Back in the Saddle

You know it's been a while since your last bike ride when you have to think hard about what to pack in your gear bag beforehand. And you get out of the car at the meeting spot with your teammates realizing you forgot your helmet.

That's how my morning started with a few folks from the Fortius team (Mike, Tom, and Yolanda) in Northridge.  Fortunately, Tom lived nearby and was kind enough to retrieve a back-up helmet.  The only thing is, Tom is about 6"5 and weighs nearly twice as much (which I mean in the most respectful way, Tom!).  So, his helmet size is a wee bit larger.  I had to borrow a hat from Mike and tighten the helmet straps all the way to keep it remotely close to snug on my head.  My shadow image made my head look like a mushroom.

I needed the helmet to be as tight as possible because the winds heading out to Santa Clarita Valley were nearly as punishing as Ironman Arizona.  What a way to return to outdoor cycling for the first time since the race. I certainly had a few flashbacks as I got tossed from one side of the bike lane to the other from the nasty crosswinds. At one point, my makeshift helmet blew backwards, causing my hat brim to blow upward and almost right off my head!  It was a sorry sight to see.

Mike and I rode with Tom for the first hour of his scheduled four-hour journey. Yolanda headed back a little early.  Since Mike ran the CIM marathon last week, our pace was leisurely at best. We meandered through 26 miles in around two hours, though that included lots of elevation and a few breaks.  I didn't wear my Garmin watch since I just wanted to enjoy the ride. I'm trying to find that happy place where the training is "fun" again, and one way I'm planning to do that is through taking a bit easier on analyzing all the data for the time being.  I know what I need to do to recover, and a big chunk of that process will involve simply smiling and joking more during workouts instead of staring at my watch as often.

That said, I had a thought during an especially long, windy, uphill climb this morning.  I should have trained in poorer weather conditions more often this past season.  Granted, that can be easier said than done in pristine Southern California.  However, I think my psyche was HOPING for great weather in Tempe rather training as hard as I could have to account for less-than-ideal conditions.

How do you walk the line between enjoying your training and finding nasty weather to improve?

I made a pledge to myself this morning that I will hunt down wind, rain, cold and heat more often this coming year.  It's sort of a training resolution.  Though I have great respect for Mother Nature, I'm not going to be afraid of her.  I think that mentality, along with a worry about my ability to fix flats on my own, kept me from reaching my full potential this past year.

No more.

Training smarter, in this instance, may mean training harder.

And while the results on a per-workout basis may not be pleasant to view, it may pay off in Idaho this summer.  I'm not sure what the race conditions will be there, but whatever they are, I want to be ready for them.

After Mike and I returned from our ride, I drove to Simi Valley visit my parents and to meet my dad for an impromptu lunch at my favorite barbecue joint not located in Austin, Texas.  As you can see here, my appetite continues to grow.  I've now gained about seven pounds post Ironman, with no end in sight.  Both my parents commented that I look much healthier and less gaunt.  Too bad most of these pounds are probably garbage weight from one too many helpings of cookies, steaks, shakes and cupcakes.

Shhh, it'll be our little secret.

Tomorrow, I have my first week of officially scheduled IM CdA training workouts.  The real work begins again.  No more "do whatever you want" workouts. My three-week training holiday is drawing to a close.  I'm sad about that on one hand.  I've gotten a glimpse back into the good life of spending lots of free time with Stephanie, sleeping in late and generally being lazy.  On the other hand, I can feel my body changing for the worse.  My legs are tighter.  I've been a little moodier the past few days as well.

So, back in the saddle, again.  With a renewed sense of purpose (become a better, smarter triathlete), a new goal in mind (beat my IMAZ time), a new plan in my head (have more fun this season, but push myself a little harder), and a lot more confidence (I know what it takes to be an Ironman).

I hope you'll continue to go on the journey with me.

191 days and counting.

Performance Enhancing

I was going to wait until just before the race to unveil my performance enhancing agent. I just couldn't wait.

The initials on the shoes above are for my grandfather, Jerry Schneider.  He would have LOVED seeing me at this race next week, along with grandmother, Sylvia.  My grandma is still alive, but my grandfather passed away more than five years ago from complications related to heart surgery.

Grandpa was as blue collar as they come.  The Cal Ripken of the automotive industry, showing up to work every day at our family-run repair business until the weekend before his surgery.  He was 83 at that time, and still savvy.

Grandpa's post-surgery illness lingered for almost a year.  Yet he fought every day to overcome it, and almost did.  There was no quit in him whatsoever.  There never was.

People keep telling me that no matter what I do during the final part of the Ironman, don't stop running those final miles.  Don't give up.  Don't quit.  My teammates tell me it will be easy to do so, as many other people will be walking and encouraging me to do the same.

I may be tempted, but all I have to do is look down at my shoes and I'll be fine.

