The Coaster 2016 & 2017

The Coaster 2016 & 2017

The Coaster

I won’t retell the history of the coaster, but it’s a complex New Year’s Resolution tradition that I’ve carried with me to Australia.

How did BJR do on last year’s Coaster?

BJR did poorly.

  1. Writing Mum a handwritten card once/month. DeliveredWhen I visited Mom, she had several cards displayed. In the world of email, a handwritten note can have more meaning than it used to.
  2. Microadventure with my pal Tash once a quarter – 0/4. Didn’t even do one. Huge fail.
  3. Meditation – this went away after one month. Unfocused.
  4. Sub 11 hour Ironman at Cairns – this one disappeared quickly. Without question the least training I’ve done for any half or full. Led to “retirement” from triathlon. Slow.
  5. Swim 250K in the last six months of the year.  Maybe I did 10K total in those six months. Drowned.
  6. Apply for Aussie Citizenship. Good on ya! And passed my test. Just waiting to be sworn in…
  7. Raise $100K for Room to Read. Proud. My friends are crazy generous.
  8. Private goal A: Failed. 
  9. Private goal B: Failed.

So, 3/9 is a pretty poor year. That’s an F- for those of you scoring at home (insert your favorite scoring at home joke here – actually insert mine, mine is funnier).

How does BJR feel about 2016 in general?

In response to all the dramatic emotional outbursts about 2016 and the death of celebrities, I recently said:

Stop anthropomorphizing an arbitrary revolution of the earth around the sun. It bears you no ill will.

So, while yes, 2016 is an arbitrary period of time, it does give us all a chance to reflect. There is no shortage of things I should be grateful for, and at the same time, a mountain of ways I could have been a better human. But to try and sum it up in a few simple statements:

  • I am proud of the people I work with, and amazed by them every day.
  • My inability to understand my own limits not only caused myself, but others, a great deal of pain.
  • I am fortunate beyond anything I could possibly deserve, and need to spend more time appreciating that
  • I need to spend more time serving others and less time on a laptop, iPad, or phone.

Best of ’16

bjr-atop-kepler-track-in-snow

  • Best Movie: Captain Fantastic
  • Best Movie made before last year but I hadn’t seen: Warrior
  • Best Night’s Sleep: first night in Poland in late November.
  • Best Yogurt: Greek (specifically the Tamar stuff)
  • Best Non-fiction Book: Sapiens
  • Best Adventure: Kepler Track with NVB
  • Best Day: Cycling in the mountains around Barcelona
  • Comeback Fruit of the Year: Peaches

In the year of our BJR two-thousand-and-seventeen

This year’s coaster ceremony was a tight knit group. We moved from the home of the Buntings to try something new, to a Japanese restaurant (still not quite the pub origins of the coaster). Overall, this coaster probably doesn’t push my limits as much as some have in the past, but last year I simply over-committed and as a result was miserable in many aspects of my life. So, here’s 2017:

1. Be the fly that hits the wall

The World Transplant Games record for the 200m Individual Medley for age group 40-49 is 03.01.99. Mr T. O’Hagan of the United Kingdom, I think I can get within 30 seconds of that. We’ll see. Right now, I can only do about 15m of Butterfly, and I’ll need to get to 50m.

2. Mum, it’s me. Your son. Your son Bryan. The one in Australia.

I didn’t talk to Mum nearly enough this year. I will call Mum every three weeks. Minimum talk time: 30 minutes.

3. Secret Squirrel

My friends put this one on my Coaster. I’m an open book. Perhaps too open. Regardless, I now must go on three dates with the same person, and not tell a single other soul (other than the person I’m on the date with). I’m still not sure if my friends think it’s not healthy for me to talk about all the details of my life, or whether they are just sick of hearing me talk and will find any reason to shut me up.

4. Me llamo Bryan. ¿Donde están sus pantalones?

I will visit Spain twice this year, first for our European customer conference in Barcelona, and then again for the World Transplant Games in Málaga. I studied Spanish in high school, but it’s stale and at best ‘survival Spanish’ and I’d love to rekindle my meager conversational skills. I’ll spend two hours each month from January through June speaking Spanish with a fluent speaker, and dealing with them laughing at my horrible verb conjugation. Voy a la playa con su hermana. No, no – Fuí a la playa con su madre.

5. Build a Belly

A few good friends are Buddhists, and my travels in Cambodia have made me want to understand it more. I’ll spend 15 hours studying Buddhism this year to understand the history, the philosophy, and the practice. I hear reincarnation is making a comeback (not a BJR original, 100% plagiarism).

6. Hermit on the Horizon

At some point in my life, I will flee the city of Sydney and head to a smaller town. Ideally, I’d live on the beach somewhere between Forster and Noosa. But, I actually know next to nothing about most of the towns along that coastal stretch. So, I’ll take at least a week long trip North of Sydney to figure out if that’s really the someday-future home of BJR.

7. Where’s the Beef?

I will have 2 servings or less of red meat in the entire year of 2017. I don’t each much red meat – even after discovering that lamb is red meat (they are white on the outside, so I just assumed). I’m going to cut it out entirely this year, largely for ecological reasons. It’s a small measure, but every year I try and reduce my footprint a little bit more, while still keeping my feet the same size. My friends suggested I allow myself 2 servings in case of emergency, like if I’m trapped in an elevator with a cow and a BBQ for 24 hours. Note that would still count in my book as 1 serving.

