Going (Completely) Against Type

Often, the best endurance athletes are self-centered and obsessive. Self-centered in prioritizing their performance above everything else and obsessive in their commitment to training.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’m the opposite of obsessive. I run a little, swim a little, and cycle a little between trying to do right by the Good Wife, mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, reading, writing, watching StrangerThings, and keeping track of our finances. For good measure, every fall, I teach a little.

Don’t mistake the list as complaining. I like my non-obsessive life. A lot. Even if I was much younger, I wouldn’t want to be a full-time Swimmer or Runner or Cyclist.

This week though I’m going completely against type as a full-time cyclist. I’m writing from a house in central Oregon that Alex, Mark, and Dennis and I have rented. Every day, as per our early June tradition, we’re going long with about 40-50 other crazies. No lawn to mow, no other obligations, just hours upon hours of exerting myself on two wheels. Then the foam roller, then massive calories, then sleep. Rinse, repeat.

For five days, the single mindedness is a kinda cool alternative reality. I will do my best to update you on our adventure as it transpires.

A Trail Run To Remember

I don’t write as much about my athletic exploits as I once did. Probably, as I fast approach my sixth decade, because I’m not competing anymore. I should probably stop referring to myself as a triathlete. Rest assured though, I’m still swimming, cycling, and running. And now that I’m healthier than a year ago, hitting it a little harder.

Take yesterday’s Capitol Forest run for example. Mid-day I started to think about doing the 13ish mile Mima Falls loop. The weather was ideal, 50 degrees, sunny, still. So I texted The Good Wife my route—Mima East, Mima West, McKenny, Campground—and probable timeline just in case I was mauled by a bear or something—and headed to the trailhead.

Cap Forest is LARGE and apart from my loop, I don’t know it well. I was never a Boy Scout, so I began the run with shit preparation. I suppose I get a few points for alerting the The Gal Pal of my plans, but I headed out at 2:45p without calories, phone, jacket, or a map of the forest. I was carrying 4 ounces of Gatorade.

After Mima Falls (mile 2), there’s a sign that says, “Steep, remote trails from this point.” It was a mix of slow running and hiking to the high point around mile 5+. I saw a fair number of people on the way to the falls, but afterwards NO ONE. I felt like I was the only person in the forest. Not even any animal life, no birds, no rodents, no nuthin’.

I was trying to keep my average pace under 10 minutes/mile and didn’t appreciate it when Siri would announce via my 🍎 watch , “Mile 6, total time 63 minutes, last mile, 10:21.” I was looking forward to the second half being much flatter and even losing the hard-earned earlier elevation.

At mile 8, I was feeling fatigued, walking every riser, but confident I could grind out the last 5. When suddenly I came to a supe-depressing sign, “Trail Closed—Falling Trees.” SHIT. I climbed over the signed fence wondering just how bad could it be. Only to find out 100 meters later that it couldn’t have been worse. I was met by several giant pines whose downed branches rose about 30 feet above like a green tsunami.

Wut do I do now? Travis would’ve known which fire trails to take back as a shortcut, keeping the distance to the planned 13, but I was without my wingman. The safest and only option I could think of was to back track the whole way.

I didn’t want to run 8.4 more miles, but that’s what I did. We’ll, kinda ran. More of a hike-run or run-hike. I didn’t enjoy the return because I was too busy calculating things. “Okay, at this pace, I get back right after sunset. If I slow too much, it will be dark, meaning cold and because the trail is muddy and rocky in places, footing will be dicey.” I had already rolled my ankle twice. I would’ve been in trouble if I had broken my ankle or gone down on some of the muddy descents. Needless to say I was solely focused on my pace and footing, pretty much blanking on the beautiful surroundings and sunset.

I survived the return, arriving at the car a little past sunset. Weirdly, in the last few miles I came across two different pairs of mountain bikers and one young female runner heading outbound into the dark. She smiled and waved at me like it was no big deal, “I trail run in the forest, in the dark, by myself, all the time.”

Adventurers often say a good plan should make you nervous about whether you can pull it off or not. My plan didn’t make me nervous, but the unexpected tweak most definitely did. I felt vulnerable in the middle of the forest, by myself, very late in the day, far from civilization.

