Hard effort feels the same at every age

When you get the bright idea to “go hard” on a given day, go for it once in a while!

Our Sunday morning run yesterday consisted of seven miles from North Aurora up to Batavia and back. Sue had a modest tempo run planned after the previous day’s 40m time trial and 10K brick run on Saturday. I rode 32 miles at 17.5 and was happy with that. It was windy as heck on the way out and a fun joyride on the way back.

At the turnaround point during our run on Sunday, we met up with a fellow triathlete and chatted for a quarter mile. Then I decided it would be good for me to put in some hard effort on the way back.

Unchained melody

If taking off on a whim like that seems a bit haphazard in terms of an overall plan, it’s because I train mostly by feel these days. Senior athletes like me need the flexibility to run hard on days that we feel good and take it easier based on the messages we’re getting back from our bodies day to day.

The days of mapping out 70-mile running weeks and hitting those numbers come thick-or-thin are gone. That’s fine by me. I don’t really miss the obligatory aspects of training. I’m not sure my testosterone levels sustain it these days.

All that horndog sexual and physical energy in my teens and twenties, combined with the need to prove myself on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis has shifted to a more appreciative mode of training. Now I run hard when I feel like it.

Yesterday that meant three consecutive sub-8:00 miles. I ran 7:48, 7:57 and 7:47, but didn’t have that much more speed at hand, to be honest. Earlier this summer I ran a 22:00 5K on a bike path and that’s as fast as I got this year.

Hard effort and Red Zone games

That’s seven minutes slower than my all-time best, but here’s the funny thing. Even at these slower paces, the sensation of a hard effort still feels the same. Yesterday while humming along I thought back to all the races I’ve run over the years and the feeling of running at the edge of my aerobic capacity has always felt the same. I was playing Red Zone games.

My heart rate reached 178 at its peak, somewhere in the middle of the second hard mile. That’s where the breathing got tough. We all know that sensation. To manage that Red Zone challenged, I shortened and smoothed out the stride, increased the breathing rate, took it deeper into my belly and regained the oxygen needed to keep up the pace. It worked. That’s associative compensation.

Racing along

As a person that has been doing this stuff for decades, I still find it fun (if no less uncomfortable) to run at the edge of my abilities. It’s also fun to actually race when the opportunity comes along.

That’s the main point of all this. Testing ourselves is what this endurance stuff is all about. No one says that has to be done on any sort of schedule to make it have value.

You should to that too. Take off on a bender once in a while when you’re feeling good. Make the effort hard, and embrace the moment. Don’t worry if you can’t go on forever. No one can. Hard effort feels the same at every age, and age itself disappears when you let it go. That’s true no matter how many years you do or don’t have under your belt.

Getting results

As for results, my casual approach to training works for me. This past summer I completed two Olympic triathlons and my first-ever Half Ironman 70.3. My Olympic was just over three hours and my Half Ironman in the 6:15-6:20 range. I was self-timing and had a water bottle cage fly off in the last ten miles of the bike, so there was some play in there in terms of time. My main goal was to finish.

Isn’t that fun?

Posted in 10K, 5K, aging, aging is not for the weak of heart, competition, cycling, cycling the midwest, triathlete, triathlon | Leave a comment

Mentoring other athletes and building community

Mentoring and collaborating with other athletes builds a sense of community and a support network.

This morning I finally made it back to the swimming pool after weeks away due to work commitments and post-triathlon season chillaxing.

I struck up a conversation with a young man that had just finishing swimming as well. He was quite good in the pool, and I noted as much. He told me that he’s not even in swim season right now, but finishing up an abbreviated cross country season with a meet down in Peoria this weekend.

“It’s not a state meet, they’re not having that,” he told me. “We’ll be running in flights, with the sixth and seventh guys in a race, then the fourth and fifth, the second and third and finally the top guys.”

I didn’t bother asking him where he fit in that scheme. It mattered more that he was excite about the race. His build wasn’t a traditional cross country guy build. He was a bit thicker than that, but who is to judge how fast a runner can go based on mere looks? I can’t.

Multisport future

We talked some more about his swimming. He related a funny story about how his coach threw him into the 500 because there were no other spots to fit him into the meet, and he won. “So the coach went, ‘Huh…” he laughed. “Now I swim a bunch of other events too. But I’m working on my sprints.”

We both agreed that the 200 is a tough event. I mentioned that I swim mostly for triathlons, and he told me, “I do those too. They’re good for scholarships.”

He’s a junior in high school now and just starting to look at colleges. I shared that having a solid swimming foundation is a real advantage in triathlon events of all distances. His running will also be a great gift for a multisport competitor. “Cycling is mostly just Time In The Saddle,” I advised. That’s pretty true. A guy that can swim and run as well as this young man can learn how to focus that power into the bike.

As we parted ways I shared that I know the coach at a local college where triathlon is now an intercollegiate sport. I gave him the name and shared that he should reach out. Last summer I trained with some college kids from that program and they were really athletes of fine character.

Out in the parking lot I saw him heading toward his car and called out, “What kind of running shoes do you like?”

“Saucony,” he replied.

“Good shoes,” I told him.

