I Could Use a Sports Psychologist

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about my athletic self.

2019 has been all about good health and consistent training. Last Friday I ran my 1,000th mile of the calendar year, thus extending my 21 year streak of 1,000 miles+ running annually. As you age and it becomes impossible to set personal speed records, you have to find other ways to motivate yourself. My secret power is not having played contact sports growing up. My knees are golden thanks to golf and water polo. Being slender no doubt helps too.

I’ve swam farther this year than any other because I joined a Masters Team and went from swimming twice a week to three times. Despite that increase in volume, my splits aren’t much better because swimming is an incredibly technical activity and I haven’t improved my technique.

I hope to hit 5,000 miles of cycling by 12/31/19, which thanks to the sabbatical, is about 10% more than normal. A lot of the peeps I cycle with double that.

I ran a very good marathon a few years ago in Seattle. For me. Even somehow won my age group. I’ve ran a few halves since, including one in July, which also went well despite skimping on long training runs.

But despite the good health and all the cross-training, I haven’t competed in a triathlon for 5+ years, which I guess means I’m retired from the sport. I’m even trying to sell my beater triathlon bike.

I often think about returning to competition and this is where I need a sports psychologist. Friends still enjoy it and I know I could be very competitive in large, difficult races, not because I’m a burner, but because I’m slowing down less than my peers because I was never supe-fast to begin with and I have a very deep cardiovascular base from years of consistent cross-training. Also, while I’m not a burner in any of the disciplines, I don’t suck at any of them either. In contrast, almost every triathlete has a weakness*.

For some reason though, I just can’t bring myself to purchase a new bike, register for races, and show up on starting lines. Here’s how I imagine a counseling session with a pricey sports psychologist going down.

SP: So you’re thinking of returning to triathlon. What’s keeping you from committing?

RB: Aren’t we gonna talk about my childhood?

SP: No, frankly that would bore me.

RB: Well, for one thing I’m usually shelled at the end of training rides and I really don’t want to run off the bike anymore.

SP: Have you always been a wuss or is that a recent development?

RB: I think it’s rooted in my childhood.

SP: Never mind then.

SP: What else is holding you back?

RB: To tell you the truth, when I imagine best case scenarios, winning races, it doesn’t do anything for me. I think what if I swim, cycle, and run faster than a declining number of other economically privileged old dudes. And I conclude, so what.

SP: Often, as in life, in athletic competition the joy is in the journey.

RB: Did you learn a lot of cliches during grad school?

SP: Yes, lots of others I’d happily share if we weren’t out of time. Thank you for coming.

* truth be told, my weakness was the fourth discipline, transitions

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The Deleterious Health Effects of Sedentary Work Cultures

One aspect of my privilege is my education which has enabled me to make a living without sacrificing my body. Roofers, welders, plumbers, farmers, house painters, construction workers, tree cutters, often aren’t as fortunate.

But I’ve noticed a pattern even among my fellow white collar egghead professors. A majority routinely sacrifice their health for the sake of their work because of a deep-seated intellectual bias that prioritizes the mind at the expense of the body. 

Simply put, most of my colleagues have been sedentary for decades. On top of that, generous people take turns providing unhealthy office snacks*. Most professors don’t make time to walk, hike, run, play tennis, swim, cycle, or lift weights because there’s always another lecture to plan, or syllabus or grant to write, or set of papers to mark, or conference presentation to prepare, or faculty workshop to attend.

I like my work and my university, but not nearly enough to sacrifice my health for it. One colleague of mine retired in May and died in July. I didn’t know him so I don’t even want to pretend his lifestyle played any part, but I fear too many of my colleagues will not get to enjoy as many post work years if they do not prioritize their health more than is the norm.

Today marks the end of the world’s longest academic sabbatical, mine. I normally work summers, but I took the summers of 18 and 19 off, the book-ends to my 2018-2019 academic year sabbatical. 15 months, huzzah! Someone call the Guinness Book of World Records**. I won’t be telling any of my colleagues what I’m going to tell you in the next paragraph because the sedentary nature of faculty life is so pervasive my athletic self lives deep in the closet***.

