Monday, November 26, 2012

A GlamTriathlete Chronicle on the 140.6 Ironman Cozumel 2012

I read somewhere that the best person to tell you about the person is the very same person. It's not like they are going to say, "I'm sooooooooooooo fabulous!" or "I will be an asshole to you so stay away" but it is in their anecdotes and sometimes in what they don't say that says so much.
I took the ferry out from Cozumel at 5 pm and as I waited to board, I noticed several people arriving and looking very green.
That was a definite sign.
The 40-minute ferry ride pitched a bit more than usual and to say that some looked like screaming in Technicolor was an option is a bit of an understatement. Since my bike was loaded onto the front of the barge, I had to wait until all the passengers disembarked to get off. As I waited, the boat rolled and people staggered forward and back. As the last person stepped off the boat, a man in a wheelchair came up to me and started chatting me up. It turns out he is an inspirational speaker, part of the entertainment of the cruise ship that was in port at the next dock over.
He asked me if I was on the island for the Ironman.
"To watch and cheer people on," I replied.
Felix Bernhard. The inspirational speaker I met on the Cozumel ferry the day before the Cozumel 140.6 Ironman.
I went on to explain that I do triathlons but I don't feel like it's in me to do a full Ironman.
"I don't know you but I feel your spirit and feel that you can," he said.
The words struck me in a way that I didn't quite understand until later (and perhaps even now). In a moment of absolute serendipity, a person I had never expected to meet, says something I never expected to hear and in passing, made me marvel at the beauty of a chance meeting. I asked if he would like to grab something to eat but his ship sailed in half an hour.
And just like that, a person I had not known for more than half an hour changed me ever so slightly and then disappeared over the horizon.
That next morning, the current was misleading and the swim started out as normal as could be. Until the turn. And many athletes were stuck looking at the same spot on the ocean floor for five minutes. Some hung onto the buoys like fleas on a dog, the waves bucking around them.
When I got to the bike course, many were looking terrible by the second lap. Many cramped up when they got off the bike, wobbling across the burning asphalt to the transition tent. Thomas was so sick to his stomach, he could not pedal. A pro triathlete by the name of Maki Nishiuchi felt so weak from the cold that still plagued her that she dropped out as well.
Pro triathlete Maki Nishiuchi with my buddy Arturo. She dropped out during the bike 
because she felt pretty bad.

And as I waited around T2, I met Ken Glah, an absolutely iconic triathlon legend.
Me with the great Ken Glah of triathlon fame. A complete honor.

"The Great Ken Glah," I had said.
"That was a long time ago," he replied.
The comment made me think a little. Here is a man who has done the Ironman World Championship in Kona (the granddaddy of all triathlons) 29 consecutive times and normally finishes strong or in the top 10. How hard do you have to be on yourself to be able to say that your greatness has long since passed when you do what very few can?
I rode out to the bike course and stopped at an aid station, where I watched athletes look for food and water. There were people milling about, fielding water bottles to take home with them. And one particular boy, portly and ill coordinated, was screaming at athletes for them to throw their bottles to him. In one such moment, the bottle landed near three children (among which was the screamer) and the one who got there first was a girl.
The boy started screaming at his father, telling him that he should have moved faster and because he didn't, that little girl got his bottle. And in a gesture of good will, the girl went up to the father and with some words and a smile, handed him her prize.
I wasn't having it. At all.
So in a voice loud enough for the girl, boy and his parents could hear, I told her that she shouldn't give that little boy a bottle because he has so many already. Another bottle flew and landed several feet from where she was.
"That's yours," I told her. "Don't you be giving it to that little boy."
The kid in the red t-shirt had just fallen as he scrambled to get to a water bottle. He was screaming at 
his father (left) to get the bottle as his mother (right) screamed at the kid.