“Thanks for talking with me,” he added.

I smiled, waved and said, “Good luck this weekend!”

It’s a habit I have, talking to young athletes and old. It’s a great way to learn what motivates other and share a bit of encouragement. We should all mentor each other, when it comes down to it. That’s what the whole idea of community is all about.

Posted in college, cross country, cycling, running, swimming, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Glory Days: Does it matter what we’ve done in the past?

In case you’re not familiar with the term Glory Days, here’s a few lyrics from a Bruce Springsteen song of the same name:

I had a friend was a big baseball player
Back in high school
He could throw that speedball by you
Make you look like a fool boy
Saw him the other night at this roadside bar
I was walking in, he was walking out
We went back inside sat down had a few drinks
But all he kept talking about was

Glory days well they’ll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days

All of us have personal histories, and there is a danger that comes with living in the past if we regard those experiences as better than the present. Voicing wistful regard for the Good Old Days is a form of emotional compensation, especially when life in the present isn’t exactly glorious. Lord knows not every moment of life is perfect.

We do not need to regard the past as either our ultimate level of achievement nor our enemy and something to be avoided. It is possible to learn important things about ourselves by taking a measured look at how things took place in days gone by––and learn from them.

Over the course of a lifetime

The days of yore, while competing at a hot national track meet in Michigan. I nearly died from what I originally thought was heat stroke. It turned out to be a case of food poisoning.

It is true that while we change as people over the course of a lifetime, an internal narrative forms within us. We believe certain things about ourselves depending on how we interpret events from the past.

For example, on an athletic level, I came to believe that I was not good at running in the heat following what seemed like a case of heat prostration in the wake of a steeplechase event during national meet held in high temperatures and humidity. Years later I ran on another hot day, I ran exceptionally well in a 10-mile road race. That led me to question the narrative I’d created in my head about that hot-weather race. Piecing together the events of the day, I suddenly recalled that we’d gone out to dinner at a Pizza Hut that night and had eaten an entire medium pizza on my own. Two hours later I got extremely sick and threw up twenty-seven times overnight. My roommate counted.

It was food poisoning, not heat that nearly killed me that night.

Dwelling on the past

An obsession with the Glory Days can happen with love and relationships as well. For a time after breaking up with a college girl that I really thought loved, I blamed myself for letting it happen. Then one day I was going through my running journal from that period and noticed a long series of comments over the period of a year and realized that in many respects, she’d been playing me against other men all along. It’s much too easy to vex and blame ourselves over the confusing world of love, family and friendships.

Well there’s a girl that lives up the block
Back in school she could turn all the boys’ heads
Sometimes on a Friday I’ll stop by
And have a few drinks after she put her kids to bed
Her and her husband Bobby well they split up
I guess it’s two years gone by now
We just sit around talking about the old times
She says when she feels like crying
She starts laughing thinking about

Glory days well they’ll pass you by

It matters what we’ve done in the past, because we really can learn from it. At the same time, I’ll admit that in this blog and others I mine quite a bit of material from the past, some of it from my so-called Glory Days. I believe that if you’re analytical rather than just wistful, the past reveals much valuable insight about who you really were, and who you are today.

Getting through it

In that spirit, I’ll share an anecdote that shows how much we can learn about ourselves from even the smallest incidents, good and bad.

During my junior year in college I competed well enough to land in the Top Five for most of the season. That meant I was a steady contributor to the team’s success. But when it came time for the conference meet, I experienced a first real bout with depression.

Earlier that summer, I’d worked in a job that was such a negative, physically and mentally unhealthy situation that it essentially caused a post-traumatic stress reaction. In combination with other events in life at the time, my brain and body were in a bad way. All that season I’d consistently run under 26:30 for five miles. Then I had a race where I ran 27:40 and was 14th man. I came back to run well again at 26:15 against a tough University of LaCrosse team, and was sixth man. But my moods were up and down. At conference, my nightmare of all races took place.

That late October afternoon proved dark and dismal. My mood was beyond dark as well. Nor did my body not want to cooperate in any way, shape or form. People that have never experienced a profound depressive episode might find it hard to understand how difficult it can be to perform in that state, but it’s as close to a living nightmare as I’ve ever experienced. You know those dreams where you’re trying to run faster and can’t? I lived that shit.

I ran 28:48, the worst race in my entire life. That put me in 25th place overall. I’d placed ninth in conference as a freshman and sophomore. I’d place ninth again as a senior.

Glory Days can follow difficult ones. The important thing to remember is that the past is not the sole definition of your present or future. We all are engaged in the continual process of becoming.

For many years, I allowed that single race to define my impression of that entire year of my life. What I’d forgotten along the way is that two weeks later at nationals I bounced back to race as our fifth man for a team that took eighth place in the country. The conditions were horrible, with on a course covered in 4″ of snow. Yet despite the horrid results of my depressive day at conference, I bounced back to help the team achieve something worthwhile. It set the stage for future success. That next year as a senior I ran second man for most of the year and helped lead the team to second place in the nation.

