Archive for the 'Fitness' Category

The good news is I’m pretty sure I’m wearing pants again

Oh, yeah, the blog. It’s been a month since it was updated. Poor blog.

A couple of weeks back, I started to write a post one morning at home, but then I remembered I needed to check in on work and then Slade started crying and then Eli needed something to eat and then it was afternoon and I hadn’t showered. Or brushed my teeth. Or put on pants.

And that was my life life for almost three weeks, at home with the kids, trying to work remotely on projects with scary deadlines, not updating the blog, forgetting to wear pants.

Playing stay-at-home dad was an adventure (read: grease fire). But I survived without getting canned or putting my head in an oven or accidentally blowing up the house. So I can’t complain.

Plus, I have a newfound appreciation for you stay-at-home parents.

As to the rest of the last month. . .

Eli graduated from preschool. My pal Rick, a stay-at-home dad himself, says preschool graduation is an oxymoron. He’s right, of course. And the ceremony was certainly silly. But it was fun, too.

eli graduation

eli graduation may 2009

My parents visited in May, took care very good care of the boys, fixed the house, and then left. Eli asks daily when he gets to see them again. Slade, all of six months old, fussed for the better part of two days after the grandparents returned home. I suspect he’s already decided he likes Grammy better than his old dad.

I played triathlete.



Sally kissed a camel at a petting zoo. That’s right. A camel. My wife smooched one.


sally slade johnson city zoo


We soaked in Lake Austin most weekends. We like to complain about our neighborhood, but then we cruise down the hill to this:

lake austin 2009


And we realize we have it good.

I bet you do, too.


Motor oil lake

I’m standing waist-deep in the lake. “One minute, males 35 to 39,” says a voice through speakers on the edge of the water. The lake smells like sulfur, the visibility is maybe six inches, and I’m pretty sure I see oil floating on the water’s surface.

“30 seconds,” says the voice.

I woke up at 4:15 AM and paid 65 bucks for this—to swim in this gunk, to run barefoot across asphalt, to ride my bike as hard as a I can. I’m obviously not right in the head.

“8, 7, 6, 5,” counts down the voice from the speakers. I realize I haven’t reset my stop watch. Hell. I fiddle with it for a few seconds and can’t get it working.

“3, 2, 1.”

I look up. The race has begun, and I’m in dead last place. Damn. And I’m still standing in motor oil. Hell.

So begins my first triathlon of the year, dubbed the Rookie, the inaugural race in the Texas Tri Series.


Calling this race the Rookie is really a misnomer. Sure, I see a scattering of mountain bikes on the racks and a few out of shape dudes wearing baggy swimming suits.

But they’re the exception. The majority of the racers are serious about this stuff. Their bodies are skin and muscle and vein, their bikes are alien and aerodynamic and expensive. I suspect there aren’t many first timers out here.

The swim is Hobbesian: nasty, brutish, and short. My goggles fog up almost immediately, and as I swim, I bump into people and get kicked in the head and actually swim on top of one dude. I lift my eyes out of the water every few strokes to sight, but with 86 guys in my wave and the goggle fog and my right lens filling with water, I mainly see arms, legs, buoys, and lots of flying water.

I also eyeball a goat. I’m swimming next to a grassy island, and I look up, and there’s a goat chewing his cud, indifferent to all the splashing a few feet away. It’s a peaceful, bucolic picture, and it’s out of whack with the fist fight in the water here at motor oil lake.

After less than 10 minutes, I’m out of the water, out of last place, and running across pavement without shoes.

People cheer.

Part of me is smirking, thinking about how ridiculous I must look. But part of me is really into the race. A kid sticks his hand out, and I give him a high five as I jog past. Playing athlete is fun, even if I look silly.

The bike portion zips by. I crank by racer after racer going up the hills. They zoom back past me on the descents.

As I transition from the bike to the run, my calves cramp. The muscles suck in, forming knotty fists that make running tough and painful. But I keep going, slowly and awkwardly, more on my heels than toes. I get passed and passed and passed again.

About a half a mile in, the cramps weaken and then disappear all together. I’m able to pick up the pace, but I’m still not fast, puttering along at somewhere around eight minutes a mile.

And then, just like that, I make a hard left and cross the finish line and the race is over.

Standing around after, I chat with my friend Angela, who competed as well. We talk about the race and the crowds and our splits and the black sludge from the lake that stained her jersey.

She tells me she had fun. I tell her I had fun, too.

I load up my bike and my gear. I’m stinky. I’m hungry. I’m electric. I’m creaky. I drive home.

Climbing mountains

It’s hailing. Thunder booms and pebbles of ice ding my helmet and arms as I pedal down the mountain, descending from Columbine Mine at 12,600 feet to Twin Lakes, the low point on the course, which is still 9,200 feet above sea level.

Today is August, 9, 2003. Today is the Leadville 100, the race across the sky.

