Nashvegas Triathlon, Pt. 2 The Bike

This is Part 2 of my Nashvegas Triathlon experience, the bike.  The intro is the last paragraph of Part One, the Swim, which can be found here.

My bare feet glided down the slick pavement. The rain continued and I was suddenly freezing. I couldn’t believe God would put me through this and scurried to the bike transition in a daze.  I ran up to my row and looked down for my distinct white towel, but it was gone.  What the fuck?  I ran back and forth like a kid protecting his lunch money and completely lost my mind for the third time of the day.  Part of my strategy was minimalist and fast transitions.  Shoes . . . socks . . . helmet . . . gone.  But the only thing gone, was my bike.

Of course it was there and I retraced my steps and saw the lonely vessel crying in the rain along with my soaking wet shoes and socks.  Damn!  Why didn’t I think of that one? Not that it mattered. I made the split second decision to bike without socks.  I never thought about it ahead of time but it was clearly the right decision.  As I ran my bike out of its pen, I saw my screaming fan base and heard Heidi shout, “Wow, that was fast.” Maybe I was in a time warp.  Transition one – 1:45. Not too bad.

As I pulled away in the rain, my thought instantly transferred to the run.  I would be running sockless for the first time.  Then I thought about the pelting rain and how much this whole race was sucking balls at the moment.  I turned out of the park and headed for the Ashland City hills with the perfect competitive attitude.  Alone on a bike, soaking wet after a miserable swim, I yelled, “Fuck it!” and was instantly unstoppable.

One of my sure-fire strategies is to get mad at the world, David versus Goliath style, and embrace the obstacles.  In this case I knew the rain would fuck with people’s heads, make them cold and take away their edge, but mine was only sharpened.

While most triathletes ride with clipped pedals, I wore cages.  It is a distinct disadvantage that I used for motivation.

I took my time as I glided down Highway 12 on the flat section of the course. I passed several bikers, but kept myself in check for the long ride.  I drove the course the day before and knew that while the course was 25 miles, the last five were down hill.  I turned it into a 20 mile ride.

The first 10 were cake, but when the Olympic course turned of, the hills loomed. The first challenge was a steady two mile climb that started around mile 12. It weaved through the back roads of Ashland City and eventually dropped us into a makeshift sub-division that looked (and felt) like a disturbing place to spend your life.

With a 10K lurking, I didn’t want to burn the legs. I spun low gears and climbed at a moderate clip.  The rain lightened, but the roads were like oil.  I channeled Tour de France riders while imagining throngs of hungry fans grabbing for a taste of me.  Unfortunately the Ashland City populous had other plans that morning, though I did see one guy mowing his lawn and a couple dogs.

I always find the trust factor impressive at these races. At one point the bike course turned down a lonely country road and spun around about 200 feet from a true scene out of Deliverance.  I saw it the day before when I missed the turn.  It was a home so disheveled that I was afraid to approach the driveway for fear of staring at a shotgun.  I mean this place was literally covered in shit that nobody on earth would want, except this guy.  Just garbage and filth everywhere.  Broken windows, car parts, fallen trees, I mean, I can’t even explain it and I was going to take a picture, but figured that was a bad idea as well and got the hell out of there.

But back to the honesty. There was a simple cone in the middle of this road and it was the turn around point.  The cone sat in solitude and I could have easily swerved inside the mark to cut a couple feet off, or for that matter turned around in the middle of the block.  No one was there, and I assumed it was because of Deliverance guy.

I felt good and kept spinning my way back to town. I guessed there were 8 miles left and the last five would be like a bobsled course.  I kicked it in gear, pounding my way through the curves like Lance on ‘roids before I was rudely interrupted by a line of pick-up trucks waiting to turn onto “my” course.  I swerved around the gaggle of trucks and was oddly happy to see a cop waving me through to the main road, where more cars were waiting to make my blast down the mountain a nightmare.

Cars and more cars.  All going shopping or whatever cars do on Saturday morning in Ashland City.  They had no idea there was a race going on and I felt it was my duty to let them know.

I took over the lane as I saw the crest of the hill and prepared to scream downward.  I flew past a couple bikers sipping water and hammered the biggest gears.  I went to my lower grip and attacked the wet and windy road at 30 mph.  Speed picked up and I nearly lost it when my palm slipped off the wet handle bars.  One more mile to go and I didn’t let up, until . . . I saw the traffic.

Who were these people flooding the streets at 9:30 Saturday morning.  McDonalds, Walmart, Walgreens, all sucking the life out of people who moved to Ashland City to get away from such filth, but now they were trapped.  Lifelong country folk losing their roots to corporate America.  But worse, I had to negotiate through this mess.