8. Build a Clock

I can’t provide the details on this one. It’s private, because it impacts other people, and I want them to be surprised when I build my army of sociopathic robots. I, for one, welcome our new artificially intelligent overlords.

9. Kampouchea

Before the end of the year, I will return to Cambodia. Just thinking about this makes me smile.

Onward

Here’s to a great 2017.

Sharks: Conquering fear with stupidity

Sharks: Conquering fear with stupidity

So far, my quest for “new experiences” in 2015 has been going swimmingly. Literally, as you’ll soon learn. While my third “experience” was planned, the last two weeks have not been the metronome of life that lulls you into a false sense of security, but instead a reminder of how stumbling through the days can surprise you with both the good and the bad.

Sometimes you don’t know what you just experienced

About four weeks ago, I went for a triple lap swim from Manly beach to Shelly beach, the most common swim in Manly, that every day at 7 AM features a crazy, madcap group called The Bold and Beautiful. I tend to avoid the crowds and go early, also so I can grab an earlier ferry and get my work day started. That morning my teammate and I started at 5:40 AM, and it was still dark, but the moonlight was bright, there were no clouds in the sky, the water was completely transparent, and the waves almost non-existent. Every stroke felt perfect, as we swam around a sailboat to reach Shelly beach.

Three weeks ago, my teammate was late and I hastily concluded he was a no-show, and I hopped in by myself. I swam the first lap in the dark, solo. The moonlight was still bright, the waves were a little bigger, and the water was cloudier.

The feeling of sensory debt combined with physical exertion is a strange recipe, but for me it was like concentrated adrenaline – like the feeling of standing next to a speaker with the sound vibrating through every bone. I was seriously worried I had just stumbled across a potential addiction.

Sheepishly confessing my new nocturnal aqua-philia to some teammates, I was met with one alarming response after another, all pretty much saying the same thing:

You know that most shark attacks happen at dawn and dusk, right?

1024px-Carcharhinus_obscurus_at_Seaworld

No. No, I did not know that. I was unaware. I knew that dusky sharks (picture above), about a meter long, are seen commonly around this area, and I had caught a glimpse of one while swimming, but that didn’t really bother me at the time. And, they aren’t really the sharks you worry about.

I quote the same Emily Dickenson’s line all too often, but it seems to apply to much of life: “But Light a newer Wilderness, My Wildnerness has made”. “Light” and knowledge are not always a good thing, and they can illuminate things you did not want to see or know.

Two weeks ago, my wetsuit was packed for a triathlon over the weekend, so Friday morning I walked down at 5:30 AM, sans wetsuit for the first time. The waves were massive, breaking into the beach and on the rocks loudly. The moonlight was absent, and cloud cover made even the lights along Manly beach difficult to see. After a few deep breaths I jumped in, swimming out. My first real breath told me I was in trouble – I couldn’t see the waves coming at me. I could hear them and time my duck dives but coming back up to the surface I couldn’t be entirely sure what direction I was facing. I could still tell generally that the rocks were still on my right because I could hear the waves crashing against them. I swam on. The distraction of the waves kept me focused, and I made it through the swells and could just see the blurry lights of Shelly in the distance, about 700 meters away.

That’s when I freaked out.

Without a wetsuit, I felt a lot more vulnerable. I was having a hard time sighting in the swells, and could not make out any of the shore in the pitch black. The twenty repeated conversations of the last week filled my head:

  • Sharks feed when it’s dark. Dark? Check.
  • Sharks feed when the water is cloudy. Cloudy water? Check.
  • Sharks like tender meat raised in cold climates with foreign accents. Check.

About five minutes into the swim, when I should be half-way to Shelly, I realized I couldn’t tell if I was making progress or not. I knew that I was, but I had no visible proof. My mind kept repeating the same mantra: Shark. Shark. Shark. Shark. I mentally psyched-out myself and turned around. I was not terribly happy for the rest of the day.

Last Friday

I was not going to be beaten by my own brain. I told enough people what had happened the week before and told them I was going to go back and swim in the dark. So now I couldn’t back out.

5:40, I entered the water, once again with a few strange looks from people up early enough to look at a lone figure walking into the water in the dark. There was a little more light from the week before, and the waves were a little smaller.

I battled constantly with my own brain – “Think about what’s on your calendar today.” Sharks. “Think about what you’ll eat for lunch.” Sharks. “Think about sharks.” Ack! At one point the minimal light piercing the water revealed the dark and light shapes of rocks and sand on the bottom. At one point, probably from the turbulence of my stroke, my mind caught something moving out of the corner of my eye, and I curled into a ball as if getting ready for impact. Ridiculous. I started laughing to myself, and from then on, the swim was fine.

strava

Note the GPS is not accurate when swimming and I swim a lot straighter than those lines, and I don’t swim onto rocks.

Mission accomplished. But I have no desire to keep doing this. I am cured of any momentary addiction that might have been. I can see doing this once a year as a ritual, but that’s about it. But it’s definitely going down as a new experience for The Coaster.

