Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Placement of Things

I have been putting this blog together, taking it apart, restructuring it and re-working it again and again over the past few days. Granted, the landscape might have helped with this: I spent Sunday night and most of Monday honoring American Presidents by sleeping, walking, bathing, hiking, photographing and all sorts of other verb-ing in the Desatoya Range in Eastern(ish) Nevada. It's a beautiful place, but if you are into things like trees and lush greenery, I think you might be in shock, feeling naked maybe, the first time you go. But there is something about an empty landscape, though, that opens up and that (for me, at least) allows my thoughts to breathe.

The large spaces invite the intrusion of thought.

And my thoughts, such as they are, are many. 

I don't know if I have written about this much (or as much as I'd usually do) but I've finally done it: I signed up for a full Ironman race. I'll be doing Coeur d'Alene this year-- a venue I'm excited about, actually-- and my goal, this time, is simply to have fun and to finish. But being who I am, I want to do well, too, and I think that's where this blog post actually begins. Because for me "having fun" translates into "doing well" and "doing well" means actually placing and once you place, it might as well be first, right? And what good is winning your age group compared to actually all-out-winning and so goes my slippery slope until it's Wednesday of last week and I strain my Achilles on a silly mobility run during my lunch break.

No biggie, right?

Well, then I come back to a meeting that I am supposed to head and no one has read the document I created and no one knows what to say and I know that my boss thinks that I have failed-- and that is when the sharp pangs begin. Pain in my back and ribs so horrible I can't even begin to describe it. I can only say that it was not possible to sit up straight in my chair in the conference room any longer and it was all I could do to breathe.

My co-workers threatened to take me to the nearest Urgent Care so much that I ended up taking myself.  

The nurse was had a blonde-chin length bob with her hair held back from her face with a gigantic red and white polka dot bow. But she nearly made me cry with her questions.

If I was happy. 

If I have to train so much. 

If I have anyone to talk to. 

"Your eyes are so sad," she said.

Who knew mini lilly pads grow in the Desatoya Range beneath Aspen Trees?

And I do what I usually do in that situation: I mumble something polite and offer a half smile as if to say oh gosh, silly me. It's just my Achilles again. 

But I knew-- and know-- it wasn't and isn't. 

Which brings me to Sunday, the night of the Literary Arts & Wine reading-- the reading series I started after I was newly single and terrified of not-writing any more. It wasn't the best-thought-out plan I'd ever had, but somehow I thought if I had least had to show up somewhere once a month having written something, life would somehow continue and I wouldn't simply curl into a round, dead thing in the center of my living room floor.

I read a piece I have been working on for a long time. 

I wrote the first draft back in 2010 but took it up again this winter when I realized the things I was saying about the nature of time and the placement of emotions and meaning in our lives shift as we age. Of course, I used my running as an example of this-- how there was a time in my life that running meant more than any other thing and sometimes when I go for a run, that old feeling creeps back up and I get excited about the sport again. But no matter how often I feel that tug, there is the ever-present realization that I am not a teenager anymore, than I am not a runner in any sense of the word, that my life has moved beyond that time, in part, because I was able to live it when I did.

Aspen trees-- bare of leaves-- imagery I used to mark the passage of time in the essay I read that was a really big flop.

It's not a very complicated thought, granted-- it was a piece about getting older, I guess-- but I had hoped for more out of myself.  A better reading, a clearer articulation of my words, a better outfit that didn't make me look like I weigh 500 pounds and, honestly, as I read to a room of strangers, I really just wished that there was another writer there to connect with, who could appreciate my work and look beyond the fact that it's just "sports crap."

But then again, maybe "sports crap" is all I write and all I have written for years. 

So, out there in Eastern Nevada as my eyes found new landscapes, new mountains, new aspen groves and new qualities of light, I began to wonder if it isn't time to put my athletics in a different place than at the center of my life. Even in my life as a writer.

I still want to find a way to write about endurance events and I hope for my own sake, one day, I do. For now, though, I think it's best that I take a hiatus from the attempt so I'll be away from this blog for a while.

Thank you for reading, if you have. Your attention and time means more to me than I can possibly express.

Maybe I'll be back?

I have a feeling I will be when I discover the proper placement of things.

The world viewed from a busted-up-wreck-of-a-building. The light is all wrong, but the idea behind it is why I post this picture. Maybe, when it's time, the image in the window will be in focus. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Nature of Influence

For some reason, I'm really struggling with the third day of this five day Art Challenge to basically create, post, ruminate, and reflect on all things artistic. Maybe a part of the a struggle is that my blood is still in my legs from today's long ride on the CompuTrainer or the fact that (as I mentioned in the past from yesterday) that I am not producing work to display, explain, reflect and pontificate about at length. 

So... what to do?

For whatever reason (and I'm not even going to attempt to explain the strange inner workings of my brain) I fell onto the subject of influence because what would art be-- or what would anything be, really-- if not for inspiration, interaction and the product that is a result of those two things? 


Poet T.S. Eliot and critic Harold Bloom both wrote extensively about the importance-- or, necessity-- of influence in the literary arts. It is unarguably equally important to the visual and musical arts as well. But as I sit here at my desk after a long ride (and struggling to find the right words and references in this dusty frame of mind) I can't help but wonder if we aren't always creatures of influence in nearly every facet of our lives.  

Americans, typically, prefer to inhabit the discourse of individualism, the "self-made-man", the working up from your bootstraps and all of that-- which is fine, of course. But I think there is a certain element of our beings that is always social-- that is always gleaning information from past or present "outside sources"-- that leads me to believe you can't ever be fully separate from others no matter how hard you try. Even to be a hermit, one delves into the idea of a hermit which recalls a body of literature, a history, a psychological and/or sociological "type", a set of moral, ethical and (perhaps) spiritual values... I think you get the point. 

Despite the connections made more easy with technology (social media outlets, smart phones) I still think there is something necessarily "connected" about existence. You are never without the things you've seen and read; never without the inspiration (or angst) that comes from knowing others have come before you, performed or lived a certain way, thought certain things, described a landscape in one way or another, fought and died on a battlefield and how not only the ground is hallow but the meaning of the memory and the way in which a culture subscribes to the value of those past actions, is. 

Enter: Art.  

Even though I have artistic people in my life-- in my family, even-- if you were to ask me which artist has influenced me the most, I would answer: Chuck Close.  I don't know him personally and have only seen one of his works in person and yet  his work speaks to me on an aesthetic as well as a philosophic level. 

For those of you who don't know his work, I would urge you to look him up. Read his bio. Watch the evolution of the production of his hands. I can only say that the evolution from photorealist to-- well, postmodern cubist? (I'm trying to use my own limited terminology here and not borrow that of art critics so forgive me) is inspiring. 

When his body began to fail, he could no longer create the large format realistic portraits that had formed the foundation of his careers as an artist. While this might seem like a real impediment to most people, Close decided to change his work to fit his physical condition. And in so doing, he created a new kind of "portraiture"-- one that, ultimately, contains a more authentic feel and a more intimate understanding of shadow, light and color. 

His work is now composed of squares. From a considerable distance, it appears as though he is still panting portraits. 

Chuck Close's work from afar...
Up close,  though, it is patterns, lines, squares. 

And this is what it looks like "up close" so to speak. 

