Sunday, September 14, 2008

One Mile at a Time...

... that's how I decided to approach the MS 150 Ride.

I started feeling bad on Wednesday. The telltale signs of an impending flare were there. By Thursday I was increasing meds and trying to manage each new symptom that cropped up. On Friday I simply wasn't sure I was going to be able to ride and I was having trouble putting thoughts together in terms of the various distance options.

Friday night... made it to packet pick-up with moments to spare. Got my bike inspected and headed to the hotel for what would prove to be a not very restful night. Back in the day, I am quite certain said hotel was THE place to be but, uhhhhh, not so much anymore. When I'm not feeling well, I like my space. Five folks in a room built for maybe two very tiny people wasn't working well for me. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep.

Saturday... up at 5:30 to shower. Why do I shower before such things? So I can French braid my hair better. DUH! Realized in the shower that I felt horrible. My muscles ached and my head hurt. Waves of nausea were washing through me and I had a nosebleed. None of this seemed to be setting me up for a successful day. Crawled back into bed and began the final internal struggle of whether or not I should be there at all. I can honestly say I don't have many moments of self-doubt... and this was not about that. I knew I would be able to ride whatever distance I opted for but that some choices might be better than others. The concern I have in these times is not about the actual event but, rather, the fallout from the choices I make. What will happen after the fact? How will my body respond? Who will pick up the pieces for me in each of the arenas of my life? Will I regret it if I don't do it? The answers to these questions never get any clearer. Perhaps if it was just me... if there were no small humans involved or friends or family members that love me in spite of my crankiness... perhaps then only the final question would matter. However, the reality is that I feel an obligation to be true to myself while still being fair to them, and because of that, I struggle.

Eventually, I pulled up my big girl panties (yeah, OK, just bike shorts but work with my metaphor here), threw on a team jersey and headed out the door. I had very little time to spare. I wasn't hungry but knew I needed to eat. Sweet talked a boy into doing my tires while I grabbed a banana and a yummalicious Caribou coffee cold vanilla latte thing. I don't think that's the actual name of it but it sure does sum it up. Managed to get everything down plus a bottle of water. I could hear the announcer calling for the team to line up. We're big sponsors so we get to go to the head of the class and start first, but for whatever reason, I just needed to hang back and wait. As I was making my way over to the start I realized I didn't have my sunglasses. I'll spare the details of the quest for the shades but suffice it to say, it took some time since he who had the car keys was also he whose cell phone was turned off. Finally made my way over to the start and just quietly waited until I could feed into the mass of riders.

And then? I started to ride... one pedal stroke at a time. I had no idea how long I'd ride, I just knew right then, it's where I belonged, and that mile by mile it would become clear what I was capable of. My goal was simple... ride my ride and make sure my heart rate stayed as low as possible. Meds and the flare were making my heart beat in a squirrelly kind of way and I knew the heat was not going to help. My mantra became "it's not a race".

Yeah, OK, it wasn't a race but "on your left" was all I said for awhile as I tried to escape the mass of people at the beginning of the course. I don't really enjoy big group rides. For me, personally, it defeats my purpose. I see riding as almost a mind/body experience and having to focus on so many other cyclists takes away from that. I did settle into a really good paceline for awhile, right behind a pair of very nice calf muscles... the right one of which had a small M-dot tatt smack in the middle. There were 5 of us and we worked well together, but when we hit the next mass of people and traffic got wiggy, well, that put an end to that.

It was incredibly inspiring, as always, to see riders of all shapes and sizes out there on every kind of bike imaginable. Because of the nature of the event, there were quite a few people living with the disease out there riding. It was touching to hear their stories, especially given my own connection to the disease having grown up with an aunt who suffered, and she did, indeed suffer, from MS.

The first 25 miles seemed to fly by. I had plenty of water and Accelerade with me, ate a pack of gel bursts at the 45 minute mark. I skipped break point #1 and stopped at #2 to refill water bottles. I was pleased to see that I had averaged just over 18 mph despite some hilly terrain. Little did I know, that wasn't going to last! Chatted with some friends, ran into a few people I didn't except to see there. One said, "I'm sure you're doing the hundred today". I was embarrassed to admit that I actually had absolutely no clue whether I was riding the century or taking the 62 mile option. I'm fairly certain I didn't sound like the sharpest knife in the drawer at that point. His parting words to me were "decide quickly... the turn off is in 4 miles".

