Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing is a chain-blog thingy in which writers interview themselves about the book they are working on or which has recently been published. I was invited to participate by Diana Ferraro, the author of “The French Lesson,” which you can read all about here: Diana Ferraro  Or buy here: The French Lesson.

I was happy to accept this invitation as I am a very accomplished self-interviewer. Whenever I go on a long boring run, I imagine I’m being interviewed for some literary award, usually the Pulitzer, because I try to be realistic in my fantasies and the Nobel prize just isn’t going to happen for me.

The only difference is that for this interview the questions have already been selected. But I’ve learned from watching the presidential debates that the question is sort of irrelevant. What’s important is to stay “on message.” I can do that.

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

American Jukebox.

The story covers an era of American history from the 50s through the end of the Viet Nam war. In my original draft each chapter was a song title from a hit song from the year that chapter takes place. For example I have a chapter where one of the characters goes to a draft-lottery party. It takes place in December 1969 and the chapter title was “Heartbreaker.”

Unfortunately, even though in theory titles aren’t copyrighted, the publisher thought they would need to get permission from all of the artists and they didn’t want to do that. But it was fun selecting the titles while I was working on the chapter.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I enjoy sports, watching and playing. I wanted to write a story about what happens to an elite athlete who has a dream of playing in the major leagues but doesn’t quite make it. Life after the cheering stops.

What genre does your book fall under?

Best seller. A literary masterpiece, but commercially accessible.

Perhaps that’s not what they were looking for with that question, but hey, it’s my interview.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

It had been my plan to go the indy route and cast myself in the lead role. But it’s taken me so long to finish the novel that I fear I’m too old now.

Dancer, the lead character ages from 20 to 45 and while I think with dim lighting and a lot of makeup I could pull off the 45 part, I’m afraid twenty is a stretch. Too bad, because there are some good sex scenes that would have been fun to rehearse.

So in my absence I would cast Josh Brolin in the lead.

For the two principal female characters… well, remember when Madonna took a bit part in “A League of their Own”? She was actually pretty good. So I was thinking of having Lady Gaga play the role of Dede, Dancer’s wife. She might be looking for some time off the road.

And for the role of Trudy, who is
the girlfriend of Dancer’s son, Clayton, I would try to get Taylor Swift. Even though she’s a little taller than Trudy, she’s perfect for the role as Trudy is always having her heart broke.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A minor league pitcher hurls a perfect game and loses everything.

Was your book self-published or represented by an agency?

My book will be published sometime in 2013 by Hark! New Era Publishing.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

That’s an odd question. Let me get back to you on that. Do you think Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift will get along?

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

American Jukebox is a family saga that takes place in a small town. It has similarities in that regard to some of the novels of Richard Russo and Tawni O'Dell  (she is one of my favorites).

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Most of my adult life I worked in business – first for a large company and then later I had my own auto parts remanufacturing company. I enjoyed those experiences, but continued to have a dream of one day becoming a writer. Finally in September 2004 I started taking writing classes.

I used to think writers were born not made. And while that may be true for the exceptionally gifted, it turns out writing isn’t all that different from say, tennis or golf. With a lot of training and perseverance it is possible to get better.

I’m tempted to say that I’ve worked hard to become a writer, but the truth is that it’s fun. It’s not hard. But it does take time and patience and sometimes a thick skin to deal with rejection. But those are all skills I had already developed. Try dealing with a buyer from AutoZone if you want to learn what rejection feels like.

I guess I didn’t really answer the question, but it looks like my time is up.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There is a shocking development on page 87 that will change your life.

Well now our time really is up and so I must pass the baton on to Ania Vesenny who used to live in the far corner of Canada on a road called “The Road to Nowhere.” Now she just lives in Halifax. Ania is my best writing buddy. We e-talk almost every day and I know all her deep dark secrets, which I will, of course, never divulge. But read her book. It’s all in there.

She will be blogging from here: ania's blog on December 22.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Santa Claus (almost) 5K Hustle

Yesterday I participated in the Santa Claus Hustle at Soldier Field. Chicago was the first stop on this month-long fundraising event. Other Hustles will be held in Tennessee, Indiana, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin and Texas.

This was a fun event with nearly 8,000 participants, many wearing the Santa hats and beards provided to all entrants, running, strolling and walking along Chicago’s Lakefront and feasting at the “aid” stations that provided cookies and candies.

The most exciting part of the race for me was getting there. I had planned to drive down with my coach, but she had to cancel, so I decided to take the Red Line CTA train as the Roosevelt stop is only a mile from Soldier Field.

I boarded the train at Howard and took a seat in the nearly empty car. As the train departed, a fortyish man, wearing a tattered sweatshirt, baggy jeans with a huge hole just below his butt, and greasy running shoes with no laces, staggered into the car. There were plenty of available seats, but he opted to stand in the aisle. The forward lurch of the train synchronized with his staggers and he maintained a more-or-less upright position.

