Sunday, February 19, 2017

Ok, So I'm Not a Chess Master

It's been said that a chess master, or a grandmaster, or a grand poobah, can look at the pieces of a game in progress and be able to recreate the game in their minds. (Aside- just for the record, I am no where near a chess master. In fact, I was in my mid-30s before I learned that the game wasn't called 'chest'. /End Aside.) They can see the opening moves and the plays that came to pass. They can also see the next logical moves in the sequence and predict the end game.

To test this hypothesis, they set up several games in progress and tested the members of the Royal Order of Water Buffalo's. They passed. Then, they did something brilliant. They set up the pieces at random of a game that was never played. To you or me, it would look like a normal hodge-podge of pointy shapes sitting on a checkerboard. But, the masters were flummoxed. They couldn't understand how those plays came to be. In essence, they passed the next stage of testing without even knowing it.

Coaching is a little bit like this. A decent coach should be able to look at a workout, or a series of exercises masquerading as training, and figure out where an athlete is in the season. Or, at the very least, they should be able to tell if a workout is a good one or not. This is where the art of coaching meets the science.

One such occasion happened when I was coaching one of my athletes in the pool. Enter the Outlaw. The Outlaw is an amazing talent. He scored a 91.9 in the USAT rankings in 2016. For comparison, I'm no slough at sport and I earned an 84. That ranking placed him at 254th in the US in his age group. I kid you not when I say that he underperformed. I started working with him later in the summer last year and I have full confidence that he'll be on the first page of that list with great things left in the tank.

The Outlaw trusts me to dictate his training. I write the sets. The distances. The intensities. He does the work. In fact, out of all of the athletes I've ever had the pleasure to work with, he is the easiest athlete to coach. I say, he does. That's pretty much the end of the story. Yes, he does his due diligence by providing feedback on the workouts. Not once have I ever heard a bit of whining, belly aching, or a suggestion of pansiness coming from the Outlaw. Since I'm a big pansy, I'm often confused by his demeanor. At least I'm smart enough to not ask him about it.

The Outlaw was a swimmer and a runner in former lives (not so much of a cycling history, though). He's one of those blokes that would crush pretty much everyone in the water on basically zero training. Much to my surprise, he told me that he wanted to start swimming again. How can you say no to an athlete like that? I started writing him sets on his easy days (see comment on his cycling history). As always, I write the work and he does the work, without question.

During one of his sessions, I had the pleasure of sitting down on the deck and coaching his set. Now, understand that I wrote the set a week before he did the work. And, I may not have had my full faculties when I penned the effort. I was recently injured at the time. I may not have been feeling well. And, to no one's surprise, I'm not that smart in the first place. The moment I sat down and reviewed the workout, I became a chest master. I immediately noticed that there was something wrong with the set. The pieces weren't in the right place.

Here is the set, exactly as it was written, for your review. See if you can spot the problem.


Any guesses yet?

Perhaps you did the math. This is typical swimmer speak and the exact reason that they teach you algebra in high school. Once you total everything, you'll come to the conclusion that this is indeed 2000 yards.

Maybe you think that 1:30's for a cruise interval is a bit fast. Not for the Outlaw. In fact, I'm pretty sure he didn't even break a sweat. Yes, when done right, swimmers sweat a great deal in the pool. Even more so when you're swimming at the Y and the temps are kept at Silver Sneakers standards. I could have adjusted his sendoff to the 1:20 and it still would have achieved the goal. But, I wanted him to really work the next set and he's a bit out of shape by his personal swimming standards.

If you're a typical triathlete, the next set should give you pause. It's got stuff that's not freestyle. In the triathlon world, IM stands for Ironman and serves as the cornerstone for multisport tattoos. In the swimming world, IM stands for Individual Medley. The IM is a ridiculously fun event that consists of swimming butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and crawl. It's the event that I swam (slowly) in college. In training, these sets serve as cross training and strength training in the pool. Every swimmer on a competitive team is required to do stroke work and they will come out of the day a better all-around swimmer for their efforts. Triathletes tend to rebel in masses against the concept.