At the bottom of the hill, another friendly officer waved me to the left.  Back onto the main road for a white knuckle battle with hundreds of shoppers, all clueless to the biggest race of my life.  I bobbed and weaved to safety then leaked down the right hand shoulder of the road with literally a foot between me and car mirrors.  No support, no signs, no friendly cops.  I thought I was lost and battled traffic like a New York bike courier with nothing to deliver except a fading dream.

My thin tire hugged the edge of the slick black top and I turned sideways to squeeze by the last pick-up blocking my way to glory.  I turned right and peddled down the exit street, drenched, cold, and convinced I laid down a good ride.  Official time was 1:20:35, nearly 20 mph.

Ironman Wisconsin, the World Series, and Weirdos

It is very clear, excessive drinking on your birthday can impact the pace of blog posts.  The good news is . . . my brain has been fried, so you haven’t missed much (with the exception of a few really good naps).

It all started Friday when I met about 12 friends at Pomodoro East for a few Yazoo Pale Ales and some food.  It was a great hang and the Fab Five made a complete showing, which was great because I like to re-enforce my omnipresent age and wisdom growth at events such as my birthday parties.

After that, it was on to Village Pub, where, like Cheers, they all know my name, but have decided to stop serving my beer because I was training so much I hardly went in there anymore.  True story!  So, went to my back up, Guiness and, just for kicks, ran their keg dry.

Saturday, I watched the World Series with, a big time Nashville power broker, and my ongoing disbelief of clueless big league hitters.  First it was the Yankees, now the Tigers.  Proof that pitching and defense wins pennants.  It reminded me of a baseball rule that I would like to see changed.  Mr. Selig, listen up.

I see all these batters wearing excessive padding on their elbows, ankles, chest, wrists, nipples, or whatever, and I have a problem with it because it takes some of the fear out of batting, which is a huge part of the game, but for years we’ve let guys like Barry Bonds wear a fucking bullet proof pad on his lead arm and dive into pitches without thinking twice.  (It would be akin to me swimming the Ironman with the security of a rubber ducky float).  My point here is IF you are going to let them wear battle armor when they are in the batter’s box, make them wear it on the bases, too.  It’s a legit request and Major League Baseball should start it next season.

Yesterday was my first run since the Sasquatch Trot two weeks ago.  As you know I tweaked the knee a bit and have been spending a lot of time humping my foam roller.  Our relationship was a little rocky at first, but I’ve learned to appreciate her on a new level and trust her to make me a more relaxed runner, and better lover.

Okay, anyway, let’s get back to Ironman’s for a minute.  Last night, I came home and tuned in my DVR’d version of Kona!  I didn’t watch it all, just got a little taste and man, did it fire me up.  If you get a chance, do yourself a favor and look up Kona Swim Start.  It is literally insane, in all the ways insane is good.

And of course that inspired me to swim tonight, and and I’m going to leave it at this, but there are some weird mother fuckers around YMCA’s.  After my brush with bizarro, I watched over my shoulder on route to the pool.  I picked the lane closest to the wall and repeatedly swam into it on purpose as practice my bodily contact for Wisconsin.  I know what you’re saying, “Who’s the weirdo here?”

Oh, and I just found this clip of Ironman Wisconsin, which is pretty bad ass.

Crushing Birthdays

I know you are all likely waiting for an in-depth story about my birthday celebration, so I promise to make that happen sometime today.  But for now, imagine high flying strippers and extreme excess on every level.  Then, back it down a little and you’re probably getting in the ballpark.  

What I can say is the Fab 5 made another appearance and we discovered a bunch of storylines that promise to keep this journey interesting.  I’ll get serious about this post after the Badgers beat up on Sparty!  

Iron Ego

I often wonder why I signed up to do Ironman Wisconsin.  It’s a huge physical and fiscal commitment that will take a ton of time and dedication but when I’m done . . . I walk away with a medal, t-shirt and the right to tattoo the Ironman logo on my right ass cheek.

Sometimes I wonder if this is a big ego trip that will make me feel like someone I’m not.  But the truth is, I believe this process will bring me closer to who I am.

Life can suck juice out of the best plans.  I mean, is it really natural for humans to sit in a classroom 7 hours a day until they are 22 years old, or in my case 30?  Then tackle a career by sitting at a desk 8 hours a day until you’re too old to move?  To top it all off, we spend the time that’s left on a couch or a rocking chair before hitting early bird supper.