Headed back out onto the course and immediately struck up a conversation with a man riding a hand cycle. I told him I couldn't even do a pull-up and here he was putting me to shame by climbing these badass hills with his arms. He told me he liked women with hill climbing legs... I think that was a nice way of saying, "my, what large thighs you have". The better to climb hills with, my dear. His own legs were small and atrophied and though I didn't ask and he didn't offer, I assumed he has MS. In the distance we could see the turn off signs for the different routes. I asked him how far he was going and he said he was doing the century. "And you?" he asked. "Me too," I said, looking around to see if someone else had actually said that.

So there it was. Decision made. Game on. One mile at a time, I was going to ride the century I'd been planning to ride, the one I'd been training for before my training was completely thrown off by the will of something over which I have no control. Again, I had no doubt I was capable of the distance, it was more about the current state of health and being able to manage my symptoms well enough to make it through the day and, of course, the possible after effects.

I spent quite a bit of the next 20 miles or so in quiet solitude, riding the way I like to ride. The hills started coming one after another with false flats or false tops or plateaus in between them. And I had this thought a few times: Where the hell are the downhills?

And suddenly, there it was... no, not a descent... it was that damn song I got stuck in my head on Friday. Over and over and over again climbing hill after hill and in my brain I'm singing: Born Helena Jane with a restless soul... she moved west to California... became a centerfold... blah blah blah... And there's never any rain... when you want it... a hollow little game... you've won it... looking for a thrill but you've done it alllllll. Soooooooooooooo long, put your blue jeans back on girl, remember Hollywood's not America...

NO NO NO! Make it get out of my head!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! UGGGGHHH!!! Are you kidding me? Of all the cheesy songs in the world... why this one?!!

But I digress. At some point in there the route crossed the Alabama line and I knew the Exhibits were gonna love hearing that I rode to Alabama and back. Even if I only rode a total of 100 feet, they would still think it was cool that I was in two states. Shortly thereafter was a break point and I was happy to see it. The volunteers acted as bike catchers and my bike, in all its sassitude, was quite a conversation piece. I needed water and an Endurolyte. I didn't feel hungry but figured I was behind on calories. Standing at that aid station I suddenly realized that it was hot. I mean really, really hot. Africa hot. Keep in mind that my demons are fueled by stress, fatigue and yes, in fact, the sun. I knew I needed to step up my game and stay on top of nutrition and hydration as well as find shade as often as possible. I grabbed a banana, drank some Powerade (uhhh, sponsored by Coke, no Accelerade or other such products once my concealed in a plain water bottle stash was gone!) and headed back out with a bunch of boys from the team. We rode together for a bit but eventually each settled into our own paces.

There came more hills (sing it with me now 'cause it was still in my head: And you can take the heat, will your heart grow coooolllllld????!!!). I'd planned on skipping the next break point but I couldn't help but stop. Mardi Gras theme? Church ladies cookin' up some stuff? Seriously, they were so cute I could hardly stand it. They had PB&J and all kinds of other food (chili dogs?) that didn't appeal to me in the least. Instead I had a pack of salted almonds in the shade of the covered front steps of a small Baptist church in rural Alabama. Best dam... er... darn nuts I ever had.

Ever onward and back to the hills. Sooooooooooooooooo long, put your blue jeans back on...

Skipped the next aid station. It was midday and the heat was brutal, I wanted to keep moving, get the miles in, one at a time, they clicked by. I was terrified of jacking up my heart rate which would likely have ended my ride, and so I stayed focused on keeping it low even on the worst climbs. I was able to get the song out of my head but now I was stuck in spin instructor hell. I was literally cueing myself up the hills "settle into a cadence you think you can maintain and gear through your hill". I might never, ever say that into a microphone again.

There were some rough roads along the way. The most notable rough road included a toothless man and two small children, one of whom came running into the middle of the road. I hope she didn't get squished by a car and, given that she actually ran to my bike and touched it and me, and therefore, I assume other riders, I sincerely hope that no cyclist strangled her. I do not think ol' toothless liked it when I told him that what she was doing was incredibly dangerous.

