Saturday, November 23, 2019

Extra Gravity Drag Training

Science has known for quite some time that mammals gain weight in the fall. As part of their natural energy cycles, hormonal changes are sparked by the decreasing available sunlight and falling temperatures to encourage the uptake of higher energy foods. Comparatively speaking, fat is physically superior as an energy storage unit. We've all (hopefully) seen the side by side glance of fat versus muscle/ protein. Proteins and carbs require a large volume of water to store them, making them dense and, therefore, heavy. Your body, recognizing the hardships of a long and grueling winter, opts to convert its excess units of heat into floatable fat molecules.

Just in case:

In most competitive swimming circles, the season is a fall and winter sport. That means coaches all around the world are getting their athletes at their most buoyant time. That extra buoyancy makes it more efficient for a swimmer to stay on top of the water and, consequently, easier to flow through the water. Contrary to popular belief, coaches hate this. Granted, they won't tell you directly. You have to pay attention to the indirect methods of communicating their disdain. They called it "drag".

Here are just a few ways that my swim coaches over the years have forced additional drag onto me and my swimming mates:

  • T-shirts
    Wrong type of drag suit, coach
  • Sweatshirts
  • Second, and sometimes a third, swim suit
  • Speedos with large mesh pockets (conveniently called 'drag suits')
  • Shoes in the pool
  • Boots in the pool
  • Swimming with someone holding your legs
  • Tying a bucket to your waist
  • Tying a bungee cord to your waist and the other to the end of the lane
  • Anyone got another favorite they'd like to add?

The concept was that if they could make your swimming hell harder during practice, then when you stripped down to your loin cloth made of spandex, you'd be able to swim even faster. Your arms would be so used to the extra drag that you'd just fly through the water. And you know what, for the most part they were right!

Cyclists are much better at playing the drag game than runners. They have race wheels for competitions and training wheels for the rest of the year. Training jerseys are the cycling drag suit equivalent. They have one helmet for daily use and fancy, aero-helmets for the show. Some go so far as to shave their arms and legs to save watts (a concept they stole from the swimmers, I might add). I could go on.

Most runners suck at the drag game. Perhaps Olympic level sprinters engage in considering aerodynamic clothing options. Some runners will train in their "normal" shoes and race in their "flats", citing weight differences as their reason. Note: the weight difference is about 4 total ounces. I've yet to read the impact of 100 grams of rubber might have on the overall speed. The problem with runners is that the move at relatively slow speeds to make any gains potentially gained by aero-tech virtually moot. Even worse if you have the run speed of a comatose box turtle; I.E. me.

Well, I haven't been running much lately. I have this annoying achilles tendon issue that's got some extraordinary hang time. I learned, from a hamstring issue last year, that coming back from an injury too quickly yields in yet more injury. So I'm taking it cautiously and waiting until I'm sure that training won't cause this particular issue to worsen.

My most recent selfie
Luckily, I have been eating more. One would think that it would be smarter to lose weight during periods of sloth. Well, and this comes as no surprise, I'm not that smart. Or, am I?

See- running is a weight to power ratio driven sport. Here's where the Extra Gravity Drag Theory takes form. As bipedals, for each stride of the run, the human body is launched from the ground and quickly falls back. In order to perform this task, the runner must overcome the force of gravity. Gravity, being one of the four fundamental forces of the universe (the others being the strong force, the weak force, and the call of a bag of chips), is an ever present bastard that continuously pulls a mass towards its center. Gravity doesn't care how much you weigh, it pulls you down just the same. But, your legs care a lot. The more body you carry, regardless of muscle or fat, the more your legs have to work to overcome the pull. That means it's easier for a lighter runner to cross the earth on 2 legs than it is for a heavier one.

Since there isn't much in the form of external drag for runners, I'm resorting to adding internal extra resistance in the form of blubber. In the near future, hopefully, I'll get back to logging miles. And when I do, I'll have to cart around all this extra luggage. Conveniently, I'll have all of the extra stored energy I could ever want. There'll be no excuses for being lazy, right? Come spring, which hits in early July in these parts, the days will get longer and warmer. If things go as planned (which they never do), I'll lose some pounds and running will magically become easy. That's the theory. Anyone want to join me in testing this idea?

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Visit From the Triathlon Fairy

Once upon a time, in a land known as the armpit of America not so far from here, there lived a an idiot triathlete named the Banter. The Banter was a mediocre athlete with virtually no talent and a penchant to continue to toe the line year after year with no real results to speak of. But you could always count on him to be middle of the pack to front of the middle of the pack or back of the front of the pack. But never packing.  Every so often, if the right people signed up for a different race than the one that featured the Banter, he would have a sparkle of success, which kept him motivated to continue to train and race for years to come.