Thankfully though I survived to swim, cycle, and run another day, or God willing, decade.

For those keeping score at home, 16.8 miles, average pace 10:38, total elevation, 1,975’.

Next Level Philautia

Ancient Greeks had six distinct words for different types of “love”, eros, philia, ludus, pragma, agape, and philautia. Philautia is self-love. The more you like and feel secure in yourself the more philautia you enjoy. 

In this recent New York Times personal essay, “I Just Turned 60, but Feel 22“, Margaret Renkl provides the single best example of philautia of all time.

“The joking birthday cards that start coming at 40 were funny 20 years ago because they were so far from reality. Now they’re funny because they’re so true. One of the cards I got last week featured a vintage photograph of plump women in swimsuits who looked remarkably like me in my swimsuit. “At your age, swimming can be dangerous,” the card read. “Lifeguards don’t try as hard.”

I laughed so hard, my belly jiggled, a feature of being 60 that troubles me only a little. This is just who I am now, a person who looks exactly like her late mother, despite far more exercise and a far healthier diet. Besides, I loved my mother, and I love seeing her again in every store window I pass.

 

 

Louisville’s Lakeside Swim Club

Dig the pictures. From the time I was 3 to 9 years-old, my family lived on Cardiff Road in Louisville, eight miles from this gem according to Google Maps.

I did not know LSC existed until stumbling upon this article. My fam frequented the much closer Plantation Country Club on a daily basis. Yes, you read that correctly, Plantation Country Club. Here’s some history on it. In short, it was an inexpensive, decidedly middle class public swim/tennis/golf club that no longer exists. My sister and a friend taught me to swim there. My brother was a 10-meter dare-devil jumping legend. I started playing golf there when I was 5 or 6. It was a nine hole executive course with lots of par 3s and short 4s. The first hole was about 75 yards long and I dominated it. My tennis greatness can also be traced back to Plantation. As well as my chronic skin cancer.

Hard to believe that when I was 6 and 7 years old, I’d lay a couple of clubs and a putter across my bicycle handlebars and ride to the course, crossing a very busy thoroughfare on the way. A benefit of being the fourth child I suppose.

My most vivid memory of those years—besides the Twinkies—was a family dinner after a long summer’s day on the links. I was a young Tommy Bolt. Earlier that evening, unbeknownst to me, my dad drove past the course on his way home from selling kitchen appliances at General Electric at the exact moment I let a club fly into the upper atmosphere. As dinner drew to a close, my dad said, “If I EVER see you toss another club, those will be your last ones!” And then it kinda ramped up from there.

My dinner plate overflowed with tears. And I never threw another club. Half of this paragraph is true.

If You’re Not Looking Forward To It, You’re Doing it Wrong

I enjoy watching Lionel Sanders triathlon training videos on YouTube. I dig his honesty and no-nonsense competitiveness. He said something in a recent one that was particularly insightful. Tying his shoes before a track workout, he said, “If you’re not looking forward to it (meaning workouts generally), you’re doing it wrong.”

Great advice for any walker, hiker, tennis player, yoga aficionado, swimmer, cyclist, runner. Whether you’re looking forward to your activity is a great litmus test of whether you’re overtrained or just going through the motions out of habit. What would it be like to be fully present and genuinely appreciative each time you lace em’ up?

Last night, before expiring, my final thought was, “I’m fortunate I get to swim tomorrow morning.”

This Tuesday afternoon I found myself shoulder-to-shoulder with Brett near the very end of the “Mostly Retired Lunch Hour” ride. Brett is the Presiding Judge at our County’s Courthouse and one of two regulars on the ride still working full-time (I’m half-time). In his mid-60’s, I asked him if he has an “end-date” in mind. He said he’s up for re-election in a year and a half and he’ll have another four-year term. Groovy confidence, but what I most digged was how much he enjoys his work. I told him it was really refreshing to hear since it seems to me that 8 to 9 out of every 10 of my peers are counting down the days until they can stop working.

Brett talked about the Court’s ‘rona inspired virtual proceedings and how engaging the associated intellectual challenges were. And about how much he enjoys working with young attorneys and other people. And about how no one will give a damn about what he thinks as soon as he unplugs. Irrespective of his age and all his peers exiting the stage, he looks forward to what the next several years of work will bring.