As I’ve aged and learned so much about life, and myself, it is those comebacks and periods of perseverance that mean more to me. Life is filled with more of those moments than most of us care to admit. We have to tune out the doubts, make up our minds to get through it, and find a way to make things right again. I encourage you to take a harder look at how you’ve defined yourself. Sometimes the hard truths produce more self-forgiveness than you might think.

That’s where the past can help us most. “I’ve done it before. I can do it again.”

Posted in aging, aging is not for the weak of heart, anxiety, Depression | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The difficulties of life when your brain works differently

At an early age in life, I realized that somehow my brain worked differently than others. For one thing, I abhorred boredom. Still do. That’s why I write this blog and others on a daily basis. If I’m not doing something new or relatively creative every day, I get restless.

There are other facets to brain function that go along with a brain that works differently. In third grade, our teacher set up a reading contest in which our task was to plow through a catalog of SRA books that were color-coded by difficulty. The further you went along, the harder the reading got. I never had trouble reading, but again, I hated boring writing, especially if the subject didn’t interest me. It was anathema to me. When I didn’t like a story, there was no way I was about to suffer through it. So I stopped reading those damned SRA books.

Plus I didn’t like the colors.

The teacher measured our reading rate by having us make paper boats out of construction paper. These were fastened to the wall at a starting point above the blackboard. As the class read books, the boats moved around the room at whatever rate the kids completed the SRA sections.

Mine sat still. I would dutifully take those SRA books out of the box but sit at my desk doing nothing. Part of that resistance was emotional more than cognitive. My father had a practice of pushing and exasperating us at times with rounds of archly enforced demands and punishments. Being told that I had to read those SRA books was a demand that felt too close to my father’s driving words and criticism if I failed.

So I avoided the task at hand.

Teachers say what?

My first watercolor painting at age four.

One day I came back from recess to find my mother standing in the classroom with Mrs. Helm, my third-grade teacher, who’d also been my second-grade teacher. She liked our class so much she moved up a grade to have another year with her favorite students. I felt proud to be liked that way, but that didn’t mean there weren’t issues at hand.

Mrs. Helm thought she knew me well, and called my mother in for a conference to see what was going on with my reticence toward reading. When I walked into the room, Mrs. Helm directed me to address my mother. “Will you tell your mother why you don’t want to read?” she suggested.

I stood there a moment, took a glance around the room and gave my answer. “I’m waiting for the other boats to come around again,” I replied. “Then I’ll start reading.”

My mother suppressed a laugh, but Mrs. Helm was not amused. “You must catch up,” she told me. “Or you’ll get bad grades.”

I looked at my mother. She nodded somewhat seriously. But she was also an elementary school teacher, and knew that there was something more to the story than a kid that could not read. She took me to the library on a regular basis and I grabbed books off the shelves with an appetite for joy and knowledge. My mother just understood that I didn’t like drudgery, or being forced to do it.

Instead, she said the one thing that she knew could motivate me. “Chrissy, can you catch up?”

My mother knew me well. That was a challenge I could embrace. It called upon my competitive verve and a desire to succeed in the face of odds. That same instinct would later fuel my running career. I don’t think I’m alone in that respect. I’ve met many runners over the years driven by their own set of compensatory needs or outright demons. A runner is never truly alone with those in tow.

Playing ball

Age age fourteen, a baseball pitcher.

Later in the year with Mrs. Helm, she wanted the class to do a play based on some historical story we’d read about. Again, I found the subject boring and did not want to participate. She gave me an ultimatum: “Chris, I need you to stay in from recess to work on this play.”

Well, that requirement did not set well with me. I was keeping track of the number of home runs that I’d earned in our daily kickball games. A friend and I were leading the competition among all the kids who played. My goal was to tally one hundred homers, many of them by launching the playground ball over the swingset in center field. The feeling of catching that kickball in the sweet spot and watching it fly over the swingset was one of the best feelings in the entire world. I was not about to give that up to stay inside and do some stupid school play.

“No, I want to play kickball,” I told her.

“Okay, if that’s your choice. You don’t get to do either.” She made me sit inside the entire recess period with my head down on the desk. No looking up. That was my punishment. I could hear the sounds of others kids playing outside. I knew that I’d missed the chance to add to my home run lead. “That’s fine,” I resolved under my breath with my head down on my desk. “I’ll just kick more homers tomorrow.”

While most teachers in public schools struggled to motivate me, even my baseball coaches knew how to use motivational tactics during practice. At the age of ten, I was so much faster than the other kids on the team, and could run so much farther, that they’d make me do extra pushups (my weak spot) before being allowed to chase after the other ballplayers. I’d still catch them.

Looking back, I realize there were genuine attention disorders going on with some parts of my brain. Long before ADD or ADHD––or whatever you call it––was diagnosed with kids, I dealt with some sort of attention deficit disorder. I’ve taken to calling it Creative ADD. People of a creative nature need to learn in different ways because their minds work differently.

That’s why sports were so appealing to me. They offered a physical release of energy and a brand of mental stimulation that fueled better concentration. They also provided creative challenges and an opportunity to act in every second of play.”Depending on the sport, and I played nearly all of them in some form, baseball, basketball, soccer, football, wrestling, table tennis, court tennis, volleyball, the list goes on… there was also problem-solving involved; geometric calculations, math problems of time and distance, reading opponent body language and response and paying full attention in the moment and over the long term. Add in goal-setting, discipline and pain tolerance, and sports were and remain a constant source of affirmation, mental and physical stimulation.

