Swim with Vicki

Posted: April 6, 2014 in Swim
Tags: , , ,

I’m a month out from my own 10k swim attempt for the Strong Kids campaign and each and every time I step in and out of the pool I get increasingly anxious.  Yesterday’s 5.2k continuous swim was no different.  Either I’m not doing enough distance, or I’m not going hard enough, or I’m ignoring something vitally important that’s going to aid the overall success of my achievement.  Should I do more drills?  More kilometers?  More…well, everything?  Before I know it, I’ve finished my intended workout but, strangely, I still feel defeated and inadequate.  Why is that?  It’s been a constant niggling that’s been nagging at me for a while.

All too often as triathletes, we focus on what we can’t do as opposed to what we can’t do.  Sometimes that might just turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I mean, I can hold a 1:35/100m  pace for some time, yet, instead of giving myself that credit I get frustrated that I can’t do 1:30/100m.  Why is that?  I can swim long(ish) distances, more than most people would attempt in a week, much less in one go.  So why then do I get anxious that I didn’t do more, or maybe that the person in the other lane did more and is therefore in some way more accomplished?  It doesn’t make sense.

A few weekend’s ago, however, I got a much needed relief.  I attended a special Masters Swim class this morning hosted and organized by Vicki Keith, the famed, retired Canadian marathon swimmer.  I expected the class to be tough so, definitely, I wanted to be a part of that.  Surely there would be long distances, pace and tempo work and, of course, lots of exhaustion.  However, it was none of those things.  In fact, what she did give us was so much more.  What she did give me was a different perspective on myself as an “athlete” (and I use that term lightly).  Allow me to explain.

The challenge she presented us was to try swimming like a parathlete or, rather, someone with a specific disability, say, missing a single arm, leg, both arms, both legs and, shit, all everything.  Yeah.  Seriously!

For example, to mimic the feeling of having to swim with one leg we were challenged to only kick with one leg.  That wasn’t so difficult, per se, but after spending nearly two years I’m sure glad I have the ability to use both legs now.  Swimming one armed wasn’t too difficult either as I do a lot of one-arm drills now anyway, but I’m sure glad I don’t have to cross a lake that way.  To mimic the loss of both legs we were asked to swim with our legs crossed and bent, which makes the whole process of getting to the other end of the pool significantly more difficult, let me tell you.  The last two challenges, however, are what really brought the whole exercise crashing down around me.  Ever try to swim with no arms and no legs?  Again…I’m serious.  Let me tell, it’s actually harder than it sounds.  Trust me.  We were asked to cross our legs and tuck our hands into our arm pits and literally attempt to swim 25m  with our shoulders and upper arms only.  I pretty much sank to the bottom of the pool like a rock.  And to think that there are these incredible people out there who can swim significant distances (much less, swim at all) is absolutely miraculous to me.

She also gave us a taste of what it’s like to swim as a sufferer of Cerebral Palsy.  Picture it: swim with one arm forward while the other arm is going backwards, one leg flutter kicking and the other is doing the frog kick.  We more looked like we were attacking the water rather than swimming for all the splashing and floundering we were doing.  In this whole time, we had managed approximately 200m  and I was completely exhausted.  Oh, did I forget to mention swimming blind?  Talk about your leap of faith.

Anyway, once you’ve attempted these things, you’ll never really think of swimming normally, with both arms and legs, quite the same way again.  My eyes were definitely open.  Not just to the challenges that these amazing disabled people overcome in order to achieve their own greatness, but to the fact of how lucky I am to be able to do what I can do now in the way that I can do it.  It’s a gift, and not one to be taken lightly either.

So what if I didn’t make my distance one day, or maintain my precious pace; I’m swimming…normally, without a physical difficulty, and relatively unchallenged.  I mean, really, how lucky am I just to be able to swim?  After all, it wasn’t always that I could do what I can now; far from, actually.  In fact, nearly 15 years of my life was wasted in front of the boob tube growing fat and waiting for the sweet release of death.  Certainly not doing laps in a pool.  When I first started triathlon six years ago I was basically lucky to complete the 750m  distance and not drown, much less at any decent pace.  People elsewhere had to do the same without the same privileges I enjoyed and I figure it’s no different today.  It took experiencing this through Vicki’s class to really think about it and realize how amazing it is that I’ve now gotten to this point.  With a little work, I’ll even get better.  Along the way I just have to be patient and enjoy myself.

Furthermore, I now know that the real tragedy in all of this would be if I ever stopped loving what it is that I’m doing (i.e. swimming), or should ever happen to stop appreciating what it was I can do which, clearly, I’ve been a little guilty of…until now.

So despite the slow progress I might be making towards my 10k  goal at the end of April, things could certainly be worse.  I think I needed that reminder.  Maybe I should forget about the distance, forget about the time, forget about the pace, and simply focus on the fun, or maybe how fortunate I am to simply to be in the position to be able to complete something of this magnitude.

And with that, I’m off to exotic Barrie, Ontario for a week on business where I hope to get multiple swims throughout the week rather than rot away in the hotel room.  And while doing those laps, I’m going to remember why I’m doing this…because I can.  Simple.  End of story.  What more reason do I need?

Swim Ick

Posted: April 2, 2014 in Swim
Tags: , ,

So now that my first mental toughness challenge is behind me after this past weekend’s Bay race (set a new PR of 2:31:19), I’m setting my sights towards the second challenge of the year coming at the end of this month, namely, the ‘Frank & Friends 10k swim for Strong Kids’ at the local Fort Erie YMCA.  So my focus is now set to all things swim related in preparation.  I’m not giving up running, cycling, and whatnot, but I’m calibrating my schedule to be swim distance focused primarily.  And that means laps and a lot of ‘em.

Unfortunately, an article came across my Facebook news feed the other day that almost halted my new swim focus completely in its tracks.  Seriously, how can an article entitled ‘Swim pee isn’t just gross, it’s also harming swimmers’  not grab your immediate attention.  Oh fuck, just what I need.

The premise of the article seems to be that a) peeing in a public pool is no big deal, and b) everyone is doing it despite the obvious health issues.  This isn’t the first time I’ve struggled with the whole concept of pissing and swimming (click HERE for a little reminder), at least then though it was in a wetsuit while swimming outside.  Peeing in a public pool is another can of worms entirely.

