Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Warmer Climes

After an extended stay in the more southern reaches of the continent, I returned to Spokane to find just what I had desperately wanted. Fuzzy green grass, budding maple trees, crocuses, daffodils and tulips blooming, and an Ironman Coeur d’Alene bike course open for business. There were a few patches of snow left along the sides of the road, undoubtedly from systems that moved through in December, but the roads were dry, marginally swept, and just as momentum-killing as I remember. It’s good to be back.

My time away began in March, when I flew to San Diego for one too-short day with Shelby and one positively beautiful bike ride with Brian and some other TCSD members. Then it was off to Guatemala for a medical mission trip with Hearts in Motion. I can’t begin to do the experience justice on this triathlon blog, but among other things it reinforced the universality of the human condition, the true capacity of a single person to do an inordinate amount of good in the world, and the relative lack of fortitude of the North American GI system.

Jeremy (the cat) decided to help me pack. That was shortly before he decided to run in front of a car and become a substantially more expensive cat while I was away. Still, his life is better than that of the dogs in the Teculetan dump. . .

. . . and the cows that graze beside flaming pits of garbage.

And sadly, Jeremy's life is probably better than most of the kids who live at the dump. Nonetheless, I love that an impromptu game of soccer is still a lot of fun in such a dire environment.
This kid is a little luckier. He was taken in by nuns at the local nutrition center and is now on track to a much healthier life.

Most of my time in Guatemala was spent with the dental team. We were dispatched to a different remote village every day to do some rudimentary hygiene, oral health instruction, and a lot of extractions. It is sad that that which is a last-ditch procedure in North America is modus operadum in Guatemala, but ultimately the fact that we were there with Lidocane spared a lot of people a lot of pain. These two girls are awaiting extractions. Their names are Imelda and Olga. I love it.
A makeshift dental chair in an old school room (actually the plastic bins in which we transported supplies).

This is a picture of Karen Sheeringa carrying a portable toilet into one of the villages where we did a medical/dental clinic. She is testimony to the fact that one person can make a big change in this world. She single-handedly started Hearts in Motion and is personally responsible for the construction of countless orphanages, nutrition and day-care centers, and playgrounds. For decades, Karen has sent plastic and orthopedic surgeons to developing countries, she has facilitated the treatment of hundreds of kids needing medical treatment in the US, and has often fostered many of them during their stays here. In the midst of all that, she fostered over 300 children, 11 of whom she adopted, and she continues to inspire thousands of volunteers to do more. The woman oozes love and compassion and also has a wicked sense of humor, which makes her that much more approachable and fun.

Adding more richness to the trip was the fact that my dad and sister were there as well, and although we don’t live terribly far apart, it’s rare that we spend extended periods of time in such close proximity. It was 11 years ago that my dad first took me on a medical trip to Buga, Colombia where he was doing cleft lip, cleft palate, and burn surgeries, and he and my sister have subsequently made numerous trips to Zacapa, Guatemala. I only got to spend one full day in surgery with my dad, but it made me incredibly proud of him and the work he does. People tell me all the time what a skilled and compassionate surgeon my dad is, but to see him in action and to see the faces of cleft lip and macrostomia patients instantly transformed made it all much more real to me.

A self portrait of Cassy and me on the roof of the hospital in Zacapa.

driving back from one particularly scenic clinic.

The trip was capped by a visit to Antigua, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We also manged to find a sports bar there in time to watch the Zags get annihilated by UNC.

But really this is a triathlon blog, right?

Returning to San Diego was a bit surreal after the intense day-to-day experience that was Guatemala, but truthfully, I was looking forward to getting back to training and a land of improved air-quality. Guatemala’s physical landscape was astounding, but the air quality was tarnished by multitudes of older vehicles with no emissions standards, open pits of burning garbage, the dust of the dry season, and particulate entrapping topography. My nose, eyes and lungs got progressively more irritated with every day spent there. It turns out that I am a lot less tough than your average Guatemalan, and so is my digestive tract. I had six days in San Diego before Oceanside 70.3 to get things sorted out, but unfortunately it took more like fourteen before everything was working normally again.