Grandpa never quit.  Neither will I.

I've also got the initials of Brian Rever, one of my oldest childhood friends, on the back of my shoes.  Brian wasn't a quitter either, battling cancer for three separate bouts until finally succumbing in December 2001.  He was 27.  Brian had it rough.  Cancer is a nasty, nasty illness to watch let alone experience.  But with every round of battle, Brian gritted his teeth and did everything he could to get through it.  He may not have had the opportunity to live for very long, but he still taught me as much about the value of living and perseverance as anyone.

Same goes for my high school friend, Jason Moreno.  His initials are on the inside arches of my shoes.  Jason battled an exceedingly rare and aggressive form of cancer for around five years before passing away almost two years ago.  Jason was always the life of every party, with his wit and perverse sense of humor always looming large.  Along with his lanky frame.  If I somehow become despondent during the course of the race, or just need a pick-me-up, I know I can always think of what Jason would say to tease me or make light of the situation.  That easiness of spirit will come in handy next week.

Now I realize that to some this might trivialize the existence of three human beings.  Maybe it might seem I'm reducing their lives to mere initials on my shoes.  Those people are missing the point.  This is just one way for me to honor the memories and legacies of three men who affected my life.  Three men who can't physically be with me on one of the biggest days of my life.  Three men who valued what I value as well: Toughness.  Tenacity.  Willpower.

I hope to respond with an effort that will make them proud.  And I hope to run with the force of three hearts.

The strength of three.  That will be my performance enhancer.

8 days and counting.

Racing for Others

I've raced a lot this year.  Nine events, to be exact.  One half-marathon, one marathon, one Half-Ironman, and the rest triathlons of various distances.  And I'm not done yet! As the season has worn on, I've found it occasionally more difficult to get fired up to race.  Especially when the events are on a Saturday, like today's Nautica Malibu Triathlon (International Distance).  When I'm at work on a Friday, I'm focused on work (yes, as if it wasn't obvious in the above photo, I do work at Insomniac Games!). Not the race.  So when the time comes to dash to the pre-event packet pick-up, I find myself struggling to get in the right frame of mind to torture myself so early the next morning.

That was the case today around 5 a.m. on the way to the race.  Earlier in the season, my car would be bumpin' the sounds of rock and gangsta rap. I was jacked!  My biggest problem was calming down, not firing up.  This morning, silence in the car, punctuated by periodic conversation with Stephanie, who braved an oncoming sinus cold to join me for yet another day of fan support.

I couldn't quite get "there," that mystical place where body and mind shake hands and agree to work together to deliver a personal-best performance. Body showed up, mind was still wandering.

Until the National Anthem just before the sound of the first-wave cannon fire.

I have a little pre-race ritual that locked me in tight.  During every National Anthem, I close my eyes and for some reason, I always picture the same thing.  My grandfather, who passed away in 2005, is ambling towards me or hovering in my mind.  I know he would have loved watching me perform in this sport, and the truth is, I miss him every day.  So amidst all the hectic activities and moments in my life, the National Anthem before a triathlon is the place and time where I can quietly pay homage to a great man whom will always be my lovable hero.

And then I remember that it's now time to kick-ass. No excuses, just like grandpa. No fanfare, just like grandpa. It's. Time. To. Kick. Ass.  End of story. No talking.  Action.

Even though I always get a little choked up in those moments, I couldn't be more dialed into race.  Everything else melts away.  Nothing but racing occupies my mind.  Literally 100% focus.  To those who don't know me, it's probably my "stay the fuck away from me" face!  Today that feeling was compounded by having my parents join me for the first time this season to watch me race.  When I saw them, after my pre-race warm-up swim, I immediately returned to being that 12-year-old kid who craved their approval on the soccer field.  I couldn't help but smile.

Happy, but not distracted though.

As if I wasn't rearing to go, being with my parents took that energy to another level.  In fact, I broke my dad's eyeglasses giving him a head-butt before entering the corral for my 35-39 men's age group wave. I don't think the feeling of wanting to please those important to you ever goes away, no matter how old you are.  If I got report cards at work, I'd still give them to my mom to hang on the refrigerator.

Now, add those emotions to the mental imagery I try to conjure up moments before the starting gun blasts: A steaming, smoldering, powerful 1970s-era rocket ship about to take off from Cape Canaveral.  Complete in crackling, saturated 1970s-era filmstock.  Film projector-sounding audio providing the sound enhancement.

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5...I literally picture the gates coming apart from the rocket as the engines ignite.

4, 3, 2, 1...BANG!

I wish I could describe the sensation that occurs in my body when that gun goes off.  Honestly, I get dizzy for a moment and my vision is temporarily blurred while a massive energy surge pounds through me.  There is no sound in that moment .  I can't hear my own footsteps.  Not even the roar of the ocean.  It's me and the race.  Me against time.  There is nothing else.  Nothing else that comes close to mattering in that moment.