Studies have suggested that one in five adults admits to having urinated in a public pool.  Even Michael Phelps himself told the Telegraph newspaper back in 2012:

“I think everybody pees in the pool. It’s kind of a normal thing to do for swimmers. When we’re in the water for two hours, we don’t really get out to pee. Chlorine kills it so it’s not bad.”

Great, so this is a ‘thing’ now is it? It’s just not the kids who do it, the guy you’re lane sharing with is doing it, the old dude breast-stroking in the lane next is doing it, the weird old woman bobbing by herself in the corner is doing it, shit, even the lifeguards just hang a rat and whiz from the side of the pool directly into the water after their Timmy’s break rather than walk to the bathroom.  It’s bad enough when you spot that single Band-Aid which has slipped off, sank to the bottom of the pool and is now doing gentle pirouettes every time you disturb the water over it like a feather blowing in the breeze, but now, apparently, EVERYONE is peeing in the pool too.  Am I the only one who finds this disturbing?  Lord knows I’ve had the odd workout postponed due to a recent ‘fouling’ after the kids swimming lesson, and that’s understandable, they’re kids! It’s an occupational hazard in dealing with little children.  But to think that the guy in the other lane now thinks it’ also appropriate to just ‘release the hounds’ in the water rather than climb out and use the toilet as is appropriate to do is just, well, very unsettling to me.  It certainly doesn’t lend itself to seeing the necessary motivation to do my long workouts, let me tell you!

The prevalent though I suppose is that the chlorine in the pool is there to kill bacteria so, hey, why not?  If Michael Phelps says it’s so then it must be so, right?  Wrong.

What chlorine also does is reacts with the urine to create and release harmful gasses. Scientists have long known that urea – a compound in urine – when combined with chlorine gives off nitrogen trichloramine (NC13), a poisonous gas that can cause acute lung injury over time.  So, yeah, guess what you’re inhaling on the surface of the water when you swim?  Bingo.  These same scientists also monitored the presence of this NC13 during a national swimming competition and found that the levels of NC13 actually doubled – DOUBLED – after the first day of the event, and increased by three to four times throughout the rest of the four-day event.  That means, yes, even the pros think it’s acceptable.

Thanks Michael, you jackass.

Until now, much less has been known about chlorine’s reaction with uric acid, another chemical in urine.  However, recent research indicates that uric acid is responsible not only for more nitrogen trichloramine, but also for a large share – between 24% and 68% – of another dangerous gas, cyanogen chloride, that wafts around indoor swimming pools.  If inhaled, the latter compound can harm the lungs, heart and central nervous system, says Jing Li, professor of applied chemistry at China Agriculture University and co-author of the new study.  Both nitrogen trichloramine and cyanogen chloride have been linked to acute and chronic health problems among swimmers, as well as among lifeguards and pool staff. And I’m not just referring to the typical case of swimmers sinusitis that I get periodically either.

So, if this is true, what does this mean for my workouts (besides the obvious that I may as well be swimming in an unflushed toilet)?  Well, assuming an average sized indoor pool with, maybe, 20 swimmers in it simultaneously, I might estimate that each swimmer (myself excluded because, well, I don’t pee in the pool) releases 50 mL (0.25 cups) of urine, which would equate to approximately two pint glasses of pee in total.  Mmm, right?  Providing the chlorine levels were consistent with those typical of pools here in North America, that would cause cyanogen chloride concentrations of 12 µg/L (.012 mg/L) – a good bit higher than the 5 µg/L that the US National Institutes of Health cites as the lowest irritant concentration.  Goodie.  How’s that for happy thoughts while you’re grinding out 2-3 hours of continuous swimming?

As it is now, my swim workouts typically fall anywhere between 90 minutes and two hours, three to four times a week.  That’s a lot of exposure to piss.  Now, as for myself, I can expect to leave the pool at least once (sometimes twice) to pee given that I’m also conscientious to hydrate while I swim.  But come to think of it, I don’t see many others exiting and reentering the pool once they’re in.  Shit, some of those old fogies who I also share the pool with are usually in there for longer and they NEVER leave the pool, like, ever!  Does this mean they’re just relieving themselves willy-nilly?  Considering that their aging bladders probably don’t have the same fortitude they used to, I thinking it’s probably so.  It’s all too much to bear and makes me want to do a Tasmanian Devil whirlwind out of the place! Maybe I should take up professional croquet.

But I can’t quit.  I’ve made a commitment. So let me go on record here saying that if I see a warm comforting smile suddenly spread across your face because you’re taking peeing, I’m likely going to bludgeon you to death with my kick board.  It’s not acceptable – it’s fucking gross and you should be public shamed into leaving the pool for good.  Just saying.  In the meantime, I’m just going to have to try and forget about it, or I’ll end up driving myself insane with worry.  Either that, so invent some sort of plastic swim bubble fashioned out of Cling-Wrap in order to protect myself while training.  I guess the silver lining is that soon – *fingers crossed* – the nicer weather will be here and I can get back to swimming outdoors where the only thing I have to worry about is the usual stuff, like drowning and Jaws.

Spray-On Yoga Pants

Posted: March 31, 2014 in Yoga
Tags: ,

This one is for all my yoga peeps.

 

Sadly, we’re probably not far from this actually being realized.  I think I’ll stick to my cycle shorts though, thanks.

The first time I met John Stanton it was in the bathroom at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario.  No, it was not one of “those” kinds of encounters.  We just happened to end up taking a leak beside one another at the urinals before the Around the Bay 30k event in 2011.  I didn’t know who he was at the time.  I mean, I’d heard about him before but I never paid much attention and I certainly didn’t recognize him at the time.

For those of you who don’t know, John Stanton is the founder and CEO of the ‘Running Room’ and author of several books on walking and running.  In other words, he’s a big shit in the running world. I have a love/hate relationship with the Running Room; I love what they’ve done to promote running in the communities which they operate, but I hate the marketing play of selling hundreds of dollars of crap to newbies who don’t need it, don’t know what it is, but want to fit in.  But that’s neither here nor there in this story.

