The world of sport is a little greyer today with the loss of one of the toughest bad asses you’ve probably never even heard of; Jens Voigt.

Yes, Jens “Mr. Shut Up Legs!” (aka ‘Jensie’) Voigt has finally decided to retire from the sport of cycling at the ripe age of 42 (same age as me) after an exciting career spanning 17 years and yesterday’s final 7th stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge marked the occasion; alas, cycling’s undisputed ‘Breakaway King‘  is no more.

When I first started to get into cycling as a sport five years ago, I saw a Stage of the Tour de France where this guy pretty much sacrificed himself on the slopes of some French mountain for his team leader Andy Schleck (click HERE  to see). The announcers were making a big deal about the young rider Andy Schleck at the time faring so well in the race, but here’s this guy out front literally ‘burying himself’ as they say in cycling, to make all that possible.

Who is that?’ I wondered.

Here is this unremarkable looking guy absolutely suffering to bring his teammate (and Alberto Contador for that matter) up the side of a mountain and all the announcers can talk about is the on-going battle between the those two favorites. I made a mental note to learn more about this Jens guy.  Let’s talk ‘tough’ for a second: Voigt is known for his propensity to attack.  He is capable of repeated attacking, holding a high tempo, and breaking away from the peloton.  He has worn the yellow jersey of the Tour de France twice as well as the KOM (“King of the Mountain’ for you cycling noobs).  There’s lot of other titles and accolades of course but most notoriously, Voigt is as known for his fierce tenacity in competition as he is for his positive attitude.  You have to admire a person like that. 

I do anyway.

As far as ‘sporting idols’ go I don’t have many. Usually they are more of the off-beat athletes that I can better identify with; more for their personality and character than them simply being awesome. For example, I never cheered for Wayne Gretzky; I rooted for Charlie Huddy. ‘Who’s Charlie Huddy’  you ask?

Exactly my point. 

Charlie Huddy played on the revered championship Edmonton Oilers team of the mid-1980’s and present for all five of the franchise’s Stanley Cups. Of course everyone remembers Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Paul Coffee, Grant Fuhr and, of course, Wayne Gretzky…but Charlie Huddy? Who’s that?

As it turns out, Charlie was the team’s real go-to guy, being a versatile player that could basically fill in anywhere. Charlie was what I call a ‘work horse’, choosing to do whatever it was the team required of him rather than serve his own selfish purposes and letting the other players garner the majority of the spotlight. It is also worth noting that, at the time, not only was Charlie older than any of his teammates but he also spent more time on the ice than just anyone else setting up plays, defending leads, blocking shots and simply playing his balls off and doing as he was told. I respected that. Immensely.

I even have an old hockey card of Charlie Huddy to remind me of these virtues.

Later when I got into triathlon I gravitated towards the likes of Simon Whitfield. Not because of his Olympic gold medals, mind you, but because of his ‘never retreat never surrender’ attitude when it came to training, competition and, later, being a father. I appreciated the willingness to throw the odd ‘haymaker’ at life despite his age and, hey, when it worked, it worked. But when it didn’t he got back up, brushed himself off and worker even harder. I respect that kind of mental and physical discipline and that resiliency has stuck me over the past few years of my own triathlon training.

As I watched the Tour de France last year, the camera focused on a breakaway of three riders all going balls-to-the-wall. Two of the riders were clearly trying to simply endure the agony of pushing the pace so hard so late into the stage but, the other guy, here he was making silly faces and mugging for the camera. Yup, that’s Jensie! In an interview with the press later, he mentioned that he’d rather give the impression to his kids that daddy was having fun rather than being in the throes of all out agony. How can you not love the guy?  And that’s when I really started to take notice.

I figured out pretty quickly that Jens is a very likeable, down to earth and humorous guy as any YouTube video will indelibly prove. I read everything I could get my hands on and his column in our monthly Bicycling magazine, ‘Hardly Serious with Jens Voigt’, is the first thing I flip to when it comes in the mail. He is just so quotable. In fact, trying to list favorite Jens Voigt quotes would simply take up too much time and bandwidth and the fact that he is not known and adored by more sporting fans outside the cycling realm is a true crime. So for those of you who may not already be familiar with Jens awesome tough guy ‘bad assness’, here a list of 15 reasons why you should get to know him:

1.  Jens is a team player, a workhorse (In tour terminology, a ‘super-domestique’) who will never win a grand tour but rides every day with heart and desire that exceeds many tour champions.

2.  Jens just finished riding his 16th Tour de France, considered by many to be the toughest sporting event on earth (only two men have done 17 tours). Out of 15 starts, he’s reached the finish in Paris intact 12 times.