Granted, with a 28:40 swim that's a lot of imagery and motivation for what many would consider an average aquatic performance!

Nonetheless, that's what I think about in the final minutes before every race.  And today, that's the added motivation I had to race faster than I have before, on a tougher course than this past summer's Breath of Life Olympic-distance event (the site of my previous best performance).

Some days, I race for me.  Today, I raced for others.

That turned out to be more than enough rocket fuel to keep me going.


Race Notes:

Swim: Nice pace.  Good current helped.  Stayed out of trouble by avoiding other, slower swimmers from the previous wave who seemed like sea mines because of their unpredictable, sometimes-chaotic behavior.  One guy literally swim into me at a perpendicular angle!

Bike: I maintained a 20.5 mph pace despite dropping my chain on the second climb heading out to Deer Creek Road from Zuma Beach.  Very proud of myself for not panicking, quickly fixing the chain and getting back into the race.  Didn't lose my cool, and caught up with my pace-mates fairly quick.  Speaking of, I played a helpful and fun game of "cat and mouse" with three cyclists.  One tall, lanky 38-year-old, another 38-year-old and a 36-year-old Kansas native who was out on vacation and shared a bike rack space with me.  He rented a Giant bike for the race and was an amazing climber.  I beat him by around a minute but he was faster than me on the swim and run.  I beat him overall by 16 seconds due to faster transitions.  He served as healthy and friendly competition.  We kept passing each other throughout the race, occasionally chatting, occasionally drafting (just a little, shhhh...).

Run: Wow!  That's all I can say about my 43:43 10k. Coach Gerardo (pictured here with LA Tri Clubber and Tweet Tycoon @fittorrent) really got to me at the Santa Barbara Triathlon when he told me to "just run" and not worry about heart-rate.  I never once looked at my heart-rate today and instead ran by feel, with the general mantra of "go as fast as you can" stuck in my head.  Unlike Santa Barbara, I never stopped for water breaks.  Unlike Santa Barbara, I didn't start off slow and build to a fast pace.  I started fast and steadily grew faster.  If I recall my Garmin watch data, my mile splits were 7:25, 7:29, 7:25, 7:18, 7:09 and I didn't see the final lap but think I broke 7.  What's odd though is that my average pace is listed at 7:03.  Hooray!  For a change, I wasn't passed a lot on the run -- I did more passing instead.

69 days and counting.

These Are the Days

My heart is racing as I sit on the couch this morning.  My hands are shaking. I just finished episode eight of The Pacific, the World War II miniseries on HBO.

I'm not going to write a review or anything like that.  But rather how I feel after watching it.

I'll start by admitting that lately, I'm much more easily moved to tears.  Though I may be an emotional guy, I've never been accused of being a crier -- unless Rudy is on the screen.  Now, inspirational, romantic or even sad news hits me harder...right in my chest and lungs.  And tears roll down my face.  They did at Wildflower.  They are this morning.

I know why.

It's because I realize, at 35 years old, finally, I am embedded in the prime of my life.  Right now.  In THIS moment.  I'm in peak physical condition.  My mental outlook is strong.  I'm marrying a truly stunning lady in every way.  My family is healthy and happy.  I have good friends.  A good job.  And I'm able to pursue my own dreams without guilt or worry.

Some of my friends and even family members haven't always been so lucky.  Some didn't make it to 30.  Some made it to 30 but not 35.  A few never saw 25.

They never got to experience what it's like to know that life doesn't get much better than this.  And I've spent years and years taking that for granted. Like a lucky little dandelion seed floating cluelessly, miraculously, from one unexpected adventure to the next...that's been my life.  A "Forrest Gump" existence, as my parents call it.

When you realize how precious that is, when you see how easily fate could have been crueler...a war, a draft, a battle, and a coffin for hits.  Hard.  When you watch a man fall in love -- whether it's in real life or on the big screen -- and then die at the top of his game, it hits hard.  When you know what that love is or good fortune or good health, and you know that it can all be blown to bits at any moment, it hits hard.

I am lucky. Very lucky.  And I think about that a lot lately.  I take nothing for granted.  Not in training.  Not with my relationship. Not with my family.  Not with my friends.

It could all go away tomorrow.  I could be cut down in my prime.  But I am also wide awake, a passenger riding shotgun and taking notes in my own head.

I am more aware than I've ever been in my entire life -- living long and full and strong enough to know that these are indeed the best of days.

That's why I cried a little this morning.

202 days and counting.

The Luckiest

Yesterday, I mentioned that one of my favorite Ryan/Stephanie songs is "The Luckiest" by Ben Folds.  It's a song that only begins to describe how I feel about my journey with Stephanie.  There's so much emotion in the singer's voice and I really tap into that feeling. Tonight though, I have to say it means something a little different.