John is also the guy who refers to running as ‘baking a cake’, an analogy that just about every runner has heard about a zillion times.  The premise being that in order to make a cake you need different ingredients such as flour, water, sugar, butter, vanilla, what have you, and when you mix them together you get the recipe for the perfect end result – a cake.  Running is similar in that it has its own unique ingredients, namely, long slow distance, drills, tempo work, speed, hills, etc., so that when you put them altogether you have the base for a successful runner where the race is simply the icing on that cake.  This speech has pretty much become the ‘Life is like a box of chocolates’  analogy for runners.

Anyway, back to the story.

So there we were, two strangers peeing beside one another, when suddenly there is this hushed buzz permeating the bathroom amongst the other runners in line behind us.  It was the kind of buzz that happens just moments before a band takes the stage.  I knew it probably wasn’t my wanger that everyone was oohing and awing over in hushed excitement, so what gives?  Eventually, I made the connection that the guy beside me was in fact John Stanton except I hadn’t noticed.  Okay, other runners began addressing him by name so that’s how I figured it out.  Anyway, afterwards we washed our hands and went our separate ways.  This was my first Around the Bay and I was nervous as hell, and while I had acquired all the necessary ingredients to be there, my icing on the cake was getting to take a whiz beside John Stanton.  That just had to be a good omen, right?

It was. I finished survived with a time of 2:39:04, not bad for a first outing.

The next year (2012) I returned to Copps Coliseum again and, yes, I bumped into John Stanton; in the bathroom; taking a piss. What were the odds?

This time, however, I recognized him immediately as one might recognize their own shadow, so I sidled on up next to him and jokingly inquired “come here often?”  Of course the humor was completely lost on him.  How could he have ever remembered?  But John is an affable guy and he agreed that he does come to Copps quite often and that the Around the Bay event was one of his favorites and that he always makes the effort to get down to the Expo and whatnot before he politely excused himself and returned from whence he came.

This year was my second attempt at the Bay and I had trained much better and I successfully completed it with a new personal best time of 2:34:13.  It seemed to me that peeing besides John Stanton was becoming a bit of a good luck tradition.  Some people might have their favorite running socks, or hat, or maybe carry a trinket of sorts in their pocket; my totem was having a pre-race pee beside John Stanton.  Weird, I know.  But who is going to argue the success it had brought me so far?

So, fast forward two years and its 2014 and I’m running the Bay yet again.  I sat last years event out while I taking a break from long distances, recovering from fatigue and injuries after Ironman Wales and, well, just enjoying being lazy.  In some regards, I’ve gone back to square run with my running; I’ve reassembled my cake and I’m trying to put it all back together again.  Fortunately, I’m finally running relatively comfortably after seven months of run-specific conditioning as part of my ‘We Can Rebuild Him’ plan.  This year’s Bay event then is the testing ground.  I’ve completed the training, I’ve restarted my speed work, I’m doing my clams, planks, squats, etc., I’m stretching, hydrating and doing everything I know how to do to keep the plan working, except there’s only one thing missing at this point…the icing on the cake.

So yesterday I drove up to Copps Coliseum to pick up my race packet – as you do.  Of course, I was also looking for my icing.  I browsed through the different booths at the Expo.  I didn’t really need anything but, hey, it never hurts to look (I did find a great deal on Emend formula).  Plus, I enjoy that anxious electricity that moves through the crowd as everyone has pretty much started mentally preparing themselves for Sunday’s event; everyone is all a-twitter.  Eventually, I came to the Runners Edge booth and, low and behold, there he was!  John Stanton.

Okay, now what?  It’s not like you go up to a celebrity and ask if you can take a piss with them can you?  All that’s going to get you is charges being laid along with a possible restraining order which certainly isn’t going to help my cause any.

So I waited.

Yes, I totally creeped John Stanton and waited for him to go to the bathroom.  It’s certainly not one of the prouder moments in my life, but a desperate runner’s gotta do what a desperate runner’s gotta do.  Alright, I didn’t really stand there spying at him from over racks of multi-colored runner jerseys, no, I’m not quite that weird…yet.  I went to the registration desk, claimed my packet and resumed my browsing while keeping an ever wary eye on my prey.  He was signing copies of his book and chit-chatting with passersby.  Again, John is a nice guy.

I was just making my last pass before making my way back to the car, when I happened to notice him excuse himself from his booth and start to make his way to the bathroom nearby.  Booyah!  It’s on.

I sneakily followed in after him looking all casual and uncontrived n’ shit. Fortunately, we were the only two in there.

Perfect!

Here’s where it really gets a bit embarrassing. There is an unwritten rule of the mens bathroom that when it’s not busy, you choose a urinal as far away from your neighbor as possible.  I broke this rule and totally sidled right up next to him with a huge shit eating grin on my face.  No words were ever exchanged, but he eyed me suspiciously as I flashed him my best ‘hey, how you doin’?’ look.

Kinda like this:

 

…but not as creepy.

I’m sure he gets it all the time.

So anyway, yeah, mission accomplished.  I’m registered, my cake is baked and the icing has been obtained.  I’m ready to go.  I’m not sure what my strategy is at this time or whether I’m going to go balls out for a PB, or simply run strong and comfortably and simply see what happens.  This is my year to rebuild after all.  Having said that, now that I’ve had my pre-race tinkle with Johnny S, who knows?  Shit, I might even qualify for Boston.

As you may or may not already know, in the past few months I have been frequenting a different gym.  It’s a little further to drive, but it’s a pretty cool place complete with an entire Aquatic Center, an indoor 200m track, a clean and spacious weights area, an engaging Kids program, and a very distinct lack of annoying meat heads.  Plus, the staff is pretty nice as well.  All definitely perks in my personal checklist for a successful gym.  There are a few drawbacks in that it doesn’t have a Member’s Plus change room for gym snobs like me, and there isn’t a dedicated spin studio.  Oh, and for whatever reason, they don’t have a swim suit spinner/drier in the Men’s or Women’s change room but only in the Family change room which is a bit weird.  I hate walking into the Family change room after a swim to dry my suit while mothers are trying to dry and clothe the naked little bodies of their kids…and then I go strolling by.  It makes me feel weird and you should see some of the surprised-slash-concerned looks I get sometimes.  Anyway, it’s a minor thing and the advantages of the place definitely outweigh the disadvantages and, so, I’m sold.

