promising. But Saturday morning, the wind was gone and the water, although cold (about 61 degrees) was smooth. The wind increased later during the race, but overall the race conditions were very good.

This year I went around all the buoys and paced myself for a stronger finish. I was out of the water in less than 28 minutes, which was six minutes faster than the year before.

The bike course is challenging – generally uphill for the first half, with some side trips where the hills are relatively steep. Not hard to scale, just hard to make time on. Then on the return portion there is another side trip with very short, very steep hills. You have to hit those hills hard and gear down quickly to make it over them. I failed on the first mini-hill – had to walk my bike up the last ten yards – but after that I did well on the hills. It was a great feeling to complete that section because the last eight miles of the course is generally downhill with the wind. I finished strong and averaged 18 mph, which was 3 miles per hour faster than last year.

On the run course I felt good, but my right leg started to cramp, when I slowed down to grab a cup of water at the first aid station. I managed to keep running and decided to not disrupt my running rhythm by slowing down for any of the water stations.

I didn’t want to ruin my race by not being able to finish due to a leg cramp. I had hydrated well enough on the bike segment that I didn't have a need for any water on the Run course. I took it easy, running nine minute miles and finished with a time of two hours, fifty-one minutes.

I finished 3rd in my age group (out of six old-age survivors).  Tom finished 3rd in his age group for the Sprint race and Colin finished sixth in his age group (which has a lot more competitors that in the old guys groups).

It was a good race for me. I did a lot of things right, my fitness level was good and I made some nice improvements in both swim and bike. I need to find a drink supplement (maybe salt?) that will help me to avoid cramping on the run.

Next race: Tempe International – May 16, 2010 – Tempe, Arizona

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Disappointed, Not Discouraged

Well, maybe a little discouraged.

One critical component of my plan to become a writer is to attend a professional writer’s workshop each year. In past years I’ve attended workshops at University of Iowa, Tin House (Portland, OR) and Squaw Valley, CA. The Iowa program is open to all, but Tin House and Squaw Valley require a writing sample before they accept you. Last year I applied to the Sewanee Writer’s conference in Tennessee. It’s a great program, several of my writer friends on Zoetrope have attended, but more selective than the other programs I’ve attended. Last year I didn’t get in, so I re-applied to Squaw Valley and had a very productive week.

This year I considered boycotting Sewanee to punish them for denying me admission, but decided to be mature and give them another chance. While I professed to having low expectations, the reality is I never have low expectations. Before a race, I always predict my time and I’ve never once beaten my prediction. (I like to think I’m optimistic not delusional.)

And this year I had so much more to offer Sewanee – more publications, a new improved version of my novel and I had completed over a hundred reviews of other people’s work (on Zoetrope). I was certain the Sewaneeans would recognize the great contribution I could make to their conference. How could they not?

Obviously they found a way. In fact they found it a month faster than they did last year.

This blog is about writing and training for triathlons. While the two endeavors are in many obvious ways different (which is why I like the combination), they are similar in that for me to get better in either one I need professional training (not to be confused with professional help).

I can swim 2,500 yards every day, but I won’t improve significantly without someone to help me with my stroke mechanics. Bootstrapping to improved performance is almost impossible unless you are a very gifted athlete (or writer).

When I go to a Master’s swim class and my time for a hundred is 1:45 and the guy next to me is swimming 1:10 – it’s clear there is great opportunity for improvement. I can hire a swim coach and he or she can videotape my stroke and show me what I’m doing wrong and what I need to change. It’s not easy to make the changes, especially since I have to unlearn decades of bad form, but I can do it. And the improvement is measurable – the times come down. It is so simple. So objective.

Writing is different. I can read “Olive Kitteridge” or “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” (my two most recent Kindle reads) and see that they’re better than anything I’m doing right now. But how are they better? What do I need to work on to make my writing better? I could hire a writing coach, but I believe the conferences are a much better use of my resources. At a conference I usually get some individual help (not much – an editor or writer hired by the conference will usually critique 20 or 30 pages of a manuscript), but I also get exposed to what other writers are doing, hear a variety of craft lectures, listen to good writers read and discuss their work. Out of all that, I always learn something that helps me improve.

It’s not as neat and tidy as having a swimming lesson, but that reflects the nature of the challenge. My dream is to write a great novel (or two). My goal is to simply improve every year. I don’t know if my writing “times” will ever be as good as those novelists whom I love to read. All I can do is keep trying.

So now I need to find a new place to go for my summer writing vacation. I’ve applied to Breadloaf and to the Norman Mailer retreat at Cape Cod, but I’m not optimistic. No – this time I’m really not optimistic.