The 21st Century dictates that nothing is considered "official" if it isn't posted on Facebook, Twitter or even Foursquare these days.  So when Steph and I posted our engagement news on Facebook, I knew we'd both receive some congratulatory comments.

What I didn't expect was the near 100 comments and wishes from friends and family.  Many of whom I haven't spoken directly with in years.

I truly feel among the luckiest people to have such a loving and supportive group surrounding me in my life.  While it only takes literally 10 seconds or less to post a "Mazel Tov!" or "Congrats!" on someone's wall, it really makes a difference.  I felt truly flattered and humbled by all the sincere gestures.  I would say it even added some extra time on the after-glow of the celebration of our announcement.

So, thank you, everyone.  Thank you.

On to the rest of my day.  Besides starting my first day as Steph's fiance, I returned to the world of Ironman training. The workout was simple: 40 minutes of easy spinning and 40 minutes of easy running.  Emphasis on "easy."  However, I felt really good this morning!  It's amazing what a week of rest can do for your body.  I did my best to hold back on the bike, but it was hard not to crank up the gears on the trainer.  I remember just a couple weeks ago how hard it was to get out of just the first gear.  Today, I wanted to pedal in the big chain immediately. I hope I can maintain that energy level for longer moving forward.

I enjoyed the run even more. Not for the physical activity itself.  But rather the feeling of running again.  The way my warm sweat cooled instantly in the balmy morning air.  The gentleness of the very slight breeze glancing off my visor and glistening forehead.  The long-lost bounce in my steps.  My pace was less than stellar, roughly 9:45-10:00, but the gentle zone 2 heart-rate assured me I had a lot more fuel in the energy tank than just a few weeks ago.  It makes me wonder whether my new Garmin would have helped me run a smarter LA Marathon had I better understood my pacing levels by using it sooner.  But then again, I know the kind of half-marathon pace I ran, and today I was intentionally holding myself back.  I'll keep an eye on this budding hypothesis.

The evening concluded with a Passover Seder at my parents' house in Simi Valley. Long-standing family friends joined us, along with my sister and her boyfriend, and Stephanie, of course.  In the past, I used to be so stressed out about whether my family would accept Steph, what Steph was thinking and feeling, and what I could do to make the situation better.  I cannot express how grateful I am that I don't have to think like that anymore. We all felt like a true family tonight.  A different kind of family, since my grandparents are no longer an active part of our lives.  But I know they would have been so happy at the sight of seeing a new generation of soon-to-be Schneiders experience a traditional family Seder.  It may be a little frenetic, a little crazy and a little off-the-wall.  But our Seder is our Seder, and it's truly one-of-a-kind.

I can honestly say I look forward to family events so much more than I have in the past.  It's nice to share them with the person I had always wanted to.

I am indeed the luckiest.

239 days and counting.

How I Met Your Mother Part 3: She Said YES!

I capped my week off from Ironman training the best way I knew how: I proposed to Stephanie.

Fortunately, she said YES.

We're engaged!  After five years and our share of ups and downs, we are finally going to get married!

(Yes, I know the first question you probably have now is, "When!?"  The answer is we're looking at February or July 2011.  Possibly May, but not likely.  We'll keep you posted, trust me.)

I'm guessing the second question is, "How did you propose???"

Well, here's the story.  For your reading pleasure, and our future kiddos, I give you: The Great Engagement Caper

Stephanie thought I couldn't surprise her.  She knows I'm a terrible liar and believed as a result that I was incapable of keeping a secret from her.

I took that as a personal challenge to prove her wrong.  And with help from her best friend, Annie, along with Steph's parents and a few other close friends, we conducted the ultimate shock and awe campaign.

First, the set-up.  Our first date was near Laguna Beach, at a restaurant called The Beach House.  Our first kiss was on Forest Street, just a couple blocks away.  As a result, I wanted to propose where it all started.  To do that though, I needed an excuse to get Stephanie down to Orange County without her suspecting anything.  Fortunately, she had family in town from Fresno and Hawaii, so that made yesterday an ideal opportunity.

Since Steph had a feeling I'd pick Orange County as the proposal site, I needed a secondary story to keep her guessing.  That's where Annie came in.  She and her husband of five months, David, married at the St. Regis Hotel in Lagnua Niguel.  So Annie and I made up a story that she and David were commemorating their marriage vows a little early at the hotel, and since we were down in the OC that she'd love to meet us for a celebratory drink.

Steph bought it without any hesitation.

The trap had been sprung.

The Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel is across the street from the St. Regis on Pacific Coast Highway.  The St. Regis is on the left side of the road, and Ritz is on the right.  Instead of turning left into the St. Regis to meet Annie and David, we'd veer right, check in, and arrive to an ocean-view room decorated with rose petals, chilled champagne (thanks TJ!), and chocolate-covered strawberries.  Then, I'd pull the pouch out of my pocket with the ring, and propose.