However, I’ve been finding it a bit hard to establish a positive reputation.  At best, I’d be happy to just slip by under the radar completely.  Not that I go to the gym to socialize or attempt to impress anybodye but, hey, when you start going somewhere regularly people begin to recognize you just as you begin to recognize them.  We may never actually speak or even make eye contact but, still, there’s a certain distant rapport being established.  Depending on how you conduct yourself you might come across as annoying and obnoxious, or polite and respectful.  I definitely strive to be the later but, hey, things happen.

Now, you might recall my little incident last month, or what has now become known as my “post swim locker room shit story”, right?  Click HERE  for a little taste, err, reminder.  Yeah, its totally things like that that don’t exactly win you many friends at the gym but I can’t fault anybody but myself here.  It’s just one of those things.  Having a chocolate protein bar smeared all over your bare ass, well, it could happen to anybody. Likewise, today’s locker room misadventure was just one of those things, but it does bring up my first real complaint for this new Shangri-La I’ve been going to.

You know what should NEVER be played in the Men’s change room?  Bette Midler.  Yeah.  So not cool.

I mean, picture it:  you’ve just finished a tough weights workout, completed a hard spin class or track workout, or otherwise accomplished some other manly task of Herculean proportions and you’re jacked; endorphins and testosterone are absolutely coursing through your veins.  throughout the workout, you’ve probably been listening to your own macho playlist (click HERE  for an ongoing account of my own) of music through your ear buds to keep you motivated, alive and kicking ass, right?

Of course you do.

Those tunes could be absolutely anything you find inspiring (either passively or actively) but I’m guessing not many people choose to listen to Enya while throwing around the heavy iron.  No, it’s more likely you’ve been listening to AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Metallica, or whatever else that might float your boat.  Well, a man’s man would anyway. Shit, I know a guy who loves his Janet Jackson (right Devin?).  Not that I’m judging him or anything, but as long as it keeps him stimulated and rocking the shit out of his workout, so be it, power to ya tough guy.

Personally, I was in the pool today.  Not exactly the kind of workout that one might need motivational music, but when I do long or speedy sets, I tend to hum ‘Just Got Paid’  by ZZ Top, so I’m including it as a manly Herculean deed.  Anyway, upon leaving the pool and entering the locker room I immediately noticed that something was, well, ‘off’.  I couldn’t place my finger on it right away so I made my way to my locker and proceeded to get to the business at hand of drying off, changing, showering, getting dressed, what have you.  But then I noticed it, everyone is looking at me strangely, and I back at them. We must have look like a bunch of startled rabbits.

WTF?  Did I “shit” myself again…no.  So what gives?

Then it hits me, Bette Midler is playing on the internal music system; in the MENS change room!  A little disconcerting?  You betcha!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Bette hater and I have no problem with the stereotypical type of fella that might enjoy himself a little Better Midler.  Shit, I’d get naked in front of a gay guy no problem as long he observes the universal law of ‘Feast your eyes, brah, but no lookee no touchee’.  But, still, as it turns out not everybody else might feel that way.  It’s not exactly a comforting thing to listen to while in the vicinity of other naked men.  I’m sure there is a time and a place for Bette, but this definitely isn’t it.

And here we are, several dudes in varying stages of undress all trying to carefully observe the cardinal locker room vow of ‘Ignore thy Neighbor’  and, suddenly, Bette Midler comes on the radio.  It’s may as well have been this:

 

Suddenly, we’re all eying one another suspiciously and trying to cover ourselves up a little more than normal.  It’s true!  It happened!  I swear.  In fact, a few of the other guys were dressed and scurrying out of there within the first few chords of ‘Wind Beneath My Wings   quicker than I could say, “We’re Here; We’re Queer…”, well, you get where I’m coming from.  Talk about awkward!  Hey, it’s not like I requested  it or anything.  Seriously, you’d think they were trying to escape a hostage crisis, or as if I was all up in their face like this:

 

Anyway, not being particularly embarrassed about my shame, I went on about my business in all my naked glory to the chagrin of the few other fellas who were either not so quick to depart, or were waiting to see where this goes.    Maybe I should have followed suit and immediately got dressed myself and vacated the premises lickety-split rather then make eye contact (a huge no-no in the Locker Room Commandments), smile sheepishly and simply carry on carrying on.  I don’t think the remaining guys were seeing the situation in the same humorous light as I was.  So now, to some, I might just be ‘that’  guy.   Oh, well.  I’ve been worse I’m sure.  Anyway, I’m now thinking of filling out a comment card requesting a the gym adopt a “No Bette Midler” policy in the change rooms.  I wonder how that will be received?

While clearing out my mom’s house a few weeks ago I happened to came across some interesting photographs of me as a child that she’s apparently been holding onto for all these years.  And these weren’t your typical geeky grade school pictures I’m talking about here either, but pictures of me – *gasp* – doing (get this) athletic things; namely, swimming and running.

I know, right?  Me!  Who would have thunk it?

Apparently, I had all but forgotten my earliest endeavors into athletics as a kid.  Not that I was ever very good mind you, but I did try and I’m sure I earned a fair amount of ‘Participation’ medals back in the day even if I didn’t hang onto them.  If I recall correctly, through grade and high schools I actively participated on the cross country team, and played volleyball, baseball, basketball, tennis, badminton and, shit, I even curled.  I also remember being on the local swim team at the Merritton Lions public pool where I took my swimming lessons and even participated in a few local swim meets (by ‘participate’, I mean I didn’t drown).  Of course, later on I discovered beer, marijuana and candy bars so that ended all that.  C’est la vie.

In fact, it wasn’t until approximately five years ago that I rediscovered sport and maintaining a healthy lifestyle and this blog serves as a road map of that journey.  In that time, I’ve completed numerous half marathons, sprint and Olympic triathlons, a few half Ironman events as well as the grand momma of them all, Ironman Wales.  There’ a few other things chronicled here like rowing, yoga, cross fit as well as a few other one-off events but, primarily, they all tend to revolve around swimming, biking and running.  So these photos might just be the earliest examples of those beginnings and serve as some bizarre form of time capsule to what would develop later…much later.

