Thursday, 25 November 2010

Spinning Tunes.

Photo by CJ Katz
So this week I went back onto the bike. I was never off it really, but it was  more often leisurely commutes to work or invigorating offroad gambles on knobby tires. The weather in this land has now turned to the nine month season that, amongst  many less-than-obvious benefits, includes no bugs. Other than the occasional foray with the cyclocross into the snow, or gingerly transporting a bike to and from a waiting car, there is little outdoor riding happening in -20 celcius.

But I got onto the bike - indoors. The hour-long experience reminded me how a fluid trainer forces you to be honest. On the road, unless you are doing the macho cyclist socks-match-the-shorts-thing, you can always coast. Or you can soft pedal and still propel yourself towards your destination. You can "cheat". 

Indoors, you are racing no one but the clock. If you cheat, you are just wasting your time - and even worse, you are in a basement or living room or kitchen and getting sweaty and being pathetic for nothing. You have to be honest and do the work...otherwise, why bother? Unless you must soft pedal for recovery, because of an injury or other viable reason, there are far better exercises and activities in which to engage rather than wasting time on a trainer. 

I administer an indoor bike class for my triathlon club. By administer,  I mean run, operate, lead, set up, collect, clean up and wake up for, every dark, freezing, godless, Saturday morning. I still shake my head about why I do this. I know why I do. I enjoy the experience and the energy I get back from the other riders. I'll go with that.  This year, I decided that I would lead a lot more of the sessions, rather than rely on videos, such as Spinervals. Why? I wanted to challenge my introverted self into stepping (or spinning) a little further out of my comfort zone and share with the participants some of the routines that I have picked up in my brief life as an endurance athlete.

So I spent a lot of time thinking and writing down a number of training sessions that would first not scare off the participants, and that would gradually challenge them and help them feel like they were not "cheating", or wasting their time at that crack of stupid early morning.

I spent an equal amount of time putting music together. Trying to find music that would work with the training, but that would be interesting enough to keep the participants motivated. My musical tastes are quite expansive, and include most musical styles - except the that big haired abomination that, sadly still flourishes and shows up on "Greatest Hits format" radio stations and local concert halls catering to geriatric, and financially destitute axe wielders...but I digress. 

I felt a little like a David Bowie character - I am what I play. I put music together that I hope will surpise, inspire and keep every spinning. Last time I tried this, I was told, by someone in the know, that my music sounded like it came from a Greek discotheque. I took that as a compliment. 

So I got on the bike and the trainer this week. On Saturday at 7 am, I unveil my workout to the paying participants who hopefully like it enough to want to come back. In cycling, they call the TT, or time trial the race of truth. For me this will be the race of honesty during which some key questions will be answered. Is this challenging enough? Is it interesting? Can I keep up and lead the class? Will I pass out? 

Whatever happens, I'm locked into this until the first thaw in May. Honestly? I think I'm looking forward to this.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Race readiness, showering and the importance of play

I'm a guy to who likes to shower. During peak training, on a good day, I'm sometimes up to three or four a day. An environmentalist would probably say that's a bad day. Mind you, I don't eat red meat...but I digress...and believe me, not-showering would not be good for my immediate environment.

But stink-loving technical fabrics aside, I think it is more about the routine, than the cleanliness. Sure, I put the "wet" in sweat, but starting the day with a quick lather, just seems right. finishing a workout, or a swim or a ride or a run with a quick, not too-aggressive scrub is just second nature now.

So the other day, I was greeted on a workday by she-who-shares-my-genes not with breakfast in bed, but with the request for a very early lift to school. Well, of course. A challenge is a challenge and I rose to the occasion, as it were. A few minutes of cursory hygiene and wardrobe selection later, I was in the car driving to work, via school.
Although I was conscious of the not-yet-shaved and showered feeling, I was not overly concerned as I knew I could catch up during the noon-hour swim session.

But I got to thinking. And while I'm still in the grips of T3, I seem to do more thinking than anything else! I thought about race readiness. According to the experts, race readiness is supposed to be how ready one is, physiologically and mentally to participate in a race or competition. Yeah, I suppose it has something with that. But what I really think it is about is how ready are you to go out and play?