Back in town, the run was well underway and many were walking it. A Spanish triathlete told me that the bike was so hard at points that when people got to the run, they had nothing left.
So I marveled at the fact that while he sat reading "Anna Karenina", a bespecled man was waiting for his 54-year-old wife to finish her 8th Ironman.
Then in wobbled Greg. He gingerly sat down: his right knee was in pain, the soles of his feet were blistered and the top of his foot had skin stripped off from the friction with his shoe. And all he thought about was his mother, who had felt a little ill and was taken back to the hotel. When Aline asked if he would like her to call the hotel and find out how she was doing, he replied with a very controlled, "Yes please." And when it was reported that his mother was being taken care of, he held up his finisher's medal slightly, gripped the ribbon and cast his sight to the floor. And I saw for a moment that look of relief and guilt. Relief because his mom was okay and guilt because he feels that it is his fault that she was in that situation, for coming out to cheer him on.
It isn't your fault.
He took off a shoe and showed me where his kids signed. For good luck. He told me how in IM Canada, they were at the swim start, the exit, T1, saw him on the bike three times, on the run and at the finish line.
I couldn't help feeling moved. And I thought how lucky his sons are to have a daddy like him. So that they can grow up to be men. Just like that Ironman dad of theirs.
And on the way home, on the noisy ferry where I tried to sleep, in the freezing darkness of the bus to Cancun and on the bike ride back to my house, I thought about all the people I had met and how all their actions painted their canvases. From Bratty on the bike course and the woman who hit me on the arm to wake me so that I could make room for her daughter to sit on the ferry (who sang along with the onboard entertainment all the way to the port in Playa del Carmen) to a humble triathlete star and the IronDad who raved over the use of the plastic bag filled with ice water and "why don't they use them in the States?"
I thought about the human spirit, in all its uneven perfection. The sheer beauty of it and how it humbles you in the most profound ways imaginable. And I realized that its perfection is based on one simple thing:
Reaching out to another.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Finishing Last

I think the thing I most love about triathlons is that it is a race against you. A competition with your doubts and limitations. But you decide whether or not you finish. And with 20 seconds left on the clock to the 17-hour cut off too a 3.8 km swim, 180 km bike ride and a full marathon, a 77-year-old woman crosses the finish line in the Ironman World Championships in Kona. She was the very last official finisher of the day and I just can’t help feeling like she was biggest winner of the day. She had to qualify to do this race, meaning she had to have trained and done another IM somewhere else to get to Kona. She had the setbacks of age to deal with and looking at her, you know that “impossible” is a fallacy.
Harriet Anderson, if I had been there, I would have given you the biggest hug in the world.
You are an Ironman.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fashion: The Kona Underpants Run

Last Thursday before the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, there is a race called the Kona Underpants Run. It takes place the Thursday before the event and started as a protest of solidarity with the locals who were offended by visiting triathletes wearing just Speedos to restaurants, stores, etc... The race started with three runners and has now garnered a huge following, which is known primarily as being a charity run.
The rules are simple: look ridiculous wearing your underwear out and about. No long underwear, boxers, etc. Tighty whities are a key piece in your attire.
Not everyone respects the rules. Especially since we triathletes want to look as good as we possibly can even when we are supposed to look dorky.
Case in point are Angi Green and the girls from Betty Designs. I get the feeling that a lot of people wished the Saturday’s female competitors would dress like these ladies.
Here is a highlight of memorable runners.
The Wattie Ink Girls at the Kona Underpants Run

Tighty whities, present and accounted for at the Kona Underpants Run.
Loincloth Underpants Runners for the Kona Underpants Run 2011.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

