Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Ice Bucket Challenge -- Meaning Making and Magic

It's with great sadness that I see what I woke up expecting to see: the skepticism that drenches us when something magical happens.

There are so many layers to the ice bucket challenge, trying to hold them in any sort of logical container, bucket or brain, seems like misconstrued meaning making to me.

***

I remember being about seven or eight years old, and going to bed on Christmas Eve.  In my room, alone, unbeknownst to my parents, I hung a brown paper bag from my desk.  A makeshift stocking that I secretly smuggled to my room.

I remember THINKING that Santa wasn't real…I couldn't wrap my head around how he, in reality, could make it to every house in one night; on the other hand, my prepubescent mind was hedging bets for what I FELT could be real.

I was ashamed of having these thoughts, even at this young age, so I hid them from parents who, I assume I thought at the time, would squelch my hopes and dreams and desires for something other than rationality to exist.

So, in essence, my (little secret) brown paper bag oddly became a scientific test to see if something non-scientific existed in my world.

I, of course, woke up the next morning to a brown paper bag.

And I was sad.

***

On one layer, there is the actual disease, which personally, has not touched my life.  I can't begin to understand the pain and grief of the people and family members who have dealt -- or currently deal -- with ALS.   I have felt loss and pain and suffering, maybe we all have, but I have not, personally, experienced watching someone slowly succumb to a disease.

On another level is charity, and the idea of awareness raising…and simply giving to something that is outside of yourself no matter if it is for ALS or something else.  But we can also think about charity cannibalism and limited funding, and one charity now usurping another.  We could go to the human condition and get into bigger systems, other things this challenge may or may not represent: The ice bucket challenge IS and ISN'T about ALS: it could be about water conservation, water rights, and potable water.  Other issues start feeling preyed upon, so there is a reaction.  Don't they matter, too?

Then we have social media…and the idea of how powerful it can be…a way of connecting people around a purpose.  And/Or connecting people to a self.  And/Or the way it can bring people down.  Trolling.  Tearing people apart from a safe distance through the veil of an online persona.

Then we have the idea of giving, and should charity be something privately done or publicly shared.  By using social media, does the ice bucket challenge (1) enhance, (2) diminish, (3) enhance AND/OR diminish any of the following:

  • Making it about the self: "Look at this great thing I did!"
  • Making it about the act: "Look! I poured water on myself!"
  • Making it about awareness:  "Look at this cause you might not know about!"
  • Making it about influence: "I did it, so could you!"  
  • Making it about shaming: "I did it, why aren't you?"
  • Making it about bullying: "I did it, now you do it, too!"

Maybe all.  Maybe none.

Questions about questioning the motivation of other people are then called into question (that's a lot of questions): Are people just throwing ice on their head BUT missing a/the/my point of doing so?  Are they doing it instead of donating?  Are they doing it and donating to something else?  Are they doing it AND donating to ALS?

What am I/you/we really doing here?

What is this really about?  ALS? Charity, in general?  Ice Water?  Social media?  Following?  Connectivity?  The human condition?  What? What?

And of course there is the pointlessness of it all.  This means nothing.  It is nothing.  There is no meaning.

A spectrum of possible countless permutations…and does someone else's point necessarily need to be my own anyway?

***

Personally, I keep coming back to what it means to me: the anger I felt when I started seeing the ANTI voice come in, and more importantly, why I even felt anger in the first place.

I keep thinking about that little boy, going to bed, and waking up to this world. Was it different?  Was he?  Was it A and/or B? Neither?

Just because there wasn't anything from Santa in my (little secret) brown paper bag, doesn't mean Santa doesn't exist.  Just because my experiment failed AND succeeded doesn't mean I  finished learning about it at that moment in time.

What I do know is that my tolerance for something bigger than myself, bigger than my rationality, and bigger than my senses is growing.

That idea is confounding to say the least.

I don't need to negate magic to make myself feel better, or make the world more tolerable/understandable for me, even if part of me wants to do that.

