Monday, May 20, 2019

And Then Something Happened... (Part 1)

Most of the greatest events in your life will sound like this, upon reminiscing. "So I was minding my own business when..." and excellence will ensue. A sister , albeit sinister version, to this would be, "Little did I know what I was in for..."

For example, I was minding my own business in a college theology class when the professor announced that we had to do a group project. My first pick in topics was full. So was my second. I just scribbled my name on a third and was partnered with a hot chick I now refer to as the Wife. What's funny is that when she tells the exact same story, with very similar details (she got her first pick), is she starts the story as, "Little did I know what I was in for..."

Well, in sport, there's a different catch phrase that foreshadows a tragic story is about to unfold. It's, "And then something happened..." and I've been living this nightmare for a few years in a row.

Two years ago, I was minding my own business and going for a run during a late January morning. I was in perfectly great shape and there was nothing special about this run. And then something happened. I stepped on an invisible object that caused a stress fracture in my left foot. I didn't really run again until April. Two plus months was more than enough to turn my running clock back to zero, and my clock wasn't all that speedy to start with.

Last year, I was minding my own business in mid-February and then something happened. Next thing I know, I was under doctor's orders to not lift or strain anything. Little did I know that I was in for no swimming, biking, or plodding for a few weeks. I recovered from that excursion faster than I did the previous year but it still put a major dent in my progress.

This year, I had successfully done 100 runs in 100 days. I had logged more 40 mile+ run weeks than ever before seen. I even hit 50 plus on an occasion. I was minding my own business on a treadmill run late one Friday night in April. And then something happened... I could feel the slight stretch in my left hamstring during a particularly fast 5k. The next day, I went for an easy 14 miler and put that tiny tweak behind me. Sunday's short run also felt normal. Monday was an off day.

So I was minding my own business on a Tuesday morning tempo run and then something happened. I was on mile 3 of doing some speed like work (nothing I do could ever be considered 'speedy') and the tweak turned into a full blown twerk. Nobody likes twerking. I ran back home at a pace that even I would have called slow. For reference, I was passed by several blowing leaves. Note: The wind was blowing in the other direction.

I decided to wait a couple of days before re-attempting my version of running. And then something happened... The twerk was still there. I cut myself off for another 10 days.

Here's the big fat lie of multi-sport: They say that if you're laid up in one of the disciplines that you can always fall back on the others to keep you entertained. They are complete idiots. What they don't take into consideration is the blow to your psyche. I've never had depression and I won't trivialize the hardships of people with the condition, but this was the closest I've been to what I think it would feel like. To put all of that effort and energy month in and month out to end up side-lined like this was excruciating. I didn't want to do anything expect curl up and wallow. I could feel the tendon stretch and be uncomfortable in the water and on the bike. My workouts in all disciplines struggled.

After my 10 day hiatus, I decided that I hated not running. On a fit of unintelligent desperation, I went for a run. This was a Monday. It was an easy 4 miler out and back with about 7 feet of elevation. After 3 miles, I was feeling pretty good and plotting out the rest of my week to get back to a 30 mile norm. And then something happened. At mile 3.5 I was walking in near tears as the twerk had reared it's ugly head. I resigned to another week off.

So my running has completely dropped off the Earth. My desire to bike was taking a hit by both the injury and the crappy weather pattern that's known as normal/ cold and wet for the armpit of America I call home. I happily have a few people that look forward to seeing me at the pool and will hold me semi-accountable for getting wet with them. It wasn't good but it's the best I had (and, truth be told, I'm not really all that worthy of their awesomeness, which in turn makes them all that much more awesome). On the bright side, I had been eating more. There's nothing like some weight gain to keep the unhappiness flowing.

The following Monday, I was getting desperate. I tried again. This time I didn't get the grace period of niceness that was allotted me during my last run. The hammy was tight the entire way. However, I remember thinking that I could keep this pace (slow) going at this pain level (mild) for quite some time. I once again started plotting my run mileage for the rest of the week. This plot line included an easy Tuesday morning run. I was 2 miles in to that 4 miler and then something happened. The twerk returned in it's full on ugliness (note: there is no such thing as a good looking twerk). I ran/ walked/ limped home.

As of this writing, that was a full 2 weeks ago. According to the googler, one of the paths towards healing is strengthening the glutes. Now, I'm into butt stuff! I'm rolling. I'm stretching. I'm doing bridges. I must say that things are looking mighty firm down there. Things in the hamstring area of my life have been looking up.