On Lance, Testicles and a Sort of Homecoming

Sometimes you just can't deny who you are.
I ran into Maritza in a Starbucks during lunch and she asked me if I was going to do the ITU Cancun Triathlon that weekend. There would be a sprint and an Olympic-length.
"Come on Fumiko," she had said. "You're really good."
Good? I was normally one of the last people to finish. How was I good?
I saw Aline, who I met at my very first triathlon in 2008, online later that day. And so I asked her: why do people think I'm good?
Because I put my heart into it, she had said. That I don't care what anybody else thinks and that because I wrote all my Fumi-Chronicles, exposing all the parts that no one wants to admit about themselves.
I was stunned. I write my chronicles because that's my therapy. I never meant for them to be anything more than that.
That next night, I registered for the Sprint.
And there I was again, setting up my transition, surrounded by the people I admired and respected. I got down to the beach and saw the people milling about, waiting for the start. Some people congratulated me because they knew that I have had a hard time coming back to the sport.
"Welcome back," they said.
Welcome back.
And as I watch my friend Ruben Grande, the man who was so much more a man even without his right leg, hop into the water in his own swim start, I wanted to cry. I had left this sport angry, frustrated and despondent. I didn't understand why I was doing it and why I had to suffer as much as I did. And like a parent who has finally come back home to her child, my baby welcomed me back without a single questioning glance.
I am so sorry for having left you.
"Red caps please come forward!"
We walked to the starting line. I know how to do this. Why am I nervous?
The horn.
This was what I would later baptize as a "sardine swim". Women on all sides of me, trying to swim to the next buoy. I touched ass so many times that I was waiting for a bitch slap to fly. I swam over sargasso and sea stars and made a mental note of the muscles that hurt: the muscles I have to work on in the gym.
I got to the turn and swam back. I saw the two cheese triangle buoys and swam between them. I jumped over mushy sargasso and ran down the stretch to T1. It started to drizzle as I ran.
Take off cap. Stuff into suit. Pull hair out of bun and tie back the loose strands away from face. Put on helmet, sunglasses, race belt.
I'm outta here.
The mount/dismount area was far from the bike parking but I felt like an expert as I got on my bike and raced off. It was now full-on raining as I raced after those in front of me. And even though the last time I've been on a bike was months before, I could feel my legs falling into a rhythm that told me one thing: I belonged.
And as I passed people up, I thought about how hard it is sometimes to start but how even harder it is to keep going. And then I thought about Lance Armstrong and a recent interview I had read. He was talking about cancer and about this one time how he went into a restaurant. While he was there, he went to the bathroom and the kitchen was nearby. He overheard the kitchen workers:
"Hey, you know Lance Armstrong is here."
"Where is he?"
"In the bathroom."
"Why don't you go and rub his testicle for him?"
He told the interviewer that he had heard every ball joke there was. And I thought about it: it is really easy to criticize him but how many of us can actually stand having something that is that personal thrown into our faces, day in and day out?
And I thought back to when I was living in Mexico City. There are very few Asians there and I was reminded of that fact every single day for 10 and a half years:
"Look, there goes a chinita (little Chinese girl)."
"Are you Chinese or Japanese?"
"Can you see with your eyes being so small?"
"Can you see like us? I mean, do you see everything like in a line?"
You kind of start hating people for a while. It wears on you and you want to start carrying a gun. To be told such ignorant things so many times makes you think that perhaps we suck as a species.
And then I understood, if only just a bit, what Lance felt. I had a whole city try to beat me down; he has entire countries who know that most personal thing about him and who try to do the same thing. It became very clear to me why he stopped his fight; it just wasn't fucking worth it to listen to idiots when all you had to do was listen to yourself.
I have heard the stories: he's a diva who's a royal pain in the ass. But I choose to defend him and until I meet him and see for myself, I will not do otherwise. And as I ran across the finish line, I knew that you have to be a very strong person to come back and compete and be in the spotlight again, exposing yourself to the media and the speculation.
Who am I to criticize him?
He has balls. And so do I.
I finished. Whether I was medal-worthy or not is pretty insignificant. I came back to do what I have to do because the time was right and I belong. And as one competitor asked another what he was going to do, he replied, "I'm going to triumph."
And that's what I just did.
Welcome back.
ITU Cancun 2012

