Break a leg. Do a triathlon.

Ever wonder if you could do a triathlon? I did once or twice, but never thought I had what it takes. Then in January 2014, I broke my leg. Well, one of my father-in-law’s highland bulls broke my leg. And though he was only a third grown, he weighed at least as much as an NFL lineman.

leg
Image may be subject to copyright.

The bull that broke me

This young bull rolled into my right leg, and I heard a pop and went down. My right tibial plateau was broken, and it changed my life.

A week and two titanium screws later, I began eight weeks of crutches, Percocet popping, boredom and the fear that my leg would never be the same. Tibial plateau breaks are bad ones because the plateau takes all the pressure and weight between the tibia and femur. It’s better to break the tibia or femur clean. My injury can take a full two years to “fully” heal.

A few days into recovery, I found myself numbly chewing my cereal and looking through the window toward the mountains. My forlorn gaze settled on a cud-munching bovine in the foreground. It was the bull that rolled me. We locked eyes. Through my Percocet haze, I sensed a sinister motive behind his vacant stare—he wanted to finish the job. Tears formed. I cried. It was the drugs, man.

Living vicariously

I passed the time playing Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. I felt wistful and jealous watching Edward Kenway run and jump and climb buildings and walls and dive off cliffs into the Caribbean blue. Watching him sprint, I fantasized that I was he—whole and hale and able to do all the things I could before the “big break.”

There were times I was mighty low. My wife’s return from work was a daily highlight. But one night she came home to a dimly lit den of despair and despondency. She spoke to me, but I could only look listlessly at the floor and ponder my darkness.

Here came the sun

Fast forward to April. Snow melted, rains ceased, and the Sierra Nevada winter finally ended. The clouds receded in the sky and in my soul. I graduated from crutches to cane and began to get some of my mobility back.

I’d hobbled my way to the gym a few times a week and now wanted/needed to step up my rehab. I started cycling … on a stationary bike. Four weeks later, I was cleared to lose the cane. I rode a real road bike, and it felt like the first time.

leg
pj training

My rehab took off. I rode fourteen miles to and from town and climbed hills in and out of the saddle, descending like a madman at forty miles per hour. I registered for two stages of RAGBRAI, a week-long mass bike ride across Iowa and began training for it three to five days a week.

Over the next year or so, I rode charity rides and Gran Fondos—you race against the clock and others in your age group. Iowa, Lake Tahoe, California wine country—I became a bike-riding fool. But I needed something more.

Learned to swim fast

I began swimming at the local lap pool, but didn’t know the first thing about freestyle. I learned to grab the water and pull it past me while rotating my hips by watching YouTube and learning from a friend who swam in high school.

When I started, I could barely swim the length of a 25-meter pool and back without gassing. Now I go 18 laps without a rest. It’s amazing how, with the right form and efficiency, I swim like a machine.

I saw a flyer for a sprint triathlon in nearby Graeagle, CA. I felt confident in the swim and bike segments, but wondered if my surgically repaired knee could handle the pounding of a three-mile run. Three miles is nothing to you joggers, but I hadn’t run that far since my Navy days and healthy knees.

Breathless, but not beaten

I began running. At first, I had a hitch in my step. It felt weird. I pushed through and began to feel more natural. Maybe I can do this! I worked myself up to two miles twice a week, but my time was horrible. Two-miles-in-25-minutes horrible. It was especially lame because I’d run a mile and half in 9:30 in my glory days.

I took the plunge anyway and signed up for the 2016 Donner Lake Triathlon, Sprint option—1/4 mile swim, 6-mile uphill/downhill bike course with nearly a thousand feet of climbing, and a 2-mile run. When the big day came, I felt ready.

leg
image may be subject to copyright

At the start line after arriving at 6:30 a.m., I had butterflies. To help steady myself, I chatted up the guy next to me. He’d done dozens of events, but still looked amped. We clasped hands in a kind of high-five variation just before the gun and sprinted into the water.

I felt okay at first, and then realized I couldn’t breathe. It didn’t make sense. I’d swam this distance no problem for weeks. Then it hit me. It was the elevation. Quincy, where I’d trained, is 3,500 feet. Donner Lake is nearly 6,000. Big difference when you’re doing your first “Tri” swim and are already nervous.

I was in trouble before the first turn. At that point, I abandoned all freestyle form and concentrated on keeping my head above the water while maintaining forward propulsion. Along my slow, torturous way, I made sure to keep giving the thumbs-up to the concerned lifeguards.

Lapped, but not licked

Somehow I huffed and puffed—and bluffed my way past the final turn by employing some strange variation of dog paddle/breaststroke. When I reached the point where my feet touched, I staggered upright and began bumbling the final dozen meters or so toward the swim finish mat.

That’s when I noticed a pink swim cap blow past me and then another and then another. Three women from the group who’d started five minutes behind my group had lapped me.

When I stepped onto that blessed mat, I saw faces filled with pity and heard voices of encouragement. Along with one who said, “the girls are lapping you, man.” I didn’t care. I had no pride left. I was just relieved my first tri swim was over.

It was humbling. But it was also the elevation.

Swam like a seal

My next triathlon in Santa Cruz went quite differently. At sea level, I entered the water last in my group and emerged before most of them. I could breathe this time and used my lanky ape arms to pass what seemed like a couple dozen fellow triathletes. I may have lapped a few people.

Feeling good, I slowed a bit to watch a seal about fifty yards off my starboard side. I shouldn’t have though because a girl bumped into my fantail, for which I apologized and resumed course and speed.