Knocking a baby over while running

While I didn’t have this on my bucket list, or even on my list of goals for 2015, it certainly was a new experience. Saturday, I went running with Natalie, my friend’s eight year old daughter (yeah, she’s eight and can run). I was paying so much attention to her and making sure that she didn’t get run into, that I failed to see the giant baby that walked out in front of me from the grass off to the side of the trail. In an instant, I had side checked the baby, who I think caught a little air and landed on the grass. The baby looked stunned, waited a two-count, and then began to wail. I apologized quickly to the parents, who understood what had happened, and then told Natalie, “Let’s get out of here.” On we ran.

Achievement unlocked: Knock a baby over while running.

Two months down, ten to go

So, if you’re keeping score at home, the tally so far this year on new experiences:

  1. Not to be published
  2. Not to be published
  3. Transport a cement dog from one continent to another
  4. Disastrous session of Acupuncture
  5. Ocean swim in the dark
  6. Knock a baby over while running

With it only being February, the goal of 12 is looking very easy by December, but I’m not stopping at 12.  Babies, watch yourself on the running trails.

The Coaster: 2015

coasters

When Mak introduced me to “The Napkin,” my approach to New Year’s resolutions changed forever. Over a few pints, we’d take a pub napkin, and divide it into four and then in later years, nine squares, and each square would need a New Year’s Resolution.

But the secret was in creating them with your mates. Your mates would call you out if you were being boring, or not aggressive enough, and would even suggest things to get you out of your comfort zone. And they have to be binary – you either fail or succeed (though this year we did allow each person to claim a half point for one item that was close).

In Australia, “nappies” are diapers so “The Napkin” wasn’t really right. And while “Serviette” does mean napkin, it’s a more dainty or refined word than should be used when talking about planning the year ahead in dimly lit pub. Heading down the lift after work, I was lamenting this naming dilemma to a colleague, and a stranger in the lift said, “Coaster.” I said,”I guess you can write on them.” “Coaster,” he repeated.

So, ladies and gents, may I present to you, the BJR Coaster for 2015. Oh, and generally, code names for your resolutions are useful in case you need to discuss them in public but don’t actually want to reveal what change you’re trying to make in your life. Bonus points for being clever.

1. Chef BJR

It’s no secret I’m no cook.  This year, I will learn to cook something new each month. Last year’s “Cook three new dishes this year” was a dismal failure. We’re turning up the heat in the kitchen. Either delight or food poisoning will ensue.

2. Four-in Waters

I’m going to be traveling a lot, both for work and personally: Six countries in addition to the states and Oz. In at least four of those countries, I will do an open water swim of no less than 1 K. Outside chance I contract some water bourne disease or get to fight with a sea serpent.

3. Tri for Five and a Half

This year, I’ll race in five triathlons, including another half-Ironman. Right now I have the Huski Sprint, NSW Club Champs, the Naylor’s Beach triathlon in Virginia with my nephew Braden, and hopefully I can get a spot in the Sunshine Coast 70.3. One secret – I actually don’t like racing. I actually just like the training. Don’t tell anyone. If they know, they will look at me strangely, and I’ll mistake that for an invitation to ask for a back rub.

4. Don’t Stop the Yanks

“Stop the boats” has been a political rallying cry of the conservative Liberal party (confusing, I know) to keep poorly constructed ships of Indonesian refugees from setting sail for asylum in Australia. By the end of this year, I will have logged enough days in Australia to apply for citizenship. So, by the end of 2015, I will apply to be a legit Aussie with all rights and privileges. Everyone always asks “Will you have duel citizenship?” Such a silly question. Duels really don’t occur in modern Australia, especially since gun ownership is tightly controlled.

5. Keep Bryan Weird

“Keep Austin Weird” has been a slogan as long as I can remember. Austin is not Houston nor Dallas. It’s quirky, it’s a bit profane, it’s relaxed, and it’s fun. In the last two years, I lost a lot of the edge that’s made me love life, that’s put me in awkward situations or led to discover the quirky things that I enjoy. No more! I will feast on the unusual, I will seek out the extraordinary, I will court the rare. Over the next year I will collect 12 experiences that are great stories that I love telling. Or stories so good I can’t tell them.  I’ve already logged experience number 1, which included a highlight of a San Francisco park wino singing 80s pop hits (a Lionel Ritchie song was my favorite), and that was the most normal part of the experience.

6. Fork the Aussies

Food makes its second appearance in this year’s coaster. Aussies (and Brits) don’t eat like Americans.  There’s no dropping of the knife and switching the fork to the dominant shoveling hand. I will eat with Aussie table manners this entire year, regardless of what country I am in. And if I catch myself doing the wrong thing, I will apologize to the table, saying, “I’m sorry, I’ve (list the mistake). I’m an idiot and if I’ve offended you feel free to spank me.” So far, I’ve had to make three apologies, but have avoided any physical punishment.

7. The Unclet a month club

This year, I want to have a special activity, where I spend an hour with one of my unclets or extended unclets doing something just for them or just with them. (Note: Unclets is a term for nieces and nephews. Extended unclets are the kids of my closest friends). Already in January I’ve spent a whole weekend with Little Bryan and just recently went hiking (and even running) with my cousin Makalia.

8 & 9. Yeah, not going to tell you.

Well, you don’t get to know the final two. You’ll have to just know about the seven. Don’t be too upset – last year over half weren’t fit for public consumption. Or really anything public. Or anything consumable. So I’ll leave this to your imagination. With some of you, that’s quite dangerous, and you might hurt yourself, so please wear a helmet.

Happy New Year – May your coaster be filled with things that take you out of your comfort zone.