3.  Of the 20 men who have started The Tour past age 40, Jens is the oldest and chosen for the team for his strength of body not just his heart.

4.  Through the years, his physical fortitude – coupled with a relentlessly positive attitude – has helped turn him into cycling’s biggest cult hero.

5.  Jens contagious character and super-hero like feats has spawned tribute, “Chuck Norris” like website where fans contribute “Jens-isms.” Enjoy classics like,” Jens Voigt doesn’t age, he simply drops every year that catches up to him.”

6.  Jens has 66 victories as a professional and was once the world’s top amateur but, even at his peak, he did not have the climbing capabilities to challenge for overall victory in the world’s biggest stage races.

7.  Jens has ridden over 510,000 miles since he began racing competitively. That is enough to cycle around the world 20 times.

8.  Jens is what’s right about athletics: He rides not for money, nor fame, but for the love of it. He seems to relish every moment with gratitude, reverence and healthy sense of humor.

“It is the passion inside me that means I keep going,” Voigt added. “I love what I do and I think I am lucky to do it. When I am riding a quiet country road, I hear the birds singing and think ‘I am in my office now’.”

9.  Still one of the most elite cyclists in the world, Jens continues to train in the cold winter months of Germany—rather than traveling to a warm climate like most, because he refuses to leave his six children and wife alone.

“I have a wife and six kids at home in Berlin and I cannot just say ‘hey honey, listen I am going somewhere warm for a month to train, you all stay here where it is minus 10′. I am a family man and I have to find my priorities. “

10.  In the 2009 Tour Jens survived a horrific crash on a steep mountain descent, literally smashing face first into the asphalt and by sliding 20m down the road on his face – ON HIS FACE!  Let’s see your multi-million dollar Big League ball player do that!  He was airlifted to the hospital with injury and at an age where most men would have retired, Jens simply healed, and returned to ride every tour since.

11.  Jens has coined one of the most widely used motivational phrases in cycling, “Shut Up Legs!”  He actually is known to have this written on a part of his bike where he can see it.

“I tell my legs ‘just one more hairpin and then we will slow down’ but then I reach the next one and tell them the same again. Sometimes I am done – I would not be able to pull the skin off a custard – but my motto is to never give up.”

12.  In 2010, Voigt had another crash that left him with blood flooding out of a hole in his elbow and smashed his bike. Refusing to abandon the race he borrowed a small yellow child’s bike which he says made him look like “a bear riding a circus bicycle”.

13.  Because he said this about himself: “I hope I am allowed to say that the reason I am popular is because of the way I am, the way I race and the way I talk. I am just the old-fashioned, reliable guy and people always know I am after one thing:There is Jens. He will go in the breakaway’…

14.  In the 4th stage of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge (Tour of Colorado) a nearly 41 year old Jens executed the unbelievable feat of a solo break-away on Independence pass, riding alone, in the rain, into a head wind, for over 100 km, most of the entire stage to a better than 3 minute victory in Beaver Creek. Fuck anything Lance ever did, this was one of the most epic feats ever witnessed by one man on a bike.

15.  Speaking of Lance, Jens did it all without doping.

If you’ve tired of athletes, their egos, the doping… get to know Jens and get your faith in the human potential back. Jens is pretty much the opposite of everything that is wrong with professional sport. He’s a great athlete and an even better person who brings light and positive energy to his job each and every day or, well, he did anyway.   And I have no doubt that whatever his next steps are in this life they will be as equally amazing and I simply can’t wait.

Here’s an excellent Jens video summarizing his personality as a person worthy of respect:

 

People can keep worship the over-priced major leaguers, favorite MAA superstar, or whatever.  I’ll take guys like this any day.  These are the types of guys I strive to be. 

So long Jensie.  Enjoy the much deserved retirement.

Ode to my Water Bottles

Posted: August 22, 2014 in Equipment, Financial
Tags: ,

“See, if now I fly, you must follow;

Your cool spurting gifts, you soon must offer;

For if not, I will surely die;

Lost if not for your precious life force;

On the hot pavement of life…”

In case you didn’t immediately pick up on it – this is a love poem dedicated to my faithful water bottles.

Lord knows that I am a creature of habit.  I typically use the same workout clothes over and over again (clean – usually – of course), I follow a pretty set schedule as to which workout happens on which day and, yes, I use pretty much the same two water bottles.  Call me obsessive compulsive, call me overly loyal, or just call me plain stubborn, whatever, I literally use these water bottles every single day.

And these water bottles and I have been through a lot; four years of completion actually.  Not only does that include one Ironman, five Half Iron competitions and more Sprint and Olympic events that I can remember.