The problem isn't with the concept of stroke work. That's solid. The problem is in the number of repetitions. There is no way possible to make that set work. The IM doesn't divide evenly into 10. Once in a while, the "evil" coach will cancel the crawl, making the IM as fly, back, breast, repeat. That changes the multiple to 3, which still won't go into 10. The Outlaw, bless his heart, tried to come up with solutions. (Aside 2- This is proof positive that he's a swimmer. Put a coach on deck and a swimmer will do whatever is in his/ her power to get out of doing work by chatting up the coach. It fails every time but the swimmer will try anyway. /End Aside 2).

Due to my failure, I had to call the audible. The options were to increase the reps to 12 or decrease them to 8 (not 9, since I'm not necessarily evil yet.) I changed his set to 8. I applauded this decision as I watched him nearly drown on the fly, he was smooth on his backstroke, the lifeguard got worried on his breaststroke, and he destroyed the crawl.

When the Outlaw got finished with his set, it was clear that he was adequately worked. Good call, Coach Banter! I'm glad I was there to save the day and recover from the crappy set-writing in the first place. Still, just in case the coaching thing doesn't work out, I've sent my application to FIDE, because I'm pretty sure they want guys like me.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Disappointing Significance of 38:44

A couple of disclaimers before we get to the meat and potatoes of this post. First, I'm going to update the status of my injury. This will be, hopefully, my last blurb on this particular injury (a bit of foreshadowing, perhaps?). Partly because I am personally bored in thinking about it and partly because I don't want to bore you on the subject anymore. I've got other stuff I'd like to bore you with.

Second, I was talking to some people who have read some of my back work. Anytime I put in some historical or societal references, I research them first. It helps out with the creative flow. See, I like to learn the facts before I completely distort them to benefit my needs. It's so real that Fox and CNN are currently in a bidding war for my services. Having said that, I'm going to do you a favor and advise you to NOT research the numbers 38:44 on your own, just to see if I'm telling the truth. What you'll find is a lot of information about guns. Then you'll get put on a list. You might get a visit from an undisclosed government official who "happened to be in the neighborhood and just checking things out." Let this be a lesson to you youngsters out there- Incognito Search is your friend.

Now, on to the story...

Do you know how long it takes a strain to heal? I do. It's roughly 5-7 days. If you're unlucky (which sums me up pretty nicely), it'll take 10-14 days. Therefore, an injury that took place on, say, January 26th would, even under the most dismal of circumstances, would be healed by now.

Do you know how long a hairline stress fracture takes to heal? I don't. You know why? Because the darn thing ain't healed yet. There are rays of light on the horizon (metaphorically speaking since the sun is afraid to show it's head in these parts of the country at this time of year). This past Friday, I went 75% of the day without a noticeable limp! Sure I was still the slowest person in the building. One of the snails that inhabits one of the other science teacher's room escaped and said, "Excuse me please," since I was blocking it's path in the hall. I'm also pretty sure that that stupid gastropod gave me a virus because I had a roughness in my throat and a tickle in my nose for the rest of the day. Still, injury progress is progress. I anticipate it being at least another week before the discomfort is gone and another week after that before I attempt running again.

So, what's a guy to do with all of this free time? Ideally, whatever he wants. In reality, it's whatever the Wife wants. Thank goodness that she always has brilliant ideas and wants to do things that are Banter friendly!

On Saturday morning, she suggested that we pack up the dogs and head down to the Keuka Lake Wine Trail. I like dogs. The dogs like the car. I like wine. I like the Wife. The Wife likes wine. She tolerates me. I was immediately thrilled. I didn't even flinch when she suggested that we go to the outlet mall on the way back. (True foreshadowing here-I would grow to regret this lack of flinching.)

The day went exactly as you'd hope. We drove into wine country with the intentions of tasting some delicious vintages along with a few undesirables. Hey, take the good with the bad.

Here's the Wife doing a handstand in 40º temperatures on a picnic table with Keuka Lake in the background. She's a fine specimen and I'm a lucky man.


