Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On Guts

On Memorial Day, 2009, I returned to the site of my first ever triathlon. And on the day, I was fairly satisfied with the experience. After all it was not my "A" race of the season, and I had modest goals. I wanted to do better than my first triathlon, and I wanted to have a comfortable swim with my head in a better place than my previous efforts.

I did all that. I had a modest PR, finishing the course in 2:51:25, which is a few minutes faster than when I first did it. I had a modest swim PR, finishing the 1500m in a workmanlike 33:31, again, a little better than my first effort. I had a really fun/strong bike split of 1:13:13, which is an average of 20.3 mph over a course with lots of turns, some climbing, and several places where one has to slow to nearly zero mph to U-turn and then crank it back up to race pace. Then, in the heat of the day, being somewhat satisfied with the day's efforts, I "phoned in" the run, just lollygagging through the 10K, way below my potential.

I was pretty happy with the day's work, and had lots of fun. So . . . why am I becoming less satisfied with the race as time goes on?

Of course part of it is because I'm way too analytical for my own good and I think too much. It was supposed to be fun, and it was. It was supposed to be a day of play, and it was. It was supposed to be a super fantastic time spent with friends, and it was all that and a bag of chips.

But part of it is because I am just analytical enough to know that the unexamined life is not worth living. So, tolerate a little navel gazing before I make a bigger point that does not have so much to do with me.

Not to take anything at all away from an awesome weekend--but I've been thinking. (Uh oh). For this race, I aimed low and I hit the target. I swam better, but I swam easy rather than test what I was made of. I rode well, but biking is easy--I love the bike, especially on a technical, crazy-fast course. And when the run was harder than I wanted, I just couldn't be bothered. I aimed low rather than risk failure. Big deal. Sure, a good day of practice and preparation for Ironman Cozumel later in the season. But not very gutsy.

This race report, however, is not a pity party for Trigreyhound. In thinking about Monday, I really did learn something. I learned something about guts, but not from my own performance or from the performances of the fast kids. There were some extremely gutsy athletes out under the sun on the Cap Tex Tri race course. And if you look only to the race clock I beat nearly all of them. But somehow I don't think the race clock measures the winner of the guts race very well.

Everyone in the race, from the fast kids on down, is enduring something, whether it is the pain of the effort or the conditions or (very often) their own negative head talk about their performance or their chances for success. I'm sure we've all heard that voice: Why are you doing this? What is the point? You're not going to win. You're not even getting any better. I, myself, often have to deal with the critic on the shoulder who questions whether I belong on the course at all, and I'm at least a C+ athlete at this point.

Think, then, how much louder and more authentic the voice sounds with someone who is not a C+ athlete. For example, what of the first-time triathlete who doesn't (yet) have the skinny body and the muscles and the flash bike with the aero helmet? What about the woman who, 6 months ago, hated buying swimsuits and looking in mirrors who is now in spandex, out in public, racing and raising money for Team in Training? They were out there suffering in the sun, sometimes walking, sometimes barely running as I went by them at my "slow" pace. What's going on in their heads? Maybe they have a better and healthier thought life than me. Maybe they never doubt. Somehow, I think they do hear the voices or the criticisms or feel the judgments; yet, they keep on going. They show guts. They risk failure. They endure.

My time was faster, but I don't think I "beat" them.

And then there were the two racers that I want to point out in particular. Again, I passed them on the run, but I know for a fact that I did not surpass them. They were both younger than me, enough so that I might have been their father. They were running together, both dressed in red team jerseys. They both had haircuts that were high and tight, because they were both Marines, combat veterans. They both had jerky, labored running form, because they were each running on a prosthesis to replace a missing leg.

Not two years ago, these soldiers probably gave little real thought to injury or death, cloaked as they were in the immortality peculiar to young men and athletes. Their identity, to their very core, was likely bound to their physical strength and bodies that would obey their commands, bounce back and do it again the next day. Now, here they were, with bodies that were missing limbs, incomplete, unruly, difficult, nonresponsive. And yet, they aimed high. They risked failure. They endured. I ran right past them, but they've been in my thoughts ever since.