It felt good to get back to Georgia. Nothing personal, Alabama, 'cause south GA is what it is, but still, it was good to cross the line from a mental standpoint if nothing else. I can't actually remember when it was but one of the highlights of the route was crossing Lake West Point. Absolutely beautiful and a good reminder that your pace on a bike is often the very best one at which to watch the world go by.

Mile 75... stopped for lunch. Air conditioning. Real bathrooms. Oatmeal raisin cookies. Not sure why I needed to leave that little slice of heaven right there. A Troup County Sheriff came by and we had this conversation:
Him: How's it going out there?
Me: It's a tough course but I like it... and if it were easy, everyone would do it.
Him: Yep, that's a good point! The police officers at the intersections doing their jobs?
Me: Yes and we so appreciate not having to stop. Thank you.
Him: We enjoy it. It's a fun weekend for us. We also like when the Georgia Cup is here 'cause we do that, too.
Me: I guess it's a nice change of pace.
Him: Yep it is. The next 7 miles are kinda tough.
Me: Oh yeah? More hills?
Him: Yep (keep in mind... south GA... yep, he said yep about 15 times). Some big hills coming up and it's hot out there. I reckon it's about 96 to 98 degrees. SAG vehicles are pulling people off the course in 4s and 5s.
Me: Yikes, that's not good.
Him: Yep. You be careful out there.

OK, so aside from Boss Hogg, the best part about lunch was the ICE. I put ice in my bottles of water and Powerade. The GSU basketball team was there volunteering and they were giving out GSU water bottles. Put some ice in one of those puppies and stuck it in my jersey pocket. Ahhhhhhh.

Just 25 miles to go. No.Prob.Lem.O. Found out there was one more aid station before the finish. WTF? Really? HA! Obviously I'd be skipping that one. I mean hell, who's gonna stop at mile 89?

Ummm, yeah, that would be me.

The hills were relentless after lunch. Constant climbing. Settle into a cadence you think you can maintain. Gear through your hill. Settle into a cadence you think you can maintain...

Physically, I thought I was doing fine. I was definitely hydrated. The joints in my ankles and knees started talking to me a little bit but nothing major and there had been no point at which my legs cramped or that I felt like I couldn't keep pedaling. Despite having started the morning with muscle aches from the flare, my legs were holding up remarkably well.

The cop was right. There were people dropping like flies out there. I stopped to help one guy who, as I passed started talking to me about 16 bottles of beer left on the wall and he was just resting. He was in bad shape. I mixed some electrolyte drink mix in his water and he drank it and told me he was ready to go. He could barely stand but was insistent. I didn't really know what else to do so I told him I was feeling a little tired and asked if he would mind waiting with me for just a moment. Fortunately, that worked. As if on cue, the rockin' motorcycle chick with the pink helmet was on the spot and I was on my way again.


The final rest stop was on a hill. Huh? Oh, right, that's because there were only hills there. I played with ice. Ice on my neck, ice on my back, ice in my bottles. Honestly, I am not so sure that I needed to stop at that point but the mental break was well worth it and I probably needed some shade. I could find nothing there I was interested in eating which concerned me slightly because I knew I needed something and I felt like my system might be shutting down a bit if nothing but nothing was appealing. I decided on a mint chocolate Gu from my fuel box. It made me think of Jonah... which will become relevant in a moment assuming you know that he was recently hit by a car, which you obviously now know (no worries, he's fine).

Ten miles to go. Just ten miles. I started doing mental math. If I could average 20 mph, I could be done in 30 minutes. Yeah, OK, probably not going to happen when it's eleventy billion degrees and I'm climbing 13,000 feet. Next! How about if I can average 18... scratch that... let's look at 17...

Car came by dangerously close before I could finish the math on that. New mantra? Thank you, Jonah: You must assume you are invisible to every car. Assume you are invisible. You are invisible. No car sees you because you are invisible. Every car, cloak of invisibility. Invisible Jet. Wonder Woman. Wonder Twin Powers... activate... form of: lots and lots of ice.

Big hill. Must.Keep.Heart.Rate.Down. Pedal through, don't blow up here. I looked down at my bike computer and saw several things that alarmed me all at once. How was it possible that in all the time that I thought had passed since being at the last stop I had only gone a mile and a half? And, uhhhh, was I pedaling backwards because my speed at that precise moment was 6 mph. Do the math on that with 9 miles to go! Seriously. I started looking around because I was sure I was being punked.