Here are the dogs. Different winery. Same lake. They absolutely refused to do a handstand. My dog is the one on the left side of the pic. The Wife's dog is up on the rock. The dog on the right is the dog-in-law, which came over for a play date with the Wife's dog.


As far as visiting the wineries went, the harvest was good. We got roughly 1.5 cases mixed between whites and reds. That should last us through the weekend.

We stayed on the wine trail until they kicked us off. I'm typically not the kind of guy who appreciates closing down a joint. But, we drove 2 hours and they closed at 5:00. Stepping up to a tasting table at 4:45 isn't nearly on par with walking into a restaurant 15 minutes before closure. We are efficient drinkers and could easily sample everything on the list before the clock runs out.

Having collected our spoils, we headed towards Waterloo. The Wife had a $5 coupon to use at one of the stores. It makes sense to spend $30 on gasoline just to save $5 on a hat, right?... Right? ... We couldn't just hit one store. Well, with the doggies stuck in the car, we rescued them from their 4-wheeled crate and took them around. I hung out with the pups outside while the Wife went in. This is another version of win-win for me.

Until it wasn't. I lasted only 1 additional store. Even though I have no idea for how long I was out there, I am quite confident that I developed a minor batch of hypothermia. Sore foot from before? Check. Sore throat from before? Check. Runny nose from before? Check. Brand new full body vibrations? Check. (<-- Not as sexy as they sound.)

As you can probably predict, I didn't wake up in good shape. The shivering had long since stopped. The nose faucet, however, went from a slow drip to a steady stream. The voice is so deep that I actually sound like a male. The foot is marginally better.

If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm kind of an idiot. In case you need more proof than what's already contained in the posts of this blog, I'll toss at you some more evidence. A person of near average IQ would take some medicine, drink some soup, eat some crackers, and take it easy with a book, movie, or nonsensical gibberish on the Internet. A Banter-caliber intellect will try and exercise.

In a normal world, I would have gone for a run. The foot said, "Nope," so I headed out to the, um, bikey place. At least I had the foresight to bring a snot towel with me. Knowing that I wasn't going to be able to put forth any impressive numbers on the bike (duh), I was hoping for an easy ride of about 60-90 minutes. Despite the lack of, um, smart stuff in my head, I have learned that there's healing and therapy in exercise. Not today.

As a life-long athlete(ish) guy(ish), most structured workouts that I've encountered end at a highly predictable and recognizable number. Almost always, those numbers are in multiples of 5. Sometimes a 2. If I was adhering to a plan, I would have ended my ride at 30 minutes, or 40 minutes, or 45 minutes. Here's my ride data:

As I was riding, my energy systems did not improve. Nor did my mood. Or spirits. Or overall well-being. Not once would I have ever predicted of getting off the bike at 38:44. It's disappointing on multiple levels.

Oh, just in case you were wondering, if a guy shows up to check your browser history, here's what you do: open the door, blow your nose with an old tissue, offer to shake his hand (with the tissue still in hand mind you), give off a cough, and invite him in. If experience holds true, he'll turn and run without ever stepping foot into your house. And then, apparently, he'll call Fox and CNN to cancel the story and they'll rescind any job offers.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Injury Progression Timeline

When I got my initial prognosis, the doctor's office told me that I needed to do no running for 5-7 days post injury. That would have put me back running on the Wednesday of this past week or by Saturday at the latest. Here is the progression on the journey back to the run...

Thursday, January 26
The Banter goes for a run. He steps on a phantom object, resulting in a broken metatarsal. I hobbled around at work and then went to the doctors. The office confirmed that I'm a pansy. They failed, however, to confirm the break. Medical science just wasn't looking right, probably distracted by the density of pansiness packed into such a tiny person.

Friday, January 27
I take the day off. There's no escaping that I would have been useless at work. When I told them as much, they simply answered with, "Duh." I headed to the pharmacy to get anti-pansy pills. Walking from the parking lot to the pharmacy counter makes me wonder how to get one of those temporary handicapped stickers. I never thought that parking an extra 20 feet closer to the store would make a difference and I find myself ogling the old guy's cane that got to park in the blue lines.

