Saturday, 30 January 2010

What I learned from zombies

So, what is it about zombies. I don't mean why are they more popular now than Michael Jackson. What I mean is what is it about their unrelenting need for brains? They just keep going in their dumbfounded, determined mummy-from-the-crypt-like swagger “brains…brains!”

I was thinking about this a few days back when I found myself unable to train. I couldn’t make the time. I realized that the swim and the run I had planned would have to be scrapped.

I wandered through the day purposeless and without direction. Sure, I got the day-to-day stuff done, even finished a couple of important projects. But the whole day, I just dragged my feet. “Train…train!” Not quite busting through doors as a zombie would, but looking for any possibility to make the time to get my fix of endorphins.

That’s when I figured out zombies – other than their affinity for Michael Jackson videos. They too have found what they crave. They've found what keeps them alive and what gives them their baseline for the day.

Training is my baseline. Sure races are a thrill and I do prepare for them and look forward eagerly their way…sometimes. But the constant, the baseline, the soundtrack of my daily life – apart from family and work and friends - is the training and the focus and structure it creates.

So maybe zombies are on to something. Maybe Baron Samedi was right. Live and let live…but keep training!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Finding my happy pace

Sometimes, sitting and looking back from the vantage point of four years of increasingly more demanding run training, feel like I'll never be more than a middle distance runner.

I have spent many hours analyzing run splits and heart rate data and pace. Always looking at my pace. Always trying to reconcile the fact that I ain't going to do a 50 min 10k  or a 1:40 half if I'm averaging a 6 min/km pace.

I reconciled myself by thinking about all the time and effort that happily goes into family and work and the important relationships in my life. I grudgingly acknowledged that the overindulgence in certain vices including food may be keeping me from the leanness required to run fast and long. I even fall back to the old excuse that my body type may have been more suited for rugby or shot put or perhaps, philosophy.

But then putting on my balaclava and layers of black ninja clothing, I head outdoors into the night air and I forget everything. 

And find what I forgot.

I cut through the evening streets and then onto the bike path, like I was meant to do this my whole life. 
There is a GPS computer around my wrist but, for this moment,  I just don't care what it is calculating. 
The sounds of other people's raves fill my ears and build an evolving soundtrack to the sparks and sagas that ignite and swirl and dissipate in a reawakened consciousness.

Familiar dogs sniff my air approvingly, while their walkers recognize my red strobe flash and ninja garb and smile as I lope by.
Sweat percolates on my forehead and is brushed aside by my ever-present foil, the wind, that tests and teases me from behind every shrub and snowbank. 
I wind my way out and back on the path over bridges, along banked turns, through snow dunes and, ever so gingerly, over sheet ice. 
With every step, I remember what I forgot. 
A diurnal somnambulist, the dark, cold air reawakens and reinvigorates that which is eternal within me.
And then...just then, I find my perfect pace...not measured in time or distance but in all dimensions at once.

Exiting the outdoors and into the heated indoors, I remember, albeit briefly, why I run and bike and swim and sometimes combine the three. 

I also realize that the bytes stored on my GPS watch are not just run data, they draw a map of where I have been. 

They are my touchstone to get me closer to my happy pace...the perfect pace that transcends time and space. 


Thursday, 14 January 2010

Running Home

Squeezing in some training is not always easy. It takes lots of planning, time management and the ability to ignore all the planning and time management and just make things up.

The other day I had to get a run in. The weather was great - not the -47C like it is in the death march picture. But there was no time in the morning. Lunch time couldn't work. After work was a non-starter too.

But the plan had me running for 50 minutes! Improvisation is a much ignored component of training. Sure, when training for an Iron-distance race you have to spend lots of time sitting in the saddle and countless hours staying wet. Then there is the excessive overuse of running shoes with every stride, pace and hit of LSD.  And nutrition, can't forget planning what will get ingested and digested

But after all that. One little curve ball on race day will change the game. Mind you with the public nudity regulations,  any ball play should be avoided on race day.

A flat, too much heat, constant rain, dropping your nutrition stuff, a delay in the start, a crash, a blister - there are more adverse things that can happen in a race than can be imagined.

What's a triathlete to do? Be prepared to improvise. Change the game plan and make it up right there and then. Just keep going. Use leaves if you have to!

There is a peace of mind that comes with knowing that you can improvise and that you have the mental toughness to get through most situations. As oxymoronic as it may sound, practising improvisation in the safe and relatively easier setting of the training season is a good way to fill one's mental tickle chest with all the savoir faire and presence of mind to survive what would otherwise end a race.

So I had to run. I got a lift to work. I worked through my breaks and this little piggy ran all the way home (and around the park too).

Monday, 11 January 2010

Cross Training

For the past two off-seasons, the only thing I really concentrated on was race season.

For the past two race seasons, the only thing I concentrated on was the race...then the next race and then the big race.  This year was going to be different and it has proven itself to be.