I know I’m generalizing, but sometimes I walk around the office and look at dozens of people spending half their waking lives gazing at a computer screen.  And I can’t talk because I do the same thing, but frankly, that is some weird shit!

For me, the Ironman represents a quest to re-discover the purest form of my humanity.  It’s motivation that forces me to move, and along the way I anticipate dozens of side benefits–including some super tasty physiological treats.

But, there is definitely ego.  Or, at the very least, a need to rekindle a life of competition that faded away.  I played competitive sports most of my life and truly miss the high of winning.  But winning, when it comes to an Ironman or any kind of individual endurance sport, rarely means first place.

Winning is giving an honest effort to be your best and that is far more than clipping a few seconds off a stopwatch.  It’s about being healthy, clear, happy, honest, and releasing the person that’s been tied down in the corner.

And it’s hard when you invest this much in yourself because you have to evolve.  It takes patience and courage to leave the chair behind.  There must be movement, and when you move, it can seem like you’re running away from who you are.  But, for me, moving is simply re-discovering the best man inside and hanging out with him more often.

New Ironman Training Plan

Tonight was a roller coaster.  Not one of those blow your doors off rides like the Top Thrill Dragster, but rather one of those rusty rails you put the kids on in the back yard.

I nestled in for Game 7 between the Giants and the Cardinals and it was basically over by the time I got four slices into my Pizzereal.*  And yes, I’m still eating pizza and drinking beer and nibbling on donuts at work, but I think what you came for, is to hear how a seemingly innocent night transformed my Ironman training strategy.

My initial blog post was meant to zero-in on the parallels between baseball and triathlons, but I kinda felt like ass earlier and didn’t write.  Then I drank a bunch of water, mixed some OJ with seltzer, and pounded one Advil before kicking back to read “You Are An Ironman” –which only made me want to do something else.

I threw the book back into its idle pile and went to the basement for pushups, curls, and  core work.  About 15 minutes in, I started feeling great and craved a run.  But, as we know, my knee has been killing me, so I decided to try some light running in place and DAMN, I think I’m onto something.

I flashed back to my Pop Warner football days when we ran in place while coach Farr slapped us upside the head and yelled “Hit the deck!” for push-ups.  I played in the lightweight division but was the biggest kid on the team, so naturally they put me on the offensive line to wreak havoc with my 94 pound frame.

I wanted to be a receiver, but whenever I complained, coach would scream, “We need you on that line, Tarrolly!”  Fuck me.  Okay.

Our team was called the Rams and coaches handed out little ram helmet stickers for good plays, but lineman swag was limited.  I had 3 lonely rams and our star receiver’s helmet looked like a damn homecoming float.

Anyway, I’m running in place tonight (suppressing bad memories of my lineman days) and feeling like this new discovery could be a huge key in my training plan.  I turned at just the right angle so the lamp cast a huge shadow of my post-modern 94-pound-frame and took short quick Jack Lalanne steps which transported me to training ecstacy.

And now, because I am a serial mind changer, I am seriously thinking about going old-school Ironman training.  Push ups, sit ups, running in place, tree climbing, and hay bale dead lifts.  So if you see me army crawling in Shelby Park just wave and plan on meeting me later for Ovaltine.

* This is the first time I noticed it was actually Pizzereal with an “e” instead of Pizzareal with an ”a” so I apologize for previous misleading posts.  

The Fab Five Plus One

So here we were again.  Sitting around a table at Calypso Cafe talking about how awesome we are, but this time, our coach was on hand to keep us in check.

Kevin showed up with a big smile and belly full of beer.  Daniel had paint on his face and looked mildly like a warrior.  Jim sat across from me wearing shades indoors while reading the menu.  Mark was late from his rock climbing class and I sported my new mustache.  If nothing else, the Fab Five make for an interesting story.

Just to give you an idea of how these guys operate, here’s a workout summary from today:
Mark – P90x, 16 mile run, rock climbing
Jim – P90x, 16 mile run, antiquing
Daniel – P90x, 5K Color Run for the ladies
Kevin – A solid 6 hour training day that included at least two bars and 3-4 bar stool changes
Mike – Winterized the pool, ran over to neighbors

I think our new coach, Robbie, was intrigued by the challenge that sat around him plowing down Caribbean food and defending their training strategies.

“By the time training starts in January, you should be able to swim 2,000 yards,” said the coach as we all shook our heads with mouthfuls of beans.

He went on to say, “I’m big on bike training.”

“Mmmhhmm…” chomp chomp.

“Any questions?”