Okay, 15 Sprint and 5 Olympic…but who’s counting?

And it’s not just during these events that they get used either.  No sir!  These trusty companions have also endured more kilometers, time, and training workouts than I could ever calculate.  And, believe me, that includes lots of sitting proudly on the pool wall, or guarding my towel and car keys dockside during long swims, riding in my battle cages for thousands of long (and short) bike rides, and countless He-man sessions at the gym.  Oh, and then there’s the yoga and spin classes, car trips to and from stuff, sitting at my desk here at work (as well as at home) so, yeah, you get the picture.  I use these things a lot.

Too much I’m afraid.  I think I might be killing these things with love.

Sadly, for the past four years I knew this day would arrive as all good things eventually come to an end: my fat shorts, my favorite running socks, etc. – don’t even get me going on all the pairs of goggles and running shoes I’ve gone through (for whom the Bell tolls by the way). Let’s just say I can get pretty attached to stuff and these water bottles (i.e. ‘Pillars of Hydration’) might just be the hardest yet to part with yet.

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Here’s another pic of them in action:

Belly not included.

(Belly no longer included)

Aren’t they beautiful?

These water bottles came to me at exactly the same time I purchased Lucille from Enduro Sport in Toronto (five years ago).  They fit into Lucille’s bottle cages perfectly so you can see a lot of wear n’ tear on them; which are just beauty marks as far as I’m concerned.  In over five years of riding, they may have fallen out, maybe, twice.  And that was more likely due to my own error in returning them back into their cages mid-ride than anything else.

They are made of that soft squishy plastic – sorry to go all technical there on you – I like as opposed to those harder plastic bottles I find hard to use.  I hate having to fight with a water bottle to hydrate myself and if I need two hands to squirt its precious contents into my mouth then it’s more or less useless to me.

In an effort to combat the typical wear and tear and prolong the general life expectancy of these things, I have employed a rather rigorous cleaning regimen (click HERE) to limit the amount of mold buildup and therefore, hopefully, maintain their overall dispensing efficiency.

Regardless, the day of reckoning has finally arrived.

Keeping these bottles sanitary has now become a losing battle.  Their nozzles are leaky and the twist-on-top’s no longer keep a watertight seal so they don’t dispense water so much anymore as they serve as the mere vessel for ineffectually transporting fluids.  On my bike rides, the water splashes from their tops each time I hit a bump in the road and soaking me in the process.  Half the contents will squirt over my face and run down my chest into my bib shorts whenever I try to take a sip.  Furthermore, there’s about an inch of crusty funk built up around the inner lip no matter how often I scrub them (which, truthfully, isn’t as often as I should).

In short, it’s a lost cause.

But it’s not as easy as simply running out and buying more water bottles – oh no! That’s crazy talk.  I just can’t use any water bottle; it has to be the water bottle (there’s a huge difference)…and even then there has to be two of them.  If Enduro Sport wasn’t also a 2+ hour drive away I would just go back and purchase two more but, alas, I am too cheap to pay the gas simply to replace water bottles.

Believe me though, I did consider it.

So I’m on the prowl now to find the perfect replacements, or ‘substitutes’. I will call them ‘substitutes’ because these two Enduro bottles will always occupy a permanent place in my heart.

However, water bottles are something that the inner miser in me would never pay for.  I am a Tightwad Triathlete after all.  In the case of my Enduro sport bottles, they came free with the bike.

No. One has to come by water bottles freely, whether they’re earned or acquired it doesn’t matter but you never pay for water bottles.  I think it’s a law or something.

For shits and giggles, let’s review a few of the candidates currently in contention at my home:

1. The Big Move:

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I have volunteered with the organizers of The Big Move (100k) as the sweep rider for the past few years so I also have lots of these water bottles lying around.  Alright, I have exactly two.  Or I thought I had two anyway.  So maybe I only have this one. Whatever.

I use this bottle periodically and before that Kelly used it on her bike before she ‘purchased’ (yeah, I know) her own.  It fits into the bike cages well enough but they’re made of that hard inflexible plastic I hate so unless I can use both hands to squirt its contents into my mouth while riding, or somehow manage to work my suck into an industrial vacuum-like power, it is rather difficult to use. It can certainly be used periodically – like, at work or something – but it will never be part of my permanent rotation.

2. Ironman Gummies:

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The plus side here is that this water bottle is made of that soft squishy plastic I like since it’s really meant for kids (hence: Iron Gummy vitamins).   It also fits perfectly in my bike cages, which means I could easily use it while riding without any extra effort or care.  Likewise, the seal is fantastic so it doesn’t drip or leak, like, at all.  Sure it does have a rather childlike feel to it seeing as how it’s from a kid’s triathlon series but, hey, that’s as good a program to endorse as any.  It was however, supposed to be the kids’ water bottle and this kid likes to chew her nozzles.