As an athlete, I admire his ability to find a solution in a situation where most people would simply give up and do something else. As a writer, I am fascinated by the solution he found: one in which a handicap was not a handicap but instead a method to produce something new and interesting. 


And what has this to do with me? 

Sometimes (or, a lot of the time, especially recently) training for the Ironman feels like a journey of discovering my weak spots-- my faults. There are days I am sore and tired; there are days I don't want to swim at 5:30 am or run during my lunch break at work or ride my bike indoors. But those are the most important days: I watch the "masters' of this sport and I am inspired, constantly, by their dedication. I am inspired by the people I train with (in the pool, on the bike, in the gym, on the road) and I'm not sure I would be able to put in the volume I do without them. 

They are the squares which form the self-portrait of me, writ. Ironman.  Come June 28th in Coeur d'Alene, I really hope I will be able to express how grateful I am to each and every one of them.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Where does the ART come from?

This blog post is inspired by a facebook post which was inspired by a writer I'm beyond lucky to call my friend, Kelsay Myers. Kelsay and I were colleagues in the MFA program at Saint Mary's College where we both received degrees in Nonficton Writing in 2012. Kelsay went on to receive a second MFA with a focus on poetry while I ventured into the "real" world where I worked a series of extremely odd jobs, learned how to swim and started dreaming Ironman dreams.

In 2015 (now): Kelsay teaches writing courses in the bay and has taken part in several art installations and art shows around the San Francisco Area. I'm back in Reno and back (more or less) as an athlete as well. But our paths crossed recently (albeit electronically) a few days ago when Kelsay tagged me in something called the "5-Day Art Challenge" which basically asks participants to contemplate and post something artistic-- or, some artistic production-- every day for five days in a row.

"Blackwood in Blue", colored pencil, 2005

I don't know why I decided to follow this particular challenge (as a rule, I usually don't take part) but there was something about the nature of thinking about my life "artistically" that made me not only want to post that I was in for the challenge but that has also made me want to turn these into a series of blog entries as well.

I think part of it comes from the fact that art was a really important part of my life growing up and as the demands of Ironman (and of adult life) encroach on those moments of silent contemplation (otherwise known as doing nothing), I don't have time for the art anymore.  Maybe this feeds into my overall feeling of "blah" or the questioning I force onto those of you who read and follow me here.

What is our purpose but the very things we do, every day? Many times I've asked: can I be a runner if I don't run (due to injury)? Is an athlete only an athlete when they are performing or racing? So too, I often wonder, am I an artist still or aren't I?

Maybe identity is both fluid and solid. We are what we do, of course. But then there's the realm of memory, those childhood scenes we return to again and again, those moments we point to and say: this is why I am the way I am. We all have them. And for me, several of those moments literally involve art.

My grandmother was a painter. She had a studio and her work was displayed and sold in a gallery at the Kit Carson Lodge (my family's business long, long ago.)  She did a lot of landscapes, in part, because my dad was dabbling in photography and would take pictures of the surrounding landscape that he would develop and from which she would create her work (which was always oil on canvas.)

My earliest memories involve her studio and the smell of oil paints. The sharp afternoon sunlight through the sliding glass windows and onto the white carpet (how she used oil paints on white carpet without getting it all over the place, I'll never know.)

By that time, her compositions had evolved beyond the landscape and were, most often, depictions of female nudes and of Native American women--mothers-- from the southwest.  There wasn't really much for a kid to do in a studio and so I can't explain why I always went down there to sit in the middle of the room, gazing up at the walls, but I did. It felt like a sacred space to me, a place where magic happened. A place where a bare, white canvas came to life.

She came to stay with us in the wintertime when I was eleven years old. I remember this because she handed me a red Macy's bag on Christmas and I wondered why she hadn't wrapped my present as she had in previous years.  It was heavier than her presents had been-- this was not a dress or a jacket or socks or a lovely leather bag.

It didn't take long for me to realize what she'd given me. It was a painting.

My grandmother's painting.

My favorite of hers. The composition depicts a garden lined with trees and a fountain at its center. I had just read the book The Secret Garden and had was going through the childhood fantasies of finding a spot of my own to cultivate, to grow, to bring life to.  I was astounded, at the age of 11, that she had given one of her pieces to me.

She passed away the following spring. I only mention this because I had been working on a water color painting to give back to her depicting the ocean at sunset framed by trees. I never thought it was good enough to give her and so I worked and worked at it, until the phone call came to tell me she was gone. I put the painting in a drawer and in one of several moves around the American West, it was lost.

I made a promise to myself that I would be an artist.

Of course, when you're twelve you make all sorts of ridiculous promises to yourself. I was also going to be:

  • an athlete
  • a writer
  • a gardener
  • a pilot
  • a veterinarian
  • an Egyptologist
  • a marine biologist
  • a model named Skye

But I did always make sure to take an art class when I was in junior high and later, in high school. I took drawing courses, painting courses, pottery and ceramics courses (which I really sucked at) but the smell of oil paint still called me back, again and again, even if all I was ever allowed to use were acrylic paints.

I was the President of our high school Art Club and painted the storefront windows of small shops to earn enough money to travel to "Portfolio Shows" to show my work to Art Schools, hoping for a scholarship and the validation that I was, in fact, a "great" artist.  That, however, didn't happen. A man scouting for a school on the East Coast berated me and my work so much so that I spent most of the bus ride home from Seattle to Spring Creek, Nevada in tears.

I focused on my French studies after that. And then, as luck would have it, I would actually live in France for a half a year and due to several circumstances (far too many to delve in here) my mental health dwindled along with my vocabulary and my inability to fully articulate myself in a foreign country literally became the impetuous by which I simply wanted to erase myself by not eating a single thing.

Nude, done in the style of Chuck Close, 2005. 

In college, I clung to my art as my body did strange things. I couldn't recognize myself in the mirror so I turned my eye outward, painting and drawing everything I saw. As the years passed, though, my understanding of myself began to settle. Words took the place of images; or, I began to find that I did, in fact, have the words not only to express myself, but to paint an image, a time and a place.

I still painted and drew. I moved to a cabin in Tahoma one year without phone or internet or television to write my first novel. In the moments I couldn't write, I painted. That love was still there. It still is.

The last painting I did was in 2013 when I lived in a cottage on an old estate outside San Francisco. There were heavy rains that winter and I was too injured to run much. The easel called to me as the oak trees faded to dark silhouettes at night after work. It was nothing complicated, as far compositions go: an image of the reflection of bare branches and leaves floating atop a pond in wintertime. The feeling, suggesting, (I thought) waiting, or of hope.

Untitled, 2013. 

I think back on that moment now and realize that perhaps I am not as bad with images as I once believed.  Even though images are more immediately palpable to the audience than words, both carry meaning.

And perhaps, knowing the meaning is there, is enough to call one's self an artist-- an artist of not only images, media or words, but of life.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Get a Day Job!

Recently, I came across a professional job-search site, TheLadders (a comprehensive career source for emerging professionals.) I noticed they were looking for career professionals in their respective fields to discuss their "top tips for college grads entering the workforce."  

