The endurance athlete network

SueJadaMaxThis morning while weight training I noticed a strong runner cranking out a fast pace on the treadmill. I noticed her out in the hallway after the workout and complimented her on the pace she was hammering. “Are you training for something?”

“Chicago Marathon this fall,” she smiled.

We walked out of the fitness center together and I mentioned that my fiancee is struggling with an injury to the piriformis muscle. “That’s a tough one,” she replied.

Then I mentioned the massage therapist who works on both Sue and I.

“I’ve been looking for a good massage therapist,” she replied. “I just moved here six months ago and I want to find someone who works on athletes,” she told me.

So I stopped and we exchanged cell numbers. Later that morning I sent a text to share the contact information for the massage therapist.

It makes me feel good to share a reference like that. Our massage therapist is an Ironman athlete and USTA Certified Triathlon Coach. She knows how to work on athletes and could be a great resource for a dedicated athlete like Kim.

Over the years I’ve referred many athletes to known contacts. That includes a pedorthist I use for orthotics, the bike shops where I buy equipment and get mechanical work done, and running shops where one can trust the advice of the people fitting shoes or conducting a treadmill analysis to check form.

I also appreciate good advice when it is given to me. People typically love to share good experiences and will warn you about the bad ones if you ask. It’s all part of the endurance athlete network.

So it helps to be friendly and talk to people at the club or group workouts. Had I not blabbed a compliment to the runner named Kim at this morning’s workout, the conversation would not have begun at all. You don’t have to be obnoxious about it. Just say something nice, or ask about their workout. Most people are more than willing to share or talk about their training. And when you’re in a group or club, your network can ‘go exponential.’

You can find a good coach that way, or a training partner. And you might even find a life partner of some kind. I’ve known more than a few athletes who met the person they love by smiling and asking for a little bit of advice, or dishing out a small compliment.

There are all kinds of advantages to networking. It can happen anywhere. At the coffee shop when you notice a person in an Ironman cap. At the grocery store or the athletic club. Just make it a part of your endurance athlete life to say hello. And grow your world.

 

 

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Shagadelic with the chorus frogs

chorus frogAt 5:40 this morning only a thin spit of light peeked through the eastern sky. But the robins were singing along with the chorus frogs in the marsh behind our house. It is spring here in Illinois.

I did not move very fast the entire run. Just shagging along. Full sweats. 46 degrees. But not cold.

There is a great little road behind our house. It treks through a mile of unincorporated Batavia township. The homes along the road have been there for quite a while. No one really bugs the residents. They can burn logs and paper in piles if they like. One quasi-farm has goats in a pen.A rooster calls as I run by. I raised my hand and wave, at I don’t know what. Waving at the country sounds, I suppose. A slice of country living.

Half a block away in the semi-posh residential area, burning is not allowed. No goats either. It’s a different world. The rooster calls again. Rrr, rrr rrr rrrrh rrrrrhhhhhhhh!. World’s away.

I turn around at half a mile and shag back home. 10:30 pace. Going nowhere in a hurry, you might say. The township road ends and it is time to make a choice between the long way round, which is three miles total, or cut behind the wetland on the levee. I take the levee. Just to hear the frogs. Each one is calling like a little rooster. I run along slowly listening to the absolute voice of evolution. Tiny, half-inch long creatures with ancestors that go back 60M years. Their breeding behavior still works. The males puff up the air sacks under their necks and make a sound like a finger being dragged across the tines of a comb.

But together, with hundreds of them calling at once, the tiny frogs create a chorus of horny little fuckers. They’re like a whole bunch of Austin Powers working their mojo in hopes of shagging a female frog in the cool waters and muck. It’s quite the life, sleeping all winter deep down in the mud. Coming out when the temps warm and the spring rains come.

I shag past thinking similar thoughts. Glad for the chance to be alive. Let the chorus begin where it will. Shagadelic, baby.

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The irony of a stress test

Eye solarizePerhaps you’ve had a stress test done to check the condition and performance of your heart. I’m having one this morning. Precautionary, mind you. Given a family history of heart issues, it is important to keep track of how everything is working.

It’s not the purpose of the stress test that makes me stop and think. It’s the name. Stress test.

As if life itself doesn’t provide enough stress. I recall the first heart palpitations that ever came along when I was not exercising. It was during the process of buying a house back in 1996. We were selling our little brick bungalow in Geneva and buying a For Sale By Owner home in Batavia.The seller was the executor of the estate for the family. He had an absolute deadline by which he had to close the deal because his stepmother was apparently being a complete bitch about the money.

But he liked that we liked the house that his parents had built in the late 1960s, so we proceeded, believe it or not, pretty much on a handshake. “If you’re going to buy this place,” he told me. “Then I’ll trust that you’ll get this done.” And we shook hands on it.

Talk about pressure. That handshake held far more sway in my head than any legal document could have done. Here was an earnest human being putting trust in me. I did not want to let him down.

Eye threeBut the transaction took a lot of steps, and it was stressful. Stuff kept cropping up. The pressure built inside my chest. Then one day while sitting in my chair at work, I felt my heart racing from the stress. That was a strange sensation.

It surprised me because I’d stressed my heart in plenty of other ways by that stage in life. Pushing it up toward 200 beats a minute, maybe more, during hard training and races.