And I still say I was right to want to go out to recess rather than stay inside and work on that foolish classroom play.

Outside-the-box thinker

As a perpetual “out-of-the-box” thinker that alternative capability has had its benefits and its costs. I recall several races where my inattention to course details actually cost me the victory. At the same time, the hyper-focus nature of creative ADD grants the ability to concentrate during intense interval workouts when pain is the preoccupying force at work in the body. If that seems counterintuitive, so be it.

I will not lie. My Creative ADD an outside-the-box thinking has cost me in some ways through my adult years. While many companies like to promote thinking “outside the box,” in practice it is seldom welcome or tolerated. When it comes to individual management of employees, especially those whose brains work differently, the instinct is to corral and control rather than encourage and reward alternative ideas and God Forbid, failing forward.

Granted, emotional intelligence enters the picture as well. People addicted to honesty and liberality are not always welcome in the workplace. Not with bosses insecure about their own management capabilities and shortcomings.

Compensation

That said, my early encounters with perceived injustice has motivated me to create opportunities for others. Drawing on those early experiences with the reading program in elementary school, I’ve always wanted to encourage other kids to read without turning it into a grind.

In the early 2000s, I conceived and developed a summer reading program that grew from 35 libraries and 50,000 kids in its first year to 175 libraries and 375,000 kids in communities all across Chicagoland. The program rewarded kids who read 10 books a Panera Bread free Kid’s Meal. At twenty books they earned a Culver’s ice cream cone. At thirty books every child completing the program received a coupon book containing free admissions to twenty seven cultural and entertainment opportunities. These included leading institutions such as the Shedd Aquarium, Brookfield Zoo, Art Institute of Chicago, several children’s museums, sports teams, a railroad museum and Wild West town, historical and nature parks, and more. The free admissions totaled $270 worth per child. At a completion rate of 75% (or 281,250 kids) that potential value equaled $75,937,500. That’s a whole lot better than handing out packs of pencils or a book mark.

One day, while meeting up with lines of people waiting to enter the Kane County Cougars ballpark on summer reading admission day, I saw a child sitting on a parking block reading a book. His mother looked at me and said, “I made him promise to finish his last book before we went in the gate.”

“Is that a good book?” I asked him. He looked up and smiled. “Yeah, I really like it.”

That made me smile. From early anguish good things can come.

Posted in anxiety, competition, running | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cold confessions on an autumn bike ride

Saddling up for a 3:30 ride on a late October day, I thought the gear I’d chosen would serve the purpose of keeping out the chill and the wind. It was fifty degrees outside, on the knot. During the ride, the temperature dropped. The wind picked up, then shifted directions so that I was riding back into a cold autumn breeze.

Moments like those bring out cold confessions, making you wonder why you’re out there at all. Glancing at my Garmin, the watch itself seemed to be frozen in time. I’d forgotten to start it up again at the first traffic light at 1.94 miles.

By that point, I’d already covered six miles. It wasn’t worth picking up a partial ride. I turned the whole thing off. Now I was riding for the sheer act of doing it. No Garmin reward when I got home. No pretty map of the route. No pace per mile average.

That said, my legs still felt good. The wind creeping up the jacket sleeves and turning my hands numb still wasn’t that bad. I’d worn cycling gloves but nothing over my bare fingers. No worries. I’d felt worse many times before.

Not the same brick pillar. But you get the picture.

My ride took me past the little brick bungalow where I lived for ten years in Geneva. I saw that the brick pillars I’d repaired back in 1995 were still holding together. That was twenty-five years ago. We all try to do things that stand as a testament to our worth in this world. Some of them go unrecognized. That’s okay.

The same goes for the things that we attempt that don’t go so well. They stand as cold confessions in our past. Inside that same house are a number of projects that I patched together with much determination but little know-how. Most of them worked out in the end. Some are hidden. The wallboard compound used to rebuild a bathroom wall. The layer of pink paint on the dining room wall.

These are cold confessions. Unadorned and real. One feels the same way on a bike on a cold autumn day. It’s just you and whatever you’re wearing. If it’s not enough, so be it. One still needs to get home. We all need to get home.

Posted in cycling, cycling the midwest, Depression | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Winning means different things to different people

On a chilly October day in October, 1983, I stood on the starting line of a race in downtown Oak Park, Illinois. It was fifty degrees outside. Rain had fallen the night before and the clouds still formed a low, gray ceiling above the city.

A few weeks before, I’d finished first in a 10K race called Run For the Money. It was sponsored by a bank of some sort. There was no cash prize. I considered that false advertising. After the race, one of the local runners that I’d beaten in the race introduced himself to me and explained that my finishing time of 31:42 was actually misleading. “The course is 200 meters long,” he explained. “We measured it ourselves.”

So that was more false advertising. Perhaps I’d just run a 31:10 10K? Or faster? One never knows in such circumstances.