Saturday, January 28
It's clear that pansy pills are not strong enough. I attempt to walk around to accomplish the mundane chores of life. I cannot put pressure on my left foot. I got a call from the producers of the Walking Dead, begging me to fly out for an audition for ghoul #6 in their next episode. In their words, I have the walk down perfectly and I would save them money on make-up.  I consider it but remember that I have to teach class on Monday.

Sunday, January 29
Either the pain was subsiding and the healing process has begun or the accumulated dosage of all of the pills had finally worked itself to a level that yielded results. I'm still walking goofy but, much to the relief of the Wife, I manage to not whimper with every downstep. I have this brilliant idea to go for a bike ride on the trainer. After 20 minutes of light activity I bag the workout early, I gingerly get off the bike and head into the house. The whimper returns. The Wife curses. I write an hilarious blog post about the injury. It's possible that I'm delusional.

Monday, January 30
I make the decision to go to work. Happily, the teenagers I teach are sympathetic to my injured plight and are remarkably helpful. By the end of the day, I'm exhausted. Every step uses the same amount of energy and concentration as 100 steps from a week ago. It's a shame that this effort doesn't burn the same number of calories since the amounts of gluttony have proportionately increased with my newfound levels of sloth.

Tuesday, January 31
I make the decision to use a different pair of shoes. They better matched my outfit and I was getting some pressure points on my left foot from the ones I used yesterday. I have to go to the store to purchase some supplies for an experiment. The grocery store is rife with science, should you know where to look. My gait is less obvious. If I walk slowly, I can almost not limp. The overnight low was quite chilly and there was some new ice on the pavement. As a cumulated result of all of the morning's decisions, I stumble on the ice. I was favoring my right leg. Upon the stumble, I switch my weight to the other leg. The one with the bad foot. The injury flared it's ugly head and I regressed back to a level of discomfort and injury which may have exceeded that of the original incident. I nearly pass out in the grocery store parking lot. After refusing to go down, I wobble in to the grocery store and gather the supplies. The kids remained awesome.

Wednesday, February 1
This is the early deadline originally set by the Urgent Care physician's assistant. Whereas I doubt that I would have made it through well enough to run under the best of conditions, yesterday's incident not only made running impossible, I was still only able to limp at about 78 minutes per mile. I was traveling in slow motion while the rest of life had hit the 2x button. I briefly contemplated getting an amputation so that I could get one of those painfree running blades. I table that decision for at least a month. I recognize that this is a horrible contemplation for both myself and for the honor of the awesome individuals that qualify for those additions.

Thursday, February 2
The damn groundhog sees his shadow and retreats for another month and a half. I fear for another parking lot fall. Yet, there were at least 3 steps today that were pain free. I was playing around with my gait. Every step I took was about 33% shorter than normal. Once I noticed that the last step didn't hurt, I tried to remember what technique I used only to fail at repeating the step. As small of a victory as I might have had, I know had a reason to be optimistic. I go to my calendar app and delete the previous note on the running blades. I schedule an appointment for early 2018 to go hunting for a stupid rodent in Pennsylvania.

Friday, February 3
The number of painfree steps hits double digits. It's unlikely that I'll be running tomorrow but I'm pretty sure that the healing path is sloped in the right direction. My triathlon club, Grim Reapers Fitness NorthEast (like them on Facebook!), has an event after work. We were to check out new team kits from the Pearl Izumi. They don't carry any jerseys with sleeves and I grumble. A fair skinned gargoyle like myself needs as much protection as possible. After the fitting, I coach one of my athletes in the pool. I pull up a chair and sit on deck. One of my GRFNE brothers videos several of my teammates in the water, including my guy. I provide feedback to anyone who wanted it and to 3 people who didn't. I have yet to see the videos. Several non-members of the pool ask my permission to use the lanes for swimming. I don't have the strength to tell them that I'm not in charge and grant every request. We finish in the pool and go drinking.

