Understanding the Fourth Sport in triathlon (and it’s not just nutrition)

NRun OutRunners, cyclists or swimmers that are “tri-curious” typically have quite a few questions about how to get started. Even athletes that have done triathlons at the Sprint, Olympic and Half-Ironman and Ironman distances struggle sometimes with what it means to be prepared for a “sport” that demands so much of an athlete going from one event to the next.

It’s Actually Four Sports, Not Just Three

Let’s start with the popular cliche. NUTRITION AND HYDRATION ARE THE FOURTH SPORT. Okay,  those are components that must be rehearsed and tested in prep for any multisport event. They support actual performance in important ways.

But the Fourth Sport dimension incorporates more than what you eat and drink because you NSwim Transitionneed to do those things while you keep moving. Which suggests that doing all these things in succession constitutes the “fourth sport” in triathlon. Here is a helpful list of the Fourth Sport Factors that drive the psychology of combining three sports into one:

  1. GEAR: Quickly changing gear in Transition=SUCCESSion
  2. CADENCE: Sensing relative cadence helps “brick” psychology and energy conservation
  3. MOMENTUM is the product of pace and place; adapting to circumstances of the day
  4. FUSION uses rehearsal to achieve familiarity and avoid “strange” sensations or panic
  5. ASSOCIATION is reading physical and mental feedback over course of three stages

These “fourth sport” approaches in preparation and performance can help beginners and experts comprehend and manage the successive nature of triathlon. They can even serve as a ‘mental checklist’ throughout training, providing perspective on progression where segmented metrics too often dominate.

NCyclingThe inherently segmented nature of triathlon demands that each athlete develops a sense of fluidity through their approach. Thus the Fourth Sport of triathlon is not just how you think about it, but how you manage SUCCESSion physically and mentally over the course of a whole race.

The subjective takeaways from every performance are just as important as the objective measurements of pace, cadence, distance and time. How did you FUSE these measurements into the whole performance. Where were the comfort levels, and where were there challenges in mental or physical management?

These subjective realities are the true Fourth Sport of triathlon. They are the motivations and inspirations that get you from here to there, and all points in between.

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What kind of trainer are you?

IMG_9983During the course of an athlete’s life, a number of experiences combine to form the mentality and relative rate of discipline one applies to training. Formative experiences include initial exposures to sports such as training in gym class. Gym teachers can have a profound influence on how athletes get started in training.

From gym class one typically migrates to participation in organized sports where coaches play an important role in how athletes learn to train. These experiences impact the style of training as well. That’s what we’re about to discuss here. What style of athlete and trainer are you?

When we speak of ‘style’ relative to training, we are speaking of three things. We can call them the Three Ms, also known as Measures of Training.

  1. Methods=training techniques
  2. Motivation=the reasons for training
  3. Mentality=the psychology of preparation

Using these three measures of training, we can look at how people approach their training programs. Understanding how you approach training can be critical to your success when interruptions occur, when injury strikes, or when success or failure impact an athlete in positive or negative ways.

Because athletes do not necessarily remain one type of trainer all their lives. Certainly, performance-based athletes such as Gwen Jorgenson, gold medalist in the Olympic triathlon, recognize the importance of the Three Ms in preparation for an event of that magnitude. She changed coaches and won the biggest event of her life. But it was necessitated in part by the fact that bad luck had struck in the previous Olympics. The simple fact of a flat tire on the bike segment stole her chance for gold. Which only proves that for all the training we do, some of this stuff comes down to luck.

 

But we try to train with clear intent, and eliminate factors that can cause bad luck. So here,

The Regimentarian

This type of trainer maps out a set schedule and sticks to it. Success is earned through dedication to the program. The Regimentarian likes a coach that writes out detailed programs. This does not necessarily require much guidance after that. Coaching is mostly direction and encouragement if needed. When injury or illness strikes the Regimentarian gets to the doctor without any hesitation, and does PT or other treatments with a similar dedication to training. Regimentarians map out their race schedule well in advance. The dangers of Regimentarian training and racing is that it can become joyless. Spontaneity may be absent. But for those who prefer to just “dig in and follow the plan,” life is perfect with a regimen.

  1. Methods=Strictly controlled workout plans
  2. Motivation=Overcoming obstacles
  3. Mentality=Get it done, and done right.

The Groupie

Groupie trainers love the social dynamic and live to get out with other athletes. Some are hard trainers while others simply go along for the swim, the ride or the run. Groupies are the first to arrive and the last to leave group activities. They love training camps for the same reasons, and may go to two or three a season. It can be tough for Groupies on days when weather cancels a group ride, for example. Finding motivation to ride alone can be tough. So Groupies live by their cell phones, and love being members of a triathlon or cycling club, running organization, or Master’s Swim team. Groupies make great training partners but may not be as inclined to push themselves to the max on really hard days. You gotta love a Groupie.

  1. Methods=Loves to train with others
  2. Motivation=The Social benefits of training
  3. Mentality=When is the next group function?

The Cause Trainer

Cause trainers sign up to raise money or awareness of some person, group or organization. As a result, Cause trainers tend to mix well with Groupies. Cause trainers wear the gear of their higher purpose and treat training like a religion more than a sport. Every bike ride or swim or run is done with one thing in mind, finishing the event on which the Cause trainer is focused. Year-to-year, the Cause trainer can get a little dulled by the lack of excitement in doing the same event or raising money for the same cause. Yet some dedicated Cause trainers excel at that, and raise more money each year, go farther or faster, and love the identity and purpose that being a Cause athlete can bring. The only thing that really frustrates Cause athletes is raising money year after year without seeing any breakthroughs in the Cause they support.