Sydney Half, 2nd Time Around

Fall in the Bay

The Bay Area is rarely better than on a September evening.  It’s just cooling off, but the sunlight is still giving everything a glow, even if everything includes the skateboarding street urchins of the Mission district.

I must stay awake at least two more hours to get on this time zone.  And it’s a nice time to reflect on why my gluteus maximus (which many people claim looks like a minimus on me…) is so uncomfortably sore right now, along with calves, and quads.

The Half Marathon

half-marathon bib number

But let’s rewind 6:15 AM today, but in Australia.   That’s 19 hours ago, and I’m at the starting line of the half-marathon of the Sydney running festival.  I don’t know if I’ll ever run a marathon that doesn’t come after a 180 km bike, but that’s another story.   This Sunday’s run was supposed to be just a training run, but then Chris (a.k.a. CLP,  a mate from work) started a company-wide blog post about how he was faster than I was.   It was all in good fun, and I enjoyed the banter.  And it gave me a reason to race.

The first 5K – my third fastest 5K ever

I saw CLP at the start line and wished him well.  Though I’ll admit being a tad competitive, I really would have been okay if we both had run well and he had edged me out.   I would not accept running poorly and loosing, though.  But, the adrenaline from being in the crowd of runners was already surging, and the first portion of the run has a decent amount of downhill.  When I looked at my watch at the 5K mark, a smile broke across my face.  I was just above 20 minutes, which I’ve only run in a 5K twice before.  But I felt great.

The first 10K – my fastest 10K ever

Strava half-achievementsAt the 10K mark, I started to wonder if I had started too hard.   My Garmin (GPS watch) is always a little over in terms of distance, and I’m not running the shortest path due to waving in and out of traffic, but I felt good.  I wasn’t fresh anymore, I’d definitely been working, but my heart rate was just above 160, and in a normal 10K it’s usually 170+.  This was still supposed to be a training run, so I backed off, slowing my pace about 10-20 seconds per km.

The finish

The rest of the race was uneventful – or better put, filled with the same two events (left, right) repeated over and over and over.  I passed the 1:40 pace runners just after the half way mark, and thought I had a chance at an under 1:35 finish.  Then with 3K left I finally peeked at the time on my watch and realized I would be under that.  My calves started to hurt a little bit, and my heart rate stayed below 160, so I cruised across the finish line in 1:33:17 with a smile on my face.   That’s a full 10 minutes faster than exactly one year ago.  So the training that began in February when I moved to Manly has paid off.

I love this course.  You run over the bridge, my favorite Sydney landmark.  No long stretches, lots of curves and turns, some ups and downs but no long slogging hills, and you’re along the water for several parts of the race.

The official results can be seem on multisport, and if you want you can see what my watch recorded.

Gratitude

Thanks to CLP for being an artificial nemesis – I like you too much to ever really do battle against you, Chris.  Thanks to Scott Fraser for finding me for brekkie after the race, and celebrating with me.  Thanks to Linda for the ride to the race.  Thanks to Andy and all the crew at the Tuesday night track sessions; they’ve done wonders.

A Mad dash to sit down for 13 hours

After the race, the second race began: a shower, brekkie with Scott, an 80 minute massage (I had planned for 60 minutes but the therapist said I was a complete wreck and tighter than I should be, so bring on 20 more minutes of agony!), another shower at work, and then fighting with my laptop to upload my race stats to Garmin and Strava (yes, priorities).   Then I discovered, as I arrived at the train platform, that trains weren’t running to the airport.  That meant I was running out of the train station up to grab a cab to the airport.

Luckily most of the marathon traffic was finished and I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, checked in for my flight, and settled into 13 hours to SFO on United Airlines, which is like going back in time and flying.  Not like going back to Mad Men time and flying in comfort, back in time to the early days of deregulation where planes, flight crews, and comfort were quickly abandoned for maximizing the metric tonnage of air cattle per square inch.   While I had extra legroom, I was surrounded by Romper Room, but managed a few hours of sleep.

Sore Winner

My legs hurt.  I bought a cheap foam roller to use tonight at my friend’s place.  We’ll see what a swim feels like at the community pool here in the Mission tomorrow morning!   Now that recovery week is over, it’s back to a tough week.  For people who like to read training logs, here’s last week’s journal.

Donate

A friend reminded me that I should always have a donate link to my $25,000 campaign for Room to Read in every blog post, since some people only get my blog via email.  You asked for it, you got it!  Thanks to everyone who has already donated.

donatr

A second life in Australia

Seven months ago, in December 2012, Lisa and I separated.

A lot of you already know this, but I’m an open person and I prefer playing my cards face up.  I’d rather have my friends know what’s going on than keep everyone in the dark.  The last seven months have not been easy.  My heart was broken, my world was turned upside down, and I couldn’t think of anything else.

What happened?  I don’t think it’s useful going through all the details, and of course I see things from my own biased perspective.  The simplest explanation is that Lisa wanted to separate.  After two months of trying to find a way to work things out, we separated permanently.   While we’re still legally married, we now have completely separate lives and we’ll legally be divorced in December of this coming year once the year waiting period in Australia is done.

I often have a habit of only telling a personal story when there’s a positive bent at the end – so maybe I should have posted this six months ago in the turbulence and aftermath, but I’m not sure I knew what was happening or could have talked about it in a healthy fashion.