Now, if you have read my blog at all (or know me, which most of my readers do) you know how hilarious this request is. For one, I'm a writer which is one of the top three career options I would council sane people to avoid at all costs (the others being: adjunct university faculty especially in any of the humanities fields, an actor/actress who will "make it big", and a time-traveler. All options are equally detrimental to one's physical and mental wellbeing because of the type of money--i.e., none--you will make doing them and all three are, alas, equally short-sighted in the sense that they depend on a miracle in order for one to make any sort of "living" in the normal sense of the word.)

So, let's just say I didn't think I'd find myself writing a blog about how I came to discover my career after I pursued an undergraduate degree in English Literature with a minor in French and nearly enough Philosophy courses to qualify for a second (unlisted) minor as well when I was in my early twenties. Or, how I decided to go back to graduate school for not one, not two, but three advanced degrees in different fields which, alas, didn't really grant me a clear "career path," either.

In other words, it's completely ridiculous that I would be the sort of person to give career advice to anyone since I made such (poor?) choices.  

But after writing that, I have to pause.

After all, I am a writer since I am paid to produce text Monday through Fridays from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Pacific Standard Time for a software company; I have also taught writing courses at four-year universities, community colleges and private colleges; I have started a literary reading series called Literary Arts & Wine; I have been a part of the Creative Writing Outreach Program in Reno, Nevada which teaches the craft of writing to those who populate its homeless shelters; my work (the mark of a good writer) has been published in newspapers, news weeklies, magazines, story and essay collections as well as literary journals. I have a Literary Agent. I have ghost-written a memoir. I have written a book manuscript which is in consideration with several publishing houses.

And so maybe it's not so ridiculous for me to write a blog about how I got to where I am, where I (think) I am going and what I've learned along the way.  There will be no bullet points, no step-by-step instructions nor will I quiz my readers at the end of the post.

What I can offer is (I hope) an honest answer to the question: "now what?" which can seem daunting when you face the world as yourself, alone. 

There are no exact market predictions for which college major is the most lucrative and no way, truly, to know what your degree is "worth" in terms of a salary. If you're reading this and still in school, for the love of all things natural and good, do NOT see your education as a dollar sign.  

What is the value of reading The Odyssey? What is the value of the Renaissance, Taoist Philosophy, knowing the transmission of disease and how those movements literally effected the flow of people, societies and history?  What is red-shift and blue-shift in regards to stars? What do I care if matter is immutable, if French auxiliary verbs must match in gender and number to the subject they modify?  

I have no idea what any of these bits of information-- or any other bits of information-- are "worth." What I DO know is that I have used EVERY class I have taken, EVERY text I have read in one way or another. Do I quote Homer directly as a technical writer? No.  Do I speak French with my clients? Do I need to know how to calculate the speed that a star is moving away from our planet? 

Of course, I don't need to know any of these things, literally, in order to do my job. But what they have given me-- and what employers appreciate-- are the mental muscles that have been developed as a result of knowing and thinking these things. 

Creativity, ingenuity, curiosity-- these are the unarticulated skills welcomed in any professional environment. I can't tell you what they are worth because they are priceless. 

Give yourself time. 

I wrote my first "novel" when I was twelve. I was hired to write for a museum after college (which was lucky, in retrospect) but between then and now I have been: jobless, more or less homeless, lost and, well, broke! Granted, I picked a really difficult career path but I bet each and every one has its own challenges. 

I think part of the reason I am an aspiring Ironman (yes, I am that, too) is that the sport requires a daily practice that isn't always rewarding or fun. There are days I feel awful and I cry because I worry that I am wasting my time on a pursuit that I will never be good at.  I train 18-20 hours most weeks and coupled with a 40-hour a week job as well as a writing career (I blog, write, revise, publish, promote my reading series as well), that's a lot. It doesn't leave much time for the other things in life a lot of us take for granted. Family, for instance. I see my parents when I can, but I don't have a husband or children of my own. 

I have a (small) garden but it's nothing much. I don't own a house (yet) and I don't have time for television, video games, painting my nails, curling my hair, going out to [insert non-writing or athletic event here] and I don't drive something fancy or something that (quite) works as it should. 

But I am a writer and my "career" is just getting started. So-- maybe you won't have everything at once. Maybe you might struggle for a while and not have everything you want. In fact, getting the job you want may force you to sacrifice all that seems rational (shouldn't you always have a nice car? time to watch TV? New clothes?) Even if you make the "right" career choice (or, you're in pursuit of the one you want) you might not have all-- or, any-- of these things at first. 

This is going to sound hokey, but I remember my grandmother telling me that if you pick a job which is something you are passionate about, you'll never work a day in your life. I don't think it is- or can be-- totally true. Sometimes I hate going to work and dream about 200-mile long bike rides or long swim sets or some really potent alcoholic drink.  But I also don't want to write all the time, either. Sometimes I really dread my time before the keyboard when my thoughts just don't (or won't) come, when the words clog themselves in themselves-- and it sucks. 

But I'm a writer. And the fact that I write every day-- that I am paid to write-- means that I've "made it."

Find your metaphors. Honor them. 

OK so you're not a writer (or for the sake of all things, don't be. Re-read the first few paragraphs if you're confused as to why I'd say such a thing.) But you still need the reasons to do what you do. 

One of the reasons I want to do the Ironman is that the event represents my journey becoming a writer: a journey that is long, unpredictable, difficult, at times (seemingly) impossible, beautiful, awful, painful and glorious. It makes me cry and laugh when I think about what I am preparing my body to go through; not unlike the process of writing about my life, which also makes me laugh and cry and requires hours of my life every day.

Does the Ironman help the writing? Yes and no. I was not an athlete in college and becoming one has helped me to understand who I am and how I undertake goals whether they are professional, athletic or personal. 

But the metaphors come from my experience and the experience comes from the time I have given to my career choice. And the time (funny enough) comes from the ways I allowed myself to explore ideas, to think and to grow as a person back when I was in college and taking courses which seemed to have no bearing on the "real world." But time moves beyond that-- back to when I was only twelve and writing my first novel on lined paper and a ball-point pen. 

Maybe that was the most important moment, then, when time and effort were all that mattered. Trust--and believe-- they still, always, do.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Just keep swimming!

This year, the Winter Equinox brought not only darkness, but a cold that almost turned into a sinus infection. I'm still sniffling (but thankfully not as much) and slowly introducing swimming back into my training routine (at least on the bike and the run, I can blow my nose and throw all that junk away. The thought of leaving that nastiness to float around in the pool for my swim-mates to find was enough to keep me away until breathing felt normal again.)

As the calendar year draws to a close, however, I can't help but start thinking about my goals for the next year. In fact, for the past several days I've woken up with the question What's next? on my mind. And while the answer to that was rather simple (I've been talking about doing a full Ironman for a long time now... so,take a wild guess what one of my goals for 2015 will be) there is a part of that answer I wasn't ready to explore until now. 

You see, I'm the kind of athlete who worries about future events. To assuage my worry (or, more accurately, worries) I try to put in as much time and effort as I can in the training days, weeks, months (and maybe years would apply here, too) which precede the events I do. And, as you can imagine, sometimes this does help me when "the going gets tough" (or, how I can ask myself in a race how many times have I ridden this far? Swam for this long? Run at such-and-such a pace?) to have a go-to response of: you've done this a million times. Just do it once more. 