I did the “Aquabike” option of the Santa Cruz Tri—swim, bike. No run. Boom—finished second out of seven. It was glorious. Not bad for an old guy who couldn’t even walk 30 months before.

Don’t know, if you don’t Tri

If you’re intrigued with the challenge of a triathlon, do it. Don’t give in to doubt. It’s a blast. I’ve done two now and can’t wait for my next one.

leg
pj placed 2nd in group

But don’t break your leg first. Yeah, it’s better when you don’t break your leg. Going through the ordeal of a fractured tibial plateau and rehab and losing my mobility was an uber bummer. But it was just what I needed.

But hey, you can do a triathlon without going through all that misery. Just get a decent road bike and a helmet and have fun. Ride some mass rides and maybe even a Gran Fondo. Hit the lap pool. Dust off your running shoes. Break a leg. Oops. I’m glad I did.

If you were encouraged or motivated by this article, please comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

The hassle of hugging: If I must, I do it right.

hugging
Image may be subject to copyright.

Hugging. I’m not a natural hugger. I can count the number of times my mom hugged me on one hand. She’s not a natural hugger either.

My hugging hang-up haunted me for years. When older women hugged me, I experienced profound discomfort. I’m talking sweaty fear and blushing. And by the time I’d become a passable hugger, someone invented the side hug, and it was all the rage.

Side hugs are for chumps

I HATE side hugs. I’ve worked hard to develop my rudimentary hugging skills, and here comes this silly-safe side-hug hogwash. Perhaps it was created as an anti-predation measure for inappropriate touchers, but it’s a slap in the face to us non-pervs. Sadly, this pseudo hug has caught on like wildfire.

If a woman offers me a side hug, I say “No, thanks. It’s the real thing or nothing for me.” Or, “I’m good, thank you. I’m a married man. You know, because we men think hugs are so erotic.”

If this article entertains you, please comment below. I love feedback.

Tripping over Time: Why it’s inscrutable

time

I’m utterly fascinated by time. Specifically, its passage and how difficult, no, impossible, it is to comprehend. I think about time a lot. Time is a simple, linear, straightforward concept that trips me up every time.

Are you comfortable with it? Try this: stare at an atomic clock for three minutes. You’ll see that there’s nothing out of the ordinary about the tick-tock passage of time. But think about getting through the first week of a new job or waiting in a doctor’s office or for the first day of school. Time slows WAY down.

C.S. Lewis on time:

“The Future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”

time
C.S. Lewis

Lewis wrote of our inability to grasp time in his Reflections on the Psalms: “We are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished at it. ‘How he’s grown!’ we exclaim, ‘How time flies!’ as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty. It is as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed; unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.”

We struggle to grasp time passage because we weren’t created for it. It’s linear and limited; we’re fashioned for forever. We’re trapped in its constraints just as we’re trapped in our fragile bodies.

We know that time passes at the same rate regardless of how we spend it. But IT NEVER STOPS. We’ve all heard the expression, “Time marches on.” What a sobering thought. Sometimes it seems as if you can slow time to a wonderfully comfortable pace while at the beach at 10 a.m. on a weekday with only a few lifeguards, some hopeful seagulls, the bubbling surf and a good book.

It’s about perspective

I arrived at Navy boot camp on a balmy Florida night around midnight. They processed us, formed us into companies, assigned us “racks” (Navy-speak for bunks), had us fill out tons of paperwork and then finally, two hours later, led us to a sleepy barracks.

I climbed into my rack thinking how incredibly long the day had seemed. Up at 5 a.m., waiting in the processing station, then at the airport, flying to Orlando, riding a shuttle to boot camp … you’d think with all the activity it would have flown by. Not so. Everything was new. And I’d just been baptized in the Navy way—“hurry up and wait.”

time
pj in boot camp, November 1986

I fell asleep and what seemed like five minutes later some crazy man was banging a trash can, calling us names and yelling for us to get up. I blearily looked at my watch—4 a.m.—only two hours after I’d lain down. Two hours had felt like five minutes.

See what I mean? It was like the clock slowed and then sped up. Like in the movies when they make the hands spin.

Ever catch yourself trying to slow a wonderful moment? At that special, “timeless,” instant, you realize how much you’re enjoying life and how quickly the moment morphs into a memory. Oops—there it goes. Better take pictures.

Spaghetti monster

I worked at an advertising agency with a guy who was a bit of a Bohemian. I’ll call him John. John grew up as a hippie with hippie parents; he wore the same clothes to work each day and claimed that God is a spaghetti monster in the sky. And he made fun of people who think God is not a spaghetti monster in the sky.

John was for legalizing marijuana (and drugs in general) polygamy and other illegal activities. He was for whatever people want to do “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.” He lived for the day. No rules. No worries.

I’m not saying John’s philosophy is ALL wrong. I think he’s half right. There’s something incredibly freeing about taking each day as it comes and living in the moment. But when one lives in the moment with little thought for others or for the future, does he truly live a life worth living?

Carpe diem

Another guy, I’ll call him Harry, loved to get John to talk about God as the spaghetti monster in the sky. I think Harry longed to live like a Bohemian, but didn’t have the guts. He was more like George Costanza. He lived vicariously through John (but only when it was safe to do so).

What do John and Harry have to do with anything? This: Seizing each day and living in the moment is the way to go, but, it seems to me, only if it’s a lived with forever in mind. It took me a long time to get this. But I think, in the end, everyone does. Even the atheists.

If you trip over time, too, and/or enjoy this article, please let me know. I want to hear from you.