I was faster, but I most certainly did not "beat" them.

That's what I want to foster in myself. I want to aim high. I want to risk total, abject failure. I want to bite off more than I can chew, and then chew like hell. And I want to keep on learning from the people on the course who really beat me. Semper Fi.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Time Keeps On Slippin'

Well, it's been a quiet week in Spring, Texas, my home town, out on the edge of the Megalopolis.

The weather gave us a head fake this week. Last week, mother nature seemed to leap ahead into the dog days of July with temperatures in the 80s and 90% relative humidity before the sun came up. Windows all over the neighborhood sweated in the darkness, and everyone was required to out the trash or pick up the paper before taking a shower, lest the whole routine of morning ablutions become moot in the sweaty aftermath of merely walking to the curb.

Then, this past weekend, a line of storms came through with a cold front, and we were mercifully transported back into late march. Monday and Tuesday morning the air was cool and crisp and dry. The temperatures and calm conditions in the upper 50s before sun up during a morning ride or swim were pretty much how I imagine heaven will be one day. It was a weird inversion, because at the same time we were experiencing heaven on earth, Minnesota was having high humidity and temperatures in the 90s--call it Houston on earth.

But mother nature and father time were only playing a temporary trick on us, sort of an "Indian Spring," like Indian Summer, only in Houston, our severe weather is follows spring. Things are back to normal weather wise, if not with father time.

This morning, I felt completely out of sorts. It is the first Saturday morning in moths that I did not have to get up early for a bike ride or a run or a race. I went to bed at my normal "toddler hour," and my eyes clicked open like a dairy farmer with insomnia at 0400, but I rolled over and went back to sleep. After a total of 9.5 hours of sleep, I woke again, and I could not remember where I was or what day it was or what I had to do. Usually, I wake with a training peaks workout and a long list of work to-do's, and my little dog brain is synching with Mircosoft Outlook as surely as if my Blackberry connected to an electrode in my skull.

But today, nothing. And it was weird. I don't know what I did with my time before I was swim-bike-running 12 to19 hours a week.

And the time distortion will continue this weekend. On Monday, Memorial Day, I have a race. It's not the first race this season, but it's my first race. Like, EVER. In 2006, The Cap Tex Tri was my first triathlon ever, and now I will return to the race for the first time since. In weird ways, I have the same feelings I had three years ago.

Back then, I was afraid I might not finish, mostly because of the long 1500m swim. Two Ironman finishes later, I'm still scared, not of failure to finish, but simply of failure. I really love the winding, up and down bike course, and I know I can muddle through the run, but for the Love of God I'd finally like to swim decently in the open water. For me, this means just being able to pay attention to my form and swimming long and strong if not fast. But, I'm afraid I'll have my typical freak out and muddle through swim.

Which would put me right back in 2006, which would be weird.

And Father Time taunts and confuses me in all sorts of other ways. My parents arrive today, and when you no longer live with parents, time rushes in all at once. My mother assumes that everything that she has experienced since Christmas has been communicated to me, by telpethy if not by telephone. So while she will have told me fourteen times about an inconsequential event involving a remote acquaintance from our church, she will have neglected to say, "oh, by the way, your dad has had trouble walking. Didn't I tell you?"

That is the reason their trip is rescheduled--to accomodate testing on Tuesday concerning a ruptured lumbar disc that has been troubling him since February. In the last year, dad has gone on a medecine (prematurely in my view) for dementia, has decided to retire, unretire, and retire again, and has become more enfeebled than I think is stricly necessary. And my experience of it is even more rushed, for it happened in one visit in December and a couple of phone calls since. I want to tell him to fight it, but this is foreign to their experience. If the doctor says you need a pill, you take a pill. If the surgeon ways you need surgery, you have surgery. And if you feel old, you stop going to the gym.