The tertiary story was the ring itself.  I bought it on March 14, and the jeweler told Steph and I it would be ready in a few weeks. I tried to confuse Steph about the exact pick-up date so she wouldn't be expecting a proposal within a certain timeframe.  She didn't really accept that premise but it clouded the situation enough to help me distract her a bit.  All that mattered was that Steph wasn't expecting a proposal last night.

The truth is that I've had the ring since this past Monday, but it was ready three days after I bought it (thank you, Mr. Gabay!).  This is notable since Steph kept warning me not to keep the ring anywhere near my home since she would sniff it out.  Of course, I knew she wouldn't sniff in my gym bag at the foot of my bed, which is exactly where the ring and the wedding band hid for an entire week, including days where Steph stayed home from work since she got sick.

Guess her nose was clogged.

Anyways, back to the Great Engagement Caper story.  Yesterday's events started perfectly.  Annie, with the help of Steph's roommate Lucy, packed an overnight bag for Steph and gave it to me at 11:30 a.m., on my way to a conveniently scheduled haircut.  After a few hours apart to run errands, I picked Steph up at 4 p.m. from her apartment, complete with my overnight bag to stay at Steph's in Los Angeles.  See, she thought we were coming back to LA after the family outing, her friend Lauren's housewarming party and we were supposed to have drinks at a new rum bar in downtown LA after that.  Annie threw her the St. Regis curveball though.  Still, to keep the ruse in place, I had to bring a dinner jacket for the rum bar we weren't going to check out and hiking clothes for the Sunday hike we weren't going to embark upon.

Lots of bases to cover!

We made it to Steph's grandmother's home ("Oma" in Dutch, which along with Indonesian is Steph's family background) on time for a fantastic afternoon barbecue.  There were several members of Steph's family present, including Emily, perhaps the most adorable little 4 3/4-year-old girl I've ever met.  And she plays one mean game of Rock Band on her own iPod Touch, no less.  Emily shredded on a 42-note streak to a Foo Fighters song.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the future of gaming.

The hours quickly melted away at Oma's and I realized there was no way we were going to leave by 7:45 to make Lauren's housewarming party.  I whispered in Steph's ear that she should tell Lauren she can't make it and to reschedule her visit if we wanted to meet up with Annie and David still.  Reluctantly, Steph agreed.


Eventually, we left Oma's around 9:10 p.m. after another 30-minute extension.  Considering I had the hotel booked five hours prior and the ice and chocolate were being set-up  in the room at 9, I was getting antsy. As we sped towards Laguna, Steph still had no idea what was about to transpire.  This was confirmed by her attitude when I exited the 73 Toll Road at El Toro Road instead of taking the tollway longer to make up time.

"You're going the wrong way! We're going to be another 25 minutes late now. I can't believe you're going this way.  This is so far out of the way"

Grumpy, grumpy, grumpy!

Of course, there was a method to my madness.  I wanted to take the long way so we could drive by The Beach House, drive by the site of our first kiss and generally stroll down memory lane.

Steph texted Annie that we were going to be late and huffed.  Of course, Annie immediately texted back telling Steph not to worry, that David and her were having a fabulous time and not to rush.  What a surprise.

Then, momentum turned in my favor.  We drove by our special sites, Steph relaxed and we cruised towards two separate destinations: The one in Steph's head and the actual goal.  As we approached both hotels, I switched my iPod from shuffle mode to a special mix of our favorite songs (see, '80s style tape mixes aren't dead after all!).  I knew I had two songs before she'd catch on that it was a music mix and not just a coincidental quirk.  The first song was "Married Life", the signature song from Pixar's UP, and the second was "The Luckiest," by Ben Folds.  Steph lightly protested when the second song came on, calling b.s. that the iPod could possibly match both songs back-to-back.  I kept my cool though, promising I had nothing to do with the anomoly and to just enjoy it.  She relented.


Before the song even ended though, we had arrived at our destination(s).  As we approached, I slowly veered right.

Steph: "Honey, the St. Regis is to the left."  "Babe, you're going the wrong way."  "Babe!  The left!"

I turned gently on to Ritz Carlton Drive.

Ryan: "Change of plans, babe."

What ensued for the next 10-15 minutes was a jubilee of shock, denial, joy and shouting.

We glided in to the Ritz valet and Steph simply couldn't believe we were checking in. "I don't even have an overnight bag!" she exclaimed.

My favorite line of the night, what I had been waiting to utter more than any other besides, "Marry me":

"Gotcha covered.  And you thought I couldn't surprise you, eh?"

