Sunday, February 26, 2017

Finding My Inner Dog

There's not much difference between dog culture and swimmer culture, in terms of seeing members of our species. Dogs are highly predictable when it comes to seeing other dogs. They choose between 1 of 2 reactions. They are happy to see another dog, which results in barking and tail wagging. They are grumpy to see another dog, which results in barking, raised fur, and sometimes tail wagging. Swimmers are the same way. All you have to do is replace barking with grumbling. (Note: The tail wagging is a thing. However, it's much less pronounced and people accuse you of being a creep if you go looking for it. Especially when they're females in bathing suits. Trust me on this.) Further, both are pack animals and follow the lead of the alpha in their vicinity.

Since I haven't yet recovered from my foot injury, I decided to get in the water. This is way out of character for me to be swimming at such a time of the season when my run sucks so much. (Okay- you got me. My run always sucks.) We had a day off of school, I went to the pool.

The Thing About the YMCA Pool
If you ever get the chance to swim at the Y, you'll notice something completely ironic. Lap swimmers are treated as second class citizens in the lap pool. Almost always, the pool people will tell you differently. They'll tell you that there is forever a lane reserved for lappers. But, what they won't tell you is how tedious it is to physically swim in that lane.

Take this recent Tuesday's swim. I stepped out onto the deck at 9:30. I immediately saw lanes 1-3, of the 6 available, cordoned off for the Active Older Adults' Water Bouncy and Raise Your Arms Above Your Head class (I think that's the published title). This class had 722 people (I counted the legs and divided by 2), all over the age of 60, and the pool water level was at an all-time high. Lanes 5-6 were posted as 'Swim Lessons', which included 2 people per lane. One was a kid and the other was an adult. It was unclear as to who was giving the lesson and who was receiving.

Lane 4 was for the lap swimmers. Upon arrival, I glanced down the lane to find two water walkers with those styrofoam dumbbell thingies (I honestly have no idea what they're called). I have dubbed these water walkers Ron and Nancy. Both looked to be somewhat more in-shape versions of the Active Older Adults that were still bouncing and raising their arms 3 feet to the right of where they were standing. And, both were smiling and waving at me to join their lane. Who was I to argue? My inner dog wagged it's tail, happy to be included.

The Different Reasons I Was Slow
When I go to the pool, I try to relive the good old days, ya know, when I was good. Now, I'm just old. Regardless, I go to the lap pool with a set in mind that's more than just going down and back. (Okay, it's exactly the same as going down and back, except that I know when I'm going to stop and look at the deck clock.) I'm a lot slower than I used to be.

Compounding the biology, the AOAWBRYAAYH class was a force with which to be reckoned. For one, they are highly distracting. The instructor is out of the water, on deck, and everyone in the class facing in that general direction. Therefore, I get lots of fabulous views at retired butts in lycra. (This is why I started counting legs.) For two, when you have 722 individuals all bouncing and raising their arms over their heads in unison, the disturbance on a non-compressible fluid such as water is immense. (Note: This does make for excellent open water swim training). And, since the tsunami machine is perpendicular to the path that I'm trying to swim, it's all resistance without the boost. (Aside: I wonder why they don't hold these classes at the water park. I bet the park could save tons of money in the wave pool. /End Aside.)

I think, at this point in the post, it's only fair to say that Ron and Nancy were not a barrier to speed. In fact, they were a couple of the best lanemates I have ever had. They were observant and readily made space anytime I came flailing by. They were vigilant in their work. And, every once in a while, they took a tidal wave in the face that was earmarked for me.

As if the undulations of a normally sedate pool weren't enough, crap I'm out of shape. This came glaring at me during a set of 100s. I used to be able to pop those babies out on the 1:20 without a care in the world. I set my sendoff at the 1:40. The first one was great. The second was a little less great. The third was tedious. I forget exactly which one caused me to pause due to all of the heaving and an incomprehensible feeling of numbness in my arms. I hung out on the wall looking like I was trying to chew the air. Nancy had just finished a walking lap and moseyed on up for a chat. It's the first time that I've actually taken a good look at her. She was in her 60s and in great shape. (Aside 2: If your hair is silver and you bleach it, what color does it turn? I think that's the hew she was sporting. /End Aside 2.) She was wearing a nice tiger-print one piece. My inner dog was wagging it's tail. (And I hoped that no one noticed.)

"How long you been at this?" she asked.  "This is my 2nd time in the water since September," I reply. Although, it didn't come out that smooth. It was more like, "This is <gasp for air> my 2nd time <breathe breathe> in the <breathe> water since <cough> September." It was so bad that I'm pretty sure that I could play the next wheelchair buddy in the Hollywood reboot of Malcolm in the Middle. At least I was telling the truth. I swam twice in September, both in races. The official last time I trained in the water was in early August, nearly 6 months ago. (And yet I wonder why I'm slow. Talk about irony...) "Wow, you're fast!" She replies. "We come 4 days a week." I reply back, "Well, it's clear you're in better shape than me." (See note on the speech patterns of the wheelchair buddy). Nancy turned and headed out for another lap. My inner dog barked and I followed the alpha down the lane.

Enter the Other Swimmer
As the set went on and I got slower and slower, the AOAWBRYAAYH was seemingly tireless. During a moment of weakness, I considered joining the class. If they ever have a triathlon that is water bouncing, biking and running, I'm there. Since that's not currently a thing, I continue to toe the line between training and a swimmer in distress. A door to the deck opened up and out came a middle-aged women who saw the exact same scene I did upon my arrival. Only she was clearly perturbed by what she saw. Protocol dictates that the non-lap swimmers must vacate the lane and make way for a lapper. Ron and Nancy initially side-stepped the protocol by sharing the lane with me. But, now that there was fresh meat for the lane, they were forced to leave by appearance of the new girl. My inner dog growled. I would have raised my fur if I had any recognizable body hair.

"Can you believe those people?" new girl says in a tone of indignation, "This lane is supposed to be for lap swimmers." I say, matter of factly, "They were some of the best lanemates I've ever had." And I push off for my next interval of shame without seeing the reaction from the new girl.

As I zoned back into my set, I noticed that Ron had gotten out of the water and headed for the hot tub. He's clearly a smart bloke since he knows that when the AOAWBRYAAYH ends, the population of said hot tub will increase exponentially. I went back to counting legs to see how much company he'll have. The number was pretty close to the last time I counted, with a minor change. My number had stayed at 1444, but I also noticed one tiger-skinned butt. My inner dog was wagging it's tail again.

Like any good pack animal, I followed the example of my new-found alphas. I've been in the water 4 days this week. I haven't seen Ron or Nancy again but I know that I've made them proud. RUFF!

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.