Meanwhile, I wax and wane. When I ran with Scuba Steve this week, I felt no different than I remember feeling in my 20s--only I am fitter now. I felt like I had more in common with this 23 year old engineering student than with my 40 to 50 year old law partners. And looking in the mirror, sometimes I see a lean young man in top condition, and others I see a middle aged man in denial--one who is never going to podium or excel no matter how much training is involved.

And it is difficult to know what to feel or what to think. But right now, I feel like Father Time better learn how to swim, because if I see him, I'm going to kick his ass.

And that's the news from Spring, Texas, where all the schools are exemplary, all the food is fast, and all the commutes are below average.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Race Ready--if I can walk

I can totally tell that my fitness is getting sharp, because the fitter I am, the harder it is to get out of bed in the morning, pull myself out of a chair or haul my carcass out of my tiny car. By that measure, I'm the second coming of Dave Scott, because I'm stiff, sore, cranky and tired.

I blame Coach Kris (and I can only assume he will want some credit if I PR). He has not increased my training volume, but the volume and intensity of the running has ramped up, presumably getting me ready for the Cap Tex Olympic Distance Triathlon on Memorial Day. With Coach Kris' permission, I'll give you a little taste of the running of the hounds this past week or so.

Begin with Thursday night's track workout--nothing too crazy, just warmup, striders and then 8x400m above 5k pace with 200m recoveries. But add in the wussy factor, the liquid heat of Houston air, and the fact that I only max out at 185+ beats per minute on my heart rate, and the torture session looks something like this:

Two days later was the brick workout plus Mother's Day Mall Shopping in the jungle that I described here. Running off the bike in 91+ humid degrees is a unique pleasure here in the Gulf Coast.

Then was The Mother's Day Massacre--twice around the Rice Campus/Hermann Park Zoo loop with an added out and back to tack on time.

The workout was supposed to be 1:40:00 of long running with 3 to 4 times 6 minute intervals up into heart rate zones 4-5a. There are Five Zones? Sersly? Who knew?

When you're a long and slow diesel like me, that translates to "run harder until it kinda sucks a lot." Here's what that looks like:

I elected to do the intervals near the start of the run, relying on Scuba Steve and Coach T to join me for the last 45 minutes of the run to pull me through to the end.

Then, this morning was another rumble in the jungle. The weather was so schwetty in the Bayou City that my shoes were flinging water by the end of what I'll call the "Wonky 10K." The Holy Prophet of Training Peaks described the workout as "BT: Surges. Warm up. On a 10k course run 2 minutes (recover for 1 minute), 1 minute (recover 30 seconds), 30 seconds (recover 30 seconds) at ~5k pace. Repeat for entire course. Cool down."

Uhm, yeah. Cool down. This is Houston. Cool is not going to happen again until October.

I used a modified out and back on Buffalo Bayou:

And the data looks like this:

Scientifically, all those lines and the high heart rates translate to, "WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" By about the 5th or 6th 2 minute interval, I was suffering acute booty lock when I tried to pick up the pace. And with an average heart rate above my anaerobic threshold, and a max hear rate in the 170s, it was a painful way to start the day--and not even that fast.

But I am told that that which does not kill me will only make me stronger. Apparently, Coach Kris is willing to test the hypothesis, although I am not yet sure whether I am getting the actual therapy or whether I am the "kill 'em" control group.

Thank goodness the taper has begun.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Welcome to the Jungle

Welcome to the jungle
We got fun 'n' games
We got everything you want
Honey we know the names

When you're training for Ironman, Saturday morning is always time for the long ride. As I have chronicled, riding on the streets in Houston can be a bit of a struggle as slow-witted pachyderms in their SUVs and Pickup Trucks compete with you for habitat. But this particular Saturday, I only had one SUV that refused to yield place, and that probably out of ignorance or inattention rather than malice. Today's jungle excusion was difficult for a different reason.

In Houston, you know that the day is going to be a challenge if the windows are sweating with condensation before the sun comes up. This means that, in contrast to the interior of your home, which feels like a low-humidity meat locker, the outside environment is doing its best to mimic Equatorial Guinea. At 0530, when you stumble out to get the paper, the humidity clamps a hot, wet washcloth over your face, and you're cast into the sauna.