Steph staggered behind me  as she followed to our room, Number 4514.  I think she was murmuring something about not believing I could pull off such an act for so long, but it was jumbled by her own shrieks of joy and excitement.  We opened the door to the room.  She saw the elaborate set-up.

I pulled the pouch from my pants pocket, no longer having to feel like Frodo.

Hands shaking, I produced the ring, reminded myself to get on one knee and said:

"I love you.  Be my wife.  Marry me."

I always figured Steph would cry and not even be able to get a "Yes" out of her mouth.  That was kind of true, but it was because of shock, not just the emotion of the situation.

Of course, Steph managed to find a way to say yes.  We spent an hour talking about all the details of the Great Engagement Caper, including how I raced down to Irvine this past Tuesday evening to meet with her parents to formally ask their permission.  I had told her that I was attending a Fortius team yoga session and belated birthday dinner for Coach Gerardo.  She bought that too, though Steph today admitted she had a fleeting feeling on Thursday that I was indeed with her family.  She quickly put it out of her head though after remembering that I brought my yoga mat and clothes into the house.

Gotcha again!

We've been celebrating ever since.  Twenty-four hours of celebrating, literally.  Breakfast in the hotel room on the balcony overlooking the Pacific.  Enjoying the hotel pool.  Brunch at The Beach House.  Hunting for the exact spot of our first kiss (and debating about it).  Dining with Steph's parents at their favorite family restaurant.

And now, 24 hours later, home.

As an engaged couple.  The first day of a new life together.  With all new adventures to come.

I can't wait.

And tomorrow begins my re-emergence into Ironman training. I can't wait for that either.

In some ways all this feels like a triathlon on its own. I'm transitioning from one big phase of my life to another.  It's exciting, a little hectic and really just a big blur.  You can plan all you want, but come race day, you just have to go with the flow a little and hope for the best.  And, if you're lucky, everything works out perfectly, like it did last night.

I completed a massive sprint after a long marathon, and am now looking ahead to the next big event.

Marriage.  The ultimate Ironman.

240 days and counting.

A Race About Friendship

The LA Marathon won't be remembered for my performance.

I finished in 5:11, nearly a full 1.5 hours slower than I had hoped.  Sickness and fatigue shut me down at mile 9, somewhere between the end of Los Angeles and beginning of West Hollywood.    I don't quite remember where, but I remember when.  I was running with my buddy Chris and we both were steadily maintaining a 9:00-mile pace after a quick opening sequence of 8:35-minute miles.  However, as I monitored my heart-rate during the first hour of the run, I realized I was high in zone 5, around 166 bpm.  Something was very wrong, considering I was running slower than anticipated and in a full two heart-rate zones higher.  At that point, we came to the 10-mile water stop and I told Chris to continue ahead without me.  I needed a break.  He said he'd wait, but I knew better.  The race was over for me.

Chris disappeared quickly into the sea of runners.

Even though I was surrounded by people, I felt totally alone.  Dejected.  Defeated.


I had trained so damn hard for this moment, nearly five months.  And it was gone in an hour.  Gone.

I tried to jog the next couple miles and watched as my pace slowly deterioriated.  Even with more effort, my times were slowing.  Ten-minute miles became 11.  Eleven minutes became 12.  With each step, I became angrier and more frustrated.

This wasn't fair!  I didn't deserve this!

Then, I remembered those poor kids from the Starlight Foundation.

THAT wasn't fair.

I started to pull it together around mile 13.  But then, I was rounding the corner onto La Cienega from Sunset when I ran into my Fortius teammate, Christina.  She was off to the side, walking.  I knew something terrible was wrong for her too.  Sadly I was right.  She pulled a quad muscle and was done for the day.  She couldn't bend her leg. Tears in her eyes, we hugged.  The day hadn't turned out the way either of has had imagined, and she's got an Ironman in six weeks!  I did my best to console her, and then she was gone.  Crossing the barricades to meet her husband for what must have been a sad ride home.

Again, I was alone.  Strangely, I had come to peace with the race by then.  I calmly resigned myself to two choices: Quit, or finish.

If I quit, nobody would blame me.  I was sick.  I was tired.  I hurt.  But, if I quit during the marathon, maybe I'd quit during the Ironman?

It's like cheating in a relationship.  If you do it once, you are capable of doing it multiple times.  That's not my style.

And there was more to it than that. Now that Stephanie and I are finally together, once and for all, I wanted to show her what I was made of.  What I really was made of.  That no matter how much the pain hurt.  Now matter how tired I was. No matter how I felt, I wouldn't EVER quit on her.   I would never quit on us.

From that moment on, at Santa Monica Boulevard and La Cienega, there was only one thing on my mind: Finish the damn marathon.

The next four miles were rough, but entertaining in a bizarre way.  West Hollywood was festive to say the least.  The crowds were boisterous and the street performances were lively.  The cross-dressing cheerleaders were definitely the highlight.

