Saturday, June 27, 2009

I've Seen This Movie Before



I hated the movie "Titanic." There I said it. Beyond being the worst movie to ever win "Best Picture," I could not see the point of starting a movie where you know how it ends. No matter what twists the writers have put into the script to keep you occupied for the next couple of hours of your life . . .

THE SHIP SINKS, FOLKS. Really.

And Leo isn't going to get the girl.

Same thing for lots of historical and fictional movies where I know the ending: Glory, Diary of Anne Frank, Schindler's List, even West Side Story. Some people don't mind it, but I just sit there in dread for two hours. 'Cause that's how I roll. Mr. Positive. And I need to change that, because if I don't, it will progressively rob me of the enjoyment of Tony and Maria falling in love in the first reel.

I am reaching the point in life where I am starting to realize that I know how this movie ends. Life is a sexually transmitted disease that is terminal in all cases. At a certain point in life, people in your first degree of separation start receiving news from doctors about their particular terminal condition.

"Well, you can see here, Mother and Father Greyhound, there's no circulatory problem, and there is no sign of stroke, but Father Greyhound has experienced some shrinkage of the brain consistent with Alzheimer's Disease."

Flash to Father Greyhound's confusion driving at night and getting lost in familiar surroundings.

Flash to our dear neighbor's wife who deteriorated over a period of 20 years until she was afraid of everything, including her spouse.

Flash to Father Greyhound's father, who looked exactly like him who looks exactly like me, and how he became increasingly combative and paranoid and withdrawn.

Father Greyhound only 70, and has not yet even had the opportunity to retire and take up a hobby. I imagine myself at 70 and it does not involve working my ass off to make ends meet or battling with diminishing faculties or loss of self. Now, however, I know how this movie ends, and I start to worry that I know how my movie ends. But there is a whole 'nother reel to the film, and (unlike Titanic) some great songs and scenes to enjoy along the way, for him and for me.

Indeed, that script has not even been written. If the ending totally determined the value of the intervening journey I wouldn't even do triathlon. I know that, in the end, no matter how hard I train, the podium will not include a short little welp like me who did not begin exercise until his late 30s. The ending of that movie has the tall, athletic kids on the podium who ran track or swam since they were kids. But that does not take away from the grace and joy of the first reel, wherein I learn I am stronger than I thought, and I know what it feels to be truly alive.

Sure, we all know how this movie ends, but very little of who you are will actually travel all the way to the ending with you. With the exception of one particular group of cells, every atom in your body will be regenerated and replaced at least every 10 years--from your red blood cells to your skin and even down to every cell in your skeleton. The lone exception is that mass between your ears, your brain. What is to be done with the new you that gets out of bed every morning? Do those new cells and the new you get a chance to excel, explore, enjoy?

No one would tell a toddler that it is vain to pull up on the coffee table and walk because, in the end, we perish. If, in the end, that one set of cells you were born with shrinks, and you become something other than you before you die, what are you doing with your first reel?

This weekend, my first reel includes a 1/2 Iron triathlon. It will hurt. It will probably be hot. And all along the way I will be tempted with the voice that reminds me how the movie ends. But I get to write this part of the screenplay.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

I haven't mentioned this lately, indeed I haven't mentioned much lately, but Coach Kris rocks.

This is easily said in a week like this one where I have gone down to 6.5 hours of pretty easy training--as compared with last week when I was at 15.5 hours of training. Grownups, much like toddlers, are happy and compliant when they are well-rested and fed.

That is me right now. Unlike some of the training plans I have followed in the past, Coach Kris takes recovery very seriously--maybe making a special issue of at my advanced age. My training is less than half what it was last week and I get two--count 'em TWO--days with no training at all.

Now if only I could get the psycho triathlete side of my brain to remain asleep past 3:30 in the flippin' morning. Seriously, I have done two Ironman training programs with key morning training sessions without ever being awakened by an alarm clock. I never use an alarm because I never need one . . . because I always wake up.

Always.

Even when I don't have to.

Even when I don't want to.

Which brings me to another point--the flip side of rest week. Unlike toddlers, psycho triathletes aren't happy unless they are hungry, exhausted, and on the move. That is me in spades. I'm a midget when it comes to racing, but I am a giant in training. I LOVE to train. So the flip side of Coach Kris, during the build weeks, suits me just fine.

Other plans I've followed had one rest day ever week, which always kind of annoyed me. Sure, I need reset, but I want to DO something. Coach Kris uses his Ouija Board or Magic Eight Ball or Divining Rods to give me something every day during the build weeks. I get recovery by Coach Kris' mix of intensities and the mix of swim/bike/run. And instead of piling all the key workouts into the weekend, I actually have some key sessions during the week, meaning more key sessions and better recovery between the sessions.

