Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Are You An Innie, Or An Outie?

One of my couch-to-5K athletes asked me how I stay calm facing multiple workouts a day.  She is a newer athlete focusing on weight loss and her personal context is that every workout is a major mental stressor for her - because she anticipates physical pain and feeling slow.

"I get scared of how much it is going to hurt and how long it is going to last so I do everything - anything - else until I absolutely have to start or I won't be able to do the workout at all.  And sometimes it gets past that point and I just skip it all together."

Ding ding ding!  I'll cop to exactly that behavior on occasion (except the skipping it part, the blessing and curse of having all day to complete workouts).  I once caught myself wiping down the fronts of my kitchen cabinets in an effort to put off starting a workout.  However, my kitchen can sparkle only so bright and I eventually just have to get on with things.

I told her that I try to be "in" each workout, and "out" during the rest of life.

"In" means that when I commit to prep for and complete a workout, I am deeply engaged in what needs to be done: equipment, set-up, powers or paces, slave to my watch/powermeter, and suffering as needed as best I can until the suffering is allowed to end.  I'm committed and present and woe be unto those who interrupt that.  

The engagement is such that that once I flip that switch to "in," I get thrown if something delays or disrupts my workout.  For example, I once had to drive all the way home to charge my Garmin after getting somewhere to do a big hill workout and finding my watch battery dead.  Coach's motto: Data or it didn't happen.  The situation was absolutely my fault (although those batteries last nowhere near as long as Garmin would have you believe), but it took a while to get my "in" groove back.  

Once I'm done with a workout and have some water and food in me, I switch "out" and don't let (or try not to let) the next workout preoccupy my mind and attention before it's time.  By "out" I don't mean neglecting the general responsibilities of preparing for the next workout: hydrating, eating, napping, compression, out of the sun, legs up, whatevs.  Those responsibilities are always there, hopefully being completed by rote memory and normal planning.   I mean not worrying about pain or trying to guess what powers/pace I'll hold or have held or should hold.  Those thoughts have a time and place, and I have decided that it is not now.

In truth, sometimes I get way out: I can't even remember the workout I just completed, it just...took place.  I can be hard pressed to remember masters swim sets later in the day.

Why does "in" then "out" then "in" then "out" work for me?  I find that switching in and out saves energy of the emotional and psychic (literally the energy it takes to psych myself up to do something) variety.  The more I fear or worry about a workout (or the worse the weather or boring the route or interesting the current show on TV...), the more psychic energy it can take to get me ready and out the door.  Hours of that is tiring, and I haven't even done anything yet! 

To get an idea of how draining being "in" all the time (or spending all morning psyching yourself up for a workout) can be think of the exhaustion when returning home from a long, harder bike (or car) ride.  Not only the physical tiredness, but the mental as well: from watching for cars, squinting against the sun, watching the bike computer, and holding your effort honest to those numbers.  You have just been "in" for an extended period of time; imagine doing that 24/7.  The battery only holds so much and it can take time to recharge. 

For me, the only way I can be truly "in" is to get as far away as possible, when possible.

Of course switching in and out is not always that easy and of course there are workouts that niggle the back of my mind days and nights before when they are scheduled.  "Busy brain-itis."  I haven't mastered the art of zen stoicism, but I do think that the nerves are a valuable sign of just how important the workout(s) is to me.  Then I (again: try to) flip the switch and use the nerves to my advantage and prepare better and be more "in" when the time comes.   

How to get "in" (and sometimes "out") is the trick, and that, unfortunately, is different for everyone.  For myself, I know not to push the issue and eventually I will come around to a mental and physical place where I am prepared to be "in."  This is going to sound weird, but I kid you not, it feels kind of like how the "zzschoom" of starting up a big piece of assembly line machinery sounds (and now you all officially think I'm nuts).  It can take a while to happen so when I need to really be on, I have to wait it out.  I realize that is a luxury not everyone has and when it isn't/wasn't a luxury for me, I use(d) group/scheduled workouts.  Knowing that I am required to show up somewhere at some time gives me no choice but to set an alarm and start getting the equipment ready.  The adrenaline and excitement of training with people also helps induce the "zzschoom" thing.  Otherwise some days I'm not sure I would swim at all. 

And every now and then I just can't get "in" and ultimately resort to a coping mechanism that I suggested to my new athlete - remove all pressure of goals and times and just go out and start.  If I get "in"-to it, good; if I don't, too bad; if it's ugly, it's ugly....because there will always be another one!  But the more times I successfully get out the door, the better I am at getting myself out the door and the more evidence I have that my legs won't fall off as a result.  This is especially true for newer athletes like the one who asked me this question because every single workout seems like a painful obstacle that will never get easier.  Over time athletes realize that that hyperbole isn't true, and eventually they only remember the best workouts and the best tree behind which to pee.

Now, please excuse me.  If you need me, I'll be cleaning my shower grout with an old toothbrush.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Swimmers, Take Your Marks...

This past weekend the pool where my masters group swims (so effectively, my masters group) hosted the south central zone scy (short course yards) championships - aka the swim meet Lance entered and then was required to dis-enter.  Normally, I would have said "good luck, see you on Tuesday " and gone about my weekend.  However, as I've been swimming (suffering) the preparatory workouts for at least a month now, I figured it would be fun to see first-hand the results of all that hard work.