The day the decision to separate was made, I took a ferry out to Manly, a beach community where my friends Kyle and Jill live.  They welcomed me, knowing why I was there and what had happened.  On that ferry ride, my mind was a cocktail of pain, sadness and strange relief.   Pain and sadnesss: a seven year relationship had just dissolved in front of me in just 60 days.  Strange relief:  I would no longer be pouring myself into a relationship where I was not wanted, where the other person did not love me.  Years ago, a close friend taught me a mantra that he had learned: that every relationship is 100% the responsibility of each person.  And I believe that.

As I held on to the front railing of the ferry, I couldn’t help gag at how hollywood this seemed.  Facing into the wind, like a cheesy Chris Isaac music video, I looked into the waves and ocean in front of me.  And I imagined a better life.   I imagined training for triathlons again.  I imagined being surrounded by friends who I care about.  I imagined loving work.   Over the last seven months I have created that life.

For the last two years, my closest friends (and probably even acquaintances) would have told you that I wasn’t happy in Sydney.  At times I was miserable.  I held Sydney and work at arms length, not willing to personally embrace it.  I blamed my unhappiness on the city, on the people in the city, on work (despite at the same time saying it was the most amazing company I had ever worked for… yet somehow the cognitive dissonance didn’t fully take over), on not having a set of friends like those I had left back in Austin.   On that same ferry ride, I realized my unhappiness came from my relationship, and that I couldn’t admit it for almost two years; I had been blaming everything else.

My life changed quickly from that moment on:

I opened my eyes and realized I was surrounded by friends.  People had been there all along, waiting.  Opportunities for incredible friendships were right next to me, and I had closed myself to the point where I was numb to them.

In January I joined a triathlon club in Manly, and I’m signed up for a couple of big races.

In February I moved to Manly, with my apartment right on the beach, where I can see the ocean from my living and dining rooms.

In April I took a new role at work.  I loved my previous role, and the new one is as exciting and even more challenging.

I have a set of friends in Sydney who mean the world to me.

I have no plans to leave Australia.

I’m writing/blogging again (sorry, you’re going to have to once again put up with both Bryan J. Rollins and “BJR”).

I am still healing, still figuring things out.  But I am happy.  There it is.

I’m my usual open book self – when you talk to me, there’s no reason to avoid the topic if you want to talk about it.  There’s really nothing you need to do other than keep being the same great friend you have been.

Sydney City2Surf 2012 – an intimate run with 85,000 of your closest friends

World’s largest run

 The Sydney City2Surf is the largest run in the world.  85,000 runners.  It’s no surprise it happens in a major city in Australia where people are generally fitter than anywhere else in the world I’ve ever lived.  It’s also no surprise that it’s absolutely packed from sidewalk to sidewalk for the early parts of the race.  And the event planners have actually done something smart in having large sections of the race qualify in order to get a start time – i.e. you have to have a decent time in another Australian event to get into the Red or Green group.  You don’t need to be an elite to get into these groups, you just need to be a runner.  For example, my Sydney half-marathon time (1:48) just missed the cutoff to get me into the fast group, a.k.a. the Red Group, which again is separate from the Elite runners.  So I started with a few thousand friends all wearing the green bib numbers.

Three’s company, 85,000 is a crowd

Even with the smart spacing / pacing, you’re still in a crowd of runners.  My first km took about 6 minutes, which made me realize the target time of 70 minutes was not going to happen today.  70 minutes is the magic number for getting into the red group next year.  While I didn’t really have any aspiration of doing this run again, I though it was a great goal to qualify to be able to run in the red group.  But I let that goal go all too easily and settled in to enjoy the run – deciding only to check my pace but not use my watch for time or distance.

Above or below 70

I won’t put you through one of those race reports that gives you step by step, inhale to exhale details.  In summary:

  • I’m still not sure if using my running tights was the right thing.  It kept me from getting too cold during the run, but I think my tights have too much compression to run more than 10K in them.  They call tights “skins” here in Oz, which I just can’t say, given that it used to be a slang word in the states for something else.
  • Heartbreak hill just isn’t that bad.  It’s long, but it’s never steep.  The entire course only climbs about 100m in total, though it does it all at once.  The downhills hurt a lot worse.
  • As I rounded the final turn and could see the finish line, I glanced at my watch at it read 69 minutes.  The finish line was more than a minute away.  I bore down and pushed myself, hoping for a Dibaba-like miracle.  I ran hard but crossed the finish line in 70 minutes, 42 seconds (according to my watch – they are a bit slow in Oz about getting race results up online).
  • Overall, pretty happy given that I’ve been focusing on P90X and only running once a week.

Big corporate love

Thanks to being a customer of one of the event’s big sponsors I got to wolf down a sausage roll while standing in a protected tent in the windy conditions at the finish line.  Then thanks to Lisa’s company, we had a room inside the Swiss Grand Hotel with free massages, free food and drinks, and protection from the cold.  I met a bunch of her co-workers, and realized how much my impression of Australians is colored by the fact that I work mostly with Australian software engineers, not really a good sampling of the population.  Her colleagues reminded me a lot more of my friends back home, and my teammates from T3.

Bus fail

Several people had said the bus system worked really well.  I think that’s definitely true if you hop right on a bus when you finish and there are no queues.  By the time we left the Swiss Grand, the line for buses looked to be close to an hour long.  So we walked back to Bondi Junction and caught a bus from there: not what my legs wanted, but better than standing for an hour.