  1. Methods=Train for a specific race or event
  2. Motivation=Find a Cause and support it
  3. Mentality=Train and race for those who can’t

The Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious trainer

We all know one of these, that we can just call ‘Supers’ for short. Supers seem blessed with innate talent and can be found tagging along at group rides or runs with ease. But their lives are so busy and their commitments so large their training is more an afterthought than a commitment. Often they own one of the best bikes available, or show up in some sponsored kit or running outfit that they blandly write off as “something someone gave me,” when it fact it was the factory rep from Nike or Trek, who happen to have one of those lying around and figure that putting it on the back of a truly talented athletes is better than trusting it to some schlub who does ten races a year and never places. Supers always look younger than their true years, with just that brush of gray to let you know they could kick you ass in any age group. They’ll ride twenty miles on a group ride and never break a sweat, then disappear down some side road and show up at the coffee shop four hours later with a nice clean bike tan and $75 sandals, because someone gave them to them. And Supers only train when they like. And you hate them.

  1. Methods=Train for the joy of it
  2. Motivation=Self-expression and exercise of talent
  3. Mentality=Train enough so that life presents opportunities

The Opportunist

Opportunists are like Supers, only their true training lives often exist well into the past. They are capable, in the present term, of much more in terms of performance and quality of training and racing, but might just be a little burned out or are so successful in other phases of their life they don’t need the ego feed from sports. So they take advantage of training opportunities as they arise, and often do quite well. But they won’t always add the extra 20 miles on a cycling ride, or do a four-mile brick instead of just two. Because they’re Opportunists, and that includes the right to do less as well as more whenever they feel like it. Opportunists are not bad training partners because they’ll often show up at the drop of a hat. But they can also be fickle, moody and bit strange when the sun hits them just right. They’ve been known to babble on about past exploits or wonder aloud about the journey’s they’ll someday embark upon if they picked up the sports they love late in life. Opportunists are unpredictable that way. You just have to live with them.

  1. Methods=Train when the opportunity presents itself
  2. Motivation=Get in shape in case a race or event looks interesting
  3. Mentality=See how it all adds up

The Coach

Coaches are deeply invested in the sports they engage and invest quite a bit of themselves in helping others whenever they can. Some are actually paid for their expertise, while others who train as Coaches simply love to share what they know. Some Coaches have real certifications while others depend on deep experience and aren’t afraid to correct the cadence of another cyclist or make suggestions on running form even on a Sunday morning when most people want to be left alone to run a 20-miler with a group. But Coaches can’t always help themselves, and that is both a literal and figurative statement. Quite a few Coach athletes do better at coaching others than coaching themselves. Which is why many Coaches have coaches. And so the cycle continues. The Coach trainer wants to have a plan and wants others to have a plan. That way everyone has a plan. And a plan for that plan. And so on. Coaches like plans.

  1. Methods=Write a plan and change it as necessary
  2. Motivation=Find someone to coach, even yourself
  3. Mentality=Coaching is a higher calling, so do it

The Peripatetic

I once used the word ‘peripatetic’ at the start of a training ride to describe some person we all know as a bit flighty. And one of the lawyers in our cycling group ride insisted I was using the word wrong. But I knew that it meant “traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods.” So I spent the entire ride cursing the guy for calling me out in error. But there really are Peripatetic trainers. These are sometimes talented folks who go against the grain of training philosophies. They’ll do half the training supposedly required to excel in Ironman and finish the race just fine, often faster than hundreds of other athletes that have done far more training and dedicated their entire lives to the endeavor. Meanwhile, the Peripatetic athlete does his or her training with interesting bits of quality thrown in at key times. “That’s all it takes,” they shrug their shoulders and say. You gotta admire them. They seem to know the secret to training well.

  1. Methods=Train the smartest way possible
  2. Motivation=Don’t do more than is necessary, but do it well
  3. Mentality=Prove that it can be done another way

If you didn’t find yourself among these training types, relax. You’re likely some combination of these or something altogether different. Perhaps you’re a Cage trainer, who prefers indoor workouts over all others, or Throwback trainer, who never met a kettlebell or steel-framed bike they did not love. The point here is to give yourself some consideration. Think about how you like to train and race. And consider why and how you do it. Write down your Three Ms, which is a healthy exercise for anyone.

And then get out there and train.

 

 

 

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Passing the physical

 

Hospital gown

The classic hospital gown worn for a physical

In the little town of Elburn, Illinois, there was a local doctor known for his aggressive hernia checks during school sports physicals. For some less-than-apparent reason, the guy squeezed the balls of every athlete like heck. Perhaps he’d been bullied by an athlete in high school, and this was payback? Whatever. My friends dreaded going to the guy.

 

The world has come a long way since those dark days when people didn’t suspect public figures like priests or doctors of strange psychological behavior. I’m just thankful to have had a family doctor that did not squeeze my balls so hard that it hurt.

Those early days all came back to me during this morning’s physical for a new career opportunity. Along with the drug test, I dropped trousers and the doctor had me cough a couple times. No hernia. And no crushed balls.

The long form I filled out with lists of illnesses was mostly a long list of NO for me. But there was a spot for hemorrhoids. Ten years ago I dealt with that condition thanks to the 60-mile round trip commute to work. There was also quite a bit of stress going on as caregiver for a wife with cancer, and my mom had just died. Some types of emotional pain hit you right in the ass. The problem was profound enough that one proctologist suggested snipping a ring in my rectum. I told them NO, and willed myself better. It worked.

Overall, I was thankful to be able to check off so many possible diseases and conditions. There was a space to indicate whether there was ever any exposure to chemicals or gasses in the workplace. That made me think of a summer job working at Olympic Stain, the paint factory where turpentine and latex were occupational hazards. I’d been soaked head to toe a couple times thanks to pranks and accidents at the plant. Never good. So I wrote that down. Never know when it might come up in life again.

Hospital kneeMy blood pressure was 110/78 or somesuch. Pulse was up a bit given the wait time and tall. But it’s been 52 most days. Not bad.

The eye test was weird because I have a temporary pair of soft contacts until my hard lenses arrive next week. So I told that to the nurse, and she was fairly forgiving when I read off an entire line of numbers as letters. That was funny. Then I blinked and did it right. Pass.