There are certain rules to follow when riding the CTA: Don’t flash a wad of bills; Don’t eat smelly food; don’t get sucked into playing a shell game with some dude who wanders through your car; and NEVER EVER talk back to obnoxious drunks, especially if they smell like vomit.

Mr. Stagger parked himself in the aisle in front of my row, with his back to me. I turned on my iPod and looked intently out the window, hoping he would move.

After the Jarvis stop, he started to rant. I assumed he still had his back turned to me, so I casually turned in his direction to see who or what had set him off. My assumption was inaccurate and caused me to violate one of the most important rules for riding the CTA: “Never make eye contact.”

He was ranting at me to “not touch his motherfucking stuff.” It didn’t appear to me that he had anything I could have touched, but I gave him my most neutral glance and slowly rotated back to my study of the Chicago landscape.

I waited for the train to reach Loyola, where I hoped he would be swept down the aisle by the influx of fresh passengers. But everyone who entered the car took one look at him and decided to try another car.

Escaping to another car didn’t seem very manly, and I’m an Ironman so I have standards to uphold. But he really smelled bad, so when the train pulled into Bryn Mawr, I bolted for the exit, accelerating into sprint mode – even though I hadn’t properly warmed up – and raced to the front car, which was nearly empty and drunk-free.

Soon that car was filled with other runners on their way to the race, all dressed in their Santa hats. I had left my hat and beard at home, as I’m not really a hat person. Or a beard person.

This time I followed my coach’s instructions, which were basically to not go out too fast, which she patiently explained to me, didn’t mean go out slow, like I did in the last race.

I finished the race in 20:59, which would be a great time for me for a 5K, but I’m afraid that Santa took a shortcut when he set up the course and it probably was more like a 4.7 K instead of a 5K. But who am I to question Santa?

I beat all the guys dressed as reindeer (they were not as fast as those ringers who were dressed as turkeys in last week’s turkey trot) and finished 3rd in my age-group out of 31 Santas.

Clarissa            Heather B. (not the coach)    Len                                  Nikki             Mary

Friday, November 23, 2012

Evanston Flying Turkey 5K - November 22, 2012

Yesterday I ran in the 2nd annual Evanston Flying Turkey 5K.

It was a beautiful sunny day, and while it was a little bit windy, the temperature was close to 60.

My time was 23:45, which was 1:15 slower than the 5K I ran last month in Highland Park. I think it was so cold at that last race, that I ran faster just to get it over with. Yesterday I enjoyed the run more. Also there were 1,900 runners yesterday so a few more obstacles to run around.

I’m sure, given more time, I could come up with better excuses. I did, however, follow Heather’s instructions (she’s my coach; the one on the right in the picture below) to go out slow. I just forgot the part about finishing faster. My mile splits were 7:30, 7:35, 7:32.

I finished 3rd in my age group out of 33 and 238 out of 1,827 finishers.

If I had kept up with Pam and Paul (also pictured below) I would have come closer to my secret goal of 22 minutes.

Paul's son,  Paul Hoban (runner), Pam Rashid (the real runner), Heather Collins (the coach)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Embrace the Race: October 21, 2012

Today I ran in the Embrace the Race 5K in Highland Park. This is the second year of the event, which was committed to raising funds for Breast and Ovarian Cancer research.

While it was a little cold to start the race (about 41 degrees) it was a beautiful fall day, great colors and a fun race. They even had hills.

I have been training with a group of runners coached by Heather Collins. Two of the women in that group also ran in this race, Heather Bublick (on the left) and Nikki Kopelson (center). I think they both ran personal bests.

I had hoped to run under 22 minutes, but my official goal was 22:30 and I ended up running 22:25, a 7:14 pace. My mile splits were 6:52, 7:06, 7:46 (but that last mile had all the hills.)

I finished first in my age group of 60 to Infinity (there weren’t too many in that cohort) and I finished 20th overall out of 150.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Novel So Far - Quitting Time

This is the third (and final) report on my novel progress. My first post was in October 2009. At that time I had been at work on the novel, “American Jukebox,” for three years. It was always an “accidental” novel. I took a course on novel writing at the Graham School and since I didn’t have a novel I borrowed a short story I had written and just kept expanding it.

“American Jukebox,” is the story of a minor-league pitcher, who hurls a perfect game and loses everything. Since 2009 I’ve rewritten it at least three times. With each rewrite it got better, more novel-like, more focused. I had a lot of professional help over the years. I hired an impressive lineup of successful novelists to read and critique my work: Barbara Croft (“Moon’s Crossing”), Patrick Somerville (“The Cradle”), Whitney Otto (“How to Build an American Quilt”), Sands Hall, (“Catching Heaven”), Marita Golden (“After”) and finally this spring, Pamela Erens (“The Understory”). I also had friends like Ania Vesenny, Laura Krause, Joel Altschul and Joyce Armstrong and my novel workshop group (Anny, Jill and Ben) who read all of the versions and offered invaluable feedback and encouragement. They all helped me to become a better writer. I look at them as sort of my ad hoc MFA program.

