Friday, December 25, 2009

Slaughterhouse Christmas 2009


'Twas the evening of Christmas
and the chaos died down
and the children were asleep
as we were all out of town.
The gifts had been opened,
The food was sublime,
then an E-mail reminded me
that it's Slaughterhouse time.
My deadline was upon me;
the topics may have been great,
but the mailbox that receives them
was back in my home state!
I was out on my own now,
and was missing my tools,
but I've sure set the precedent;
I can make my own rules.
The holiday chaos
has begun to subside,
I got dozens of emails
from friends far and wide
that suggested some topics
from heartfelt to obscure
and I laugh when I look back
at the topics du jour.
It was a crazed resolution
to keep my mind focused
some nights it wasn't easy,
more like eating a locust,
but I think that I learned
about the changes I needed
I'm preposterously grateful
that you took time to read it.
So as Christmas moves past us
here in snow, sleet and rain,
Thanks, I'll pass on the chance
to re-open a vein.
But if I've learned anything
in this trip around the sun,
Live this life like you're fearless,
because you only have one.
Push your body past exhaustion,
farther than it will go,
find the balance that suits you,
(Mine includes Veuve Clicquot.)
Tell more people you love them.
It may be your last chance.
You'll miss something amazing
if you just take one glance.
Tell the truth, eat more veggies,
Brush your teeth, say your prayers
And don't waste your time whining
Because nobody cares.
It's your life, you can change it
There's a million ways how
Go ahead, just get started
You know you've got right now!
Just relax, know you're human
You'll have setbacks and doubts
But your own intuition
Helps you figure it out.
So I close out this decade
From two time zones away,
And I'm under my word count
But I'm out of things to say,
It's a common dilemma
And I've no more advice
Particularly for those who've heard
All my old stories twice.
So good night and God bless us
Everyone, far and near
That's 350 words of blather.
G'night. See you next year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Slaughterhouse 51 - Marathon followup

Mile 9
Honoree: Nannette Johnstone

I was marveling a little at how I was feeling, and felt that I was doing a good job of holding the pace. I’d gone to the card a couple times just to look at the names on it, squeeze the edges and focus on the spectators and the miles ahead. I thought that the Gu table as going to be coming up sooner than it actually said on the map, and after seeing a couple packets on the ground I was concerned I’d missed it. The music switched into “California Love” by Tupac and Dr. Dre, one of the greatest cadence running songs ever (and made all the more appropriate by the new destination that Nannette’s headed to next year) and the sun had started to warm things up ever so slightly, even though I could still see my breath.

Mile 10
Honoree: Michelle Kmetz

The Gu table was right in front of Treasure Island. I grabbed three packets of Blueberry Pomegranate Roctane, the most appealing of the flavor choices, and threw them into my pockets. There was a giant boom crane hanging over the course with a banner reading “SMILE FOR THE CAMERA…RACE PHOTOS!” I focused on holding my pace as other people put their arms up, started yelling, et cetera. I also started moving slightly to the right, making sure I wouldn’t have to scurry over when it was time to make the turn. (The fun music coincidence was the emergence of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”)

Mile 11
Honoree: St. Baldrick’s Foundation/LIVESTRONG Foundation

I made the turn at the Fashion Show Mall, grinning and pointing at cheering spectators along the rail who were holding a sign with a large glitter checkbox reading, “Run a marathon…what next?” In my head, I knew what it was; it just wasn’t the time to think about it right now. My legs were starting to get a little sore, my foot had a twinge in it, and we started to head slightly uphill alongside the mall. I could see people walking along the curve, considering giving up on running and walking when they could, and I wasn’t even entertaining the thought of doing so until mile 15. We were moving into the far less visually exciting portion of the course, fewer spectators, but there were cheerleading squads at the intersections, screaming and giving out high-fives. I grabbed another Gu packet as I paced through the aid station, getting my legs ready to start cranking out more miles.

I was getting a weird “zap” sensation in my left arm when I went to drink anything, which was leading me to believe that I had my fists clenched too tight at my sides as I was jogging. So every once in a while I’d shake out my arms along my sides, roll my shoulders, shake my head left and right, anything to keep my upper body loose so that I wouldn’t get hurt there.

The pedestrians had disappeared. The spectators in this area were few and far between, generally looking for individual runners and looking cold. As usual, it was dismaying to be running in shorts and essentially a T-shirt while everyone watching was wearing scarves and hats, but I forced myself to remember how much colder I would be if I had to stand still.

Mile 12
Honoree: Sam Gold

I made my way past the Rio after going under the I-15 bridge, worried that the wind would be howling through the tunnel and was pleasantly surprised it was no better or worse than the rest of the course. My quadriceps muscles were staring to sing a little bit as I went down the incline, and I watched some of the other people who elected to walk it. This was the first mile where I saw people stopping on the side of the road to stretch out their hamstrings; it was a lousy time to try to fix cramps or have any sort of soreness.

I had a hard time doing the geography in my head; we were turning on Decatur; what stoplight was that? As I was looking down the hill I could see hundreds of runners, like picnic ants, following the cones and going downhill, so I could see I was only a few blocks out. I was no longer amazed that I was feeling great, I was satisfied with knowing that I didn’t feel any worse than I usually did after running this far. I skipped one of the water stations because I felt that I’d had enough to drink over the past few miles and would be overdoing it to grab any more; it’s not as if I was going that fast and I was used to covering this kind of distance without a lot of beverages. (The usual hydration plan for the Silverman half-marathon course that I train on is to eat a Gu packet after about the 7-mile mark, do the last of the loop, grab a Gatorade at the 7-Eleven after mile 10, then close out the last 5K and grab a bottle of water from my truck.) Knowing there would be twice as much activity, I was making sure that hydration or cramping wasn’t going to be an issue.

Mile 13
Honoree: Julie Lyden

…and no sooner did Julie’s mile come up than a very, very old Kool Moe Dee song from about 1990 came on. I grinned and looked out at the straightway. We were running between sets of apartment complexes with lots of people watching from the balconies; it was certainly a different pace and location than the Strip. I saw one of the 4:30 sign runners pass me by; I knew that was my goal time but I wanted to make sure I stayed at a pace that was comfortable to me. They seemed to be moving a little quick and the goal of this race was going to be survival. My foot got a little tighter, and I could feel a slight cramp in my stomach. I was getting ready for things to go badly. The “wall” that everyone talked about was supposed to be at twenty miles; could things really go downhill that fast? I kept my legs moving and headed for the corner. This was the time to just go with blunt force, push through whatever discomfort was there and pick up when I took another Gu packet, at the next water station.

Mile 14
Honoree: JoLynn McCully

JoLynn would holler at me if she knew I was thinking of walking when I could still run. (I didn’t know if this was true – she might well have said, “Sit down, you idiot, you’re making good time,” but it helped my race to think of the former.) The first significant hill of the day was ahead, and they shifted the course over into the right lane. Several motorists who knew nothing about the marathon looked frustrated to be sitting in traffic delays that were three blocks back. At Silverman, I resisted the temptation to yell at the stalled motorists while I was riding by on my bike – “Wow, traffic’s a BITCH, huh? You’ll be stuck here for a whole episode of “Two and a Half Men”!!” I found out later that Mile 4 honoree Brian Mascheri was one of the people caught in traffic, in this exact neighborhood because his daughter was cheering for us at the corner of Tropicana and Decatur. I remember the shouting but didn’t realize I should have been looking for Alex, so I didn’t. There was a pretty significant hill as we made our way to mile 15 and the last portion of the course.

Mile 15
Honoree: Mark Tsujihara, Adam Crook, Peter Rufa, Pete Franzen, Jon Fredrickson and Kathy Fredrickson.

It was some more uphill as soon as I got onto Hacienda, which was loaded with runners in both directions. Speed guys running a three-hour pace were dropping the hammer on their 23rd mile while I was coming through the intersection. It felt really good to be on Hacienda, knowing that this out-and-back was the last portion of the course. I slugged down a Gu packet a little ahead of schedule, but the stomach cramping had me nervous, as did the overall feeling in my legs. Gu is also laced with lots of sugar and caffeine, and if the people represented on this mile joined me for anything, it was lots of sugar and caffeine. I forced my legs into a stride they could live with and kept running, picking my knees up a little bit to generate more pace.

Mile 16
Honorees: John Quitano and Ashok Yadav.

Ashok once ran his leg of the Brass Challenge in hiking boots; seriously, how bad could this possibly be? I was starting to find out. My quads were getting really tight. Blisters were announcing their arrival next to the balls of my feet. In a new development, my right foot was now hurting in the same spot as the left, and for the fourth or fifth time I’d been running on a slight incline and smacked the heel of my right foot against the inside of my ankle, luckily not tripping over my own feet but, unluckily, causing abrasions on the inside of my sock and causing the ankle to swell. My hips were starting to check in and register complaint. My breathing was fine, so I knew I wasn’t running too fast. But everything was starting to gradually increase in terms of the pain I was in. I gritted my teeth and kept pushing myself.
I was ten miles from the end of the race. And I started taking a very honest assessment of how I was feeling – awful. It all hurt. But what I realized most acutely was that stopping wouldn’t make me feel any better.

Mile 17
Honorees: Johanna Aqui, Julie Benedict, and Sudha Sunkara

This mile was where I hit the “wall” they were talking about, and my legs, which had now been running for three hours, started walking a little bit after the aid station. They had to. I couldn’t push my quads any harder than I had already. My legs didn’t want to lift my feet any more, didn’t want to push forward any more, and my shoulders were starting to strain. I could hear Zoe’s advice – “Run with your arms when you start getting tired” and tried to imagine the bands connecting my left arm to my right leg, pushing everything forward.

Besides, this was the mile where I had to look human. Jenn and Ed were going to be watching at the intersection of Tropicana and Rainbow, and if there’s one thing that I really hate, it’s letting people see that I’m in any kind of pain. Knowing they would be located somewhere along this mile, I made sure to pick up my knees a little bit and assess the relative amount of agony that I was in, to know where I could safely walk and be justified in doing so. I knew there was a water station on this block, so I could walk through there and get loaded up with CytoMax and water, then look decent as I went by. I saw them pointing at me as I approached the turnaround at the end of the block. We exchanged high-fives and I got myself around the corner. (I found out later that they were extremely nervous when they heard an ambulance go by, thinking that I was in it because they hadn’t seen me yet.)I was near the three hour mark with nine miles to go.

Mile 18
Honorees: Elynore Lyden, Chris Wrobel, and Janet Javurec.

Grandma, Chris and Ken’s girlfriend never knew me when I did any races at all, but I think of them a lot and what they would have thought. And it’s usually at about the three-hour mark of a race, particularly on a hot day of training, that things start getting weird. If you ask me to remember anything after this point in a race it’s going to get a little vague. I had to explain this to Lisa when I got lost on the Silverman bicycle route (I later found out that a portion of the trail we rode in the race was closed).