In this physical,there was a ‘pee in a cup’ drug test as well. The procedures involve lots of talk about how the test is approved at different stages by the patient. But they make you dump your stuff in a locked drawer so you can’t cheat. I’d ingested a lot of water before the test but it hadn’t made its way through my system. But you make it work. Force yourself to pee. Can’t imagine what it must be like to have to pee in a cup for drug testing after a marathon or a world class 10k. Must take some sitting around.

In a touch of irony, I have another physical exam this Monday. That’s with my regular family physician. It was strictly circumstance the two should come so close together. So I’ll get to turn my head and cough again. The prostate exam is always interesting too. Bend over. Grimace as Doc massages the gland. Check for lumps or hardness. Don’t want cancer sneaking up on you from below.

Hosptial thumbsLife is all about staying healthy. Which is what makes it so strange that there are a bunch of apparently angry men deciding the fate of our healthcare system in America today. They seem more worried about cutting taxes than cutting cancer rates. More disturbed by the fact that seniors are costing the country money than they are about the fact that those are grandfathers and grandmothers, aunts and uncles of constituents. It will be interesting indeed to see if Trumpcare helps people pass their physicals in the future. And will America pass its physical as a developed nation, or will we languish down at 37th on the rankings of healthcare systems worldwide, as we’ve done with our corporatized, Darwinian version of healthcare that evolved as a mistake?

There are a lot of reasons to swim, run and ride. But one of the most important is the regimen it encourages in taking care of the body. Every year or so, we pass through the physical checkpoint and take a survey of our overall health. It’s a point of pride to “pass the physical” in some way. May you pee in a cup with pride next time you try. And try not to be too pissed that someone people care far, far more about money than your physical health.

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Massage and heavy weights an interestingly sore/unsore combo

img_3991If you do strength work you know it can make you pretty sore the next day. And if you do massage therapy, you likely also know that can make you sore the next day.

Now someone might argue that with proper technique, neither of those things should happen. But really?

I don’t feel like I’ve done enough strength work if there’s not a bit of muscle fatigue and strain going on. And if I’m sore the next day, it’s always, “Well, you pushed it hard enough to do some good.”

Perhaps some people think massage therapy should never make you sore. But like weightlifting, it is perhaps true that a bit of soreness is an indication that something good is happening to those muscles. That’s especially true if your body is tight in some way.

Take the hamstrings. Please. Most runners have about as much flexibility back there as a politician bought and paid for by lobbyists. There’s not a lot of wiggle room, you might say.

Massaging the truth

So it can really pay to have someone dig in there and grind out the tight spots that build up in muscles over time. Yesterday I lay on the massage table as my therapist dug her elbow into my hamstring at the top by my butt and worked her way down to the knee. Along the way I could feel the bands of two long hamstring muscles separate like a pair of bloated guitar strings. “We’re supposed to have four hamstring muscles,” she chuckled. “It’s like you only have two.”

And it hurt to find out there are four. But it was worth it.

Earlier in the day I’d gone to the weight room. One of the routines I do is on the leg press machine. I start at 170 lbs and do 20 reps at 20 lb intervals all the way up to…390! That was my new record for weight and reps!

World class

Of course, I have a long way to go before reaching the levels of leg press former world record holder Sebastian Coe achieved. Reportedly he could leg press 700 lbs. He could also run a 400 in 44 seconds, an 800 in 1:42 and a mile in what, 3:44 I think? It’s hard to recall that last one.

The point is that his legs were monstrously strong. For a man of 5’8″ or so, that’s a lot of return on strength investment.

For me, weightlifting keeps my body in alignment and keeps biomechanical weaknesses at bay. This is true especially for my left knee, which has no ACL inside, and my left hip, which is torqued from running all those miles counterclockwise around the track. Or maybe from doing steeplechase. Or maybe my left leg is just longer. Which is probably the real reason.

Double duty

So the back and forth of weightwork and massage is vital to my continued health and performance. I seldom do both in one day, so I was curious how I’d feel out running this afternoon.

The answer is, sluggish as first. Plus I was hungry because I waited until 2:00 for my workout and had not eaten since 9:00 a.m.

So I can’t recommend strength work and massage on the same day. But neither would I recommend against it. I still ran my miles the same pace, and picked it up at the end.

And despite the pressure put on my body by the weights and the massage, I’m not that sore. Perhaps I’ll ask my therapist to go for the rolfing treatment next time. Or put the leg press up to 410 to start. See how far I get.

Until something snaps off. Bends in half. It could happen with either weightlifting or massage. But maybe I won’t push my luck, so to speak.

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The eyes have it

Eye.pngI lost a contact lens last week. That sent me to the eye doctor for an exam, because it’s been three years (I guess…) since the last prescription.

That doesn’t mean I have not been to an eye doctor since. Every couple years I go to the ophthalmologist for an eye dilation and to get a thorough check of eye health. Way back in 1980 I had a retinal detachment that could have ruined vision in my left eye. That condition was caught by an optometrist in little old Decorah, Iowa. He was doing an eye exam for a glasses prescription and went “Whoa…”

I said, “What whoa?”

“Um…er…nothing. Let me check something.”

I pressed him on the issue. “I’m not getting out of this chair until you tell me what’s wrong.”

He was reticent to tell me. “I’m not qualified to make this diagnosis,” he told me.

Eye three.jpgBut I insisted. He finally admitted, “I think I see a retinal detachment. But I think you should go to the Gunderson Eye Clinic in LaCrosse to get it checked out.”

So that week I drove some eighty miles up to LaCrosse and sure enough, they said having surgery was necessary to fix the torn retina. “Laser surgery would be the best option.” they told me.

And I said, “What, whoaaaa?”

I had not heard of laser surgery on the eye before. But I came back two weeks later and they put goo in my eye and hooked me up to a machine the size of a Volkswagon. This was the laser machine. Austin Powers would have loved it had it been attached to the back of a shark.