During this last bit of time, every once in a while, something would happen and I would re-tweak my twerk. I would pick something up and get sent a warning ping. I would do a sudden turn in just the right direction and feel a little extra stretch. These weren't painful, mind you, just enough discomfort to remind me that I'm not healed. Therefore, what I would not do is run on it.

And, at this stage of my existence, I am struggling to admit that I am afraid to run. No, not because I know I'll be slower than all of the work I've done this year should dictate. I don't mind being slow. You can't be me and be grumpy with slow. The running brings the pain and I'm just not in to twerking.

As it stands, I've got a half Ironman race on June 2nd. It's highly likely that will be my next run. I'm going to go for about a month without running and nearly 2 months without any real mileage so that I can survive a race. My big race goal is to not have any hamstring pain during the race. Any other kind of pain is acceptable, including mental anguish. This is not a good existence. Wish me luck.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

A Users Guide to Circle Swimming

Way back in the day when I was an actual athlete, swimming was my sport of choice. And I wasn't the only one. There were 20-30 other losers guys in the school with similar ambitions (which basically meant to go down and come back as fast as possible). The pool was 25 yards long by 6 lanes wide. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that you can't fit 20 boys in speedos side by side and expect them to have a decent practice. A creative solution was required. Instead of going down and back in straight lines, we sort of looped it at the end. We didn't have a name for this phenomenon, it was just something we automatically did.

Years later, after going to the community pool affectionately called the YMCA, I learned that non-swimmers call this thing "circle swimming" (Note: the term 'non-swimmer' here is being defined as people who don't really have a ton of experience swimming in briefs for the better part of their childhood/ high school/ college years. Other terms that I could have used in this scenario might have been, but not limited to: Adult Onset Swimmers (sub-note: I hate this term as it sounds like they have a disease /end sub-note) or Normal People /end Note).  I also learned that it was something that they didn't like to do. In their worlds, the line in the middle of the lane is not a guide but a divider should 2 people happen to be in the same lane at the same time. You have your side and I have mine. You shall not contaminate my side of the line for any reason. The swimmers just go with it and continue to circle swim, a term that they were recently taught, only their circles are a little smaller. The non-swimmers, in fact, loathe circling so much that many would sooner abandon their workout and leave the water should a 3rd person join the lane and force a rotational setting.

I have been loosely researching this lack of willingness to circle by the non-swimmers for the better part of a decade. There have been many failed hypotheses throughout this period. Some were due to poor experimental technique (EX: I now know that electric shock practices should not be employed in the pool) while other failures were due to non-swimmers unwillingness to complete a 35 page questionnaire. But, after much hardship (mostly on their parts), I think I've figured it out. Non-swimmers simply don't know how to circle swim. And now I'm going to teach them/ you.

The Art of the Circle

The first thing you need to know about circle swimming is that you don't actually make a circle. Circles traditionally revolve around a fixed point, called a focus, and have a fixed distance, called the radius. Literal circle swimming in the pool is possible, but they'd have to remove all of the lane lines and come to an agreement as to how wide they'd want the circle. Then we'd have the problem of wasting a lot of pool space since we're putting a round hole in a rectangular peg. It's just not an effective use of the space. (Plus, people will be tempted to make a whirlpool and then they'd be completely distracted from their workout.) Therefore, what we call circle swimming is closer to elliptical swimming with the group going around 2 foci imaginarily located near the T-shaped portion of the lane paint near the ends of the lane. They don't want to call it 'elliptical' swimming due to the facts that most swimmers and non-swimmers alike can't swim in a straight lines, there was some initial confusion because some people thought that they hooked up cardio machines of the same name in the pool, and the pathway isn't as geometrical as our former math teachers would like us to follow.

The second thing you need to know is that the line in the middle of the pool is very similar to the lines on the road (I'm making an assumption here that both of my readers have their driver's licenses). You stay to the right side of the line. Or, in an effort to make a simple concept more confusing, keep the lane dividing line always on your left. (Note 2: In backwards countries where they drive on the left, everything in the pool is also backwards, and you swim on the left. More proof positive as to how vehicle centric our world has become. /end Note 2). By doing this, it really doesn't matter if you're going down or coming back, you will magically not hit anyone traveling in the opposite direction.

That's pretty much it. Why non-swimmers are intimidated by applying the rules of the road in the water is beyond me.