Yet, there's the other side of the equation, the part of me that worries that I'm never-good-enough-not-fast-enough-too-fat-dehydrated-too-hydrated-not-trying-hard-enough that makes the training, well, suck. How fun is it to always think you are in last place and the very worst out of everybody?

To all that, I say: thank God I'm not out there all alone because if I was, I would probably keep myself in that circle of insanity. Luckily for me, one of the great perks of doing endurance sports are all the incredible people you get to meet along the way. Whether it's swimming, cycling, running or the triathlon, it never ceases to amaze me how many stories I get to gather and how much courage I glean from the others who people the starting line (and who populate the various practices I attend.)

Enter: a friend of mine, Ethan V.


(NOTE: I'm sure he'll laugh when he reads this post because it is about swimming and of all the things I remember talking to Ethan about was his absolute DISLIKE of the sport. Or, DISLIKE is putting it mildly. Forgive me, Ethan.)

I met Ethan back in 2010 when I was training to break 2:46 in the marathon and living in the Bay Area. We toed the line at a small, grass roots 10k in Berkeley which used entry fees to combat world hunger. The course was mostly flat and wound its way around the Berkeley marina and out along a bike path. Ethan "befriended" me before the race and we ended up running warm-up miles together. His background was ultra-running and he was (then) training to run a fast marathon, too. He was also incredibly funny which kept my focus off my pre-race anxiety (something else I still struggle with.) 

Due to the wonders of social media, I still get updates from Ethan. from time to time even though it's been nearly five years since I've seen him in person. He paced another runner through the Western States this past year and has returned to the ultra-running scene.  But what is remarkable about Ethan is a facebook post I happened to see over the holiday when I was busy not-swimming and blowing my nose. 

He posted that this next year, his goal wasn't so much to break a certain time for a certain distance, but instead to find the joy in running. The idea made me pause for a moment because if there's one thing I do a lot of, it's train. 

How many times lately have I found the joy in the things I do, though? Swimming, even before I got sick, was probably anything but fun. I was so frustrated with how I just couldn't keep up with any of the men in my lane, how I didn't seem to be improving no matter how many times a week I swam or cross-trained. And then there is running, a sport I really loved once, but that I'm afraid to truly love anymore because of all the injuries I've faced and the constant disappointment that I am no longer, quite, fast. 

But Ethan's post got me thinking. What if I started looking for the joy in the things I do? What if I don't focus so much on pace or, even, getting in all my training hours each week? What if, instead, I show up to swim practice or CompuTrainer or, even, my runs, with the attitude that I want to feel good about the work I put in, the distances I cover?

So, I went to swim practice with only one goal in mind today: have fun. And you know what? I was not the "fastest" person in the pool (not by a long shot!) but something unexpected happened. Instead of "struggling" through the set, I fell into a rhythm and for the first time in months, the cadence of my breath and stroke and kick did not feel "forced."  

What I have also noticed is that the general anxiety surrounding my training is slowly diminishing. I don't like to miss days (I probably never will!) but I don't think that I have derailed my entire training regimen, either, when due to my physical or mental health I simply need a break! 

Today I renewed my USMS membership so 2015 will be filled with much more swimming. This is the first step in my goal of completing a full Ironman (more news on that very soon!) 

But the other half of my goal is not only the Ironman, but that other maybe-not-so-measurable achievement of finding joy in what I do. And you know, thanks to all the people I have met-- and keep meeting along the way--I can't help but smile, feel grateful and look forward to my next big adventure.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

My Anthem

The pale sunrise dusted the low clouds just as I reached the top of the hill and I realize I'm a runner, still.  

My breath is visible and stars still in the darker half of the sky above me, I marveled at the very simple reality that, for the first time in years, I was doing hill sprints. And, unlike the runner I was four years (a lifetime?) ago, I could run them strongly and silently, fearlessly without being sorry


This past weekend in Sacramento, thousands of runners toed the line at the California International Marathon. It was a starting line I toed exactly four years ago in an attempt to qualify for the Olympic Trials (on the then B-standard qualifying time of two hours and forty-six minutes.) 

I didn’t watch the race this year (I’ve done that, too, in the past: staring at the Sacramento news feed showing runners passing through the inflatable “wall” at mile 20, knowing what it feels like to run 20 miles at race pace and even though it’s painful, watching and wishing I was there)-- but I felt the gun go off in my bones as I ran through the empty, cold streets of Reno on my “long” run Sunday morning.

After all, I had a teammate in the race: a fellow Pendola Project athlete who was (like I was long ago) hoping for an Olympic Trials qualifying time. He (also like me) didn’t make it. My teammate succumbed to a bad foot injury at mile 23 which forced him to DNF.  Although I finished my race, I know the frustration of running all that way and not reaching your goal is a hard reality to take, to breathe and to, (if you ever can) accept.

And so here I am, four years and countless miles distant and I can’t help but look back. I see it differently now, of course. No, I’m not an absolute failure (and how long I believed that I was!) but that race truly was a pivotal moment in my life not only as an athlete, but as a person. 


I began the 2010 CIM as an idealistic 28-year old who believed in big dreams, in words, in ideas, in fairy tales and true love and that nothing possibly can go wrong in life if you simply, always, work hard. 

I also began that race as a runner (my first name “Rebecca” and the word “runner” are an alliterative pair for a reason, I thought.) 

When I crossed the finish line, though, so much of what I knew about myself fell away. It would take years to recognize that, of course (and maybe I’m only now beginning to recognize it) but it did. There are no absolutes and no guarantees of anything: endings are only endings if you call them that. Life is not a narrative, really, but a series of moments that can be constructed into one, if you are lucky.  And I was not the heroine of a story, I was not a girlfriend, I was not a writer. I crossed the finish line and everything I had told myself about myself was no longer true. I was not a runner. I was not (or wouldn’t be for very long) that man’s girlfriend. Writing was not only a matter of hard work, but time and money and distance (like the running itself)-- a thing of attrition, of holding on, of loss and loneliness and doubt. What I had once thought of as “hard work” was not really “hard”-- but I’m getting ahead of myself.  

Earlier today (while drafting this blog) I wrote: “I began the race as a runner, someone’s young but mostly nameless girlfriend who meekly hoped for a better life and who finished that race to discover that despite all the miles and all the pages and hours I’d poured into who I believed I was, I still crossed the line and failed to transform into anything remarkable.” 

But with a few hours of reflection, my affirmation (my mantra, my anthem) these days interjected: Fearless, but not sorry

Truth is always something to fear.

 Maybe that’s why I do these endurance events (there’s truth in the time and the miles)-- and so here is my revision: “I began that race as simply a runner without knowing that an athlete-- and a person-- is always and ever so much more than one, single definition. We are multi-faceted, multi-cultural, multi-lingual selves which coalesce in these moments of pain, love and beauty. I crossed that finish line and some of the old me fell away, making room for someone new it would take nearly four years for me to come to know, to accept, to love.”

Four years ago, I ran a marathon in two hours and forty-seven minutes which is a full minute slower than the Olympic Trials qualifying B-standard at the time (since, the time has dropped to a 2:43 and I doubt that I will ever be able to run that fast.) 

I wrote about the race extensively in my thesis for the MFA at Saint Mary’s College which later became a nonfiction book manuscript which got me an agent and which is still being shopped around, sort of. I can’t say that I know the details of that race by heart, but what I haven’t really written about (much) is what came after. 