Bess contemplating her 200 IM

My right and left index fingers got quite the workout.  (You hit two timer buttons at the same time.)

I timed heats for over 10 hours combined on Friday and Sunday, watching people I knew and people I didn't enjoy swimming as fast as they could in a fast pool.  I even started my long run at 6 am on Sunday to be at the pool by 8:30 am.  Many people joked that I wasn't allowed to support my team while I was timing.  My response: "my index finger has to be impartial, the rest of me does not."

Two of my lane-mates after racing each other in the 1650

One of our swimmers broke something like 4 masters national age group records, but he was swimming so fast I couldn't get a picture.  But our coach Whitney was keeping close track of all TXLA domination.

Of course lots of people spent good parts of the weekend nervous, wet, and cold, but I had a great time!  I got to be a cheer-leader, calmer-downer, lap counter (when someone scratched from my lane in the 6 heats of 1650s and 7 heats of 1000s), and general welcoming committee to Austin and Lane 3.  Plus, since more than half of TXLA's 150 members were racing, I got to put lots of names with lots of faces, especially the ones who normally swim several lanes away from me.

Exhibit #1: TXLA take-over in the 1000.  Six alone in the first heat, five of whom went under or barely over 12:00!

Exhibit #2:  Theresa spent a good amount of time pacing around in the space behind my lane, psyching herself up.  She was reconsidering her decision to check all those registration boxes back in March because she's not really about going fast.

But then she dove in and was so tickled with her time she came out giggling.


The most energetic events, by far, were the men's 50 yard free and butterfly.  Tons of heats going off BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! and finishing like run-away freight trains.  In the two or three fastest heats the water is whipped into a frenzy of froth and arms, and then the guys bring a tidal wave with them to the wall that crests over the 18 inches of tile onto your legs and feet.  I was damp from the knees down for the rest of the day.

Eventually there was only one event to go: the post-meet BBQ. 

We all kept commenting about how weird it was to see each other in real clothes with our hair did.  All I know is that I finally got to sit down.

Hook 'em!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Scene On The Trail: The Wear And Tear Of Sweat

Earlier this week my bike had some work done, some of that nitty gritty work that only gets done once in a blue moon, and we found something.

Any guesses?

Hint: It used to look like this.  Scale is only slightly bigger than a pencil eraser.

Two years ago one of these button magnets was bonded to my bike's bottom bracket to act as the pick-up for my SRM.  Two years of sweat, nutrition drink, road grime, and cleaning solvent left only an oxidized miniature hockey puck.  It disintegrates further each time I touch it.  I have no idea how I was still getting a strong signal from my SRM.

But more importantly: gross.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Drunks Of The Week

The Onion started on the major college campus in the town where I grew up.  A high-school classmate went down to campus several times a week to take a college-level math class and he would bring back a stack of the latest edition.  Back then the space-filling features (think: horoscopes) were a bit more...home-grown.  A great laugh was always the Drunk Of The Week.  Trolling State Street (the college bar strip) around last call, the reporter would find the drunkest person, stand them up against a wall, and take a picture.  The prize was a free cab ride home, and the pictures were far better than Nick Nolte's mug shot.

I offer my own submission for Drunk(s) Of The Week because by the end, they were still drunk and I felt drunk.  But no one was dead!

As I was driving home from pub trivia, I passed a person working on their bike on a dark sidewalk one block off the Interstate.  I continued on for about a block until I acknowledged that karma comes back around and U-turned to check out if they needed help.  It was a girl about my age and one crank-arm on her fixed gear bike was hanging at an unnatural angle.  Still inside my vehicle, I asked if I could help or maybe give her a ride.  She wanted to go either home or to the pedicab garage.  "Ok, where's home?"  She named a place at least 10 miles away.  How you even get here from there on a fixed gear is beyond me.  Pedicab garage it is!

We loaded her bike and her.  Only then do I realize - smell! - that she is drunk.  Her hands are covered in grease and her knees and elbows are covered in big scabs - which are now cracked and oozing! - indicative of skin scrapping on pavement.  I found out she delivers sandwiches downtown on the now-inoperable bike, so I guess that makes sense?

Her friend then called and once I took over speaking into the phone using sentences that made sense, I discovered her friend was in a car nearby, coming to help.  The friend arrived in a 2-seater with another person shotgun and two bikes on a 2-bike trunk rack.  I decided not ask how my passenger and her bike were intended to fit.

A Chinese fire drill ensued, and somehow I ended up with a different passenger and a different bike in the back.  She smelled less drunk and was not bleeding or greasy.  I took her the less than 10 miles to her house.

As I drove home the only thing I could do was shake my head - to try and clear it!  The whole thing seemed so surreal, like a bachlorette party bar crawl led by the drunk maid of honor.

The next morning I found a set of keys in my car.

I took them to the apartment where I had dropped my second passenger because that was my only point of contact.  I found out they belonged to my first passenger, who somehow got home only to realize she couldn't get inside.

That is just one part of a night of which I wish I had pictures. 
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