Perfect training conditions for Ironman Cozumel, to be sure, but unpleasant to say the least. Coach Kris ordered up a 2.5 hour ride followed by a 15 minute brick run, ordinarly plenty of work but nothing to write home about. This day, however, the sweat was dripping and flying off my bike helmet before I'd even made 15 minutes of work. And by the time I was running off the bike, the sun was in full force. I wimpered my way through the run-off (read "shuffle off") and headed for the AC. I had drunk 1.5 litres of fluid during the ride, and consumed 2 litres of fluid in the hours afterward, but there was little evidence of it. I was wrung. out.

But there was more jungle to come--actually the wildest and jugleiest jungle of them all. For you see, it was the day before mother's day, which means shopping is required. And this particular day, the recesison was nowhere in evidence. The traffic jams and parking lots were such that you would have thought it was the last shopping day before Christmas, except it was a billion degrees outside.

Yes, those of you with weak constitutions might want to skip the rest of the post, for Greyhound went shopping.

Even more, I took two girls shopping: Superpounce and her newly-teenaged friend Mini-KT.

OK, to say that I went shopping is to exaggerate, like many of the feats described herein. But this is my blog, and I at least get to be the hero of my own narrative. Actually, I mostly functioned like an undercover, surveillance detail from the NSA--watching from a distance and loitering outside stores as Superpounce and Mini-KT texted me about where they intended to shop next.

Between Aeropostale, American Eagle, the Food Court, and Justice, we were able to spend a little time at Macy's in order to find someing Mom-er-iffic for today.

And I survived the jungle by making it much of the way through the Weekend Journal.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

10 Risks Of Swim Training At L.A. FATness

Long time readers will know that I used to swim in the beautiful, outdoor, saline pool at the Woodlands Athletic Center. I joined as part of the masters group, but I also had privileges to swim any ole' time I wanted. Alas, the WAC is no more. True, the local school system has built a natatorium that would exceed the facilities at many a university; but, I can only use that when the masters are practicing, not for individual swim practice.

When the WAC closed, I was forced to join yet another gym in order to have access to a pool within a reasonable distance of my house. Apparently the "Think Method" of swim training--wherein you just imagine you are a really good swimmer--does not work. Who knew?

The pool that is closest to my home is the local "L.A. Fitness" a/k/a L.A. FATness. It has an adequate, 25 meter, indoor pool, and it opens at 0500 in the morning, so it has become logistically very easy to get in the swim workouts before work. That said, there are certain dangers and risks to swimming regularly at L.A. FATness, and I thought I would put them out there, sort of as a public service. No need to thank me, I'm just here to help.

1. STEROIDS: Apparently, steroids is a danger amongst the population of middle-aged, hairy, iron-pumping, 40% body fat male clientele because there is a "STEROIDS WARNING" posted in bold type in the locker room warning me that my wang might shrink and my boobies might grow. Again, who knew?

2. Heat prostration: While it is definitely easier to slip right from bet to the tepid waters of L.A. FATness than it was to brave the cold pool deck at the WAC, swimming a couple of sharp 100s will make you sweat--inside the pool.

3. Objects are slower than they appear: If you swim at L.A. FATness, you can quickly develop a distorted view of your swimmy luciousness. Yesterday, for example, I was fingertip drilling across the pool in my slowest, easiest and most efficient glide and I went right by someone flailing out 25s at about 30 strokes per length. My tiny brain, for a moment, thought, "wow, I rock"--until I remembered that the better measuring stick is the masters group, where it often appears that I'm swimming in super slo mo as others glide Phelps-like to and fro.

4. Swimming in disinfectant: L.A. FATness has developed a prophylactic measure to be taken against swine flu. Swim in their pool. It has the taste, smell, clarity and viscosity of a bottle of Clorox. If you have any living organism on you, it will die upon entering the pool. If you swim more than three time per week, you will fade, more than 5 times a week, expect to completely disappear.

