Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Weekly Giggle #1

Yes, I'm starting a new regular feature, which just goes to show I'm hopelessly AR/OCD. I wrote here about the need to have good and/or funny news, not just mass-media bad and/or scary news, so I'm walking the walk. In addition to the weekly Words, Words, Words and Gratitude Journal, we'll have a Weekly Giggle. This will be something that made me laugh...could be anything. Feel free to submit your own fun finds to me using the email address on my profile page or sharing in the comments.

This week's giggle comes from the wonderful Lowering the Bar blog and is a fine example of how absurd government can be. I want it known that I am a total Anglophile and am in no way singling out the British government for mockery; the U.S. government is equally silly in these sorts of matters. But, honestly, all governments should know better than to mess with people's beer-drinking.

British Government Considers Mandating Plastic Pint Glasses

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gratitude Journal #16

Today, I am grateful for this photo and for my brother-in-law who scanned it and emailed it to me this evening, despite his having a million and one other, vastly more important things to do. I had wanted it to post with my coffee essay on Friday, but Tom was in Italy.

Damn him...I want to go to Italy! Wait, this is a gratitude journal, isn't it?

Thanks, Tom. I'll try not to hold the whole Italy thing against you.

Old photos carry such weight of memory, don't they? In this picture are my maternal grandparents, D.L. and Ann Willis. I've blogged about them before, most recently in the coffee essay. Don't they look so young? I used to be that young, too.

It's so odd, seeing an image of my grandfather with that much hair. What you see here didn't last long. This is how I remember him, balding with cigarette in hand:

He often wore a hat to cover his noggin, though not usually inside. He was an officer and a gentleman. Grandma teased him about his baldness, too. You can tell what an imp she was. Check out that naughty sparkle in her eye and sassy pose above, and her grabbing Papa in a headlock to have her way with his hat in the photo below. Note the china coffee cups in the background.

Coffee. Family. Heritage. I'm grateful for them all.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Words, Words, Words Seen on Angie Lucas' Blog

"Today, I will be happier than a bird with a french fry."

This is a statement of choice: today, I will choose to be happy. As long as your brain chemistry is normal, happiness really is a choice. The more of us who choose to be happy, the more powerful the forces of good will be over the forces of media negativity, as I discussed here.

This week, I was listening to Diane Rehm on NPR. She was hosting four or five panelists who were all griping about the things wrong with health care, the economy, Obama and the liberals, the old Bush administration and the conservatives, yadda, yadda, yadda. A listener emailed a question: What is the American government doing right? I was AMAZED at how readily each of the panelists answered that question, and it made me feel so refreshed, so happy to be in this country. For all our problems (and they are pretty big, no hiding that!), we sure have a lot going for us.

So today, I will be happier than a bird with a french fry. What are you happier than?

It’s Impossible to Be Unhappy When Drinking a Good Cup of Coffee

(Disclaimer: Today’s essay includes ebullient praise for Starbucks, Barnes and Noble Booksellers, and Coffees of Hawaii. None of these companies paid me to do this, but Coffees of Hawaii did send me a free sample. Thanks so much, Albert!)

When I was little, my parents divorced, and my mother, sister, and I moved in with my grandparents. Grandma brewed coffee every morning in an old-style percolator, filling her home with the rich, wonderful, exotic smell of coffee. She and Papa awoke at 5:30 every morning to their coffee ritual. When I was about seven or eight, I begged a taste.

Predictably, I made a face and yelled, “Bleck!” The grown-ups all laughed at me, but I thought they were a sad group if they had to drink that nasty black brew. I never wanted to grow up and live in their dark and bitter world.

Oh, the Age of Innocence! Frankly, I don’t miss it at all because, now that my taste buds are all grown up, I totally get the hedonistic bliss that comes from a great cup of coffee. In fact, without my own version of Grandma and Papa’s morning ritual, I would be a remarkably dark and bitter person. Does this make me an addict? Not really. I just enjoy a good cup of joe.

Denial is just a river in Egypt, you know.

I seek out new coffee experiences regularly at one of my favorite places…the Starbucks at my local Barnes and Noble Booksellers. Whoever first thought of combining bookshop with café deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. Books and joe together under the same roof positively breed goodwill and community. The staff at my bookseller/café greets regular customers by name, asking after their businesses, their children, their significant others. There’s even a homeless man who visits regularly on cold winter evenings for a free cup of warmth.

