My Week of Living Dangerously June 30 - July 8, 2001

I was looking forward to the Half-Ironman triathlon, even after being assigned race number 13. I'm 100% non-superstitious, but those that are will have a field day with this.

I went rock climbing in Rumney, New Hampshire the weekend before the race. I was going to lead for the first time. The climb was probably too hard for my first lead (a seven), but I made it up to just right of the anchor before I fell. With rope stretch I fell 30 feet. My foot hit a small ledge very early in the fall and I flipped over, so I fell head-first. ( Read about this in more detail )

My helmet was damaged from the impact on a large shelf. My back took a nasty vertical scrape on the rock. I had a large bruise on the back of my head (even with the helmet) where I'd glanced off the shelf, and my right thumb was extremely black and blue, but not broken. I had other small cuts and bruises of unknown origin.

When my vision returned and I was looking down at the folks on the ground (mine and neighboring parties), they were all slack-jawed in horror. All but one told me it was the worst fall they'd ever seen. I was second in the other guy's estimation. The group next to me were going to get helmets before they'd climb again. My back looked like I had a massive portwine birthmark.

It was a lot worse to witness than particiapte in, is all I can say. I wasn't scared or jittery afterwards. I had noradrenaline, not adrenaline. I was calm and focused. I righted myself and got lowered down, answering all the normal questions about where and who I was.

I didn't climb again that day, out of an abundance of caution. My back did hurt after a bit, but the active pain subsided after about 6 hours. My thumb was brutally painful, primarily from the swelling. I could sleep fine.

We were rained out the next day, but on the following day I managed three climbs at almost my normal rating level. A seven and 2 eights. I cheated on the first two, but managed the last cleanly, even while not being able to use my right thumb. I got more skittish about falling as the days went on. I climbed less and was more fall-afraid than I've ever been.

The trip ended on Wednesday, July 4 with me struggling up a seven that was really more like a five. I decided to climb the following Saturday in the Gunks just to try to get my head back.

But before that I had my springboard diving class on Thursday. My back was scabbed over enough (sorry), and once I figured out how to pierce the water without jerking my thumb painfully, I was set.

We had been working on back dives. I could do a backflip and a standing back dive, but was having trouble with the springboarded back dive. Things were going well. My vault was getting better. I was getting a sense of how my body was acting in the air. I was optimistic I'd be able to pull off a real back dive. No sooner had I figured out what I was doing wrong, but I did a backflip and hit the board on the way down. Head first, then my arms. I remember seeing the board coming up and thinking "shit". I glanced off and bounced back into the water.

On the way in, all I could think was that everyone and their brother was going to be diving in to rescue me. I scissor-kicked and used my arms to reduce the dive to a mere couple feet. My head was back out of the water almost immediately. People were running to see, but I instinctively gave the SCUBA OK sign (one arm curved around with hand pointing at the top of the head). I swam to the side and got out to disbelieving looks from teacher, lifeguard and classmates. I have a nice strawberry on the front of my head and bad scrapes on my inner biceps. I was more embarassed than hurt.

It was then that I remembered about the triathlon and being number 13.

Various people "suggested" I withdraw "just to be safe". Of course I scoffed at them internally, but was polite. I did work part of the day Friday in a helmet. This was good for a laugh.

Wear your helmet!!

Climbing Saturday was hard, but good. I struggled up a five and a six without much fear. Exactly what I wanted to do. My thumb is still not useful, so I had to prussik up about 6 feet over the crux of the six, but otherwise I was fine, if working hard.

I had to register on Sat for the race. The bike course (part of which you must drive to get to the transition area) was steep and winding. The swim in the Hudson was the real bear. According to the lifeguard, we'd be swimming against a 1.5 knot current for over half the 1.2 miles. Not good. Things were looking tough. Maybe too tough, but I was determined to see it out. The registrar offered to change my number, but I declined.

They announced a change in the swim course so that we would swim with the current both ways (there was an eddy near shore). This was a big relief. The rain wasn't forecast until about Noon. Also good, given the steep, twisting bike course (partly on the Clayton "Peg Leg" Bates Memorial Highway).

I slept in my car that night. I managed to get my bike inside the car, but that left no room for me, so I rigged it suspended above me using some climbing gear. It looked mondo weird, but was functional. Not that I slept so well. It was OK, but more restful than sleep.

It started raining in the middle of the night. My alarm went off at 5:15. I noticed that everything was wet and the clouds were still very thick. Don't think, just drive. Get breakfast. Drive the 30 min to the race site. It's raining the whole way. No sign of clearing. I'm starting to feel sick to my stomach. I'm just on the other side of "go" when I start driving a multi-mile section of the bike course. It's sopping wet. It had death written in large letters all over it. My breath was caught short just thinking about taking one of those turns. I was afraid for my life.

I parked the car, still unsure of what I would do. I simply couldn't wrap my head around the biking, normally my most comfortable event. The ultimate perversity was that I was looking forward to the swim. It was then that I heard on the radio about an 8 yr old boy getting his arm bit off by a 7 foot Bull shark off Florida. "The boy's uncle wrestled the shark to shore where medical personnel recovered the arm from the shark's stomach..." Wrestled the shark? I must put this out of my mind immediately.

I had an idea. I'd do the swim and run the half-marathon course twice. I wouldn't be official, but I'd get the big workout I craved, and maybe recover some self-respect. The organizers nixed this idea because it would put me on the course when all the bikes were there. A very reasonable position. My choice now was whether to do the swim. If I did, I couldn't leave the parking lot for 5 hours (they wanted to limit the cars on the bike course). Faced with that, I chose not to.

I did watch the beginning of the swim. The huge conflagration of flapping arms and splashing was impressive. One spectator near me said "looks like the end of Titanic.." And with that, I left.

I spent 2 hours driving home, listening to Pink Floyd. I knew I'd done the smart thing, but it stung. Bad. I threw my stuff upstairs and threw on my running shorts. After parking the car, I started running. I ran 26.5 miles. Took me almost 5 hrs, and the last hour was pure will power ( "don't quit. don't quit. don't quit. don't quit..." ), but it erased any shame I felt. As I passed Bellevue, a tripped out bum was watching me shuffle along in obvious discomfort. "Go marathoner.." he gurgled.

Today my legs are sore, but I'm walking taller.



Don't quit your day job, because if you do we won't get these stories and you'll be having the time of your life and no one at said day-job would be able to appreciate it.

...and I thought I was brave.

I laughed 'till I cried and then until I wet my pants. Then I changed my pants and came back and read the rest laughing but just more carefully. Good work on the 26.5 miles, that's solid enough as it is.

I'm glad you are still alive you idiot.

dude ... i can't believe what a daredevil athlete you've become!

I ran one marathon and when I was only 60 yards(roughly) from the finish line I had heard the announcer call out for a 10-year old boy who had just beaten me to the finish and it was then that I knew my marathon days were over.

See whats happen with the number 13. It must of been all in your HEAD!!!!

Ok, you can't send me anything like that ever again. I don't think I've ever gasped and cursed and covered my face with my hands so much during an e-mail. I always thought you were insane, there's my proof.

No guts. No glory. Don't worry chief, you have more guts than any man I know.

Glad to hear you chose caution. It seems only wise after your two near concussive experiences (you know it's bad when you need protective head gear at work). I'd say running a marathon is a pretty intense annodyne to salve your conscience. I think I'd've opted for a pint of Ben & Jerrys and a B movie.