Kevin chimed in, “Yeah, is it possible to overtrain?”

“Absolutely, it’s better to be undertrained than overtrained.”

I stared in Mark’s direction, just to make sure he heard that.

“What???” he asked.


Coach gave us a few inside angles on how to handle Ironman Wisconsin.  He also confirmed the rumor that during the swim dead bodies have been known to float to the surface with all the commotion.  This, of course creeps everyone out, but I have something else at stake.  That dead body could be someone I know!  Maybe that long lost buddy from high school who went ice fishing only never to be seen again.  There’s nothing like bumping into an old/dead friend in Lake Monona to freak you into a record swim time.

Robbie suggested we take a road trip next summer to get familiar with the bike course, which was greeted with clinking bottles of beer.  “Here here, road trip!”  I volunteered the family cabin in Lake Geneva and flashed back to the legendary bachelor parties I have thrown in my mom’s favorite place on earth.  If we do end up getting a stripper this time, it will likely be low key and she’ll have to be done with her show by 8 so we can go to bed.

The evening ended with a promise to do our documentary interviews next weekend and a Pearl Jam “10” like raised hand pre-game explosion.  “Let’s go!”

And go we did.

Kevin and Jim went back to 3 Crow Bar.  Daniel went to scrub the paint off of his face.  I came here to write this.  Mark went to Tae Kwon Do class.

Two Tales of Saturday Swims

This morning I met fellow Ironman Wisconsin training partner Jim, and another man with a plan, Stokes for a swim at the Downtown YMCA.  Jim set a nice pace and we knocked out a relatively easy 1500 meters in around 34 minutes.  I have finally found a decent stroke and wasn’t tired at the end, which made me wish I was swimming this well the first time I swam 1500 meters in competition.  It was a wildly different story.

Below is a summary of my first Olympic Triathlon swim.  Warning: It is not pretty.  

I probably should have kept looking at my feet, but it was hard not to notice the imposing swim course.  A bright green buoy waited 200 meters across the dark choppy current of the Cumberland River.  I took an ill-fated peek at the second buoy and it was so far away I could barely see it.  There was nowhere else to look but inside.

I crouched with 40 men, all vying for solid footing on the slime covered boat ramp.  Nervous laughter filled the air as we slid into and fell on each other on a chilly September morning in Ashland City.

The Olympic triathlon swim is 1,500 meters, but in these conditions, the lurking rectangle endless.  I’d swam the distance a couple times in a pool, but in open water, you can die.

I asked my friend Kevin (who had just finished an Ironman) for swim advice, and he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Try to relax.”

I knew it was all about staying in the moment because every time I looked at those buoys, I was beaten.  I needed to find the pocket and keep in my stroke.  But it was not to be.

The gun went off and 40 over-achieving men jumped on my back.  I fought for my breath and my strategy went from relaxation to survival.  Primal screams pierced my ears and I think they were all coming from me.  I let the pack race away and unzipped my tri-top so my heart would have more room to beat.

By the time I got to the first buoy, I was a humbled and frightened man.  I stopped in the water and gazed into the distance, then to the starting the dock, then the second buoy.  I faced a major decision while I treading water in this dirty river.  Cold rain fell on my swim cap like a Chinese water torture and each drop reaffirmed what an idiot I was for trying something so far above my capabilities.

I drifted toward the support boat in hopes they would make my decision easier.  Maybe they’d offer hot coffee, a blanket and a bagel.  It seemed so natural.  A peaceful ending to something probably shouldn’t have started.

More rain, more waves . . . more water in my mouth as I tried to catch my breath, which was amazingly elusive.

“Calm down, dude, fuck!” I said to myself as I looked overhead at the massive bridge above me.  I was on a military mission and quick decisions save lives.  I was very close to grabbing the side of the boat and floating to the shore, battered, beaten, but alive.

It was the easy way out, but I couldn’t face the disappointment.  Kevin, Allison, Daniel, and Heidi had come out to watch me beat this challenge and there was nothing about quitting after 200 meters that would have a good ring to it.

“Fuck it.”

I launched my “noodle float” back to the support team and said, “Wish me luck.”  I was going for it.

I had always had a dark fantasy about trying to survive a flood and now I was getting my chance.  But this isn’t quite what I imagined and breathing wasn’t getting easier.

I settled into a breast stroke, which was more comfortable and I knew from practice it wasn’t that much slower than my freestyle.  I should have started in it, but didn’t want to be “that” guy leaving the dock with a weak swim.