Friday, October 5, 2012

I'm a Triathlete and I'm Sick in the Head

So I’ve decided.
After my last 70.3 Ironman, I was pumped. This was my event. This was MY race. I wanted more.
So I decided that I wanted to do at least two 70.3s in 2012.
I registered for my first one in March. The second one was going to be in September.
Then in January, the deal-breaker: I was sitting on the prow of a boat, sailing two hours out from Cancun on very choppy water when we flew over a huge wave. Everyone came crashing down with such force that one woman went right through the windshield.
I knew I had scoliosis but that day, the condition had worsened ten fold. I couldn’t sleep on my back. I went to a physical therapist, who told me that it was not muscular and referred me to the chiropractor. I had five sessions to do, one every two weeks.
Adios 70.3 #1.
After I had healed and was reduced to just maintenance sessions every two months, I started training for a full Ironman, taking my 70.3 as a training session in preparation for the full distance. At first, it was all good: I could do the runs and the biking sessions, no problem.
The problem began with the swim.
“Do 4000 meters in 1:00 hr,” the training plan would say.
One hour? Only people like my man-turned-dolphin swim coach could do that with any sort of ease. I’m just a mere mortal and my technique wasn’t all that great. But I went at my pace and didn’t care about times.
And then it started to get worse.
I would run mid-morning so that I could get used to the sun. The beating sun that would choke us all during the marathon.
And it choked the life right out of me and so much so that I became increasingly frustrated. Three Sundays in a row where I was increasing the run time by 10 minutes per session and three times in a row where I was running virtually the same distance.
I was beaten.
But people like me, we can’t just not do anything.
So I got back into the gym. Started working out. Started getting picked up on by married men. You know the drill.
I went to cheer on my friends at 70.3 Ironman in Cozumel. The second 70.3 came and went.
Adios 70.3 #2.
I saw a lot of my friends at the event. I saw a lot of inspiring people. I even saw a lot of people who were inspired by me. And I had a lot of people ask me “why aren’t you doing this event?”
And I knew I had to go back.
So I am.
Tomorrow marks the first event I'll do this year. A sprint triathlon in what could be rainy weather. It'll be fun. It'll be a work out. It'll be going back to me and who I am.
I'm back.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Triathlons: The 70.3 Cozumel Ironman 2012