Do you remember? When the little snot-nosed kid from next door came by and would ask if you wanted to go out and play -- what was the go/no-go parental decision usually based on?
  • Was homework done?
  • Chores? 
  • Was it cold/were you appropriately dressed?
  • Were you fit enough - not sick and capable of playing without getting hurt?
  • What was the playing "history" with this snot-nosed kid? Any trouble with local authorities?
  • Were you adequately fed and/or could you get back in a reasonable time for a meal?
  • Would you benefit from the activity in any way?
These are all questions that any racer goes through before going to sleep the night before a race. Sure the specificity of them may be different, but the essence is the same. Are you ready to do this and if you are not, what will be the cost if you do it anyway?

So, I was driving back from the early-morning drop-off, unshowered, but completely confident that I had been ready to perform the unexpected task that was asked of me. But how ready was I to go out and play? How ready was I to go and run or swim or bike at any pace faster than a leisurely amble that I have mastered of late?

Well, judging from a near-PB on my first 10k race in years the week before, some solid off-road bike riding and a surprise 1300m swim earlier in the week, I could probably hang out and keep up with the snot-nosed kid.

This whole experience reminded me that  throughout the race season, but more so during the off-season, being prepared for anything is essential. Whether that anything is a pick-up game of football, a muddy trail ride, or even an early morning drive.

And why is it important to be prepared during the off-season? Because play is important. Play is what keeps you limber, agile and cogent enough  to take on the next challenge. Play is what will entice you into a novel activity that will re-energize your soul. Play is what will keep you young, even as, with every passing year, you will race with fewer people your age and against many more that do not remember the rotary phone, the 8-track or the Soviet Union. 

Most of all, and most importantly, play is what will give you a reason to look forward to having a shower...sometimes even having one with a close friend!

Monday, 1 November 2010

HOCl and the sweet smell of total body fatigue

Sixty-one days. That's how long it has been since I was last in the water with the express intent of doing something other than bobbing.
I distinctly remember the last time. It was late August. there were several thousand of my closest fellow masochists waiting to go from Point A to Point A  trying to stretch it into a 3.8km hour-plus sojourn in Lake Okanagan.

Now I have been in the water once or thrice since then, but that didn't really count as I also spent some time in a eucalyptus steam room, and that negates any actual attempt at exertion.

It has been a full two months. And on the first of November, I made my triumphant return to my favourite pool, the pool that has so much HOCL that it is used as a remedy for athlete's foot and a host of other conditions that I try not to dwell upon.

I have always maintained that swimming is not so much a sport, as it is a means of not drowning. It is one of the few public activities where there are actually people employed to sit around and, occasionally, save your drowning ass if you have a momentary lapse of understanding that lungs and fluid don't mix.

Sure, there are medics and other people with bandages at races and rides for those who fall, or have a pre-existing condition catch up with them. But in a pool, or on some swanky beaches there are folks out there to actually pluck you out of the water.

It is that sense of risk and danger that keeps some people away from the pool. Others it is the fear of how they look in a Speedo, or worse, how others look in a Speedo. The Mediterranean vacations of my past notwithstanding, I chose this day to return to the pool and, not one bit ignorant of the religious undertones, re-mmerse myself into a ritual that, for four years has punctuated my lunch hours.

To say it was a triumphant return, is a bit of an overstatement. Had I bellyflopped off the high platform and then completed 1000m using a one-armed butterfly stroke, then I could have bragged.

But no, I meandered to the free lane, avoiding puddles on deck, as I had forgotten to pack my pool sandles. I wear these more to deal with the "gross factor" of stepping in warm liquid of unknown providence, rather than out of a genuine concern for hygiene - see HOCL above.

Having found my place in the slow lane. I observed several other swimmers swimming clockwise circles and a walker bouncing to and fro and looking quite determined to splash as much water as possible.

I wasn't in any rush. I was back in my element. I had long ago conquered my fear of this aqueous substance, and somewhat overcame the embarrassment of the follicular overabundance everywhere, but on my palms.  I licked my goggles - an anti-fogging trick first used in this country by fur traders and gold rush prospectors, I believe. I stretched on my swim cap, put on the goggles and gingerly lowered myself into the 18c degree water.

And with a kick off the bulkhead, so began yet another season of the striving for a dull, happy fatigue created by swimming and that no other excercise can mimic.

Typing these words now I am surrounded by a subtle, but pervasive bouquet of Chlorine. And I know at last, as Frankenfurter once said. I'm going home.