I sat there for a moment with my eyeball fixed to the gooey prod and naturally, began to hyperventilate like mad. Then I fainted, and slumped over in my chair. But not before throwing my arms around the hips of the attending nurse. Yes, I really did that.

She coaxed me back into consciousness and then deftly removed my hands from the back of her ass like she’d done it one hundred times before. Then she sat me firmly in the chair and said, “Okay, that’s enough. Now, breathe. Normal.”

So I breathed like I was running a race. Deep and smooth. Then I sat real still as the laser machine was used to aim beams of light at the tear in the bottom of my retina. They coterized it. Burnt a ring around the tear in that tissue and saved my eyesight. Otherwise the fluid behind lining of my eye would have pushed down and caused a greater tear. That would have made me blind in one eye.

Eye Mezzotint.jpgSo I’ve never taken my vision for granted. Yet we all get busy and forget how long it was since we last got our eyes checked, or our teeth cleaned, or our hearts monitored.

So the recent eye checkup went well enough. No major health problems in the eye. They used a machine to take a picture of the inside of my eye. That image showed the floaters that came about a couple years ago when the interior lining of my eyes decided to hang little sacks of a viscous fluid down like a sack of spider eggs. During that process, I saw flashes of light just like they warn about when you’re experiencing a true retinal detachment. That freaks you out a little bit. It sure freaked me out. Took me back forty years to an earlier scare…

But then it all stabilized and the floaters became another part of my life and the aging process just like the hair in my ears and the lines of my face. Even when the effects of age take place right before your eyes, the recognition of its consequences tend to arrive in revelations. You look in the mirror one day and notice that the skin above your eyelids is now drooping. Or you see your own picture on Facebook and wonder whose face that is? And you realize it’s your face. You’re aging.

Taking it in

Eye solarize.jpgWe take in all these changes through our eyes. And yet how much do we really process? I look back on that incident of the retinal detachment that I had at the age of 21… and what a shock it was to realize the possible mortality of my own vision.

The eye doctors didn’t speculate too much on what could have caused such a detachment. One suggested that my career in running steeplechase in track. The jarring might have caused it? But really, I’d played years of basketball as well, and been hit in the eye by a recoiling branch while birding. So it wasn’t likely the result of trauma at all. It may well have been the result of a rapidly changing eye structure that led to astigmatism. Call it eye tectonics. My retina pulled away because my damn eye was being yanked from its own moorings.

In other words, one of the early signs of aging. The eyes have it. Everything in our body has it. We just don’t notice the effects of aging when we’re still so young.

But think about it. From the moment you pop out of a vagina the aging process begins. Life is a pre-existing condition. We age through time, but we also age through the impact and torsion of life itself. Traumatic events. Stress. Frustration. Doubt. Fear. Expectations. Success. All these things have an effect on our conscious and unconscious selves. The purity of the moment is made from the absence of time.

Only when we’re doing something we love like running or riding or swimming do we sort of stand outside the aging process. In those moments, we essentially exist outside the realm of time where physical aging takes place. It may hurt more to run or ride or swim as we grow older. But that’s not really true. We hurt ourselves aplenty in our competitive endeavors while still young. So it’s all relative how fast we’re going when the pain and difficulty begins and ends. The important fact is that the world still looks the same. So much of this happens in the realm of the mind.

We can bear witness to this alternate reality through many senses. But when it comes to our ability to see life through this love of doing, the eyes have it over all other senses.

Go out and appreciate your eyes today. And if these don’t work for you, give a new listen to the world. Any sense of the body can serve as your eyes. You just have to let it be.

 

 

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You didn’t have to be so nice

This morning after dropping Sue off at the train, I pulled around the block to Graham’s 318, the coffee shop where I write some mornings. But first I sat for a minute listening to a song on the radio.

The Sirius 60s channel was on. I’m not stuck in the past, mind you. My other stations include Alt-Rock, The Loft, The Spectrum and wherever I can find interesting new music.

But there’s something about 60s music that is distinctive beyond all other decades. Yes, there are a few saccharine songs I can do without. But the inventiveness of the era is what I like most, and the diversity in production qualities.

Lyrical melody

So I sat there listening to The Lovin’ Spoonful song “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice.” The in-and-out harmonies. The clean drum lines. The lyrical melody. And yes, the memories of listening to that song coming from my older brother’s room when I was eight or nine years old.

I’m thankful that my brothers had good musical taste. Sure, we all ingested hits from AM radio in the 60s and 70s that turned into guilty pleasures. But there’s something about the space created by that song by the Lovin’ Spoonful that transcends all eras.

The music washed over me in the Subaru, which has a nice Harmon Kardon stereo. So you can really hear the music. The intensity of that moment was like time travel to me. I could feel the sensation of being upstairs in my bedroom at 1725 Willow Street Pike south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. My brother’s room was right down the hall. He still has the amazing record collection assembled in those years. Original copies of albums by The Beatles and many others. He takes fastidious care of his stuff, so they are all in pristine condition.

Sensations

 

Meadia Heights.jpg

Photo of Meadia Heights golf club south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania where I grew up

The music makes me think back to being a skinny little kid of seven or eight years old who already loved to run. We lived next to a golf course and I often crossed the practice range and several fairways on my way to friend’s house along the 17th hole. Whether I wore shoes or not did not matter. The golf course grass was a sensational surface to run on.

 

I invite you with me on that running jaunt across the golf course. The short walk across the circular driveway behind our house. Under the rose trellis rich with red flowers in summertime. Through the Zook’s property and across Niblick Avenue to the driving range. That’s where I’d head into a trot. If I wasn’t careful on summer days the mullein would stick between my bare toes. So I learned to lift my knees and paw back with my feet rather than driving them through the low plants with their little knobby heads. And I ran…

If I wasn’t careful and the mullein did stick between my toes, I’d stop, bend down and pluck them out. And start all over. Then I’d start picking my way between the mullein patches and the “good” grass. This became a swerving game. The mental aspect of running took over. I was having fun. It felt effortless to run.