Then it was onto Beverly Hills.  Here I received a big boost from my friend and co-worker, Jason, and his wife, Jen.  They waited extra long for me to hit Wilshire and Rodeo Drive even though their friends had long past that checkpoint.  They walked a few blocks with me until I turned onto Santa Monica Boulevard again towards Westwood.  Their support and positive encouragement really made me feel good.  Despite my best efforts, I was still pretty dejected about my day.  But they helped put it in perspective that I was still going to finish something special.

Unfortunately, as much of a mental boost as that was, it quickly dissipated.  My body started to lock up and break down around mile 16.  I was walking almost full miles at this point.  I had no ability to run more than a few hundred yards before my heart rate would blow up again.

It was at this point that I saw the best familiar face possible: My longest-tenured friend, Kevin.  I've known Kevin since damn near pre-school. We've played soccer together.  We went to elementary school together.  We went to high school together.  We backpacked Europe together.  We've run half-marathons together.

And now, we've run the LA Marathon together.

Out of 25,000 runners, I literally had run into my best friend!

Kevin was having problems too with his marathon.  His knee was locking up.  And it was at this point I realized what the true point of my first marathon would be: It was a race about friendship.  Whether it was supporting my buddy Chris at the beginning, Christina in the middle, or Kevin in the end, this wasn't about performance.  It was about perspective.  About support.  About friendship.

The rest of the marathon was painful.  My feet felt broken.  My calves were incredibly tight despite wearing compression socks.  My IT band swelled.  But it was OK.  Friends such as Jennifer and Ryan showed their support near the Mormon Temple in Westwood.  Jason and Jen drove down to Brentwood to cheer me on and offer some refreshing coconut water at mile 22.  Stephanie kept me sane and motivated throughout the morning with text messages.  Corey and Maggie texted me telling me they were waiting at the finish line.

How lucky am I?

The final few miles couldn't have progressed more slowly.  My body was totally breaking down.  I'd shuffle a few yards, stop, wait for Kevin, or vice versa, and we'd continue walking. Cursing, but walking.  Questioning, but not quitting.  Never quitting.

FINALLY, the finish line was in sight.  Kevin and I tried to pick up the pace heroically, but all I was doing was searching for Stephanie, or listening for her.  That's all I wanted.  I just wanted to tell her that this race was for her.  That there was no quit in this body.  Not for the race, not for anything.

Kevin saw her first.  He pointed her out and I stopped everything to run across the packed street to give her a huge hug behind the barricade, just 10 yards from the finish.  Apparently my family and friends were right behind her, but honestly I only saw her.  It was a special moment.  All the pain and frustration was worth it.

I finished the LA Marathon, arm around Kevin.  We did it.

I will run better marathons.  I will set more personal bests.  But I don't know if I'll ever have an experience as special as my first marathon.  And I owe it to my friends.  To my family, including my parents who woke up so early after flying across the country the evening before.  To my sister and her boyfriend, who showed up just in time for the finish after having friends in town to entertain.

And, surprisingly, to the residents of Los Angeles, who lined the streets for nearly the entire route supporting us crazy marathoners.  I may not have acknowledged all of them, but I sure did hear them and appreciate their presence.  This city sure is beautiful when it wants to be.

Like the Randy Newman song, I love LA.

And today, I paid the price during recovery.  I left work early due to exhaustion even though I slept nearly 10 hours last night.  I'm still coughing up all sorts of stuff, and my legs are stiff and achey.

But it's a good kind of pain.

The kind associated with finishing something I started.

246 days and counting.

How I Met Your Mother

If you read yesterday's blog, you know I was approaching the Desert Triathlon with a fairly nonchalant attitude. At least the race part. However, I'm more excited about the weekend for a different reason.

For the past few weeks, I've been walking around with a noticeable spring in my step.  My smile has felt bigger, my laugh heartier, my joy practically uncontainable.  It's been hard not to share the news with everyone, but there was a little bit of housekeeping that had to occur first.

Am I talking about buying a new bike or piece of triathlon equipment?  Not even close.

My favorite person in the world, Stephanie, has re-entered my life.  Yes, we are dating again, and yes, we're looking forward to a long life together with plans for an engagement already in progress.

She's also here supporting me at the Desert Tri event.

I couldn't be any happier!

For those of you who have been with me since the blog started, you're probably wondering: "But didn't you spend the past couple months trying to move forward with your life?  I don't get it."

Totally valid point.  The truth is that after a LOT of soul-searching, I realized that there's only so much time you can spend rationalizing or analyzing your life instead of simply appreciating it for what it is and going with the flow.  I also realized that if you want something bad enough, you have to be prepared to defend your choices and accept the consequences -- which I wasn't always able or willing to do in this relationship.  I thought my life was supposed to head in a certain direction but every time either Steph or I tried to move on a different path we always found a way back to each other.