All are welcome at the table of peace, love, and understanding.

My bookseller café is managed by a lovely woman named Gloria. Gloria’s husband had prostate cancer, which is thankfully now in remission, and they both have Harleys and travel extensively. They’ve been to Sturgis, and I remember the energy and noise of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally every August of the four years we lived in South Dakota. Gloria always asks about Jack if he isn’t with me, and if he is, she talks to him. When she receives a response, she’s delighted, and if she doesn’t, she isn’t bothered by it. She gets the autism thing.

I love Gloria. I love anyone who makes me a deliciously decadent, creamy mocha with caramel drizzle; or an icy cold, flavored frappaccino; or a simple black coffee.

My friend Liz once told me, “It’s impossible to be unhappy when drinking a mocha.” She’s right. People walk into the café with hang-dog expressions that magically transform as they order, and by the time the staff calls out “Venti hazelnut mocha with chocolate drizzle,” their faces wear beatific expressions most often seen in Renaissance religious art.

Just like my grandmother before me, I make coffee every morning for myself and George. He fixes a travel mug and heads off to work. I check email and blog while sipping a hot, home-made mocha.

A few weeks ago, Albert Boyce of Coffees of Hawaii sent me a free sample of his Malulani coffee to try. Albert is an Ironman like George, and so is his sister Mary, who lives in Colorado and whom I cheered on at Ironman Wisconsin a few weeks ago.

See what I mean: coffee brings people together across oceans and over mountains.

I made a pot of the Malulani and sipped it black because I like coffee two ways: either strong and black, or over-the-top embellished with milk and chocolate and whipped cream and copious drizzles of whatever sticky-sweet stuff you can think of. But strong and black is the true taste test; the coffee can’t hide behind other yummy flavors.

Coffees of Hawaii Malulani is the best cup of coffee I have ever tasted. Yes, I tend to exaggerate, but not this time. This coffee is smooth, without even a hint of bitterness, and a pure sensory delight.

After tasting it (because I didn’t want to be influenced by the marketing), I went to their website and read about Malulani. A blind assessment states,

“An impressively sweet, cocoa- and dark-chocolate toned coffee with a silky mouthfeel and gentle acidity…a hint of the chocolate note persists pleasantly in the finish.”

Read that out loud to yourself. Go ahead. I dare you. Are you salivating? Yes, I know. It’s beautiful. And that’s just how the cup of Malulani tasted.

Albert’s coffee is my new favorite—and George’s, too. If you are like me and enjoy searching out new coffee experiences, check out Coffees of Hawaii. You will not be disappointed.

Even if you don’t like coffee (and for some reason are still reading this paean to it), please check out the website. The coffee plantations are in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and Albert shares gorgeous pictures that will have you longing for an island vacation. While you’re on his site, click the “Ironmen Need Coffee Too” box at the bottom of the homepage. Albert has posted delightful pictures of dolphins swimming with Ironmen in beautiful blue Hawaiian water. Bliss.

Morning rituals. Global communities of peace, love, and understanding. Books. Coffee.

In a world with these things, how can a person not be happy?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Karma Bites

Last night, Nick and I sat on the floor in our home library playing Yahtzee. This is a fun strategy to help him master number manipulation, which is a pretty serious problem for him. As we finished up, he lay down on his back and pulled a thin book off one of my shelves.

In case you had completely forgotten that I am an unrepentant medieval literature geek, here’s the book:

Dr. William Woods, my graduate thesis advisor, put together this bibliography for his freshman composition class. He graciously gave it to me while I was working on my thesis. I’ve never really thought of a bibliography as a dangerous object, but alas, a nine-year-old boy can get into trouble with anything. Nick dropped the book, edge-first, onto his eyeball.

Allow me to pause while you wince in sympathy. Ouch.

He promptly began screaming and holding his eye and screaming and flailing and screaming some more. I got him into a hug, where he stopped flailing and started depositing snot and tears on my shirt. I kept hugging him while George and Jack joined us in the library asking identical questions: “What happened? Why is Nick crying?”

I explained what I’d seen, while trying really hard not to cry myself. As much as it hurts to scratch your eye (been there, done that, more than once), it hurts so much more to see your child in pain.