Just look at this madness:

(WARNING: this following picture depicts scenes of graphic violence. Viewer discretion is strongly advised)

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Unfortunately, this is the only one of its kind in our possession that doesn’t also look like it’s been attacked by beavers. I will surely need to protect and preserve this one with straight up Diane Fossey type fervor…however, we definitely have a keeper!

3.  Whatever the fuck this thing is:

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Who the fuck knows where we got this thing from but it’s completely useless; needless to say it’s doesn’t leave the shelf very often.  Personally, while I see people (typically the older people) using these types of water bottle at the gym, I firmly believe they should never – ever – leave the house. Certainly not for a workout, like, anywhere! In this one and only case, style trumps cost.  Do us all a favor, unless your 90 years old, leave the shitty Rubbermaid on the shelf at the local DollarMart and spend the money something else.

This bottle is definitely OUT.

4. The Cancun 70.3 Souvenir Bottle:

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I kept a few of these bottles as souvenirs after my Cancun 70.3 competition back in 2011. It has the perfect ‘Swim, Bike, Run’ advertising on it and it definitely worked at the time but now, well, not so much. Its make-up and over all squeezeability’ is pretty cool but it only contains 400ml of fluid which is well under my usual hourly intake (550ml). So I would have to refill this thing a shit ton more just to keep my current hydration strategy alive and well.

Plus, it’s that ugly fucking orange color (or ‘persimmon’ which makes it sound even worse) is hard to accessorize around.

Sorry.   Won’t work.

5. The Canadian Tire special:

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Beats me how I came into possession of this bottle. It completely solid (i.e. you can’t squeeze it) and it doesn’t fit into my bikes bottles cages making it practically useless on the bike. Likewise, even though it’s measured out in ml’s which might be nice if I was, say, mixing a protein shake or something, for workouts it’s practically useless.   And, really, what the fuck is with that propeller thing on the top anyway?

Basically, this is the water bottle equivalent of any cheap ass water bottle you might find on the shelf in the ‘Kitchen Crap’ aisle at Canadian Tire. Pass.

6.  Don’t even get me fucking started:

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No.

7.  What the fuck is this thing anyway?

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Again.  No.

8.  The Tin Man:

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We use this to send the kid to camp with because they’re unless you’re backing over it with a tow motor, they’re practically indestructible.  Other than that feature, why do they even make metal water bottles anyway?  They’re impossible on the bike and pointless anywhere else.  In fact, unless you have this thing properly clipped onto your Outward Bound backpack while hitch-hiking around, say, Europe, or you’re planning on having to fend off marauding zombies, this type of bottle is just a huge, heavy, pain in the ass.  It should definitely never be used for a workout.

9.  Maybe at my desk perhaps:

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Not sure how this would work on the bike.

10. TryForce

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This is another type of souvenir bottle I got from my triathlon group.  In fact, I have a few of these.  Honestly, I do.  I should be using these bottles given I love my training group and whatnot, but I hate it.  It’s the same 400ml as that Cancun shit thing and it’s that hard plastic I despise, plus it also rattles in my bike cage which drives me nuts.  I want to love it – but I just can’t.

When I do use any of these bottles I inevitably feel like how Hugh Grant might have felt when he was caught cheating on the beautiful Elizabeth Hurley with the likes of Divine Brown – dirty.

Anyway, I am aiming to finish the season with my current two trusty and faithful Enduro bottles but, beyond that, the search will indelibly continue until the perfect two bottles are ultimately located, procured and otherwise assume a regular place in my daily training routine.

As I have alluded to in the past, I had another opportunity to step back into the Brock Kinesiology lab to participate in another series of tests and, consequentially, further develop my overall ‘mental toughness’ this year.  This time around the research dealt with the effects of heating and cooling on firefighters.  Yup, this means I got to dress up as a firefighter and live out the dream of every little boy on the entire planet including myself.  Seriously, who didn’t  want to be a firefighter growing up?

I got the email from Matt a few months ago inquiring if I was up to the challenge.  I like to think that he remembered me on account of my God like level of uber-fitness and total domination on the bike, but as I disclosed in my previous blog post during the Separate and Combined Effects of Hydration Status and Thirst on Voluntary Exercise Capacity’  study (click HERE) that, well, sadly, this wasn’t necessarily the case.  It was probably more along the lines of ‘who else would be stupid enough to do it?’, but I digress…

Whatever is was, I agreed immediately.  What can I say?  I like testing my mental fortitude in interesting and challenging ways; I’m a sucker for data and information about my current level of fitness; and maybe…just maybe…I missed having something stuck up my ass.  Who knows?  But, hey, they promised me a t-shirt…so how could I say no?