But it’s not me – it’s them.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Training in Skaneateles - March 1 to March 8

I spent the week at my mom’s home in Skaneateles. Usually that means all I can do is running workouts, but I discovered that the Community Center accepts drops-in for a daily fee, so I was able to swim.

And since the week before Skaneateles got with almost two feet of snow, I was able to supplement my running and swimming with some snow shoveling.

I was weighing only about 180 on my mom’s scales all week and feeling really lean, but when I got back home today and weighed myself I was over 188. So I gained maybe a couple of pounds from less workout s and the constant temptation from the dozen cookies that Mom leaves out on the kitchen counter all the time. The weight gain is Mom’s fault.

I needed to gain a few pounds anyway before I travel to Phoenix to stay with Tom and Carol the week before the Lake Havasu Tri, since my sister doesn’t allow stuff like cookies or ice cream or butter or cheese or even potato chips.

Week Ending:                              2/21       2/28       3/7

Weight                                        186.6     185.0     187.5

Swim                                            2.9          2.8        3.7

Bike                                             4.0          4.8        3.3

Run                                              3.4          3.8        2.9

Yoga/ Pilates                               1.5

Strength                                      1.0           1.0        2.6

Basketball                                                   2.3

Massage                                                     1.0

Total Hours                               12.8         15.7      12.5

Monday: 7 AM – Spin with Heather; Swim drills after spin class;

Tuesday: 6 AM –  Masters swim - 75 minutes; spin bike workout after swim - 135 minutes;

Wednesday:  travel day; shoveled snow 20 minutes;

Thursday: 8 AM – Swim in Community pool; worked on drills - 60 minutes; shoveled pation - 60 minutes;

Friday: 7 AM – Ran - 55 minutes; swam 45 minutes; shoveled snow 45 minutes;

Saturday: 7 AM - Ran - 55 minutes; shoveled snow 45 minutes;

Sunday: 7 AM - Ran - 65 minutes;

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


My daughter Nicole emailed today to remind us that the latest installment of her School of the Art Institute tuition is now due. She's into her fourth year (sort of) and should graduate sometime this year we think. We are happy to pay her tuition because we know some day she will be a famous designer and invite her really cool parents to all of those fashion parties that I've seen on Project Runway.

The item shown above - a Black Metal Crocheted Collar -  is one of her creations that is now available for sale ($275) in her etsy store:  NicoJoy   

She plans to also open a store to sell and display her hats. One of her hat creations is currently on display in a window of the Drake Hotel in Chicago.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Training with Lady Gaga

Craig ramped up my time on the bike this week. My bike workouts right now (when I’m not in Phoenix) are either spinning classes or on the trainer (my bike up on blocks with magnetic resistance to simulate hills). I don't like working out on the trainer. I’m stuck in one place and even with an iPod it gets tedious.

I usually pick the same artists for my iPod playlists: Lyle Lovett, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, the Eagles, Springsteen, Meat Loaf, Queen and Billy Joel. Sometimes Toby Keith if I’m feeling patriotic. But now with the workouts running two and two and a half hours long, I’m getting tired of hearing the same songs over and over again, so this week I went to Amazon and bought used CDs which I could add to my iPod.

I bought a couple of old Garth Brooks and Reba albums for about two dollars a piece and then to expand my musical horizons I bought the original Lady Gaga album. They warned me that the lyrics for several of the songs were “explicit” but so far I’ve haven’t been able to understand enough of the words to be offended. I’ll keep trying. Her stuff was actually the best for the hard sets. Garth and Reba are better for the cool-down.

Week Ending:        2/21            2/28           
Weight                186.6           185.0

Swim                     2.9               2.8
Bike                      4.0               4.8
Run                       3.4               3.8
Yoga/ Pilates         1.5
Strength                1.0               1.0
Basketball                                 2.3
Massage                                   1.0

Total Hours           12.8           15.7

Monday: 7 AM – Spin with Heather; Swim drills after spin class;

Tuesday: 7 AM – Ran on treadmill for 75 minutes; avg 7mph; total distance 8.5 miles;

Wednesday: 7 AM – Spin class with Billie; Strength workout with Nibra after spin class;

Thursday: 6 AM – Master swim class with Heather – 75 minutes;
                  7 PM – Run group at Y – 75 minutes;

Friday: 9 AM – Massage with Arawa – 60 minutes

Saturday: 6 AM – Masters swim class with Heather – 50 minutes;
                7AM – Outside run – 80 minutes; spin class after run (60 minutes);

Sunday: 8 AM – Bike trainer – 150 minutes;
               7 PM – Basketball – 120 minutes;