The raspberry pound cupcakes were still warm when I got on the ferry to Cozumel, the night before the 70.3 Ironman. I had made them for all my triathlon friends who were doing the event and of whom, in the end, none of which partook in cakey goodness. I had just met Victor, who had come on the bus from Cancun as well, and we talked about competitions and bikes. I gave him a cupcake which he ate with gusto, even scraping the cake crumbs off the paper wrapper with his teeth.
At 5 o’clock that next morning, I was walking on a dark winding road near the sea. I set up camp by the gang-plank next to the Chankanaab Dolphinarium and as the athletes passed by, Amy, the voice of every single one of the IMs in the area called our attention to a little green raft, guarded by lifeguards on surf boards. A man decided to give his little girl, Ana (who suffered from brain damage), a chance at seeing the things she might have never seen otherwise: he was doing the competition with her; he was towing her in the green inflatable raft the 1.2 miles. Luis Enrique Gutierrez, her father, inspired by the story of Team Hoyt (Dick and his son, Rick) and the similarities between Rick's and Ana's conditions, decided to share a bit of that happiness that comes from sports with his daughter.
Ana's father, Luis Enrique, carries her to T1 in the 70.3 Ironman Cozumel 2012
The rest of the athletes were waiting for their wave to be called and they got a lovely show of dolphins elegantly jumping out of the water. As much as I dislike the idea of zoos, circuses and dolphinariums, I couldn’t deny how incredible it is to see these animals.
When Ana and her father came out of the water, I pretty much lost it. He carried her with all the care and gentleness that you would give to the most precious thing you had ever owned. I pretended to take photos of the park as I waited for the lump in my throat to disappear.
On the bike, I kept running into friends. At the bike turn-around, Hector and Kike’s loud orange shirts made them blend in to their surroundings. We collected empty water bottles on the side of the road and looked like hungry squirrels, hoarding nuts for the winter.
Kike and Hector: The New Ironman Divider Cones 2012
As the sun continued to blaze, we searched for the little shade that was left.
And it was only 9 in the morning.
A female triathlete passed the turn-around when I heard what seemed to be the crunching of a beer can.
It was the woman’s bike: the deraillieur on her carbon fiber frame made such a distinctive noise that it was bit appalling.
I rode back into town and other competitors, knowing full well that I wasn't competing (I looked like a virtual pack mule with a knapsack, a Tupperware full of cupcakes and a plastic bag filled with bike bottles, all on a mountain bike), smiled, laughed and cheered me on. And I knew that those types of triathletes/absolute strangers would be friends of mine, had we met.
Hector collecting bike bottles off the street so that competitors won't have accidents in the 70.3 Ironman Cozumel. That guy behind him looks like he wants to contribute to the pile.
Back in town, I was watching athletes run a very humid 13.1 miles.
The atmosphere was getting more and more electric. People were in the streets cheering on random strangers, smiling and telling you you can do it. Some zipped by with the elegance of race track horses. Others were losing their steam.
And there was Genaro.
Genaro's good friend is an Ironman who, three weeks before this 70.3, told Genaro that he was completely exhausted after his last event and wouldn't be able to do the competition.
Without meaning to sound vulgar, he asked "Do you want my slot?"
Without hesitation, he said yes.
As it were.
Having never run more than 6-8 miles, Genaro did what I would have deemed suicidal: run in homemade sandals, do a 70.3 without having specifically trained for it and run 13.1 miles without having ever done the distance in training. Ever.
Like me, he got into barefoot running and had been fashioning his own sandals. Karla had his kicks, should he have wanted them during the race. We were very close to the start of the lap and she looked worried when he came back to start his second lap, limping. He was jogging and was in pain. I ran with him for about 200 meters, giving him advice and telling him to take it easy.
The sun beat down upon us but we kept cheering people on.
Running with Ruben Grande in the 70.3 Ironman Cozumel 2012
And then, my hero of heroes, Ruben Grande came along. There is a certain type of happiness that comes from just being there in the presence of a person. I don't know if I can explain it as an emotion, a situation or even as chemistry in the air. What I do know is that when a person smiles after having done a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride and is about to finish a 13.1 mile run after bobbing up and down on a prosthetic leg, you know that person is:
1. Very abnormal
2. Perhaps an overachiever and a sado-masochist and
3. The person you'd most likely hang out with because he's just as sick in the head as you are.
And that's all good.
And so as I watched Luis Enrique run with Ana in her stroller to the finish line, I knew that the only reason I would want to have a kid was to teach him to become a man of measure and to become a triathlete, not because I am one but because it was where time and time again, I saw the two things that I thought worth teaching and that are the two most valuable things in the whole wide world:
Humanity and spirit.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Triathlons: Meeting Heroes and Tweeting Them

I started thinking about doing a triathlon when I hit 30. A good friend of mine had done one in honor of her mother who passed from breast cancer. It wouldn't be until years later that I would actually do one. I would buy magazines and read about the newest gadgets.
It was in December 2008 when I did my first sprint.
Nine months later, I would do my first 70.3 Ironman.
Michellie Jones was there and I was such a giddy schoolgirl that I couldn't even say "hi" when she walked past me. I would see her at the Cancun 70.3 until the 70.3 World Championships were moved to take place two weeks before. No one, pro or otherwise, would be foolish enough to risk injury by doing the two events back to back. And the World Championships being what they are, EVERYONE prefers that over Cancun.
So that was the end of my ever properly meeting Michellie.
Or was it?
A while back, I took a blogging class and Twitter was a big part of pimping your blog. Follow the people you like and conduct conversations with these people.
So I open Twitter the other day and saw that Michellie had a bit of a rough patch with a fellow swimmer at the pool. So I tweeted a response.
GoMichellie tweets GlamTriathlete