That was before the dark times. See, the Banter started to get old. And with great age comes great vulnerability, only the Banter wasn't smart enough to recognize it. He got injured. A lot. More so in the past 5 years than the rest of his athletic life combined. He trained on like he was young and virile. He was neither.  He assumed that each and every injuric episode was an isolated, freak incident with no rhyme or reasoning attached. He didn't realize that once you start to have multiple freak episodes, they are immune to the term 'freak' and are replaced with the word 'normal'.

One day, after his most recent 'freak' episode, the Banter was getting desperate for some good news on his prognosis. He did what most idiots people do,  he fired up the googler. Upon typing in a few key phrases, it turns out that the Banter, apparently, had less than two weeks left to live. "That's odd," thought the Banter, "This is just lower leg pain. I had no idea it could be so life threatening." The googler was clear, death was imminent.  "Oh boy, what ever shall I do?" thought the Banter.

Upon that query, out popped a beautiful lady with tiny running shoes and lycra cycling shorts. "I am the Triathlon Fairy tasked with overseeing the wellness of the athletes, lest our sport continue its fall from grace. What ails you, my child?"

The Banter was speechless. For one, he's not used to hot chicks talking to him on purpose. Most of the time, it's borne out of obligation and, even then, accomplished with the utmost hesitancy. For two, why would fairies even participate in swimming, biking, and/ or running when they can fly, or blink, or whatever they do for travel? For three, there's someone outside of sport that cares about the maintenance of the field? For four, there was a triathlon grace with which to fall? This was a perplexing situation.

"Hello," said the Triathlon Fairy, "Are you there?"

The Banter blinked himself back into reality. "Well, TF, I do have some problems. How long do you have?"

The fairy sensed a trap, as she was significantly smarter than the Banter (which isn't difficult to accomplish). "Please limit your concerns to physical, sport related concerns. I'm due in upstate Pennsylvania tomorrow evening. And don't call me TF. It's insulting."

Sigh, thought the Banter. Another hot chick that's clearly in a hurry to get away to find another dude (he assumed that her next client was a male, since boys dominate the sport by about 3 to 1). And all of this after 60 seconds of interaction. That's a new record for holding their attention. Score a point for the Banter!

"Well, I have this rotator cuff problem in my left shoulder," said the Banter. Dammit, he thought, because where else would you have a rotator cuff problem? The shoulder is the only option. Surely someone of infinite beauty and intelligence would have known that. This is the reason the womens flock in the opposite direction.

"When does this 'problem' occur?" asked the Triathlon Fairy.

"Pretty much only when I'm swimming," replied the Banter.

"That does pose a problem. Swimming is one of the vital components of triathlon. It's a shame that most triathletes don't fully get that. They prefer to think that, just because it's less that 10% of the overall race, that it only affects 10% of the outcome. Triathletes never were an intelligent breed."

The Triathlon Fairy produced a stick and majestically raised it up. The Banter thought that she was going to bash it into his head and be done with him. He ducked and exclaimed, "Wait, I have more problems."

The look of frustration on the Triathlon Fairy was palpable. She paused, "What else do you have?"

"Well, I have this forearm tendonitis in my right arm, just below my elbow. It mostly pains me when I'm gripping the handlebars of my bike."

Again, the Triathlon Fairy raised her stick, this time with much verve. The Banter winced, awaiting the blow. The croaked, "And..."

She lowered he stick. "There's more?"

"Yes," answered the Banter. "I have this ankle pain. It feels like pins and needles when I try to run."

The Triathlon Fairy looked at him with a gleam of curiosity. "Let me get this straight, you have an injury that's holding you back in swimming. A different one that kicks in when you're biking. AND another that limits your running? Have you tried to strengthen your muscles, bones, and tendons by lifting some weights or something?"

"Yes, triathlon fairy!" said the Banter, who was clearly getting excited that he was able to keep the hottie in his vicinity for a few more minutes.

"And, did that work?" asked the Triathlon Fairy.

"I don't know," said the Banter. "I do know that, as a result of lifting, I now have an achilles tendon strain that hurts when I walk. Lifting hurt me in a different spot but it might have helped on the others. I'm not really sure."

"So, to recap, you can't reach your potential in the swim due to a shoulder problem. You are suffering on the bike due to a forearm problem. You can't really run much due to a chronic ankle problem and an acute achilles problem? It hurts even to walk?"

The Banter smiled, mostly because he thought the Triathlon Fairy just called him a cute. "Yes Triathlon Fairy. I think that covers it. I also have some mental/ emotional concerns I'd like to share with you..."

There was an immediate flash of dread in her eyes that cut him off. It was followed by a look of resolve, "I've got just the thing to solve all of your problems. When I'm done, you'll be an improved triathlete forever." With that, the Triathlon Fairy raised her stick one last time. With a tiny flourish, she swished her swoosher and disappeared, lest the Banter continue to dive into his head problems, which would ensure that she'd be late for her next appointment, possible her next several appointments. He's a mess.