Music of my mind

Yet the songs in my head would never leave. The smooth strains of “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice” would course through my brain the entire way. I’d wonder to myself what it would be like to be in love with some girl. Then I’d imagine the girls I know in that regard. And there was something there, but not really. Not yet. That time would come.

But that wonderful music and the innocent trip across the golf course felt liberating. It helped me leave any childish worries behind. That was important some days. I was an anxious child in many ways, wrought in some stages by a sometimes difficult father. He had lost his own mother when he was a mere seven years old. By all family reports, she was a remarkably intelligent and cultured woman and would have made a great grandmother to us boys. But she died of complications from breast cancer surgery. The year was 1933.

Bygones

My father never really like our music. He loved Big Bands and hits from the 1940s, which he’d play on his stereo and sing along. He had a great voice too.

But I hated that music, and the weird tunes in Camelot, the musical he liked best. Perhaps there was something more about that production that he liked. Some aspect of the symbolic virtues locked in an idealistic world.

It’s true, it’s true, the crown has made it clear
The climate must be perfect all the year

A law was made a distant moon ago here
July and August cannot be too hot
And there’s a legal limit to the snow here in Camelot

The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot
By order, summer lingers through September in Camelot

Perhaps we had more in common than I had ever thought. It makes sense. He was my father after all. It comes out in strange ways. I catch myself biting a pinkie finger while I think about some subject. Just like he did. Genetics rule. The evolution of child to man.

Those runs across the golf course were my personal time to think about everything going on in my young life. Yet those runs were also an escape. That is the dichotomy of life, and why we run as well.

Racing days and ways

Years later I would race high school and college cross country meets on golf courses. That’s not so common now as it was in the 70s and early 80s. Times have changed. Golf courses have gotten more conservative about litigation and so protective of their turf. It’s the “I’ve got mine” mentality written green and large. God Forbid someone else should share that precious space, or think themselves entitled to enjoy it if they aren’t a “member of the club.” The country club mentality infests all sorts of subjects.

Country-clubbishness vexed me even as a child. My father loved golf, but we couldn’t afford to be members of the golf course that was literally in our back yard. So I reveled in traipsing across its fairways and walking barefoot through the dew on the greens. I never harmed the place in any respect. In many ways, I knew that course far better than its own members. Hid among its dark pine trees on rainy days. Played army in the sand traps in late fall when the golfers gave up. Sledded down the snow-covered hills in winter. Chased herds of deer through the woods in late spring. And peeled off my clothes on rainy days and slid down the fairways like they were a Slip-and-Slide mat.

In other words, I owned the place in my own way.

Many years ago

That was all many years ago. But it all comes back when a song by the Lovin’ Spoonful plays on the radio. My only wish in life is that perhaps I could have liked myself a little better at times. Not been so anxious. But it’s wired in me, and I’ve learned to deal with how my mind works, and find better spaces and better places to occupy my mind and my time.

The lyrics of that song are  intended toward some object of affection. But it struck me this morning that they could just as easily be sent backward in time to that child running across the golf course. From me…to me.

And when we’ve had a few more days (when we’ve had a few more days)
I wonder if I’ll get to say (wonder if I’ll get to say)
You didn’t have to be so nice (be so nice)
I would have liked you anyway (would have liked)

 

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Is it time for the triathlon community to grow up?

Cleveland.WetsuitTriathlon is a set of sports within a sport. That means swimmers mix with cyclists. Cyclists mix with runners. It’s supposed to be an egalitarian sport.

And we all have our flaws. It’s the rare individual that is truly exceptional in all three sports. More typically we hear people confess their relative weakness in one, two or three of the events it takes to complete a triathlon.

Given the native humility that is almost inherent to the sport, it is a bit surprising that some people seem focused on competing for attention and loyalty. Specifically, this seems to be true among individuals in triathlon clubs.

Let’s imagine there’s a club call Wonderful Tri. There are 80 members in the club. Some are accomplished triathletes while others are just novices. A set of four coaches caters to these athletes, prescribing workouts and leading swims and rides and runs. 

In another nearby suburb is a club called Tri For It. That group is run by a multi-Kona athlete. Most of the team members are serious triathletes. They ride the best bikes and sport the best gear. Admission to the club is done by application only. There are 75 members in Tri For It. All of them have Ironman tattoos of one kind or another. To wear the Tri For It kit is a point of regional pride. It costs $1000 just to be a member of the club, and coaching is extra. Most spend $350 per month, or more than $4000 a year on coaching. 

Finally, there’s a third club called WTF Tri. They’re a laid-back group of generally half-fit athletes who enjoy training and attending events together. Their club is run by a hang-loose board that runs the website and organizes sag rides for training rides and other events. Their social calendar is always full and their post-race party tent is one of the most popular places to visit after weekend events. WTF makes it clear that everyone is welcome. There’s only a small fee to join, and their team kit has a giant WTF on the front and the back. There are no official team shorts, so the team always has a colorful appearance everywhere they go. Their website has reams of videos of triathlon fails. 

One day an athlete from Wonderful Tri joins one of laid-back athletes from WTF Tri for a group ride. They strike up a relationship and within a few weeks, the Wonderful Tri athlete jumps clubs to join up with WTF Tri. To the surpise of the Wonderful Tri athletes, race results turn out pretty much the same. “I can’t believe it,” the Wonderful Triathlete says. “I’m training half as hard and getting the same results.”

One weekend at a local bar, the Wonderful Triathlete and their WTF partner bump into a longtime friend from the elite Try Fot It. “C’mon,” they say. “How about joining us for a ride this weekend? We’re not as fast as the Tri For It group ride, but we can pull off and do some hard intervals together if you like. You can do all the pulls,” they tease.