A few weeks later at the starting line of the Frank Lloyd Wright 10K in Oak Park, my confidence was high and I was eager to run. The gun went off and once again, I led from start to finish and completed the race in 32:00, just twenty seconds behind the course record set by a guy named Tom Mountain.

I’d win the same event a year later after a year of competition in which I ran 24 races, setting personal records at every distance ranging from 5k (14:45) to 25K (1:24). My 10K PR finally did drop to 31:10, but I placed second in that race anyway.

That’s how tough it was to win back in those days. That’s why winning actually meant something. You had to earn it through hard training, race-day concentration and mental toughness.

That’s also why I’ve always held high standards about what it means to win. Because along the way to many wins, there’s also a fair share of so-called “losing” to do. If we’re smart, we learn from that.

Just as importantly, if you happen to win and then turn around and malign everyone else as losers, does that make you the ultimate winner? No, that makes you a miserable jerk.

If you also happen to be so fatally insecure that you feel like you’re winning only when criticizing or bullying others, that makes you an absolute asshole. And we all know who we’re talking about by now. Isn’t that indicative that there’s a problem afoot? That what some people call “so much winning” isn’t actually winning at all?

There’s also a pathological problem among people who feel like cheering on that type of “winning” makes them a winner too. Those are the actually the worst kind of losers in this world: the vicarious and vicious.

So in order to draw some clean lines around what it means to win, perhaps it helps to share a pair of cogent definitions of the word WIN. Perhaps that can help people understand what the word really means.

To win means: to reach by expenditure of effort.

To win means: to make friendly or favorable to oneself or to one’s cause 

So let us be clear: claiming a vicarious victory by supporting a person (or a team, or a party) that behaves like a total asshole and treats everyone like “losers” does not deserve support, much less respect.

For example, it is not “winning” as a supposed Commander In Chief to show derision toward military veterans, Gold Star familiies and prisoners of war, brand service men and women “losers” and “suckers,” and call generals and heads of our military forces “dopes and babies.”

He also insults and harasses women, supports racist tropes and groups and conspiracy theorists, as well as lies and downplayed the threat of a dangerous and deadly pandemic. He does it all because the only thing he claims to care about is “winning.”

In Trumpian terms, that is short for “he only cares about himself.”

That is the hallmark of a sociopathic loser. His supporters own that moniker as well. Everyone who supports Trump is behaving like the losers and suckers that he assumes that they are. It’s so simple to see. And so hard to avoid.

Posted in 10K, 13.1, 5K, competition, running | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s just bodies, sex and all that

Some people seem to be born with knowledge of what sex is all about. During those formative years in which sex first entered the picture, so to speak, it seemed so tantalizing and out of reach that it vexed me terribly.

Perhaps the first sexual escapade of my life was up in a tall hemlock tree with a neighbor girl named Cathy. We climbed up there together one summer afternoon and showed each other our genitals. Even at the age of six years old, I got an instant erection. “Why does it do that?” she asked. “I guess it gets embarrassed,” I told her.

Fifteen years later, as a senior in college, I was dating a woman with whom I had fallen deeply in love. She bought me a pair of silky running shorts during cross country season. We went for a run and within a mile the state of excitement in my pants was apparent. We both stopped and laughed. That was the only time I ever got an erection while running.

Most of the time, the state of a man’s genitals during running is something entirely different than erect. The movie Juno describe the bouncing genitals in the shorts of distance running as “pork swords.”

It would have been helpful early in life to realize that girls/women knew all too well what was going on down there. But we all find out about sex and genitals at our own rate. Unfortunately for Bleeker and Juno, they played it a little fast and she wound up pregnant. This scene shows the nature of their true relationship, outside the sex that is, and it sustains them through their teenage challenges.

I wonderfully recall being a freshman cross country runner at little Kaneland High School out in the cornfields of Illinois. During a dance in the cafeteria, I somehow lucked into the arms of a cheerleader named Joanie whose rock hard body and thighs were mine for the night. She held me tight through many songs and when it was all over for the evening, I stood in dazed wonder at my physical and emotional good fortune. She kissed me quickly and vanished out the door. Thank God the lights were low because I discovered on the way home that I’d been excited enough through all that thigh-wrap dancing to spot the front of my gray jeans. If my friends had seen that, I might never have lived it down.

Despite that intense experience, I still did not understand much about the wonders of the female body. With no sisters to depend upon for advice, or to stumble upon in a half-dressed state, the female anatomy remained a cartoon cutout in my mind. Even tracing the pictures in my father’s Playboy magazines when I was eight or nine years old didn’t help me figure all that much about the female body. I was intensely curious, yet left with the mysterious.

Self portrait, 1973.

As my artistic talents grew along with my hormones, I began copying centerfolds with pencil drawings. Those took me hours to complete. The excitement during that process would build, and like all young teenaged boys, that always consummated with one thing. But at least I had the product of all that obsession to consider after it was through. Such is the give-and-take of the artistic process. It is often driven by desires of one sort or another. Creativity and sexuality are both sides of a coin in some cases.