George picked the book off the floor and joined me in rubbing Nick’s back and uttering soothing nothings to calm Nick down enough to take his hand away from his eye so we could see if there was any visible damage. Jack took a more artistic approach to sympathizing with his brother and announced, “I will make Nick a well card so he can feel better.” Then he disappeared.

Seconds later, he reappeared. “This will make Nick feel better,” he said, and held out his three-by-five-inch Well Card:

Isn’t that just the cutest little thing?

Unfortunately, our firstborn son had several legitimate excuses for screaming his head off and refused to look at Jack’s Well Card. First, he is my son and inherited my tendency to handle pain, um, poorly. Very. Poorly. Second, he had already experienced an eye injury once before, while playing around with a rubber snake that snapped back and hit him on the eyeball. That time, Nick took a lovely tour of the ER with George, which ended in a diagnosis of a scratched conjunctiva. He’d had to use antibiotic ointment for five days.

Oh, the trauma of the ointment! Nick dislikes anything that feels uncomfortable or weird, and by dislike, I mean fusses like a cat with its tail caught in the door. He’s physical, he’s loud, and he cannot be reasoned with.

Memories of this previous trauma flooded his panicked mind last night, adding a special intensity to the screaming. I totally sympathized and hugged him until he finally calmed down enough to go upstairs with us and let us look in his eye, which was red but not obviously injured. We told both boys to brush teeth and get ready for bed. George and I discussed options quietly in our bedroom, but Nick overheard us mention the ER, which kicked off a new round of wailing.

“I don’t want to go to the ER!!!!! I don’t like the ER!!!! Nooooooooo!!!!!!!”

We explained—calmly and reasonably—the need to have a doctor look in Nick’s eye to see if there was a scratch and to give him medicine if he needed it. Calm and reason are lost on nine-year-old drama kings.

“I hate that ointment!!!!! It feels weird!!!! And the eye drops HURT!!!! Nooooooo!!!!!”

We asked Nick how his eye was feeling.

“It feels like it has a chip in it!! It feels like it has a DONATO’S PIZZA in it!!!!”

George and I made eye contact over Nick’s head. George, the better parent by far, smiled but refrained from laughing. I did not. With melodrama like this, so specific and exaggerated, he is definitely my son. If we'd had Donato's Pizza when I was little, I'd have used that line. It's brilliant. And funny, too.

Around this time, Jack grabbed his guitar and started singing a Well Song to Nick. He really was trying hard to make his brother feel better. We all were.

Nick and I got in the car to drive to the nearest ER. On the way, he would occasionally yell out in frustration and pain as his eye throbbed, and I would say, "It's going to be okay, sweetie. It's going to be okay." In between wails, he sniffily said, “At least it’s better than last time. Last time, you threw my rubber snake in the trash! That was horrible!”

At one point on the drive, when he was complaining about how much the ointment was going to hurt, I told him I’d scratched my eye with a broken radio antenna when I was about his age, so I knew for a fact that the ointment didn’t hurt. He curiously asked, “A radio antenna? What’s that?” Oh. My. Gosh.

As we walked into the ER, I saw there wasn’t a single person in the waiting room. Last time I’d come to this ER, I’d waited five hours just to be taken to the back. This time, Nurse Ashley immediately took Nick into the triage room. She asked Nick a few friendly questions about the accident, but although he'd been quite the chatterbox on the drive to the ER, he refused to answer the nurse.

He just whimpered. Pathetically.

We had to wait a while in the ER room for a doctor. This is, I think, always the worst part of an ER visit because when you’re lying in an uncomfortable hospital bed in a sterile room full of equipment that looks incomprehensibly alien, there is NOTHING to distract you from the pain. Despite finding Nick’s melodrama highly entertaining, I truly felt sorry for him. I tried to distract him from the pain and boredom by pulling out my Palm Pilot (which doesn’t have an antenna, you know) and taught him how to play Solitaire. He was actually quite perky until the doctor came into the room.

At the sight of her white coat, however, he deflated. More whimpering. More drama. After much protest, Nick finally allowed the doctor to put the numbing drops and fluorescing dye into his eye. The doctor showed me the glowing scratch, about half an inch long, which extended horizontally over the conjunctiva and ever so slightly onto his cornea.