“Didn’t you know where the route went?”

“No, I blacked out after the aid station. I just kind of followed the cones.”

I moved myself to the right side of the road, knowing that my legs were probably going to seize up every once in a while, but the goal was simple and the same as it always was in every race; don’t stop moving forward. Stopping is quitting. Walking is occasionally tolerable. I also knew that I wasn’t going to feel any better if I stopped and that my legs would probably get tighter.

There was a set of Porta-Potties just down from the aid station so I stopped quickly. I pointed the toes on my left foot to see how flexible I was; my left calf immediately started to cramp up. Pain started creeping up my leg on the outside of my knee. I flexed my foot quickly and thought, “Don’t even think of doing that again.” I got back out on the street and started thinking about my nutrition plan. From now I was going to double up on Cytomax and make sure to drink one water, to over-hydrate to try to fight off the leg cramps; that little point-the-toe exercise back there showed me far too much of what was ahead.
The good news was, I could see a band right ahead, a tent, and that had to be the turnaround. Once I made that turn it was a 10K, a 6.2 mile run home, a distance I’d covered before, the same run I had at the end of every triathlon.
The bad news was seeing that once I got to that tent, the road wasn’t straight like it was on the map. The turnaround was downhill and I could see the last tent in the distance. A sea of red shirts – the official giveaway shirt of the marathon – stretched out for a mile in front of me. I winced and walked for ten steps, then ran for a hundred.

Mile 19
Honorees: Chris Alioto, Kim Low, Elizabeth Gorski, Mandi Hellyer, Maria Cappiello Kiely, Allen Lev and Armando Madrigal.

I was going to count on the fellow runners on Facebook to haul me through this part, because everything started to hurt here. Things I didn’t expect to hurt, like my shoulders and ribs, were starting to get a little sore. I clumsily kicked my ankle again and cursed at myself under my breath. This was the least visually interesting part of the course – giant walls to the north on my right shielding the residents of Spanish Trails from the public, and two blocks’ worth of undeveloped scrubland to my left. I spent most of my time watching the people in front of me. One runner had a shirt that read, “Why couldn’t Phiedippides have died at Mile 20?” (The story of the marathon is Phiedippides ran from the city of Marathon to Athens over this distance to report the news of an Athenian victory in battIe, then promptly croaked upon finishing.)I took a few “ten steps” breaks, grabbed a Gu packet earlier than I was supposed to for the caffeine bounce, and tried to power through any of the ancillary pain. It didn’t matter anymore when the turnaround came; the race was about to get small.

Mile 20
Honorees: Cami Coy

“Run to that light post.” “Catch up to that guy.” “Run to the water station.” I wasn’t racing for miles anymore, but I was racing for feet, a few dozen of them at a time, setting little tiny goals for myself as I passed the 20-mile mark. Cami Coy has been taking my bad advice as a fitness client for nearly a year, and as I rounded the corner to head the last 6.2 miles back, Nickelback’s “Rock Star” came on my MP3 player. This is the song where she was assigned extra laps for singing it aloud when it came on at the gym. This is the song that’s the default ringtone on her cell. This was more than coincidence, but some sort of sick version of destiny.
I turned around and could see the towers that marked the race’s finish. Once upon a time the one on the right was “the big gold building that stole my husband.” They seemed a lot farther than six miles away. But I wasn’t about to give up, 100 steps at a time. I ran through another photo checkpoint and picked up my stride, smiling and making sure that history wouldn’t recognize me as suffering.

Mile 21
Honorees : 2nd Lt. Anthony Smith and the Challenged Athletes Foundation/Operation Rebound.

This was for tougher guys than me who did tougher things than I did. I grabbed three more Gu packets from the table, and the suffering continued. The blisters on my feet, now full-blown, were screaming. My quads were in pain. The muscles along my knees (the iliotibial bands) were killing me. Both of my kenns and ankles hurt. I had more than five miles to go.

Mile 22
Honoree: Cole Kostrszewa

I remembered from looking at the card that this was Cole’s mile, and I followed Karen’s advice, embraced the pain and kept fighting through it, picking up my knees a little bit and actually shuffling instead of running. In the middle of an intersection on this mile, I looked carefully at what I was passing on the side.

It was two kids, probably 8 or9, dressed up as Jake and Elwood Blues, and when I got close enough, I realized what they were singing. It was “Sweet Home Chicago.” I laughed and decided I’d had enough fun for one day, so I started to shuffle as fast as I could towards the water station. When I shuffled my back hurt, so I got my stride back under me. Next water station, I thought.
The pain was incredible. My body didn’t want to run any more, but I knew that in the cold I would just tighten up – those leg cramps that were sidling up to me a few miles ago would return with a vengeance if I slowed down. I passed the hospital and saw the towers looming closer.

Mile 23
Honoree: Mike Lamoureux

Mike was back there at the finish line, having been up as long as us and getting around on one bad hip and one replaced hip, taking pictures, taking in all of the scenery. I then realized that I had two Advil Liqui-Gels taped together in my pocket, below the Gu. I’d taken a couple before the race. They last for four hours. I was four hours into the race right now. As if by magic, I realized that I could take some more of these and I probably wouldn’t hurt as badly! Combine that with the fact I had nothing in my stomach, and these would dissolve as quick as pop rocks! I started striding through the aid station and fumbling with the tape on the pills. It’s only when I tried to do fine-motor-skill work (and again, I’m the guy who kept kicking myself in the ankle) that I realized how badly my hands were shaking. So I started to think.

I’m going to drop the pills.

And then I won’t have any.

And I’ll hurt even worse.

I’ve never seen a warning label on Scotch tape.

Not even a “Keep Out of Reach of Children.”

This won’t kill me.

I threw both of the pills taped together in my mouth, feeling the corner scratch my throat as I gulped down Cytomax. I thought to myself that next year I’d use Elmer’s glue; little kids eat that stuff by the pound and it’s never done anything.

A very large hill was coming into sight. I thought to myself, I didn’t remember anything that extreme existing anywhere in town until I saw it that second. It looked like three flights of stairs. I urged my feet to keep moving towards it. The finish was on the other side. A crowd of us were alternately walking and running, trading places back and forth, trying not to stop.

Mile 24
Honoree: Johnny Lopez

Only a 5K, I thought. You’ve done dozens in reality and in training.

I knew Johnny had to be close to finishing, and I really felt that the walking that I’d done on other peoples’ miles was a betrayal, but not Johnny. When Johnny saw this absolute stiletto-heeled bitch of a climb that seemed to stretch for a day or two over the Union Pacific railroad tracks, I knew that he wouldn’t argue with my choice of ten-step breaks. I finally made it over the bridge and got a decent set of light poles in as I was running downhill, but that was no more comforting than up; the tightness in my quads was becoming intolerable and I could barely lift my knees anymore. My foot was stinging a little, but I knew I wasn’t far. The most exciting part of this mile is this was the first one where I was certain that I wasn’t seeing my breath.

Mile 25
Honoree: Lisa Zelazny

I hadn’t seen Lisa during my whole day on the course, and I could see the pockets where we might have missed each other, so it wasn’t impossible that she was still having a good day just a few blocks behind me. I made sure that the leg that was dedicated to her would have an awful climb as well, and this one did, a couple stories’ worth of up and down over I-15, but the good news was very close at hand. I had a mile and change to go as I passed the self parking exit for Mandalay Bay, where in a minute we would loop back underneath Hacienda as we ran along Frank Sinatra Drive. I turned the corner and things started feeling more crowded. I started seeing runners walking around with medals already around their necks; I knew that now we were on MGM Mirage property, we were just about finished. The bridges were done, there would be nothing that bad again. We were minutes away from the end. A grimace that I’d been wearing for several miles turned into a very pronounced smile. The Velvet Underground’s “Run Run Run” came on and my feet moved almost involuntarily to the rolling snare drum, like something out of “Weekend At Bernie’s.”

Mile 26
Honorees: Jarren and Jayson Lyden

Everything hurt but it was closing time. I remembered in my head that this whole complex was the epicenter of my life following the move, getting this giant gold building to behave like a marble-clad tower in Chicago or a sleepy warren of villas on the edge of Scottsdale. I was coming up on the edge of the parking garage where I’d left my car for dozens of hours at a time, and the last water station was right in front of me.

My knees wouldn’t lift any more. If you would have taped matches to the soles of my shoes they would light with every stride. I didn’t need much more, though. One step closer, that would be all it took. Don’t stop. Don’t even think of stopping now. In less than 10 minutes it will all be finished.
We came to the aid station, where they had cups of ice water. I threw the whole thing into my face, shaking and growling, the cubes bouncing off the lenses of my sunglasses, gasping and grunting from the shock and throwing the cup over my shoulder. (I hoped I didn’t hit someone but I don’t think they would have noticed.) Thankfully the water shocked my legs into responding, and my knees lifted and I got a good jog going rather than a shuffling slog. My shirt was soaked. The spectators in the area raised their eyebrows and watched me grit my teeth.
I rounded the corner and closed out the kids’ mile in a decent fashion. The crowds had started to build. I wanted to finish the race with no indication of the pain I was feeling, and that was made easier as the people got louder. Once I turned the corner for the last 400 yards, I was already laughing and pumping my fist.

Marathon Finish: .2 miles
Honoree: Me

A lot of people cross my mind during a race, some of them for their assigned miles and some of them for far beyond. There is a sequence and an order that I contact people in afterwards, and everybody who wants to know what happened knows as much as I know within about a half-hour of the race finish. I normally finish most of my races alone.

But finish lines are mine, all mine, and I have a photo of one in particular, blown up and hanging with all of the numbers in my office. 2006 had been a horrible year, and people told me later that the real battle that particular year was just showing up to race at all, much less improving on my time from the prior year. But I saw that I had gotten better, and as I came down the final 100 yards, I told myself that no matter what happened to me next week, next month or next year, this moment was all mine and no one could ever take it from me. And that, in and of itself, was worth celebrating. Thanks to the fortuitous work of an ASI photographer, the picture captured me in mid-air, screaming my lungs out and punching my right fist in the air. The expression on my face is a perfect cross between angry and elated.

So finish lines are mine.

There were people lined up four deep on each side of the road past the convention center loading docks, and they were each looking for their individual runners. I knew none of these people were looking for me, but even as my headphones were blaring “Panic Switch” by the Silversun Pickups, I don’t get many chances to be the center of attention. I figured I’d scare them.

“C’MON, GIMME SOME NOISE!” I screamed; the crowd went crazy. It was cheap but it was worth it.

40 yards to go.

I was in the chute for the finish. My fists were clenched tightly as I did everything I could to stagger across that line. I couldn’t stop smiling and was determined to look good while I was doing it.

20 yards to go.

