Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Art of Conversation

"..Questions are the breath of life for a conversation." -James Nathan Miller

It's amazing the things you can learn from children-- even very young children. At the age of 1 year, 11 months, and 26 days, my nephew Jackson knows more than many, many adults I come in contact with regularly... about holding a conversation, at least.

I distinctly remember two interesting, although short conversations Jackson and I had when I went to visit him just before his second birthday. The setting of the first one was at the breakfast table when I was spreading jelly on my toast. "What are you doing Joy?" his tiny voice asked. "I'm putting jelly on my toast." "Is it good?" was the curious second question. Looking back, I was the conversation ender. Due to my surprise at this little toddler being so interested in my actions, I just answered his questions without asking any of him. Bad conversationalist, Joy.

The next day as I was packing my bags to go back home, he asked another question of me, "You going to your house Joy?" I responded with a yes, I have to go home today. "What will you do there?" Again, I just responded without asking anything of him as I marveled at how he seemed truly interested in what I had to say.

They say conversation is a learned skill, you have to develop it over time. When I searched the internet for learning to be a good conversationalist, some tips that I found included "Learn to be interested in your fellow human beings," "Ask the proper questions," and "Listen and do not monopolize the conversation." Jackson could've written this article, if only he could write whole words. I'm going to keep working on my little Dale Carnegie Jr... on second thought, I think it's the other way around.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mile Repeats

Yes, I walk water stops in races. It's gotten to be such a habit and something I so look forward to, that I've even done it in sprint tris (and, um, 10Ks). Before the occasional straight-up 5k, I have to stand at the starting line repeating in my head, "NO walking the water stops, NO walking the water stops." It's somewhat of a Pavlovian effect now, so that I see the oasis in the distance and my legs start picking up the pace, the finish line of this mile repeat quickly approaching. I tend to grab my drink at full speed, only coming to a complete walk about 10 steps later.

Generally these little slices of Heaven occur about once per mile. However, at Gulf Coast a few weeks ago, someone's placement strategy was off, and we had a few miles with aid stations every half mile. This completely messes with my pacing strategy, and I place sole blame on the aid station coordinator for my terrible run split.

When I saw this picture of me at mile 12 at GCT, I had to wonder, am I too relaxed during the Water Stop Walk or is this really a time to ponder the importance of hydroxy acids in preventing neck skin sagging?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Memphis in May... x 2

The Memphis in May International Festival really makes Memphis a fun place to live during May. For triathletes, it's even more exciting. There's the opportunity to participate in not one, but two triathlons on the same weekend that Barbecue Fest takes place. That's right, you can load up on all the ribs you can eat Thursday and Friday, race Saturday in the mountain bike tri, recover and carbo-load with delicacies such as BBQ spaghetti (it's actually good), then race again the next morning in the Olympic-distance tri. All in one weekend.

I partook in the races and carbo-loading, but avoided BBQFest. The fun weekend started with a short MTB race. The actual "mountain bike" part of it was mostly in grassy fields through which a path had been cut the day before... or that morning. I was happy that they had "grasscyled" the clippings for environmental reasons, but my legs were not so appreciative. Long grass + clippings = a slow, painful ride. There was some excitement through actual trails, lots of mud, and some harmless crashes. I wasn't involved in these crashes, but got to be a spectator when my teammate Susan did an endo in a ditch. It was in slow-motion-- her front wheel got sucked about halfway under the mud, her rear wheel slowly rose straight up in the air, she paused, then came crashing down. She was unhurt, thankfully, and I knew better than to try that move myself. I came out of T2 nice and muddy (ahead of Susan, who sat down to change her shoes after finally finding her stuff), with helpful volunteers telling me I was about 3 minutes back from 1st place. I ended up 2nd still (not surprisingly) after the 3 mile run through those same grassy paths we rode on. I actually passed a few people still on bikes during my run, and I assured them that running on that stuff was easier than riding on it.

The afternoon consisted of volunteering at registration and getting to chat with Elizabeth and Mira, Damie, Charlie, and Laura, amongst many other friends.

Sunday was a much larger, more competitive race, with 10 times the number of participants. This year, the participants included a team from my office. It was all three's first time to participate in a triathlon relay. They, thankfully, had a good time racing, especially since the swimmer and cyclist got so lost getting to the race that they missed the relay start and had to jump in later. They hadn't all gotten to the race by the time I started, and all I thought about during the swim was "are they ok?" and "will they get to start?" until... WHAM! I got kicked in the eye by a guy breaststroking. I make every effort to avoid the powerful, broad-ranging kick of the breaststroke during races, and therefore I expect my fellow racers to do the same. I hope this guy will stick to the kinder, gentler flutter kick in the future, especially after hearing the cursing that I did when I came up for air, checking my face for fractures and finding my goggles again. I don't have a black eye today, but I lost some skin on my nose. He did apologize and I kind of felt bad afterward.