There is something so chillingly frightful and delightful about pouring a bucket of ice water on my head today, if I physically do it or not.

There is goodness.  There is cruelty.

There is charity.  There is selfishness.

My (little secret) brown bag was empty and full.

BUT IT WAS FULL.

And therein lies the magic.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Ironman Boulder #5 -- So You Think You Want To Do an Ironman?

 How I Have Felt All Week
So you think you want to do an Ironman?

After I got off the bike, I headed to the changing tent.  I ran, ok... jogged, ok...walked, ok...limped around the Boulder High School track to my transition bag; to my surprise, there were still many other bags on the ground.  I figured I would be one of the last ones, but apparently not. I made my way into the tent, sat down to get my run gear on, reached into my bag, and instantly recoiled my hand.

A hot goop covered my clothes, my food, my entire bag.  I was exhausted from one of the hardest bike rides of my life, and couldn't for the life of me figure out what I had just touched.  

Did someone take a crap in my bag?

Nope. 

My Vaseline had exploded.

***

When I woke up race-day morning, I was petrified that I wouldn't be able to do the race, and that this would somehow let everyone down.  I didn't even have a picture in my mind of who this magical everyone was, but I knew, KNEW, deep in my heart, that if I didn't race they would be supremely disappointed in me.

And this was because of my neck.

Multiple alarms expertly set to go off at 4:00 AM around the house were not needed.  I was woken up at 3:00 AM by my neck.  My cemented-in-place neck.  

I thought to myself, Self, do you need to be able to move your neck to do the race today?

When I answered myself that I did, indeed, most likely need to move my neck at least one time during the next 24 hours, I grew a little concerned.  What the heck was I going to do?  

So I did what anyone would do in my situation.

I panicked.

***

So smooth. And scalding.
I was so seasoned, so expert, so knowledgable about triathlons, you see, that I knew not only to put Vaseline in my bike-to-run transition bag, but I knew to include a big ol' vat of it.  I was leaving nothing to chance; I wanted to cake every single inch of my body to make absolutely, 100%, without a doubt certain that nothing, not my nipples, not my thighs, not my ass crack, not my penis, NOTHING would chafe.  Yeah.  I was *that* smart!

Perhaps it was the elevation, the heat, the universe wanting to prank me, but there was an absolute Dexter-esque-crime-scene-level of Vaseline coating my bag, and I looked at the exploded petroleum jelly in awe, poking and prodding at it with my fingers like someone checking if a stovetop was turned on or not.   



***

I instantly started doing neck stretches to try to help my body or mind or whatever it was to loosen up.  The last thing I needed was neck issues unless I could somehow hold my breath in the water for over an hour without ever turning my head to breath.

That probably wasn't going to happen.

So, my immobile neck combined with my absolute abhorrence to eating early in the morning and my need to try to, um, expel, everything from inside my body before the race was a triathlon within a triathlon before the race even started:

  • Stretch stiff neck
  • Eat 
  • Poop
And none of these things were going well.

So you think you want to do an Ironman?

***


Honestly, it was pretty warm.  I was fairly certain the Vaseline must have been bubbling and boiling moments before, and so I needed to make a decision at the worst possible time.  My brain wasn't working at all.  I had just gotten off a bike ride that took me an hour longer than I had planned.  I was cramping.  And I was fairly certain I might die, right there in that transition area, next to a jar of petroleum jelly, in a tent filled with sweaty, naked men.  

The way I had always envisioned myself going.  

But here were my choices:

A. Quit because my Vaseline spilled and felt like it had already been used in a porn scene
B. Go run a marathon WITHOUT Vaseline and be a bloody mess within the hour
C. Coat myself in 90-to-100-degree-spilled-transition-bag-Vaseline and run a marathon
D. Coat myself in 90-to-100-degree-spilled-transition-bag-Vaseline and do my rendition of Deliverance


When you don't know what to do, ALWAYS choose C….no matter how much D is squealing your name.