Ummmm... yeah, this was definitely my low point. I really gave serious thought to just calling it a day. Six mph. 6. As in greater than 5, less than 7. This is not a race. My heart rate was where I needed it and I still had the ability to move my legs. I suddenly became very appreciative of every single one of my bike's gears and, trust me, I used them all.

So there I was. A few more miles to go. I don't ride with gloves. I often take them with me on long rides but never wear them. When I have used them before, I always end up taking them off. I just don't like them. Well, it never even occurred to me to bring the gloves on this ride but at mile 92ish, I regretted not having them.

My hands became very sweaty towards the end and suddenly there was this major descent that ended with a bridge crossing. I wasn't so concerned about the descent itself but the bridge didn't look so smooth and there were signs stating that the road surface would change. I knew it would be wise to control the downhill momentum a bit. As I went to flutter the brakes the joints in my fingers, wrists and elbows seized. I can think of very few times in my life when I've been that scared. My arms were shaking and my fingers were useless. I couldn't grasp the brakes well because of the sweat and I certainly couldn't sqeeze them. For some reason I tucked tight. Not sure why, but I did. I put my hands in the drops and used my palms to apply pressure to the brakes as best I could. I used my whole body to control that bike and I got an immediate and lasting abs ache. Forty-eight hours later I am still feeling that descent in my core.

Now, a normal person with joints that have given up might call it a day. Maybe I should have, but I'm a wee bit stubborn and quitting makes me cranky (well, crankier than usual). No effing way was I gonna do that at this point. No sirree Bob. Now I was pissed off. You don't get to win, Thing. I seriously had this conversatation with myself: "What are the chances there will be another fast descent with a hazard at the bottom like that? If there is, even if I crash, it probably won't be a bad crash. If I can use the heel of my hands to shift gears and I can find some lateral movement in my wrists, I'll be totally fine!"

And I was. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't fast, but it was my Day 1 ride... a hundred miles, one mile at a time.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Great Equalizer

I have made an important and, in fact, serious observation. Much to my chagrin, I find that Exhibit C and I spend way more time in doctors' office waiting rooms than is imaginable to most peoople. Sometimes we're there for him, sometimes for me. These waiting rooms belong to doctors who specialize in things not talked about too much in polite bloggy chit chat... things like genetics, hematology, endocrinology, rheumatology, pulmonology, radiology and the like. I don't take books or magazines anymore. I am a people watcher and this is some prime people watching time for me.

One day last summer when I walked into one of these offices, there was the cadre of usual suspects already there. It is often humbling and puts things into perspective in about one millisecond, always before the door even closes behind me. No one is there for a good reason. No one is there to simply have a check up and be told to come back in a year. We all sit and wait our turns to be told the course of treatment, the next step, the what ifs and the where tos, what fors and the so whats. For some reason, though, on that particular day something occurred to me that never has before: the specialist waiting room is the great equalizer. It doesn't matter how much money you have or don't have... whether you're a true southerner with the accent to prove it or a damn Yankee transplant, like me. It doesn't matter what you do for a living or what kind of car (or bike) you own or the color of your skin or the country of your birth. In those moments, we are all the same. We are full of frustration, hope, worry and a profound sense of love for our children and the acknowledgement that we are not alone in this journey. So there you have it. A moment of warmth came over my chilly little heart, but directed only at this particular group of people in this particular moment in time.

It passed almost immediately and as soon as I got back outside, just for fun, I pushed down a boyscout and tripped the old lady he was helping across the street.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

United We Stand

Like so many others, I was personally touched by the tragic events of 9-11. My grandfather worked in the WTC and much of my misspent youth was, in fact, misspent in NYC. I forged friendships there and made connections among my grandfather's associates, many of whom lost their lives by simply showing up for work on that fateful day. Additionally, someone very close to me was one of the first respondents at the Pentagon and each year his haunting description of the scene comes flooding back to me.

As such, this is a tough day for me. However, it has become a tradition for me to bake. Yes, bake. I take a bunch of yummy things to the fire station near my house. I had a rough night with my health demons screaming at me, I'm tired and I hurt and I don't feel much like baking today, but there are days when firefighters don't feel much like putting out fires, I suppose. So bake I will, and when my exhibits arrive home this afternoon, we'll rally and deliver... and we shall never forget to do so.