After a few instructions, the doctor fled the scene as quickly as she could and sent another nurse to give us the dreaded ointment as well as a note for school in case his eye still hurt in the morning. This nurse, realizing how she had been sent into a room filled with epic pitifulness, fled as quickly as she could. Nick asked to take the bracelet off, and I said we would cut it off at home. He asked if I was going to scrapbook the incident, and I said I hadn't brought my camera. He said, "You have your phone." So I took a picture of our patient, and we left.

My phone doesn't have an antenna either, by the way.

We walked out of the ER at 9:00, one hour after entering it. I am thrilled to report that Nick’s eye felt fine after a good night's sleep, but my patience is already worn thin after just one application of the ointment. I had to threaten him with no computer time for a week if he didn’t let me put the ointment in his eye. We have 8 more applications to go, and I foresee the need for repeating this dire threat every single time.

I have no one to blame but myself. When my mother reads this story, she will feel totally sorry for Nick and at the same time point her finger at her computer and laugh hysterically at me. She, better than anyone, knows that Nick’s melodrama is karmic payback for all I put her through when I had stitches—twice—as a young girl, not to mention that whole radio antenna episode and other incidents too numerous to mention here.

Some days, karma just bites.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Gratitude Journal #15

Today, I am grateful for coffee.

Today, I am grateful that my stamping blog has passed 20,000 hits.

Today, I am grateful for the people who serve on the Loaves and Fishes ministry at my church. Often, I don’t need to call to ask people to provide meals for families in need. The volunteers call me or send me emails when they hear of a need. It’s beyond heart-warming. It’s soul-warming.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Sunday Sermon on the American Media

Jon Katz, author and blogger, posted this insightful commentary on America's media. Please check it out and let me know what you think.

I've found myself tuning out even NPR news lately. So much of what the media spouts seems so unrelentingly negative and depressing. I don't feel like the news is educating me on the issues like health care and the economy. Political pundits and fear mongers do not educate; they thrive by prolonging conflict and making problems worse.

If the linguistic theorists, the Bible, and Walt Whitman are right, we create our world with language. Our perspective is shaped by the words we hear--in our own minds as well as from outside. We know how powerful self-fulfilling prophesy is in the development of children, but how often do we question how our adult worlds are shaped by the words we hear and speak?

Not often enough, I think.

Wouldn't you watch a whole network devoted to reporting humanity's good side to balance the bad? I would watch, not because I want to hide from the bad news but because I know there is more out in the world than just the negative. Sadly, positive news is hard to find. The mass media sell us a world view of panic, fear, and knee-jerk reactions. We are better than that. We deserve better than that.

I see so much to be hopeful for, so much to celebrate, so much to praise on both a national scale and in my private life. Questioning my Intelligence promotes the positive. For those of you who only read it via email, I encourage you to start clicking to the actual site. The sidebar contains inspirational quotations, and I'm going to start linking to other sites that promote positive perspectives, too. I'd love it if you shared your favorite positive sites with me.

On his book tour, Jon Katz has seen an America full of hope, creative problem solving, and positive perspectives on life even in the face of difficulty. That's the America I know and love; and I suspect the rest of the world isn't too different, either.

Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." That change starts with our words. Our actions are the follow-through.

Right now, my favorite words are compassion, hope, and gratitude. What are your favorite words right now?

Let's start making some noise...positive noise.

Are you with me?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

IM Moo in Review: Favorite Photos and Results

Results of some racers I followed:

George Raihala (#1464) finished in 12:36:46, beating his time last year by five minutes. He was a bit disappointed as he wanted to do a sub-12-hour race, but a personal record is a personal record.

Kris Armstrong (#1742), the husband of my Ironmate friend Rose, finished in 13:57:13, which was a good bit slower than he expected. I suspect sunny and warm race-day conditions made times slower. I was hot, and all I did was watch.

Daryl Petsch (#1908), a nice guy George and I met in line to register for next year's race, did not finish. He had an awesome swim, coming out of the water in just over 1:14 (faster than George), but something happened on the bike ride. I sure hope he's okay.

Mary Boyce (#2552), sister of Albert Boyce (whose coffee I'll be reviewing next week), finished in 12:55:35. She probably won't remember, but I spotted her at the start of the marathon and yelled, "Way to go, Mary!" She was looking good, too.