After 10 days of minimal training, I really wanted to hit the training hard, but with an imminent race, the volume wasn’t terribly substantial. It meant that I had a lot of spare time to hang out with Shelby, which rocked. I won’t divulge too much more except to say that we regressed quite a lot and may or may not have choreographed a dance to an entire Silver Platters song. On Thursday before the race, fellow Zoot ULTRA teammate Danielle showed up, which turned out to be a real treat. I knew Dee a little bit from camp and races last year, but hanging out in a more casual format was a blast. Then things got crazy as race day approached. Phaedra and Rachel showed up for the race and Timex camp, and the house became progressively more fun (loud?). Any pre-race anxiety was easily drowned out.
I didn't really take photos, but here's a good one of Shelby and Boomer.

The race was about like it is every year. Over the past 3 years I’ve learned that all pre-race hype regarding water temperature is mostly just that, but that a down jacket in transition pre-race is never regretted. The swim went better than last year, mainly because I didn’t do the whole thing by myself. I should probably also credit the fact that I swam regularly throughout the winter, as opposed to last year when I took 2 months off of swimming because I didn’t really feel like it.

I loved the bike. I would have loved it more if I had gone faster, but it’s still early. If past years are any indication, I will only get faster as the season goes on. It was a beautiful day in Camp Pendelton and my legs felt fresh, as they should after 2 weeks of relative rest. I spent most of the bike leg just being happy that I got to race in such a beautiful place.

I lost it a bit mentally on the run. It wasn’t bad, per se, it just wasn’t good either. I kept a pretty steady pace, slowing a bit towards the end and I just sort of settled in. It was the kind of race that was just fine. Just fine races aren’t nearly as fun as awesome races, but they’re better than dreadful races (Kona ’08 comes to mind . . . ). Hopefully the lack of post-race excitement that I felt will compel me to race a little harder next time. I think I need to stop thinking of races as “B” or “C” races, because that attitude makes me a little complacent when the going gets tougher (as it should towards the end of any race).

The trip didn’t end with the race. After that, it was off to Carlsbad for a couple days of Zoot camp, which got me even more excited about our team partners for 2009 - namely Suunto, GU (the chomps are AMAZING), Orbea and ALCiS (Shelby and I dubbed it the “magic cream”).

I also managed to squeeze in one more good ride with Bill Holland, the guy who built Shelby’s rad little titanium bicycle. The last day of the trip was capped with a San Diego Triathlon Club club race. It was a cold, blustery day on Fiesta Island, which I loved. The swim was okay, the bike awesome, and the run disappointing. Of all the racing highs and lows I’ve experienced in the past 5 years, the one that kept me up for more nights than any other was this one. Jennifer Spieldenner and I ran shoulder to shoulder for the first 2 mile lap, and then I just let her go during the second lap. The legs were a little wobbly from post-Oceanside fatigue, but I really wasn’t feeling particularly taxed when I watched her run away. I just didn’t care, and that made me SO angry with myself. I’m not claiming that I could have beaten Jennifer, I just know that I could have tried a lot harder. Yes, it was just a club race, yes, I was a bit tired from Oceanside, and yes, it was a “C-” race, but it’s time for me to start fighting. That’s my new 2009 resolution.
On a side note, I have to say that I was incredibly impressed with this race. It was well directed, had a good turnout, chip timing, and an amazing post-race feed. Thanks San Diego Tri Club!

And now it’s back to Spokane and a full training schedule. I love it. The weather is amazing, and even though we will likely experience more snow, rain, and wind, it’s all doable from here on out. Even the 10 inches of snow that fell last Tuesday melted before the day was over, so I feel comfortable relegating the trainer to the basement (even though my coach would surely like me to use it more often). I expect leaves on the trees in the next two weeks. This is surely my favorite time of year! Mild weather, the promise of breakfast in the sun on the porch, electric green vegetation, and the prospect of a summer of long hot bike rides through the Palouse. Happy Earth Day!
Last shot of me racing before my club race meltdown.