5. Hair Dryers: I don't use a hair dryer. The only hair it is appropriate to blow dry is the hair on one's head, and mine is cropped so short it needs neither drying nor coming. At L.A. FATness, however, there are two problems: 1) John Edwards wannabees with copious feathered locks c1985; and 2) hairdryers are apparently used to dry hair folicles in nooks and crannies of all sorts south of the Mason-Dixon line.

And just FYI, the crop top muscly girls that are in the L.A. FATness artwork, or the incredible butterfly swimmer dude--never seen them at the club. Never.

6. Simulated Open Water Swimming: I suppose I should thank swimming-trunks-IM-guy for the excessive turbulence he creates when heaving his prodigious girth through 5x100 IM on the 5:00. His butterfly, in particular, turn the little L.A. FATness pool into a terrifying ocean swim. But the L.A. FATness water tastes like a combination of bleach, rubber and White Rain hairspray. I need to improve my open water skills, but would prefer to do so without choking on eau d'jazzercize.

7. You ain't all that: Like speed, your perception of duration will be warped upon swimming at L.A. FATness. If you swim a 60 minute workout, some of the other lanes will empty twice before you're done, as the L.A. FATness crowd swims their 500 meters of floaty breast stroke and head-up length of freestyle. Before you throw out a shoulder patting yourself on the back, Greyhound, remember that the transition area is still devoid of bikes when you emerge from the water.

8. Elevators: I know it is probably required by the American With Disabilities Act, but L.A. FATness has an elevator to the second floor loft where the cardio equipment is. And every time I am there, I see people taking the elevator up one story -- avoiding the stairs on their way to do "cardio." HUH????

9. Showers That Save The Earth: L.A. FATness is doing its part to save the planet, in this case by using the aerating shower heads that turn a dribble of water into a dribble of water and air. Corporate Fat Cats and Robber Barons like me, however, cannot make it through the day if we have not pillaged the earth by pasting ourselves to the other side of the shower with a fire hose of hot shower water.

10. No Excuses: If it is too easy to skip masters, it is also too easy to swim. There is NEVER any excuse to skip Coach Kris' swim sessions. It shows up in your e-mail box, and you know it must be done. L.A. FATness calls.

Now, this is an interactive medium. Some of your favorit gym training risks go in the comments.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Super Cop

Today I experienced the antidote to Officer McBreakfast Taco.

I was riding my normal training route in and through the Woodlands and was proceeding along a side street with plenty of room for both car and cyclist. I was politely and safely passed by three cars/SUVS in a row. Maybe it was the ginourmously visible yellow, safe passing jersey:

Or maybe it was the blinky light that can be seen from space.

But apparently, this was not enough for a dumb sh*t motorist that I will call "Frat Boy"--you know the type--20 something, hipster side burns, too sexy for my baseball cap/God's-gift-to-babes self-image, and get-off-the-road and ride-on-the-sidewalk-faggot attitude.

Frat Boy, in his black Nissan, four cylinder-fake-sports-car with his nicotine habbit, tried to force me out of the lane and squeeze by to get to the upcoming traffic light. And this right after three other cars had passed properly and given me nearly the whole lane. Bad move, Frat Boy, because see, you have to stop at the traffic light, and I'm going to give you an unwanted education on the traffic laws. I've got sweatshirts older than you, Sparky. And if you want to go, you'll wind up in jail and bankrupt, because that's how it works when you go with the legal beagle. And if you're rude, you're also going to get a piece of my mind. And because today is today, I've got another surprise for you. (You'll see).

Of course, he was rude. Of course, he told me to "get out of the road." (Any of this sounding familiar?) Of course, he let go some F-bombs and called me a faggot. I asked Frat Boy if he'd like to discuss this with a police officer right then and there. He (having quickly run through his limited vocabulary) told me to F off, and get the F out of his way and get my hand off his f-ing car because I was a faggot, blah blah blah.