Drawing circa 1972
Drawing circa 1973
Drawing circa 1974

And yet, there were times when it was necessary to get rid of all that sexual energy to get anything done at all. Even after a morning session in the shower, I’d be distracted beyond belief during classes in high school. The fashions worn by girls back then were as much a focus of male attention as they are today. Even back in seventh grade, the girls wore fishnet stockings and miniskirts. Some had already sprouted breasts. We’d play spin-the-bottle at kissing parties in dark little basements. Sex was always peering out from one corner or another.

In hopes of proving myself to girls and gaining their attention, I competed hard (no pun intended) in every sport I played. Of course, cross country wasn’t the macho sport that football ever was. We were a gang of thin, pale souls with thick hair, sunken cheeks, and hollow eyes. But we were tough. When the cross country team went 9-1 and the football team went 0-9, we at least laid claim to success while the sweaty, zit-covered footballers retreated to the showers in defeat week after week. For whatever reason, the girls still clung to them like burrs on a flannel shirt. The football guys got laid. With a few exceptions those first couple years, the cross county guys jerked off into tube socks. That changed by the time we were juniors and seniors, but just barely in time to salvage some rite of passage.

Cross country 1974

All that time, the uneasy relationship between sexual feelings, guilt and self-image wrestled for my attention. A friend in wrestling once told me that he masturbated to lose weight. I was already rail-thin from miles of running. The thought that I was making myself even skinner didn’t help my self-esteem.

That confusion into college when as a freshman I officially lost virginity in a drunken outdoor session on some campus stone wall. It was an inauspicious way to “become a man,” but I didn’t care. I figured one has to get off the starting line one way or another.

At the same time, I was enrolled in life drawing classes with nude models. Finally the curves and angles of the female body were revealed for what they were: just bodies. Coming back from classes with my armload of drawings each day, I’d be met at the dormroom door by a phalanx of floormates eager to gaze upon what I’d drawn.

Now I was getting somewhere, but where?

From Luther College Life Drawing Class 1975

That “somewhere” would soon enough take the form of sexual relationships much like the Bob Seger song “Night Moves.”

I was a little too tall
Could’ve used a few pounds
Tight pants points hardly reknown
She was a black haired beauty with big dark eyes
And points all her own sitting way up high
Way up firm and high

College came and went, so to speak. The adult world and forty years of life awaited. Now I’m sixty-plus years old and hormones don’t drive every thought that goes through my head. My focus is now the desire I feel for my wife. It is a fascinating thing to share all this running, riding and swimming with her. The intimacy of watching her strive through workouts and then sharing a marriage bed is unique in many ways. In her I see the desires of so many women seeking to keep themselves fit and healthy, to enjoy life in all its fulfillment and variations.

To be true, the world is much more free with body images these days. The female buttock is no longer taboo. Nor are nipples so carefully hidden. Even the Mons Venus owns the day. All this honesty would have helped my young mind free itself from the sexual trap of mystery and fear. It’s just bodies, and sex, and all that.

The way it should be.

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Running the Covid-19 gauntlet

Running the gauntlet: To run the gauntlet is to take part in a form of corporal punishment in which the party judged guilty is forced to run between two rows of soldiers, who strike out and attack him.

While visiting a nearby medical center for a followup appointment on an issue unrelated to the Coronavirus pandemic, I noticed a particular sensitivity to social distancing among the people walking through the parking lot and inside the building. At the entrance, there was a thermography device in the hallway to detect fever. Everyone wore masks, of course.

On the way back out, a longtime friend and fellow cross country runner from way back smiled behind his mask and said, “Hi Chris.” We nodded and kept on our way. No handshakes. No hugs.

Invisible gauntlet

In many respects it feels like an invisible gauntlet that we run each day during this pandemic. The goal is to move about without risking infection for yourself or anyone else. People who care enough to respect those concerns wear masks because they work. Yesterday a submitted story posted on our local digital newsletter Kane County Connects outlined the reasons why it makes sense to wear masks while out in public.

The Pandemic Gauntlet is real in the sense that our social order is disrupted, and it feels like a punishment of sorts. But for what? Some people view wearing a mask as a form of unjust punishment and even view it as a hoax being perpetrated on them. I encountered one such individual sporting a Trump 2020 hat with his little daughter in tow. He stood behind me at a convenience store, breathing heavily. Here was a man so determined to express his distaste for civil considerations that he preferred to flaunt his risky behavior as a sign of personal freedom. That is the real gauntlet of Covid-19. And it is all around us.

Touchpoints

It is tough to figure out where our responsibilities during this pandemic begin and end. The credit card processor seems like the worst place to contract the disease by touch. We also know that the virus is typically transmitted in airborne fashion. This is the gauntlet of casual consequences. Sometimes the information changes.

As a result, many people I know are avoiding social contact of any kind. They stay home rather than go out.

Our strategy is to choose our interactions wisely. That doesn’t mean we haven’t taken any risks. Three times this year we’ve participated in triathlon events where we could find them. We masked up, washed our hands, engaged in social distancing and competed. Our reasoning is that people doing triathlons are already in decent health or they wouldn’t be there. Even asymptomatic triathletes wore masks. The worst risk during all of that was standing in line just before the swim. People kept their distance for the most part. We emerged unscathed.