***

I got my neck stretched, food down, and poop out…and was ready for the swim.  Thankfully, Ironman was trying a new way of starting: self-seeding.

Old Way:
  • Wave 1: Professional Men
  • Wave 2: Professional Women
  • Wave 3: Everyone else, which meant people (meaning, women…or men borrowing pink swim caps) would pull and scratch to pass me in the water.
New Way:
  • Wave 1: Professional Men
  • Wave 2: Professional Women
  • Wave 3: Sub-one-hour swimmers
  • Wave 4: 1 hour to 1:14 swimmers
  • Wave 5: 1:15 to 1:30 swimmers, etc
I really enjoyed this way of starting.  Everyone still had 17 hours to finish; your individual time simply started when you, personally, got in the water.  Also, no one (meaning, women) scratched me, pulled on me, or dunked my head in the water.  In fact, the entire swim, start to finish, was quite peaceful.

I spent the past six months practicing my swim more than anything else and more than I ever had before.  And although I'm still not fast (compared to what?), I left the water refreshed, not exhausted, even at one-mile of altitude.  Also, since it was a fresh-water swim, I was able to "purposefully" take in extra fluids before the bike and run.  I gulped my way right to the swim finish, hitting the higher end of my predicted time.  I was going for between 1:20 and 1:30…and I hit 1:30 exactly (on what I clocked as a 2.6 [not 2.4] mile swim).

My neck issues behind me, I felt like I was set up for a groundbreaking day.  I wasn't tired at all!

***

To my surprise, there was something quite un-erotic about rubbing hot Vaseline all over my private parts in front of panting, stinky, naked men. 

I thought I might make a show of it, and just gyrate my hips a little bit, just a little, and make a few extra dollars in tips before my run, but I decided against it.

***

The first part of the bike ride was freeing, and I really felt like this entire race was coming together.  The first miles were spent how they typically are, passing all the non-strong-bikers who are good at swimming. 

But something incredible was happening.  The altitude was again not bothering me (so I thought), the weather was staying at a cool(?) 81 degrees, and 1/3 of the way in…I was averaging about 18 mph.  My nutrition was on, my breathing was great, and my energy level seemed to be increasing once my heart rate settled in.  

I.

Felt.

Great.

I hit the half way point of the race slowing down just a tad, at 3:15.  My goal was to do the entire thing at 6:30 and if I had a bad day (because of altitude) 7:30.

I was right on track.

***

I didn't know how I was going to ingest my new flavors of Vaseline-flavored Gu, Vaseline-flavored energy bar, and Vaseline-flavored salt, but I did contact my lawyer about patents.

I also asked if he thought Vaseline would sponsor me on my next race…he said No, but that they may be liable for shitty vat making.

***

The next 56 miles were some of the most grueling of my life.  I had never cramped while on a bike before…

As I hit the turnaround to head to home…my entire goal was to have my mileage match the temperature.  I thought that would be a good mental game to keep me occupied.  Getting to 80 miles would put me about half-way there!

Unfortunately, my plan didn't work…because the temperature kept going up…and it was getting harder and harder for me to win my game:

  • 85 degrees
  • 90 degrees
  • 95 degrees
  • 100 degrees!
And once that happened, another triathlon level of things started to occur in my body:

  • My stomach started sending me fun little messages that if I put any more food in my mouth, I would be wearing it momentarily thereafter.
  • My forearms…MY MOTHER F'IN FOREARMS were cramping from changing gears.  WTF?
  • My quads were cramping.  Have you ever tried to ride a bike with cramping quads?  I don't recommend it…mostly because (a) it's dangerous and (b) it sucks.
According to WebMD, here are the signs of dehydration, which I may have been suffering from:


  • Increased thirst
  • Dry mouth and swollen tongue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations (feeling that the heart is jumping or pounding)
  • Confusion
  • Sluggishness
  • Fainting
  • Inability to sweat
  • Decreased urine output


If you don't want to read all that, here is a visual representation:

The Ironpug involves sleeping, then eating, then eating while sleeping.