Cross Country

This first picture is of me in the final stretch in the annual ‘Run for the Grapes’ 5k back in the mid-1980’s (coming up James Street just outside the St. Catharines City Courthouse).  Note that I’m only wearing a cotton t-shirt and socks, polyester shorts and cheap running shoes that my mom had probably purchased at the local Bi-Way (think ‘Dollarstore’, but not so classy).  I still wear the red headband, except now I call it a ‘bandana’ which is infinitely cooler.  Now, why or how I ever got registered for this event, God only knows.  It was only a 5k but it damn near killed me.  It was all I could do but keep my skinny little legs moving towards the finish line where I would be finally rescued from my agony.  Funny enough, the ‘Run for the Grapes’ event would also be the first half marathon I would ever run only a mere thirty-some odd years later (in fact, that was just five years ago).  It hurt even worse, but, more on that to come.

I also remember participating on the cross-country team from Grades 4 through 6.  I totally sucked there as well.  Usually I would run alongside a fellow classmate of mine, Sipacert Changsovang, or ‘Sippachink’ as we typically called him.  Hey, chill.  I knew as much about political correctness back then as I did about molecular biology.  Anyway, together, we would usually see-saw back and forth in last place from the onset.  In fact, I think we only ever actually ran for the first few hundred meters until we rounded the first corner and out of site from the spectators and then again maybe when we came back in view towards the finishing line.  But in between those two points we would usually walk, stop to pick dandelions, bait squirrels, roll in the grass, maybe skip stones across the little stream that the race course followed for a bit, but seldom did we ever run. Shit, running was work and I had no inspiration to be the next Alberto Salazar.   Collecting tadpoles and skipping stones was – by far – more fun.

Even when I did first start running a few years ago it was only as a matter of necessity more than it was an inclination.  As I had agreed to a dare from my little brother to compete in a sprint distance triathlon, it unfortunately meant I would have to run at least 5k, so run training was kind of inevitable.  Running still sucked, but eventually I could do it without suffering as badly as I did in the picture above.  That same year, wanting to go out with a bang, I also registered myself for the ‘Run for the Grapes’ half marathon.  Perhaps I had acquired a death wish, or maybe I had gone entirely insane, I’m not sure which but, what the hell right?

Of course, by that point in my newfound healthy lifestyle the most I had ever run in training or in competition was 7.5k.  I knew completing 21.1k would be tough but, seriously, how hard could it really be?  Still riding on the laurels of finishing a few sprint distance triathlons I figured I was up to the challenge, so with only three weeks left to prepare I set about the ordeal of training.  I had no idea how to train effectively for a half marathon or, really, running for that matter.  My idea of a training run at the time was to simply lace up the runners and…run.  At the time, I had no GPS or stop watch and had no concept of websites like MapMyRun, etc.  I just went out and ran what I figured was a decent distance or time.  Shit, I didn’t even own a decent dry fit top, so bloody nipples were the order of the day.

On my longest training day before the big event, I decided that I would run from my apartment downtown, up the escarpment to Brock University and back again.  That seemed like a fair challenge to tackle before the half marathon and, surely, that would prepare me adequately.  Again, I’m an idiot.  So nearly two very painful hours later, about 3lbs lighter thanks to dehydration and whatnot (I never had the good forethought to bring water), and two thighs that felt like somebody had been lighting matches between them, I arrived home again to check Google Maps (something that occurred to me while out running) only to discover that I had run…13 kilometers.  Uh oh.  The realization that I was vastly under-prepared began to dawn on me.  Whatever motivation I still had from my summer’s triathlon accomplishments quickly evaporated into a steamy puff of condensation on my forehead.  There was only seven days left to the half marathon.  Fuck.

On the day of the big event, I had agreed to run with two running partners, my squash buddy and a friend, Al, who I had met at work and had enjoyed some bicycle rides together. In fact, it was with Al on one of these rides that I first contemplated my ability to complete a full Ironman; the fuse was lit somewhere between Effingham and Jordon Station.  Both guys didn’t really have a goal time in mind but were more out to enjoy the day and simply complete the challenge, which was fine by me.  As such, we held our own towards the back of the pack and trotted along comfortably…at first.

However, that slow, comfortable pace soon (for me anyway) turned into a slow, painful shuffle shortly after I passed the 10k turnaround spot.  By this time, I just wanted it over so I made a conscious decision to press forward at a quicker pace, the trade-off being that I would be done quicker.  Likewise, I didn’t much like running in almost last place.  I turned my cap around backward, bid my farewell to the guys and pressed on in a suicide-like mission for the finish line.  Believe me, though, there was nothing heroic or admirable in what I was doing.  It was pure agony and I was must have looked like I was running from sweet death itself.  My finishing photos would later confirm that fact.  I was being passed by grandmothers and not loving it.  I would have happily given up National secrets to make it end.  I only made the final few kilometers on pure will power alone and ultimately finished in an unimpressive 2:15:32.  My partners would finish shortly afterwards looking a hell of a lot more comfortable and relaxed.  It seemed my ‘big move’ at the halfway point, might have earned me, maybe, a 2 or 3 minute lead.  Whoopee shit.

I couldn’t walk for a week – literally – and I figured that would be end of my “long distance” events.  That opinion wasn’t long lived, however, as I would shortly make the decision to go whole hog towards my Ironman goal and that meant, of course, long distance training (click HERE for a review of my second half marathon).  God help me.

Anyway, the rest of the story has been detailed over the years in these online pages, but this early photo of me running brought this part of the story back to light.  Crazy, right?

Swim Meet

The second photo is even more interesting.  It’s of me at a swim meet at our local public swimming pool.  Just look at the lanes buoys…does that date this photo or what?  As it turns out, this pool in the photo is the same one I would end up running by during my long Ironman training runs over thirty years later (click HERE).  Funny.  Note the total lack of form and technique.  It kind of looks like one of those grainy images of the Loch Ness Moster.

Anyhow, my past swimming career is even less spectacular than my cross-country career.  Basically, I was forced into swimming by my mom in an effort to get me from out in front of the boob tube at home during the summer.  Not that this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I now consider swimming as a life skill which is not debatable with my nine year old step-daughter now.  But, back then, I just did as I was told.  This included taking swimming lessons and participating on the local swim team at the community pool.