I still respect the concerns of people more conservative than us about social distancing, self-protection and protecting others. I wince when spotting an obviously fragile patron at the store struggling with an ill-fitting mask. During the early days of the pandemic, stores offered specific senior shopping hours. We would be wise as a society to go back to that. Make the Pandemic Gauntlet easier for those in need to navigate.

That’s not a selfish statement. Technically I’m a “senior” according to a varying set of definitions. Is a senior 55 years of age? 65? I try not to embrace or engage in ageism of any kind. Instead I’ve always tried to take care of my health at every age. None of us is perfect at that. I’ve made mistakes over the years. But through basic caution I’ve also saved my ass when it comes to the long series of odd incidents that for me consisted of infections from slivers, a cat bite and a bad tooth. The doctors told me I could have lost limbs or died from any of those three afflictions. All that I eventually “lost” was a tooth. What I gained was a health respect for the dangers of infections.

I’ve also experienced a lifetime of sports injuries, including torn ACLs, viciously sprained ankles, wrists and fingers from playing soccer, baseball, football, basketball, tennis and a host of other sports. I was a steeplechaser in college, one of the most dangerous of all track races. And since 2003, I’ve been involved in enough bike accidents to write a book. Add in the overtraining and heat exhaustion, close calls with nearly frostbitten fingers and toes, and nearly getting hit by vehicles while running and ride, and life is a set of close calls that could have gone either way.

Let’s face it: Athletes are risk-takers. We all have to learn our limits and make choices to protect ourselves and others. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

My own daughter once chastised me for a risky bike ride on a 95-degree day. I arrived home sick from the heat and dehydrated. Salt coated my sun-soaked face. “Why do you do this shit?” she asked me.

That’s a good question. The answer is not simple. Part of me has always seen taking part in athletics as an expression of freedom, even a defiance against society. That means a part of me empathizes with all those people out there bristling at the idea of being told to wear masks. They don’t want to run the gauntlet of pandemic precautions every day because it feels like an affront to their spirit and freedoms.

The sad truth is that they’re taking stupid and unnecessary risks with their own health, and the health of others. That leads to other questions: Do they care? Is there an obligation to care about others? Or is society just a “take what you can get” proposition?

As stated, I’ve taken my share of risks. Some people might deem those unnecessary. Competing in sports is an extravagant and often selfish pursuit. It also builds relationships, a sense of teamwork and community, and provides a diversified sense of self-worth that comes from overcoming self-inflicted pain and difficulties. Through those exploits we learn perseverance, develop empathy for the effort of others, and not to whine some much when things get tough. The risks, from that perspective, are actually the rewards.

Pandemic fatigue

There are days when I get sick of having to drag masks around all the time. We’re all fatigued at the notion of having to pull them over our faces. That said, I willingly participate in social protections because it makes sense just as wearing a bike helmet while cycling protects your head from injury, pulling on reflective gear to run at night creates better visibility, or swimming with goggles over my eyes keeps out chlorine and water-borne infections. These are all the “masks” we wear to do things we enjoy. Just another layer of life.

I also wear seat belts while driving and wash my hands after going to the bathroom both in public and private places. These actions are all part of being a wise and decent human being.

So if the pandemic feels like you’re running through a punishing gauntlet, that is a perception borne not of reality, but the product of a self-absorbed and shallow ideology. That’s the real plague on humanity right now.

Posted in coronavirus, covid-19 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The techie world of fitness trackers

I wear a Garmin Fenix 5 fitness tracker. My wife purchased it for me two years ago. It has a ton of features. Beyond recording workout times, pace and route tracking, it also measures heart rate, estimated calories and stress levels. I’m not a super data-driven guy, but these measurements serve me well in managing daily life and workouts. The watch costs $300 and it’s worth it.

I recently competed in an Olympic Triathlon and the Fenix captured all phases of the day; Swim, Transition, Bike, Transition and Run-to-finish times. All with the push of a button. During the Half Ironman I did this fall, I used the Garmin to track the half-marathon course. I could toggle up and down from the map as I ran the course checking pace and distance thanks to a pre-loaded map of the route. The same functions work for cycling. That’s really handy. The only criticism I’ve had is that the Garmin device spazzes out sometimes during the swim. I can’t explain why. It just did it a few times.

Before all that, I used a classic Ironman Timex watch. I always thought those watches were cool. I wasn’t a triathlete back when I bought the first Timex 25 years ago. I wore them because the watches were durable and kept splits well. Over time I had big, fat Timex watches and slim models too. That’s all I needed at the time. Sometimes that’s actually all I do need.

While I like my Garmin and long appreciated the basic functionality of the Timex watches, the world of fitness trackers has diversified. Recently I came across a review of fitness trackers that explains the benefits of many different kinds. I know that my needs and interests are not representative of everyone out there, so I recommend giving this review a look. It’s a rather fun read with a mix of tech, assessments and illustrations.

https://www.consumersadvocate.org/fitness-tracker

I found it interesting that there are even fitness trackers that resemble jewelry, as described here by Consumers Advocate:

Jewelry that tracks your fitness? Sure!