But, Wait, There's More

Okay, there are some tips and tricks that they don't teach you in circle swimming school. These are traditions passed down in the pool from veteran swimmer to rookie swimmer, most of them learned the hard way.

Trick #1: Match speeds- If you pay even a smidgeon of attention to your swimming, you should have an inkling of an idea as to how fast you can swim down and back (swimmers affectionately call this a "50"). If you don't roughly know this pace, look at the deck clock, or if one is not available, you can Fred it up and look at your watch (Note 3: Fred is a cycling term but since there's no complimentary swimmer word for the concept, I usurped it. I'm confident you can glean it's meaning. /end Note 3). Now that you know-ish your 50 speed, upon arrival to the pool spend about 2 minutes watching the pre-existing swimmers and the clock/ watch. Traditionally, the fastest swimmers occupy the middle of the pool while the slowest swimmers populate the edges and the mediumest swimmers are crammed in between. Also, traditionally, most community pools don't care about tradition. (Note 4: This is the real reason swimmers don't immediately get in the water and they fidget on deck. They are conducting a meta-analysis of the happenings of the space to practice efficiently. And you thought they were stalling. Ha! /end Note 4.) Find the lane that most closely matches your pace. That's your lane.

Trick #2: Match skills- In the highly probable world that no one comes close to your speed, find someone with a similar skill set. Do you flip turn? (If not, you should start, Fred!) Does anyone else in the pool have a similar way of pushing off the wall as you? That's your lane. Are you planning on doing breaststroke and/ or elementary backstroke? Then don't get in the lane with the guy/ gal doing butterfly.

Trick #3: Leader stays left- Let's suppose that you know for certain, like 100% fact, that there's no on-coming traffic. That means that the left-hand side of the lane between you and the wall to which you are heading is completely clear. You are now the leader. Congrats! You can pick and choose to swim wherever in the lane you want. If you move over now, you won't have to worry about trying to figure out how to move over at the wall. See how smart you are!

Trick #4: Passing- This is probably one of the most complicated tricks of the trade. It requires both parties, the passer and the passee, to understand what's going on. Here's the system, and pay close attention here: the passer comes up the the soon-to-be passee. The passer does one of the most annoying things possible, on purpose. The passer touches a foot of the passee. If you are a nice passer, you'll only make the touch once. Sometimes you'll slip up and hit it again. Caution- hit it too many times and you might get hit back. Anyway, the touch is to communicate that you are going to pass. The passee should move just a little bit to the right. This is especially important if they are really good at Tip #3. The passer sees this happen and makes a check down the lane for on-coming traffic. Once the left side of the lane is clear, the passer surges to go past the passee. (Note 5: The
passer should have plenty in the energy tank since they have been sandbagging in the draft zone of the passee. Now's the time to expend that pent-up speed. /end Note 5.) Also, the passee (and pay attention here) needs to let the passer pass. Do not choose this exact moment in time to engage your ego and speed up. The passer is now the leader of the lane, even though they are in 2nd place. The passer takes the left side, hits the wall, and becomes the first placer. The passee goes on swimming like nothing ever happened.

Trick #5: Stopping- During an official practice, everyone in the lane is doing the same thing, lest you face the coach's wrath. At the Y, not so much. Therefore, you might be hitting the wall and stopping whilst the people behind you are continuing on. You have the responsibility to get out of the way. Since the person that's still swimming is now the leader of the lane, as evidenced by the fact that you are not making a return trip, they should be moving to the middle or left of the lane. If you decide to stand on the wall, you are encouraging a collision. A passive-aggressive swimmer will flip and use you as the wall. This is not as efficient as it sounds. You'd think that they get to push off a foot or two early. Sadly, you are a slippery, slimy mess with funky contours which is not conducive to pushing off with verve. Your play is to stay to the right side of the lane. If you are not the only one there, then all members of the non-currently-swimming community also stay to the right and line up against the lane line. The left side of the lane, from your perspective, is reserved for the next person who's going to start swimming.

Trick #6: Strokers- Are you doing something non-freestyle? It is your responsibility to not hit the other people in the lane with your flailing limbs. Butterfliers typically do a 1-armed stroke, hopefully with the inside arm remaining still and the outside arm doing the work, when crossing paths with a return swimmer. Breaststrokers try to hold their streamline a little longer as they make the cross. Backstrokers will... Well they got nothing and will likely just grope you (or the person in the next lane). Such is life. I have no idea what the people doing alternative strokes are supposed to do. (That might be on my next list of research ideas.)