Back then, our races were only 50 meters.  I could do it, but not quickly.  During our lessons we learned how to freestyle, breast-stroke and back-stroke, but not well.  Essentially, we learned just enough to get us to the side of the pool if we ever got in trouble…using either the freestyle, breast-stroke or back-stroke.  There was little to no actual development on form and technique, well, none that I remember anyway.  I always thought of myself as an accomplished swimmer as 99.5% of my time in the summer was spent at the pool, albeit mostly playing tag.  Of course, mere time spent in the water does not automatically qualify one as ‘skillful’.

For the most part, these meets were an unwelcome disruption to our games of tag; usually once a month.  I participated in most of the events including the relays and I almost always finished last.  Again, lots of ‘Participation’ medals.  Actually, that’s not true.  I did once win the bronze medal for the 50m breast-stroke, but that’s only because two of the other competitor’s never showed up and there were only the three of us competing.

When I first joined a Masters swim group five years ago in an effort to prepare for my first sprint triathlon, we swam almost 400m…and it damn killed me.  Are you picking up on the theme here?  For the most part, I splashed to one end of the pool, rested along the wall, and then splashed my way back again.  It wasn’t what you would consider ‘pretty’.  Seriously, I thought I could swim.  What I didn’t realize is that after all those years of swimming lessons and games of tag, what I couldn’t do was swim ‘well’.  As it turns out, swimming well is much different than just going through the motions from end to end.

So for the first few months, I had my ass handed to me regularly at 6:00am each and every Sunday morning and if I climbed out of the pool after 60 minutes without drowning it was a total victory.  Eventually, I even graduated to the ‘Medium’ lane.  As the time grew nearer to my first triathlon, I knew I could swim the distance (750m) but, then it occurred to me…could I do it continuously?  Shit.  During Masters Swim the distance was all broken up into drills and segments with ample breaks to rest, receive feedback from the coach, joke, drink, etc., but never had I swam the entire 750m distance continuously.  Fuck.

I figured I should find out.  So the week before the event, I went into the pool on my own and I grinded out 750m.  It wasn’t fast or pretty, but I did it.  Thank God!  The event went similarly well with me coming out of the water in the mid to near-end of the pack but I didn’t drown, so it was a total success.  Furthermore, it was my favorite part of the event; funny given how much I stressed over it.  With this realization, I took to the pool more often, did my drills, practiced my form and technique and in the past five years have made some huge strides in my swimming abilities.  In fact, it’s the best part of my triathlon now and I typically exit the water in or near the front of the pack.  It’s where I feel the strongest and most confident and that’s a long way from splashing from one end to the other just as I was doing in this photo.

What a long, strange (and painful) trip it’s been.

A few months ago, I was offered a unique opportunity to participate in an athletic performance study taking place at Brock University by a training peer of mine.  Now, first, let me get something perfectly straight…I’m not accustomed to hearing myself being referenced (even in the most general of terms such as this) to being an “athlete”, so the initial request really took me as much by surprise as it was flatteringly.  So, hey, how do you turn down a request like that?  I’m in!  Of course, it might have helped to have read the fine print first but hindsight is 20/20 right?  As it was, I was totally in taken by the rose-tinted lens of being considered as some sort of athlete.  What followed over the next six weeks could only be described as my own epic journey to stretch both my physical and mental capacities, all in the name of science.

The particular study that I was invited to participate in was being hosted by the university’s Kinesiology department called the Separate and Combined Effects of Hydration Status and Thirst on Voluntary Exercise Capacity’ ; that doesn’t sound so bad does it?  The whole purpose of this study was to test the parameters of athletic performance in regards to determining the real limiters to athletic performance as being either the actual physical state of dehydration, or the perception of thirst.  Considering I’ve pondered exactly the same thing during my own Ironman training back when my long workouts tended to fall in the middle of a scorching heat wave, I thought this would be a great way to learn more.  Here’s a short video (by the actual PhD students conducting my own test) discussing the effects of heat on athletic performance:

 

I’m so in.

So after a few initial conversations with the professor leading the study, I was forwarded both a ‘Screening Form’ complete with questions regarding my health (I have no issues so I passed with flying colors), and a ‘Consent Form’ providing all the details required by and of interest to the participants.  The primary ‘Invitation’ segment of the consent form sounds rather, well, fun.

“You are invited to participate in a study that involves research.  The purpose of this study is to examine the separate and combined effects of thirst and hydration status on performance during a 20-km time trial. You may participate if you are 18-50 years old, a cyclist or triathlete, and comfortable with a “hard” two hour bike ride and time trial type efforts or competitions.”

Sounds like a piece of cake, right?  Hey, I can’t remember the last time I’ve cycled only 20k so it was hardly perceived as being any real challenge on my part.  How wrong I was.  But I’ll get to that part shortly.

The study was divided into 6 different segments.  The first being the anthropometric measurements and maximal aerobic capacity testing; which is fancy lab talk for taking my height, weight, and body fat content with a pair of calipers.  Oh goodie.  What person doesn’t look forward to having all his fat folds scrutinized in a laboratory setting, right?  Anyway, the consent form also made mention that these tests would be performed by a “member of the same sex” so at least it would come with minimal embarrassment.  The real benefit as I saw it was the ‘maximal aerobic capacity testing’ part which would be determined through what’s known as a V02-Max test.  Basically, this test was my opportunity to have my level of aerobic fitness determined through an actual scientific means.  What triathlete-wannabe is ever going to pass that up, right?  Not this guy.  The entire session took approximately an hour, with the actual V02-Max taking up about 15 minutes or so.  I could further break that 15 minutes up into approximately 8-9 minutes of relatively comfortable cycling, followed by 2-3 minutes of flat out torture of Herculean proportions.  Coupled with this bitch of a workout, was the fact that I was also connected up to about a thousand electrodes and required to breathe through a soft silicone face mask until exhaustion in order to obtain my peak oxygen consumption (VO2peak) and maximum heart rate.  Yeah, like I said…torture.  It was like trying to breathe through a toilet paper tube; not comfortable in the slightest.

Seriously, how much fun does this look?

How happy do I look right now?