So the three friends have a great time riding together. And the very next week, the Tri For It athlete decides they like the vibe of WTF and against the advice of all their friends, transfers clubs as well.

Word gets back to the Tri For It coach that one of her athletes is jumping ship to the upstart club with all those members. This sends a touch of concern through her mind. “What if 20 of my athletes go over there?” she worries. “I’ve got to put a stop to this.” The reasons are legitimate. The Try For It club is her sole source of income. Her coaches depend on her for income too. And all those sponsors want to see results. 

So she sends an email goes out to all the Tri For It members. “All training done with other triathletes must be approved by your coaches,” the email says. This sets off alarm bells among several of the Tri For It athletes. Several of them secretly run and swim with triathletes from other clubs as well. In fact, several even date athletes from other teams and spend a fair amount of time hanging out with their club members after workouts. “It helps me wind down,” one of the top Try For It athletes admits. “Training is so hard, I like to have a beer or two with people who aren’t so intense about it.” 

old-bastardThe Wonderful Tri coach gets wind of the email from the Tri For It coach and brings it up at a weekend Olympic Distance triathlon. “Hey, don’t be so worried,” the Wonderful coach says. “I’m not trying to steal any of your athletes. There are enough new people for everyone.”

But secretly, the Tri For It coach is concerned because sponsors have been demanding to see growth. The club has been stuck at 75 members for two years because whenever athletes come in, several drop out as well. “Keep away from my team,” the Tri For It coach blurts. “Or you may find some of your better athletes over on my side.”

Athletes from both teams overhear that conversation. Pretty soon the rumor mill is going full steam amongst all the teams.

Suddenly athletes begin making the jump from team to team. Then two coaches from Wonderful Tri and Tri For It go over and join the WTF team. Then WTF announces the formation of a WTF Elite Racing Team. And that same weekend, WTF sweeps the podium.  When that happens, sponsors of the Try For it team call the coach to inform her that a portion of their sponsorship money will be migrated to WTF Elite. “We have to spread the support around,” they inform her. 

Within weeks the local newspaper catches wind of all the triathlon controversy. A story appears on the front page with the headline, “Tri getting along, or not.” A series of triathletes are quoted anonymously in the article. The overall tone is patronizing, to say the least. The next week the editorial page of the newspapers fills with letters to the editor from people complaining that triathletes sound like petty, entitled, childish jerks. “And by the way,” one letter writer says. “Stay off our roads.” 

One WTF triathlete named Willy does a social media post on YouTube. Sitting in his WTF triathlon kit in the front seat of his car,  he opines: “I may be the least talented athlete out there,” he says. “But it sure seems like we all need to grow up a little around here. I mean, What the F*** difference does it really make what team you join? Aren’t we all just trying to do our best? This is all ridiculous.”

purgatoryThe video goes viral because it also happens to show Willy’s cat doing somersaults on the shelf of the rear car window. After 1,000,000 hits on his video, Willy gets a sponsorship offer from Tyr and starts his own media channel called Really WTF? On which he opines about all kinds of sports. 

The moral of the story is that it’s just plain stupid to worry about triathlon club membership. If you’re not happy with a coach or a team, then go. Cut the damn drama and join another club for the right reasons. Leave as if you’re leaving a job. Don’t burn bridges even if those bridges deserve to be burned to the ground, trampled into the dust and sold on the Black Market as Satan’s Ashes.

Triathlon is supposed to be an egalitarian sport. Of course, we all know that’s not likely to happen as long as tribalism is allowed to rule the social, economic and competitive dynamic. Is the triathlon world really no better at this than the rest of society? Sometimes it would appear so.

Perhaps it’s time to take a fresh look at how everyone views the sport of triathlon. So you might start by reading this here bloggishness. Seems like it’s headed in the right direction.

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Nike Hijab and other fashion wonders

Nike Hijab.jpgI love that Nike is coming out with clothing for Muslim women who want to compete in sports but maintain their religious tradition by doing so in Hijab. I watched a program about a women’s soccer team that wore less than practical forms of Hijab in the World Cup, and they progressed through the tournament until the organizers made them stop.

MSN.com quoted a former professional athlete who competed in hijab: “From my perspective as a former athlete who competed in Hijab, in the past, the big brands didn’t see the need or market for it as it was not “popular” and it was unheard of to see women train, exercise and compete in hijab. It is a recent phenomenon where more women have expressed a need for it and more professional athletes have fought for rights to compete with a headscarf, and have an equal playing field.”

The strange thing about the new Nike hijab line is that it won’t reach the market until 2018. That’s the best a major retailer like Nike can do? It takes a year to pump out head coverings and other equipment for the company that used to make spikes overnight for its top track prospects? What the hell, Nike people?

Suiting up and down

Ironies abound when it comes to how much men and women week to cover their bodies during competition. Watching basic changes in competitive swimwear alone over the years has been interesting entertainment. For a while, men’s swimsuits were pared down to the barest of all minimums. Their typically tiny butts were covered by a bit of Speedo fabric and the junk up front was captured by a similarly small sling of lycra or some other stretchy fabric.

But then it was discovered that certain high-tech fabrics could cover the body and make swimmers go faster. So swimsuits expanded for a while from knee to shoulder. But then they were banned, if memory serves. Yet world records continue to fall.

 

A woman's hipsAmong women runners, there is mixed acceptance of micro-small bun huggers. Some women rock them with panache. Others prefer shorts that don’t reveal that crack between the thigh and buttocks.

In track and field, there is no real parallel for running gear of such small proportions. Yet among triathletes there are men who rock the whole event in swimsuits.

The glimpse of an erect nipple used to be such a point of titillation in women athletes. But as competitive gear has evolved toward performance over appearance, the entire body has become fair game for exposure.

The world is not in a state of moral collapse because people have figured out that men have penises and women, vaginas. If the world is in a state of collapse for any reason, it is because repression of these basic facts is causing conflict in the minds of those too uptight to accept that men, women and transgender people have a right to govern their own body parts in the style they choose.