And there you have it. Just remember these simple guidelines, while trying to remember your set, while trying to pay attention to your technique, while trying to figure out your exhale/ inhale pattern, while trying not to drown, while checking out the hottie in lane 4, while trying to not to swallow water because you've been training hard, while trying to figure out what to cook for dinner, and you'll be golden. It's not that complicated people!

Monday, February 25, 2019

I Am the Pace Man

It's a commonly known fact that the Beatles were runners. They've made several movies where the band was being chased by countless womens and maybe a couple of dudes. Luckily, they were never caught. In fact, 8 Days a Week was about their newly found love for running. The song A Hard Day's Night is a tribute to their marathon training.  The movie poster for A Hard Day's Night shows their ability to outpace their would-be captors even in street clothes and without their running shoes. And they have me to thank for that.

What people don't fully realize is how much these guys trained. I remember when I took them on their first training run in Liverpool. They were pathetic. I was hired by Brian Epstein to get these kids in shape. It was tough. John and Paul could at least run a full kilometer without stopping. George was smooth and light on his feet but had absolutely no endurance. There was something in the way he moved, though. Pete Best couldn't even make it a full 100 meters (this was England, so they used the metric system at that time). As the other members of the band progressed, Pete couldn't keep up leading to the decision to force him out of the band and replace him with an up-and-coming running Starr.

We needed a plan for the boys to get in shape and practice their music. They were concerned. I  made it clear that we could work it out but it would be a long and winding road. They had to get back to the basics. Within anytime at all, they learned that happiness was a warm run.

Their biggest issue was in the pacing, or lack thereof. They asked me why they were always in misery. They were really obsessed trying to get fast and would constantly check the data. I told them that they needed to let it be and just do most of their runs at an easy pace and be consistent. It was George who really challenged the idea and asked me to prove that I can pace well. I told him to look at my data. Here's the run from yesterday.

Here I had 4 miles with an average pace of 8:44 and each of the splits +/- 4 seconds of that time. George remained unconvinced, since it was such a short run (we was really starting to dig this distance thing) and wanted more. So I floated a 6 miler that averaged 8:38s. And if it weren't for the ice on my drive, that first mile would have fallen in line more nicely with the others. Such is a day in the life during the winter.

Paul and John, ever so competitive, wanted to see this for themselves.  (Aside: Ringo couldn't care less. He had a ticket to ride and was just happy they let him play every once in a while. In reality, he didn't care. /End Aside.) They made it so we would all come together as a group for a long run. I took them on a 12+ miler and chatted things out for a while. I have a feeling that they really just wanted to listen to me ramble about nonsensical gibberish, as I'm known to do. Mostly I do it for the others since I feel fine and they're the ones who needed to work.  I'd float how they need to run like pigs from a gun. Or sit on a corn flake. I'd send insults to them when they started slowing down. "Come on you crabalocker fishwife." "Let's go Semolina Pilchard." "Don't let your knickers down." Stuff like that. They nailed that run. That was 12 miles with less than a 7 second spread.

When they asked how I do it, I responded that it's simple. I am the Pace Man. Now, they are the Pace Men. I am the Banter.

Here's one more for good measure. 13+ miles averaging 8:38 with an 8.7 second spread.

Goo goo g'joob.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Embracing My Inner Rodent

Mammals, as a class of animals, are rumored to first have made an appearance on this rock called Earth roughly 200 million years ago. It was a complicated period in time. Pangea was still a thing. Dinosaurs were walking around uninhibited. Trees hadn't been invented yet. The Banter was trying to figure out how to be a runner. It was utter confusion.

These mammals were egg-laying, pouch bearing creatures. If it weren't for them, cycling would have never invented the rear-jersey pockets. So sport has the Triassic Period to thank for that invention. How do they know this? Well, they found a tooth somewhere in China and they just sorta pieced the rest together. As it turns out, we were very rat-like.

The problem is that the real mammals, the ones that didn't behave like platypi crossed with genetically challenged kangaroos, didn't make an appearance until the Jurassic Period. Contrary to what Hollywood and Michael Crighton novels would have you believe, T. rex wouldn't be around for many more millions of years. T. rex's cousin, Allosaurus was the terrible lizard du jour. The longest animal ever recorded, Diplidocus, was meandering the plains. Stegosaurus was plundering around. Pangea broke itself into 2 halves. The Banter was still trying to figure out how to be a runner. Mammals continued to be rat-like creatures romping around in the underbrush. How do they know? Yet more teeth.