I still have a couple of races and the big race to prepare for. But I have spent - in my estimation - more time doing stuff around the house, asserting my relevance to teenagers and a partner.

This weekend is a good example. With my partner yielding the hammer and crowbar (like that isn't normally the case!), we systematically destroyed and disassembled a perfectly good, but dysfunctional basement. The plan is to gut it, empty it, rebuild it and carry on...along with the new mortgage carrying fees. Somewhere a banker is smiling...

We must have spent more that 21 hours over three days on this project and there is more to do. My humble task was that of sorter, carrier, dumper and family cook. I took on this role with gusto. It involved filling bins or my arms with debris, then walking out of said dungeon and into the freezing outdoors, only to deposit destroyed artifacts and detritus of my life into a larger bin - being careful to pile stuff to maximize room available.

It wore me out. I would much rather have spent the time doing an Ironman without any training.

But what occurred to me was that this was actually amazing cross training. Think about it:
  • Running up and down a flight of stairs countless times. That's all leg work (especially quad and calf work).
  • Picking up at least several tons of stuff without blowing out my back. That's all core. I never do enough core work. 
  • Carrying the damned, nail-and-dust infused crap. That's all arm work,. There is also significant activation of the small, stabilizer muscles throughout the body as I walked up to the outdoors and then on frozen, very slippery surfaces. 
  • Then there is the nutrition and hydration. Making and consuming the right food and drink so that I'm not bloated or sleepy (although I did make a turkey leftover-surprise-kinda-thing). And ensuring I'm putting in enough to give me the energy I need. And the drinking. Well lots of coffee, but not so much that I have to keep taking off my sodden boots to go in to pee. There are course marshals throughout my neighbourhood. No public nudity!
  • You want speedy transitions? How about finally feeling the urge and needing to get out of winter clothes and steel-toed boots fast? How about getting out of stinky, grimy and dusty clothing and cleaning up enough to make a nutritious, interesting and safe meal for four?
  • Finally, the mental toughness. Going to bed on Friday and Saturday knowing that Sunday will be more of the same. Yet persevering and still going for a run after down-tooling on Sunday. Then going to bed on a Sunday, knowing that there is at least three more days of work and then potentially five years of repayment. 
This is cross training at it's best. If Ironman did anything, it prepared me for real life!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010


This time of year I run into a lot of Resolutionists at the track, or gym or pool.  On one hand, it is good to see people - and sometimes families - making the effort to get off the couch. On the other, more grumpy hand, I get annoyed by the bigger crowds, the poor lane etiquette and the general lack of awareness with these occasional exercisers. They don't seem to understand that some people might be focused on hitting a certain speed or heart rate and are not that keen on stopping cold from a full sprint just because the person walking in the running lane in front of them has decided to stop, bend over, and tie a shoelace.

Whew! Got that out of my system. Besides, most of them will be gone in a few weeks, sadly. Let me start again.

This time of year I find myself thinking a lot about resolutions. I've never been one for making them. I was the kid who got the failing grade on the "what would you do if you had six months to live?" assignment. I wrote: Exactly what I'm doing right now... Now, even though that wasn't entirely truthful in that I really had no interest being in class and subjected to an overused life planning teaching module, I still believed in the essence of what I wrote. Do what you want to do and don't do what you don't want to do. 

Of course, it isn't always practical to only do what you want to do especially with family, work and other obligations. But that doesn't mean you can't find some kernel of interest or curiosity or challenge in everything you do or have to do. I plan my life in such a way that maximizes what I  want to do and minimizes what I don't want to do. And I constantly evaluate,  so that I don't become too much of an ass or ogre to the people around me - I hope.

So, living this philosophy as best as I can, why would I make a resolution? And especially why make one at the change of the year...don't even get me started about western civilization's bizarre fascination with the turning of the calendar pages.

Training for triathlons and multisports has taught me a few life lessons. One of them is to plan, prepare, practice and perform. There is no room here for an "I resolve to..." How do you enter the water and not drown? How do you get off your bike and still remember how to run? How to you coax gallons of crap down your throat and actually digest it without spewing...while running?

I find this applies to lots of other things in life, such as giving speeches, changing diapers, running a meeting, buying groceries, dealing with an irate caller, convincing a teenager to do chores, saying sorry when I mess up...

I also find that the more I consciously plan, prepare, practice and perform, the easier it gets to do it subconsciously. I have managed to internalize the process without turning into a mantra-chanting freak, not that there would be anything wrong with that, per se.

A few years back, on the morning of the longest, most important triathlon of my life, I remembered some meaningful words a very wise, virtual stranger wrote to me. I wrote them on my hand and looked at them during the 14 hours and 19 minutes it took me to finish my first Ironman.

Did these words get me through the race? Probably not. The planning, preparation and practice did. But those words were an, albeit Sisyphean, reminder of what I had to do to perform.

So as I notice resolutions get made and ignored all around me, I consider  my simple objective. From this objective, everything I will do will follow. I keep moving forward.