Besides the traditional, publishing a couple of articles, reading a bunch, and updating my syllabi, I also turned the knob up a bit on my regular swimming, cycling, and running volume. Por exemplar, I joined a Masters swim team and so far this year have already swam about the same distance as last calendar year. And SO WHAT if I did stretch and chill in the jacuzzi after some practices! Also, I’m on pace to cycle 5,000 miles this year and maintain my 1,000 mile a year running streak. I was fit when I began my record breaking sabbatical, today I’m a little more fit****.

Am I overcompensating? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I’m under no illusions that my active lifestyle will guarantee any kind of post-work longevity because life is fragile. That driver on their cell phone could wipe me out on tomorrow’s ride.

But as long as I work as an egghead professor, I will dare to be different by making time to swim, cycle, and run. In particular, I will not sacrifice the quality of my life to the pervasive work culture of which I’m apart. Please, just don’t out me to any of my colleagues.

*Decent chance I have my first donut in a long time today. #glazed

**Could an educator-reader please tell me if teaching is like riding a bike, I’m afraid I may have forgotten how. Any tips?

***Except for one colleague-friend who follows my workouts on Strava. I should probably get him to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

****No, I haven’t just opted to not write about racing triathlons, I have in fact sold my time trial bike and stopped competing for reasons I’m not entirely sure. As I age, given the attrition of my peers, and my consistent training, I would do quite well. But when I envision best case scenarios, like winning races, I’m still not sufficiently motivated to toe the line. Is there a sports psychologist in the house?

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The Mouse And The Man

Just received the meanest of text messages from the Bad Wife:

“I’m pretty sure I went 49 mph today coming down the hill between the Cove and Holiday Hills. Don’t have a computer so I can’t verify, but I’m pretty sure.”

There’s so much wrong with this text. First of all, what kind of person cycles without a computer?!

Secondly, I had just told the Bad Wife that I set a new cycling speed record during a group training ride in rural Lewis County (redundant). 48.8 mph.

I’m training for the annual sufferfest in Bend, Oregon in two weeks, the Central Oregon 500, which I turn into the Central Oregon 400, or last year 336, due to light snow on McKenzie Pass.

I am happy to report that I’m starting to feel some snap in my legs, but I coulda used a larger cassette on some of yesterday’s climbs. At times, I thought I might have to toss one or both water bottles overboard to breach the steepest pitches.

There were eight of us. I knew seven. Or so I thought. The eighth dude was someone I hadn’t seen in 15-20 years. The last time I saw him I was literally yelling at him at the finish line of the Black Hills triathlon. No, not in my character, but I watched him pass me on the bike, and then, totally ignoring the no drafting rule, suck another guy’s wheel for miles and miles. I did not reel him in during the run and did not take losing well. Keep in mind, this was before I studied Stoicism and got my shit together, by which I mean, got my ego somewhat in check.

Have you ever gotten so angry at someone that your anger ends up being much worse than whatever offensive action the other person committed? Me too.

Not immediately, but with just a little passage of time, I would’ve liked a do-over. As if an Olympic age group triathlon has any cosmic significance.

So imagine my surprise when The Drafter, a friend of a friend I learned, showed up for our group training ride. What to do? I intuited that he still remembered the psychotic break. Damn. Awkward. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. I know what to do, pretend I don’t remember any of it!

That’s right, as a friend puts it, I was way more mouse than man. Why the hell couldn’t I have apologized and said what I was thinking, “Man, sometimes I think back to that time I lost it at the triathlon and I feel badly, sorry for all that anger.” And we rode together for 3+ hours. And we talked about our 26 year old daughters and life. His daughter is a first year teacher in Brooklyn and he was asking me for advice to pass on to her.

Having obviously moved on even without an apology, he was more man than mouse.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m a loser and that’s the one thing you’ll be most correct about today. You’re also wondering who was stronger two decades later? The Man or the Mouse? He did challenge me on several of the steepest climbs. He really shoulda known better. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

 

Friday Assorted Links

1. This Man Expects to Run a 2:50 in the Boston Marathon on Monday. His passion and commitment are inspiring, but it’s also kind of sad that he can’t imagine what else he might do in life post athletics.