He also acknowledged that “we live in a beautiful spot” and that he can enjoy playing outdoors when not working. Because of that, he said he doesn’t feel compelled to move anywhere.

As we approached his Courthouse’s start and end point, he said to me, “It was great riding with you again Professor. It was nice to have a little infusion of intellect.” I think he emphasized little, but still, I’m concerned his judgement may be lacking.

I Got Into A Fight

A week ago and lost bigly. The saddest part, it was the fourth time I went into our green space to trim bushes and weed underneath them ignorant of the poison oak lying in wait. For 48 hours I was fine, and then, not so much. I will spare you the pictures which I should sell to a medical textbook publisher.

The poison oak plague is just one of repeated health challenges I’ve been struggling with this spring. Challenges that have left me with less energy to read, think, and write.

I’ve been reminded that control is elusive and life is fragile. Eating well, running, swimming, and cycling doesn’t guarantee anything.

If I come out the other side more appreciative of my health and whatever time I have left, my travails will have been worth it.

Slowing Down

This spring I’m working my way through a laundry list of medical issues. Meaning I’m unable to run or cycle or swim right now. So I walk at Priest Point Park or Woodard Bay or Capitol Lake or closer to home. One cool thing about slowing down to 3-4 miles per hour is seeing A LOT more. 

It’s nice to notice things. Sometimes. The trash on the side of Woodard Bay Road—decidedly not nice. Reuniting with Rudi yesterday morn—very nice. As was making two new friends. I’ve run and cycled past my new friends’ house several times, but since they’re natural camouflagers, I’ve never come close to noticing them.

A little research reveals they’re socially inquisitive which explains their walking to the road to introduce themselves. And they can run up to 31 mph at which speed they prob don’t notice much at all.

Rudi not happy that I’m apple-less.
My newest friends.

Swimming Is A Different Animal

To run a faster 10k or half marathon or marathon, a person needs to increase their weekly mileage. Full stop. Interval training can help, along with improved nutrition and sleep, and resistance training; but the most important variable by far is increasing one’s weekly mileage.

Same with cycling. To improve one’s average speed, or to ride a faster 40k or century, improved positioning and aerodynamics help, along with training with faster people (aka intervals), and a lighter bicycle especially if climbing; but the most important variable by far is increasing one’s weekly mileage. “Ass time”.

I swim about 6-8 kilometers most weeks. Sometimes, when I can’t run or cycle due to injury or weather, I increase that. For a month or two. And the increase in volume has almost no effect. Instead of swimming 1:32/100 yards, I swim 1:31.

At my age, 59, almost every runner, cyclist, and swimmer is slowing down. The rare exception is the former burner who fell way out of shape and returned to the road or pool in their 40’s or early 50’s. I’m the opposite of that person. I’ve never been a burner, but I compensate for my lack of speed with a very deep cardiovascular base, the result of three decades of consistent training. 

Because of my pedestrian starting point, I’m slowing down more slowly than my active peers. But I digress, back to swimming.

I actually defied the aging process a few years ago and got a touch faster in open water. How? By buying a better wetsuit. Free speed. Well, not exactly free, but you get the point.

Fast forward to my March 2021 Miracle of getting faster in the pool. Some context. I usually do 100 yard intervals in 1:29-1:33 depending on whether I’m doing them alone or with others and when in the workout I’m doing them. It literally takes me about 2,000 yards to “warm up” or the majority of my workout. A month ago, without my fast female friends pushing me in Masters, I was churning out sluggish 1:32 after 1:32 on 1:40 or 1:45.

Right now, I’m limited to 45 minutes at my local YMCA because of some sort of virus. I’ve gotten good at jamming as much as I can into the 45 minutes. Here’s today’s workout:

400y—6:15.  200y x 2—3:05, 3:04.  100y x 4—1:30, 1:30, 1:29, 1:28.

Paddles/bouy. 400y—5:50.  200y x 2—2:50, 2:50.

100y x 4 im, 1:41s on 2m.

Then, in the last 5-6 minutes, I did some easy 50’s and one final 100 concentrating on what I’ve been learning from YouTube stroke analysis tutorials. The easy 50’s were 43 on 1:00 and the easy final 100 was 1:26. Yes please, may I have another. 