When I finished American Jukebox again this spring, I knew it was truly finished. It was as good as I could make it. I’m proud of the work and in my heart I believe it “deserves” to be published. But that’s not my call. I’ve queried one hundred literary agents and also submitted the manuscript to a dozen small independent presses. Agents are overwhelmed with submissions and it’s hard to get noticed. Two agents asked to see my manuscript based on my query letter and one publisher who had looked at the earlier version agreed to reconsider the newest version. But it’s been weeks and I’ve haven’t heard from them and that’s usually a pretty good sign they are not interested.

I had planned to self-publish, but I’ve changed my mind. There are a lot of good self-published novels out there (also a lot of not-so-good ones). With Amazon and other programs I could have American Jukebox on the market in a couple of weeks. I like selling and if a publisher had bought my book I would have sold the hell out of it. It would have been fun. But without a seal of approval, I just don’t have the confidence to trump the decisions of the gatekeepers. Hawking my self-published book would take all my time and I need to get back to writing again. Something new. Something better.

It’s not a total loss. I have had four of my chapters published as short stories and one of them one won an Honorable Mention in a writing contest last year. And next month the prologue and opening chapter will be published as a novel excerpt in another online literary magazine (maybe it will be discovered).

I plan to have a couple dozen copies of American Jukebox printed. I want to have one on my shelf to show my grandkids someday. Also I figure it will make a great Christmas gift for all those family friends who read all the earlier versions.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Finger Lakes Triathlon - September 9, 2012

Canandaigua Lake

Today I competed in the Finger Lakes Triathlon in Canandaigua, New York. I grew up in Canandaigua and graduated from Canandaigua Academy in 1969. I didn’t spot any of my old classmates on the course. Finger Lakes runs both a sprint and an intermediate distance (.9 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 6.25 mile run) triathlon simultaneously. I ran in the intermediate distance event. It was another perfect day of weather, with light winds and temperatures in the 60s.

This was the best intermediate distance race I have run. I finished in a time of 2 hours 50 minutes and 1 lousy second. I would have broke 2:50 but there was another runner who was finishing her sprint triathlon just ahead of me and I slowed down instead of racing past her at the finish line.

I was certain I would finish in the top 3. Last year that time would have beaten the 2nd place finisher by ten minutes, but this year there were 3 really good athletes ahead of me. I finished fourth, but I ran a good race so I’m satisfied.

I had a few sighting problems on the swim (they need more buoys!) and that slowed me somewhat. I had a strong bike segment finishing with an average speed of 19.5 miles per hour. There were no mileage markers on the run, so I didn’t know how fast I was running, but I tried to keep up a strong, steady pace and I finished the 5K in 50:32, an 8:08 minutes/mile pace.

This was probably my last race of the season. This year I competed in the 70.3 Ironman in Galveston in April, a half-marathon in Wisconsin in May, the Ironman in Coeur d’Alene in June, the 70.3 Ironman in Benton Harbor, Michigan in August and then last week the sprint triathlon in Skaneateles and now this intermediate distance race in Canandaigua.

With the exception of Galveston, where I suffered from the heat and humidity, I would consider all the races to be successful. I didn’t have top finishes in any except for the Wisconsin Half, but there is a lot of good competitors in my age group, so I just have to get faster (or out last them).

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Skaneateles, NY: Skinnyman Triathlon - September 1, 2012

My wife and I are on a ten day trip to the Finger Lakes area where I grew up. Yesterday I competed in the Skinnyman Sprint Triathlon in Skaneateles, NY. The last time I competed in that event was in 2009 and I am pleased that I cut over 12 minutes off my time, although shortening the bike segment from 15 miles to 11 miles probably had something to do with that improvement.

It was a perfect day for a race – cool temperatures, little wind and a very smooth lake. My goal had been to swim the 800 yards in 16 minutes – a 2 minute per hundred pace and I was done swimming in under 16 minutes but it took me awhile to crawl out of the lake and my official time was 16:19 for a 2:02 pace. The bike course had been cut back because of construction, but it was a great up and down 11 mile sprint and I finished in 34:39 a 19.4 mph pace – 99 seconds short of my 20 mph goal. And then on the 3 mile run I had hoped for an 8 minute pace but finished in 24:44 – forty-four seconds short of my goal.

Overall it was a good race for me and I was hoping those times would be good enough to finish in the top three in the 60-64 age group, but there are a lot of very fit old guys out here and I finished 5th out of 15.

Next week we are on to Canandaigua – where I went to high school – and the Finger Lakes Triathlon. Last year there were only two people in my age group so I have a good shot at third place.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Our daughters had wanted a puppy almost since they could say the word. We put them off for several years with hamsters, but eventually the hamsters, despite impressive procreation, finally died out. So I promised them that when I sold my business, which was based in Arizona we would buy a dog.

In 2001 the engine reman business which I owned with my brother-in-law Tom, was being strangled by our lender. We had a viable business, but they were killing us and I decided the only escape was to sell the company. For six months we negotiated with a competitor and we thought we had a deal but it fell through. The bank was not happy and they attempted to take over the company.