The bike ride was nice and windy, which turned out to be a positive. We faced strong headwinds, but similarly strong tailwinds, and I noticed a few times that I hit over 30 mph on some flat sections. I always tend to get fired up over drafters, and this race was no different. A couple of 25-29 guys passed me and slowed down in front of me, which is irritating in itself. They then proceeded to pass back and forth, always staying within 6 inches of the leader's wheel, for at least 3 or 4 miles. When I finally spotted a marshal I pointed them out to her, and they both ended up with a penalties. What a coincidence I found it to be when post-race, I was looking at results, and one of the drafters was standing right in front of me, talking about how well he did, even though he got a penalty. When I noticed his number, 366, which had been burned into my memory, I pointed out to him and the surrounding group, that 2 minutes was really not sufficient given the blatant drafting that he did. He mumbled something about passing back and forth, to which I added that he was 6 inches behind the guy's wheel for a good 10 minutes and I wish MIM was still an automatic DQ for drafters. Like I said, I get a little fired up.

The run seemed like constant hills, uphills mostly, on the way out to the turnaround. It is fun (ok, it's all relative) doing an out-and-back run; you can see everyone within miles of you, and there were lots of locals out there to keep me occupied. By the turnaround I was no longer able to verbalize my encouragement. My teammate Brad commented that I must've been feeling the heat given the two-fingered wave I gave him instead of a shout. I finished with one of my slowest times ever for this race, or any oly-distance for that matter, BUT I still ended up 2nd in the Amateur Challenge, which paid a prize of more than double my entry fees combined. A successful finish!

And more BBQ spaghetti awaiting.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Last Saturday was the Gulf Coast Triathlon in Panama City Beach. It's always a fun time... after the race, at least. I love the beach, the friends, the body surfing. The race is always a tough one; being so early in the season, no one living north of Florida itself is ready for the heat. When I got home and reflected about the trip, I realized I'd left a few things behind in PCB.

My sub-4:55 aspirations. Didn't quite hit it. Much slower. Maybe next year. I didn't even continue the trend of my last 3 races there: 4:59, 4:58, 4:57.

Confidence in my open-water swimming ability. Yeah, the surf was crazy, the current took me off course, all of that usual stuff. But my swim was a lot worse than usual. Maybe I swam an extra half mile? It's not entirely impossible; each time I got to a buoy I ended up making a 90 degree turn...

The skin on my bottom lip. Each time I've done this race, I've woken up the next morning to an incredibly swollen bottom lip. It gets sunburned during the race, even after I slather layers of lip balm on. Then there's the beach the next day, which seems to worsen things. Maybe that's what happens to groupers.

My salt intake strategy. I manged to misplace my Salt Stick, a handy little salt tablet dispenser, so I used a tiny plastic bag to hold my salt tablets. It was so difficult to get that thing open that I only did it once on the bike, never on the run. Hooray for normonatremia!

The smooth surface of my goggles. I mentioned the surf. On Friday during my practice swim, I was proudly standing up in the shallow water, an air of satisfaction that I'd made it out alive, when I was tackled from behind by a large wave. I tumbled over, head first, finally landing on my stomach again. Planting my feet on the bottom, I tried to reach the air above when it happened all over again. When I did crawl to shore, I realized my goggles had been stolen off my head by these waves. I searched to no avail. Later in the afternoon someone found them on the beach and got them back to me. I'm going to keep them for a swim in Sardis Lake, where I can't see anything anyway.

The hair at the nape of my neck. Darn it, I'd just gotten this patch of hair grown out to about 4 inches. Now I've lost half of it again. For some reason, there's a reaction going on between my swim cap and the neck of the back of my wetsuit that vaporizes this hair. No matter what I do, no matter how many inches of Body Glide I cake on there, I can't avoid it.