Keith Grimes (#986), George's boss and first-time Ironman racer, didn't finish. On the bike, he popped a salt pill, which landed too far back in his throat and caused him to throw up. That set up a bad cycle of drinking, throwing up, drinking, throwing up, cramping, walking, throwing up, drinking, and so on. His wife rescued him around mile nine of the marathon. Such a disappointment.

Steve Simmerman (#416), the husband of Elizabeth (one of my kind readers), had a great race and finished in 11:49:06.

So many of you really got into this race, and I appreciate every comment you left here or on Facebook or in an email. Here are two I want to acknowledge in particular.

To reader Robin, whose husband Brent was hit by a truck on a bike-ride to work: I hope Brent is cleared to ride soon and recovers fully from his injuries. Keep us posted, please!

To reader Shannon, whose husband was recently laid off from his work: cyber-hugs to you both. May something even better come along very, very soon.

Now, on to my favorite pictures that highlight our trip to Madison.

George programs his Polar heart-rate monitor to countdown to his Ironman races.

Madison's capitol building is very photogenic, especially against beautiful blue sky.

Mary and Keith Grimes were great fun.

The calm before the storm...this was taken around 5:00 on race morning from the bridge over the parking lot at Minona Terrace.

George and Keith about to head out on the morning of the race.

This spiral ramp on the parking garage is a great place to view the start...assuming you stake out your spot early. The racers have to run up the helix to get to the bike transition area. Harsh.

Athletes getting in the water to start the swim.

Sunrise over the water, slowly filling with 2,400 athletes.

The mass start. It's like watching salmon spawn.

Drew's fist raised, cheering on the swimmers. Drew was just a nice guy Mary and I met while watching the start. He's finished three Ironman races and was having fun taking pictures of this one.

George, after just completing the 112-mile bike ride, starting his marathon. Looks happy, doesn't he?

Mary and I wrote messages for our husbands on State Street. George's call sign in the Air Force was Spot. I don't know who Tina P. is, but I hope she had a great race!

These volunteers are in a snaking line to "catch" athletes as they cross the finish line and give them their t-shirts, medals, and hats. Some finishers promptly collapse, so these volunteers are vitally important for safety and judging who needs to go straight to the medical tent.

Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman. He's amazing. He starts before the swim and goes until midnight. In addition to general announcing and rousing the crowd, he calls the name of each finisher, says where they are from and if they're a repeat Ironman, and then says, "You are an Ironman!" He's as enthusiastic announcing the winner as he is announcing the last finisher about 7.5 hours later. This year, over 2,100 people finished. It's amazing he can even squeak by midnight.

These girls were part of a big team for a racer and graciously allowed me to photograph them. Their shirts say what all us families and friends of Ironmen are thinking.

This is the shot of George's approach to the finish line. You try shooting a target that just wants to cross a line a few yards ahead. In the dark.

The happy finisher.

361 days to next year's IM Moo. Already counting down.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Gratitude Journal #14

Today, I have so much to be grateful for.

I am grateful for my mother who took wonderful care of my children while George and I were away.

I am grateful for long hugs from little boys.

I am grateful George finished IM Moo and could still walk the next day.

I am grateful still for the Glen Helen Raptor Center. Betty Ross called while we were gone to say that the barred owl George rescued is doing very well and will survive his encounter with the side of a truck. Unfortunately, he is definitely blind in one eye and will probably not be released in the wild. Betty assured us that the center will find a good home for him with an educational program.

I am grateful to be home.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

IM Moo, Race Update #3

See that half-crazed expression? It's what victory looks like at an Ironman. It also signals the end of George's odd-year losing streak. 2009 is a FINISH!

George didn't do as well as he wanted, but he did do a personal best at 12:36:46. He finished in 799th place. We'll see tomorrow what the final count of finishers is, but he's definitely in the top half.

We did make a quick trip to the medical tent for some chicken broth and gatorade, but he's fine.

Unfortunately, our friend Keith didn't finish his first Ironman. His race went a lot like George's 2007 Lake Placid race, so we know the disappointment he and Mary feel. Man, it stinks. I'll be checking on several other people tonight to see their finishes, like Rose's husband, and will report those as well.

For now, I'd like to say thanks to all of you who have been reading and following and praying. It's been a blast sharing this experience with you, and I have more to share after we get home...especially photos.