Every day was a gut-wrenching battle to pay suppliers and meet payroll while trying to find a solution before the bank forced us out. It was not the right time to buy a dog, but in a triumph of hope over common sense I agreed to buy a puppy from the next litter of cockapoos that were expected in early September.

To escape the bank’s grasp I put the company in bankruptcy on September 10, 2001. On the next day, the world changed for everyone. It also turned out to be the day that Sammy was born. We brought him home in early November and by January I had found a new financial partner and the company was saved (temporarily).

By 2004 I was out of the business and working out of my home as a consultant / writer. Sammy was my constant companion and I always read the first and second and third drafts of my stories to him. He was a good listener.

Sammy was a really cool dog. He died today after a short illness. Everyone in our family mourns his loss.

The Lion and the Lamb (Sammy's the Lamb)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Steelhead 70.3 Ironman - Results

I competed in the Steelhead70.3 Ironman on Sunday. On the third mile of the run segment I passed Bob Scott. I was actually six minutes ahead of Bob when we came out of the water, and even though he was ten minutes faster than me on the bike, I caught him on the run and never looked back. I finished with a time of six hours, fourteen minutes and twenty-nine seconds. Bob finished in 6:26:38.

In triathlons they mark our ages on the back of our legs. I noticed when I passed Bob that his number was 82. I think I did pretty good given that Bob is obviously much more experienced than me.

It was a perfect day – the water was smooth, the temperatures were in the low 70s with no significant wind. No hills either.

I didn’t achieve my goal of six hours. My swim time for the 1.2 miles was 44 minutes (a little slower than I hoped for), my bike time for the 56 miles was 3 hours (18.6 mph), which was my goal, but my run time was 2 hours 18 minutes, which was thirteen minutes above my goal – a 10:33 pace instead of the hoped for 9:30 pace. No equipment or logistical screw-ups, just didn’t have the energy to push the run as much as I would have liked.

I finished 7th in my age group out of 18. Bob finished first in his age group.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Steelhead 70.3 Ironman - Sunday

A week after I completed the CDA Ironman in June I signed up for the 70.3 Ironman (half the distances) in Benton Harbor, MI.  It seemed like a good idea at the time. I wanted to amortize my long months of training over more than just one race.  So tomorrow I amortize.

I ran this race in 2010 and finished in six hour nine minutes. My goal, as always in these half-Ironmans is to finish in under 6 hours.  So far that hasn't happened because I have usually encountered cramping or fatigue issues on the run. 

My plan is to be out of the water and on the bike in 45 minutes and to be off the bike and on the run by 3:45 (so three hours plus transition time on the bike).  That will leave me with two hours and 15 mintues to finish the run. I should be able to do that. We'll see.  The weather looks great. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Swarovski Design Competition

Christie Joy's lips inspired ring & mouthpiece made with SWAROVSKI GEMSTONES won "Best Interpretation of Theme Luminescence".

My daughter Christie Joy, who will be starting her third year at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design and the second year in her concentration. She will be there two more years. And then... We don't know.  We've enjoyed having her home for the summer (she missed the Olympics).  She'll return to London in September.  Her design work was recognized at the Swarovski Design Competition in May.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Ironman Investment

Mr. Ironman at the start of the bike course

Now that I have successfully completed an Ironman race (see last twelve blog posts), several people have asked me how they too could become Mr. Ironman.  Actually, most people have just acted like I was crazy. I can't really blame them as that was my usual reaction until I decided to try it. I had insisted for years that I would never attempt the race, but I changed my mind last year - figuring I might as well do it while I am still young. 

It does take a significant commitment of time and money so as a public service I have provided the details on my specific experience. 


Time is, of course the biggest component of the investment.  I began official training for the CDA Ironman in early December, so my training period was approximately six months.  I logged an average of 11.4 hours per week of actual workout time.  But that is only a subset of the time commitment. Most of the workouts were at the Y or at the Precision Multisport complex or at remote locations in Michigan or Kentucky. It takes time to prepare for the workouts as well. We need to pack the right clothes, especially during cold weather workouts, and we need to prepare and organize all of our nutritional requirements (electrolyte drinks, vitamin supplements, salt pills, amino acid balancers, etc.). It seemed like every week there was something new that I had to include in my preparation. Stretching before and after was also a requirement. I estimated about 6.7 hours per week were spent on these prep and travel activities.

We also had to log our workouts and schedule the upcoming week of workouts and read articles on training and nutrition and race strategy. I estimate that took about an hour each week.

