If Life is a Highway…

After 13 years and nearly 200,000 miles of togetherness, I parted ways last night with my chili-pepper red Jeep Wrangler. Sure, the seat belts were still gnawed from that day five years ago when my pointer/pit bull mix got bored in the back seat. And yes, I know the air conditioning hasn’t worked for at least three summers now. Even still, I felt a sense of abandonment as I left the Jeep amid the sea of cars on the trade-in lot. The dealer said it would likely end up in Africa, where customers apparently don’t care about rust spots, original clutches, or speedometers that occasionally go on the fritz in the middle of highway traffic.

I’m thrilled with my new Honda CR-V, of course. It’s everything a woman like me—teetering precariously on the edge of turning 40—should have in a vehicle.  Good gas mileage. Great space for groceries. Heated seats for those chilly winter nights.

But boy, did I see my youth disappearing in the rear-view mirror as I drove the Honda off the lot last night. Maybe it was the fact that, while I was cleaning out my old cassette tapes (yes, cassette tapes), the 22-year-old salesman noticed the ones by the Black Crowes and Guns ‘N Roses. He he said he’d like to take them if I didn’t want them anymore, because his dad really liked those bands, too.

I spent this morning figuring out all the knobs and buttons on the Honda’s six-CD changer, as well as the USB port that lets me play my iPod over the souped-up stereo system. Yes, I loaded in my favorites by Bruce Hornsby, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and Roomful of Blues, but just for good measure, I reserved CD position No. 6 for Public Enemy. Track one is “Bring the Noise.”

Then I tuned my iPod to the song “Blue Monday”—not the original by New Order from 1982, but the remix by Orgy from their album “Candyass.” Yes, I know that even it’s 10 years old now, at least, but somehow it felt appropriate to sit in my garage before dawn this morning, comfortable as could be with my new lumbar support, singing along with the lyrics: “How does it feel?”

I must admit, it felt good.

Magalogues

I visited my 30-year-old cousins this weekend in Florida after the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. They had just moved into a new home that was filled with unpacked boxes and controlled chaos as their 2-year-old daughter, infant son, and 4-year-old dog got the lay of the land.

On Saturday morning, I caught my cousin typing on her laptop computer. She was quite excited, she told me, because she had just finished forwarding all of her magazines from her old address. She loved reading them, she said, and didn’t want to miss a single issue.

The writer in me was delighted—it’s so rare that anyone younger than 50 tells me they love anything but the Internet these days—but my happiness would be short-lived. When I asked her which magazines she read, she ticked off a list that included Parents, Pottery Barn, and Pottery Barn Kids.

Now, I have nothing against the Pottery Barn catalogs. I’m an avid subscriber myself. Just placed an order, actually, and highly recommend the new grand chenille throw. But to those of us who craft articles for a living, those printed, glossy mailers are absolutely not magazines. They are, at best, magalogues, meaning catalogs with some magazine-style shopping information included.

The thing that really kills me about my cousin’s word choice is that there was no difference in her mind between these catalogs and the true magazine. All three were pretty, useful, printed mailers that she enjoyed reading when the kids gave her five minutes of quiet. That one of the three titles required dozens of journalists and Ph.D.s to do endless research and fact checking, while the other two were fashioned by marketing people, well, that simply wasn’t part of her thinking. They all entertained and informed her, and that was all that mattered.

Her word choice says less about her than it does about the state of our magazine industry. After years of advertisers pushing magazine editors to be more friendly toward their products in print, the line between editorial and advertorial appears to be unalterably blurred.

It makes me want to focus my efforts even more tightly on doing serious journalism, if only to remind readers that such a thing does exist.

21, Baby!

Blue, our newly rescued shelter hound, graduated this morning from beginner obedience class at an excellent facility called Top Dog here in New Jersey. He’s just eight months old and already knows his name, “sit,” “lie down,” “come,” and the basics of walking politely on a leash. (At least when I have small pieces of hot dog in my hand.)

Graduation day was filled with games that test the basic skills each dog has learned. One of the games gave each dog 30 seconds to sit and lie down on command, as many times as possible. Most of the dogs scored about a 10. One got as  high as 19.

My boy Blue? First place with a rocking 21!

Our next goal is working with the Top Dog trainers to help Blue earn his AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate. If all goes well, he’ll have it before he’s even a year old.

And somebody left this dog in a shelter to be put down before he even had a chance to shine. He’s a winner, through and through. I couldn’t be happier or prouder of our little boy Blue.

19 Stinking Seconds

My younger sister had beaten me in four consecutive triathlons as we stood on the sand waiting for the start of  yesterday’s Dottie’s House triathlon at  Island Beach State Park in New Jersey. The closest I’d ever come to catching her in a triathlon was at this race a year ago, when she bested me by nearly six minutes.

I wanted victory this year. And bad.