Mid or late workout, I can now do 1:28’s (on 1:40) all day long with the same effort I have been swimming 1:32s the last few years. That, in short, is the March Miracle.  

From a running and cycling perspective that sudden improvement makes no sense, but swimming is a different animal. Especially when compared to running and cycling, swimming is super technical, if your stroke is flawed, no amount of volume is going to make much difference. It’s like golf, if your clubface is way open at impact, you’re going to hit a slice no matter how many balls you beat on the range.

Long story short, I’ve been watching a lot of stroke analysis vids on YouTube and finally some of the lessons are taking. Historically, bad muscle memory has blunted coaches’ occasional efforts to improve my stroke.

Somehow, a few stroke improvements have suddenly clicked. Primarily, truly finishing my stroke by gently rubbing my thumbs against my hips, rotating more by lengthening my stroke, and maintaining high elbows through the “catch”. Well, not really the last one. Yet. I’m still a serial elbow dropper. Which is kinda cool because that means there’s still more seconds to be found. And now I have more confidence I can integrate that change too.

In a few years I’ll report back on whether I have higher elbows. Or just tune in to the Olympic Trials in Omaha to see if I’m competing. Your choice.  

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Wednesday Required Reading

1. What if the Great American Novelist Doesn’t Write Novels? I need to see a lot more of Wiseman’s work, but the little bit I have seen makes me think that question is not at all hyperbolic.

“The fact that Wiseman’s half-century-long project is a series of cinéma-vérité documentaries about American institutions, their titles often reading like generic brand labels — ‘High School,’ ‘Hospital,’ ‘The Store,’ ‘Public Housing,’ ‘State Legislature’ — makes its achievement all the more remarkable but also easier to overlook. Beginning with ‘Titicut Follies’ (1967), a portrait of a Massachusetts asylum for the criminally insane that remains shocking to this day, Wiseman has directed nearly a picture a year, spending weeks, sometimes months, embedded in a strictly demarcated space — a welfare office in Lower Manhattan, a sleepy fishing village in Maine, the Yerkes Primate Research Center at Emory University, the flagship Neiman Marcus department store in Dallas, the New York Public Library, a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Tampa, Fla., a Miami zoo — then editing the upward of a hundred hours of footage he brings home into an idiosyncratic record of what he witnessed. Taken as a whole, the films present an unrivaled survey of how systems operate in our country, with care paid to every line of the organizational chart. They also represent the work of an artist of extraordinary vision. The films are long, strange and uncompromising. They can be darkly comic, uncomfortably voyeuristic, as surreal as any David Lynch dream sequence. There are no voice-overs, explanatory intertitles or interviews with talking heads, and depending on the sequence and our own sensibility, we may picture the ever-silent Wiseman as a deeply empathetic listener or an icy Martian anthropologist.”

2. Why Are Great Athletes More Likely To Be Younger Siblings?

“The roots of the little sibling effect may lie in the way younger siblings strive to match their older siblings on the field. This was the case with Michael Jordan, the youngest of the three Jordan boys and the fourth of the five Jordan children. When the siblings were growing up, Larry — who was born 11 months before Michael — was considered a better basketball player and regularly bested Michael in one-on-one games.

‘I don’t think, from a competitive standpoint, I would be here without the confrontations with my brother,’ Michael recalled in the ESPN documentary’ The Last Dance.’ ‘When you come to blows with someone you absolutely love, that’s igniting every fire within you. And I always felt like I was fighting Larry for my father’s attention. …

‘I want that approval. I want that type of confidence. So my determination got even greater to be as good, if not better than, my brother.'”

Alas, did not apply in my family. Oldest Brother routinely whipped my ass on golf courses and tennis courts alike. And Older Brother was a much better swimmer and water polo player.*

3. Amanda Seyfried Finally Stakes Her Claim. How to be wonderfully grounded, against the odds. Buy a farm.

4. Why Andy Mukherjee is losing hope in India. Given it’s impact on the planet, anyone who is not East-Indian owes to themselves to learn a lot more about India. This is an excellent start.

*that’s why this athletic accomplishment was so gratifying