As the northern and southern halves of Pangea drifted apart, starting the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, land animals had to learn how to swim. They didn't like it so much, which is why the swim portion of a triathlon is so ridiculously short, compared to it's other multisport brethren. This is what's commonly known as the Cretaceous Period, which is Latin for "we hate the water but don't want to do a duathlon". T. rex finally made an appearance. Bees learned how to make honey. The Banter was still trying to figure out how to be a runner. An asteroid hit the Earth which spurred  a sudden onset of global warning, which the politicians require us to call 'climate change'. Most of the scary animals died out. Much like today, mammals didn't really notice. Triathletes applauded the extension of their season.

Flash forward by about 65 million years to the present day Quaternary Period. The dinosaurs have been reduced to chicken-like bird thingies. The Atlantic Ocean had expanded enough that even the most dedicated of open water swimmers paused before making the attempt. Triathletes immediately looked at the set and said, "No thank you." Mammals, without their terrible lizard competition, were thriving. Triathletes were still conflicted between the concept of climate change and a potentially extended race season. The Banter was still trying to figure out how to be a runner.

In an effort to understand  one of the most perplexing questions ever to elude the most brilliant of minds- what might make a runner out of the Banter- scientists had this brilliant idea to start studying the rodent (Aside: This had absolutely nothing to do with the Banter's physical appearance. At least, that's their story... /End Aside). Lab rats aren't really that popular and, historically, have had little scientific value. But, since the mammals got their start from rodent-like creatures, scientists decided to take a risk and study the most ancient mammalian form.

To do so, they traveled to the depths of the rain forest, where triathletes hate to venture because the heat and humidity ruin their ability to train hard. To test this idea, they placed a running wheel where no rat had ever even seen a running wheel. The hypothesis was that this stupid, foreign object would be completely ignored since rats can run wherever they want, whenever they wanted. Why would they want to use a device that let them go absolutely nowhere when they could go anywhere they wanted? Granted, they had to place a plate of food near the machine to attract the triathletes, err, rodents. The scientists were dumbfounded when several different rodents of several different species ignored the food, went to the running wheel, and spent an insane amount of time on the device.

Using the momentum of this experiment, scientists extended the lessons learned to a different, semi-talented triathlete currently living in northeastern North America. They went and got a large running wheel and placed it near the larger-rodent-type mammal of modern day known as the Banter. For years, nothing happened and the Banter remained a slow, sloth-like runner on the triathlon course. They revisited early experiments in vivo and tried again, only this time with food. Still nothing. The Banter remained resistant to intelligent training techniques.

The scientists were ever persistent. They re-worked their running wheel design. Instead of metal rungs, they went with a flat belt. The goal was to move the rodent from the inside of the running wheel to the outside of the running wheel. Hence, the invention of the treadmill. The Banter remained resistant.

Nearing the end of their funding period, the scientists were desperate to gain any kind of success in getting the Banter to resemble anything close to a runner. He'd been immune to all efforts for several millennia now, complete with race results to prove it. Such results do not prove well in recruiting sponsors. They tried putting down food, a la the rain forest experiment. Surprisingly, even that didn't encourage running. In fact, that particular action backfired as the Banter would just show up, eat the food, and leave without working out.

In a last ditch effort, scientists took a picture of the Banter as he readied himself for a race. They waited until he had predictably terrible results at that race. Then they sent him the picture. The hypothesis was that showing the Banter how he's leading with his belly instead of his brain might make encourage him to make the change. To their relief, it worked!! The Banter not only started to run more, which is the single most important criterion if you want to run faster, but he also didn't shy away from the flat, belt-like running wheel. If you're interested, you can see the exact picture that sparked the change, as presented in a previous post, found here. I do not suggest you click that link nor look at that picture.

Even though the experiment is still in it's beta stage, early findings are looking positive. The Banter has been running more, as evidenced in number of runs per week, number of minutes per week, and average number of complaints spewed. In the past 10 days, the Banter has logged 12 runs with 11 of them on the rodent wheel. There's a high probability that the Banter will develop a case of the Sudden Hatred of Indoor Training before the experiment's funds run out. But, as reported by his training log, his desire to be fast and fit might finally trump his hatred of the treadmill. And, based on all of the running without actually going anywhere, the scientists concluded that he's still mostly rodent. But you probably beat them to that conclusion.