I can't explain, nor would I like to relive, ever, the last few hours of that bike ride.  I was in serious physical, mental, and psychological pain.  But I made it. It took me much, much, much longer on the second half…but I made it in 7:22, somehow still under my "bad day high end" and I was still, technically, alive.

I dropped off my bike, wished for its incineration, and got ready to run.  A marathon.

So you think you want to do an Ironman?

***

There were a couple of people quitting while inside the transition tent, and that seemed like a good idea to me.  It would be so easy to let my day explode.  My cramping quads were with me.  So were my throbbing feet.  And my headache was telling me to stop…let alone the fact that my stomach was about to commit anarchy….any second.

***

I can't say that marathon was the crowning achievement of my life beyond the fact that it was the crowning achievement of my life.  Nothing went the way I had planned, but I made it!

So you think you want to do an Ironman?  That run course was like a war zone.  There were people passed out and/or vomiting everywhere.  Pushing themselves to the limit.

Anyway, before the day started, I figured at the worst, the run would take me 5:30…but was fairly certain I could hit 4:30 with how my training had been going and all my invaluable experience.  Ha!

Sadly:
  • It was really, really hot!
  • I finally felt the altitude.  I couldn't breathe for the first two hours.  All I could do was gasp.
  • My quads were constantly cramping
  • I couldn't eat anything.

I started doing math (ack) and tried to figure out how I could (a) finish and (b) survive.

  • If I tried to do a nine-to-ten min/mile pace….I knew I was going to cramp too much and not finish.
  • If I walked the entire thing at about a twenty min/mile pace, I knew I wouldn't finish in time.
So, I went for the middle, and tried to do a fifteen min/mile pace….which I had never done before, so I had to figure out what that was.  

It turned out if I jogged about half a mile and walked about half a mile, that got me to about fifteen min/mile.  This was enough to get me in on time AND not have my body fail me.

The highlights of that hot, Hot, HOT run were trying:

  • Not to cramp
  • Not to vomit
  • Not to pass out
The first time I almost passed out was when I tried to drink some chicken broth that was hotter than the Vaseline from my transition bag.  It scorched my mouth and throat.

When they asked if it was too hot, all I could muster was "Um, yeah…I wink eh i a wiwwle woo ha."

I then handed them my tongue and told them to return it to me after the race.  

***

I eventually got it together in the transition tent and decided that I would attempt to complete the race.  The Vaseline didn't matter.  

It was an annoyance.  Not the end of the world.  

It was a funny story.  Not the story.  

It wouldn't be my excuse.  It would be another thing I overcame.

***

I EARNED this shit.
I finished.  

It took my longer than I thought it would, but I now realize that altitude and heat together (maybe even separately) are no joke. 

I learned that there is something off with my nutrition when the heat gets turned up…and that I most likely need extra salt and fluids….even more than I think I do.

I learned that biking while cramping is dangerous at the time.  But fun in retrospect…because you get to bike in fun patterns you never imagined before.

I learned what a fifteen min/mile run pace feels like…and how that can be just as hard as a sub eight min/mile pace.

I learned that scalding hot chicken broth is not a good idea.  Ever.

I learned that anything is possible with enough training, determination, and desire.  

I learned that Ironman does have the perfect slogan.

I learned stiff necks, and cramps, and hot Vaseline can be aspects of a porn video OR an Ironman.

But I mostly learned more about myself and how I struggle to be in the moment.  Judgment, fear, cynicism can be like a record on repeat in my head, and simple things like singing "Because I'm a Puppy" to the tune of Pharrell's Happy can get me through some really dark times…and really, if that is all it takes…then, what am I complaining about in the first place.

So you think you want to do an Ironman?  That won't cut it.

You have to know you will.

And you will.  

Eventually. 

You will.