Gigathlon 2012 by the numbers

2 07 2012

Our mountain-biker said it best, just after he crossed the finish line covered from head to toe in mud: “All you have to do is shut off your brain.”

Of course, he was talking about the biking leg of Gigathlon 2012, this past weekend’s athletic extravaganza in the Swiss midlands, and about how torrential downpours and impending darkness turned his route into a rather messy and slippery lottery.

Our mud-splattered mountain-biking hero after crossing the finish line.

(The second part of the sentence was: “Let go of the brakes, point the bike downhill and hope there is no tree in front of you.” Our swimmer responded: “That bit about the brain – that’s the crucial difference between men and women.”)

But what he said really was valid for all of us who made up the “Flying Five,” a rag-tag group of over-39 amateurs, tossed together by fate, self-discipline and the ambition to overcome physical and psychological limits. Our goal: to swim, cycle, skate, mountain-bike and run to the point of exhaustion, to complete the two-day endurance race 1) uninjured and 2) within the allotted time frame.

And we did both, crossing the finish line together at 11pm on Sunday evening, 40 1/2 hours after the starters’ gun went off. We had spent two days competing in extreme weather conditions – day one was hot and humid, day two blessed us with fog, rain and hail – and sleeping in a tent whipped by one of Switzerland’s most destructive overnight thunderstorms in years.

There were many times in the past couple of days when we all just shut off our brains.

Sunday morning, 730am: wet, wet, wet.

You read about my preparation for this year’s race a few weeks ago, and now I could give you a play-by-play like I did last year, with the highlights and low-lights, the dramatic moments of pain and agony and the equally dramatic moments of indescribable adrenaline-induced euphoria. Gigathlon 2012 had all that too, trust me. But this time I will just stick to the numbers; they also tell the story of our exceptionally active, life-affirming weekend.

First the team:

Hours, minutes and seconds the five of us were underway in competition:  30:27:37

Hours, minutes and seconds the winning team beat us by: 11:24:00

Rank at the end of day one (out of 1,000 “teams of five”): 756

Final rank after two days of competition: 723

Distance skated, swam, mountain-biked, run and cycled: 460km/287.5mi

Temperature on Saturday: 34 C/93.2 F

Thunderstorms experienced on Sunday: 3

Beers consumed on Saturday: 2

Beers consumed on Sunday: 8

Accidents: 0

And I know you people also want to hear about my personal statistics for the weekend, so here goes:

Distance skated: 92km/57.5mi

Hours slept on the campground (two nights): 6

Times I felt like quitting on Saturday: 4

Times I felt like quitting on Sunday: 0

Ball bearings trashed: 16

Accidents witnessed: 5

Pasta meals consumed: 3

Sports energy gel tubes consumed while skating: 3

Blisters: 4

Toenails lost: 1

Hours slept after getting home (one night): 11

**********************

Team Flying Five….. before…..

…. and after.

A HUGE, HUGE thank you to: Martina – our team captain and tough-as-nails cyclist, Raphaela – our running goddess, Beat – our meerkat-like mountain-biker, and Reto – our swimmer who rescued the team’s ranking on both days. You guys were a whole lot of fun to be around, even when the things got really, really tough. You were the reason I kept on going.

(Anyone up for Gigathlon 2013?)

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Screaming kids on airplanes

27 04 2012

So just because I love jetlag so much, I decided to go back to the States five days after I had just returned to Europe. Chicago last week, New York this week. But more about NYC another time, maybe.

Today I want to talk about children (again).

There is nothing on earth that brings the sociopath out in everyone than screeching, red-faced midgets on a transatlantic overnight flight.

I thought that my JFK-ZRH flight would be a good opportunity to get at least a few hours of shut-eye. Oh how wrong I was. Within the five rows around me there were seven kids ranging in age from about six months to 3 years.

Children in front of me, children to the right of me, children behind me.  There were no kids to the left of me because there was only a window, and beyond that, an airplane wing. And if you ask me, I would have put them all there rather than in the cabin with the rest of us.

The best place for kids: Outdoors!

Yes, attached to these children were also parents, all of whom seemed incapable and overwhelmed with the stress of parenting.

It’s bad enough when one child screams incessantly in a closed space with a captive audience of 200. But on this flight, they all screamed. Throughout the night. In a coordinated attempt to drive all the rest of us to commit extremely violent crimes.

Jethro Tull on the inflight entertainment system, at top volume, could not drown out these pint-sized terrorists.

My martyrdom (and that of my child-free co-passengers) lasted seven hours, thanks to a strong tailwind that got us to our destination faster than usual, plus 45 minutes of taxiing at both ends.

What can be done? I have three solutions:

  1. Completely child-free flights. Malaysia Airlines has the right idea, having banned infants from its First Class cabins and implementing a child-free upper deck on its new A380 aircraft from July 1. This is an idea whose time is way overdue. Folks like me who have to go from the gate to the office after an overnight flight will not stand for this kind of noise pollution much longer.
  2. An “objectionable noise surcharge,” kind of like the fuel surcharge all of us have gotten used to paying. The younger the child, the higher the tax. This would automatically disqualify families traveling with multiple infants because they would likely no longer be able to afford it.
  3. A sound-proof cabin at the back of the plane. Like a playpen, or a time-out box. Or just seal off the last five or six rows from the rest of the cabin with sound-proof glass. They used to put smokers at the back of the plane, and now we can just put kids there. Screaming (like smoking) is harmful to the environment and the health of all those individuals not currently engaged in it.