I’m 55 miles deep into the mountain bike race, and I’ve already crashed twice, suffered through cramps in my calves and thighs, and teetered on the brink of vomiting for at least an hour. It’s been a hard day, and it’s only going to get harder.

What I should be doing right now is concentrating on riding smart, on forcing food down, on picking right lines, on conserving energy, on not getting electrocuted by lightning.

But instead I keep thinking about Sally, my wife, who is waiting at the next check point with an iced bottle of Cytomax, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and mango slices, none of which I’ll want to choke down. I keep replaying the scene from that morning, me pulling together my gear for the race, Sally walking out of the bathroom, Sally showing me a plastic stick the size of a pen.

“Does that line mean what I think?” I had asked.

Sally nodded.

“Holy shit.”

Sally smiled broadly.

“You got that right,” she said. “Holy shit.”

On the bike, I well up, imagining Sally waiting for me in the storm, wondering about the cells dividing and growing in her belly. I’m thrilled and terrified and confused. This race. This hail. That that line on the stick. Holy shit, Holy shit. I’m going to be a dad.

Eight months and two weeks after Leadville, those cells in Sally multiplied and changed and combined and became Eli. In the middle of the night, wailing, covered in slime, Eli arrived, birthed without drugs.

I’m sure I was in shock: Holy shit. Me? A dad? Holy shit. But I bet I was also awestruck: Isn’t he beautiful? Isn’t this all very beautiful?

Eli turns five today. He’s wiry and sensitive like his old man, athletic and smart like his mother. I can’t imagine a better child. And I can’t imagine that life before him, that world of late-night dinners and long bike rides in white sunlight.

I enjoyed that time. I’m grateful to have had it. But I like this better, me riding bikes with Eli on the neighborhood trail, me holding Slade while he coos, me being a dad.

So happy birthday, Eli. Your mom and I are proud of you. We’re awfully glad to have you here.

As to the race? The Leadville 100? I broke and then I broke again, but I kept riding, my gut rotten, my body crushed, a slow flatlander destined to fail.

My goal was to finish in under 12 hours. At Leadville, if you beat 12 hours, you get a belt buckle, your name and time on a sweatshirt, and the pride of being an official finisher. If you finish in over 12 hours, you get jack squat.

With a time of 12 hours, 1 minute and 12 seconds, I got the jack squat.

It burned working that hard, coming that close, and failing. But I knew on August 9, 2003, just as I still know today, that I left every ounce of me on the course.

I’m not ashamed. Not one bit.

And besides, before the race ended, I was gearing up for the looming challenges of pregnancy, child birth, and daddyhood. New mountains were growing in my mind, and soon I would climb them.

I’m faster than Wonder Woman and the girl in the bikini with the tiara

I dominated the Capitol 10k on Sunday, and by dominated I mean came in 1483rd place. That’s right. 1483rd place. About a hundred yards from the finish, a 60-something gray-haired grandmother dropped me.

Picture courtesy of Chris Fronda.

Picture courtesy of Chris Fronda.

I did hold off the hard-charging dude dressed like Wonder Woman and the girl in the sparkly bikini with the tiara, so there was that. And my 51-minute time was a personal best.

Next year, I’m gunning for a top 1400 finish. Dream big, right?

Photo courtesy Chris Fronda

Photo courtesy Chris Fronda

Between the emotion and the response

It’s late Saturday, and Hollis’ rolling bachelor party has pulled in for its obligatory stop at Palacio, a strip club on Highway 290.

I don’t maneuver well here, in this blinking land of glitter and shadows where everybody expects to a tip—the girl you pay cover to, the tuxedo-sporting guy who opens the doors, the attendant in the bathroom. This is foreign space, a weird world where men in shinny shirts with slick hair and smarmy smiles command respect, a world where a pocket of 20’s makes you a celebrity.

Still, it’s a hoot to be out with old friends, drinking Lone Stars, yelling over the music, laughing about the inflatable sheep Hollis has to carry, and staring at boobs.

A couple of the dancers are out of their heads on speed, which is funny at first when they bubble and giggle, annoying when they camp out at our table, and finally depressing. Depressing because I think about how this is silly fun for us, a herd of middle-aged dudes, but for these dancers, this is their job, taking off their clothes, hitting up men in dark corners for private dances. This is what they do.

I ask one of the dancers—pushing forty, looking beat down—how her evening has been, and she tells me it’s been good. Nobody has tried to stick things inside her tonight. Nobody has pinched or slapped her. For some reason, she shares she’s raising two boys, aged 11 and 13, by herself.

“What do you tell them you do?” I ask.

“The truth,” she says.

She tells me they accept it, that they ask for video games by arguing, “It’s only three dances, mom.”

I suddenly feel lousy for her and her kids. And I realize I prefer the dancers 20 feet away, smiling and beautiful on stage, not here at the table, where the fantasy becomes reality, where they unfold and wilt and become human.

So I stop talking with the dancers.