Anyway, this particular study went by the rather spiffy title of Effects of Cranial Cooling on Temperature, Ventilatory, and Perceptual Responses to Exercise in Fire Protective Ensemble’  (say that  three times fast).  The purpose of the research was to study the effects of cranial cooling during recovery on temperature and breathing responses during exercise with fire protective clothing ensemble.

When we exercise, our muscles produce heat.  If the heat can be released to the environment the body can “thermoregulate” itself and, theoretically, remain somewhat comfortable and functioning adequately.  The protective clothing used by firefighters traps the heat, which often results in a condition called “Uncompensable Heat Stress” (UHS).  In UHS, body temperature is elevated and work capacity can be severely impaired.  In order to reduce the effects of UHS, the study is seeking to explore countermeasures that help to cool the body either during exercise or during recovery periods.  This particular study was designed to evaluate the effects of a cooling strategy that pumps cool water through aspecial green balaclava-like hood that can be easily worn during recovery periods.  The testing for the study involves periods of hard exercise followed by recovery periods aimed at monitoring how this cooling strategy might affect body temperature and breathing.

What this meant for me in the long run (or short walk, if you will), is four separate parts scheduled over approximately two to four weeks.  The duration of each part will vary between 1.5 and 3 hours.  The first includes a ‘Graded Exercise Test’ (GXT) which measures my peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak) while walking on a treadmill wearing the full fire protective ensemble (FPE) and breathing with a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA); the second part is a practice familiarization session of two 20 minute periods of exercise and two 20 minute periods of recovery, complete with measurements on my core temperature (yes, this means the probe), skin temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, perceptions of effort, breathing and temperature stress, respiratory muscle strength, body weight, and urine specific gravity.  Sounds like fun, amiright?    Fortunately there was no need for blood samples so I wouldn’t have to undergo the whole IV insertion unpleasantness, so that’s good.  The next two parts consist of the actual study sessions identical to the practice trial; one trial will use the cranial cooling technique during recovery.

The initial explanation and consent form said this about the study:

“The exercise and heat stress experienced in this experiment will be challenging.”

This could quite well be the understatement of the century, but more on that later.

Day 1: The Graded Exercise Test

The GXT involved about 15 minutes of exercise on a treadmill where the exercise gets slightly harder every two minutes or so.  The treadmill speed is set at a normal walking pace and will not change throughout the test.  At the start the treadmill will be level but the grade will increase slightly every two minutes.  As the test proceeds the exercise gets more and more challenging until, eventually, I can’t go any further due to the extreme exhaustion.  At this point, they can determine my highest rate of oxygen consumption, or my VO2peak.

Here is a snippet from the consent form:

“The graded exercise test requires maximal effort in order to keep exercising until exhaustion. There may be some health risk with this type of exercise. During and following test, it is possible that you may experience symptoms such as abnormal blood pressure, fainting, lightheadedness, muscle cramps or strain, nausea and, in very rare cases, heart rhythm disturbances or heart attack.”

Basically, nothing I mightn’t experience on a typical Friday night anyway so, yeah baby, let’s get it on.

Getting to play dress up.

Getting to play dress up.

During the test, I was expected to be dressed in the full FPE and breathe through a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).  I will admit to being really excited for this part as, like I mentioned above, I had that typical firefighter fantasy as a child.  With some assistance, I was fitted into the rather heavy outfit complete with cotton shirt and pants, jacket, overalls, hood, tank, helmet and gloves.  In all, the entire ensemble adds an additional 22.5 kg (50 lbs.) of weight and therefore resistance to the workout.  Once I was successfully ensconced in my suit, I kind of felt like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man but, still, it was pretty cool.  Complete with the inhaling and exhaling sound through the SCBA gear, the whole getup reminded me of that classic horror B-movie scene where you see the psycho killer approaching the unsuspecting victim from the vantage point of looking through the eye holes of their mask.  The breathing especially is a bit challenging at first and the minimal visibility of the visor makes things rather claustrophobic.  Now I know how Anakin Skywalker must have felt behind the Darth Vader mask.

First all the usual body fat and weight measurements were taken.  If I ever see another pair of calipers again it’ll be too soon, let me tell you.  However, making things a little more awkward this time around was the PhD student in charge of the study was a girl named Maz and another assistant, Tyce, was from Brazil.  So, yeah, just what every insecure, aging, fat triathlete wannabe enjoys: having his folds of body fat scrutinized and recorded with attractive females in the room.

“Oh boy, can we?!”