An Army of One

I signed up for the “Tough Bloke” challenge mostly because I needed one race that wasn’t just running.   Since I have fully abandoned the goal of being a triathlete while living in Sydney, my only events are running events, and they just aren’t as interesting as a tri.

Cathy, a friend from work, mentioned that I should try the Tough Bloke.  Her description of obstacles, mud pits, and feats of upper body strength sounded like exactly what I’m not good at.  But, it sounded a lot more interesting than running.  I couldn’t get in Cathy’s wave so I signed up on my own, and eventually the day came for the big event.

We’re on a (public) road to nowhere

I left Darlinghurst at 9:50 to arrive in Appin at 1:15, thanks to track work on City Rail and having to take a train to a bus, and then wait for another shuttle bus.  Before my 1:30 wave had started, I thought “this is not worth it”.  I changed into clothes that I could live with never seeing again – quite a motley outfit of some old running tights, old gym shorts, and a couple of long sleeved t-shirts from my company’s most recent trade show.  The long sleeves would turn out to be a terrible decision.  The tights would be a lifesaver – the race website correctly told you to cover your lower legs or risk rope burns.  I saw plenty of carnage for those who didn’t heed the warning.

And we’re off

Every 30 seconds another 8 people start the race.  Almost every one I saw was in teams, wearing similar costumes like yellow tutus or green bandanas or t-shirts for their favorite rugby club.  I walked up to the line alone, and my race was on.  But right away it was clear this is not a race.  This is about finishing.  The first obstacle was four levels of hay bailes that you had to climb over.  I was the last to hit the bailes but then reached the top quickly and jumped off the other side.  Two guys who started with me, who looked like 9 hour Ironman types, took off ahead of me and I never saw them again.   Immediately I began to pass groups who were jogging, or even walking already in the first 3K.

After 3K you hit 7 obstacles.   They were awesome.  My favorite was crawling under barbed wire.  You’ve seen it in every military movie, even GI Jane.  In training, you crawl under barbed wire while someone shoots at you.   Well, no one was shooting at me, but it was awesome.  And muddy.

You balance across logs.  You climb a wall purely by jumping for the top and hauling yourself over.  You push yourself up a cement pipe, scraping your knees.  You crawl though a cement pipe that gets narrower and narrower and you have to submerge your head in the muddy water to exit.  You climb rope ladders.  You run through piles of tires.  You swing on a zip line.  You pop over and duck under barriers.  You traverse a bridge that jostles you with every step.  You shoot down a tube of tires.  You run up and slide down slick boards.

And you run.  And you run.  And you run.

We’re off to meet the devil

Finally you approach the obstacle that you watched from the starting line: Hell’s Gate.  10 meters of rope, and you have to cross to the other side.  The super buff (1 out of 100) go hand over hand.  Everyone else flips on their back and pulls themselves forward.  Those without something covering their lower legs lose big chunks of skin from the rope burns.  I was pretty intimidated by Hell’s Gate, but when it came my turn, I flew over it quickly, mostly using legs to push me forward and regrasping with my hands.  I was so full of adrenaline I went too far and hit the far wall when I dismounted!  But I was done.   Covered with mud, and with a huge smile on my face.

 I still don’t know if I’d consider myself a Tough Bloke, but I finished the course without assistance.  I think I could run it 10 minutes faster if you didn’t have to wait for some obstacles (because others are still going through).
In a lot of ways, the race was a reflection on my athletic life in Sydney – largely done by myself.  Here in perhaps the most social event I’ve ever seen, I was running by myself, pacing myself, pushing myself, and observing everyone else.  In Austin I had T3, and within T3 an even tighter set of friends.  For whatever reason I didn’t bond with my swim team here in Sydney, and work is simply too consuming to let me train with a triathlon team.  So after 18 months, I’m still an army of one.  But that didn’t stop me from having a blast at the Tough Bloke, and it won’t stop me at any other event in the future.

We’re still training

I’m still doing P90X seven days a week, except when I have a race or long run.  So Yesterday marked 23 days straight of exercise every day, for at least an hour.  It seems like a small number compared to the 12 months in 2010.  However, I’m finally in a routine, where it’s on my calendar and I’m sore every day.  Good times.  I don’t want to publish any of the actual P90X “before” pictures, but here’s one that’s funny and could serve as “Why Bryan needs to get tougher.”  In the Bay Area, visiting John, Kathy, and SPL, SPL was demoing his killer bike skills and challenged me to a race.  I was running at about 80% pace staying only a foot or two in front of SPL, yelling “Come on!” back to SPL, and all of a sudden my knees started to lift up – I hadn’t seen a gradual speed bump since I was looking back, and down I went!  I managed to roll and pop back up, but John’s dad captured the mid-roll perfectly.  I love SPL look, which I’m sure was one of surprise seeing Uncle Bryan hit the pavement, but looks like he’s staring me down as he passes me to take the stage victory in the Tour de Neighborhood.

My Fitness First membership also finally ended.  I’ve never dealt with an organization that has such poor customer service.  Over 10 phone calls and emails, and I never received an answer.  If you have any other choice for your gym, pick anything except Fitness First.  My mates at work say Virgin is fantastic, and a lot of the local / non-franchise gyms are excellent.  And they aren’t run by a company that instructs their customer service people not to call you back or answer client emails.   That’s such poor form.  So, avoid Fitness First like the plague.