Michelle is a much faster swimmer than I am, so I intentionally let her take the lead off the beach and into the ocean. I have learned during previous triathlons that if I just let the faster swimmers go first, I endure far fewer accidental kicks and slaps as I make my way around the buoys at my own pace. Hanging back for 10 or 15 seconds sounds like a backwards strategy, I know, but it really does work for a slower swimmer like me, because then I don’t have to keep stopping to let the faster swimmers ram past me throughout the course.

A quarter-mile of swimming later, I ran up onto the beach and into the transition area. I tore out of my wetsuit and realized Michelle’s bicycle was already gone. I clipped my bike shoes into my racing pedals and listened carefully as I rode past my husband. “She’s about four minutes ahead!” he shouted. “Pedal! You can catch her!”

Last year on this 10-mile bike course, I averaged 15.2 mph, which was about the same as Michelle. This year, I did not let the odometer drop below 16 mph. According to the official race stats, I ended up averaging 16.6 mph—a serious improvement on a personal level—but when I got back to the transition area to put on my sneakers for the run, Michelle’s bicycle was already racked and her Nikes were gone. I’d been faster, but not quite fast enough to catch her during the bicycle leg. My only hope was that I’d see her on the pavement, and that she was somehow still close. That had never once been the case before in our events.

As I set out on the 5K run, I was winded. There’s no other way to put it. I had given my all to the bicycle leg, figuring that since Michelle and I run at about the same pace, my best chance to make up the four minutes between us was on the bike. So I took about a quarter-mile to settle into my run, catching my breath and wondering when I would see Michelle go jogging past me in the other direction, having already gotten to the turnaround point well ahead of me, waving at me with a smile, victorious once again.

I kept running.

And I kept running.

And I didn’t see her among the returning runners across the road.

It wasn’t until I was about an eighth of a mile from the 5K’s turnaround that I spotted her. She was barely a quarter-mile ahead of me. She looked shocked as she saw me approach, and she picked up her pace a little bit. For the first time in our two years of doing triathlons, I thought, “I can actually catch her. I’m close enough, with a mile and a half to go, that I can actually catch her.”

Now, with my brain melting just as much as my muscles from exhaustion, I had to strategize. I do practice sprint finishes when I train, but I’ve never sprinted for more than a quarter-mile at the end of a big run. There was no way that I could sprint the next mile and a half in its entirety. I’d lose so much oxygen that I might actually black out.

So I did small sprints. For the next mile, I picked up the pace every two or so minutes, just enough to close the gap between us a little bit more, and a little bit more, and then I dropped my speed to let my lungs and legs recover. Michelle looked back a few times, with the concern in her eyes growing, but she kept her pace and made me work for every last inch.

When we reached the quarter-mile mark from the finish line, I went full steam. For me, that’s only a pathetic 12-minute mile, but I felt like I was moving at light speed.

This was my day. This was finally my day.

We turned the final corner into the parking lot and toward the finish line, and I was about 10 paces behind her. If she just kept her pace and I continued sprinting, I was going to overtake her during the last few steps of the race. It was a mathematical certainty.

We made the turn toward the finish line, with Michelle just barely out in front. Our family saw her first, and I heard them cheer her on. Then, about five seconds later, I made the turn—and our family went wild. They could see me running with every ounce of strength I had left, struggling with all my might to beat her in those last few seconds, after an hour and a half of giving chase. It was our own personal photo finish, the one I’d been working toward for the past two years.

The last thing I remember hearing after that was my husband. He yelled, “Go, Kim! You can catch her! You can catch her!”

Michelle heard him, too. She turned her head and saw me, realized just how close I was, saw that I was sprinting with everything I had, and gunned her legs at full blast. I fired my own internal afterburners for that last bit of kick I still needed—but there was no more gas in my tank. I’d already burned my engines far longer than the manufacturer recommends, and I didn’t have another gear left. As the crowd screamed and our family cheered louder than everyone else, Michelle crossed the finish line.

Nineteen stinking seconds ahead of me.

Yesterday’s race, by the numbers:

  • 1/4-mile ocean swim, 10-mile bike, 5K run
  • My overall time: 1:35, which is nine minutes faster than last year on the same course
  • My overall finish: 244 out of 274
  • My finish among Athenas (women who weigh more than 150 pounds): 8 of 12
  • My time during the swim: 15:52, a full five minutes faster than last year
  • Number of seconds by which Michelle beat me: 19
  • Number of times yesterday that Michelle worked the phrase “19 seconds” into random conversation: At least a half-dozen
  • Number of times I am going to have to hear the phrase “19 seconds” between now and my retirement: At least a thousand
  • Number of people my husband and nephews beat while competing in yesterday’s men’s relay, which was their first: All of them. Way to go, Sean, Shane, and Thomas! First place in the men’s relay division!
  • Number of family members who got up at dawn to cheer us on: 2 (Thanks Suzanne and Brittany! We love you!)
  • Number of pizzas that Sean, Michelle, and I ate yesterday afternoon and evening: 2
  • Number of Advil I have taken since yesterday afternoon: 8
  • Number of days left that I have to train before next year’s Dottie’s House triathlon: 364. And oh yes, I am on it.