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.

7 Days til the Marathon and I'm Sick!

I've heard of this phenomenon and was hoping it wouldn't happen to me.  Coach Gerardo told me recently that coming down with an illness in the days leading to a big race typically happens about two weeks in advance.  And it's perfectly normal. Surprise!  I'm sick.  And a giant blitzkrieg at that.

But instead of a fortnight, I've got seven days to rest, hydrate and make sure I don't lose my physical or mental edge before the LA Marathon.


The achey body, sore throat, watery, itchy eyes and hot-to-the-touch skin all struck at once -- about five hours after an otherwise uneventful trail run at Chesebero Park around 9 this morning.  In fact, I did very well on the 30-minute tempo portion, clocking sub-8:00 miles and never exceeding an 8:15 pace.  That said, my plantar fasciitis is acting up on the arch of my left foot, to the point where I could barely walk the rest of the day.

I'm definitely getting worried.  I feel like I'm starting to fall apart.  I suppose it was bound to happen after pushing myself so hard the past few months. Or after a few days of shaking hands with all types of folks at the video games conference. (I even used Purell an ungodly amount of times, what gives!?) But one week before the race? Really?

(Fortunately, all this happened before our afternoon of engagement ring shopping, which went really well!  More details another time when I know she's not reading over my shoulder.)

As Stephanie can tell you though (or my parents), I'm a bit dramatic when I don't feel well.  In fact, can you feel Steph's eye-roll?  Perhaps it's because I'm so used to being in good health that it accentuates my pathetic-ness when those rare moments occur.  Maybe it's because I watched too much Ferris Bueller's Day Off and identified more with Cameron growing up.  Either way, thank goodness for Steph tonight.  She's taking good care of me with Canter's matzah ball soup, lots of herbal tea and cold medicine.  I'm a lucky dude.

To be safe tomorrow, I'm taking the day off work.  I need to rest and sleep as much as possible to beat this with enough time to resume my training pre-race.  It literally is a race against time, and I hope my body is up for the task.

Come on, Ry.  Don't fail me now.

And Ferris, wherever you are, don't even think of calling me.  I so will NOT pick up.

"When Ryan was in Egypt's land...LET MY RYAN GO!!!"

254 days and counting.

I See You

I had an "a-ha!" moment in training today. Not necessarily a good one, mind you, but incredibly important nonetheless.

Halfway through my 2.5-hour run around Brentwood/Santa Monica early this morning, I was informed by Coach Gerardo that I have been confusing heart-rate zones. I've been using my bike HR parameters on my runs as well as the bike. That would explain why I've been feeling like I'm going slower than my compatriots during our training runs. I was chaining myself unnecessarily to a much lower beats per minute count (by a factor of nearly 10 bpm).
The second half of my run today was much better, needless to say! Now, I think I may have a shot at beating my personal best half-marathon time last year (1:50:10). I'll get the chance to find out next week in Huntington Beach at the Surf City Half-Marathon. Now, I can't wait.
After finishing the 15-mile run and a Governator sighting (driving a red convertible Hummer with Secret Service vehicles in tow), I sped home to get ready for my parents' 40th wedding anniversary lunch. My sister and I were co-hosting, and as the clock ticked down to T-minus 1 hour, I had images of showing up breathless and stinky because of the typically horrendous 405/101 Freeway traffic.
Fortunately, these fears didn't materialize and we had a fantastic afternoon of reminiscing with my parents' friends. The most poignant moment, for me, was my mom's toast to my dad. She actually quoted Avatar, which I'm still wrapping my head around, and the way the N'avi say "I see you" to each other as a way of identifying with the other's soul.
I'm preparing for bed now (big bike ride tomorrow a.m.) after hanging out with my sister and her boyfriend. I'm absolutely sure they will have a terrific life together because they "see" each other clearly.
One day, I will see someone too. And they will see me. But I am honored that I've had relationships where I've clearly "seen" a special someone, and they've seen me too. I look forward to that day again, and am fortunate to have two parents remain together through many ups and downs over the years to show me what that statement really means in the terrestrial world.
Right now though, I'm seeing my bed. And it's seein' me.
Happy Anniversary, mom and dad.
298 days and counting.