How happy do I look right now?

But survive I did.  Here are the results:

V02MaxSo, based on this information I am, apparently, get ready for it…”Good”.  Whoopee shit.  Yeah, three years of intense Ironman training and I’m – *sigh* – Good.  I could offer the excuse at this point that when I conducted this test, I hadn’t even begun my bike training and was primarily focused in the pool, nor had I done any cycling as a matter of fact for at least a month prior.  I could also mention that I was still in the grip of suffering “hot spots” on both my feet, leading for a very unpleasant cycling experience throughout the test but, regardless, it is was it is.  I’m confident that if I were to conduct the test again now at the point where I currently am in my 2014 training plan, they would be very different, but ‘c’est la vie’  suppose.  It is was it is.

The next week’s session was the ‘familiarization session’, where I would be required to conduct the entire test, including the 20k time trial, under the normal conditions to “ensure that (I was) able to fulfill the requirements of the exercise protocol”.  Hmm.  Should I be worried?  Nah.

The familiarization session was conducted in the environmental chamber at 35°C with a relative humidity of 45%.  The chamber has the ability to adjust the heat (or cold), humidity, or even simulate a desired altitude.  Whatever, its basic functionality is to make things as unpleasant as possible, no matter what end of the spectrum you wish to suffer at.  Couple that with the fact that I’m also not permitted to have any fluids whatsoever, or even so much as rinse my mouth, I think they should call it the ‘Suffer-o-Matic’.

When I first arrived, I was met by the research assistants with whom I would work with closely over the next months’ worth of sessions.  Matt, Greg, and Phil (the research assistants) were extremely nice and pretty non-assuming guys; too nice maybe.  Their friendly and accommodating manner immediately got me to suspect that all may not be what it appears to be, in the same way that it’s always the character you least suspect in your typical who-done-it movie that ends up being the axe murderer.  Considering what was going to unfold over the next few hours, it might have been more appropriate had they met me in the lab wearing devil horns and furiously rubbing their palms together while cackling all evil-like.  Just sayin’.

Wires anyone?

Wires anyone?

Similar to the first session, I was required to be hooked up approximately a thousand different electrodes (forehead, abdomen, forearm, hand, quads, shin and foot) to calculate a mean skin temperature and heat flow, heat flow sensors (chest, upper thigh and abdomen) to quantify evaporative heat exchange, and one particularly intimidating devise, the “core thermometer”.  Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like…a rectal probe.  Umm, pardon?  I think I might have skipped over that part in the consent form but I was already in too deep (no pun intended) to back out now.  Upon rereading the form, this procedure was described as thusly:

“Insertion of the flexible rectal probe may cause slight discomfort. You will be given instruction about how to prepare the probe, and will self-insert the probe in a private room.”

DSCF0674

Ummm…

Discomfort?  Really?  No shit Sherlock.  My first thought was ‘do I really need instruction on how to shove something up my own ass?’   Well, as it turns out, I did.  As Greg put it to me as he handed me the impossibly long and menacing looking device and a packet of lube: ‘less is definitely more’, meaning don’t lube too much.  Again?  Really?  Because the miniature packet he handed me seemed impossibly inefficient for the task.  If left to figure it out myself, I would have emptied an entire barrel of the stuff onto the probe prior to insertion but, as it turns out, he was right.  Too much and it just slips and slides all over the place; everywhere but where it’s intended to go that is.  So, hey, what’ya know?  Just a little dab will do ya.  Who knew such wisdom could come from a 60’s Brylcream commercial?  It was still not without a whole lot of struggling and finagling on my part however.  It should also not go without mention that the listed risks in the consent form included – *ahem* – and I quote:

  • Insertion of the rectal probe can stimulate the vagus nerve which can cause slowing of the heart rate which may lead to fainting. This is more likely to happen if you have a low resting heart rate.
  • Perforation of the bowel can lead to peritonitis, a serious infection of the abdominal cavity.
  • You should not participate in this research if you are pregnant, are under the influence of alcohol or other sedating substances (tranquilizers, sleeping pills, street drugs) or have any history of fainting or heart disease.

To so say I was uber-careful and concerned mid-insertion would be the understatement of the century.  Wait, ‘vagus nerve’?  I have no idea what that is but I sure don’t want to find out the hard way.  But, regardless, eventually I managed to get it in there successfully and shuffle-stepped my way back down the hall from the change room to the lab (something I would later dub the ‘Shuffle of Shame’) in order to begin the madness.

Before we began, it must be said that they take into account absolutely everything.  Absolutely nothing passes through my pours or bodily orifices’ that isn’t officially accounted for.  Sweat, blood, pee, tears…you name it.  If I even so much as had a juicy thought pass through my brain, I’m sure they knew about it.  I was weighed about a zillion times not only before, but several time throughout the entire session; during and after.  Eventually, after a base sample of VO2 was taken, we were ready to begin.  Finally!

DSCF0646

and it only gets worse from here…

The first part of the session is easy enough, pedal at 50% of my VO2-Max for 90 minutes while having my weight and VO2 tested again by breathing into that damn tube and having my heart rate taken every 30 minutes.  At other times, I was required to provide subjective information on how I was feeling during the session as based on scales posted on four paper charts taped to the wall: ‘Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)’ or, how hard I was working, the ‘Thirst Sensation Scale’, how thirsty I felt, the ‘Thermal Comfort Scale’, how comfortable I felt under the circumstances, and the ‘Thermal Sensation Scale’  or, how I felt temperature wise.  Usually, they just pointed to the chart every fifteen minutes and I grunted out a number.  And so it goes for 90 very tedious, unstimulating, stab-a-fork-into-my-brain minutes of total boredom.  Afterwards, I was weighed again and asked to empty my bladder before being given a brief minute to brace myself for the all-out torture that was to follow.  By the way, ever try to piss into an orange container while wearing bib shorts and even then, only after sitting on a bike in a hot chamber for 90 minutes?  Talk about frustrating, it was like trying to masturbate with a catcher’s mitt.  Certainly not a high point on my short list of athletic endeavors, that’s for sure.