Dozens of people were stacked along the fence. I could see Mike taking pictures. Johnny must have been nearby. I had to make the jump. It’s how I finished every race in forever, (the obvious exception is the Brass Challenge where I’m handing off a baton) but I couldn’t feel my feet any more. All of it was numb.
I remembered the advice Zoe gave me as she had me doing wind sprints across the parking lot – run with your arms. Well, this time I was going to have to jump with them.

10 yards to go.

I saw the preliminary timing mat and the actual finish line. I closed as quickly as my legs would take me any more.

The MP3 player was playing Van Halen’s “Right Now.”

5 yards to go.

The cheering was deafening. I heard the race announcer rattling off names.

Line time. Launch time. The card said, “Closing time, Lorenzo. Show ‘em how it’s done.”

I reached backwards with my arms to generate a little bit more forward momentum than what could topple me over. With everything I had left in my race, my legs, my body, my season, I threw my right arm up to reach the decorative archway and my left arm out and across for balance. I touched the word “TEAM” above the digital race timer and ducked my head under the canopy. I landed, pumped both my fists, and screamed in complete elation.

I survived.


Writing Project Update

You get the last of the marathon writeup tonight. The feedback on the first part was very nice.

DUE BY: Should be midnight-ish.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Slaughterhouse Excerpt - Marathon writeup

Slaughterhouse 50

Start Time: Tuesday, December 8

End Time: continuing

Word Count: 4403

“Wow, I heard about you. You run marathons! That’s crazy!”

“Um, no, not exactly. I’m a triathlete. Swim, bike, run.”

“How far is that?”

“Usually I swim just under a mile, then bike 24.6 miles, then run 6.2 miles after that.”

“Dude, those marathons are crazy. What’s it like?”

“Couldn’t tell you. I’m a triathlete. I’ve never done a marathon.”

“But you could run a marathon. I mean, that’s harder than a triathlon, right?”

And as I’ve had this conversation over the years, trying to distinguish the difference between my sport and the marathon, being asked if one was easier or harder did pique my interest. Marathons have all of these stories, probably because they have more participants. “Hitting the wall,” “Rabbits,” “mile 20,” and so on. Triathlon doesn’t have as many stories, because there’s a certain kind of person who wants to test their mettle and look deep inside of their soul to find out what they’re made of – but they don’t want to get their face wet. I’ve seen shirts reading, “You’re a marathoner? Is that all you do? That’s cute. 140.6” – the number of miles covered in a full distance Ironman race.

So as happens increasingly with things that require a physical challenge, I had to find out. I had to know just how hard a marathon was. I had to be able to answer those questions, both from myself and others. It was originally my goal to find this out last year, but the race organizers were a squirrelly bunch, trying to sell the rights to the race, losing the primary sponsor, not paying vendors and the previous year’s winners. The possibility the race would not occur made me nervous, so I signed up for my first half-ironman distance race instead and made that my end-of-year goal.

This year, however, the race had been taken over by the Rock and Roll Marathon group, who put on very well-regarded races all over the country. The route was better, and the company was solid. I signed up in June and started looking into training plans, which paralleled my training for the Silverman half race. I suspected that if I could successfully complete a race of that distance, my legs could do a marathon. I was a little leery of the fact I’d be doing a half-Ironman race four weeks beforehand and was worried I may not have time to recover, but I didn’t see how I’d lose any cardiovascular ability or strength in my legs by getting the right amount of rest.

I had a very good year from a triathlon standpoint. I did five races and improved my time in all of them after course changes were taken into account. I did three running events and improved my times in those. I had my best time ever in a cycling event. My body responded well to new diet, new strength training, and a new approach. I spent a lot more time running this year than any other discipline, knowing that was where I needed to spend my time and energy at the end of the year.

Complicating matters, of the three sports that I do as part of triathlon, I like running the least. I have reached the point where I am completely at home on a bicycle, and I think it’s not a coincidence that’s where I get my best times. I can tolerate the swim, particularly when I get into a rhythm with it.

But running is pain, particularly any distance over about eight miles. Usually my legs are beaten into submission at that point, and all manner of interesting things start happening, including blistered feet and lost toenails. I don’t run as much as I shuffle. I realize the only thing that I can do is to keep moving, so that’s the only choice I give myself. And then soon, the running’s finished, and I get to the finish line, which I jump over.

Jumping over the line started as a tribute to the kids, who I told about it when they weren’t at one of the races that I finished. Jarren, in particular, knows that’s how I’m going to finish up; in the first grade he took first place in a shuttle run on Field Day and closed it out by jumping over the line. I couldn’t stop smiling when he told me, but someday I may have to explain the difference between speed events and distance events.

So after 25 triathlons, it was finally time to put the doubts out of my head, the long-term ones about how far I could push myself. I knew that my mile times would be around 9:45 from the pace that I ran the half-marathons at, both at the Silverman a few weeks back and the times I’d run that distance.

The marathon has cachet. It’s one of those things that everybody who knows anything about running understands: emaciated-looking Kenyans crossing a finish line as if the winner has been promised a hot meal; average people pushing their bodies three steps from death, a synonym for something that takes a very long time. I don’t have to explain things about strategy or transitions. (There is actually a strategy to running, which I’ll explain later.) You get out there and run. And keep running. That’s it.

I got my stuff set up the same way I would for a triathlon, but try as I might, couldn’t obsess over it enough. A bicycle has things to check, items to tune, flasks to load, gear to remember and set up. I didn’t have to worry about which sock went into which bicycle shoe to set on which towel at my transition spot. All I had to do was decide what I was going to wear, and I knew the answer to that even before I knew what the weather was. Once I found out that race morning temperatures would be in the mid-30s, I made one concession to the weather – a sleeveless Dri-Fit shirt over a sleeved Dri-Fit shirt for two layers. The other options were the usual: black shorts (though for running and not for cycling), black hat, wraparound sunglasses, Las Vegas sign socks (I’d be passing the genuine article in the first quarter-mile) and New Balance running shoes. I threaded the metallic timing chip through the right laces and assembled what was going in my pockets.

This part was different. I put my driver’s license and health insurance card into the secret pocket on my right hip, three Gu packets into my right pocket, and a very important addendum to this race, a laminated card with 27 names on it. The explanation for that is here.

I got dialed in to my usual pre-race hydration and nutrition plan, even though I didn’t totally know what to expect. I did everything I could to avoid thinking about the race itself. It’s like a final exam in a subject you’ve been studying for years, or even a little like a game show audition; either you know it or you don’t, so don’t stress about it when it’s time to find out. I was smiling as a friend explained the all-uphill running path we were driving along: “It just goes on and on and on.” I got the usual poor night’s sleep before the first one of an event and was up in three and a half hours.

My office was located 700 feet from the starting line, and would actually be barricaded in by runners for the first 45 minutes of the race. That meant that one of the best parking lots on Earth for the race I was about to participate in with 27,000 other people was where you can usually find my vehicle between Monday and Friday. All I had to do was find my way into the lot, so after a quick negotiation with two traffic officers and the Nevada Highway Patrol moving two squad cars, a roadblock and three cones, I was past the security gates and settling into the comfort of the Information Technologies Fabulous Pre-Race Lounge. There I would meet with my fellow co-captains of our bureau’s running team, Johnny Lopez and Lisa Zelazny, who were also running their first marathons.

We had some guys in working on a maintenance project, so I said hello to everyone and sat down at my desk. At this point it was 4:15 in the morning and the outside temperature was 36 degrees. Johnny showed up a few minutes later, started getting his shoes on and playing scenes from “Run Fatboy Run.” We were soon joined by Mike Lamoureux, who explained that, “You’ve seen the movie “Rudy,” right? Where he says that if he makes the dress list, he’ll go to the game? Well, you guys made the dress list. This is too big a day for me not to be here.” Lisa showed up in a few minutes. After a little music and my breakfast of cream of rice with oregano and red pepper, we got bunched up next to the door and prepared to head into the cold.

“You’re going to freeze to death.”

“I’m going to be running for 26 miles. I’ll have plenty of time to warm up.”

I had my legs under me, and once we opened the door I wish that warmup was at hand right away. I could feel my feet going numb and my teeth chattering. I tried to walk faster to get to the starting area, accessible by turning the corner at Russell, walking a block to Frank Sinatra, hanging a right and walking through the parking lot to the start. We took some pictures in the dark and made our way through the masses of people. Lisa stopped to say hi to her Rockin’ Roadrunners group, and then we headed into the maelstrom of runners. Johnny was in Corral 3, on account of a patently insane estimate that he made to the race organizers that he would finish in three and a half hours. We asked how he expected to do so without the benefit of rocket skates. Lisa was in Corral 24, nearly in front of the Luxor, a mile or so from the start. I was in Corral 15 and was one of the few people there early by comparison to some of the other locations. Our start time was estimated not to take place until 6:24, nine minutes after the gun went off to start the race.

Hundreds of spectators lined the streets, standing behind portable metal fencing. Most of the people near me wore sweatshirts they planned on discarding or plastic garbage bags with holes cut in them for the head and arms. As this was my first marathon, I was glad to have another moment that I would spend at a race and think to myself, “I should have thought of that.” Standing at the front of my grouping, I looked back and saw a runner in a SILVERMAN FULL sweatshirt. We exchanged triathlon pleasantries as we sort of recognized each other. Most of the runners weren’t local, but then again, standing in the middle of the strip on most occasions is a great way to find employment as a hood ornament. It’s not like this is an easy route to run under normal circumstances. You’re crossing some very busy streets in an area that’s famously inhospitable to pedestrians, where your feet aren’t even allowed to touch the pavement other than the sidewalk. Running the Strip is a rare treat because it’s not allowed.

Standing in a crowd of people, we could hear the fireworks go off to start the elite runners, and the crowd cheered loudly as that meant we were a little bit closer to starting ourselves. The cold was horrible, but there was a breeze at our backs that wasn’t quite actually windy. I downed my first Gu packet 20 minutes before our scheduled start. At the moment, all it was doing was making me shiver. My teeth were chattering, jumping up and down wasn’t helping any, and I needed to quickly dive out of line to find a restroom even after the last gel. Several other runners and I arrived at the same decision, and we jogged up the hill towards a line of porta-potties 200 feet from the start line. I found the other people at my pace in the corral and returned.

I tried to empty my mind of any thoughts. I started wondering, do the usual tri rituals apply? I could start the watch when the yelled “30 seconds!” during an in-water start; I’d wind up just fumbling with the buttons here. Did I shout, “Good luck today, everybody!” for karmic purposes? Would they hear me? Nearly everyone had headphones, as did I; I was jumping up and down, bobbing along to Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” and shuffling along to loosen up my hips. The crowd started surging forward some more. I saw Mike taking pictures along the fence, and I pointed and smiled. It was time to get to it. My headphones started playing “The Warrior’s Code” by the Dropkick Murphys. We surged toward the start line and I grabbed my watch to start it.