I remember crossing the line, seeing my time and then understanding my time. I tried to cry and stumbled while volunteers removed the timing chip from my shoe. I was alone for a while there, and I wandered around, hoping to see a familiar face. 

I remember Steve finding me, of him explaining how hard it was to navigate Sacramento’s surface streets. I remember calling my coach, his surprise at how well I’d done and how it was so hard to hear what he said because of the sound of cheering (welcoming other runners to the finish line) around me. 

I remember the steam from the shower I took in the hotel room and how it filled the entire space like a sauna because I was in there so long. The silence and the water and how I didn’t know what to say or how to act or what to do. (I had failed, I thought.) I talked myself out of crying. 

Then, my memory jumps and I’m out of the shower and the thing I say, again and again is: “A 2:47 isn’t bad, is it?” I ask this a million times to nearly everyone I know or see or talk to-- and, until very recently, I still asked myself this question. It’s as though I’m asking: did I or did I not fail to accomplish a goal in December of 2010 when I was 28 and young enough to still shoot for something that crazy? 

What a mantra-- or, anthem-- to have! Did I just fail? Those were the words which led me back into my life as a graduate student, a girlfriend, an unpublished writer (arguably all containing some trace of “failure.”) My life, I thought, slipped from potentially extraordinary to, simply, ordinary. 

I finished out the semester in my graduate program (and the following three semesters) by attending all my classes, writing papers and reading responses, attending lectures and readings, reading voraciously. I kept running (too much, probably) and injured my Achilles during a track workout so much so that I could hardly walk for three months. And so my former life slipped away: no longer an elite runner, no longer elite anything, no longer even a casual runner, the adjectives slid off my skin and ran down into the watershed of the heavy rains in the bay area that winter until I was left, only (frighteningly) with Rebecca. 

But I look back now and see that I hadn’t lost everything, yet. I didn’t know all a person could lose (but you can.) I envision our lives as nets held up by the definitions we have out ourselves and how we relate (and how important we are to other people around us.) 

When I am 31 and not a runner and back in Reno and unemployed and single, the net breaks and I fall and fall and fall with the snow, with the cold when my ceiling breaks loose last January and then I truly believe life is over. 

But on one of the many nights I’m alone, then, I remember the finish line at CIM in 2010 and that is when I begin to revise that question, my question: Did I fail?

I begin to consider that maybe crossing that line was not the end. Maybe it was my beginning.

It’s been four years since I’ve ran a marathon. I don’t know if I ever will again. 

But I text my teammate that I believe he will do better, he is so strong and he will not only finish a race, but exceed every expectation he has for himself and I believe my own words.

My words as they echo in my mind. My new anthem. Fearless. Not Sorry. 


I am awake before dawn these days, most days (every day.) Today, I am running at 5:00 am across Reno’s dark streets to a hill I knew and ran when I was a “runner” and when I had big dreams of being an Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon. 

There are stars above me. 

I run through the darkness and the cold. 

I set my watch and stretch and work through my movement prep alone in the cold silence of a December morning. 

In the instant before I begin the hill sprints, I wonder if time is a funny thing: the light from stars takes so long to travel here, I wonder if the stars could see me, looking back? This was my hill four years ago, this is where I began my big-dreams. Do the stars see me four years ago, struggling up the hill, coughing out my lungs, slamming my feet hard into the pavement, driving up?

Or do they see me in time-lapse?

I wish they could see me now. 

I am not fast. 

I am not thin. 

But I am strong and silent. I set my watch and go: I can hardly hear my foot-falls up the hill. I feel the effort rising in my chest and my instinct is to back away from it. But I remember my affirmation, my anthem: Fearless.

I push into it, myself long before the timex beeps. 

I wish I could be a runner again. But I know that life-- that time-- has passed. 


I am not thin. 
I am not a runner.
I am not elite.

I am not any of the things I was when I ran CIM in 2010 and dreamed big dreams. 


Yet, I wonder. 

I am strong. 
I am graceful.
I am an athlete.
I am surrounded by other athletes who believe, who train and who have "anthems" of their own. 

And, yes, even after all these years, I am still the sort of dreamer who runs beneath the stars.

Monday, November 17, 2014

World Championship Time Trial: A Six-Hour Success

"When you want to quit you have to surrender to the moment, and find a calm." 

--Mark Allen

Me at the starting line of the 2014 6-12-24 World Championship Time Trial Race in my Great Basin Bicycles skinsuit.

This was supposed to be my race. That was my thought as my bike was propped upside down on its handlebars and seat, its rear tire removed and the contents of my saddle bag strewn in the desert sand. I try not to think my race is over, fumbling with the tire irons to extract my tube so that I can replace it with the only one I have left.

The hardest part wasn’t getting the tube out; instead, it was keeping thoughts of you’ve already failed out of my head so I don’t start panicking… or, crying. 

On Friday “Team Great Basin Bicycles”-- of which I was a part-- drove to the 6-12-24-hour WorldChampionship Time Trials held in Borrego Springs, California on Saturday. We weren’t big, as teams go: Rich (the owner of GBB) would ride in the mixed tandem 6-hour time trial division with stoker Irena. Then there was me: competing in the solo female division for the six-hour time trial event.  

Packing the car for the event-- I'm still amazed we fit one tandem bike, one "bumblebee" bike, a cooler, 64 water bottles, five suitcases, snacks, cycling gear and three riders in there.

The landscape of 395-south is primarily desert, although it varies in type. There is high-desert steppe at the base of the Eastern Sierra where, once you’re far enough south, the mountain peaks top 14,000 feet, dwarfing the valley floor (like in Independence, California, home to one of my favorite western writers, Mary Austin.) Eventually that landscape gives way to the Mohave, the land of creosote, Joshua tree and power line; the grand Sierra fade into the distance and the sky spreads out without its frame of mountaintops. 

Just so you know, from Reno to Borrego Springs is about a ten-hour drive, so it gave me plenty of time to think. (As Rich said on the way down: We must be crazy: we are driving a bit over twenty hours round trip to do a six-hour bike race. And when you put it like that, it does sound crazy.) 

Driving by Topaz Lake on Friday morning.  Watching the landscape change on the drive down was one of my favorite parts of the event, actually.

Crazy is relative, however, like distance and time. What seems so incredibly long (a five-mile run if you are not a runner or a century on the bike when you’re just starting out) can become effortless with the right kind of training (or, maybe it’s never effortless. I would argue, though, that the question of pace--of how fast-- quite a different creature than can I finish?) 

It was in this context of a new desert landscape (Borrego Springs, it turns out, was much more like Independence than the Mohave in that it was framed by tall mountains on all sides; unlike the Mohave in its palm trees, grapefruit trees, and golf courses) that I would have to face another unexpected challenge of endurance racing: anything can happen. 

Some high-Sierra beauty somewhere around Lone Pine, the gateway to Mt. Whitney.

If you’ve read any part of this blog, I’m sure you know the story. In 2010, I was training for the Olympic Trials and I didn’t make it. This past season, changed my focus and was training for the Lake Tahoe 70.3 Ironman and that, too, didn’t happen. This isn’t to say I don’t have victories (I did great this year at the Lake Tahoe Triathlon which was an Olympic Distance event as well as the Davis Double where I completed my first double century EVER!) But I haven’t had the kind of victory I think I could have, if all the stars align. 