Not.

Eventually, we were ready to begin.  Before the test started I was allowed to warm-up on the treadmill to get accustomed to being in my suit. Imagine walking normally on a treadmill.  No big deal, right?  Now imagine doing it while dressed in a 50 lb.  clown suit complete with head; the SCBA apparatus was particularly awkward and definitely took some getting used to.  Now imagine that while walking in that clown suit, somebody keeps increasing the grade on the treadmill every two minutes.  Still sound like fun?

It’s not.

Trying to stay positive.

Trying to stay positive.

Motivated by my meager “Good” result last time around, I was determined to do better.  I spent the first few minutes, 10 or so, focusing on my breathing and simply trying to get ‘in the zone’.  I focused on maintaining a strong and relaxed breathing pattern through my nose as I’ve learned to do when I start to get uncomfortable.  Every few minutes I was asked to give my rating on a series of scales posted to the wall in front of the treadmill including ‘RPE’  rating my physical exertion, ‘Breathing Stress’, how labored my breathing feels, and ‘Thermal Comfort’, or how my body was actually feeling in relation to the heat stress being placed upon it.  Other than those stimulating visuals to focus on, there was only the hand that would magically appear out of my peripheral to increase the treadmill grade one agonizing percent level at a time; there was none of the usual motivation stimuli to give you that added push.  Sure, the research assistants would offer the occasional praise or motivation but, truthfully, you couldn’t really hear them above the sound of my own labored breathing and the loud din of the oven’s fans overheard.  All you really had to egg you along was your own mental fortitude to keep going at all costs and this was fine for, say, the first 10 minutes or so.

By the 13-14 minute mark, I felt my composure begin to break down.  My breathing became labored through the SCBA gear and I had to break my steady walking pace into that of a light run against the ever-increasing grade while carrying all that gear.  By now it was a matter of survival and simply hanging on and my mental fortitude was beginning to wane.

Not too shabby this time around.

Exhausted but pleased.

Now, I’d love to tell you here that I had lots of inspirational thoughts going through my head as I did on the bike previously but, well, this was an altogether different feeling.  The only thing I really remember towards the end was simply counting the seconds down in my mind until I collapsed (or died) as I was definitely reaching critical mass.

At approximately the 17 minute mark, I had officially reached my ultimate end game for the test and I tapped out for good.  I collapsed into a chair while my overall results were calculated.  Turns out, my original VO2peak score of 41.51 ml/kg/min.  during November’s test had improved drastically to a 47.75 ml/kg/min.  now, which, is still 10-15% lower than what it would have been had I not been wearing that heavy firefighting gear.  That means my VO2peak score might have scored as high as 52-53 ml/kg/min.,  classifying me as almost “Superior” on the general VO2-Max classification for men my age (40-49); just a tad bit better than “Good”, huh.

Here’s the official results:

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Yeah.

Who’s your daddy?

That’s right, bitches.

Me.

Almost Superior”…sweet.  How fucking awesome is that?  I found it extremely reaffirming to know that the past months of training were paying off. So despite my present battered condition, I felt…well, pretty fucking awesome actually.

I won’t lie.

Day 2: The Familiarization

After the previous weeks GXT I can honestly tell you that I was less than excited for this trial session.  The novelty of getting to dress up in a firefighters outfit had long since passed and I more dreading having to get back into it, anticipating that this session was going to be much worse, like, way worse.  Remember, the exact term the PhD students used was “challenging”.

Now, the word ‘challenging’ itself isn’t very scary, nor does it ever phase me anymore, Lord knows I’ve done ‘challenging’ things, but the look in their eye when they used it actually sent chills down my spine.  As it turns out, this was the only ‘chill’ I would ever really experience the entire time I was in the lab (with the exception of the cold shower afterwards).  The look was like what you might get from a veteran when they talk about their experiences during the war.  They may say ‘bad’, but it’s almost spooky the way they say it.  You just know it was much worse than they are willing to say so you don’t press for specifics.  The way the lab assistants used the word ‘challenging’ was exactly like that; you just knew it was going to be much worse than they were able to say, except I didn’t know by how much…yet.

I did however take one piece of advice to heart from Phil (one of the PhD students) to make sure I was adequately hydrated so, for the next three days, I hydrated like it was my fucking job.  In fact, it was seldom I ever went more than 90 minutes without having to go to the bathroom.  In fact, I barely made the drive from my office to the Brock lab – a mere 20 minute commute – without pissing myself.  So mission accomplished there.

Getting ready...