So if a woman wants to cover up and compete in hijab, she should have the right. Just so long as it is her choice and it does not provide a competitive advantage over other athletes. We saw how swim gear evolved back and forth.

Some would argue that countries “forcing” women to compete in hijab amounts to a competitive disadvantage. Not everything changes overnight. And let’s not forget that the sight of a woman’s ankle peeking out of a swimsuit was once regarded as major boner material.

Still, there have been mistakes made in athletic wardrobe. Many of them in fact. Those unfortunate cycling kits for the Colombian women’s team a few years ago? Bad design.

But there seem to be a few types of athletic gear missing from the needs of people around the world. Here are a few more suggestions for Nike, in case they want to pursue clothing for niche markets beyond Hijab:

Nike Viagra: For men competing with four-hour erections.

Nike  Preggo: Competition gear for expectant women.

Nike Trump Line: Sports clothing designed for sexual harassers.

Nike Liberal: No gear at all. Just a Nike tattoo on the Left butt cheek.

Nike Conservative: Same as Hijab, only Christian.

Nike Fundamentalist: Protective gear prescribed by religious law.

Nike Missile: Sports bras for the nuclear weapons now aimed at North Korea.

Nike Russky: Jockstraps for Trump supporters

Nike Radioactive: Triathlon gear for swimming in the Pacific Ocean after Fukishima

Nike MAGA: Gear that looks great at first, but falls apart when you look at it closely.

Nike Obama: Athletic loungewear that comes with X-Ray sunglasses

There you have it. An entirely new set of products for Nike to launch in the near future.

 

 

 

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Are dreams important?

oil2How are your dreams? Are they intense and in color? Or do they fade so quickly when you rise in the morning that you cannot remember them?

Last night I dreamt that I was out on a trip somewhere with Sue. We wound up on opposite sides of a river when a flood hit. It was a really big flood. The river was brown and swollen. Impassable by swimming or by foot.

Yet I led a crew through a series of obstacles in order to cross the river via a tall but somewhat dilapidated bridge.

First, we had to gain permission to pass over the property of a landowner in a rickety old house. He stood inside the gate yelling at us that we had to go back. “No one can use my grid!” he kept yelling. He was referring to a long metal gridlock bridge that clung to the cement side of the bridge. I could feel my fear of heights kicking in just thinking about crawling along the side of that bridge.

But first I appealed to the man’s sense of decency. “I’ve got all these people with me that need to get across,” I told him. “There’s no other way!” I made some impassioned speech that played on his sense of religiosity after that. He softened and let us go by.

Then one by one the people I was leading climbed along the grid. For some reason, the last step involved pushing a loose screw into place using a small screwdriver bit from a drill. Just before I crossed, I directed a kid to climb up and get over the side of the bridge. Somehow I knew that he was out on parole for something. He looked real rough with a bad haircut and lots of sweat all over his body.

When he got to the spot where he was supposed to reaffix the screw and climb over the top, he dropped the drill bit. I had a dream closeup of this process for some reason. I  watched the drill bit fly out of his hand and down the long drop to the ground. Then the kid himself fell. I watched him, not able to do anything. Then I climbed over the bridge.

We made it to the other side through some other portal we found within the bridge that enabled us to go through the interior despite the fact that the water had risen over the top. We clamored through dripping corridors and emerged inside the neat house of some unidentified resident on the other side.

oil1Creeping through the house, we talked in quiet tones. But once we got outside, our voices raised in jubilation. And at that moment, a strange little woman came out of the house yelling at us for invading her privacy. I think someone in our group had taken something from one of the bedrooms. She was barking about that and at the same time seemed like she was desperately lonely and wanted to meet us. So she donned some crazy costume and began dancing around the streets. We left her there dancing. 

I don’t know what that means.

I found a cell phone somewhere in the weeds and was able to call Sue and let her know that I’d made it across and helped some others do that too. And then I woke up.

Dream interpretation

Who knows what the dream meant this time. I’ve analyzed dreams before through the Internet and with friends.

So I searched on the Internet and found this fascinating piece of analysis that is quite apropos to my station in life at this time.

Psychological Meaning: A river may represent the flow of the life force. In a spiritual sense, it may show your acceptance of divine will and destiny. Instead of struggling against life you ‘go with the flow.’ Crossing a river may symbolise a fundamental change of lifestyle.

Mystical Meaning: Consider your dream in the light of this quotation from Siddhartha by Herman Hesse: ‘But he learned more from the river than Vasudeva could teach him. He learned from it continually. Above all, he learned from it how to listen with a still heart, with a waiting, open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgment, without opinions.’

oil-3Both of these interpretations are pretty meaningful to me. I literally am changing things in life. New work opportunities. Getting married in May. Helping family members and myself grow through stages of grief and sorrow to joy and new opportunities.

So dreams bridge the gap from happenstance to reality.

I once had a dream in which I ran a marathon and finished in 2:26. The entire run was smooth. That dream was probably 20 years after my competitive peak. So it surprised me to find myself running along effortless at 5:30 pace.That was one sweet dream. 

It wasn’t without precedent, however. I raced 25K or 15.5 miles in 1:25, about 5:20 pace if I recall. That was well on my way to a 2:26 marathon. During the race, I chatted with the video crew on the back of a truck. I got third overall in the race after having trained 15 miles on Thursday and 10 miles hard (60:00) on Friday. Because I had not thought that I would race that weekend.

So the race itself was dreamlike that day. There have been others like it in which I ran nearly my best and felt like it could go on forever.

IMG_9983But then the race ends and it is what it is. Another experience that fades into the past like all the others. It becomes, in other words, nothing more than a dream.

And are dreams important? There surely are. They help us imagine, on purpose or by accident, what our minds really want to know about us. They are subconscious journeys even when carried along by the physical body.