My pride in being able to race hard. I've always thought that I can really put it out there on race day. I make myself hurt and leave it all on the course... right? I'm not so sure anymore. I was getting on to Andrew after the race. He's an amazing athlete; he's been doing triathlons less than 2 years and has won half of the races he's done, including everything from half-Ironmans to sprints. Right before entering the park during the run, we passed each other. "JOHNSON!!! What's up? How's it going? Run fast!!" he says as he practically leaps into the air. I reply with a mumble and a smile. I have no extra breath for more of a response. Later, after I had explained my theory of his race pacing to him, Mary Cay comes out with a "Joy, you don't race very hard." What!? Me? But I'm sore! How can this be? Maybe I just don't LOOK like I'm racing hard: But Andrew, I'm not so sure about. :)

And finally, the first of my four May races. I have over-scheduled myself for May, but I'm up for the challenge. Coming up this weekend: the Memphis in May double. Saturday is the mountain bike race, Sunday is the olympic distance. Stay tuned.

Grouper photo link.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


I'm feeling a little guilty about leaving this weekend. I have several plants on my desk at work, inside my apartment, and on my balcony that might be missing me. At least four of them I'm not worried about; they are philadendrons who could really care less about what you do with them. They just slowly grow, turning their leaves toward any pathetic light source they can find (my 150-watt lamp bulb at work), never complaining, never looking wilted, and potentially lasting decades. Yes, decades! Mom has one that has been growing in the same pot for what, 35 years now? The one I have at work gets closed off in the dark cave known as my office during the entire weekend, only to greet me with his bright green leaves each Monday morning as if it's been a glorious vacation. The ones at home don't mind drinking what's left of my Gatorade when I get back from bike rides.

But then there's my hibiscus. She's not too fond of Memphis winters, even though I bring her inside and put her right next to the huge westward-facing window of my bedroom. She just loves the sun and heat too much to really thrive. I took this photo of her recently, and look, she's waving at the setting sun, her source of food and happiness.

I just repotted her this spring in a larger home with her favorite treat: nutrient rich, decadent "horse dirt" that Mom gets from the barn. [Side note: we don't like to say that we put manure (albeit composted) on vegetables, so we just use the ambiguous "dirt" term.] I'm excited to see how she fares this summer, and I hope that my 4 1/2 days out of town won't start her off on the wrong root.


I gave Duzi a spongebath this morning. I was in road grime up to my elbows, contorting myself to get to her most protected spots, when I noticed that I was uncovering a small white sticker on her bottom bracket. Ah hah! The all-important serial number, the bike equivalent of a social security number, except without the potential for payments (ha) to be received after her retirement. It occurred to me that I didn't have a photo record of this for her, as I didn't for her two (edit: three. I lose count) older siblings who were kidnapped from me a few years ago. I almost feel like I'm posting embarrassing pictures of her nether-regions online, but she won't mind sacrificing for the safety of other bikes out there whose owners don't have a record of their existence.

So here in my photo is proof of my little Duzi and her number (ok, so it's obvious that I still have more cleaning to do...). It shall now be known across webland that she is mine.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


It's taper week, and I'm getting ready for my very first triathlon of the season. It's been almost 7 months since I've done the trio back-to-back, and today for the first time, I'm getting nervous.

I'm scared because...

* The swim is in the ocean, and I just read a crazy thread on the Slowtwitch forum that now has me scared of being attacked by a shark (or a mountain lion, or a yeti, for that matter).

* I haven't worn a wetsuit since last May. Not sure I'll remember how to get it off.

* Last time I tried to pump up my race wheels by myself, I ended up $150 poorer because the pump got stuck on the valve (bad experience to have 2 days before an IM).

* The weather forecast looks great-- partly cloudy, high of 83 on Saturday. But it always looks better than it is. They forecast for 83 degrees, then it's 101 in the park.

* We run through St. Andrew's Park.

* The wind can be pretty strong.

* Every muscle in my body will be sore the next day.

I'm excited because...

* The swim is in the ocean, and in contrast to the lakes around here, you can actually see your hand in front of your face while swimming.

* I get to wear a wetsuit. ...unless some weather phenomenon occurs in the next 4 days and raises the ocean temps by 7 degrees.

* I'll be at the beach!

* You could say that I'm familiar with the course. I've done the run loop 14 times. Yes, literally.

* We get to run through St. Andrew's Park. It looks like a beautiful beach from the pictures I've seen. Of course, you don't see the actual beach while on the run course. The photo is from a rare moment when I'm actually smiling in the park. See, it can be fun!

* Since there is guaranteed to be a good wind, at some point during the bike ride we will have a tailwind. Maybe it'll even cool us down during the run. Ha.

* Did I mention I'll be at the beach? There will be plenty of time for some R&R on Saturday after the race and all day Sunday.

The actual race seems like such a small part of the weekend, but without it, it just wouldn't be the same. Two days and counting until I'm on my way.