Getting suited up…

The first 30 minutes or so in the lab were spent getting prepared and dressed.  This process included (among frequent trips to the bathroom of course) such things as being weighed, providing a urine sample (no problem there) to determine my hydration status, strapping on a heart rate monitor, attaching heat sensors to my body,and, yes, inserting that damn core thermometer (not to mention the dreaded ‘Shuffle of Shame’  from the change room afterwards).  I am pleased to announce though that the term ‘Shuffle of Shame’  has now been adopted by the kinesiology department as standard terminology for this short walk between the change room and the lab with a probe up your ass.

Again, from the consent form (just in case you missed it the first time):

“Core temperature will be monitored continuously during all practice and experimental trials. The system used for monitoring core temperature requires that you insert a small diameter, flexible plastic probe to a depth of 15 cm into your rectum.”

If ever a single sentence could strike fear into the hearts of men, this would be it.  Well, most men anyway.  For me, however, this whole insertion process was old hat and was more like getting reacquainted with an old friend (click HERE).  Well, maybe not an old friend so much as someone who used to bully you as a child perhaps, but you get the idea.   Let’s just say that this definitely wasn’t my first rodeo and if anyone needs any information or clarification on the proper procedure for shoving a probe up their ass – I’m your guy.

Probe?  OH BOY!

Probe? OH BOY!

All this was accomplished rather quickly and soon it was time to begin the trial and really open the floodgates…literally.

The first time I stepped into the environmental chamber (or the ‘oven’ as I likened to call it) back in November, the climate was set at 35°C with a relative humidity of 45% and bearing in mind that I was only wearing a typical cycling kit made of light, breathable materials.  Today’s session was about as far from that as you could possible get, like, eons apart.  Not only had the Velotron bike been substituted with a treadmill inside the oven itself, but while the temperature remained at35°C as it did before, the humidity had now been cranked way up to 65%.  Oh, let;s not forget to mention the added  50 lbs. of FPE.  Yeah, this was going to make my first foray into a hot yoga class years ago (click HERE) seem like a day at the beach by comparison.

Here’s how it was described in the consent form:

“The protocol will last approximately 100 minutes, and during this time you will walk on the treadmill for 20 minutes, recover for 20 minutes and then repeat the cycle. At certain times during the exercise and recovery we will measure heart rate, blood pressure, skin and core temperature, oxygen consumption, and breathing. We will also ask you to provide your perceptions of exercise, temperature and breathing stress using simple scales that are graded from “0” (no stress) to “10” (maximal stress).”

Sounds easy enough right?  Where’s the ‘challenge’ right?

The fuck.

Think happy thoughts.

Not so sure about this. Just think happy thoughts.

Prior to beginning the first 20 minute session I was asked to walk on the treadmill for 3 minutes at an easy 3.5km/h  pace at a 1% grade (2) which was approximately the equivalent to my grandmother walking to market.  It was just an opportunity to get moving comfortably, well, as comfortable as possible with all that FPR and SCBA gear anyway and get used to breathing through the SCBA.  Immediately following the warm up, it was the ‘ol familiar “THREE…TWO…ONE….”

and the gates of Hell were opened once again.

Each of the actual 20 minute trials were programmed into the treadmill at 5.6km/h  for a 4% grade (5.6) incline. It’s work, but barely.  What was making it difficult (as you might expect) was carrying that50 lbs. worth of added weight and those preset hotter than fuck atmospheric conditions.  Soon, I was sweating like the pig who knows he’s dinner.  Every 2 or 3 minutes the research assistant (Bryan) asked me for my subjective perceptions based on those scales posted the wall in front of me, just as I had done during the GXT test the previous week.

I have to say, the first 20 minutes wasn’t bad.  Sure it was hot, yes I sweated my bag off but, really, it wasn’t overly difficult.  Following the first session I was allowed off the treadmill and cool down passively in a chair.  By ‘passively’ they simply mean remove my helmet, hood and gloves.  That’s it.  Big deal.  I was hoping for maybe a cold beer or a margarita, a Slip n’ Slide maybe, anything that might offer me some relief from the intense heat and humidity.  The good news was that I was half way done and just beginning to think that this wasn’t going to be too bad.  Yeah, right.

Following the 20 minutes cool down I stood up and immediately, things got ‘challenging’.  Oh shit.  My neck was sore from supporting the helmet and I felt lightheaded and disorientated and not at all like putting all that shit back on and climbing back on the treadmill.  Furthermore, while I was a bit more comfortable, it was clear that my body was still very hot and the thought of putting the hood, helmet and gloves back on was not a happy one.  About this time, Phil had a conversation with me about their expectations to only ‘do as much as I can’; but there was that faraway look in his eye again.  Determined to make a go of it, however, I staggered back on the treadmill and allowed the researchers to put all that shit back on.

