Monday, April 30, 2012

The Things You Do For Love

My husband married me under the delusion that I am athletic.  Unfortunately for him, my coordination is terrible, my reflexes are terrible and my eyesight is terrible.  I have no training in any sport except swimming and the only reason I took up swimming is because it requires no talent and it’s impossible to get hurt.  Hear me out.  You just swim back and forth, repeating same motions over and over again for two hours daily, hoping that at some point you can swim in a straight line faster than the other guy.  For this, I was qualified.  There’s NO planning necessary, no strategy, no quick thinking needed as flaming “soft” balls were whipped toward my face. Plus, you can't fall.  Swimming was a good choice for me.

To be fair; the reason my husband was deluded was because I appear athletic.  Parts of my gene pool are made entirely of knuckle-dragging mesomorphs and when we met, I had been swimming for years --"strong as an ox and twice as smart," as my father liked to point out.  Since most of our dating was done long-distance, I really didn't have time to prove that I had no athletic potential. 

The result was that during our first few years of marriage, Bill kept trying to discover some sort of sport we could play together. The first month in, he signed us up to play on a community co-ed softball team.  Bear in mind,  people who have passion for baseball will coach little league as adults.  People who have an obsession with baseball will keep playing long after high school, convinced that if they practice hard enough, their team will make the Amateur Softball Association Playoffs where they will be recognized for their talent and finally get recruited to the minor leagues.  

You might think Bill clued in, when I disclosed that I had never owned a pair of cleats, that softball was a bad fit for me.  Instead, it was just an excuse to buy new equipment: special pants, a new left-handed glove, glove oil, cleats, my own aluminum bat, a batting glove and sixteen brand new softballs.  Nevertheless, I was a liability.  They put me in right field, at the bottom of the lineup and by the end of the season, my social position was lower than tobacco juice.  

After that it was mountain bikes: equipment included helmets, special gloves, new bikes (with Shimano components!), toe things for the pedals, and a book of trails.  I did OK on the paved paths, but I could never really keep up with him on the dirt trails.  He finally found some guys to bike with (Thank You Father) and I was able to give up my strategy of repeatedly sabotaging my own bike chain. 

Next: roller blades: equipment included knee pads, elbow pads, wrist pads, helmets, and two new pairs of in line skates.  Bill is so talented, he would literally skate circles around me -backward.  Meanwhile, I'd be jerking around like an epileptic, with my arms out in every direction at once, just trying to stay vertical.  Never mind forward motion.  It would have been embarrassing, but I had the distinction of being RIGHT on this.  Plus we usually searched out deserted parking lots, so I had no audience. 

Eventually, Bill started to get discouraged.  He went through a few half-hearted stages; there was the lacross phase (sticks, a very hard rubber ball and I’ve heard that more experienced players use helmets) a 5K road race that I finished well after the DJ/announcer turned off the microphone and was onto his second beer (I am not making this up), one dismal attempt at tennis (he actually managed to squeeze in a racquet purchase here), another equally dismal attempt at golfing (too expensive), and then, (thanks be to God), I got pregnant.  How many women are grateful for pregnancy because it means their bodies will catch a break?  Bill cut his losses and took up rose gardening while I hid all the sports equipment in the attic and buried myself under a pile of small children.  

I think he forgot about me, which was really OK.  I hadn't acquired a hefty bruise in years, and we were actually co-existing quite amiably.  Until… twenty years later, when he suddenly remembered that I can swim.

In August of 2009, Bill bought a road bike, and not just any bike, but a Fuji Roubaix.  I don’t know what that means really, but I know it was expensive.   To his credit, Bill rode long and hard and seemed to have found something that he really loved.  He is also very good at it.  

So, if you are a man and you are good at something, the next thing to do is compete and prove you are better than the other guy.  The problem is, there are no “bike only” races in our area.  Bill’s only choice was to do triathlons.  Since he didn’t like to swim or run, he did relays.  Some of his co-workers were willing to swim and run while Bill did the biking.  Everyone was happy until his swimming co-worker dropped out.  Let me remind you; I married an engineer.  They’re not exactly extroverts.  Bill was out of friends.  I was his only choice.  

The first race he roped me into was the summer of 2010, an “International Distance;”  1500 meter swim,  40 kilometer bike and 10 kilometer run.  I had two months to prepare for what amounted to a 1 mile swim.   I really had no interest in swimming for a mile in a public lake surrounded by actual athletes.  I started out pretty grumpy.  But then, in the midst of all my grumbling, a huge blessing.  None of the local indoor pools were affordable and the outdoor pools did not open for lap swimming until June.  I had to train at a local lake.  

I found one that was ½ mile from end to end.  If I swam out and back, I’d have a mile.  The best time to go was in the evening.  So my husband (who couldn’t complain because this was his idea), got two of our kids in a canoe and our oldest two in kayaks and we started my training.  I’d swim the length of the lake and they would keep the boats on either side of me.  Despite the lost evenings, the opaque, green water, the snakes, the duck poop, and River Monsters Amazon Flesheaters commercials that ran the entire month, …I really loved it.  We went two or three times a week, just as the sun was setting over the trees and every time I breathed, I’d get a glimpse of the sunset, or trees, or my kids laughing and playing in their boats.

Two weeks before the race, I took my two oldest boys to Boy Scout camp.  The first night I found the scout leader in charge of their lake.  The only time I could train was 6:30 am, before breakfast, but he was willing to kayak next to me if I was fool enough to swim.  Before I swam as the sun was setting, now I swam as the sun was rising.  

Complain as I might, I look back on those morning swims and think that God, for some reason, was showering me with undeserved blessings.  I was up at the crack of dawn.  I changed alone in my dark tent and walked barefoot down a leaf strewn path to the pond, just as the morning light was starting to filter through the trees.  

The lifeguard was there to meet me every day that week and we generally got right to work.  This lake was smaller, so I had to do three laps (loops) to make 1 mile, but the water was perfect. There was always a light fog just off the surface that I broke as I jumped in.  I can still remember the feeling of jumping into that still, warm water on those quiet mornings.  I really loved it.  By the end of the week, my lifeguard figured I had about a 30 minute mile.  

On the day of the race, I was feeling reasonably confident until my competition started to trickle onto the beach.  Suddenly I was surrounded by underwear models, well below my age and out of my league.  They gave us all different colored caps and we were split into groups according to our gender and age.  All the women over 40 got a blue cap, except for me.  My cap was green.  Just my luck, relay teams were grouped in with the men over 40.  How Rude!  I was one of two women in my group.  The other woman was half my age and twice my size.  My competition flew past me and after a few minutes, all the caps, which had started out so nicely divided, were all mixed together.  I started out in a sea of green bathing caps and ended up in a sea of sour skittles. I was one of the last skittles to float to shore.  I came out of the water into the transition area almost alone and told Bill how sorry I was for being so slow.  He just said, “more people to pass," gave me a huge smile, then took the ankle bracelet with our timer chip and ran with his bike out the chute.  

Bill and Casey were among the fastest biker/runners, and I was among the slowest swimmers.  Despite the fact that I was shooting for 30 minutes and I finished in 28:08.  This is what is so bewildering.  I actually did WELL, yet I was still comparatively slow.  We finished 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place out of all the relay teams.  I really can’t remember, but I know we had to stay after for the “ceremony.”  God Forbid that we miss out on the inscribed mug/goblet/trivet.  ….Overall, I placed in the bottom third. 

After one year and well over 3,000 miles on his first bike, Bill upgraded in August of 2010 to a Fuji D6.  The bike itself looks like a space ship and when Bill rides, it looks like a space ship with a growth. And, If I thought the old bike was expensive, that is because I was ignorant about how much a bike freak can spend.  The only reason I don’t complain is because he realized after my dismal swim time that he could probably do at least as well on his own.  He resolved to race alone and I was off the hook once again.  

From September to November/December 2010, we were in Ukraine finalizing the adoptions.  As soon as we got home, Bill was training again in earnest.  Sometime during that spring, Bill started hinting about me racing as well.  This was just about the same time I started getting hit with various muscle strains and over exertions from carrying Ruslan all over the place.  I was making regular visits to the chiropractor.  I had a rib that kept pinching and sending shooting pains down my arm. I kept having neck problems. Every morning when I woke up, I felt like a diesel engine had parked on my chest over night.  I was getting less and less fit and feeling more and more aged when Bill took the plunge and registered me, alone, for a sprint triathlon.  After all, it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.  He’d already spent the $50 and he knew I was too cheap to waste it.

Once again, we were out buying equipment.  Besides a bunch of biking stuff he’d bought me earlier, he bought a whole slew of NEW equipment.  Starting with an ipod, nifty ipod holder, headphones, new running shoes, a watch with a GPS system (in case I don’t know how far and fast I run/bike every time) AND, a heart monitor that you wear around your chest that syncs with the watch.  I geared up and went out for my first run in about twenty years. I felt great running off the front porch.  I was also feeling fine as I crossed the front yard.  I made it to the end of the block and I was dead.  There is a subdivision entrance a half mile from our house.  I walked the rest of the way and turned around.  Luckily, I’d forgotten to start the watch timer/GPS.  The whole trip took about 20 minutes, so Bill thought I had gone about 3 ½ miles.  I didn’t see any reason to set him straight.

There is a stop sign exactly one mile from our house. It took me about two weeks to work up to trotting the whole distance.  I started joggging out and back without stopping (two miles total) after about a month.  Bill continued under the delusion that I was athletic.  Finally after passing me in his truck one day, Bill rigged me up with the heart monitor and watch and pressed the "start" button HIMSELF.  I ran my best to the stop sign and back.  It took me 22 minutes.  I was running 11 minute miles.  No one could claim I wasn't trying.  My pulse was 180.  Bill put the watch next to the computer (the information transfers wirelessly), tapped the watch a few times, looked at the data again, tapped a few more times and finally said in disbelief, “Are you? ...Are you really that slow?”

The watch is never wrong.  It was time to get serious.  I worked myself up to a three mile run without stopping.  I didn’t feel it was right to leave the kids too long to go biking, so I started a little six mile loop in my neighborhood.  This was hard work as far as I was concerned.  It was uphill both ways.  I got my runs down to a 10 minute mile (far from respectable, but better than 11).  

The week before the race, I caught a cold and kept coughing up yellow-green phlegm.  To make matters worse, Bill decided we should go on vacation.  I spent the week lying around, eating excellent food, coughing mucus and making half-hearted attempts at training  A few days before the race, I tried to do a three mile run and I couldn’t even finish.  I walked about half way home.  Bill, STILL under the delusion that I’m athletic, took an afternoon to practice “transitions.”

The morning of the race, Bill was on cloud nine. He actually brought a video camera to film me “racing.”  I would have objected strongly, but I was busy coughing up buckets of green mucus.  The only small consolation was that this was a “sprint” distance (300 meter swim, 20k bike and 5k run), so the people I was competing against were too well adjusted to look like underwear models.  It was a pool swim, so I told the people behind me to just tap my feet if they needed to pass me and I’d let them go at the next flip turn.  THREE of them passed me.  I felt OK on the bike, but by the time I hit the run, I was DYING.  I practically crawled across the finish line, shook hands with a man handing out plastic necklaces, crawled over to a patch of grass and fell asleep.  We didn't stay for the "ceremony."  Bill, no longer convinced that I was going to place in my age group, finally threw me over his shoulder and hauled me to the car with his tail between his legs.  We haven’t watched the video.  

The next morning, he was online checking the race statistics before I even woke up.  I came in second place in my age group—out of two women.  We should have stayed for the ceremony.  I could have taken home a plastic trophy that said "Second Place: Women 45 to 50 Years Old."  this might sound acceptable written on a plastic trophy but the truth is that with the ages's just not all that encouraging.  By the way; ...Overall, I placed in the bottom third.  

Now that I had "potential to place," Bill found another race at the end of August. He registered both of us, kind of like a long anticipated (dreaded) date.  I got my run up to four miles, three times a week.   I found a ten mile bike loop.  I swam at our local pool all summer.  I took daily multivitamins.  On race day, I felt great. My stats were just as dismal as ever.  Bill finished 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in his age group.   I really can't remember, but I know we had to stay after for the "ceremony."  He won a painting of the race site, with an inscription. .  …Overall, I placed in the bottom third.  

During the fall of 2011, I stopped communicating with Bill entirely.  This did not help. The first day that registration opened for 2012, he registered me for three triathlons, paid in full.  He also convinced me to see a “personal trainer.” Her name is Nicole.  She seemed normal, until she mentioned that she was training for a marathon and her goal was 3 hours 15 minutes.  

After a few weeks, Bill talked me into attending his strength training classes with her husband, Adam ….weekly  The zinger from Adam came when he mentioned offhand that he had an injury that he was dealing with so he, “shortened his run to six miles."  I'd never even THOUGHT about running six miles before. 

You might think that I am being manipulated here and you would be right.  You have to understand; my husband is extremely charming.  He has this trusting, gentle arm squeeze, hopeful smile routine that I have a really hard time resisting.  Plus, it’s the way he phrases things. He doesn’t say, “do you want to come torture yourself with me at the local gym?”  Oh no.  He says things like this, “You could come to Adam’s class with me on Mondays (establish eye contact).  It’s just for an hour and we could drive over together (gentle arm squeeze).  It would be so much more fun if you came along (hopeful half-smile).”  

How does one say, “No” to this?  
I wish I knew. 

Since there is no escape, I figured I might as well go all out.  I tried harder.  I started biking 15 mile loops.  I started doing “bricks” –bike and then run after that, so your legs feel like bricks.  I found a swim coach and took “masters” lessons twice a week.  I actually got my run up to six miles.  AND, at the end of those six miles, I wasn’t dying.  I won’t say I was enjoying myself, but I had NEVER run six miles before.  At 46, I set a new personal record …sort of (I won’t be telling you how long it took, but it was close to Nicole’s marathon time).  I also realized that I hadn’t been to the chiropractor in almost a year.  I felt like one of the geriatrics in “Cocoon” (  The diesel engine was no longer parking on my chest overnight.  I was hopping out of bed faster in the morning.  I could pick up Ruslan and Will with no problem.  Perhaps there was benefit to this exercise stuff? 

My most recent race was in March.  This was another sprint distance (400 meter swim, 20 k bike and 5 k run).  It was also the first race of 2012 so all the underwear models were out again.  NO matter.  I was training about three times the distance I was when this all started.  I was also attending the swim classes twice a week, strength training classes twice a week, and running farther than ever before.  Plus, I was there with my husband, again (we're bonding).  I took twenty minutes longer than him, so after his race was over, he had a drink, a snack, and a short nap, then he met me for the last half of my run.  

Bill finished 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in his age group.   I really don't care, but I know we had to stay after for the "ceremony."   He won a (nother) useful trivet.  …Overall, I placed in the bottom third.