OK, time for all you parents with young kids to come at me with a machete. But you know darn well that I am right.  You have to deal with your own screaming kids all the time. You can’t escape them. (And don’t you wish you could?)

But ask yourselves this: Why must babies travel to other continents before they even know who they are? Why do you people drag them across oceans and time zones when they won’t remember any of it when they grow up? Why do you expose them to foreign germs and the misery of jetlag before their first day of school?

A suggestion that could keep all of us happy, the child-rich and the child-free: Show your kids your own country or region or continent when they are really small. There is so much to see in Europe, or North America, or Asia, alone. Then, when they turn six, or seven, or eight, when they are old enough to appreciate what you are offering them – that’s when you begin to show them the world.





The almost-United States

2 01 2012

In the last couple of days I have been having fitful bouts of insomnia again. Nothing like last summer, but still. Lying in bed, looking at the ceiling is no fun, no matter if its for 30 minutes or 3 hours.

So to make the time pass quicker, I devised a couple of concentration games for myself, one of which is a challenge to name all the 50 states in alphabetical order in less than 2 minutes. It’s not as easy as you think.

For the first twenty or so times I tried this, I always came up with 47 or 48, once I even made it up to 49. But that darn 50th state eluded me. Over and over and over again, I always seemed to be one or two short.

This is so true. (From the website: http://www.funnyordie.com)

In the meantime I have a system and I know exactly how many states there are per letter. The last couple of times I played this game with myself, I have got to 50 pretty regularly. Let me demonstrate.

First the four A’s. Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas and Arizona. Followed by 3 C’s: Connecticut, Colorado and Chicago. No, hang on. California.

Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii.

The four I’s come next: Iowa, Idaho, Illinois and Indiana.

Kansas & Kentucky.

Louisiana.

This is where it gets interesting. There are SO MANY states that begin with M and N! I’m so sure that this is where I always lose one.

Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Mississippi, Missouri.

New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada.

Whew. Think that’s it.

Then there’s Oklahoma and Oregon, followed by my home state of Pennsylvania.

Rhode Island, and the Souths… Carolina and Dakota.

Texas and Tennessee followed by Utah.

Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Yay!

Uh oh. That’s 49.  Lost one again. Do let me know if you find it.

(And no – Washington DC is not a state!!! It’s a District!)





Nighttime Anxieties

22 02 2011

A single night can be monumentally long if you spend it lying in bed and waiting…Waiting for it to end.

Demons are abundant in an unquiet mind, and sleep is elusive. I thought I got rid of those critters a few years ago. Valerian tea, lavender-eucalyptus sleep balm and finding a soul-mate successfully chased them out of town for a while.

But now it seems like it was only a changing of the guard – a younger and more aggressive generation of these parasites lies in wait for every moment of weakness. A car in the distance, a squeaky floorboard, the neighbor out walking her dog on the gravel path under my window – all innocuous sounds that open a door to insomnia and conspire to rob me of that which I so desperately need.

There are many reasons sleep escapes me and every night it’s something different – imagined or real and often incomprehensible to those who have never had a problem with it. Emotions long repressed play nasty tricks on my sanity. Deep personal fears, invisible in the light, reappear and go toxic with darkness, conquering the remnants of an afternoon’s happy memories.

The night drags on. And when it finally turns grey, bleeding light into the darkness, my demons run and hide. Suddenly the world appears in color again. And the thought of having to get up into the daylight is nearly unbearable. I must again function as a responsible adult in society after seven hours spent staring out the skylight above my bed into black, and chasing windmills.

A first unsteady moment on my feet passes. My pale face in the bathroom mirror features new shadow under the eyes. The flat feeling in the pit of my stomach goes away after a few minutes of splashing under a hot shower, and the fresh smell of “wild honeysuckle” bath gel infuses life into my lungs and brain.

I will be fine, I tell myself. It’s okay, today I will be fine.

And the day passes like any other. In the afternoon I am tired, my concentration lapses in phases, I look out the panorama office window at life beyond. And I was right – it’s okay, I manage. I function.

But the cycle repeats itself a few hours later. With darkness, the demons of the night return, once again bringing with them the iron grip of insomnia. I lose my way trying to find the cliff of unconsciousness, with no chance in hell of dropping off.

And that constant, repetitive fear of the insurmountable – the pressure I impose upon myself – turns it all into a self-fulfilling prophesy: A non-event that ends up happening anyway, because I will it to not happen.

A few days go by. Soon, it’s not just the weariness of one night lost, but a complete, thorough, crushing fatigue that punishes the soul. The body craves sleep, hemorrhages energy and it’s almost impossible not to lose is one’s mind as well.

But the new day always gives me hope that this too, shall pass. I’m sure I will grow out of this, someday. And that the waiting in the dark will end.