            Hours/ Week      
 Workout                 11.4
Prep & Travel            6.7
Scheduling                 1.0
Total Hours              19.1

I used to justify the triathlon adventure by telling myself that it was cheaper than other recreational pursuits like golf. But unless I included the cost of playing at some exclusive country club, I am not sure that it really is. I don't think golfers have to spend as much on nutrition. And besides, beer tastes a lot better than gatorade.
The registration fee for the C'oeur d'Alene Ironman was $650. I can see why it would cost at least that much. There were over 3,000 volunteers for the 2,800 athletes and the race ties up the city and many of the major roads north, south, east and west for most of the day. It's a major logistical challenge for any race organizer. We did get a nice backpack as part of our entry fee. 
I was trained by Craig Strong of Precision Multisport. Several of us trained together with Craig for this race. The group workouts helped make the hours pass a little more quickly. And it was comforting to see other seemingly normal people pursuing the same crazy goal. Included in my PM expenses was a four day trip to Kentucky in the spring for a special training camp. 
I paid for the use of a computrainer facility and to participate in a YMCA Master swim program. I also employed a personal trainer at the Y, Nibra White, to help me build core strength.  Total training expenses: $2,099.  
Starting in March I made bimonthly visits to my chiropracter, Tony Breitbach and for a one hour massage with Rachel, who works out of his office.  Tony helped me with various ailments, mostly related to my left knee which had been surgically repaired (ACL) in 1980 and  which started giving me some trouble as I extended my running distances beyond 12 miles.

I also made a couple of visits to my podiatrist, Carle Rollins, who prepared special inserts for my running shoes to relieve soreness on the bottom of my foot. 

Treatment for me was a critical investment. I couldn't have made it to the starting gate without everyone's help. As it was I didn't have any problem with either my knee or foot on the run segment - which was the longest distance I had ever run. Total treatment expenese:  $1,099.

Equipment & Transport
A tri-bike can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000. I got a closeout special a year ago for under two grand. That's not included in my expenses. During training rides, the bottom of my feet started to ache on longer rides and so I decided to replace my five year old bike shoes. That required me to replace my bike pedals and then I had to replace my pedal wrench as the new pedals requred a different kind of wrench. I also bought a new water bottle that provided me with two reservoirs mounted between the aerobars so I didn't have to reach for my bottle (something I'm not very good at).  In addition I bought a new tri-suit and a half-dozen swim goggles, trying to find a pair that didn't fog up too much and didn't leak. My face is not goggle-friendly I guess. Bought a new pair of running shoes too.  Unless we drive to the race, we have to pay to have the bike shipped there. It costs almost as much as a plane ticket.  Total equipment and transport costs: $1,488.

In previous years I had competed in sprint and olympic distance and even a couple of half-Ironman races. I didn't really spend anytime on my nutrition for those races. I would have a couple of bottles of gatorade laced with carbo-pro and that was it.

But I soon learned that I needed to take nutrition seriously. I had to replace some of the calories and remain hydrated as the race was going to take well over half a day. I have a high sweat rate so I started using an electrolyte drink (EFS) that had a much higher concentration of electrolytes than normal sports drinks. And I bought a bunch of different stuff from Hammer Nutrition and the Cliff bar company trying to figure out stuff that worked.  Total nutrition expenses: $644.

Travel Expenses
During our training we made overnight trips to Michigan, Wisconsin and Kentucky. We spent five days in C'oeur d'Alene. Total travel expenses: $3,650. 

Total  Ironman Expenses

Registration                                     $625
Total Training                                 2,099
Total Treatment                              1,099
Total Equipment & Transport          1,488
Total Nutrition                                   644
Total Travel Expenses                     3,650
Total Ironman Expenses                $9,605

I found that because of the substantial time commitment as race day approaches it is hard to be real budget-conscious. I probably had more massages than I absolutely had to have, and I bought extra goggles trying to find that perfect fit, because after all those hours I didn't want to let some little thing derail my whole race. I would guess that a second Ironman race would cost less.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Ironman C'oeur d'Alene - The Race in Pictures (of me)

I sprung for the value pack of photos of the race and I am going to use them everywhere I can.

Here is a photo essay of Ironman CDA featuring one of the competitors who made almost full use of the 17 hours they allow to complete the race.

This is the only photo in which I am not featured. I was way in the back to avoid being swum over by all these folks. It didn't look this bad from my perspective but that was probably because I was looking down at my feet.

Ninety-two minutes after entering the water I emerged, with very cold arms.  The swim was actually sort of fun - like a giant game of water polo. This is probably the fastest I ran all day.

I am about mount the bike and start off on my 112 mile ride. This was a critical moment in my race as I sometimes have trouble getting my leg over the bar and I desperately wanted to avoid face planting in front of the crowd.

This is just one of the hundreds of bikers who passed me on the course.  I was curious as to how far ahead of me this guy finished, but when I went to the athlete tracker I discovered that he didn't finish the bike course.

In the inspirational film the day before the race they reminded us that the only thing we could control was our attitude. So every time I saw a photographer on the course I tried to smile.

This is my wife's favorite picture.  It was taken after the last big hill on the second lap of the course. I can tell because I've removed my arm warmers and I'm too tired to wipe my nose.

I ran most of the marathon with my number covered by my tee shirt. But at mile 25 I remembered that the finish line announcer would want to know who I am, so I made the number visible even though it ruined the fashion look I was trying to achieve. 

At mile 16 they made me put on that glow stick that is wrapped around my neck because the sun had set. 