Mile 1

Honoree: Margaret Lyden (my mom)

They had us segregated pretty well by waves, but it was still very important to watch your surroundings and feet. In a 5K this is hideous – since it’s the shortest competitive distance, people cut you off if you’re not moving fast enough, only to get passed as they get winded toward the finish. (That’s one of the little joys that running distances brings me; passing people who can’t hold a pace.) As we passed under the starting arch, there was a band at the top of it – two guys dressed as the Blues Brothers playing “Gimme Some Lovin’”, which I viewed as a positive omen. A link to Chicago on my mom’s lap, one of a zillion cool coincidences I’d see today. Gelled follow spotlights shone down on everyone in a barrage of color as we crossed a giant PF Chang’s logo. We were underway!

The biggest concern about this part of the course was a hairpin turnaround at Sunset, at a point where it still felt as if runners were trying to adjust to their pace. I got myself to the inside lanes and planned to drift with everybody. One of the other things that I needed to keep in mind with the people who were pacing around me was the ratio of participants. I’d read that of the 27,500 people racing, 20,000 were doing the half-marathon only. Those people were going to run differently because they aren’t going as far, and when we got to the split at Mile 10, when it was time to Stand Up and Be Counted if you were going for the full distance, they would have only three left and I would have 16. A major difference. Once I hit the mile marker indicating the first marker was complete, marked with a giant banner and a digital timer under it, I looked at my watch to see if I could figure out the delta between the race time and my own watch; it was something more than a half-hour. My race plan was to not look at my watch until the half-marathon was marked off so that I wasn’t caught up in seconds ahead, seconds behind, just to worry about getting in a rhythm and getting comfortable. If anything, I was only going to look at my watch to know when it was time to eat more Gu.

Mile 2

Honoree: Jay Lyden (Dad)

Amazingly, there was a water and Cytomax (this race’s version of Gatorade) station about two hundred feet before the second mile marker, and runners who didn’t seem too sure about what they were doing bolted towards the edges of the road to partake. By this point we hadn’t been running for ten minutes; it was a like a kid who announces he has to go to the bathroom before the car has left the driveway. Really? You hadn’t thought of this just a couple minutes ago? The rest of us plugged along, trying to watch out for people who were going to stop for no reason. I’d settled into a pretty comfortable rhythm and picked out a couple bodies that I thought were doing the full race rather than the half, hoping that I could keep pace with them or, failing that, keep them within sight. This mile took me back past the office and gave me a good look back at everyone I was ahead of. A band was covering the Black Crowes covering Otis Redding underneath the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, and pretty soon we were back at the start line, where a few walkers were still making their way through the gates. I was trying to hold my usual outdoor pace, staying comfortable, and paying careful attention to a few different trouble spots that could make me slow down.

The first one was my left foot, which hadn’t felt right since after the Silverman race. It never hurt much while I was running, but once I stopped, there would be swelling and a large bump on the top of it that, through rigorous comparison testing and a scientific tactile analysis, I noticed wasn’t on my right foot, which didn’t hurt. It was tendonitis, an extensor tendon issue, or a stress fracture. It had survived a 5K race two weeks earlier and didn’t feel bad while I was running. I was ignoring reams of good advice from magazines, trainers, physicians, and common sense by not getting this looked at sooner, but I was relying on my own experience with stress fractures and the knowledge I’d be unable to walk if I had one. My other fear was that any sensible doctor would say that the safe side of dealing with foot pain is not to run for 26-plus miles, and that was an unacceptable answer. As long as the foot didn’t feel so bad I couldn’t stride correctly, I wasn’t going to panic about it.

The second were my quadriceps muscles, which usually bore the brunt of the impact when I was running and had the greatest amount of soreness. If I took too aggressive of a pace, they would get really tight, making it more difficult to keep a stride as I got later along in the race.

The third were my hips, which along with my lower back were going to be responsible for my posture, and if they started hurting a lot I would be very, very surprised. Typically my hips have been pushing me around on a bicycle for a while before I get to running. Even a race this long would seem like a vacation, so I figured if I was having any trouble with them , it would be an indicator of real problems and I would need to slow down.

Mile 3

Honoree: Ken Faikus

I was starting to pass by the MGM Grand, the very first hotel I stayed in when I was on that first trip to Las Vegas 13 – thirteen!! years ago this week, and Ken was among the travelers on that fateful journey. I thought of the thousands of miles that I’d traveled on foot from here to there, and checked all of the vital signs to ensure that everything was pacing out well. Crowds were cheering for us from the pedestrian walkways overhead, and I pumped my fist to acknowledge their cheers, so they cheered louder. There were dozens of people lining the streets everywhere we looked.

And you had to look, because every once in a while a pedestrian would attempt to cross the street, particularly in places where we wouldn’t expect them, like right in front of us. I don’t know what prompted these idiots to turn our race into their own personal Pamplona – I mean, the whole field was going to be at walking speed in just a couple more minutes. The other racers nearby and I were joking about it. “I was really clipping along until I got taken out by the pedestrian.”

Mile 4

Honoree: Brian Mascheri

Brian was also on that first trip, and we were also passing by the Hawaiian Marketplace. In one of the more entertaining coincidences of the day, I looked up and saw someone running in a CHELIOS 7 Blackhawks jersey. Every mile so far had something that tied back to the person who I’d chosen, and I was starting to feel like all of the omens were good. The first water station where I was going to drink anything was on this portion, straight across from Harrah’s, because it was the time limit of 45 minutes after eating my first Gu packet. I reached into my pocket and tore it open, then grabbed a cup of Cytomax and strode purposefully as I squeezed the gel into my mouth, slugging the drink afterwards and adding water after that. Toss the cup and start running again. I’d done all of this in eight steps.

Also on this mile was the run-through wedding chapel, where 200 couples were either getting married or renewing their vows. Without involving a drive-thru, your marriage cannot get more “quickie” than this.

Mile 5

Honoree: Beth Badrov

Because this was the first portion of the course that was adjacent to vacant land – the former site of the imploded Stardust and the future site of the Echelon project, which Boyd Gaming was forced to abandon, this was the first portion where litter had a chance to blow onto the course, and I got to experience one of those only-in-Vegas marathon moments: pornographic litter! I was developing the television commercial for this race in my head; a runner blazing through an aid station, tossing the cup to the side of him, only to be met at the end of it by a short non-English speaking gentleman whacking a rolled up newspaper flyer against his hand and attempting to hand it to him; runners doubled over and fighting off cramps as someone attempts to sell them a timeshare, and yet another aid station handing out yard-glass margaritas.

Mile 6

Honorees: Jenn and Ed Brusven

By now I was holding pace well and was really amazed at how well my breathing was going, knowing that what was going to hold me up was eventually going to be pain in my legs and not in my chest, air drumming along to Van Halen’s “I’ll Wait.” I started rolling my shoulders backwards and shaking my hands, as I was getting concerned that keeping my fingers clenched tightly on such a cold day was going to affect my circulation. We hit out second “speed bump” at the 10K mark, where our race timer chips were reporting back how the second phase of the race had gone.

Mile 7

Honoree: Zoe Albright

Zoe got the funniest mile, the one that took us through the seedier parts of downtown towards the Fremont Street Experience. Many of the hotels along the first six miles were showing Channel 8’s telecast of the race on their Jumbotron screens, others were congratulating their employees who were running it. Planet Hollywood was offering a Twitter relay to anyone who wanted to send messages to a racer who might possibly see it if they looked up at the right 10 seconds (sadly, none of the entries I saw used my favorite race-card sign suggestion of GOOD NEWS - SHE’S NOT PREGNANT) but most of the signs were congratulatory. I was looking forward to seeing what they would come up with at the Olympic Garden, but the establishment was dark. Across the street, though, we were being cheered on by a crowd gathered in front of a dive bar who were handing out cups of beer, which the patrons were handing over with great amusement. A block further down, a gentleman who clearly didn’t expect 27,000 people in the middle of the street at the end of his night was loudly cheering us on. We passed an adult bookstore with the signage






Some of my fellow racers looked aghast, others cracked up. I was in the latter category. My legs were still holding up as much as I hoped we would, my hips and back weren’t hurting, and everything looked good. At this point I was still convinced that the course would go through the Fremont Street Experience, because no civic event would be complete without it, but they elected to turn us around a few blocks further south, amongst the older row houses and well before we got to the World’s Largest Pint, a designation I’ve never completely understood (a pint is an actual measure, so calling something the World’s Largest Pint is like calling something the World’s Heaviest Pound) and we turned the corner to make our way back south.

Mile 8

Honoree: Siobhan Greene

Downtown’s Arts District goes to Siobhan, and right about here was where my left foot got a little twinge in it, and it started to become apparent I’d been running with the breeze at my back. There was a short hill and I could start to get an idea of how much of the field was still behind me, as we started looping backwards towards the Stratosphere. As the walkers emerged by the time I got past there, all that I could think to myself was, thousands of people were still chasing me. I also noted that if any of those quickie run-through weddings didn’t work out four miles ago, we were about three blocks away from my divorce lawyer’s office.

At this point the race felt like it had gone on for a while, but it didn’t feel interminable. We were still on the Strip, we were still moving at a good pace, the music was still keeping me alert and I wasn’t hurting, so I just decided to roll with it. (I did make the decision to fast-forward through a cadence-inappropriate, but historically significant, song, that being Oasis’ “Cigarettes and Alcohol.” As hard as I wanted to laugh at this point, it simply wasn’t going to happen.

Writing Project Update

WORDS WRITTEN THIS WEEK: Over 5000, most of which you're about to read.

RESPONSES TO LAST WEEK'S TOPIC: There were dozens in varied forums. They ranged from my mom's (As your Mother I can say that you don't have any bad habits. I'M NUMBER ONE!!) to some that raised an eyebrow, but I have to point out something first:

I'm an idiot.

(Well, you knew that, but let me finish.) I forgot to include among the Facebook running brethren Ms. Sonia Norwood, who knocked out a half-marathon in Baltimore earlier this year, and Mr. John Egan, who raised gobs of money running another marathon earlier this year (and ran it almost an hour faster than I did and smoked me like a Christmas ham). They did cross my mind at the mentally brutal Mile 19 mark, along with everyone else on that card, which I referred to frequently.


THIS WEEK'S TOPIC: The first eight miles of the marathon writeup; the remainder will be posted this week.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Slaughterhouse 49 - First Marathon Edition


In February 2009 I read an article with a great idea in it, from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Before you either pump your first in triumph or shuffle out in disgust, listen first. This has nothing to do with politics.

"Huckabee has run four marathons. How'd he do it? 'I made a list of twenty-six people who had made a special difference in my life in some way,' Huckabee says. 'I dedicated a mile to each one and I told them in advance — mile thirteen is yours, mile twenty-one, and so on. Then I put their names on a little card, and I laminated it so it wouldn't get destroyed in the sweat. You just can't quit, 'cause you would be choking on somebody's mile and you'd have to go back and tell them.'"