On Sunday, I wake up early, the Lone Stars and Mexican food from the night before sloshing around inside like thick poison. I think about the toxic world of the strip club. I think about the toxins inside myself, the caffeine and sugar I’ve practically mainlined these past few months, the beer and television I consume that leaves me numb and dumb.

My body is a dump, I decide. I’m polluting myself, and I need to change.

So a couple of days ago, I began a week-long detox. I cut junk food, junk television, and caffeine. For an entire week, I am not to drink a drop of Coke, eat a single jelly bean, or chug Red Bull in the afternoon to stay awake.

I am allowing myself one beer or glass of wine in the evening, but only if I exercise during the day. I figure it’ll help motivate me, and so far it’s working.

Yesterday, I ran over lunch with a buddy of mine and shared my cleansing scheme. He told me a few years ago he attempted something similar. He awoke one Saturday with a hangover and decided right then and there that he would never drink again.

“How’d that go?” I asked.

“I had two beers later that night,” he said.

Thankfully, I’ve already made it a little longer.

Counting strokes

“What am I doing here?” That’s thought one. It’s 58 degrees on Sunday afternoon, and I’m swimming alone in Lake Austin. Nobody else is on the water. No kayakers. No wakeboarders. No other stupid swimmers.


“How long before I go hypothermic?” That’s thought two. Sure, I’m wearing a wet suit, but it’s leaking, and the water, which comes from the bottom of Lake Travis just upstream, is so cold it gives me an instant headache. I’m pretty sure my feet are numb, too.  

“That’s it. I’m swimming back, putting on a parka, and turning the heat on full blast in the car.” That’s thought three.

To keep going, I count strokes, using them as miniature goals. I see if I can get to 10, and when I do, I do 10 more. My stop watch marks another milestone I set; if I’m shaking after seven minutes, I’m returning to land.

Five minutes in, my body does warm up. My mind drifts, and I’m thinking about sighting, scanning the rocks below for fish, and wondering what lurks beneath in the green water. Alligators? Cotton mouths? Dead bodies?

I go back to counting. I’d rather not think about what’s in the water.

I turn around around a third of mile from where I started. I’m still counting strokes, pulling my head just above the water every fifteenth one to look for boats and land. My breathing grows deeper, and I settle into the swim. I feel stronger and stronger as the dock comes into view, and my workout comes to an end.

When I stand up in the knee-deep water, my balance is off, and I stumble like a drunk out of the lake. I’m not as warm as I thought I was. My hands are compressed and shaking, and I’m having difficulty tying my shoe laces.

But I feel really good. Electric. Focused. Unstoppable.

And that’s the payoff for the pain. That transient buzz of power and immunity at the finish. It’s the real reason I’m out here—not to train for a triathlon, not to get fit, but for that high.  

Now if I could just tie those dumb laces.

Red Bull isn’t like the others. It’s your friend.

I shouldn’t be awake, and I definitely shouldn’t be drinking and blogging. But that’s exactly what I’m doing.

I had three beers tonight and not weak American lagers, either. No sir, mine were high-gravity microbrews, the fancy stuff with the floral hops and the lacing and lots of alcohol.

Also, I drank Red Bull, coffee, and Mountain Dew today.

Also, I need more sleep, but I’m still awake. Damn it.

Also, I exercised today, full-court basketball over lunch and weights in the afternoon. Yesterday, I ran 4 miles, which sucked, every jarring step. I worked out the day before that and the day before that, too. Five hours from now, I’ll be pedaling my road bike on smooth pavement, wondering why I’m not smart and asleep.

Mine is a hazy world right now with the sleep deprivation and the overtraining and the caffeine abuse and the beer. I’m probably headed for a collosal crash. But I just can’t rewire my motor. I can’t turn this machine off.

On the bright side, I now know what it feels like to be a junkie. In the morning, when I’m pushed out of bed because of Snurp meowing in my ear or Chuck, who’s breath smells suspiciously like cat feces, panting in my face, I feel stoned. I’m foggy, unsure if I’ve fed the trash or taken out the Snurp.

By mid-morning, the coffee I gulped like its Gatorade on the way to work is zooming through my insides. I’m gregarious. I’m fixing things. I’m twitching. My co-workers think I’m on meth.

By mid-afternoon, I’m stoned again. My lunch-time workout has zapped my energy, and I’m staring out the window and probably drooling. So I down a Mountain Dew—20 ounces of antifreeze green sugar and sweet, sweet caffeine—and soon, I’m talking too much, and my co-workers are looking at me funny.

By the time I make it home, the fog has returned. I pound a Red Bull, zip through dinner, and read Eli a night-time story, strung out, jumpy, awake.

And then it’s just Slade and me till 1:00 or 2:00 when he starts grunting and smacking, and I take him in to Sally, who’s running on even less sleep, for the late-night shift.

Okay, I’m off to bed now. Except I’m still wide awake, damn it. So maybe I’ll drink one more beer. Maybe then I’ll be able to really sack out.