The Banter felt something change inside of him, but he was hunting to figure out what it was. Was his shoulder feeling better? He mimicked a few freestyle strokes. Sure enough, on the pull phase he felt a sting of unhappiness, a sure indication that there was no change there. He massaged his right forearm, just below his elbow. Yup, still highly tender. He got off his recliner and took a few steps towards the kitchen, where the wine is stored. His ankles gave out three times in twelve steps, which is par for the course. During the other nine steps, his left achilles was screaming at him with every push off. Did she change his threshold for pain? Nope. Did she reduce his healing time? Unlikely. Did she make him any faster? Doubtful. Did she make him slower? Impossible.

He returned to his recliner, donning a fresh glass of red. With that elixir in hand, he figured it out. It's clear that she used her magic to remind the Banter's of his expectations for what makes a successful season. He decided to open up his goals sheet for the 2020 season and he gazed upon the big ones. The Banter's major goals for himself and everyone he advises, for every season, are as follows:
-Don't die
-Have fun on the journey
-Enjoy sport so that you want to do it again next year
All other details in sport pale in comparison. The Triathlon Fairy helped the Banter remember what was important in life.

Then he went back to the googler to figure out how to live past Thanksgiving. The news wasn't as good as his goals. Having forgotten the entire Triathlon Fairy encounter, he started to daydream. He still hoped to set a PR or two in the up-and-coming year and pondered how to accomplish this on injury topped upon injury. Remember... I told you he wasn't that smart.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Banter's Journey

Every once in a while, I get asked the question, "Banter- what keeps you going year after year?" (Okay, no one actually asks me that question other than the voices inside my own head.) It's a good question. I just concluded my 20th season of triathloning and I'm just as motivated as ever. This is in light of the numerous failures at achieving the goals for which I have set. On paper, I have more failures than successes. Year after year, I trudge on when many smarter lesser individuals have given up. The biggest factor that gets me up in the sport morning is... Unfinished business.

Here's the thing- for the past few years I've been performing subparly, especially when parred against myself. The last time I can remember being satisfied with my sport performance as a season was 2012. Most of my current tri-family hadn't received their birth in sport and I was starting to fizzle. So for the past 7 years, I've done nothing but mediocre sport. That's going to end!

Have you ever heard of the Hero's Journey? It's a literary device for the dozens of us who still like to read. Basically, the main character goes on a journey for some unknown reason, has an adventure, experiences a crisis, still manages to win, and returns home a changed being.  

There are several different versions of the Hero's Journey. One has 17 steps. Another has 12. They're all basically the same, with some being more verbose than others. I'm going to present to you the 8 step version (ya know, 'cause I'm the lazy type). 

The Hero's Journey- Step by Step Instructions
Step 1- The separation. Taking the hero from the ordinary world. Yeah, for those of you who've met me, you'd know that ship sailed a long time ago, destination unknown. I'm not even sure the ordinary world would accept me back.

Step 2- The call. A problem is presented, and the hero could not remain in the ordinary world. This one's easy. I have this delusion that I'd like to be good at sport. It seems that just when it's starting to look up, I get smacked in the face with this thing called reality and the ordinary world just comes crashing down. Something's gotta give.

Step 3- Threshold. The actually crossing over, the journey begins... This is the exact stage where I'm currently sitting. I've signed up for Ironman Mt. Tremblant, which will take place on August 23, 2020. That's just over 9 months time, or a slightly long, Banter-esque gestation (yes, I was 2+ weeks late). Base training has officially begun.

Step 4- The Challenges. See, here's the thing, I'm a big pansy. Most of the aspects of sport that make one successful I lack. This list includes, but not limited to: intelligence, the desire to go out in the elements at the wee hours of the morning, the determination to trudge on even when the trudging doesn't want to go on, the will to do it over and over and over again, the ability to fuel adequately (<-- okay, this one I actually have), and so much more. 

Step 5- The Abyss- the death and rebirth of the hero. Historically, my abyss comes in one of two forms. The first is due to injury. Injuries have plagued my last few seasons in such a way as I'm beginning to think I'm injury prone. I still think that I'm wrong though. The second form is a lack of motivation come late spring/ early summer. The reason for this form is that the area in which I live doesn't normally get the memo that winter has ended until mid-June. This zaps my will to live and continue to train indoors. I traditionally pick life. 2020 might toss something new at me. Who knows?

Step 6- The Transformation- a sudden, dramatic change in the way the hero thinks. I, too,  am patiently awaiting how this plays out. Stay tuned.