I had hoped this Time Trial would be my event… at least for 2014. After all, I have a lot of miles on the bike (inside and out) as well as a solid 17-20 hours of training each week. I’ve also been more careful about my nutrition than I have in the past. And although this isn’t a scientific measure, I just feel “healthy.” My pre-race goal had been to complete 120-130 miles in six hours including the time it would take to stop and restock my water and food supplies. 

The more and more I participate in these types of events, though, the more I am coming to understand their fickle nature: yes, it’s a staged event and yes, it’s not quite like venturing across the Antarctic, but there is some element of the unknown even in a time trial, a triathlon, a marathon. Will you sprain your ankle? Run over a nail and get a flat? Fall and break a collar bone? Panic and nearly drown in the swim? 

Maybe the question is never, quite, how fast. Maybe there is, always, some element of maybe I won’t make it no matter what you do.  And in this, maybe these events are just like life: maybe I won’t make it you think when you’re in college, single, married, starting a new job, ending a career, moving, buying a house, losing a house, taking that step into the unknown-- no matter the event-- maybe it’s human to wonder maybe I won’t make it through?

Somewhere right before the Mohave desert when Rich relinquished the driver's seat and Irena took over.

The race morning was warm. I was in short sleeves and shorts and still-- can you imagine in November-- sweating? I was the only woman competing in the solo six-hour time trial; the rest were ten male competitors and two tandem teams. One was Rich and Irena (my Great Basin Bicycle teammates) the other a two-man team who was, oddly, listed as a mixed team.

I hadn’t really studied the course before the event. I knew it was an 18-mile loop, that it was mostly flat and that about five hours after our noon-start time, we would switch to a smaller, 5-mile loop until the race ended at six. It be a day of right-hand turns, of burning hamstrings and quads, and a day of going as fast as I can and my only limit being my strength and/or my ability to hold onto a certain cadence or pace.

When the time trial began, I was hopeful. I rode hard, but not too hard, finding my rhythm as I rested in my aerobars. Rich and Irena passed me early-- in the first two miles-- before Rich misjudged a turn. But I saw them before mile 5, and looking strong, they left me behind. I swore to myself: please don’t let the tandem train catch me before I reach 100 miles. 

Borrego Springs, where the race was held. This shot, taken on race morning, shows the contrast of desert and mountain.

I completed one lap in well under an hour despite the headwind up the only climb on the course. I didn’t even stop for water. I believed this was my event to fly through.  I very nearly did: I exchanged places with a rider from Montana who looked like he does these events often. I rode strong until mile thirty when, with a swift headwind in my face, I felt the floppy wobble of a flat back tire. 

I don’t quite believe it at first. I kept riding for a while until I looked between my leg and the saddle and saw the black of my tire spread flat against the pavement. 

I didn’t want to go back to Reno with a round of excuses why I am not a good athlete. I had a flat tire. I had stomach issues. The wind was wrong. I wanted, finally, to just be good and to own it, if that makes sense. It was hard not to be devastated especially as riders I had passed in previous miles rode by me in the wind and I watched, literally, the passage of time.

I told myself not to work too fast and not to panic. I kept my hands steady, using the plastic tire iron to loosen the tire from the rim. Then I slid my fingers along the inside of the tire to find what flattened the tube. (A staple. The only one on the entire course, probably.) 

I replaced the tube with a new one when another rider stopeds to help me. I didn't ask for his help but with his lovely English accent (or was it Australian? I only know that it was lovely—bordering on sexy-- his words like someone who takes a flat tire like you might take an adult beverage, straight up-- why thank you, and can you pour me another one?)I couldn't say "no." 

I was stopped for what felt like an eternity. I appreciated the man with the accent even though he gave me a hard time for having no more water.   I nodded and said something like, "I know," even though it was all I could do to keep myself from crying. 

I just didn't want to fail anymore. I was--and am-- tired of failing. 

When I got back on my bike, I told myself: no bathroom breaks. No more food. I will stop only for water. And that is, more or less, what I did. I had to catch the time which passed me. 

On our pre-race walk, we didn't see much, if any, wild life. Instead, we experienced a lot of sand-- sand that would later blast across our faces in the high winds that day.

The athletic mode of narrative advises that I tell you that I was in pain. Or, that I was unaware of pain. That time passed quickly or slowly. That I was in extreme discomfort. If you want to know the truth, though, I don’t remember most of the ride which followed my flat. 

I remember wanting to cry for a while and wanting to stop because I thought my race was over. At some point after I refill my water bottles, though, I decided to make  the rest of the ride a game. Maybe I could try to ride each lap faster than the one before it? I asked myself. Negative split the entire thing.

The only other thing I remember, really, was catching a glimpse of myself in shadow, a projection of me cast upon the desert sand. I had a zen-esque moment, thinking something like: everything is a fluid transitory thing; life, an ocean wave, at best. 

Then I took another right turn and my shadow vanished.

Riding up the slight incline where I’d gotten my flat, a race official informed me we’d be switching to the short loop early. I admit: I was shocked (it wasn’t quite 4:00 pm and I wondered if he thought I was riding so slow I wouldn’t get back to the pit area by 5) but I found out later the choice was made, in part, because of the strength of the wind.  Several riders had disk wheels on their bikes and the wind was blowing them all over the road. The shorter, five mile lap provided more shelter from the strong winds.

What I remember of those final laps: the wall of sand we rode through on the first straightaway, a coyote which stood at the side of the road, watching me go by, the feel of speed as the wind pushed me along the course, the final turn and straightaway to the “pit” area where I seemed to pass so many riders (why were they slowing down?)

In the final laps, I remember the bright pinks and reds of the sunset-sky, the pain in my right shoulder and hip like a heartbeat and then, the challenge of riding in darkness. 

The week before, Rich had made me close my eyes while riding out of the saddle in a CompuTrainer class and I recalled the experience in the final 45-minutes of the race. I wasn't as disoriented as I might have been. I remembered how I had kept my center centered, my pedal stroke even and I tried to do the same as day faded to night.

The area around the race course featured these large, metal sculptures. This one (a serpent) occurred about two miles into the long lap. In the really strong winds, some of these sculptures (the horses, especially) looked like they were alive and moving!

I crossed the pit area at 5:00, 5:13, 5:28, 5:45. In this time trial, the miles only count if you completed a lap and I had a choice to make: stop now or try for one more before the end at 6 pm. I decided to go for it. I had finished the other laps under fifteen minutes; I reasoned that I would be able to do it one more time even though I had nearly six hours of riding on my legs and parts of my body I normally don’t feel ached.

I rode toward every red flashing tail light and I kept telling myself that I could do this, that I had ridden hard and done my best. Yes, I’d had a flat tire. Yes, I kept going.

I crossed the line with a minute to spare making my mileage total for the day 115. It wasn't quite what I’d hoped for, but considering the flat and the wind, it wasn't bad. I would be shocked, later, to find I’d ridden the third fastest time of all the solo six-hour riders and I was only five miles behind Rich and Irena who would win the mixed tandem division.