“I could only dream of doing an Ironman,” someone might say. But then the dream takes hold. It becomes something a person cannot get out of their head. The entire act of doing the race might feel like a dream, or a nightmare, depending on how it goes.

Then we wake up, feel ourselves out and start dreaming all over again.

Dream on. Because dreams are important.

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I try to be nice

Nice red ball.jpgLast night it was cold enough to deter me from an outdoor run. So I bundled up the Tyr bag and headed down to the Vaughn Center with the idea to run a series of 400s on the track.

So I warmed up. And while I did, a gaggle of kids piled in for their afternoon workout with a coach that runs practice there every week. I should remember that 4:00 in the afternoon is not a good time to go to the track at the Vaughn. But in the moment, a part of me hoped that this track coach might recognize that there are runners other than his young proteges on the track.

That was a naive hope. He lined his kids up and started having them do strides in all four lanes of the 200-meter track. I avoided the crew the first interval. But the kids were circling back in the center of the track on the second one. So I walked off the track and went over to my bag and got dressed. Figured I’d go run outside.

But that didn’t feel right either. Apparently, I was just not meant to run at all yesterday.

Did I behave like a spoiled brat? Could I have waited to see if the track would clear after they did all their drills like they always do? Yes. I could have waited. And it was my fault for not remembering that they start their workout that time of day. It’s a fact of public facilities that organized workouts take precedence over the needs of individual runners on any track. It’s an unwritten rule, but it’s still a rule of some sort. Like the Pirate Code.

I do still think there’s another rule that all runners and coaches should abide. The Lane One rule. If someone is obviously doing something serious in Lane One, then how hard is it to accommodate that person? Well, truth be told, sometimes it is hard to alter a workout for thirty kids for just one person.

Perhaps I could have walked over to the coach and asked for permission to run in Lane ONe while his kids were engaged in drills. But honestly, I decided my needs weren’t that important at that moment. Plus I felt heavy, slow and stupid during that first interval because I felt heavy, slow and stupid in general yesterday. On days when I feel heavy, slow and stupid, I’ve learned to let it all go. There’s usually some good reason why my mind is not 100% focused.

And once I went outside in my gear to run, I realized that I still had the final little dribs of a project to finish. I think that was lurking in the back of my mind all along. So I ditched the run entirely and went back home to finish up the project and felt good about that.

Soaking in it

Try to be nice.jpgLater that evening I did a rare thing. I poured a big bath in our jet tub and soaked in it for a while.

This morning, I got up and did a six-mile run through a local forest preserve. I had my hood up and it was cold as heck outside. But I felt light overall, and the birds were singing despite temps of sixteen degrees.

But when I got home, there was a note in Facebook Messenger waiting for me. Some guy from a networking organization to which I formerly belonged had sent a Friend request. But I wondered why he wanted to Friend me. So I wrote him through Messenger and asked:

Me: Hi (Name). I received a friend request from you and want to respect that. But know that I’m politically liberal and capable of expressing it across a number of fronts. If you still want to friend on FB given my perspectives all good. But I’ll not apologize when I publish the facts of science and the like.

Him: Well, as an engineer majoring in physics & mathematics I’m rarely wrong when it comes to sciences; so we may disagree, but I don’t discuss it on FB since no opinions are changed online:)

Me: Well I’ve met professional geologists who claim it’s all a product of the Great Flood. So sometimes it’s a gray area to people

Him: True…some areas are gray…. theory of relativity got us to the moon and quantum physics brought us the semi-conductor… Yet both theories are in conflict… So which one is correct?

Me: That’s the beauty of science. It doesn’t pretend to resolve those issues until it finds reason to do so. I’m comfortable with not knowing everything but the process of learning continues.

Him: Lol …the liberal who used science to jump off a building thinking he would never hit the ground and not die. “I’ll start at 1000ft and always have 1/2 the distance to fall….500, 250, 125, 62 1/2….” Sadly he only talked to one math professor who didn’t teach calculus.Have a good day Chris

After that, his comments got nastier and nastier. So I could tell he wasn’t really trying to be “friends” at all. Then he revealed his actual purpose for Friending me by typing in the words GO TRUMP! He was just aching for a chance to be vindictive. It didn’t really surprise me. As you may have surmised, I half anticipated his purpose from the outset.

I knew that because he’s the friend of another guy from the same networking group from which I resigned. And that other guy once posted a political meme calling President Obama a narcissist on my Wall, and then objected when I suggested that he provide some context to his comments. Then he attacked me through Messenger demanding a “man to man apology” after calling me, and these were his words, “A sick fuck.”

And the guy’s a family counselor for a living. Nice.

Run it off

But I’d had such a good run this morning that I decided to forgive and let it all go. But I also took two minutes to write the national office of that networking group to notify them that even after I had quietly and politely resigned from their group due to their long and vocal practice of derogatory comments about liberals and millennials and gays, they had gone to some trouble to harass me.

I left the networking group because I saw that I was not a fit with the political and religious tone of some of the members who treated it like their own private political cult. Yes, I quietly asked some fellow members whether the political comments bothered them. Several former members of the same networking group later told me they left for the same general reasons. We all left with civility. Because sometimes you recognize that some people aren’t about to change. Not for anyone. Or anything. And they’ll do everything they can to make your life miserable if you suggest otherwise.

But I believe there is such a thing as civility. I left the workout yesterday because I saw that my needs and desires to do a speed workout did not trump the priorities of those kids learning how to enjoy the sport of track. And unlike some of the people I’ve encountered over years on public roads and facilities, I didn’t stand by the track shouting that I pay taxes and deserve to run there when I feel like it. I didn’t moan that my freedoms were being impacted or call people names in order to chase them away. I didn’t do those things because that’s not how I view the world.

I try to be nice. Handle it with all the class you can muster. Avoid confrontation, but don’t back away if people need to be called to account for their actions.

Because in the end, there’s such a thing as being nice and there’s such a thing as being too nice when people with ugly intentions try to foist their nastiness on the world.

 

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