Honor those that put their lives on the line without hesitation every day, whether they are as close to home as a short walk or an ocean... a continent... a world away.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Birthday Party Report...

Pre-Party Routine:
- Party started at 2:00 so at about 1:45 I decided to get ready. No rush, apparently.
- I thought it would be good to wrap the present at that point.
- I took my hair out of the ponytail to try to confuse them since they've only seen me with pigtails and a bandana and lots of sweat. I even put on lip gloss as an extra precautionary measure.

Event Warm-Up:

- I parked as close as possible to the site so if I needed to escape quickly I could.
- I shot gunned a Diet Coke so I'd have some extra energy going into it.

First Leg:
Children were directed into large playroom. Every action figure ever created, every children's movie ever produced plus 10,000 other toys were in there. The Party Director (PD) had done an outstanding job of alphabetizing by movie title and sorting the toys and placing them in bins with labels on them. The best was the empty bin labeled bugs and snakes. I am hopeful they were plastic. Within two minutes of the guests' arrival, every toy in the room was on the floor. Most excellent. I am sure the PD is sorting as I type and I sure hope she had a cocktail before she walked in that room because I'm just as compulsive and that would send me right over the edge.

The PD called all the children into the living room because she wanted to read them a story. This was not a particularly smooth transition as many children wanted to continue creating utter chaos in the playroom, but we finally got them all there. Kinda like herding cats.

Second Leg:
The PD proceeded to read the story. A story she wrote. It was a blueprint for the party outlining everything they would be doing. It rhymed. Of course it did. Frankly, I can't really say anything about that because I've been known to write rhyming books for friends but they are generally full of sarcasm and ridicule and we read them aloud while we're drinking, but I digress.

I knew right away that the party plan needed to be successfully executed in order to complete the requied activities, cross the threshold and be back in my car by the cut off time. So we began to make crafts. Lots and lots of crafts. Every time one craft was finished, the PD brought printed name labels to stick on the back of it, and she had made a cloth bag for each child with his/her name painted on it. Security was tight. Obviously there was no way anyone was leaving with anyone else's craft.

Pinata. All I can say is thank goodness the PD had the wherewithal to use the kind with strings because the idea of 3 year olds swinging sticks/golf clubs/baseball bats/etc. scares the living daylights out of me. Not that I have any experience with this, mind you... yeah, OK, maybe Exhibit C's got a good arm. I can't help that he's clearly a gifted athlete.

Exhibit C got the most pinata stuff because he had the patience to sit with his bag and pick up the toys the longest. He filled up his little bag and then, obviously, the PD gave him a sticker with his name on it. Good thing because Lord knows when I throw away all that crap I wanna make sure it's his.

Third Leg:
Cake. Nothing says fun like lots and lots of frosting and a bunch of preschoolers. This was perhaps the most challenging part of the day because trying to avoid having my jeans or tank top smeared with blue and white frosting required much focus and a reliance on my cat like reflexes. I came through it unscathed.

Warm Down:
I had to catch Exhibit C at the cake finish and provide the following:
- Wet paper towels
- Balloon around the wrist
- Goody Bag ('cause apparently the crafts and pinata stuff weren't enough?! Holy Moses!)

What Limited Me?
Well, uhhh, I guess between the book and the crafts and the labels I started thinking there's a remote possibility I might not win mother of the year. Again. Damn. Last year it was that whole thing with Exhibit A calling tilapia tequila and now this...

Event Comments:
The PD put on an impressive show. At no point did I feel the need to take a craft stick to my eye. This is high praise from me.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

While You Were Out... The CP Edition.

Yesterday I was gone all day for a command performance not so conveniently located an hour and a half away from home. Well, yeah, OK, more like 2 hours when you get lost in the middle of of nowhere and have to stop at a hunting shop to ask for directions. I can only imagine the discussion that went on between Bobby and Bubba after I left considering I was dressed in a cycle skort and PI string tank in the subtle shade of lime green, but I digress. It was sort of a wasted day except for the part where I did a 50-mile bike ride through some beautiful countryside.

Back on the homefront, however...
1. Exhibit C had his first soccer game. Keep in mind he's tiny so his soccer shirt comes down to his ankles. In case you were wondering, no, in fact they do not make soccer socks small enough for his feet so instead he's using a pair of hand-me-down anklets from his big sister. They fit his feet and come up to his knees. I'm clever like that. I was able to find cleats and they're about the cutest things ever. Big kids took some great pics for me.... while I was out.
2. Exhibit B had his first soccer game of the season. After two undefeated years (both fall and spring leagues) they lost 2-0. Sounds like they played well but the other team was older so therefore more experienced with full field play. It was the first game in the new age division for our guys. It's eleven 8-year old boys and one girl who we shall call Bianca. The girl is, of course, the rockstar on the team and wasn't at the game yesterday. Their team name? Bianca and the Boys. Sounds more like a porn movie title than a kids' soccer team, n'est ce pas? Apparently, Exhibit B played a great game... while I was out.
3. Exhibit A, a.k.a. the Prima Ballerina, decided that dancing two roles in the Nutcracker just isn't enough, so she auditioned for Polichinelles. It's a role she's coveted throughout the years and, arguably, the most fun part in the production (though when she was the Arabian rug it was way cool, too). Survey says? She made it. This means she'll be cast in every show instead of just half of them. Lord help me. Her head exploded when she got the news... while I was out.
4. Exhibit B went to a friend's house. I'm thinking of asking said friend's father for some financial advice. Last time we went to the friend's house they lived in a very small townhouse on the other side of town. Yesterday they mentioned they'd moved over the summer. Ummmm... yeah... to a freakin mansion! I tried to play 20 questions with Exhibit B... "so, is it just them living there or do they have some extended family there, too?". I tried to avoid asking him who died and left the millions. Yeah, yeah, OK, millionaire next door and all but you have to admit it's a little odd squishing a large family into a tiny space if you could have afforded something still modest but slightly bigger and now this? O-D-D. So anyway, Exhibit B got to see the fancy new digs... while I was out.
5. The familyminusme went to hang out at a friend's house and were served some gourmet South African fare for dinner. Who knew lamb would be on the menu? Geeze, they could have at least served gazelle or something... while I was out.

So, other than that, it was pretty quiet around here yesterday... while I was out.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Southern Belle Letters

Dear Preschool Moms,

I think it's really sweet that you all want to go out to breakfast and get to know each other and do playdates with your little ones, sing kumbayah and roast marshmallows together... but understand that I actually enrolled my third child in preschool so that I can do things like grocery shop, go to doctors appointments and pee all by myself. Someday you will learn.

Your Pal,

Dear Elementary School Moms,

I work out. A lot. I don't always have a chance to shower before walking into the building. I don't have a southern accent, I don't call the grocery cart a buggy and I get my picture taken, not made. While you wear pearls, I wear Pearl Izumi. I own some sparkly jewelry but I rarely wear any of it during the day. Dressing up for me means wearing a sports bra that complements my top. My perfume is Eau de Sweat or, every once in awhile, Eau de Chlorine. I volunteer at school when I'm needed but I also find time for myself. I'm sassy like that.

Your Pal,

Monday, September 1, 2008

Egregious Errors in Domestic Divadom

So the Queen was here for a week which means that my household was scrutinized and commented upon for the duration of her stay. She generally will say things like, "do you mind if I give you some constructive criticism?" and, once I agree to listen, "I hate the color of your living room." I am not exactly sure where the constructive part comes in, but whatever.

So here's the current list of my egregious errors in domestic divadom:

- I don't have color-safe bleach in the house
- I don't have the corn shaped corn on the cob holder thingies
- The picture on the wall behind the table "competes" with the light fixture over the table
- My thermometer is substandard
- I don't buy cookies and ice cream at the grocery store
- I check my email too much and have too many work-related phone calls during the day... nevermind that I actually work from home
- Although she doesn't know how much I make, it's obvious that whatever it is, it's not enough for the amount of time I spend doing it. She might have a point there.
- Several of my candles currently have wicks that are more than 1/4" long
- My running shoes are in the laundry room instead of my closet
- Exhibit C, is, apparently, going to grow up to be a sociopath because I let him play Lego video games. Who knew?

And so it goes.