2. Roubaix’s showers a dying part of cycling lore. I’m a privileged, aging, soft lap dog for gentrification; sometimes though, we need downmarket grittiness for contrast if nothing else.

“It’s not the nicest of place to take a shower, to be honest. It’s freezing cold and not much privacy. That’s the beauty of it. It was so grim in there that it was a way to finish off a grim race. Why would you have a nice, comfy seat in a cubicle to have a shower after 260km of hell? It was a race from hell, so they were the showers from hell.”

3. What I’m reading.

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4. What I just watched. Among other reasons to commit the 55 minutes, the incredible vividness of the Charlottesville footage.

Trump’s Takeover.

My Life as a Triathlete

Last night right before bed I got a text from downstairs, “Weren’t you supposed to do a triathlon today?”

A couple of weeks ago I told the Good Wife I was thinking about doing an Olympic triathlon in Portland on July 30th. But I’ve become so flaky about racing the last few years that comment didn’t register with her, so a couple of days ago she suggested that after church we go to Alderbrook for brunch with the in-laws. Which is how I spent imaginary triathlon day.

Once I had eaten my vegetarian omelete and killer breakfast potatoes at Alderbrook, cruised Steamboat Island, and returned home, I turned my attention to how a friend was doing at Ironperson Canada in Whistler, B.C. She was 90% through the run and in first place in her age group, so I sporadically checked in to see if she won and thereby qualified for the World Championship in October in Kona, which happily she did.

I also checked on the 55-59 year old men to see how I would’ve probably done. Because I’m experienced, time my training sessions, and often train with others who do race, I can estimate pretty damn accurately how fast I would’ve gone over the 140.6 miles. I would’ve finished second out of 29 geezers.

This is what I do. I train, I think about racing, but I don’t actually register for any events. I even have a built-in excuse for not racing in our local triathlon each June. Too short.

My hangups are many. I need a good sports psychologist if you have a recommendation. I need to either turn off my computer and put on my wetsuit or come to grips with what I texted back. “It appears as if I’m retired from competition.”

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A picture from my last triathlon.

Let’s Make a Deal

Pay for me to travel to Norway next year to compete in this completely irrational swim-bike-run adventure and I’ll detail my experience for PressingPausers worldwide. My wife will play the role of sherpa. Norway’s kinda expensive (the exact words on a pin my family presented to me mid-way through our extended Norway visit) so I’m going to estimate about $10k.

First I’ll have to “win” a lottery which only ten percent of applicants manage to do.

I’ll also have to gain about 50lbs for the swim otherwise I’ll wash up on the shore of the fjord like a completely frozen, farmed salmon. Your $10k should cover the uptick in groceries in the months leading up to the race.

Can I finish it? Earn a coveted black t-shirt? Let’s find out.

How to Age

Emily Oster’s findings in the fitness essay I included in the previous post rest on the following premise—people exercise to lengthen their lives. I run, swim, and cycle quite a bit further and faster than the research says I should because I enjoy pushing myself. And as far as I know the research doesn’t answer this question: Are the costs of more extreme fitness habits lessened when one increases the volume and intensity of their activities over many years? My gut tells me yes. My gut also tells me cross training lessens the costs.

But I’m okay being wrong because I don’t care if I live to 100. The more familiar I get with the 80’s and 90’s, the more inclined I am to trade quality of life for quantity. Which leads to how to age.

There are two approaches, but I don’t know which is better. The first is to remind oneself on a daily basis that you’ll never be younger than you are at this very instance. Meaning carpe diem. Live with urgency. Do the iron-distance triathlon now because it’s going to be even harder in a few years. Travel the world now because it’s going to be harder in a few years. Hike the Wonderland Trail or the Camino de Santiago before hiking to the mailbox is all you can manage.

The alternative is to accept the inevitability of physical decline and embrace life’s limits. Reject “Bucket List” mania. Live more simply. Slow down, travel less, invest more in friendships. Find joy in daily routines. Watch nature. Enjoy coffee, food, and drink. Go gently into the future.

Two paths in the woods diverge. Which to take?