Once you have the endurance, swimming is all about form and being relaxed.  I plowed ahead with terrible form and breathing, simply doing all I could to go in the right direction. Normally triathletes “sight” their line while they swim, but I was literally stopping every 3 minutes and looking around like a fucking tourist.

Halfway to buoy two, I realized I was a good twenty yards to the left of the other swimmers.  Not only was this swim difficult, I was making my life miserable by taking a horrible line.  It’s one thing to be out of traffic, but it’s another to be on the course.

I was mentally shattered, but did my best to get back in line.  After what seemed like a entire morning, I reached the second green buoy and remember thinking this may have been the most impressive physical accomplishment of my life.

I treaded water again, gathering my bearings as imaginary turtles snapped at my toes.  A true story of survival if I’d ever written one. I was spent, depressed, and questioning my sanity; none of which seemed to matter to the dozens of swimmers thrashing around me.  But the simple fact there were swimmers bumping into me was an odd inspiration.  I wasn’t the last one on the course.

I stared across the river at the third of four buoys and took a deep breath.  The good news was, I was halfway home, which was also the bad news.

“Fuck, I’m only halfway there.”

I took off toward buoy number 3 and “being done” was the only thing on my mind.  But you can’t cheat your body or mother nature.  Even if I swam my best it would still take 15 minutes.  For most people that is an eternity in a pool, let alone a dank, log-filled river.

I sat myself in the corner of the classroom and went over the lesson plan one last time.

“Relax, embrace your stroke and find a groove.”

Just get to the next buoy, just get to the bridge, just get to that boat, just get to the swim exit.  Breaking it up is the only way to progress when you’re in quandary like this.  That’s what I did.

I felt like a man swimming across the river in wet 3-piece suit.  Making matters worse was the fact that I wasn’t absolutely sure which way the current was flowing.  I had asked 6 guys before the race and 3 said “this way” and 3 said “that way.”  Luckily it didn’t seem to matter.  If there was one grace of this swim, the current wasn’t overly strong in the wide section of the river.  I wasn’t thrown off course on my cross swims, but none-the-less, I might want to clear up the current direction before my next race.

When I reached the 3rd buoy I made a point of rubbing it with my shoulder.  A symbolic gesture as well as making sure I swam the absolute shortest path.

I was getting “close.”  But close was still about 6 football fields worth of swimming.

It wasn’t a matter of making it now.  I knew that I would get there, but how would I feel when I ran up that ramp to the bike?  Would my legs be shot from all this breast stroking?  I focused on using my arms.  Dragging my ragged body through the murky flow.

When you’re a little kid on a boat, there’s something about driving under a bridge that creates a sense of awe.  The concrete structure seems massive and intimidating, and that feeling came back as I swam below with the water drain-off escalating the impact of the rain.  I stopped for a moment to soak it all in with about 100 meters to go, then plunged like a carp and buried my head toward the target.

The “exit buoy” was orange and despite the overcast day, it grew brighter with every stroke.  The night before the race I had spread dishwashing soap on my goggles to keep them from fogging and the move paid off.  I can’t imagine how intimidating that conquest would have been if I couldn’t see, but the night before I heard a story about a former veteran who was now in the Paralympics doing just that.  Blind, and winning medals.  It’s amazing how these little stories can pull you through and I listen to all of them.

The throngs of people lined the swim exit, well maybe 50, and in my desperate hope for glory listened for their screams between strokes and labored breathing.  Nothing.  So, I just focused and sure enough, that orange cone was right in my face.  Finally, I stopped swimming and grabbed some strange woman’s hand as she told me to be careful walking up the slippery ramp.

Now I heard screams.

Allison, Heidi, Daniel and Kevin were giving me their juice and I gladly took it.  The first words out of my mouth were a scream of joy (not really words) and “That really sucked.”  You see, I had been calculating my swim exit strategy to take the focus off of my time, which I was quite certain was an hour, and that was a little deflating considering I thought I might do it in 30 minutes.  (Actual time was 41:52).

I glided down the pavement in my bare feet.  The rain was still falling and I was suddenly a tad cold.  I couldn’t believe God would put me through this but I scurried into the bike transition in a bit of a daze.  I ran up to my row and looked down to see in hopes of locating my distinct white towel, but it was gone.  My bike was gone!  What the fuck?  I ran back and forth like a kid protecting his lunch money and completely lost my mind for the third time of the day.  Part of my strategy was minimalist and fast transitions.  Shoes . . . socks . . . helmet . . . gone.  But the only thing gone, was my bike.