Sydney Half: Half Full and Half Empty

Despite an amazing morning for the Sydney Half Marathon, the race was much tougher than it should have been thanks to my poor choices!

A New PR for a 1/2 Marathon

Overall I’m happy with the end result – about two minutes faster than the 1/2 marathon I ran on the Central Coast of New South Wales in November.  This course was not flat, while the Central Coast course featured not a single chance of elevation.   Today’s conditions were perfect – a cool morning, slightly overcast but dry, with zero wind.  My training had progressed well, with my practice run just two weeks ago at 1:53 (which included dodging traffic), and last week’s trial of holding 5 minute k’s for 13K went flawlessly.

So where did the run fall short of expectations?  Where did I go wrong?

Pre-race warmup

Pre-race was great.  I had been cold two weeks ago at the same 6:45 AM start time, so I came prepared.  Running top and tri-shorts under a long-sleeved tech-shirt, then robed over in heavy black sweatpants and hoodie.  I was not going to be cold.  I jogged enough to get more than just warm, I was almost hot – a much better way for me to start a race that was going to be cool.  My legs felt loose by the time I dropped off my warm layers at the baggage drop, and at the start line I wasn’t chilled at all.  My breakfast had been great – toast with PM, 16 ounces of accelerate, a banana, and a gel 15 minutes before the race started.

Paper or Plastic? Paper!

At the first set of tables with water, I laughed out loud.  They had plastic cups filled with water.  Please, if you ever organize a race, and you’re giving out plastic cups filled to the top with water, you’ve made two huge mistakes.  Paper cups are much, much, much better – you can crush the top of a paper cup to create a funnel that makes it much easier to get the water into your mouth while running quickly, and then you can crush the cup and toss it.  With a plastic cup, you can’t really crush it, or they shatter, and they litter the ground with rolling cups that runners have to dodge or risk an ankle.  And you never want to fill them – half way is great, because running at speed and grabbing a full cup means one of you is getting a bath.

A kilometer by any other length would not smell as sweet

I didn’t notice any distance markers as we ran.  About the 16th kilometer, I looked at my watch to realize that my watch read 16.5 kms.  I was off by 1/2 a k, meaning I was 2:30 behind where I thought I was in the race.  My stretch goal of 1:45 was not going to happen unless I picked up the pace.  And it occurred to me that my training runs were likely shorter than I had thought.  But my lungs felt good, and my stride was fine, and I had a smile on my face.   And then….

Consolation prize – Mr. Pain Tolerance

My left calf started to cramp.  Then my right, then my shins.  One by one every muscle below my knees began to report bad, bad things.   I shoveled every last bit of nutrition in a desperate attempt, but knowing it’s too late when that starts.  Just a couple of days before I had wondered if I had it in me to really gut out a run through serious pain.  I had finished Macca’s book, I had listed to an interview with Crowie from the Ironman Asia-Pac championships, and thought “I wonder how much pain I could take in a run.”  I don’t think I have a high pain tolerance, but once the pain hit, I thought about my first nights on peritoneal dialysis, where as the machine pulled fluid from my abdomen, it felt like someone was stepping on the family jewels, and somehow I eventually learned to tolerate that, to even sleep through it.   I bore down – I realized I could live with the pain, the challenge was that I couldn’t run with my natural stride, and there was some risk of stumbling with every step.  But I fought off the pain – worse up hills, better on downhills, and kept begging for just a little adrenaline.  At this point I got angry because I knew the cause, and I had been taught how to avoid this.  And that anger got me across the finish line with a smile on my face.

The Big Mistake: Failure can start much earlier than race day

The mistake that caused the final 5K to be filled with agony came in the week before the race.  Several weeks ago I had decided to make myself happy by only worrying about two things, making my life simpler and two-dimensional.  Several people who checked in on the progress of “my 2-D life” heard that it had collapsed to 1-D, and that there was no work-life balance to be seen anywhere.  Just work.  (BTW, if you’ve never heard the song “Birth School Work Death,” it’s a favorite.  Normally, the week before a race, I’d get in a light run a few days before race day, make sure I got the right amount of stretching in, roll out with a foam roller each morning, and probably do some exercise at least 3 days that week.  That kind of prep doesn’t actually take a lot of time.  But after my run last Sunday, work put a lock hold on me and I found myself heading home after several consecutive 14 hour days in the office, tight and not eating what I needed to eat to fuel up for the race.  It’s shocking how I can screw up something I know so well – after my kidney disease and transplant, that tradeoff isn’t worth it, from any angle, and if I find myself in that situation, it’s up to me and no one else to change that situation.  At least this race woke me up to that.  The 2-D life is fine, and works well.  The 1-D life means a shakeup is in order.

Overall, happy

Anytime I finish a race I do so with a big smile on my face (unless it’s the Capital of Texas Triathlon, which I’ve vowed to never do again).  As I head down the home stretch, I’m usually thinking how much I wish my Unclets were there to watch the race.  And I witnessed some Australians actually cheering for runners, which seems to be against the DNA here.  The course was so beautiful – the views of the city are all spectacular.   And my mental game during the race was great – whether I was fueling myself with confidence because of my training and how good I felt, or fueling myself with anger towards work during the last painful 5 ks.  Despite my watch being 500m off , my Garmin helped me see the sections of the race where I got caught in the pack and couldn’t run my pace.