I think our only problem, Coach Kris and me, is that I don't speak "swim." He does speak the polyglot swim dialect, and he doesn't always stick to the glossary of "swimming terms" that he sent me. I'm not sure what kind of alchemy goes into swim coaching, but instead of saying, "swim longer and faster than last week," you get a lot of numbers and "@" signs and "s/dr/k by 50s" and "desc 1-4." I usually get the gist of it, but sometimes you just gotta e-mail and say, "WTH?"

He hasn't laughed at me.

Yet.

To my face.

All this is making me better, I can feel it. However, I have yet to show it in a performance.

But, Ironman 70.3 at Buffalo Springs Lake is a week from Sunday. It is a hard course that I have raced twice, but never very well. I'm starting to feel like I am a hard athlete. I'm starting to dream crazy numbers. Do I dare even say them out loud? Write them down?

Hmmmmmmm.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Perhaps I Should Just Sleep In My Bib Shorts

Coach Kris regularly works with athletes at the Olympic Training Center, and he had athletes in the ITU peloton after the Cap Tex Tri when he came to Austin. This inalterably means that I, with three years of experience in triathlon, must be the oldest, slowest and least exciting athlete in his "stable."

Query, is the old bucket o' bones that chews clover out in the paddock, that one horse who gets no stud fees, still considered part of the "stable?"

But I digress.

Today points out the difference between being a full time athlete and an age grouper with a full time job. Last night was an hour bike workout with some accelerations up to and past the anaerobic threshold. It was 96 degrees at 6 p.m., and my water bottle of electrolyte replacement drink and ice very quickly turned into a salty, sticky, hot toddy without the alcohol.

Shower, recover, sleep and prepare for 2 hour morning ride.

Yeah. 2 hours. With some anaerobic intervals just to make it fun.

Do you know what time you have to get up to ride two hours before work? Even when the car is fully packed with bike, helmet, shoes, pump, nutrition, hydration, and a partridge in a pear tree? You seriously start to think about sleeping in your bib shorts just to save time.

After I've been up awhile, I pretty much slap the Dunkin Donuts man around so he'll be sure and get up to make the donuts.

But it was an awesomely fun ride, notwithstanding the heat and humidity before sunrise. Imagine trainer ride in a shower with a fan and you've pretty much got the conditions down pat.

Then, shower, eat, recover . . . and instead of a nap and a massage like Coach Kris' good athletes, I get a full day of legal luciousness. Mmmmmmmmm, just love that desk and the telephone and the computer and Westlaw. Good times.

Then, this afternoon, it's the track workout. Yeah baby. Same day as the two hour ride. Why this afternoon instead of after dark? Well, I'm glad you asked. See, my other jobs are dad and husband, and we have tickets to Swan Lake tonight at 7:30.

Now, I love Tchaikovsky more than is probably healthy. Having been a horn player, I've actually performed the music, and its great fun. But something tells me that I'm going to have to paint eyeballs on my eyelids tonight when the lights go down in the theater. And tomorrow may well involve a case of the Ironman flu--the better to get my swim workout at noon rather than before dawn.

The army may do more before 8 a.m. than most people do all day, but Houston area triathletes truly do "own the night."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Running From The 1980s--How To:


**We now return to our regularly scheduled blog**

Several weeks ago, I got a cryptic text along the lines of, "I just finished my first 5k and it was AWESOME. Thanks for inspiring me."

I did not recognize the number at all, so thankfully, at the end of the text, the sender wrote, "This is Jeanie."

This made me chuckle, not only because it feels so good to think someone is out the door and moving because of you, but also because, in 1980, the notion that I would have been "inspiring" Jeanie would not have entered my mind.

In 1980, I was in the 7th grade--gee, what a great and confident time for all boys, especially those nonathletic boys who are about 5 feet tall and whose voices have not yet changed. Not awkward at all. Add to this that I had just moved to Oklahoma from Ohio, and was visiting a big, downtown church with my parents. It was my first time in a "youth group" (as opposed to children's Sunday School). Jeanie, among others, seemed otherworldly and really intimidating to me. I'm sure she never tried or intended to be, but she was an eight grader with blond hair and makeup and all sorts of other features that had not existed with my 6th grade classmates back in Ohio. Plus she ran in a pack with another blond, be-make-upped BFF, both of whom had features and wore matching, rabbit-fur jackets. Me, I never was permitted a "Members Only" jacket--the manly equivalent.

Alors, we knew fashion in the '80s, non?

Anyway, I grew out of my awkwardness over time as I got to know Jeanie and the other youth group members, and I continued growing after high school (thankfully). And recently Jeanie and the youth group have started meeting up on Facebook. In so doing, Jeanie (now the mother of at least four, including a stunning, college-aged likeness of herself) drafted me to be her running running guru. The changed circumstances give one vertigo.