Friday Night’s Alright for Writing

I used to get fired up beyond belief when I’d hear “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” by Elton John.  I’ve always been a huge EJ fan, but at some point I discovered that Bernie Taupin was writing all the lyrics, and to this day, Bernie is the only person in music that I truly want to meet.  And why not when a dude is dropping this kind of ink on his tablet:

It’s getting late have you seen my mates
Ma tell me when the boys get here
It’s seven o’clock and I want to rock
Want to get a belly full of beer
My old man’s drunker than a barrel full of monkeys
And my old lady she don’t care
My sister looks cute in her braces and boots
A handful of grease in her hair

Somehow Bernie always knew what was going on in my life.*  Dad was drunk, mom didn’t care, and I did want a belly full of beer.

I grew up in Wisconsin, which is the Harvard of beer drinking states and my degree was far more potent.  Every college town in Wisconsin claims to have the most bars per capita on a certain street or 3 block radius or along a river and after a lot of research, I can honestly say they are all right.

I’m not certain it’s something to brag about, but my drinking people can stand toe to toe with anyone.  A negative split comes natural to a beer marathoner.  We start slow for a couple, level out for the next 18 or so, then kick for the final 6.2, leaving .8 sitting as a rock in the middle of all the empties.

What does all of this have to do with the Ironman?  I guess the fact that I am home on a Friday night, writing instead of testing more beer to make sure it still tastes like beer.

Nine consistent months of training has created better habits and over the last couple months my urge to drink has slowly faded.  I’m not saying I won’t drink or don’t want to, but it is getting really easy to pass up.  Even after a horrible week at work (when my car would typically steer itself to the local pub) I will come home with intention of doing something productive.

The workout is always waiting and when you’re talking about an Ironman, certain things have to take priority.  Two months ago I would have felt a little naked if I didn’t have a 12 pack on reserve.  Now there’s not even room for beer with all the rotting vegetables in my fridge.

That said, as a proud graduate of Beer Drinking U, I never say never.  Tomorrow is Saturday and I could easily be drunker than a barrel full of monkeys.  Maybe that’s why Ironman Wisconsin is the perfect choice.

*  It should be noted that these are not necessarily my favorite Taupin lyrics.  I mean, they are good, but Bernie can wrench your heart dry, then fill you with nectar of the Gods thirty seconds later.

Enhancing the Soul

Hello, my name is Mike, and I’m weak.  Sure, I have gone from barely jogging 60 seconds to completing a 1/2 marathon and Olympic triathlon in less than a year, but it feels like this engine is overworked and needs a tune-up.

I’ve lost twenty pounds, can easily swim a half hour, bike for two, and run further than I ever dreamed, but flow, flexibility and clarity haven’t caught up.  Tonight, I realized what was missing, and sometimes it’s as simple as buying into what you already know.

Strength, visualization, and music.

So, I expanded my chest with dumbells to the side, ready to change my world, and if my dog wasn’t licking my arm pits I might have gotten somewhere. I shook her off, then hit the floor for push ups like Bucky Badger after a string of Wisconsin touchdowns. A few curls, lunges, and the like but it all kinda hurt.

It was time for the mind.

I visualized lying back with a woman between my legs and looking in her eyes while effortlessly doing a sit up to kiss her lips.  The problem was, I wobbled off the side of the big bouncy workout ball and nearly landed on my squealing dog, which totally ruined the moment.

But music never does.

I swear, I don’t know what gets into me, but I find myself locked on talk radio half the time.  NPR, sports talk, morning funny guys, etc . . . and I am convinced that is one of the worst things you can do to yourself.  Bombs in Beirut, endless speculation over what’s wrong with the Titans, tired fart jokes.  Why do we get sucked into things that make us “feel” smart but don’t enhance our soul?

I dusted off a couple bombastic speakers, then took 15 minutes of my life to reconnect them to iTunes and two notes into U2’s “In A Little While” I was in tears.  It was real, too. I was throwing around more weight than I had in months.  My mind was lifted to a healthier place.  Next it was the Raconteurs’ “Treat Me Like Your Mother,” and the ab workout was my bitch.

Well, you get the point.  Strength, visualization, and music inspire and help us grow.  Overworking the same muscle, closing your mind, and talk radio help us die.

Chasing Sasquatch (and The Red Wolf)

I’m not sure why the idea of running a race called the Sasquatch Trot was so intriguing. Until now I have been fueled by high profile events with lots of energy and people, but the hearing myself breathe on an isolated trail was exactly what’s been missing.

I got up early and drove along one of those unfamiliar numbered highways which never seem like the right road.  About 40 minutes in, my breakfast and coffee had other ideas than remaining in my stomach so I pulled off at the corner of 269 and Statesville Road to introduce myself to the fine folks at Three Forks Express Fuel.  I got the bathroom key, left a memorable aroma, and set out for Peaceful Hill.

The winding roads away from Watertown, TN were replete with “He has risen” white crosses, tractors for sale, and roadkill.  I had once again left my comfort zone and only had a love for training to blame.

There was a lonely, hand written sign at the base of the long driveway declaring I was in the right place.  Hay rolls sprawled in perfect symmetry like an alien culture dropped in for a wild weekend. The gravel poked my tires and led to to a creek bridge so low it would wash out in a light rain.  That bridge would double as the start line and I couldn’t have been happier.

We parked in a massive field about 400 yards from registration and they shuttled us in the back of a pick up truck.  I forked over 30 bucks to a very personable race organizer, Cody, who pushed the edge of fashion in his 70’s retro racer style with a hint of Richard Simmons.  He was excited to offer me race number 99 and pull two dollars in change from his own jacket.

It was all good as the 60 or so racers took a relaxing driveway stroll back to the creek where we stretched for ten minutes before holding up our right hands and reciting the highly useful and mandatory “Racers Oath.” This was led by the other organizer, John, and spoken with passion, conviction, and hint of “we are kinda crazy mother fuckers.”

The Racers Oath

Do to the dangers of this course everyone was required to give the following oath.

Everyone raise their right hand look desperately deep into the eyes of one of the runners next to you and repeat after me

* Might I say that you are looking fabulous today
* I want to let you know that you are my Sacagawea to my Lewis and Clark.

* Take a good look at my face because it is the last time you will see it in this race. It’s all backside from here on out runner

* Take a look at your shoes because I have tied them together. Just kidding runner

* We may get lost, injured, or cry but I won’t tell if yo don’t runner

*If I see a Sasquatch chasing us in the woods please understand that tripping you is for the greater good.

* Lets do this

70’s Retro wrestled the megaphone from John and interlaced witty banter with an undertone of love for his baby.  Cody was determined to make sure the 5 milers followed the pink tape and the 12 milers concentrated on yellow.  They warned of loose gravel, slipper rocks, sink holes and an imposing hill at mile three.  I wondered what the hell I was getting myself into.

The first mile was a nicely cut trail along the creek which veered toward the farmhouse as we began our circle of the property.  I was breathing heavy and realized I was too close to other runners when I nearly wrenched my ankle on a log I never saw coming.  I carved out space and settled into a relaxing pace with nature.

It was my first race in Inov8 shoes and I liked how the soft ground felt through the thin soles.  My eyes were glued 10 feet ahead, engaged with my only competition, the relentless terrain.

I found a zone and took in scenery while trying to squeeze Cody’s reference to “Rattlesnake Hill” out of my mind.  Trees whizzed by and I was alone with my thoughts, pounding wet leaves and hopping imaginary snakes. It was no longer a race, but a stroll through peaceful woods.  Then, I saw another runner in the distance.

He was wearing a bright red shirt and my bliss was swallowed by a horror movie. I was chasing him and being chased at once.  Running to catch, running not to be caught.  The adrenaline spiked and I felt the animal inside dig in for Mr. Red Shirt.

I was closing in and plotting navigation of a small creek when out of nowhere I heard a scream or a growl or something that put me on the defensive.  I looked to my left and saw . . . Sasquatch!

It took me about point five seconds to realize it was a costume, but there was something about the creature that gave it momentary credibility.  Later I learned it was John’s dad in the suit and I surmised there must be something about experience and wisdom that shines through a fake fur.

Mile two was a bit dicey, but the Sasquatch touch left a smile on my face.  I weaved up and down small hills and followed the pink flags into dense woods.  The path led us back and forth over a small and muddy creek then served a slippery 8 foot creek bank climb before continuing to the perimeter of a field where aid station volunteers did us a solid.  And it was a good thing, because our lives were about to become hell.

John said there was a big hill waiting, but I don’t think runners really “hear” those kind of words.  I actually thought I had already run that big hill in the previous succession of smaller ones.


My crosshairs locked on Mr. Red Shirt (who was now The Red Wolf) and I watched closely as he attacked the steep hill and hit a wall.  I was 20 yards back and stayed on pace as we crawled up the gravel slope.

About 50 yards up, I remembered the advice many trail runners have given me, “if you can’t see the top of the hill, walk.”  I’m not sure if this is true with great runners, or short runs, but for me, it sounded like a damn good idea.  I fell into a walk as The Red Wolf spun his wheels.