So maybe there is something in not stopping—or, not giving up—when life serves you a flat tire. Maybe the best thing (or, the only thing) to do is say in your sexiest accent, why, thank you, because you get to overcome a challenge, to work hard, to finish despite rather than because of. 

Place: 1
Distance: 115 miles

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Notes in the (off) Season

Can you be an athlete if you don't compete?


I was actually shocked when I realized that I hadn't blogged since the Lake Tahoe Ironman and the 70.3 were cancelled due to bad air conditions nearly two months ago. It's not that I haven' been training-- or writing-- but somehow the blog slipped through the cracks. In the off chance that you follow this craziness, I'm sorry. I really have been blogging (in my mind); but that's not entirely useful for you since no one's discovered, quite, how to read minds yet.

So, what have I been so busy doing? Well, training, of course: I try to maintain 20 hours a week of the swim/bike/run gig. The diminishing hours of daylight and (as of tonight) the end of daylight savings time has made getting those 20 hours more difficult. The palms of my hands are scratched up from running in the dark before morning and falling (yes, I know, I need some sort of head light) and the few days I've tried to take the bike outside after work, I'm shocked at how dark the world gets when I'm only thirty minutes into an hour ride (I guess I need lights for that, too.) And there is something that happens in the body, I believe, with all this cold and darkness: with not wanting, really, to be up and out so much. A big part of me wants to curl up with War and Peace or maybe even Infinite Jest and just read with my cats curled around my feet.

But darn it: I've got dreams. And I'm an athlete (I think?) even though I haven't competed in what seems like forever.

Or... am I an athlete? What measures can I apply to know for sure in lieu of an event where I'm tested against other bodies?

One of our riders traversing Nevada's "loneliest highway" during the Silver State 508.

At the beginning of October, I crewed for a two-man relay team for the inaugural Silver State 508-- a 508-mile cycling race across the state of Nevada which began in Reno and headed east on old highway 50 to Eureka and back again the same way.

Me playing shadow puppets (sort of) as we wait to hand off supplies to our rider.
I wasn't an athlete in that event (although if you watch how I handed off bottles to our riders, you have to admit it took a certain degree of skill--and leg-speed-- to make a successful exchange); and as we drove/rode across the empty spaces, I couldn't help but feel disappointed in myself that I have not become a real, an elite, a true athlete (yet.)

Following our rider across the high desert en route to the finish line in Reno, Nevada.

Maybe one day? I certainly hope so....


Then, there was the Foxy's Fall Century in Davis I rode with Rich and several women who trained with him on long rides, CompuTrainer rides and any and all other kinds of rides.

I told Rich I really just wanted to ride as fast as I could and I did: I stuck with no one in particular, just lay low in my aerobars, stopped only for water and the essentials and ended up turning out 100 miles in about five hours.

Cruising comfortably at about 20 miles into the ride just outside Davis, CA.

The weather was perfect: still and calm and only a little chilly in the morning: once I'd returned to Davis I rode the course in reverse looking for Rich and the girls. I didn't see them, but the additional miles gave me 130 for the day-- 100 of them at a steady clip. I just loved it.

Granted, it was an organized ride and not a race, so there are no bragging rights attached (it's unfair to pair yourself against people who are only there to complete the distance, not compete it) but I do hope it's a sign of good things to come (that I can ride 100 miles and feel fantastic and then ride some more and still feel, more or less, fantastic.)

Plus, I got this really kick-ass photo of me on my bike, Bumblebee. ..
And I caught up with some incredible athletes from the Reno area. Tim (in green) and his wife Martine (who is taking the shot) both did Boise 70.3 with me last spring and are such an inspiration. My friend Rich (left) is the owner of Great Basin Bicycles, he came in 8th in the 508 (solo) and won the 308 earlier this year as well. 

I say that because I do have a race on the horizon, the Ultra-Endurance World Championship Time Trials. In some ways, this will be my first cycling race ever and I have to admit, I'm nervous. I don't know who I'll face in those six hours; and I don't know how (exactly) I'm going to handle the nutrition part of it.  I just rode 105 miles today inside on the CompuTrainer and felt, well, not terribly awful and it didn't take me six hours to do that distance so I hope for a good result from this event.

But I still wonder, I still can't quite decide: am I an athlete, still?

I wonder about all these hours I put into training-- I believe I could do well at an Ironman one day. But sometimes I think I'm the only one who believes that, who sees potential in a body that isn't particularly thin or athletic. That looks, well, normal. Boring, even.

OK, maybe this isn't remarkable, but I so love my little Sanchia-cat. And I love writing and reading and cooking. And maybe a part of what I am finding out is that I am an "Athlete-and...." . An athlete AND a friend. An athlete AND a cat-mom. An Athlete AND a writer.

Or maybe this goes back to the changing seasons, the diminished light. There's a song about that, isn't there? Everything turns, turns, turns; there is a season, turns, turns, turns... and maybe life, in a way, is cyclical (like the turning of my legs on the crank) and maybe it is OK to curl up sometimes with the cats, it is OK to write; just like it is OK to dream that one day I can toe the line at the World Championships in Kona that my body has that potential despite the dark hours, the wintertime.

After all, I have my hours. Maybe it is time I start believing in them.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tahoe: Not a Race, but a Lesson

Jeff Marrifield after the announcement that he would not be competing in his first Ironman on September 21st, 2014
If you've been reading my blog (even for a little while) you probably know that this year is a big milestone for me in and of itself; or, rather, that every race I undertake this year has a deeper meaning to it than the search for another PR or place. Instead, it has to do with overcoming ghosts and self-imposed demons; it is my way of telling myself that no matter what I will be OK. If I can swim and ride and run-- well, I can overcome hardship on my own.

Tahoe was its own creature, however; and in a way, I can hardly believe I was on the starting line of that race. But then again, I can't believe I didn't finish it, either, which leaves me existing in this strange in-between land like the Catholic idea of purgatory. Or, it reminds me of what sitting on the darkened stairwell of a house my family had when I was younger. I liked to sit there-- for hours, sometimes, reading--because it was a non-place, a place I could disappear.

And I know that sounds overly dramatic, but that's sort of how I feel after this weekend: erased. I'm neither here nor there. Will I be OK in life? I think I know the answer is "yes." And yet, there is this lingering doubt. After all, I didn't conquer the Tahoe Ironman.


For the inaugural event last year, I spent the day painting my deck with my partner. The paint looked pink but dried red in the heavy winds which brought the snow which made the event so remarkably difficult. I remember getting spotches of it on my jeans (which felt tight around my non-athletic body) and I remember, distinctly, thinking that I would never do an event like the Lake Tahoe Ironman.

I thought a lot of crazy things then, though. Things like my life as an athlete was over. Things like my partner really loved me. Things that all turned out not to be true. And so, in a way, I guess that's where this all comes from. I am still an athlete. And I am going to be OK. And therefore, I was going to race in the Tahoe 70.3 Ironman. Not the full, I know, but I am building my volume slowly and I wanted to slay half of my old demons, anyway.

But fate had another plan in store for me. I'm still trying to figure out what that is, exactly, but it does not, apparently, include me competing in any Lake Tahoe Ironman this year.


The day before the race was perfect. I mean, perfect so I didn't argue when a friend of mine said you have to race this. You can't NOT. I picked up my race packet, set up my transitions, did my priming work for the swim, the bike and the run. I met my parents for lunch in Squaw Valley and we reviewed the course and they picked out the spots they wanted to watch me from.

