Sunday, May 27, 2012

Snapshot Book Review: A Life Without Limits

A Life Without Limits: A World Champion's JourneyA Life Without Limits: A World Champion's Journey by Chrissie Wellington

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Considered within the category of "inspiring memoirs by athletes," this definitely ranks among the best. (Unsurprising, considering that it is written by a woman who is admittedly driven to be "the best at everything.") Chrissie's story of Muppet-to-World Champion is made believable relatable and even, to some degree, relatable, by the self-reflective nature of her writing. It was an excellent choice for her to have written the book autobiographically, rather than allowing someone else--even someone who is a better storyteller--to tell her story for her. The pictures are an ideal companion to the narration (although I sincerely wish there were more of them, since her life goes through so many stages that remain visually undocumented), and the story begins and ends exactly where it needs to. Chrissie picked a perfection point in life to write this book.

All of this being said, I must admit that I am not the ideal reviewer for this book. As an amateur, even beginner triathlete, I know enough about the sport to recognize some elements Chrissie left out of her story, but not enough to give an ideal critique of the elements she did share. I will express my displeasure at her neglecting to mention the crucial elements of "form" in her "The Life of a Triathlete" chapter, where she details her weekly schedule, how not to recover from an injury, and other how-to pieces of advice and information that are of particular interest to triathletes. When she describes her races, she often mentions the points at which her form "breaks down" due to fatigue, pain, etc., but she never mentions the steps she and/or her coaches took to develop that form in the first place. If she is going to spend any part of the book telling athletes what to do or not do, I think advising them to learn proper form is one essential part that she left out. (And again, I must admit this is a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do sort of criticism, because I do not spend nearly enough time developing my own form in swimming/running/biking! But then again, I'm also not attempting ironman distances, either.)

Also, while I deeply admire the raw talent and determination that earned her entry to the elite level of triathlon in the first place, I am skeptical of her sparse account of acquiring her first bike and any/all issues she had with learning to use it. From everything I have learned about cycling, fit is a crucial component, and simply "going out and picking up a second-hand bike" strikes me as a very risky and inadvisable way to go about entering the sport. I speak from experience here, because I am still pounding out on a bike that doesn't fit me ideally, and I'm paying the price for it with "niggles," sore body parts, and numb feet. And that's not even riding more than 40 miles at a clip!

Lastly, while I personally find Chrissie's to be a very inspiring story, it's hard for me to tell whether it would be equally inspiring to someone who doesn't train or compete in the sport of triathlon. I read Andre Agassi's memoir Open with unbridled fascination, having picked up a tennis racket only a handful of times in my entire life. I'm not sure if a non-triathlete would read Chrissie's memoir with equal interest or enthusiasm. But that does not stop it from being a wonderful, uplifting, well told story.

Now it's time for me to go out and do a brick workout before I lose my motivation!

View all my reviews

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Five Words That Are Not In The Dictionary

Last Friday, I went to a free creative writing workshop, run by the New York Writers Coalition. It was a really neat event: about 25 people met at the Station Island Ferry terminal down near Battery Park. We were all given notepads, picked writing prompts out of a canvas bag, and boarded the ferry. Then, we all sat silently and wrote for the 10-15 minute ferry ride. When we reached Staten Island, we debarked, split into small groups of 4 or 5 people, and read our pieces to one another, giving one positive comment to each writer. Then, we reconvened in the Staten Island terminal, received our second prompt, and repeated the process (boarding the ferry, writing on the ride back, and sharing our pieces in small groups back in the Manhattan terminal).

It has been a very, very long time since I wrote anything purely fictional, and even longer since I wrote a timed fictional piece based on a prompt. I was wary going into the whole experience (would I be able to come up with any ideas? would I be able to find the right words?), but it turned out better than I could have hoped.

The feedback I received was so positive, in fact, that I decided to share the pieces I wrote here, on my blog. They are certainly not polished, nor are they complete, but I'm proud to finally have written something--anything--after such a long writing drought. And, of course, I have always loved writing for (and reading to) an audience.

My first prompt was: Write using give words that are not in the dictionary. Here is what I wrote.

"Katie, it's time to get up."

The bundle of sheets squirmed and then grew still again.

"No Katie, get out of the bed. It's time to go to church."

"Nooooo," came the high pitched whine. "Mommy, I can't."

"Yes you can." Laura leaned over the bed and tugged down the blanket, revealing two bright blue eyes and an impish smile that her daughter quickly contorted into a grimace.

"I can't, Mommy, I can't!"

Despite the protests, Laura tucked one arm under her daughter's body and scooted her toward the edge of the bed.

"Yes you can. Look, I laid out your pretty yellow sundress and your favorite pink shoes."

"But Mommy, I can't wear them!"

Laura started to peel back the blankets further, but Katie yanked the blanket from her grip.

"Mommy, don't!" She pulled the blanket up under her chin, protectively. "You'll see them!"

Laura tried not to sigh. "See what? Why can't you get up and put your clothing on? You know it's Sunday. On Sundays, we get up and get dressed for church."

"Because of them." Katie stared at her mother imploringly.

"Because of who?"

"The honk monsters!"

"The . . . honk monsters." Laura tried not to smile. "And what exactly are these honk monsters doing to keep you from getting ready for church?"

"They nommed my toesies."