And I think I realize I like Australians the most when they are running.

Of course, my favorite person I met from the race was an Irish woman who lives in Melbourne.  Yes, I’m predictable.

Running to or Running from?

The Sydney Morning Herald half-marathon is only three weeks away.   This morning’s 18K run did very little to make me think I’ll be shattering any personal records in three weeks, but I think I have a chance at a decent showing.  Right now I’m focusing on finishing each distance rather than speed, given that this is just the first race of six on the calendar.

Unfriendly Running

I’ve been doing my weekly long run at 9:30 AM each Saturday morning, and mostly heading into the city, across into Darling Harbour, or across the Sydney Harbour bridge and back.   On this morning’s run I did not get a single running to say hello back to me or even acknowledge that another runner existed – no head nodding, not even a half-smile or grimace.   In talking with an Australian over Easter break, we contrasted who we thought were friendlier, Americans or Australians.  He mentioned that on a flight in the states, lots of people were talking to the other people in their row, while in Australia the plane is largely silent.  True.  I’d counter with the fact that I can approach anyone in Sydney for help and they are likely to try to provide directions, assistance, etc, even on a business day.  Now, both of us are testing friendliness in foreign countries where we have an accent that gets noticed, so maybe that’s why we find each other’s home country more friendly than our own.  But in running, Australians are dull.  Around town lake in Austin I’d get a “hi” or “hello”, not just back but often in advance.  In Boston around the Charles River, not so much – but my “hello” would at least get acknowledged with a curse word or a hand gesture.   So maybe Austin, Texas is just a friendlier place to run than anywhere else.

Mental Blur

I just finished I’m Here to Win, the autobiography of Chris McCormack, an Aussie who won the Ironman World Championship in 2010 (and once before that as well).   Macca (anyone with a McC last name in Australia is automatically nicknamed Macca) focuses on the mental part of triathlon and distance events, and I thought a lot about where my mind goes when I’m running.  It’s usually some combination of:

  • Dog-like distraction by whatever is visible in front of me and interesting (Squirrel!)
  • Noticing that I can no longer breathe
  • Noticing that my quads near my knee are hurting
  • Realizing that more deodorant was probably required
  • Checking my GPS watch to see if I am going fast enough to actually register movement
  • Checking out my reflection in all the windows I run by.

I think what I have is a complete lack of focus, or blur, to my running.  I don’t run fast enough to be a blur to others, I am just a blur to myself.

The Goal

So, for the Sydney 1/2 in three weeks, what’s my goal?  I’d love to repeat my 1:50 from November but that may not happen.  There’s a piece of me that says I should give it a shot just to see what’s possible, push myself, endure the pain, then disappear to San Francisco for a couple of weeks of work and recovery.  I think I should aim for a 1:45 and just see when the wheels come off, much like I did in November (the answer then was right about the 16K mark, I may get my answer much earlier in a few weeks).

Regardless, my uncomplicated 2-D world (work, running) has been a huge source of happiness for me over the last three weeks.  Ignorance is indeed bliss.

Why get up before 4 AM on a holiday?

Today was ANZAC day, which commemorates the start of the battle of Gallipoli in WWI, when the first set of Australian troops who fought as Australians (instead of just adding to the ranks of Englad) went into battle. The raid commenced at dawn, and so they remember the event with dawn ceremonies across Australia. The past two weeks I knew ANZAC day was approaching, and last year I was in San Francisco working when the rest of my colleagues were enjoying a holiday, so I didn’t really know anything about it. Tuesday afternoon Kelvin asked me if I wanted to come to the Cenopath ceremony at Martin Place at 4:30 AM. Kelvin is a known practical joker and so once I googled the ceremony and confirmed that it was legit, I was in.

It wasn’t easy rolling out of bed at 3;45 AM on a holiday. I hopped on my bike and rode in the dark morning chill up William Street towards Martin place where the ceremony would begin. I smiled thinking that getting up early and being a little chilly was 1000 times easier than being 18 years old, half way around the world away from home, and about to charge into enemy territory knowing that the chances of you ever seeing home again weren’t high.

While I have my issues with a lot of Australia, they honor their military and their veterans with a reverence that is humbling.  Cenotaph means empty tomb, a memorial to all those who are buried away from their homeland as a part of giving their life for their country. On one side is the words “OUR GLORIOUS DEAD” and on the other side “LEST WE FORGET”. We have seen a lot of WWI and WWII monuments around Australia. I had never witnessed the personal connection between Australians and their veterans.

The ceremony was still and quiet. Not a person of the thousands packing the streets all around Martin place made a sound. The honor guards marched in, along with local politicians and representatives of veterans groups all around, with active military bands and soldiers moving it. The speaker’s words were soft and yet each one hit you with a great deal of impact. I was deeply moved by how solemn the event was – perhaps its the British heritage that lends Australians their serious streak, but I’ve never experienced something like this in the states. I’ve felt incredibly patriotic, grateful, and humbled by what the U.S Armed Forces has given all of us, but this ceremony is not something I’ve seen before.

Later on Lisa and I went hiking in the Royal National Park.  Just a short hike, but the morning made me realize how lucky we all are.

Tomorrow, back to running.