To make a long story longer, Jeanie wrote me about doing her own triathlon, but bemoaning the fact that she did not yet enjoy the running part. "WILL YOU HELP ME ON THIS RUN THING??? I seriously have to whip myself to do it and actually do enjoy it once I'm there doing it." Here's some of what I wrote back, and I invite you triathlete friends to include your own suggestions for Jeanie in the comments concerning how you learned to love running.

Part of not liking running is feeling like you're not any good at it. You have to figure out how to make it fun, or at least enjoyable, or at least tolerable until your body adapts to where you can go for a run without feeling like you've been caned. There are some suggestions:

1. Do some of your runs with someone. If you have to meet someone, it will motivate you to get out of bed and you'll enjoy the exercise more. There are lots of more experienced runners who would like nothing better than to meet a newbie on their easy run day or for their warm up. Paying it forward is a big part of the culture.

2. Change your running routes. Drive to a park with nice scenery or other runners to watch or just somewhere new.

3. I-Pod. Gotta have it.

4. Create a simple training diary. Seeing progress will motivate you to keep going. At the beginning, mine was as simple as a dry-erase month calendar. I would put a red x when I ran, a Green x when I biked, and a black x when I lived weights. I wanted to have as few days as possible without x's and as many as possible with two x's.

5. Progress slowly--Sore muscles are inevitable, but if you always feel like you've been beaten with an iron rod, you're doing it wrong.

6. Run/Walk--the corollary to progressing slowly. It is easier to keep going if you break the run into bits, especially a run that is longer than you've done before. If you run 4 minutes, walk 30 seconds or a minute, whatever, it is easier to stomach. There are lots of run/walk programs on the internet if you Google "Couch to 5k," and you can start at whatever point of the program meets your current fitness level.

7. Have a Goal--The difference between a runner and a jogger is a race entry. Sign up for an event several months out that is beyond your reach, then plan how you're going to get there. An example might be a 10k in September. Then tell a friend who will hold you accountable. If it is a runner friend, use them to pick out which intermediate distance races you're going to do on the way. Then figure out how you need to train to progress slowly from here to there with an easier recovery week every three weeks or so.

8. Find a running group--there are lots of running clubs and training groups, some of which are set up for (or have programs for) people getting started.

9. Develop the habit--If you get on a schedule and run at the same time on your running days, you soon don't need motivation to get out the door. It is just something you do. (Incidentally, research has established that morning exercisers are most consistent, because nothing interferes with the early morning run.) Once it becomes a habit, you will find it is the best part of the day. If the habit doesn't take the first try, don't sweat it. Starting running is a bit like quitting smoking. Many people have to attempt it several times before the change becomes permanent.

10. Play--It will never be fun all the time, but if it is never fun any of the time, you won't stick with it. So figure out what would turn running (or any kind of training) into "recess" time for grownups. Is it running with your kid or a friend or a certain type of route or a playlist or running intervals or whatever? Training is recess. Go play.

Again, if you have suggestions for Jeanie or other folks wanting to get started this summer, put them in the comments.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

You Might Be A Triathlete

If any of the following are true for you, then you might be a triathlete--indeed, you might be taking this triathlete thing a little bit too far.

1. If you have magic marker on your skin underneath your business attire, then you might be a triathlete. They are either left over race numbers that haven't yet worn off, or you are a toddler and your parents need to do some childproofing.

2. If your business colleagues ask if you "still ride your bike," and you just smile and say yes rather than explain the hours of swimming and running on top of the whole "ride your bike" jaunt that your colleagues imagine, then you might be a triathlete.

3. If your mother-in-law, the Avon lady, gives you "Ironman" aftershave and cologne, then you might be a triathlete.

Thankfully, it does not actually smell like Ironman. I guess urine and B/O did not sell.

4. If you have to take a bike trainer, a wetsuit, a bike, four sets of workout clothes, a helmet, bike shoes, sunscreen and nutrition on a two day business trip, you might be a triathlete.

5. If you doubt whether a session adds to your fitness in the absence of Garmin data to upload to Training Peaks and share with your coach you might be a triathlete. For that matter, if you are over 40 and you have a coach at all, you might be a triathlete.

6. If you associate a massage with pain, you might be a triathlete.

7. If the word "base" does not conjure images of the National Passtime and "taper" makes you think of racing rather than candles or shapes, you might be a triathlete.

8. If you cannot stay awake in a darkened movie theater for two hours, you might be . . . a . . . z-z-z-z-z-z *snort*

9. If you start thinking on Monday about where you're going to ride on Saturday and who with, you might be a triathlete.

10. If you think neoprene is hawt, you might be a triathlete.

Feel free to add your own in the comments.