“Made of stainless steel, Bellabeat products are fashionable wellness trackers that double as jewelry, either as necklaces, bracelets, or clips. These hypoallergenic, versatile pieces feature built-in sensors that track your physical activity–including steps, calories burned, and distance–sync with your smartphone, and store all stats and progress on the Bellabeat App.

Bellabeat jewelry, as well as the Bellabeat hybrid watch, costs between $120 and $200. Some of the jewelry designs include Swarovski crystals and natural stones, including rose quartz and onyx.”

They also review the Apple Watch and popular brands such as FitBit.

This Oura Ring looks pretty cool, right?

I’d add one more fitness tracker to the mix, a product promoted by Lance Armstrong on his podcast and YouTube channels The Move. The Oura ring. The thing looks awesome, tracks sleep and other life vitals and regardless of whether Lance doped and was an asshole to people, the guy still fought back against cancer and won seven times at the Tour de France. If he says it works well, it’s worth looking into.

If you’ve found a fitness device you really rave about, let me know. I’m always curious to know what people use to get faster or just look cooler. LOL.

Posted in healthy aging, healthy senior, swimming, training, TRAINING PEAKS, triathlete, triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Turning points: what they tell you about performance, and yourself

There are both physical and mental “turning points” in every effort.

When it comes to successful training and races, we all hope for a “turning point.” That is the moment when the body and brain kick into gear and things begin to roll. Making good on the promise of a positive turning point is the secret to getting great results.

A turning point can go the other way as well if that good feeling disappears and things start to collapse within you. Avoiding tragedy when that kind of point comes along is the secret to avoiding damage and suffering.

It takes practice––perhaps rehearsal is a better word––to recognize both kinds of turning points for what they are.

Positive feedback

Turning points are often encountered during transition in triathlons and duathlons.

During any given workout it is typical to feel sluggish until the body warms up. That’s the period during which the body’s systems are working to process oxygen and burn fuel to meet demand.

Sometimes the warmup phase lasts well into the first third of the workout. At some point a sensation of efficiency starts to take hold. The warmup phase is over and the workout phase arrives. That is the first turning point within that workout, the spot where potential meets performance.

Later in that workout, after the middle period when the bulk of the work is done, a different turning point arrives. That is when the work already done starts to tax the body’s stored fuel sources and fatigue starts to affect the muscle fibers.

A smart athlete knows that turning point is always around the corner. Even athletes doing “negative splits” know there is a turning point where there is a tradeoff between sustainable speed and “maxxing out.” Another term for this state is “redlining,” the practice of racing or training at a performance level where the body doesn’t slip into a lactic acid state and cause a sudden dropoff in pace. That’s the wrong kind of turning point.

The right kind of turning point is being mentally and physically present with the feedback your body is giving you. That “associative” approach is a “promise” you make to your body and mind. Building trust in that feedback is a question of teaching your body the alternating sensations of performance and pain that define the quality and limits of performance.

Hard interval sessions (anaerobic training) and speedwork stretch the aerobic and muscles systems to accept and endure fatigue. Long workouts on the run, ride and swim tune the body to the wearing forces including cycing “Time In the Saddle” (TITS) along with runs that callous the body to repetitive stress and swims that force the athlete to maintain form and concentration despite all conditions.

Sometimes you have to adapt to the “turning point” of the day’s conditions.

All these training tactics contribute to the ability to meet turning points induced by fatigue that lead to doubts and fears. The entire goal of training is to prepare for these “turning points” and know how to process them. That breeds confidence and ensures that a fatigue-induced turning point is an expected experience rather than a rude surprise.

That said, even the best-prepared athlete in the world encounters situations where difficult training or race conditions ruin plans. That’s where a bit of bargaining takes place in turning point physiology and psychology. The “pace of the day” can change when heat, wind, waves or the body’s physical reactions to nutrition or other factors eclipses even the best turning point mentality.

In those circumstances, the athlete conducts a turning point “survey” to determine their options. Sometimes this takes place slowly, testing the body’s response and ability to endure more. It can also take place suddenly, such as the choice to continue in severe weather conditions that post a genuine safety threat.

But those choices are forced upon you. The more subtle and important turning points are those you make on days when a potentially good performance is on the line. I recall the day that I greeted my wife during a Half Ironman when she passed through water station with two miles to go and she smiled and yelled to me, “I’m going to hit my goal!”

All her preparation and training put her in that position. We passed through many turning points together in training as she put in the miles. I recall her indoor training intervals where she stated “I’m going too fast…” in the early stages of an interval workout, and helping her through the latter stages when it felt like she wanted to quit.

We all face turning points in our endeavors. They are what make competitive sports an interesting enterprise. Turning points are how we test ourselves, gain confidence and learn from our mistakes. Keep turning points in mind as you go through your training and racing. They are an important tool in understanding the full nature of your expectations and the realities of getting there.

It is also amazing what dealing with turning points in athletics teaches you about moments in life when challenges arise. Learning not to panic and “be present” in the moment to make good decisions even under stress is an enormous benefit in life.

Posted in competition, cycling, mental health, running, swimming, training | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment