Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the category “triathlon”

Ode to a 33-Year Relationship that Ended Badly

She was a love of my life. We had 33 wonderful years together, from young adulthood well into midlife. But in the end, she got old, and her body, especially the most important parts, just wore out. Things loosened and sagged. Her usual sharp edges dulled. Midlife is unforgiving in that way. And she hurt me, cut me like a knife. I’m still scarred from our relationship.

Ultimately, I just had to let her go. Our relationship had been broken; she was damaged goods and couldn’t be fixed without making wholesale changes. I wish I could say I let her go gently, but that would be a lie. I discarded her like a piece of junk on a scrap heap, and never looked back. I knew she could easily be replaced with a better version that would make me feel safer, happier and livelier, maybe even younger, and eliminate my doubts and anxiety.

Though the ending was brutal, particularly for her, that should in no way invalidate the great times and adventures we enjoyed together, where we essentially operated as one finely-tuned unit.

We first got acquainted as college sweethearts, as I was entering my senior year. We got familiar with each other during those innocent times, spending weekends together in the idyllic small towns, rolling hills and farms of Upstate New York.

Over the next decade, she was a constant companion. We would travel together through the Montana and Canadian Rockies, sleeping under the stars and a light August snowfall; down the rugged Washington and Oregon coasts; amid tropical Florida barrier islands and quaint Vermont towns; and on long, carefree journeys through the Shenandoah, Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains. We enjoyed history together as well, touring the Gettysburg battlefields. We even competed together in triathlons, when she was in better shape than this last, disheartening year.

At home, she was always a loyal, steady and reliable partner. She was always there to pick me up,  ready to go when I needed to escape for a while, to clear my head, seek a change of scenery or just relax and re-energize.  For decades, I counted on her and returned her loyalty, even as I saw my contemporaries trade in their mates for younger, sleeker models. I admit to having envy, but I stuck by mine, perhaps stubbornly for too long.

Alas, all good things do come to an end. My longtime companion started giving me trouble last spring. Something was wrong with her, just wasn’t herself anymore. She became unreliable, nearly left me stranded a few times. Physically, she was breaking down, severely testing my patience. I took her to a specialist, and his prognosis was dire. The decline was irreversible without a major intervention.

Still, I decided to give her one more chance when others might have justifiably called it quits, taking her to Bethany Beach, DE with me for a summer 2017 of teaching tennis. We survived together for a while, but I was wary and it was touch-and-go whenever we spent time together. In short order, she let me down again. It was the last straw. I’d had enough. The relationship was irretrievably broken.

The grey Fuji Del Rey 12-speed touring bicycle that I had purchased for just more than $300 in 1984 had a drivetrain system that was worn and no longer functioning properly. The drive chain had become stretched and the gear teeth were dulled. If the pedal revolutions became too slow for the gear, the chain would detach from the gear teeth Bike_Fujiand the bike would become inoperable. Going up hills became an adventure, like in the movie Speed, where if the bus slowed to less than 50 mph a bomb on board would detonate. If I had to push too hard on the pedals, the chain would click…click…click…and fall off, leaving me on the side of the road trying to reattach the chain, hands blackened with grease.

The beach terrain is flat, so I thought I could milk one last summer out of my Fuji. On a backroads ride, I slowed too much for the gear I was in, and the chain detached. I reattached the chain, but apparently on the wrong gear ring. When I stepped on the pedal to start the wheels rolling, the chain detached and my leg crashed down onto the

BikeDismount (2)

The pair in happier times

gear teeth, leaving me with six cuts running up my right leg, a perfect imprint of the gear ring. I managed to reattach the chain correctly and ride another five miles home without incident, but bloodied. Months later, I still have the scars.

That was our last ride together, me and my ancient Fuji. I brought it home on a one-day trip back to Maryland and left it, where my wife unceremoniously placed it on the curb for trash pickup. I don’t know if a trash hauler saved her for a new life or crunched it into mangled metal. Either way, I didn’t care anymore. We had a past together, but I was over her. Me and Fuji, we were just so…yesterday.

Beware Serious Triathlete with Full Bladder on Bike

In this blog I have occasionally poked fun at Serious Triathlete. Maybe that is a defense mechanism because I would really like to be Serious Triathlete but instead I am Occasional Back of the Pack Triathlete, and proud of it. I’ve completed the Olympic distance Columbia Triathlon two of the past three years, finishing somewhere in the 80th to 90th percentile.

But this article from Active online newsletter explains why I know I will never attain membership in the exclusive club of Serious Triathlete: “Ask a Coach: Does Everyone Pee on Their Bike?”

While the article acknowledges that “not everyone pees on the bike” – I’m glad to tell readers I’m in that category – apparently many racers do.

Goal: Get to dismount with unsoiled shorts.

Goal: Get to dismount with unsoiled shorts.

“The act of peeing while riding is a challenge for most athletes and can take some practice,” the coach writes. Wow, I didn’t know in addition to practicing swimming, biking, running and transitions, I should also experiment with and perfect methods for relieving myself while on the bike seat!

“If you choose this option, be mindful of other racers around you,” the coach continues. I am not kidding; the coach really advises this. Hell, yes, be mindful of the other racers! Lordy Be, that’s just common courtesy! I don’t mind a spray from a hose while on the bike, but only a garden hose, not any kind of hose!

“Other options include stopping at a Port-a-Potty or stopping to pee in your tri shorts,” the coach says. A Port-a-Potty, what a concept! I vote for that. Or how about in a bush or behind a frickin’ tree, dogs do it all the time and the arbor seems to survive. The coach forgot all about those options.

Finally, the coach says, “Use water from your water bottle to wash off.” Wait a minute. Isn’t the whole point to drink your water over time to avoid dehydration, not to use it to dilute the stench in your tri shorts-cum-diaper?

Look, Serious Triathlete, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to give up two minutes here and there in a race that takes me three and a half hours to avoid relieving myself in my shorts and riding in discomfort and wretched stench. For me, that may make the difference in finishing in the 84th percentile vs. the 86th percentile. I won’t be disappointed.

Unless you have a serious chance of winning some category or scoring some cash prize or qualifying for the Hawaii Ironman or the Olympics, I suggest you do the same. Save your shorts, your bike seat and your washing machine. Don’t make your family members and friends cringe and gag from being around you at the post-race celebration; the sweat and grime from a dirty lake swim will be all they should have to tolerate. Don’t consider your pee-soaked tri shorts a badge of honor. You’ll get a finisher’s medal to hang around your neck. That should suffice.

Let your finisher's medal be your badge of honor -- not pee-soaked shorts.

Let your finisher’s medal be your badge of honor — not pee-soaked shorts.

DISCLAIMER: I apologize to any Serious Triathlete who I may have offended…as long as you apologize to me if you pee in your shorts anywhere close to me in a race!

Triathlon: Doesn’t Anyone Else Need Relief?

Finishing 2015 Columbia Triathlon, feeling relieved.

Finishing 2015 Columbia Triathlon, feeling relieved.

Update on Columbia Triathlon (A Hat over the Wall).

I finished! That’s all that matters.


How could I be 4 minutes slower than two years ago, when I was just one year removed from a broken leg and was still recovering? That really bothered me! Does two years older mean two years slower? I thought for sure I would improve on my 2013 time.

And some observations on triathletes and triathloning:

  • Do they really need to brand you with your age on your leg? Does everyone behind you really need to know? Don’t women object to having their age revealed?
  • Doesn’t anyone besides me ever need to friggin’ relieve themselves during the race? No relief stations on the bike (25 mile) or run (6.2 mile) course. I luckily spotted and ducked into the only porta-potty on the bike route at a county reservoir and ditched into woods on the run. I think triathletes also train for bladder endurance.
  • Triathlons are huge productions. The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults did a fantastic job and had outstanding volunteers. Together, they showed great organization and effort. Any organization that runs triathlons well is a master at logistics and has to love the events and their participants.
  • I really missed having a wall to hold onto and a black line at the bottom to set my direction during the swim. Open water swimming is disorienting. I don’t even want to think about all the geese in that lake. And to those who kicked and hit me, I blame you for my 4-minute slowdown.
  • Athletes Serving Athletes is inspiring. Triathletes help other athletes with disabilities cover the entire course, including pulling them in rafts in the swim.
  • One word for all the triathletes wearing wetsuits: Wimps! It wasn’t that cold. But now it occurs to me triathletes wear wetsuits not because of cold water but because it makes them more buoyant and faster. Cheaters!
  • I suck at transitions, another thing good triathletes must practice and have perfected to a science with the help of Type A personality. I couldn’t get my biking jersey on after the swim because I was wet and forgot a towel, and the jersey got stuck mid-rib. I had to try three times, and in the process, dropped everything I had placed in the back pockets and accidentally ripped off the run racing number that I had attached the night before like a Type A Personality Triathlete.
  • Triathletes who outpace me by an hour or more are incomprehensible. Extremely impressive. Very humbling.
  • Biking is by far the easiest leg, and by far the most enjoyable.
  • I love the bikes with the water bottle holders between the handle bars and the straws, which must be measured precisely so the cyclist can drink with no hands while remaining in the most aerodynamic tuck.
  • I usually finish these endurance events saying I won’t do it again. But not this time. I may be starting to get hooked on the grind.

A Hat Over the Wall

I threw my hat over the wall today.

It’s a saying I remember, and sometimes use with people who have no idea what I’m talking about, from the Landmark Education Forum, the three-day program designed to bring about life-improving “breakthroughs,” which borrowed the phrase from President John Kennedy, who talked about throwing the hat in reference to America’s determination to explore outer space, and who appropriated the expression from Irish author Frank O’Connor, who wrote the parable about two adventurous boys who were halted in their journey by an imposing stone wall – until one threw his hat over the top, compelling them both to scale the barrier to retrieve it.

I didn’t join NASA; I won’t be exploring Mars or spending a year in space. I did register to do (I say “do” rather than “compete in” purposely) the Columbia Triathlon, two hours before registration closed and 15 days before race day after debating whether to commit for a few months. I threw my hat over the triathlon wall.

As the original rap artists Sugar Hill Gang sang in “Rappers Delight”: “I don’t mean to brag. I don’t mean to boast (But we like hot butter on a breakfast toast).” But I guess this is a little about boasting. Anyone who tells others he is doing a triathlon is boasting, prima facie.

I am not an avid triathlete. Not like those eccentrics you see with the really tight onesies with the front zipper, the Terminator-style Ray-Bans, the spokes-less, flyaway bikes, the nutrition diaries, the hairless legs (OK for women), the oddly ubiquitous black wetsuits, the de rigueur upmarket bike racks, the fanny belts, the clacking  bike shoes, the 8 percent body fat and taut-as-power-cables leg muscles, and the neatly arranged race day gear and supplies, enough to suffice for a week’s vacation.

I am an amateur. I train the minimum. I’m not a member of any triathlon club or training group. I flaunt the convention. My ego requires me to do that. If I had all the proper equipment and clothing – if I looked like a triathlete — how could I explain finishing in the bottom 15 percent?

I’m positive I have the oldest and slowest bike of all the competitors…errr…participants: a 12-speed Fuji touring bike I bought in 1984. 1984! I can’t give it up, even if it would increase my speed by 20 percent and save my legs. It’s part of my carefully crafted image of the anti-triathlete triathlete. My bike pedals have no clips; just old-school straps. I don’t lock in with bike shoes. That’s unheard of in triathloning. Someone recently recommended I get the clips and the shoes. Solid advice, but I’m not going to – would ruin the image.

I’ll likely be one of the few not wearing a wetsuit. Again, bad for the image. I’m going to freeze my ass off at the beginning of the swim.

I train alone and modestly, mostly during lunch breaks at work when I swim or jog. I recently hooked up with another multi-sport event participant for a few bike rides, the one who advised about the bike clips. Whenever I told him to ride at his own natural pace during our rides, he blew me away and had to wait for me at the nearest stop sign. He also told me about the weekly “bricks” the Mid-Maryland Triathlon Club sponsors – bike rides followed by runs. I love the term. I’m going to put in one or two “bricks” before the event, by myself, just so I can say that I “bricked.”

Since I first started doing triathlons, I’ve averaged – hmmm, let’s see – two per decade. (You thought I’d say something crazy, like 10 per year, right?). I did two in the 1980s, and three in the 1990s. I may have never done one again, except I broke my leg in a soccer game in 2012. It was a long and arduous rehab and recovery. I started on the road back by swimming. Then I added cycling. For motivation, I threw my hat over the wall and entered the 2013 Columbia Triathlon. Running was the hardest. I added that last and slogged through a bare minimum of training jogs. One year and 22 days after surgery for a broken tibia and fibula – and nearly 15 years since my last triathlon — I completed the Columbia Triathlon, a .93-mile lake swim, 25-mile bike and 6.2-mile run, in 3 hours, 37 minutes. I was proud of that. I had to disappear into the woods for a few minutes to shed some tears over the struggle of the previous year. I was amazingly consistent, too (i.e., consistently slow for a triathlete), finishing in the 85-90 percentile for each leg.

It was a spiritual experience. That’s all it is to me now, more than an athletic event. Time? I don’t care about time. I’m not chasing anything, not trying to qualify for anything, not seeking a PR (personal record) or age group award. I entered again for the spiritual experience. I want to find a rhythm in the swim and enjoy the feel of warming up in a cold, open body of water. I’ll revel in the feeling of speed and the sights and smells of the countryside on the bike. I’ll embrace the challenge of the hilly run and find inspiration in the struggle.

I may even break out the Ruggler during the run. That’s the Runner-Juggler (the “Joggler” was already taken). Now that may be showing off, but it has a real purpose – refocusing my mind from the pain, monotony and seemingly interminable length of the run to the three airborne balls.

The triathlon is the thrill of being alive, the delight of being able to do it at all. I’m excited I get to go retrieve my hat.TheRuggler

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