Mr. Ironman

A few minutes after this picture was taken the adrenalin-effect wore off and I could barely walk.  That condition only lasted a couple of days.  

It was a great experience.  Maybe I'll do it again someday.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

C'oeur d'Alene Ironman - The Morning After

                                          Len, Amy and Fernando BEFORE the race

I was really sore the morning after, so I delayed this report until the morning after the morning after. I feel much better today, but I try to avoid stairs. Or hills.

It was a great race. The weather was perfect: cool and cloudy on the swim and bike and sun and shade (and later moonlight) on the run. The crowds were very encouraging and they had 3,000 volunteers (for 2,800 competitors) to help us get through the day.

On the Friday before the race they had a mandatory athlete’s meeting to go over rules and provide information on the course. They also showed a video on the Ironman experience. I think it was targeted to those of us who were doing our first (only?) Ironman and to give us a mindset for approaching the race. Instead of focusing on the premier elite runners they emphasized the everyday athletes crossing the finish line in the dark, with supportive crowds cheering them on.

The tagline for the segment was “The only part of the race that you can control is your attitude.” I reminded myself of that many times during the event and it really did help.


It was a cool and cloudy morning. 2,700 competitors can really fill up a beach. I stayed at the back of the pack as we waded into the water figuring that there would be fewer people trying to swim over the top of me that way. But there were swimmers everywhere for the first mile. At least it was easy to follow the course (see positive attitude).

I finished the first lap (1.2 miles) in 43 minutes. The waves picked up on the second lap, but it was far less crowded and I was certain I swam that lap faster, but the current might have held me back as I got out of the water in 92 minutes. My “goal” had been to complete the swim in 90 minutes so I felt pretty good about that segment.

I had a sleeveless wetsuit and my arms were a little cold on the second lap and I started to worry that I might have some hypothermia issue if I got too cold, but then I thought about my friend Aurora Gore who swam the English channel w/o a wetsuit in 50 degree temperatures and decided I didn’t have anything to worry about.


My training mates Amy Shelly and Pam Rashid (along with my coach Craig Strong) constantly harangued (counseled?) me about taking in enough fluids and calories on the bike segment so that I didn’t get cramped up and dehydrated like I had in Galveston and Kentucky earlier in the year. I followed their advice and the weather cooperated by being cool so I didn’t sweat as much. But as a result I ended up stopping at three of the aid stations to use their port-a-johns and usually there was a line, so that cost me about two hours. Okay maybe more like ten minutes. And to be honest, I was glad to stop especially after some of those really really long hills.

We had a great view of the lake and the surrounding mountains, which I tried to appreciate. They looked a lot better to me on the downhill portions.

My goal on the bike had been to finish with fresh legs. I had figured I could do that and average 17 t o18 mph, but I ended up with an average speed of about 15 mph for the 112 miles. I was happy to get off the bike and pleased that I made it through the segment without any mishap like a dreaded flat tire. (I’m not too good at changing tires. The last one I had, Amy changed for me because I was taking too long.)


I had not realized they would have changing tents for us. That was a big plus as it allowed me to switch into running shorts and a comfortable running shirt. I felt good on the run. Well as good as was possible after that bike ride. Maybe I just felt good to be off the bike. My goal on the run was to run the whole course. And I did. It was a very slow pace (12:30 minutes per mile) but it was a run. I only walked through the aid stations. The crowds on the run were great. It really helped to have people encouraging us.


A great experience. Hearing the announcer say “Len Joy you are an Ironman!” was thrilling. I finished without tripping or stumbling and I think I might have been smiling. I felt good. And I think I could have run another ten or twenty feet maybe. My time was 15 hours and 17 minutes. I thought I would be finishing around 14 hours but I didn’t really have any idea as I had never run all these distances separately or together. I was very pleased with my performance and proud of all my training partners who were completing their first Ironman: Amy Shelley, Pam Rashid, Mo Schultz, Paul Hoban and Alicia Riggs. We all finished. Our coach Craig Strong of PM did a great job of getting us ready.

I am really glad it’s over. This morning I woke up at 4:30 AM and then I turned over and went back to sleep. That was fun.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ironman C'oeur d'Alene - The Training is Over

Well almost over. The Ironman C'ouer d'Alene will be held Sunday June 24 so these next few days will involve travel, registration and checking out the course. The serious workouts are over – at least for me.

I started training with Craig Strong and Precision Multisport  at the beginning of December – 28 weeks ago. There are about ten of us who have trained with PM for Coeur d’Alene. The training program includes a combination of group and individual workouts.

The group workouts have been a big plus as this endeavor doesn’t seem quite as insane if you have company. And the challenge of trying to keep up with the group has forced me to train harder than I would have. Our group workouts included a training camp weekend in Kentucky and weekend trips to Wisconsin and Michigan so we could experience something we don’t have in Illinois – hills.

I kept a blog to record all my workouts as I thought I might write a book someday about the experience. Here are a few factoids from that training data:

• I weighed 190 pounds when I started training and this morning I weighed 186. But now that I’ve had breakfast and lunch I’m probably back up to 190. This isn’t a good regimen for weight loss. You have to eat too much to survive.