The following list of individuals will be in my pocket on Sunday morning. This is what I can do by way of notification. For those of you unfamiliar with Las Vegas geography, I've attached a brief description of each mile (you can see the exact location here) Everyone here - I can't thank you enough. I won't quit. I promise.


1. Margaret Lyden. (Start line to Sunset Road.)
2. Jay Lyden. (Sunset Road to Mandalay Bay.)

Mom and Dad get the first two miles because I wouldn’t have been able to do any of the rest without them. I had a generally happy childhood and get my sense of humor, my smile and any good qualities from the two of them. (The bad ones I picked up when they weren’t looking.)

3. Ken Faikus. (Four Seasons Hotel to Hawaiian Marketplace.)

The Minister of Perspective, the Genius, he’s listened to my every complaint, whether it’s about fitness, people, relationships, jobs, writing, the whole shebang – and there are a LOT. He’s kept me focused on not only my training, but on things that are far more important.

4. Brian Mascheri. (Hawaiian Marketplace to Venetian.)

My best friend, my corner man, the guy who knows where the bodies are buried and why, we’ve spent our whole adult lives knowing the other one’s got our back. You are lucky if you meet someone like this at any time in your life, and I’ve been really lucky to know him for nearly my entire life.

5. Beth Badrov. (Venetian to Wynn.)

Beth saw what I was doing, started running herself, started liking it. She inadvertently announced she was expecting to all of her friends on Facebook by bragging that she beat the other pregnant lady in a 5K race. Will undoubtedly run a marathon herself one day.

6. Jenn and Ed Brusven. (Wynn to Stratosphere.)

Found a dream, believed in it, worked to make it happen and are both fighting to make it succeed. Sounds just like what I’m trying to do, but in a different context.

7. Zoe Albright. (Stratosphere to downtown.)

The trainer who got me to train differently, to listen to the right kind of experts so I could run this race in the first place. One of the people on earth I can point to and say, “See? She’s crazier than I am.”

8. Siobhan Greene. (Downtown through Fremont Street Experience.)

My long-lost relative from a past life, she started walking, and walking, and walking even farther. She’s unafraid to try things that she might be terrible at.

9. Nannette Johnstone. (Downtown to Sahara.)

Nannette gets Mile 9 because it’s her lucky number. (Mine too.) She wasn’t afraid to take on the challenge of starting me out down the path that I’m on right this second. My co-conspirator and source of inspiration. Is gutsy enough to run triathlons herself.

10. Michelle Kmetz. (Sahara to Café Ba-Ba-Reeba.)

She’s the other side of my mind, the balance, the sanity, the Director of Assertiveness, the one who knows that I’m crazy but knows better than to try and stop me. Believes I’m capable of amazing things that I’m not even sure of. Tranquility is at hand, really, right after this race. Honest. I promise.

11. St. Baldrick’s Foundation/LIVESTRONG Foundation (Fashion Show to Industrial.)

The reason I’m bald during my racing season and have a yellow bracelet on almost all the time, the groups devoted to stopping juvenile cancer through research, awareness, and treatment.

12. Sam Gold. (Industrial to Twain past the back of the Rio.)

For being a Space Monkey and for marching kids all over the place…a great example for his Scouts. Also has a sister who’s a triathlete and spends time shaking his head, but spends more time asking questions and growing ever more curious about it. His time will come.

13. Julie Lyden. (Twain from Valley View to Decatur.)

Julie got Mile 13 because she did a half-marathon this year herself, and plans to run the full distance next year. To know where both of us came from in terms of what kind of shape we were in and to know where we’re at right now – I still can’t believe it. I also know that if I ever slow down, Julie will catch me.

14. JoLynn McCully. (Decatur to from Twain to Harmon.)

Had the courage to restart school at 37 to get her degree to pursue the goals and careers that she wanted. Refused to believe it was impossible and that she couldn’t make a better life for herself.

15. Mark Tsujihara, Adam Crook, Peter Rufa, Pete Franzen, Jon Fredrickson and Kathy Fredrickson. (Decatur from Harmon to Hacienda.)

For listening, for encouragement, for calling me crazy. I miss you all in bunches, miss the chance to bust each other’s chops over key lime pie.

16. John Quitano and Ashok Yadav. (Hacienda from Decatur to Jones.)

Along with me, the two longest-suffering members of the ITB Brass Challenge Running Team. We’ve gone from the few, the slow, and the desperate to making some substations nervous. These gentlemen are always willing to stand up and be counted, and I appreciate it.

17. Julie Benedict, Johanna Aqui, and Sudha Sunkara. (Hacienda to Rainbow/Tropicana.)

Went from never running anywhere to running half-marathons themselves; two of them are competing today. I’m amazed by their determination.

18. Elynore Lyden, Chris Wrobel, and Janet Javurec. (Rainbow/Tropicana to corner of Spanish Trail GC.)

Up there, watching. The time that I spent knowing you was far too short.

19. Chris Alioto, Kim Low, Elizabeth Gorski, Mandi Hellyer, Maria Cappiello Kiely, Allen Lev and Armando Madrigal. (On Hacienda, along Spanish Trail GC.)

Facebook running and triathlon brethren in different stages of life and fitness. They’re part of why I get out of bed during what I call “morning” but which everyone else would call “the middle of the night”.

20. Cami Coy. (Hacienda final turnaround before Durango.)

Has worked tirelessly for her results and never gives up. I could never disappoint her.

21. 2nd Lt. Anthony Smith and the Challenged Athletes Foundation/Operation Rebound. (Hacienda east towards Rainbow.)

For their service, their sacrifice, and their inspiration. It was an honor and terrific inspiration to meet these guys and race with them.

22. Cole Kostrzewa. (Hacienda past Spring Valley Hospital.)

“If you are going to run for my son, run a long way, because he has. When the pain in your legs affects you, accept it, as he has. When you reach the point of exhaustion, embrace it, as he has. When you fear that you can go forward no longer, imagine for that moment that you have no choice, and smile, like Cole does, and keep running, until you can feel better, like Cole will." –Karen Barr Kostrzewa, Cole’s mom, my high school classmate, talking about her son, the six-year-old leukemia survivor.

23. Michael Lamoureux. (Hacienda through Jones.)

Always supportive, always encouraging, going through hellish pain himself and never complains about it. A terrific guy to know and a great friend and father.

24. Johnny Lopez. (Hacienda with big lousy hill over railroad tracks.)

The guy who can relate to every step of it, only always and ever faster. Right about now he’s probably finishing the race, because he’s faster than I am.

25. Lisa Zelazny. (Hacienda over awful bridge to Luxor pyramid.)

She’ll always deny that she’s as crazy as I am, but with her and Johnny training and working alongside of me, I don’t have to travel far for any kind of inspiration to keep going. Neither Johnny nor Lisa ever give up, for any reason. It’s incredible.

26. Jarren and Jayson Lyden. (Around Luxor Parking garage to Mandalay Bay parking lot.)

The reason I jump over the finish lines, the reason I started racing to begin with, the best part of my life and an awesome honor and responsibility. The last full mile is all theirs. Right now it’s time for Dad to close this race out…and you know how he’s going to finish.

.2. Me. (Mandalay Bay parking lot to finish line.)

This is less than a lap around a high school track, and I’m going to be greedy and keep this one. Some moments you get to keep for the rest of your life. These next 2-3 minutes are all mine, to remember forever. I can’t wait.

Writing Project Update

WORDS WRITTEN THIS WEEK: 1700, most of which you're about to read.



THIS WEEK'S TOPIC: A Very Special Slaughterhouse. Catch it in a couple minutes.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Slaughterhouse 48

(Written for a job application in 2001.)

START TIME: March 20, 1999
END TIME: April 30, 2001

My proudest accomplishment in the field of information technology came with the project I moved to Las Vegas to be a part of: the opening of the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas.

At the property that I transferred from, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Chicago, we had three Novell servers and one NT box. There were eight interfaces between the systems on the property. The preliminary plans for our new property in Las Vegas called for thirteen separate NT servers and Category 5 wiring to all of the guestrooms. There would be a network, strictly for the guests, that was already larger than anything I’d worked with before. All 424 rooms would be attached to their own network and hooked to their own t-1 line. We would have a t-1 line for our own network as well. The property I came from connected to the Internet with 56K modems.

The first day I arrived I met my new boss and our new assistant. We sat at a picnic table at trailers across the street from the Luxor and divvied up who would speak with which technology provider. It was three months before we would open.

Three months later, after countless 18-hour days, seven day weeks, dozens of meetings with vendors, providers, partners, and Mandalay Resort Group executives, even taking up residence in the hotel two weeks before it opened, we were ready. I was standing with 600 of my coworkers on a staircase, listening to our CEO say that Las Vegas would hardly knew what hit them. I was making last-minute changes to some front desk machines; the hotel would be open to invited guests at 5 PM. I completed the last-minute printer mappings at 4:50 PM and went back to my office.

The General Manager came by and shook our hands, complimenting us on having everything ready so fast. And then it got quiet.

The doors opened up at 5; everything was free until 9 PM. Dignitaries and VIPs were all over the lobby. Then I began to wonder: what was going to fail first? Would it be the property management system with the configuration that we had invented from scratch after the vendor told us we could only use three printers, rather than 27? Would it be the point-of-sale system that was interfaced to 27 outlets at Mandalay Bay as well as four entirely different point-of-sale brands? Would the timeclocks stop and all of the employees get paid hours of overtime they didn’t earn? Would the room key system fail? Would my E-mail system crash? Sales and catering? Everything I’d worked on and tested was now about to go live and purportedly run without a hitch.

At 8 o’clock, we weren’t getting any calls, and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I went up to my room. At 8:30, killing time until the systems went on for real, I called my wife. When I got off the phone, it was 9:15. I called Room Service and ordered a cheeseburger. Neither I, nor my assistant, nor my boss got a single call all night. All of the systems worked precisely as advertised.

The next day the CEO said it was the smoothest opening he had ever seen. When I got E-mail from my friends the next day, asking how crazy was it and did everything hold, I told them, “I got to watch it on television, same as you did.”

That right there, that I wasn’t busy saving a hotel from chaos on opening night because of careful planning, extensive testing and hard work, is my proudest technological accomplishment.

Writing Project Update

WORDS WRITTEN THIS WEEK: Only about 400. It was an unusual week for training, for rest, for everything, so I just kind of let it go. The marathon is next week and then real life begins, my hair starts growing back, it's going to be great.



THIS WEEK'S TOPIC: Well, it's a holiday weekend and I don't want to stare at a computer screen. I'm writing some other items now, but you showed up, so you deserve some product.