And I'm truly at home now.  At peace.  FINALLY.  With myself, with this choice, with life.  I am filled with gratitude every day for getting to spend the rest of my life with my favorite friend.

The story of Stephanie and me is one that requires several blog posts to even begin to describe. Over the course of this Ironman journey, I'm going to share tales of how we met, some of the struggles along the way, and of course all the fun that's going to follow in the coming months and years.

The first tale has to start with how Steph and I met, which I still chuckle about every time I think about it.  I will save the story for another post next week.

When I first began this blog, I intended it to be a blueprint for my future children to learn how to tackle big goals in their lives.

I never realized it would be an ode to "How I met your mother."

Aren't they going to be lucky.

Race day is 12 hours away, and I couldn't care less.  With Steph being here, I've already won.

262 days and counting.

Racing the Rain

What an ominous-looking day in SoCal. From Balboa Park in Encino to Simi Valley, threatening grey clouds and the wind competed with each other for intimidation supremacy.

Fortunately, the Fortius group started our group ride early enough to avoid the raindrops.  My teammates had a six-hour ride today, or approximately 85 miles.  I was lucky, my assignment was "only" four hours with a brief 15-minute run thrown in at the end.

I accompanied the group to Simi before they turned left at Los Angeles Avenue towards Wood Ranch and Thousand Oaks while I continued straight to visit my parents.

That's where the fun began.

I was so excited to see my folks and surprise them that I forgot to take my keys out of the front door lock.

You can imagine my surprise when I arrived back to Encino two hours later with no keys and eight voice mail messages from my parents.

Fortunately, my dad was nice enough to drive out to drop them off, and I bought him and mom breakfast as a humble, embarrassed thank you.

The part in between though, the actual visit, was great.  I enjoyed a quick snack of berries, chatted about the pseudo-high school reunion I attended last night and terrorized mom with my camera.  I promised I wouldn't show the picture below, but I honestly don't think it's that bad. Do you?

I was supposed to show the latter image instead, since it highlights my mom's real pride and joy: her new kitchen.

Back to the ride.  Despite yesterday's trail run and swim, I felt pretty solid on the bike.  The Santa Susana Pass climb becomes easier and faster each time I make it.  The descents do too.  I was certainly ready for the ride to be over by the time the four hour mark ticked off on my heart-rate monitor watch (NO, not the Garmin.  Soon.  Honestly.). Overall, I was pleased with my performance today.  Door-to-door from Simi to Balboa Park on my return trip, with several traffic stops and two brief snack pauses: one hour, 56 minutes.

I'm definitely ready for a nap now though. Or an Epsom salt bath.  Or a massage.  Or bon-bons.

Just anything but more exercise, OK?

Especially if it's going to rain.

275 days and counting.

Friday, the New Sunday

Ahhh, I remember those leisurely weekends when I could do whatever I wanted. All day. Sleep in? No problem! Take a road trip? Let's go!

And then along came Ironman training. Six days a week of training, so far up to 15 hours per week. And rising.

Except on Fridays. My day off from training. My day of do-whatever-the-heck-I-want (except eat junk or drink too much!).

When I'm not working at the office, that is.

Even with working a full day, it still feels like a day off. It's the serenity of knowing I don't have to put in a few hours of training, squeezing it in between work and having a life. It's not that I don't enjoy the training (I do), but the stress of fitting it all in and meeting my assigned hours is what gets to me. So, on one day each week, I don't have to worry about that. I like that day a lot.

Tonight, I am spending my free time with my parents. They made me dinner (and dessert) and I'm picking my car up from my father's automotive repair shop, located in Simi Valley.

I feel spoiled. And I'm not complaining one bit. Homemade chicken with cous-cous, homemade split pea soup, and my personal weakness, My-T-Fine chocolate pudding.

I don't care what kind of training regimen I'm on, you will NOT separate me from my chocolate pudding. Period. Don't mess with my puddin'!

Of course, the conversation and relaxation with my folks is the best part. I realize how lucky I am to be able to have a close relationship with my family. We're not a perfect family, not by any stretch. But we are a tight-knit one.

I'm currently watching my dad try to play one of the video games my company develops, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time. It's an exercise in joy and frustration. He's enraptured in the universe and deriving a great deal of joy from the experience even though his character is dying more than a zombie on Groundhog Day. Yet he keeps trying. Very rarely getting frustrated, finding excitement and insight with every new opportunity to make progress in the game.

I never thought I'd be inspired by my dad playing a PS3 game, but here I am realizing that's just what's happening. He's slogging through a new experience, one that he's admittedly not the best at. He's not giving up. He's still laughing. Still learning. Still finding the fun.

Even though my dad is the one progressing through the game, I'm the one who experienced the payoff tonight.

320 days and counting, but now I'm actually looking forward to 319.