Friday, April 10, 2009
The Triathlon, Part I
This morning I woke from a dream that I was swimming in salt water. It reminded me of last summer on Cape Cod with Muggy and MamaVee, when, having not swum in an ocean in almost twenty years, I tasted my lips and exclaimed: "It's salty!" Muggy and MamaVee both laughed. Once out of the water I still felt the pull of the waves undulating over me, rocking my insides back and forth.
A couple months ago while instant message chatting with MamaVee, she mentioned that she was looking for a training partner for a mini triathlon this summer on the Cape.
"Wouldn't you need someone local to train with you?" I asked.
"As long as I know you'll be there on race day, that's all the motivation I need," she responded. I changed the subject for a while, but MamaVee was persistent.
"I'll ask again," she typed, "do you want to do the mini-triathlon with me?"
I asked about dates: July 19th; I asked how "mini" we were talking: 9 miles on a bike, 3 miles running, 1/3 of a mile swimming; before our conversation was over I said I'd consider it.
I bike to work about three seasons a year, so biking nine miles doesn't intimidate me - I cover eight miles each way when I commute. Running... well, I was a distance runner in high school, and although it's been twenty years I think I can work my way up to it. Swimming would be the most challenging for me, especially in open water... open, salty water.
I looked online at the results from 2008; the fastest entrant was 43 year old George Bent, who completed the race in 45 minutes, 59 seconds; the slowest was 23 year old Akayleia Frehner, who finished in 2 hours, 2 minutes, 47 seconds. 598 people between the ages of 13 and 75 had completed the race, 7 people started but did not finish. The youngest entrant was 13 year old Alison Horst, who finished in 1 hour, 19 minutes, 11 seconds; the oldest was 75 year old Lucy Duffy, who came in just ten minutes later. Give the woman her props.
I mulled it over. I've been biking to work for about a year and a half, minus winter, which accounts for quite a lot here in Chicago. I started in September 2007 in response to my unacceptably long commute time - 1 hour 15 minutes to travel 8 miles on public transportation. It's not always that bad, but you never know until you're actually on the bus or train, and then you're stuck. On good days it only takes 45 minutes, which is how long it takes me on a bike. I biked from September through late November, and once winter hit I stopped until the following April. I thought that with more experience under my belt I'd make it further into winter the following year, but as anyone will tell you, last winter was bad. Really bad. Record breaking temperatures bad. I've biked to work once since December, and I've lost all my hard earned muscle tone.
I decided that I was in, I'd do the triathlon with MamaVee. I did some searching online for a swim class, and discovered that the Y on Irving Park has a pool, and only costs $45 a month for a membership. I signed up and went to a complimentary "commit to be fit" consultation, which I thought was going to be a rudimentary check of my vital signs; height, weight, body fat percentage - but it was much more involved. I spent an hour and a half with a fit young staffer named René who asked me to fill out some paperwork stating my goals, took me on a tour of the facilities, and showed me how to safely use the weights. Halfway through my consultation we walked past a disheveled man seated at the photo ID area at the front desk, missing three front teeth, and smiling like it was Christmas. In that moment I knew that this was the gym for me; with an SRO attached to the gym, and residents clambering downstairs at all hours checking their mailboxes and enjoying complimentary coffee in Styrofoam cups, there's no chance that any overzealous fitness enthusiasts will harsh on my Y loving buzz.
Then René led me downstairs and showed me a room I couldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams. Back in the late 60's the Chicago Bears used this Y to work out, and as an homage to this glorious era in its history it now houses a room known as "The Bears Den", where upsettingly fit older men surrounded by posters of Oscar de la Hoya and framed, signed photos of 60's era Bears players lift free weights and punch heavy bags. A man who resembled a photo I'd seen recently in a Sky Mall catalog was lifting free weights rapidly, breathing in every time his arms lowered, and out when he lifted them up. His head was bald with a thin white fringe of hair, his neck ropey and muscular, and he sounded like he was practicing Lamaze breathing. Overhead, a sound system piped in Billy Idol's "White Wedding."
Next René showed me the pool, and if the old toothless man and Jack Lalanne's doppelganger hadn't already sold me, the pool stole my heart in an instant. The entire room was covered in small blue and white tiles, the words "deep" and "shallow" were spelled out in tile in the pool, and I felt certain that at any moment I would see a group of ninety year old Russian men arriving for their daily exercise.
Finally René showed me the weight machines. I hadn't used a weight machine in at least seven years, and when René asked "how does the weight feel", I kept saying "It feels good." The next day I was so sore I couldn't even bend over enough to tie my shoes, and had trouble getting in and out of the car. The soreness did nothing to dampen my sense of accomplishment, so when I saw my friend Kelly, a repeat marathon runner, I told her all about my new favorite gym. "No matter how out of shape I might be," I told her, "at least I have all my teeth." Then I told M's colleague Eric, who said a friend of his had gotten staph infection from working out there.
I haven't been back since, but I had an unexpected day off today, and was feeling vigorous. Whenever I have a day off, I imagine all the amazing things I can do with it. Years ago at the lefty, Quaker summer camp that I went to, one of our counselors was a former Amish man named Gunther who had subversively taken photos of a barn raising and showed them to us one night in a slide show presentation. After showing several images of straw hatted men hammering two by fours and raising beams, he said, in his adorable German accent: "dis vas befoe breakfast," and after showing us several more said "dis vas befoe lunch." I often hold myself to this unrealistic measurement when thinking of my daily accomplishments. It was 8am when I woke; I collected dirty dishes, put them in the dishwasher, added detergent and set it to run. This was before breakfast. Then I started cooking sausage bought from the Green City Market and eggs - over well for M, over easy for me, while listening to Flight of the Conchords, singing along and laughing as if it were the first time I'd ever heard it. This was before lunch. At 11:30 I got on my bike and headed for the Y.
I found a through street that allowed me to avoid the underpass of the Kennedy Expressway, parked the bike, and walked in. I went to the ladies room, where a faucet was running on its own. I picked a stall, pulled down my pants, and sat on a surprisingly warm toilet seat. I told myself it was from the radiator heat, not it's previous occupant, and finished my business. Then I washed my hands and managed to get the water to slow to a trickle - it wouldn't turn all the way off. Then I pondered what to do with my time here. Not wanting a repeat of last time, I decided to pick just one thing. I'd follow René's advice on how to build up to running 3 miles: walk for half an hour on a treadmill, alternating between 4 miles and 6 miles an hour in five minute increments. I went to the cardio room and started walking on a treadmill, and in a few minutes was running and sweating. For fun, I placed my hands on the pulse check bars in front of me, which prompted the message "checking your pulse while running is not recommended" to flash on the screen. According to the chart on the right side of the machine, my pulse was dangerously high for my age, but I persevered. I ran until I turned bright pink, until the aging man on my left slowed his own pace and watched me, possibly for signs of distress. After half an hour I'd run/walked 2.16 miles, and burned just over 200 calories.
I have to admit, it felt good.