But Frat Boy miscalculated, and I was so emboldened because I was thinking ahead. You see, all those cyclists in the Woodlands today were doing a triathlon. (Not me, I was just training). And that meant nearly every intersection was blinking red with one lane blocked off and a line of cars waiting to get through an intersection controlled by at least three police officers. So, while Frat Boy waited in the line of cars (evil laugh here), I biked 400 yards up the shoulder to the next group of police officers, told the officer in charge that there was a motorist in the line who needed an education on the traffic laws and maybe a ticket as well because he had tried to squeeze me out of the lane with his automobile and then threatened me.

And I was standing there with my new-found friends in law enforcement (wearing my "I'ts the Law" jersey) as Frat Boy approached the intersection. And I identified his sorry a$$ for the four officers controlling traffic. And he saw me identify his sorry a$$. And I watched as the officers directing traffic ordered Frat Boy to turn into the parking lot where they intended to have a little talk about what the law requires and how grownups are required to behave when they are behind the wheel of a deadly weapon.

Go ahead, Frat Boy.

Make. My. Day.

***After Action Report***

Things I wish I had done:

1. Should have photographed his license plate and his face. I carry a camera for just such a purpose. The first thought should be to go for the camera and the cell phone. Bullies are cowards when they've been called out of their vehicles and identified.

2. I wish I had brought my laminated copy of the traffic laws to toss in his open window as I spit on his car and rode away to taunt him into trying to attack me in front of the officers so they'd put him in jail.

OK, that's not exactly true, but it's a nice fantasy.

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Biggest Winner

"I want to be muscular, like Jillian."

That's what Superpounce told me not long ago. I nearly jumped up and high-fived myself. And this may be the prime reason why every middle-aged man should run and exercise: so healthy habits of self-determination will rub off on the progeny.

You see, as the dad of a daughter, I've probably become a little bit more of a feminist than I otherwise would have been. Part of that has been an increased awareness of the differences between the difficulties faced by boys, and those faced by girls in their respective struggles to reach healthy adulthood. As a dad, I figure that a good portion of my job is to make myself obsolete--transport this child from helpless infancy to healthy adulthood where I'm nice to have around, but strictly speaking, no longer needed.

Either shortly before or shortly after Superpounce was born, I read several books about the unique challenges of bringing up girls and how important Dad's messages are to girl growing. One of those books was Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, Ph.D. The book chronicles how girls enter a dark tunnel around age 13 or so, becoming less confident, more subservient to boys, less likely to learn, more likely to suffer from eating disorders, etc. It hypothesizes how media messages and other societal forces play a role in causing this tunneling, and (if I recall correctly) notes positive influences like sport and the influence of a father that combat those forces.

With that book on my mind these past 11 years, I have observed and influenced the objects of Superpounce's pop culture admiration to notice and impact what is influencing her. When she asked to be a cheerleader, for example, I declined. "Why cheer for someon else," I inquired, (especially boy football players). "Wouldn't it be better to be the one people are cheering for?"

I've also been trying to model good "dad" behavior by admiring strong women worthy of admiration--watching women's sport, avoiding air-headed pop culture fluff, surrounding 'Pounce and the family with good people, Ironman finishers and other athletes of all types, and of course doing my best to walk the walk with my own conditioning. None of this is in hopes that 'Pounce will be a scholarship athlete and live out any athletic fantasy of mine from days gone by. She does have my genetics, after all, and I can only smile when the small, skinny daughter of a 5'5" dad dreams of playing basketball.

The reason, in addition to my own health, is so that Superpounce will say something like the words I heard while watching Biggest Loser--as a family while she works out as she always does. "I want to be muscular, like Jillian." Those words carry more than admiration of a pop-culture icon. They also buy into her message self-worth and power and her rejection of victimhood. "I want to be muscular, like Jillian," is effectively the pop-culture opposit of "I wanna be rich like Paris Hilton" or "I wanna be skinny, like Lindsay Lohan," or "I wanna be a singer, like Brittany Spears." Those words made me feel like "The Biggest Winner."

Sure, she can be rich if that's in the cards. She can even be a knock out and a singer. She can be or do anything she wants. But she can do it from a position of physical and personal power rather than personal exploitation or pain.

Because she's muscular like Jillian. Look out, world.