But stress works like yin and yang. You can be resting perfectly still while stress on the other side of your consciousness drives your metabolism into full gear. Stress is exhausting. Frightening. Nerve-wracking.

One of the most stressful situations I ever faced came a few years later when my father had a stroke during a vacation in Upstate New York.  A few weeks later, I was called into action to escort my father back from the Syracuse hospital to a recovery center back in Illinois.

I’d arranged plane flights for my father as well as my brother who accompanied me, and my mother too. Then I flew out to get things set up for the trip back home. My father would be confined to a wheelchair, fixed with a catheter and unable to speak due to the effects of the stroke.

Midway through the morning as we waited in his hospital room, a doctor waltzed in accompanied by five or six medical residents and cheerily said, “Well, if things go well maybe your father can go home in a few days.”

Eye Mezzotint“A few days?” I stammered. Suddenly I felt faint. I’d never felt that precise effect before. But I knew from years of athletics that the best thing to do at that moment was to make a movement of some sort. So I leaned forward, and while doing so my brain started to fade. But I kept my feet under me and walked right through the wall of residents. They parted like a crowd on the Red Carpet at the Oscars as I tromped like a celebrity zombie out into the hallway.

Fortunately, the panic did not overtake me completely.  I took a deep breath and went walking toward the window at the end of the hall where light filled my brain and I could regain my full senses. I’d had a stress reaction.

Stress. It can almost knock you dead. But I gathered my thoughts and worked through the morning to arrange my dad’s trip back home and we made it.

That night a tremendous sense of relief and exhaustion took over. I sat in the Adirondack chair behind our house as twilight came. A bat flew over our back yard catching bugs. But the world felt fake. Only the stress from the activities of the morning felt real. I didn’t own my brain in those moments. Stress did.

Every creature on earth faces stress of some sort. Stress is what the entire system of evolution is based upon. The manner in which living things respond to stress is the determining factor in survival. And we human beings are not immune to those biological responses. We do not exist outside the sphere of genetic history that we share with all living things. We’re all wired the same. We have fight or flight instincts just like the flies on a flower or the birds in the trees. We either deal with stress or it knocks us to our knees.

benny-cone-of-shameSo the stress test today will involve, I suppose, being strapped to some electrodes while they have me run on a treadmill. Earlier this week I did some mile intervals and felt absolutely smooth. I hope to show them my heart is working well. But you never know until you try.

I found three different definitions of the word stress:

pressure or tension exerted on a material object

a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances

particular emphasis or importance

It’s strange, but all three apply when you’re under pressure of some sort. Physical stress applies to the first definition. Psychological stress applies to the second. And creative stress comes from the last definition.

The trick is learning how to balance and use stresses such as these to generate motivation, not fear. And that is the greatest stress test of all.

Ironic, isn’t it?

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Reverse psychology at the indoor track

Chris running Intervals 2I joined a training partner yesterday for an indoor track workout. He was doing 4 X 1M and I had time to get in a couple intervals with him and we had fun, doing both at 7:00 pace.

But it was “clockwise” day at the Vaughn Center, so instead of making left-hand turns during the eight laps per mile, we swung right.

That used to feel so weird to me. Running backward on the track felt unholy, like breaking some ancient law put in place by the Elders. But indoor track facilities often encourage people to alternate directions every other day. Perhaps this is to prevent overuse injuries? Or just to mix it up.

We cruised along at our prescribed pace. My training partner had murdered his legs the day before with a bike trainer workout. But he led us through every lap. I used skills long earned through indoor racing, tucking onto his left shoulder and let the running happen from the hips.

I tried not to breathe so loud that it was a distraction to him. But we found our rhythm and it was fun running at a better clip that I typically accomplish day to day. In fact, I was surprised how good it felt to dial it up.

So good, in fact, that I almost regretted having to leave for a morning appointment before I could run one more interval. Later that day, I realized the dose of speed was just enough. My legs were a little tight from the speed and perhaps from the reverse direction of the turns. All those years of running on tracks while turning left have had effects on my body, I’m sure of it.

Which isn’t necessarily a good thing. My left hip is the one that gets tight on long runs. Overuse? And when the massage therapist works on my legs, she cranks on the left IT band and hamstrings. Yet she also notes that my right leg is no bargain when it comes to flexibility either. Perhaps she’s using reverse psychology on me? Trying to get me to loosen up any way she can…

It was a strange and pleasant sensation to run those couple miles backward yesterday. It gave me an appetite to do more trackwork. Rather glad that I didn’t overdo it this time as well. My previous indoor work was repeat 400s at 1:36-145. So the pace was similar and it was a good sign that my body could lace the top end of those intervals together into a well-paced mile. My goal is to race at sub-7:00 pace in my tris this year. I’ll do a 5K or 10K as a tuneup. That’s part of stitching it all together.

Doing interval training is thus a form of reverse psychology. In order to run a pace on race day it is vital to do intervals at a faster pace to make your goal pace seem slower by comparison. The formula is simple. If you’re planning to race 6:00 miles, do your intervals at a pace 30 seconds faster for your intervals.

And it works almost every time. Even when you’re running in the wrong direction on the track.

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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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