IM Moo, Q & A

How do they manage the swim? Do they all go at once?

The pros do start ten minutes ahead of everyone else, but there are still several thousand athletes starting the swim at one time. The swim is probably the most dangerous part of the Ironman. People get kicked, hit, pushed under by people swimming over them, and generally treated like spawning salmon. Often, slow swimmers will seed themselves too close to the front, and that makes a bad situation worse.

How/what do they eat? I find it really hard to exercise vigorously for a good while after I've eaten--but they need the energy. I know some marathoners down Gu (or something like it)--is that what IMers do?

They all do different things. Some Ironmen load their transition bags with Big Macs and fries, sandwiches, fruit and other real food. Others, like George, rely on sports nutrition products (drinks, gels, bars), plus the bananas available in aide stations on the course. George uses a custom blended powder that is supposed to help him recover some of the salts he sweats out so heavily. George started his day with a peanut butter and honey sandwich. He’ll end it, more than likely, with a big burger and fries after the finish!

Both times George DNF’ed, he was severely dehydrated and cramping from loss of salt and potassium. He’s a particularly salty sweater, which makes it hard for him to handle heat like they are having today. He seems to be okay right now, but about half-way through the marathon is when he gets in trouble. I’m sitting on pins and needles for his third run split to post.

What is the longest training George did? Would he do, say, a 75-mile bike ride immediately followed by a 15-mile run? (I can't even walk right after a 45-minute bike ride, so I'm in total awe.)

I think George actually trains fewer hours than most IM participants. He tries to push harder rather than longer, but it varies every year. In 2006, he did RAGBRAI (a 600+ mile ride across Iowa in one week), and that helped him finish IM Wisconsin that year. This year, he did several 75-80 mile rides and one 110-ish mile ride about a month ago. Most of his rides are around 50 miles, though. He calls a 25-30 mile ride an “easy spin.” (insert rolling eyes here!)

He does do “bricks”: a ride followed by a run. His are not usually that long, though. The longest run George did was around 12 miles, but he had several injuries this year, so his run training was perhaps slower than usual because of that.

He swims at the YMCA several times a week, and takes his wetsuit out to a local lake for open-water swims a couple of times.

Most years, he participates in several shorter, Olympic distance triathlons starting in May, and some years, he does a half-Ironman. Most IMers would think his lighter training schedule crazy, but it allows him to balance work, training, and family very nicely. He’s very good about spending plenty of time with the boys, and will incorporate Nick’s triathlon training with his own this winter by having Nick ride his bike while George runs.

Any other questions? I'll try to answer them. Once George his back, he may correct my answers, LOL! My perception and his sometimes are different.

IM Moo, Race Day Update #2

Woohoo! George came off the bike just a bit later than when he predicted, and he was running uphill when I saw him. That's just evil for the race planners to have such a long uphill out of T2 (or the bike-to-run transition). Okay, evil may be a strong word, but wow, many of the runners looked beat when they were just starting!

Here he is just catching sight of four women screaming his name.

Here's the smile he mustered for the camera. Good thing I caught it, even if I did almost chop his head off. You try shooting a moving target with a Nikon Coolpix.

The smile went away quickly. He's tired, poor guy. He's just gone 114.4 miles. He's entitled to be tired.

The volunteers had smeared George with sunscreen, and as he ran away from me (up the dang hill!), I noticed he had lots of salt on his black tri-suited butt. I hope he heard me yell "Take SALT!"

A few amusing observations:

1. After a small group of runners passed out of T2 and couldn't hear me, I muttered, "You all still have a marathon to run. You guys are CRAZY!" A woman passing by on the sidewalk replied, "Amen, sister!"

2. If you can't find someone to talk to among IM spectators, you're seriously introverted. Everyone wants to talk, meet and greet, share information on their racer. On Friday, I met Rose, who teaches children with autism and sings professionally. Mary and I ran into her today and spent a few hours waiting for the guys out of T2, along with Rose's friend Kaarina. Put four women together with ripped dudes in sports gear running past, and you've got a recipe for a good time. All we needed was pina coladas, 'cause it was hot. Here's a pic of Rose and Kaarina:

Don't they look friendly? I tell you, I'm just lovin' everyone in Madison today.