Saturday, February 4
If I'm wearing a compression sock, a supportive shoe, and walk really slowly, I resemble a normal person (at least in stride- not necessarily in physical appearance). Some people show up to my home to collect our old sofa and I actually help carry the load. The Wife and I went and lifted weights (her idea). I notice that the endorphins available when lifting actually help dull the throb from the foot. That, or the ego gene was kicking in while doing exercise with a hottie in workout clothes (she makes me flutter). Either way, I spend about 90 minutes not obsessing about the metatarsal. Life is getting better,

Sunday, February 5
It is now 1 day past the deadline set by the doctor's assistant for my return to glory. Man did she get that wrong, which is likely more my fault than hers. I am able to walk the house and the nearby surroundings without serious discomfort. Since I'm obviously not running yet,  I decide to give cycling another try. I haven't ridden with any sort of intensity in week and a half so I decided to go  easy. Success!

I have absolutely no idea when I'll be able to run again. This experience is giving me flashbacks of the speed of science, as told to me by one of my college professors. He said to make a guess as to how long you think the science will take. Then, double the number and change the unit to the next largest unit of time. So, if you think the science will take 2 weeks, it will probable take 4 months. If you estimate the science will take 4 months, it will likely take 8 years. Let's just hope that the physician's assistant who told me that I'd be back running in 5-7 days didn't attend that lecture.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Step on a Crack

Is there no end to the lengths my body will go to prove that I'm a big pansy? I get it, injuries happen. I don't mind the ones that make sense. Here are some nonsensical injuries that have happened to me over the years.

  • I cut myself peeling an orange
  • I injured my knee eating chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant
  • I strained my wrist looking at pictures on the internet
  • I pulled a muscle in my back petting a dog
If I were born a hundred years ago, I'm pretty sure I'd be dead by now. Luckily modern medicine has made it their mission to keep unworthy blokes like myself alive and kicking so that I can bore you with nonsensical gibberish.

The Set-Up
One of the injuries that makes sense are repetitive stress injuries that happen to idiots who do not-so-intelligent ventures. This explains my Achilles tenderness that I've been nursing since September. During the off season, these injuries typically go away unless you find something stupid to keep you moving. For example, I signed up for a running challenge called the 100/100. This means that I pledged to do 100 runs in 100 days. As of this past Thursday, I had run n+1, where n= the number of days since the challenge started. A run is defined as 30 minutes of actually running, no walking allowed. Should you be doing intervals with a passive recovery, then the clock stops until you start moving at a gait where both feet leave the ground along opposite vectors. My average run, thus far, has been 37 minutes and all runs have been longer than 4 miles. This challenge is not for the weak minded. Or for anyone with a brain. Therefore, it's perfect for the likes of me.

This recent Thursday, I was out for a nice morning run (as if you can include the words 'morning' and 'run' in the same sentence and accuse them of being 'nice'). The goal was 5.5 miles of nothing special. Ironically, 'nothing special' is the bread and butter of endurance training. Given 8 runs in a week, 6 of them should be nothing special. And, even better, that number could go as high as 8 and still be listed as high quality training.

Not my foot
At right around the 3 mile mark, give or take a quarter of a mile, I stepped on something. I'm not sure exactly what. It might have simply been a crack in the pavement. It definitely wasn't a dead animal or a downed tree, of that much I'm confident. Said stepping was evidenced by the fact that my foot hit the ground (weird, right?) and that there was a sudden shooting pain in my left foot. For those of you who have studied anatomy, the pain was radiating outward from the the 3rd and fourth metatarsal, roughly 1 inch shy of the phalanges.

Initially, I ignored it and ran on. I assumed it would be similar to the sensation of stubbing one's toe, only further upstream. I expected the pain to subside on down the road. At the 3.75 mile mark, I stopped running and dutifully stopped my watch. Then, I peeled off my gloves. The temps were in the low 40ºs and the wind made gloves necessary. The lack of gloves aided in the loosening of my laces. My foot had taken on some fluid. I walked for a bit, with the watch still stopped, of course.