I was asked as part of a job application in 2001 for my proudest career achievement. It's this week's posting. Ahh, the Good Old Days. I can't believe that was almost 11 years ago.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Slaughterhouse 47

END TIME: 11:07 PM

"what twilight character would you be?"

I will not count the words that I’m going to steal from November’s Esquire (which is now doing thousand-word essays on cultural topics), but as the preteen set goes bananas over the Twilight sequel, which opened at midnight last night/this morning you might want to consider this theory, posited by Stephen Marche:

“Edward, the romantic hero of the Twilight series, is a sweet, screwed-up high school kid, and at the beginning of his relationship with Bella, she is attracted to him because he is strange, beautiful, and seemingly repulsed by her. This exact scenario happened several times in my high school between straight girls and gay guys who either hadn't figured out they were gay or were still in the closet. Twilight's fantasy is that the gorgeous gay guy can be your boyfriend, and for the slightly awkward teenage girls who consume the books and movies, that's the clincher.”

(Read the whole thing at: )

Now, take that vignette out of your head and let’s move on.

My involvement in the Twilight series had to do with the fact a lot of other people were talking about how excellent it was, and I felt like I was missing out on a lot of cultural references by not knowing what it was about. Occasionally I’ll get sucked into things for really shallow reasons, and they’ll quickly slip into that category of Hours Of My Life I Will Never Get Back. The book and movie of this story counted as both. I was loaned a copy of the book and the DVD by a neighbor. I read the book first and realized that these weren’t moments I’d pine for on my deathbed, even though I realized I wasn’t the target audience. That thing said JUVENILE on the side for a reason.

But I watched the movie anyway, because again, cultural reference, right? Oh, my GOD. First off, the book made it rather clear that these are glitter people when it’s sunny, and the film carried this motif to extremes. Every one of the vampires was shot in such extreme brightness that these people would not prove to be a mere curiosity in town. The father, for instance, Dr. Carlisle Cullen? These simpletons, not sure how suspicious they should be of this family, entrust their medical care to a guy that looks like he isn’t just sort of pale, but glows in the dark, doesn’t age, and can’t explain any of the myriad weird things that surround his presence and family.

So maybe I’d be that guy – vaguely in charge, cool modern house, patriarch? Nahh.

I’m damned sure I wouldn’t be Bella, who alternated between solipsistic and confused (and handily Kristen Stewart, the actress playing her, had only two facial expressions in the whole film) for the entire movie. She actually thinks it’s endearing and romantic when Edward admits that yes, biologically she’s merely a warm snack, and he likes to watch her sleep at night and tries to read her thoughts. What woman wouldn’t be touched by such obvious devotion, right up until they’re calling ADT from the panic room?

And if that isn’t enough, we have Bella’s father, a movie parent so dumb he makes Ferris Bueller’s mom and pop look like Marie Curie and Albert Einstein. The town of Forks, where he is a police officer, has weird disappearances and a whole crowd of people who are Quite Obviously Different – and he doesn’t associate that anything might be unusual. His buddy the Indian attempts to tell him that whoa, hey, these people are trouble, but they’re more interested in sitting around and watching football than the only thing in the whole blasted town that could amount to actual crime. His daughter flies to Phoenix – FLIES ACROSS THE COUNTRY – without his knowledge. I guess the Seahawks were on.

So I wouldn’t be either one of those lummoxes.

I suppose I could be Edward, the isolated protagonist who “enjoys a wide range of music, including classical, jazz, progressive metal, alternative rock, and punk rock, but dislikes country. He prefers indie rock to mainstream, and appreciates rock and classical music equally. He mentions in Twilight that he likes music from the fifties better than the sixties, dislikes the seventies, and says the eighties were "bearable".

Edward doesn’t sleep. Edward runs really fast. Edward is six-two. Edward was transformed into a vampire in Chicago. Hey, look at that! This could work!

Ummm, Edward can’t eat food.

Nope, sorry, thanks for playing. If forced to choose, I’ll choose Edward. But if death is an option, I’ll be like Jim Morrison in “The Doors”, screaming “Gimme some death!” As that alone excludes me from the vampire population, I’ll take it.

Writing Project Update

WORDS WRITTEN THIS WEEK: 800. Yes, it was terrible. I had a lot of laughs and a lot of good conversations and a lot of good wine. I'm even kind of close to having a life that's not defined by the obsessive pursuit of perfection. Or I'm redirecting it, which is just as good.

But if I'd have written anything at all this week, it wouldn't have been anywhere as good as the applications versus infrastructure metaphor I came up with on the spot at lunch today - using an example of a marshmallow and a drinking straw.

Responses to last week's topic: 4, including a live performance.

This week's entries: 3 (Ken, Cami, Cami)

This week's question from Cami Coy: "what twilight character would you be?"

If anything could make me nostalgic for the Smurfs, this might be it. Off we go.

RESPONSE DUE BY: Midnight 11/20-21

Friday, November 13, 2009

Slaughterhouse 46

END TIME: 11:16 PM

"Write the dialogue for the Smurfs on "The Dating Game."

DON MESSICK: “Welcome to this special edition of the Dating Game. I’m your host, Don Messick. Today, we’d like to introduce our bachelors. Bachelor Number One is two apples high and visits us from the Smurf Village. He’s apparently distinguishable from the other 99 by black thick framed glasses. Please welcome Brainy Smurf.”


DON MESSICK: “Bachelor Number 2 is a free spirit who also joins us from the Smurf Village. An aspiring comedian and all around bon-vivant, his whole existence never leaves room for a dull moment as he’s always chock full of surprises. Please welcome Jokey Smurf.”


DON MESSICK: “And finally, Bachelor Number 3 has recently been seen on such Food network fare as Ace of Cakes, Top Chef, and Iron Chef Smurf Village. Rarely seen without a sample of his latest creation, he’s the reason this army of Smurfs smurfs on its stomach. Also from Smurf Village, please welcome Greedy Smurf.”


DON MESSICK: “And let’s meet our bachelorette. We’ll keep our bachelors behind this partition to conceal her-“
DON MESSICK: “Uhh, excuse me, Jokey?”
JOKEY SMURF: “There was *hic* ONE female Smurf on the SHOW! Like we’re gonna be too smurfin’ DUMB to figure THIS out. Bunch of smurfing low rent smurfsuc…”
DON MESSICK: “Now, Jokey, that’s ENOUGH. And I don’t know how you slipped that flask past our contestant coordinator this afternoon, but I’m not giving you any more coffee.”
JOKEY SMURF: “Haggh-ha-haeeegghh, it’s a SURPRISE, you smurf-eating sack of…”
DON MESSICK: “Cut his mic. I’ll be in my trailer, you sodden little twerp.”

(The bachelors sit in silence for a minute.)

BRAINY SMURF: “Actually, he’s got a point, but he’s a little bit off the mark.”
JOKEY SMURF: “Oh, smurf you, Slide Rule.”
BRAINY SMURF: “No, no, let me finish! There was another girl…”
JOKEY SMURF: “You’re going to count that little hayseed thing that they wanted to turn into a spinoff?”
GREEDY SMURF: “Mowmth mwmoth mommmnph mmmpph.”
BRAINY SMURF: “Smurfin’ smurf, Greedy, just keep your pie hole closed when you’re getting chatty, huh? Right, and she was like, four when our show was out, so that would make her what, 29 right now, and with that whole accent and the overalls and the Daisy Duke vibe, we are certainly talking Maximum Cute.”
GREEDY SMURF: “Mowmth mwmoth momnph mmpph.”
BRAINY SMURF: “Yeah, that’s attractive. She’ll be looking over and saying, “Smurf, I wanna smurf THAT.” You’ve buffaloed up since the Glory Days, no? Two apples high and the whole smurfin’ orchard around.”
JOKEY SMURF: “Hehhgh-heggh-*hic*…fat smurf.”
GREEDY SMURF: “Mowmth mwm-PTOOEY…So what do you want to do? Think we’re going to work a smurfin’ birthday party any time soon? You can’t get those boxes of yours past airport security. What kind of sick smurf trick was it to teach little kids that a practical joke consisted of a smurfin’ BLACK POWDER EXPLOSION in somebody’s FACE? Johnny Knoxville’s whole existence is your smurfin’ FAULT! And YOU! Every Saturday morning the smurfin’ episode would end with you gettin’ beaned in the head with a smurfin’ MALLET! Good thing we grew up hating all the smart people! The smurfin’ little smurfers that watched us all have kids who want to grow up to be Miley Cyrus, and the little Chinese kids all want to grow up to be Bill Gates! We made the whole smurfin’ Western world a DUMBER PLACE TO BE! And NOW, we’re reduced to THIS pile of smurf? FOR WHAT?

(Smurfette strides onto darkened stage, chain smoking Virginia Slims and visibly trying to keep her composure, yet appear bemused and aloof. The bachelors wear an expression of familiarity, horror, and contempt. In a voice sounding more like Miles Davis than Bette Davis…)

SMURFETTE: “Let’s get this overwith, OK? We’ve all been around this block before.”

(Brainy elbows Jokey.)

BRAINY SMURF: (whispering) “No smurfin’ way, dude. She smells like Wild Turkey and beard.”


Writing Project Update

WORDS WRITTEN THIS WEEK: 800 or so. Lot of work this week, a lot of fun this week, and there wasn't a lot of time for writing. There will be more time very, very soon.

Responses to last week's topic: 3

This week's entries: 1 (Ken)

This week's question from Ken Faikus: Write the dialogue of Smurfs on "the Dating Game."

Dammit. They've been following me around for a couple weeks now and now there's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. All right, time to man up and take on the Blue Menace. I feel like Jerry Lee Lewis putting the handle of whiskey on the piano and screaming, "Rock and roll!"

RESPONSE DUE BY: Midnight 11/13-14

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Slaughterhouse 45


If you were visiting Las Vegas for a couple days, how would you spend your time?

I've lived here for a decade now, and as a result, my Las Vegas is a little bit different than yours. While I do work on Las Vegas Boulevard, it's not technically the Strip, and it's certainly not a resort. I avoid the more crowded parts of the Strip the same way that Chicagoans avoid Michigan Avenue on the day after Christmas and New Orleans residents avoid the French Quarter - I know it's there all the time, so I try not to get bogged down in rows of slot machines, violently overpriced nightclubs, or interpretive dance establishments that end in sunlight.

We have two seasons in Las Vegas, Hot and Nice - and right now we're smack dab in the middle of Nice. On a Nice afternoon when it's in the 70s or 80s and is tolerable to be outside, I've never had a lousy time at the putting course at Angel Park Golf Club, which features several things that you've missed out on if you've spent your time putting into a zombie's mouth: Real grass, real sand, real water, and - the very bestest part of all - a full bar in the clubhouse. There's no Snapple machine here. You can verify the proven scientific fact, like I have, that I'm a better pool player, darts thrower, and golfer after 1.5 drinks. (Seriously. I'm All-Universe at 1.5, but when the ice melts a little and thirst overtakes me, my motor control just gets a little too fluid.)