Laughter bubbled up inside Laura's throat, and she gave an unconvincing cough. Katie continued to stare at her mother in horror.

They did, Mommy. My toesies are gone!"

When she had finally composed herself, Laura turned to fully face her daughter.

"Daddy is the only one who can nom your toesies, Katie. Remember?"

Katie shook her head.

"It's true," Laura said. "It is. Look what happens when I do it." Gingerly, she unwrapped one of Katie's feet from the blanket and then, bending over, she hovered her mouth right above Katie's toes.

"Ahhhh-nom-nom-nom. Ahhhh-nom-nom-nom."

Then she stood up and shrugged helplessly.

"See? Your toes are still right there. It didn't work."

Katie shook her head. "That's because you didn't do it right. Only Daddy does it right." With that, she began to unwind herself from the sheet. Then, suddenly, she stopped.

"But . . . the honk monsters. What if they come back?"

"No," Laura assured her. "They won't come back. Honk monsters are afraid of shunshi--I mean, sunshine.""

"Shunshine!" Katie leapt out of bed, knocking all of the sheets to the floor. "Shun-shine, shun-shine, who's afraid of shun-shine!"

Hopping from one foot to the other, she danced out of the room and down the hallway toward the bathroom. Laura sank down onto the bed and leaned over to pick the sheet off the floor. From there, she heard the bathroom door open and the rumble of her husband's voice.

"Turble burble, where's my little purble gurble?"

Katie squealed, and the bathroom door slammed shut again.

Shunshine, Laura thought. Banishing honk monsters for my purble gurble.

Monday, May 21, 2012

How To Squash a Swimmer's Ego in Fewer than Five Words

"Are you a triathlete?"
-Asked of me this morning, by a very fast swimmer who my friends and I have dubbed "Colgate" for the cap he wears.
Not getting the joke? The title of this forum is all the explanation you need.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Personal Best! Brooklyn Half Marathon 2012

In spite of the perfect morning, flat course, and added benefit of having two of my favorite workout buddies racing with me, I struggled a lot throughout the Brooklyn Half Marathon. From mile 1 through 6, I really just didn't want to be there, running, at all. I kept trying to get myself excited, but I just wasn't. I didn't feel tired or sore; I simply wasn't happy to be running.

Then, right around mile 6 or 7, something finally clicked, and my body started running without me. I love that feeling: the "autopilot," where my mind flits from one thought to another, not quite cognizant of what my body is doing until I focus my concentration, only to realize that my legs are moving in a perfect rhythm without my really willing them to move at all.

Everything was going great until I hit mile 10. Just as I saw the mile marker, a twinge of pain hit my leg, just outside my right knee, and continued to do so every time I took at step. If felt almost like my knee needed to crack, so I swung my foot upwards as if to kick my butt every few steps, but the pain did not subside. Therefore, I spent the next two miles arguing inside my head:

"Should I stop?"

"What's that going to accomplish?"

"Maybe I should stop and walk, because this pain is getting worse."

"It'll probably just hurt then, too, and you'll never be able to get yourself started running again."

"But what if it gets worse?"

"Walking will only make this last longer. That, and you'll be miserable that you walked in a race. T___ said he would never walk unless his leg was broken. You can't wimp out now."

"True, the faster I run, the faster I can get to the end and treat this leg. . . ."

"See? Just try to ignore it. I'm sure those endorphins will kick in anytime now."

So I endured the pain through the remainder of the race, even summoning a bit of energy in the last 800m to pass three more women. As a result, I ran my fastest half marathon ever (also known as a PR, or Personal Record)! (Now I just have to contend with this bizarre injury and pray it doesn't turn into anything more serious.)

Results for this race:

Race Length Finishing Time Average Pace Overall Place Gender Place Age Group Place (F25-29)
13.1 miles 1:33:17 7:08/mile 1,005/14,278 129/7,128 45/2,161

Splits from the race

5k Split 10k Split 15k Split 20k Split
0:23:00 0:45:40 1:07:33 1:28:56

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Suggestion for Coping

This was recommended to me by my darling baby bugga-boo, when I complained about having had to stay at work until after 7pm. Not exactly prime advice for getting ahead, but hey, it would be amusing.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Why We Should Have Stuck with Snail Mail

I left work last Friday like this:

I took today off to see this:

I took a sneak preview of my email tonight, only to be caught in this:

Tomorrow is not going to be fun.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Room for Dessert

At a restaurant, a mother and her 8-year old daughter are sitting at a nearby table, finishing their dinner.

MOTHER: Are you going to finish your rice?

DAUGHTER: (Groaning) My tummy is so full, mommy! I can't eat another bite.

MOTHER: All right. Just wait until I call the waitress over.

(The mother motions to a nearby waitress, who approaches the table.)

WAITRESS: Are you ladies all finished?

MOTHER: Yes, I believe we are.

WAITRESS: (Setting a small menu on the corner of the table) Can I interest you in some dessert?

MOTHER: I don't think--

DAUGHTER: Ooooh mommy!

(She reaches for the menu, but her mother places a restraining hand atop it.)

MOTHER: I thought you were so full you couldn't eat another bite.

DAUGHTER: But I have another tummy, mommy. I have a second tummy for dessert!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

An Unfortunate Start to My Day

"Is that a man's belt you're wearing?"

-A friend, questioning my fashion choices at 8 in the morning.