• My functional threshold power measured (FTP) increased from 188 watts to 251 watts;

• Over the 28 weeks I trained for a total of 320 hours – an average of 11.4 hours per week.

• I swam 66 miles – 2.3 miles per week – which is 98% of the Ironman swim (2.4 miles)

• I biked (including spin classes) – 2,464 miles – 88 miles per week – 79% of the bike (112 miles)

• I ran 422 miles – 15 miles per week – 58% of the run Ironman distance (26 miles)

Triathlons are great for data crunchers. There are so many things you can analyze. When I’m running I often spend a lot of mental energy trying to imagine my time for the race. I’m always a great deal faster in my imagination. For this race I have two predictions:

1. I will start the swim shortly after 7 A.M. (I won’t be in the front lines.)

2. I will finish the race before midnight. (after that they turn out the lights, I think.)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Father's Day: "Where Your Treasure Is There Will Your Heart Be Also"

Ken Joy (1917 - 2008)

Fred Sawada (1916 - 2002)

On a spring day in 1970, a Japanese-American girl sends a frisbee whirling across the university quad...


Shinsaku Sawada came to America in 1918 and settled in Seattle with his wife and three children. In 1928 he lost his wife to tuberculosis. His eldest son George, writing to his father in 1943:

…you told us she’d gone away. That we mustn’t cry. You smiled at us, but not from the heart. How sad you looked when you thought we were safely tucked in bed, and your pretenses dropped like a heavy load.

Shinsaku built his tailoring business and saved for his children’s education. Again from his son’s letter:

Then came the depression and overnight we were poor. Your business and the college fund were lost. I wanted to leave school and go to work...

“No,” you said with quiet doggedness. “You shall continue your education.”

George had graduated from the University of Washington and his younger brother Fred was a private in the U.S. Army, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

We were sent to relocation centers. I could not understand why you attempted to restore my faith in the government which had denied you the right of citizenship... I did not realize the love you bore for this country, made more dear because here it was that mother had been laid to rest: “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”

Wisely you said, “This is your sacrifice, accept it and you will no longer be bitter.”

On the 5th of July, 1943 Sergeant George Katsuya Sawada was killed by a sniper while serving as a Medic in the 442 Regiment in Italy.

Fred Sawada idolized his older brother. George was studious while Fred was hardheaded, impetuous and fearless. Wounded on five separate occasions, the following is from his citation for the Silver Star:

While moving through a sparse vineyard Sawada motioned his comrades to stop. As the enemy prepared to take up positions, Sawada opened fire… the enemy patrol of seven men was killed or wounded.

Fred made it home and married his high school girlfriend Susanne Matsumura. They raised two children, Suzanne, who became a corporate attorney, and Stephen, a noted cardiologist.

Stephen Joy and Lillian Mackey were married in 1910. They lived on a small farm in upstate New York. By the time their third child, Kenneth, was born, they knew that rocky farm would condemn them to a life of poverty. They gambled and bought a one hundred fifty acre farm – on contract.

Ken’s first memory is his bedroom filling up with smoke on a chilly October night. The farmhouse was on fire. Neighbors rushed to help. Big Clifford Hunt jumped down from the burning roof, pumped his heart out when it looked to all like it was hopeless. They saved the farm and the world Ken came to know was much different than it might have been.

Ken finished high school, with no plans for college until a teacher named Leonard Palmer showed him how he could work his way through Cornell. He was the first member of his family to get a degree. While waiting on tables he met a teaching student named Jean Burr and fell in love.

During the war, Ken became a pilot and his job was to fly home the wounded. In August 1944, he took off from the island of Kawajalien headed for California with forty-four wounded servicemen.

At one thousand feet the plane rolled sharply to the left. Joy tried to right the plane, but the bulky C-54 continued its sickening roll, spiraling towards the ocean. From out of nowhere, flight engineer Harry Hilinski, raced to the flight deck and opened the hydraulic valve. The plane leveled off, and Joy, his crew and the forty-four soldiers were saved.

He returned home, married Jean Burr, and together they raised four children.

One of them was me.


On a spring day in 1970, a Japanese-American girl sends a frisbee whirling across the university quad, and as she lets it fly, Suzanne Sawada yells to me, “Len! Catch it,” which I do, amazed that she knows my name. We were married three years later and last December our three children took us out to dinner to celebrate our 38th anniversary.


Shinsaku Sawada, a sophisticated, educated man, traveled halfway around the world to build a home for his family. Fred Sawada, inspired by his father’s grace and his brother’s sacrifice, fought bravely for his comrades and his country and returned home to become a devout Christian and a devoted husband and father.

Stephen Joy had an eighth grade education and never traveled more than fifty miles from his farm, but gambled everything he had to give his family a better opportunity. Ken Joy took that opportunity and flew all around the world. A leader in his community and his company, he was always there when his family needed him.