Then came the time trial and with it, the open gates of Hell.  And, no, that’s not exaggerating in the slightest.  Now, 20k may not seem like a whole lot but, when you’re already hot, thirsty and have absolutely no mental or visual stimulus to motivate you like – you know – scenery, like other riders, or a bike computer to display your pace, distance, wattage, cadence and what have you, that 20k tends to feel like an eternity.  And eternity is a long as time, I assure you.  Remember, this is what I look at not only for the time trial, but for the whole session.

Not exactly the Sunshine Calendar pin-up, is it?

Not exactly the Sunshine Calendar pin-up, is it?

Not exactly stimulating, is it?  I’m sure this what Lance Armstrong will have to stare at in Hell.

The only queues I get during the time trial are the kilometers being counted off one at a time.  So, it kinda goes like this:

“ONE!…TWO!…THREE!…”

"And, he's off!"

“And, he’s off!”

And then it begins to feel like time stands still.  Shit, it goes backwards.  I swear that from the third kilometer to the fourth, an entire day must have passed, with each progressive kilometer taking longer and longer to achieve.  And so it went for the entire 20 kilometers with every five minutes the need for another V02 sample by breathing through that damn tube as well as more information from the scales on the wall.  By the time it was over, it felt like weeks had passed.

I felt worse than I look, believe me.

I felt worse than I look, believe me.

What I remember most is coming off that bike nearly cross-eyed.  Seldom have I ever brought myself to the point of collapse and that’s about as close as I ever care to get, thank you very much!  All I wanted to do was plop my sweaty ass down again which is exactly what I did.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be finished something in my entire life.  I was so wobbly on my legs from extreme exhaustion and dehydration that when I shuffled across the lab to take a seat, I’m sure I won a dance completion of some sort.  I remember that drive home from the university campus (in St. Catharines) back to my home here in Ridgeway as being the longest drive of my entire life.  I felt abused…violated…and fatigued beyond anything I had ever felt before.  I felt almost empty…except for the sensation of still having a huge space occupying my asshole where the probe had been for the past 2+ hours.  But I digress.  Of course, this was just the familiarization session…I still had four more actual sessions to complete.  Little did I know that this was only the beginning (click HERE for an appropriate response).

DSCF0576When the next week rolled around I can honestly say I was less than excited to begin the official sessions.  I knew I could withstand the spin, the chamber, the probe, the time trial, etc. and so forth, but there was going to be a very notable difference, namely, the need to be infused with fluids (or not), as well as 20ml blood samples to be taken before periodically through the testing.  This required, on top of the multiple gadgets and gizmos that I was already hooked up to, the need for two IV catheters to be inserted (one in each arm).

Oh joy.

To such an end, I was introduced to another member of the team who had been so far absent from the other sessions, Vaughn, a local Advanced Care EMT paramedic who would literally be what I would come to think of as my guardian during the next three weeks’ worth of testing.  Fortunately, it has to be said, that Vaughn turned out to be just about the nicest, easiest going guy I have ever met.  I’m sure he could calm tropical storms simply by looking at them.  It was his responsibility to insert the catheters in each of my antecubital veins located in my forearms prior to being weighed, sampled, hooked up, lubed up, etc., and then oversee the drawing of blood and monitoring of fluids should I be getting them.  Based on his familiarity with my bodily fluids, Vaughn is probably more knowledgeable about me now than, say, my own girlfriend.  In fact, I think we might even be engaged.

Now, to my knowledge, whenever any is presented with the need to be perforated with an IV, they typically won’t respond with: “Oh boy!  Needles!”  Clearly, I am certainly not of this mindset myself as the thought of being hooked up to two IV’s simultaneously was, well, not ideal.  Needless to say, I stressed about this.  A lot.  However, Vaughn made this whole process as painless as possible by talking me calmly through the procedure and by the third session, I didn’t even mind this part so much.  Well, okay, I still hated it but I was a lot better at hiding it.  But in the beginning, well, not so much.  I labored over it and stressed about it and whined throughout the entire thing.  I hated it as was evident by the sky high blood pressure reading immediately afterwards before I hopped off the examining table to get into the chamber.  Regardless, I recovered well (I’m a trooper if nothing else) and we were always able to proceed as planned.

Yeah.  Fun?  Hells no!

Yeah. Fun? Hells no!

Blood samples were taken at the beginning of every session (as a baseline) and then every 30 minutes from the offset and every so often, he would fiddle with the IV bag that I was hooked up to.  Now, whether or not I was actually being infused with anything I have no idea as they put this big menacing black bag around it, again, to prevent from know, well, anything.  The idea for these tests was to manipulate my hydration status and thirst perception in a randomized fashion:

1) EU-NT. Euhydrated, or “normal fluid balance” (± 0.5% baseline body mass) and absence of thirst (based on subjective thirst sensation scale)

2) EU-T. Euhydrated and presence of thirst

3) HY-NT. Hypohydrated (~ -2% from baseline body mass) and absence of thirst

4) HY-T. Hypohydrated and presence of thirst.

DSCF0720

The ominous black bag

Now, the only real difference on my end regarding these states was my being able to rinse my mouth out with water to simulate the absence of thirst.  Not swallow, mind you, but RINSE.   But if I was receiving actual fluids at the time to aid me along in my suffering, God only knows; it all sucked equally and unequivocally.  And so it went for the next four sucktastic weeks.  While I can’t say my fitness or bike prowess improved at all over the course of these sessions, what I can say is that my mental toughness conditioning improved by spades.  I mean, cycling for two hours at a go (including the balls out time trial) while attached to a series of wires, electrodes and other scientific instruments was, well, medieval in nature.  If I can endure that, then I can endure anything and I still reflect back to these tests while suffering in my current spin workouts.

So what were the official results you ask?  Are they in?  Well, yes they are!  But I’ve been asked to keep them confidential for the time being until they are properly published and officially released to the athletic world, so I will follow up later once that has been accomplished.  I mean, I could tell you now, but then I’d have to run you over with my bike.  So you’ll just have to wait.

In the meantime, I have another opportunity in the very near future to participate in another unique series of tests and, while not being directly triathlon-related (or bike for that matter), I’m sure they are guaranteed to boost my mental toughness capabilities.  After all, that’s the theme for this year, right?  Besides, I’m sure it’ll make for a great resulting story and more than enough unflattering photos; the essence of any successful blog post.