3. It's hot. Africa hot. (Name that movie....) Okay, so it's not exactly Africa hot, but it's 82 and sunny. You try doing 140.6 miles in this heat. Just spectating is hot and sweaty work. Ten days ago, NOAA was predicting a high of 64 degrees. They lie. They lie like a bad rug. Oh, for a 64-degree race day!

4. I'll say it again. Ironman athletes are crazy. Insane. Mad. Loony. Nuts. And I love them all. Kaarina's boyfriend, Rich, had just passed through T2 to start his marathon a few minutes before the winner of the whole dang race finished. It's gonna be a long marathon for some folks.

5. This observation is not so amusing. Guys are already DNF-ing. We saw a racer whose race was over around 1:30. Ouch. Another racer came out of the medical tent as we passed who'd clearly been in a bad bike wreck: broken arm and hand, horrible road rash. George has DNF'ed twice and no two ways about it: it sucks. Men and women train hard for the better part of a year, spend gobs of money on gear and travel and registration fees, and sometimes, the outcome isn't what they hoped. Pray for them, please.

More when the race is done!

PS Several people have asked questions about the race. I'll try to answer them all in another post. In case you hadn't noticed, I am hugely impressed by these crazy athletes, and it's more than a little amazing that so many finish this grueling race. I'll share George's training schedule and other Ironman trivia soon. Stay posted!

IM Moo, Race Day Update #1

Wow. Four a.m. came really early. George hopped out of bed, downed a peanut butter and honey sandwich, and said he felt "chipper." I asked if that meant he was ready to go 140.6 miles. He emphatically replied, "I just said I was 'chipper.'"

We headed out to Minona Terrace. George was in the zone and not very talkative. I, on the other hand, had my mocha from Starbuck's and had to make myself shut up. We hung out inside for a while with our friends Keith and Mary.

This is Keith's first Ironman. Doesn't he look happy? He's gonna smoke George, by the way.

This hallway fills rapidly with people hanging out in the warmth, but this year, it's not quite so cold out, so a bit after 6:00, we headed outside and down the helix ramp to the swim start. George and Keith seemed eager to get going as they passed into the "athletes only" area. Mary and I hugged them and told them to have fun.

Wives say the dumbest things sometimes.

Sunrise over the lake was beautiful. Without a wide-angle lens, I can't really show how many boats, kayaks, and surf boards were out on the water already, waiting to keep a watchful eye on over 2,400 athletes.

I want this guy's job. Doesn't that look so peaceful? He was really useful once the race started. A swimmer got disoriented and started going off course. He redirected the guy, herding him back where he belonged.

Swimmers started getting in the water well before 6:30 for a 7:00 start. The pros get in first and start ten minutes ahead of everyone else at 6:50, but it takes over half an hour to get that many people to walk over the chip reader (a mat on the shore) and into the water. IM Moo has a deep-water start, so the racers are treading water for a while before the canon goes off.

The 7:00 start looked more like salmon spawning than anything else. Bodies churning in the water, bumping into each other, swimming over each other, kicking each other. No, thank you. I'll stay on shore.

This athlete ran into trouble right away. He had zipper failure on his wetsuit. The kayaks were on him in a flash, and the crew helped get the zipper back together.

The elbow in the air (foreground) belongs to Zipper Dude. He rejoined the race. What a bummer of a start, though.

This smiling, happy face belongs to Drew, who took our email addresses and will send me and Mary pictures he took with his fancy camera. He's done three IM races himself, and was super pumped to be shooting this race. It's easy to be happy when you're not one of the spawning salmon.

This smiling, happy face belongs to Nurse Fran, who wasn't technically on duty yet, but she couldn't resist keeping an eye out at the start anyway. About a minute after I took this shot, she ran off...

...because she spotted this athlete being brought to the dock. She was the first medic on the scene. God bless her and all the paramedics, nurses, and doctors out for the race today. Fran came back after handing her patient off to a doctor. She said he got kicked in the face and everything went black for a bit. He seemed fine and would be allowed to join the race if the doctor cleared him. Fran didn't wait to find out what happened, though. She came back to the shore and kept her eyes on the course, looking for someone else in need.