I'm a view/aesthetics junkie, and yes, the Strip is fascinating to look at. (As are the people. I'm not allowed to share the details of Tourist Bingo with outsiders, but NASCAR apparel, fanny packs, and plastic yard glasses from La Salsa are usually a winning combination.) If you want to see the whole Strip and still stay relatively near town, grab a drink at Voodoo at the top of the Rio and get a table at one of the patios around sunset. The lights get brighter, the helicopters circle, traffic that you're not in meanders down Flamingo - it's perfect.

You do want to see the fountains at Bellagio. However, that show only runs a couple minutes, and on a really nice night people spend a lot of time setting up for it. Instead, go to the Paris across the street and get a patio table at Mon Ami Gabi (yes, a Chicago import, just like me) and catch the show at your convenience every few minutes over a meal - and because you're elevated over street level, the only way to get a better view is a kayak.

After dinner, take the walk out front of Paris and cross over the bridge at Flamingo and Las Vegas Boulevard to the Bellagio, the best-executed hotel on the Strip. You'll stroll through their shopping mall and into their casino - wildly colorful but not as smoky or quiet as some of its neighbors. Have a seat at the bar at Caramel and tell the bartender, "Two cable cars, please." It's their signature drink.

If you're in town on a football weekend, you'll want to hunker down at one of the more NASA-like sports books and watch eight games at once, while grown men shriek at televisions and throw losing tickets in the air. The best venues for this are Mandalay Bay and the Las Vegas Hilton.

And finally, depending on where you're staying, you'll want to hop in a cab, restore lost calories, and promote cell growth and development by going to your nearest Capriotti's (if you're on the Strip there's one on Flamingo near the UNLV campus), a Delaware-based sub sandwich shop that makes hot sandwiches so excellent that I want to throw my running shoes out the window. All of their subs are phenomenal, but my favorite is the Capastrami, consisting of hot pastrami, melted Swiss cheese, cole slaw, and Russian dressing.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Be sure to gamble away virtually everything you own. We could use it. Seriously, every plane out of here lately has been filled with nothing but WINNERS. Spend it all.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Writing Project Update

WORDS WRITTEN THIS WEEK: 4200 on two different projects. This means I earned bedtime. A reasonably paced, well-thought-out Slaughterhouse was ready one morning later.

Responses to last week's topic: 1

This week's entries: 3 (Ken, Ken, Ken)

This week's question from Ken Faikus: "If you were visiting Las Vegas for a couple days, how would you spend your time?"

A very common question, and in this gentleman's case, rather apropos...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Slaughterhouse 44

END TIME: 12:00 AM

“What makes a woman fascinating?”

Wow. On with the klieg lights again. Buy the ticket, take the ride…

What makes a woman fascinating to men? Wow, I could probably fill this up with a whole bunch of really shallow anatomical descriptions and call it a night, but I think that would cheat the enterprise.

The rationale that I always use when people are explaining relationship difficulties to me, (and what I try to keep in mind as I’ve had one or two of those along the journey myself) is not that women are treacherous and men are scum; the problem is that both genders are entirely human. Horrifically flawed, ruled by varying ratios of logic and emotion, capable of horrible behavior, callous insensitivity, occasionally distracted by something shiny, or something curvy, or something forbidden.

I mean, fascinating can take on a number of definitions, and if your eyes are open wide enough, you’ll never be bored. We as human beings invented jumping rope, lava lamps and Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm. But women, specifically – a smart woman and a certain glance can make you feel like you can cure cancer and win the Boston Marathon before lunch and maybe take the afternoon to sort out this cold fusion thing. (She can also glare at you a certain way or laugh at you at the wrong moment and shrivel your heart to the size of a caraway seed, but the adrenaline rush is worth the risk.)

But I don’t think I’m describing anything outside of the realm of human interaction. There’s nothing in that description above that would be any less true if the genders were reversed, and maybe I’m doing a better job of describing friendship regardless of gender. I’m fortunate to have a number of people in my life, both men and women, who could probably finish my sentences for me if in the middle of one of them I were smacked by a bus.

But yes, there’s an acuity about smart, attractive, talented women, that does me no good in my quest to live a distraction-free life. I do find it fascinating that I could decipher weird network problems, pair a wine, identify artists, recall salient details from a book I read 20 years ago and run until other people want to fall to the ground sobbing and hyperventilating – but alongside the right woman, time, reason, 80 IQ points, and my ability to speak polysyllabically – they all disappear. Among some of my most prominent memories are the times when I opened my mouth to speak and no sound came out. I like to believe that through age, experience, repetition, and wry detachment, this will go away. I like to joke with people that “I could be on a date with a woman with two heads, and I’d know how to look at the one on the left and sigh, ‘You have the most incredible smile, and you ‘“- glancing quickly to the right – “have the most intoxicating sparkle in your eyes.” The terrifying part is, by now I know better. I shrug my shoulders and begrudgingly acknowledge that I’m far too reticent in some situations, in addition to being a really crazy, jumpy bastard.

So I guess what makes a woman fascinating is not unique to gender, because again, I don’t think you need a Y chromosome to feel any of what I described, but merely the idea that even someone like me, whose whole life is cut from logic, sautéed with logic, and served alongside logic after simmering in a logic sauce – can look up and find that same life governed by emotion. Like anything worthwhile, there’s a balance. If anyone finds it, I’d love to know.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Writing Project Update

WORDS WRITTEN THIS WEEK: 800. Many of them will never see the light of day. You may refer to this as laziness. I'll call it preoccupation.

Responses to last week's topic: 1, but it got me thinking about something bigger. Win/win.

This week's entries: 3 (Ken, Ken, JoLynn)

This week's question from JoLynn McCully: “What makes a woman fascinating?”

Buckle up, everybody.

RESPONSE DUE BY: Midnight 10/30-10/31 (that's 46 minutes! Yipes!)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Slaughterhouse 43

END TIME: 10:34 PM

“If someone were starting a diet, what advice would you give them?”

(I have some background in this; if you’re not aware of my back story, I’ve lost 120 pounds over the last four years. Check out for further details.)

I’m going to take the liberty of addressing this individual directly.

The good news is, you’ve decided to make a choice today that’s going to make the rest of your life better. The bad news is, you’ve chosen something that has a 95 percent failure rate. The good news is, there’s one simple secret that you need to follow, and it’s something that you already know.

What is it?

You’re a human being. This means that you are prone to making mistakes, prone to making unbelievably stupid decisions, stopping on a dime and quitting after putting in days or weeks or months of work. You are a fallible creature. And as long as you accept this part – that there’s going to be a time where you’re going to screw up and eat the slice of birthday cake at the party, or want the peanut butter, or would rather participate in a chicken fight with sumo wrestler Akebono riding on your shoulders than eat another salad.

I get that. I’ve been there myself. Dieting is not about making every right choice every single time; it’s about making the best choice a solid majority of the time. In your case, the perfect is the enemy of the good, and you, like any other person who can wear the mantel of humanity can attest, are not perfect.

Maybe you’re expecting you will be. Maybe you think that’s the only way through this entire situation, to eat only what’s on one sheet of paper, or stick with something like NutriSystem or Jenny Craig or SlimFast and swear off Actual Real Live Food forever and ever until you’re at a certain number, one worth all kinds of culinary sacrifice and suffering.

No. You’ll fail. Without question.

You’re not going on a diet, which reminds me of the scene in Trainspotting where Mark Renton’s trying to kick heroin. He nails the door shut with two by fours and prepares to go cold turkey. He allots himself nothing but cans of soup for nutrition and buckets for facilities. He fails miserably. The difference between heroin and food is, strictly speaking, you can live without heroin. If you find yourself addicted to smack, and you break the addiction and move on, and even if your days consist of shuffling down the street mumbling to yourself, “no heroin today…no heroin today…” you’ll still need to eat. But if you mismanage food, you’ll feel just as miserable.

So what you’re going to do is, eat the ice cream when it’s starting to follow you around the room, not just because you need a snack while you’re watching people exercise on “The Biggest Loser.” If the temptation for something grows overwhelming, have a manageable portion of it and move along. You aren’t looking to be perfect; you’re just looking for small improvements, stop the bleeding, make a few small repairs. Baby steps. You’ll be fine.

Writing Project Update

WORDS WRITTEN THIS WEEK: 1100. Lots of training, plus my mind isn't engaged. The gears are slipping. Besides, I was all sociable and stuff. Does it count if I talked about Slaughterhouse?

Responses to last week's topic: 4, all of them very encouraging. Thank you again for your patience.

This week's entries: 2 (Ken, Ken)

This week's question from Ken Faikus: If someone were starting a diet, what advice would you give them?

OK, I think I can do this. Catch you before tomorrow.

RESPONSE DUE BY: Midnight 10/24-10/25

Friday, October 16, 2009

Slaughterhouse 42 - Pumpkinman Edition

WORDS WRITTEN: 3500, and you read most of them.

Responses to last week's topic: 3, from varied and diverse sources. It was fun.

This week's entries: 2, and one was a little unorthodox...

This week's question:

"You're going to write tonight? Why? You have a race tomorrow! You don't need to be thinking about how many words to write before midnight! Who's going to make you do this? You have got to learn to chill! Dude, you're not going to slit your wrists or something if this doesn't get done, are you? Aren't people going to understand that you've got other priorities to deal with right now?" - Michelle Kmetz

In order:

1. I was thinking about it, yes.
2. Because I always do.
3. Me, my own worst critic and my own worst enemy.
4. No, absolutely not, I have a lot of practice at self-loathing and it would never get that far.
5. I sure hope so. See you next week. Thanks for your patience. Normal production schedule resumes next Friday.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Slaughterhouse 41

END TIME: 5:37 10/11

“Write a recap of your two races, including what you did well and what you could've done better.”

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’ve been doing these recaps for years and send many of them out as “Idiocy Updates” to a small group of email recipients. Many of the old recaps are on my website. While I merely summarized the running race – there’s not a lot of fun in repeating “then I ran by myself through the desert some more” – the bike leg had some intrigue, so I thought I’d share it with all of you. Apologies for the Slaughterhouse delays this weekend; I hope this makes up for it.)

Today I was proud to be a participant in the 22nd Annual LVMPD Brass Challenge, an event that pits different substations and bureaus of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department against each other in a 10-person relay race through the Valley of Fire, a mountainous state park across scrub desert, then ending in the town of Overton. The course legs range anywhere from a 3 mile leg that’s nice and flat to a 5.1 mile leg with two climbs of 120 and 60 feet, with 700 feet of elevation overall.