What I have learned from these fathers is that what endures is not our possessions our or careers or even our reputations, because in time those will all fade away. How we live our life, the good things we do – the acts of kindness and the sacrifices, large and small – for our family, our friends and even for complete strangers, those things will live on in ways we cannot imagine.


June 7, 2012

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Wisconsin Marathon & Half - Marathon - May 5, 2012

Today I ran in my third Wisconsin Half-Marathon in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The weather was perfect – 50 degrees and drizzly with a slight wind. A big relief after running the hills of Kentucky last week where it was over 80 degrees and humid.

I finished first in my age group with a time of 1:50:54, but most of the really good older runners compete in the Marathon, instead of the Half-Marathon.  Last year my time was 1:48:00.

I’ve been training for the Ironman in C’oeur d’Alene, Idaho next month, so this race was a nice break from the longer distance workouts we’ve had recently. I haven’t trained for this distance (13.1 miles), but I was still hopeful I would beat last year’s time. But I didn’t.

I ran a good race. Kept a steady pace and finished strong, just not fast enough. And for the first time I actually ran the second half of the race faster than the first. At the finish I felt like I could have run farther, I just couldn’t seem to run faster. I’m losing my higher gears.

Next race is the CDA Ironman.  Fifty one days to go. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Humbled in Galveston

I think I should stop making these pre-race predictions. Or maybe I should come up with my prediction and then add 45 minutes to it, just to be safe.

I finished the Hermann Memorial Herman 70.3 Ironman on Galveston Island yesterday. Barely. I had a decent swim and while I was 10 minutes short of my bike goal, I had a good ride averaging over 20 mph on the final 28 miles. And this was actually my first outdoor ride of the season, so I am not displeased with that result. But on the run segment, I faltered. In the first mile I got a hamstring cramp, but I was able to walk it out and keep going. At that point I still felt like I had a chance to break 6 hours for the first time, but I simply ran out of gas.

It was warm, around 76 degrees and the humidity was over 80 percent. Today, a day after the race, I weigh 183, down from a pre-race weight (after 3 IHOP breakfasts) of about 190. So that tells me despite all my hydration efforts, I got too dehydrated on the bike. I need to look at my race nutrition.

This is the worst run time I've ever recorded. Overall I finished 11th in my age group of old guys, out of 28. I've have a lot of work to do before C'oeur d'Alene.

Galveston - Actual41:321:585:192:58:3918.84:292:48:4012:526:38:39
Galveston - Goal40:001:544:302:48:0020.04:302:04:309:305:41:30

On the plus side, Amy Shelly and Pam Gould-Rashid, who are part of the group that is being trained by Craig Strong (Precision Multisport) for the C'oeur d'Alene Ironman also competed at Galveston. They were nice enough to wait for me to finish and later we had recovery Margaritas.

Pam - Amy - Len

Friday, March 30, 2012

Memorial Herman Ironman 70.3 – Galveston Island – April 1, 2012

For the last six months I have been training for the C'oeur d'Alene Ironman in Idaho on June 24, 2012. I decided I would try a half-ironman when I was about half through my training program so I signed up for the Memorial Herman Ironman 70.3 (half the distance of an Ironman) in Galveston.

I am here in Galveston now and have registered and checked out the course for Sunday's race. In theory this is a fast course: saltwater swim in a Bayou, and a flat bike ride that is just a straight shot out Galveston Island and back. The run is three loops, which helps in pacing. I am hopeful of doing much better than on my last 70.3 race at Steelhead in 2010. However, it is a windy course – most likely it will be a crosswind, but wind never helps. And there is that saltwater. I'm not excited about that, but I'll try not to drink too much of it.

Here are my predictions / goal for this race.

Steelhead 201039:212:034:422:59:2618.74:142:21:4610:506:09:29
Galveston 2012 - Goal40:002:044:302:48:0020.04:302:04:309:305:41:30

I actually believe I should do a lot better than this, but I've never beaten any of my predictions, so I'm trying to be more conservative this time. I have trained hard this winter, especially on the bike. I know I am in good shape for this race. We'll see.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Novel so Far - 2 years later

In October 2009 I reported in this blog about my three year effort to write my novel, "American Jukebox." The novel chronicles the life of a minor league baseball player whose life unravels after he fails to make it to the major leagues. Told against the backdrop of America’s postwar challenges from Little Rock to Viet Nam, it is a story of how youthful decisions, made in haste, can reverberate through the decades, and affect the lives of everyone we love.

I am now well into my fifth rewrite. I know it sounds almost sisyphean to continue to work on the same project for years, but it is a good novel and I think I am getting close. 

Meanwhile, during fallow periods I have continued to write short fiction and in the last few months I've had a number of stories published: 

The Girl from Yesterday    was published by Specter Magazine in January. This story was a chapter in an earlier version of AMERICAN JUKEBOX.

The Bump  - Journal of Compressed Creative Arts

Nina's Song  - Absinthe Revival

This Train Makes all the Stops  - Washington Pastime

The Toll Collector  - Boston Literary Magazine

4 A. M. - Eunoia Review

Links to these stories are provided in the table of my published stories at the bottom of the blog.