For spectators, a big frustration is finding just the right spot to see your athlete and cheer him or her on during transitions. Mary and I attempted to get on the helix ramp, which all the athletes have to run up for the swim-to-bike transition. We realized that wasn't going to happen. Too many people, too much shoving. We found a great spot inside where we could see the guys, but not one of the pictures turned out. At least George and Keith both heard us yelling for them.

I did snap a few very bad pictures of George getting his bike. That's him behind the woman in the foreground.

You can just see George's profile and the last part of his race number (1464) on his helmet. The blue handlebar tape is on his bike.

George's official swim time was 1:19. Keith came out at 1:10. So far, so good.

To follow George's times, go to and put his name or number (1464) in the Athlete Tracker. The tracker shows his splits, transition times and so forth. Later today, there will be video of the finish line, which I'll link to after George gets off the bike, which should be sometime around 2:00 p.m. Central Time.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

IM Moo, Saturday Update

Tonight, on our way back to the hotel after a pasta dinner, George said, "Here we are on the eve of another Ironman.... What the HELL was I thinking!?!?"

I hear this every year.

This afternoon, George took his bike and transition bags to Minona Terrace in preparation for tomorrow. His bike is racked under the bridge over the parking lot.

Here's the view over one side of the bridge:

Here's the view on the other side:

In the end, there will be over 2,400 bikes racked and ready to roll. At an average of at least $3,000 each, the parking lot will hold over $7 million in bikes.

I'm not going to think about that. It hurts my brain.

Inside the convention center are two rooms full of transition room for the swim-to-bike transition, one room for the bike-to-run transition. The only difference is the color of the bags.

All is ready. Tomorrow's the day. Deep breath.

IM Moo Update: Nutty and Nice

I think we can all admit that doing a 140.6-mile triathlon takes a good dose of nuttiness. Doing an Ironman more than once requires total nuttiness. There are a lot of totally nutty people in Madison right now. The above picture was taken at Minona Terrace of the line to pre-register for NEXT YEAR's race. Only athletes competing in this year's race can pre-register. Regular registration begins on Monday morning and will likely fill the race quickly...within an hour or so, usually, though the recession is hitting IM races a bit.

George hemmed and hawwed about signing up for next year, but as far as I'm concerned, it was a no-brainer. He's totally nutty, he suffers from a primal need to do an Ironman every year, and guaranteeing a slot makes sense. So here he is, resting his legs while waiting to pay his fee and get yet another opportunity to abuse himself:

While waiting, I struck up a conversation with another IronMate. IronMates are a gregarious group, united in our awe and wonder that our significant others are so, well, crazy. This IronMate's husband is doing his fourth IM race and signing up for next year. His bib number is 1908, so if you follow the race tomorrow, check on his progress. They were very nice people, and I hope he does well.

In fact, I hope they ALL do well. Ironman isn't your average competitive freak show. Ironman competitors are nice. If they see someone struggling on the course, they help. A few years ago, Chrissie Wellington, a professional, got a flat at IM Hawaii. Though she was a favorite to win, her race was essentially over because no outside help is allowed. Bek Keat, another professional, gave Chrissie her spare CO2 cartridge to inflate the tire, and Chrissie went on to win.

That's what we call serious, world-class sportsmanship. Gives you hope for humanity, doesn't it?

Among the non-professional athletes (the majority of Ironman participants), this same spirit of mutual support shines through. Athletes share gels, salt tablets, and encouragement all along the way. Last year, an Air Force Academy student half George's age participated. George encountered him on the run, where the cadet was struggling. George paced with him for a while, trying to help him through the rough patch. George doesn't know if he finished, but I'm sure he remembers the retired Lt. Colonel who stuck with him for a bit.

Some racers who finish with really good times will clean up, eat, and return to the finish line to cheer the slower athletes on. A few even hang out until midnight. That's the cut-off for finishing. If you cross the line after midnight, you don't get the t-shirt or a medal or your name called out as an Ironman. You get nothing. Some of those earlier finishers hang out at the line to give their own medals to the folks who didn't quite make the cut-off.

140.6 miles. No one can do that totally by themselves. Family, friends, spectators, volunteers, and fellow athletes all contribute to every single finish called out by announcer Mike Reilly. But only the athletes go the whole distance: every stroke on the swim, every push of the pedals, every stride of the run. It takes a lot of nuttiness to push your body that far. It's a big warm fuzzy for humanity that there's also a whole lot of nice involved, too.