Brass Challenge was the first endurance event I ever did. I’d signed up for a sprint triathlon, my first, later that spring, and I knew I hated running. By signing on for this, I would be forcing myself to run when I didn’t want to because I didn’t want to let my coworkers down. I followed one simple rule: I wouldn’t let myself walk for more than ten steps. That happened a few times. I fought through it.

Fast forward five years, to today.

It’s my sixth Brass Challenge, my third as a team captain. I’m the guy who hears people mention working out and show up out of the ether, wondering if they’ve done any running. And this year, we had enough runners to field two teams. I got people’s estimated times and put together two rosters, accounted for injuries, matched everything up to make the two teams as close as possible. And I realized that I wasn’t about to make anyone do the most difficult leg. There was only one man who was qualified for that sort of suffering; it’s the one I see in the mirror.

The other Leg 3 participant, Johnny Lopez, had done it for the past three years, and had gone from someone who ran casually to an accomplished distance runner. His first event was the Brass Challenge, and he’d gone on to do half-marathons, all sorts of distances, age group contender ribbons, and running became a major part of his life. We trained together and had the team as an avocation. So I had to share my brilliant concept.

“We’re going to promote this like a prize fight. The Duel in the Darkness.” He laughed and so did I. The battle was on – posters, Facebook commenters choosing up sides, trash talk on the dry erase board, photo sessions – it was crazy.

And today was race day.

The first two runners for both sides were great examples of the ITB running story. Leading off for my team was co-captain Lisa Zelazny, who’d gotten interested in running, took on a leg of the Brass Challenge, and then wanted to see what this triathlon thing was all about. She’s now done a bunch of those and just completed the Disneyland Half Marathon. (As did Johnny.) She would be handing off to Leslie Bitryk, who I’d never met, but who would be handing me the baton. She was a dispatcher at Metrocomm who ran on the side. On the other team we had John Quitano and Johanna Aqui, both new runners when they started with us who were now experienced competitors in distance events. Johanna did her first half-marathon in March. John has always been so fast that I called him “Speck” as in, that’s all the space he took up in your field of vision five minutes after the start.

John and Johanna turned in very impressive times, and by the start of Leg 3, Johnny had gotten the baton with a lead of four minutes and change, so he wasn’t even in sight when I got the baton.

What I did right was, I made sure to run my pace as we went through. Whether Johnny was three miles or three feet in front of me, I couldn’t push my legs past what they were already doing. I also had my usual good time running people down like I was at the gym; I was able to pass three people who’d received the baton earlier than me. (The first one was 15 yards in front of me when Lisa pulled up as a spotter vehicle; this guy was shadowboxing at the start. I switched the baton to my left hand, and with the full car of my teammates on my left, pointed at him, turned my hand over and beckoned with a “come here” gesture with two fingers. I didn’t see him again until after the finish line.)

What I didn’t do right was failing to put on enough distance in the weeks leading up to the race. I was running some very quick three-and four-mile options, but wasn’t putting in the really long miles needed to treat 5-plus miles as no sweat. I mean, I was counting more on muscle memory to get me though this, spending some time relaxing and training for triathlon stuff, knowing that there was a long season ahead. If I said I’m getting up north to run every two weeks, doing wind sprints in the morning and re-jiggering my training, I may have made up some time.

Besides, Leg 3 requires a hell of a lot of hill work, which doesn’t jibe with the rest of my training. I need to use the hill-climbing muscles to push pedals up a hill with zero impact on my feet, then run/shuffle across a slightly more forgiving incline. My legs look at hill running and start shouting at me right off the bat. And I can trust the computer on my bicycle to say that Leg 3 is almost all uphill. If I want to break 40 minutes on this thing I’ve got to get lighter and put in some time on the leg press machine over the winter – and my legs can already juggle barrels. It’s like everything else – time that I don’t spend getting better is time that I’m falling behind. I can close the book on this year’s running performance by being happy with my overall result. I am disappointed that I lost the challenge I’d set for myself but I am happy that I gave it my best shot.

The next few minutes consisted of drinking a bottle of Gatorade, a bottle of Nuun electrolyte solution, frantically popping Advil and rubbing Biofreeze analgesic on my legs, because my day had two parts.

The Brass Challenge has two components: first, the relay race, and second, the Hammer the Valley cycling competition. Now for the past two years, I run because I’m better qualified to run than most of the other people within my bureau (I’m a network systems analyst). It is, however, one of my year-in and year-out desires to not run and only ride the first leg of the cycling course, which consists of legs 1-5 of the relay race; a ride that I describe as “all vegetables, all dessert.” The ride is 20.7 miles long, and it started an hour and 45 minutes after my running leg. This means I have to abandon my running teams, get driven back to the start, change clothes into cycling stuff and get my shoes and riding gear on. Then I ride over 12 miles of uphill (including the very same hills I’d just run on Leg 3) and then seven miles that are mostly a plummet into the park, where I’m able to reach speeds of 40 miles an hour.

There’s another luxury I get in this race: a follow vehicle with a timer. In my mind, of course, my follow vehicle is this:

But this race I had something better, in that the kids were with me. I’ll never have a follow vehicle with me in a triathlon; it’s far too dangerous. The other thing that’s illegal in triathlon is headphones. Since I have an extremely heavy SUV with hazard lights ensuring that passing motorists will look for something out of the ordinary, like a large bald angry man in a yellow shirt, I like to wear headphones on this ride.

I got back to the smoke shop, changed, loaded water bottles, and got to the starting line. There were four of us riding; one guy who I saw every year with an aero helmet (a teardrop shape like what you see above), an older gentleman riding for a team entitled ‘Age Before Beauty”, and the entrant from the Detention Center, who have won the combined running/cycling competition for the past eight years. The jail rider went first; I went thirty seconds after. Age before beauty and aero helmet were third and fourth, respectively. I hit the Start button on my MP3 player, which launched into “California Love” by Tupac and Dr. Dre; it’s practically the perfect cycling song. It’s got a fast pace on the piano line so my feet keep a good cadence, and I was reeling in the jail’s rider. By the end of Leg 1 I had passed him and became acutely aware of one fact: I was leading the race. Quibble about the time deltas all you want. Every other rider was behind me.

I knew I was riding a very aggressive pace at the start, particularly considering the hills ahead, but I wasn’t trying to do anything heroic with the gears. I knew it wasn’t time to prove I could mash my legs so I focused on holding a cadence rather than speed. Right as I got to the end of leg 2, beginning the Leg 3 hill climb, aero helmet passed me, never to be seen again, and the jail rider passed me as well. He did better in the climbs and got ahead of me by about 100 yards, but remained in sight.

And I started thinking, he had to use a good bit of energy if he was going to pace in front of me that far on the climbs, just as I had to use some energy to get out front on the gradual uphills to get there. I knew that the downhill portion of the course was coming, so if I was going to have a chance at catching him, it would have to be there. I geared down as I went through the rest of the leg 3 climbing and saw he was about 200 yards in front at the “God Hates You” rock (a 60-foot climb 5 miles into Leg 3 and the last climb before its finish line) which made me think he was catchable, but not there. Then he hit the first of the downhills and was practically gone, jumping out about a quarter-mile in front of me.

And I started thinking about all of those hours on the Computrainer, which does a few things. One, it allows me to train indoors. Secondly, it makes me a faster rider going downhill. You aren’t allowed to coast on the Computrainer, because it’ll just stop. So a two hour ride is two hours of pedaling, no stopping or breaks. What this does, whether you know it or not (and it took me years to figure it out) is you figure out how to pedal with an upstroke when you’re going downhill, so even when your legs are moving like an eggbeater, you can change the angle a little bit and generate power to go just a little bit faster. And if I was going to catch this guy, I had a few miles in which I could do it.

I got to within 20 yards of him, and before we got to the first curve of the final leg, he looked back over his shoulder and saw me. Tucked down in the aerobars, I shook my head in an exaggerated nod. I’m right here; you haven’t lost me yet. And once I did that, another thought flashed through my head: there was no way I was going to lose to this guy. I didn’t care if they carted me off in an ambulance.

By now my legs were incandescent with pain, and I could feel the back of my left calf cramping if I turned my foot a certain way. I was grunting during some of the slight uphills but wasn’t going to shift out of top gear. I knew what I looked like as I was gritting my teeth and pedaling with everything I had left, and I didn’t care. I’m not losing this. Not today.

With a mile and a half to go I was eight feet behind him.

Now I had to start wondering. I could draft for a bit, stay where I was and make the move once I was sure he wouldn’t have the space to recover from it. There was a slight uphill around the next turn and that would be my last chance. But drafting is dangerous, and in triathlon it’s illegal, so even though I’ve read about how you can still ride if you touch tires without wrecking, I didn’t feel like learning about it right then. So I stayed there, at eight feet, and figured I’d try to grab him at the last hill.

Then he ducked his head down quickly, nodding down at his top tube for a second, like he was exhaling.

My eyes widened.

He did it again.

He’s tired.


I jump out into the left side of the lane and make the pass; I’m now in front for the second time. I don’t look over at him, don’t say anything, just go, and realize now that I’m in an even worse position, because if he’s got something extra, he’s got to go to it right this second and I can’t see if he’s going to do it. There’s a quarter-mile to go and I don’t dare look over my shoulder; what if he nodded back?

The last hill is murder as I’m trying to hold the cadence and pedal my ass off before the 100-foot plummet right at the end of the leg, but I won’t need my thighs for another six days so anything goes. I can see Lisa waiting at the top of the hill for the exchange; the finish line is at the bottom of the hill, but the riders start up there to gather momentum before the first climbs.

I make it through the climb somehow and get into the plummet. Lisa’s moving faster than I am, and I see my truck and the kids cheering and yelling as I start flying down the hill. I smile and point at them while staying tucked in; I have to pedal like crazy to catch up to Lisa before the sign or it’s an illegal exchange. I get parallel to her 25 feet in front of the marker and shout, “Go get ‘em, kid! We’re in second place!” She moves faster ahead and I sit up and pump my right fist as I cross the line.

As I’m coasting, I look over my shoulder and see my opponent back about 50 feet. “Nice race, man,” I yell. He nods. Finally I come to a stop and unclip my feet. My coworker Mike and his wife Barb, who were taking pictures, pull up to the side of the road. The kids are a hundred yards away at the bottom of the short hill.

Mike smiles. “Looks like the tires are still sizzling.”
I shake my head in amazement and grinned, muttering under my breath when they’re in earshot, “Absolutely smoked that motherfucker.”

I wound up winning 2nd place in my leg (Aero helmet took first) and our team got third place (Aero helmet’s team had a two-time Ironman finisher on their bike leg, and the jail caught Lisa pretty quickly, and she took third in her leg) I’ve never won an individual award in any of the 37 races I’ve done, until right now.

As I rolled back down the hill to my kids, Jarren’s eyes were wide when I got there. “You were going FAST.” As you can imagine, in our family, that’s the highest of praise. Next race is next Saturday.