They wanted to watch me kick ass. 

And I really thought I was going to. You know that feeling when you weigh hardly anything and every stroke or step is just effortless? That was me the day before the race. And who knows, really? It might have been an illusion. But maybe not.

After my parents went home, I drove down the west shore of the lake to the foot of Blackwood Canyon to read a few pages of a novel I've been working my way through. It was surreal: one moment the air was crisp and clear like mountain air and the next I was surrounded in a tidal wave of smoke. It literally swallowed me and my shadow turned red.

I guess I really should have known the race wouldn't happen... but I was hopeful. Like the race officials were hopeful, I suppose. I think every single person affiliated with this race was hopeful and maybe that's why its cancellation is so particularly sad.

Race morning: 3:30 am. I was staying with dear friends who allowed me use of a lovely bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. I remember the chime of my phone at o'dark-thirty and I'm awake, but not groggy. I'm on auto-pilot: tri-suit on, pj's off. Nutrition in one bag, non-essentials in the other.  My mind speaks in the litany of athletic gear not unlike the song the 12 days of Christmas: 12 salt tabs, 11 cut up green bars, 10 sport gels, 9 rubs of "glide", 8 squirts of sunscreen, 7 times to pee, 6 laces laced, 5 CUPS OF COFFEE, 4 items of clothing (shorts, top, socks, bra); 3 water bottles, 2 Garmin devices, and one freaking awesome bike.

OK maybe not quite like that, but close.

I worried I would be mauled by a bear on the way out. Apparently that is a problem up in these elevations. Luckily, I wasn't.

I couldn't see the smoke on the drive in, but I could smell it.  Like a campfire you can't back away from. I kept telling myself it was localized in Squaw and that a shift in the winds would carry the smoke away by the time I'd be running there. Oh, hopeful me. 

I parked the car and grabbed my transition bags, rushing into the line of waiting athletes. Most of them were doing the 140.6, but oh well. I wanted to be at the start, be ready. I was ready. Ready to race. At last. I played a song on repeat that had no words but a beat sort of like the hope hanging in my heart that I could turn out a strong performance.

The kind that says: I'm here. And I'm not going anywhere. 


I could only see the reflection of my face in the bus windows en route to the start line. I tried to ignore my face and look past into the landscape but that was nearly impossible.

The song I love-- the song without words, the song with only a heartbeat-- played in my ears. And I wondered if today was the day I'd do something extraordinary and I'd become something more than Rebecca.

Maybe, my face told me.

Maybe, the darkness repeated.


What I remember of the transition:the flux of bodies. The feel of permanent marker on my skin. The sharp cold of pre-dawn mountain morning. Finding my bike. Pacing from my transition bag to the bike and back again. All 57 trips to the SaniHut. And then, the lovely sight of familiar faces: my friends and training partners.

Suddenly, we were in this together. This dark-cold. This expectation. This despite-the-smoke.  Team "Reno" I remember we posed for a video camera and a woman asked where we were from. "Reno!" one-- or all-- of us said.  And another: "We're Team Smoke!" It was meant as a joke, of course: "Team Smoke." The smoke we'd beat or race in despite itself.

We had no idea that the conditions were so bad the event would have to be canceled. This is Ironman after all: aren't we supposed to be strong? Unbreakable? The year before, athletes had faced snow and wind and cold. A large percentage of the field got hyperthermia after the swim. What is smoke, compared to that?

Team Smoke: Martine, Tim, Meghan, Dave, Jeff (x 2), and Winnie: Team Smoke from Reno, Nevada. How would we know it wouldn't be funny?

Smokey conditions en route back to Squaw Valley.

Imagine this: a year of your life. A year when you give up: late nights, social outings, most of your friends, family picnics, most of your family, vacations, romantic relationships, fried food, weekends, nights after 10 pm, attractive feet, special moments, sex, nice-looking hair, stylish shoes with heels, life, life, life. You're in a wetsuit in a mountain lake at 6am on a Sunday in September and this is the Ironman you trained for.

We regret to announce. 

Your heart drops. You throw up in your mouth a little. The hours replay in your mind.

There is a pause in the air and you hear the words: Attention Ironman athletes.... and you stop swimming. The dawn is redder than usual, spectacularly beautiful. And it can't be, but it is.

Despite all you know, all you have done: there is no way in the world you will be an Ironman today.


I wasn't in the water when I heard the race was canceled.

I was sitting on a concrete curb after peeing for the 57th time with fellow Renoite, Meghan when a woman walked by in a wetsuit crying. It was just barely dawn-- or not even barely-- and we thought, for whatever reason, she had dropped out of the race already.

But suddenly, a woman in a white and red racing kit stood above us and, tracing her finger across her smart phone, she said, flatline: "Didn't you hear, the race was canceled."

From there, I remember chaos.

Athletes not knowing what to do or where to go. Bodies walking back and forth and back and forth. Some take off their wetsuits, wet from the lake. Others don't. Or at least, not right away.

I don't stand. I'm still seated when a woman strips her wetsuit and says to me: I have to get on my bike today. I moved heaven and earth to be here. I just have to ride. Something, anything. 

Meghan offers her suggestions-- good ones-- ride over Mt. Rose. Ride Geiger Grade. Ride Spooner Summit.

The place-names don't register; this is not a local. And I am still sitting, still in something like shock when I say: Do you want a guide? 

Bodies flux around us: everyone is going somewhere, placing that race energy onto the road, their bike, a coffee house. Anywhere but where it ended before it began.

I don't expect she'll want me along. But then, I'm surprised again. This stranger-- who will become my friend-- says Yes.

And in the flux of bodies, I have a purpose: I will guide someone through the places I know and love so well. Carson City. Virginia City. Geiger Grade. The vast beauty; my home.

When we finally reach Squaw, not a single person could argue with the decision to cancel the race. The smoke was thick as we left the shuttles to collect our run-gear bags.

It takes nearly two hours to gather my gear. To text my family and friends that Lake Tahoe IM is not happening. To find myself and my new friend on the road again. It's raining, slightly. The light is cloud-gray as we climb out of Kings Beach and Incline to Spooner Summit.

There is another event scheduled for that day, the Edible Pedal and I pedal that away; the smoke is so distant now, but I do not stray too far from this organized ride in case the winds shift; in case another unforeseen event happens.

Up and down Spooner.

As we ride past Nevada's capital buildings, my new ride partner asks me: "Are we riding in Nevada?"

When I tell her we are (not that we have been for a while) she says: "I've never ridden in Nevada before!" with a kind of enthusiasm that just makes me smile.

The world is a beautiful place.

Remarkable people populate it.

I know I can't be sad about today.

I can't, I can't.

Sage, Pine. Choose your vegetation; we ride nearly 80 miles until the smoke makes us stop.


And I wonder about the meaning of "Ironman": if, perhaps, I got my metaphors mixed. Maybe it wasn't the race itself that would prove I was, once again, a strong athlete-- a strong person. Maybe it is the ability to "endure" no matter what happens. To know this is not my last race, this is not a failure.

Instead, this is another beginning.

And I will try again and again, when it's time.
"Team Smoke" before they announced the race was canceled due to unsafe air quality.