Crunching the Numbers
My Garmin doesn't normally tell the time of day. I have to specifically ask it for that information as it's typically not important in the context of sport. However, in the real world, I have a job that is ever obsessive about the time of day and gets grumpy when others disregard time's importance (unless, of course, it's a meeting where they are leading...). At the 4 mile mark  I was still walking and fumbling with the Garmin. Note: this is the geographical mark, not the Garmin mark, since the Garmin is not allowed to see me walking. It was clear that I was going to be late. What was not clear was if I could be in the late, but almost acceptable range or if I was going to be late enough that calling off the entire day was the better decision.

How my brain works
Doing maths was a great distraction to the reality of the situation. I pondered that the average person can walk at about 15 minutes per mile. According to the pace manager, I was limping about 19 minutes. Arrival would be about 30 minutes later (because I would likely stop to get the mail as long as I was out), putting me into the potential 'call the day off' category. I made the decision to try and run. At the apex of the tiny hill, I went for it. I turned on the Garmin because I wanted documented evidence that I was putting forth the effort and I'm an idiot by rote. This burst let me hit a pace of about 9:30 per mile, which doubled my previous speed, and lasted for about 3/10ths of a mile. Then, I beeped off, stopped, peeled off my gloves, and readjusted the laces on my ever-constricting left shoe.

It was at this moment, for the very first time in my life, that I wished I ran with a cell phone. I would have called the Wife and begged her to come and get me. Since the Garmin doesn't have a call function, I was stuck obsessing over the ever slowing walking pace and how much time it would take to get home.

Glancing at the time of day, I tried the running thing for yet a 3rd time. This happened between 4.65 and 4.90 miles into the run. The pulse emanating from down yonder made it clear that my best move would be to curl up in a ball and hope someone has pity. Unfortunately, it started to rain. On the bright side, I didn't need to ice my foot. Mother Nature was numbing it for me. Fueled by my need to not freeze to death, I hobbled the last 0.6 of a mile at roughly a 22 minutes pace. Aside: This experience is roughly the same as the average IM run for the Banter. Run a bit. Walk really slowly. Run a bit more. Walk even slower. Repeat until the finish line. /End Aside.

Me, out of the shower
True to my word, I stopped to get the mail. I entered my home, slowly and nearly frozen, at 7:25 am, which is about 30 minutes later than planned. If I hurried, I could make it to work by 8:00-8:10. Late but in the acceptable range. The most obvious problem is that I was incapable of 'hurrying'. I sulked in the ridiculously warm water of the shower, standing on 1 leg. I glanced down to survey the damage. My left foot had swollen to the point of looking like a sewed in structure commonly seen on a Cabbage Patch kid. I considered calling off the day. Then I got dressed, put on a compression sock, and went to work.


The Prognosis
As the day went on, I had no improvement. The swelling didn't increase (probably because it might not have been possible). The pain sure did. I'm assuming that the natural endorphins from the initial experience wore off allowing me to experience the damage in all its glory. Having gone in late, I left early to get an X-ray. I was at least 87% sure that I had some sort of fracture.

I'm of the opinion that "Urgent Care" doesn't live up to its name. There was nothing urgent nor caring about the experience. When you walk in (using the term 'walk' loosely here) and tell them that you may have broken your foot and, as a result, they have you walk (again, loosely) another 3 miles (undocumented, of course, since I didn't bring my Garmin) from one desk to another to another to finally get an X-ray back to the original. At the original, a perfectly able bodied nurse and a physicians assistant give you the news that there is no break in the bone and instruct you to stay off the foot. That shows you how much my 87% certainty means. Then they send you walking (loosely) out to your car without any offer of a mobile assistant device. All done in just under 3 hours. Aside 2: If any young entrepreneurs out there want a business idea, I'd suggest Valet Parking at the Urgent Care. You would have had my money that day. /End Aside 2.

On the bright side, healing is going well. If there's one thing I excel at, it's being an idiot. If there's another, it's embracing my inner sloth. Doing some more maths, I conclude that I could be back running by Wednesday. Next Saturday at the latest. If you don't believe me, re-read what the first thing I excel at is. Should this come to fruition, my metatarsal and my Achilles will both be healed and I'll run myself into a different repetitive stress injury that makes sense by the time race season starts. Hey, you gotta have goals, right?