Step 7- Atonement- the hero becomes at peace with himself. I have resigned myself to go sub-11, meaning that anytime of 10:59.59 or faster will suffice. My previous best was an 11:33. Even if I fail, I'll still be at peace for at least the next 7 days or so, which is how long it takes for me to relearn how to walk after a 140.6 event.

Step 8- Return with a gift. This one's not so difficult to understand. Everyone who finishes the race gets finisher's gear. A medal. A hat. A shirt. A chance to spend even more money on pictures, plaques, jackets, your own airline, etc. 

The next 9 months are going to be an adventure and I plan on enjoying every at least a few steps along the way. I'll keep you updated. Welcome to my Journey.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Throwing in the Towel

Any boxing fans out there? Doubtful. Boxing, as a sport, is dying quickly. It's being replaced by more manly sports like Kickboxing, MMA, and watching other people play Fortnight on YouTube.

Any Rocky fans out there? Hell yeah! Everyone enjoys a good underdog story where, eventually, the hero faces a long-fought battle (complete with an impossible running scene) only to lose at the end. The story was so good that they had to make a sequel to let the hero win.

Well, this post doesn't start with Rocky I. Or Rocky II. Or Rocky III, which featured Mr. T as Clubby Lang (a fricken' great name for a antagonist if ever one was invented!). It begins with Rocky IV.

Rocky IV spent half of the movie following the previously beaten Apollo Creed (a fricken great name for a protagonist if ever one was invented!) in his quest to beat that commie Russian Ivan Drago. Well, Ivan (apparently) was on a better drug regime than the American (hard to believe). Rocky Balboa was watching the champ get pummeled by the great Red Hook. Other members of the entourage were calling for Rocky to throw the towel, which was a call from someone who's supposed to be on the good guy's team to end the match.

Spoiler Alert: Rocky never threw the towel and the champ died from his beating. Sad. On a happy note, it did leave the series a convenient opening to reboot the money machine several decades in the future, featuring the champ's son.

How does this relate to the Banter? The reigning champ (and I'm being generous here) is me and the commie bastard on high levels of steroids and giving me a beating that hits where the hurting's good is the 2019 race season. The season hadn't even started before I got my first big punch to the face, which manifested in a nice hamstring injury. Pow. Then I raced without adequate training. Bif. Then I raced again without adequate training. Sok. Then I raced again without adequate training. Blap.

It's taken its toll. Specifically it's smacking where it counts for me, in the run. Seriously, I haven't had  decent run since the day before the injury. That's going on nearly 6 months now. And when I mean a decent run, I feel like I've been digressing even more so than normal. Allow me to explain...

Take a gander at a recent run that clocked in a just over 4 miles for 33 minutes of running averaging an 8:14 pace. On paper, this looks promising, right?  When you look at the forest, you have to remember that there are trees. Glance at the data.

If you look at the elevation, you can see that it's stupidly flat. If you look at the pace, you'll notice that the pace is relatively consistent. Spoiler Alert 2: That's the ego talking there.

If you look at the heart rate and match it with the pace chart, you'll notice a few obvious anomalies. To count, you should see 6 of them, some closer to each other than others. Those are times when I stopped running. If I'm not running, the Garmin isn't running either. Those drops in data aren't really drops, that's the pansy taking over the body while the ego refuses to let me slow down. This was not a good run.

But, but, but... you should slow down. Yeah, no sh** Sherlock. I though of that. Here's a more recent 4 mile run for your viewing displeasure.

This run was also just over 4 miles. It took 36.5 minutes. It was also stupidly flat. It featured less incidents of pansy, only 4 of them this time. The average pace for this run was 8:53. I suppose that's a running step in the right direction but the notes on the run said that it felt like I was running directly into a heart attack, if the heart attack was announced with an asthma induced hyperventilation. It was not a good run under an aspect other than it was better than not running. This has been the norm of pretty much all of my runs for a very long time now.

This up and coming weekend, I have a race. I won't do well at this race, at least not according to my standards. On the digital paper, should you look at the results, you think that things didn't go so badly. That's okay. You and I can have different perspectives as to what is a good race for me. There's not much either of us are going to do to convince each other differently.

Upon conclusion of that race, I will be officially throwing in the towel on the 2019 race season and start my offseason prematurely.  A few honored and respected individuals immediately know what this means. Let me expand for the rest of you: I have another race in a couple of weeks at the 70.3 distance. I will not be doing this race. I have no desire to die a slow death. This was not an easy decision. In fact, it was one of the hardest decisions I've made in my triathlon career. I don't think I can handle yet another hard fought, painful race to be met with disappointing results. My psyche would rather recoup the losses than experience the what-ifs.

I plan on taking the time off. Regather my energies. Spending time with the Wife and the doggies. And coming back ready to rock to triathlon world with some performances that will make even the Banter proud. 2020 is the Ivan Drago rematch. I must break you.