About 30 yards later, I realized my walk was nearly the same pace as his run.  It was almost like he heard me think because at that moment, The Wolf slowed to a walk and we observed nature for the next few hundred yards.

The scenery was magnificent as we closed on the glorious peak where event photographer, Stephanie, waited to immortalize the “hill misery” on our faces.

I laid in the weeds and smiled with Mr. Red Wolf in sight.  Just then I heard someone yell, “Hey, here comes the first female runner!”

Before I could look behind me, a woman in bright pink shorts blazed past.  I still had about 30 yards to the top, but for some reason this triggered my man-card and I put my head down to catch her, which proved to be a vital mistake.

I was strong and knew that, once I got down that hill, the final two miles would be mine.  But the instant I crossed the top of that mountain I felt a sharp pain in the side of my knee.  The IT band reared its ugly head again, this time on the left side.

I knew I was screwed and kept waiting for my right knee to join in the fun.  I stared at the steep, rocky downhill and hoped the injury was phantom and would magically disappear.

I couldn’t even walk down the hill.  I had to turn sideways and hop on my right leg, grimacing as I watched The Red Wolf vanish into the thick brush.

It was true, wolves are never hunted.  His victory was secure, and I wasn’t even sure I would finish.

One by one, other runners flew past me.  I swore and bitched with every step, mostly because I wanted tackle the downhill with reckless abandon.  I was built for fast, athletic challenges and now I hobbled like a man without his crutches.

As bad as the knee hurt, I had that sneaking feeling it wasn’t serious.  The downhill was broken by a few flats which I jogged without much pain, but near the bottom, I met my match.

The hill gained pitch and slowing was hopeless without falling to my knees.  While it was one thing to lose The Wolf, it was quite another to be spotted crawling backwards like a lost tourist begging forgiveness from a bear.

I couldn’t stop, and wouldn’t crawl, so I let out a trail scream and hoped for the best.

My strides grew and I was covering 10 feet at a crack.  I looked above and leaped like Tarzan for a hanging limb and flung airborne through the trees; a man possessed.  Bark dug into my hands, leaves slit skin like paper cuts, and arms burned as I grabbed the last tree branch and launched myself to safety in a 3 foot pond of muddy water.

Okay, that didn’t really happen, but somehow I stayed on my feet and made it through a treacherous rock bed before heading to the open field.  The knee held up and I pounded the grass in a last ditch effort to secure The Wolf.

The energy I saved on the hill was paying off and I methodically picked off three runners that flew past me on the downhill.  That’s when I saw the opening.  With a mile left, The Red Wolf was in sight . . . and walking.

I leaned forward in a controlled fall and blazed the edge of the woods with my eye on the prize.  He was out there, but the course was tricky and I couldn’t really tell how far ahead he was.

The trail swung out, around, then right through one of the red barns where I braced myself for Sasquatch or big piles of horse shit, but neither got in my way. I raced hard toward the lake and briefly lost sight of my prey as he ran into another barn.

I put my head down to close the diminishing gap.  The Wold was a couple hundred yards ahead, but his bright red fur seemed close enough to grab.

The trail weaved like an “S” and took me into the final barn.  As I got closer I noticed the sliding door was only slightly open, which triggered a Sasquatch warning.  I just knew that wild man/animal would, at the very least, stick out his leg and trip me.  I was braced for a surprise attack and barely noticed the massive pile of hay bails blocking my progress.  I suspended the Sasquatch fantasy and dove head first onto the pile of straw and climbed like a man possessed.  I rolled off the backside, through the front door, and surveyed the horizon for red.

He was gone.  The only red left was blood trickling from my hands.

I crossed the hay bail finish line and stood face to face with The Red Wolf.  He gave me an evil grin, stuck out his paw and started making the weirdest sounds.  I was like, “who the fuck is this guy and why was I chasing him?”  Not really, The Red Wolf was a true gentleman/wolf who spoke quite eloquently and deserved the victory.

In reality, he beat me by two minutes and I probably wouldn’t have caught him with a good knee, but all of this makes for a better story.

Somehow the Peaceful Hill Sasquatch Trot is the perfect course for beginner or expert trail runners.  There is true love cut into them there hills and it shows.  The sprawling acreage is a gorgeous setting and the inaugural running class was a great foundation.  Add the wood carved Sasquatch trophies, live music, beer, food, and hay bail podium and you can start to see why this run is destined to be selling out, and I will be making another trip to Peaceful Hill.

More Pictures Here