Maz takes a selfie while I'm suffering in the background.  Can't you just feel the love?

Maz takes a selfie while I’m suffering in the background. Can’t you just feel the love? She may be happy with my progress but, clearly, I am not.

The second session began with the same 3 minute warm up, except that by the time the second 20 minute trial was ready to start it was like my body was on fire.  So this is what a pot roast feels like? I can’t say I liked it…like, at all.  I tried as best as I could to regularize my breathing and clear my mind of negative thoughts but, seriously, there’s little one can do to calm themselves when they’re being roasted alive.  My mask started to fill with perspiration so that each time I exhaled I was splattering the inside of my face mask with droplets of sweat and my hands felt like somebody was applying a blowtorch to them inside the gloves.

Seriously, this  is what firefighters have to deal with?  Hol-lee fuck!  It was all I could do at this point to trudge on as best I could and wait for the sweet release of death to rescue me from this agonizing torment.

It’s safe to say that I have never experienced anything like this before…and I have done some crazy as shit.  This, however, was completely different.  If my initial goal for this study was to find a new way to test my mental toughness, well, I need look no further as this was about as tough as its ever going to get.  It was excruciating; words simply cannot express.  The only way I could ever communicate my perceptions of stress levels was by holding up fingers and even then, that was effort. Phil’s words ‘you can quit whenever you want’  were resonating in my brain but I trudged on.  I knew at this point that making the whole second 20 minute session was slim to none as I was feeling faint, my vision was beginning to blur and I was getting sick to my stomach.  It was hard to breathe and my organs were cooking.  I almost tapped out 2 or 3 times but, somehow, I managed to carry on with my Death March.  ‘One more minute…one more minute…one more minute…’ was the only think I could think of.

Am I looking glamorous or what?

“Hello, dum dum’s”. Am I looking glamorous or what?

When Bryan counted out the 10 minute mark I knew I was 99.9% spent.  By eleven minutes I was done and finally tapped out.  By this point I was ready to chew through my helmet in panic and they couldn’t get it off fast enough.  They quickly ripped it off (albeit not quick enough for my liking) and a tidal wave of sweat was instantly released out of the helmet and onto the treadmill; so much so it splashed my running shoes.  It was like a water balloon had been dropped out of the helmet.  I was allowed to sit again, this time with a green cooling hood that kind of made me look like the Great Kazoo…not that I gave a shit mind you.  It was bliss.

Including the initial 3 minute warm up I lasted a total of 14 minutes.  Now that may not seem like a lot of time but, I assure you, it’s an eternity in those fucked up conditions – or so it felt anyway.  It was a while before I felt comfortable enough to stand up again and disrobe and it wasn’t without a great deal of help that I managed to get out of my FPE and SCBA gear; I might as well have been a newborn infant for all the assistance I could provide.  My cotton shirt and pants were completely saturated with sweat.  It looked like I had jumped into a pool and they made the same sound that a wet towel makes when it hits the ground after being dropped from a height…SLOP!

Feeling lucky to still be alive.

S Feeling lucky to still be alive.

To put it all in proper perspective, before the trial started I weighed in at 88.16 kg, afterwards… 85.96 kg., which represents a total loss of 2.2 kg (4.8 lbs.) in a mere 37 minutes.  Yeah.  That’s insane.  I do believe that’s a new lab record for sweat loss.  And since I’m seldom ever setting ‘records’, per se, I’m choosing to take it and run with it.

Here’s the evidence:

And right there, folks, is a whole lotta nasty.

And right there, folks, is a whole lotta nasty.

Gross, right?

Anyway, all the sensors were then removed which, I might add, is much easier to do when you’re completely dripping with sweat.  The tape practically leapt off my body in protest.  I was asked to provide another urine sample (I’m actually surprised I had any fluids left) before I was allowed to remove the probe (which, is much worse than putting it in – go figure) and cut loose with an earth-shattering fart, or ‘fartgasm’ as I will now call it (let’s see if that term catches on at the lab).  Oh, and I had what might very well be the best cold shower I’ve ever had.

Not that I care to relive it any, but here’s a brief glimpse for you of the trial itself in progress (pardon the shitty sound of being in the oven):

 

Day 3 – Experimental Protocol 1

To say I wasn’t looking forward to the next days experimental protocol would be an extremely accurate statement; so would ‘I’m as excited to get back in the oven as I am to get a root canal’.  Truthfully, I’d rather just be hogtied to the treadmill and have the research students take turns kicking me in the junk but, hey, I’m going to persevere and get this done just as I agreed to come Hell or high water, which, in my case, are almost practically guaranteed.

After the last weeks’ familiarization session, the first thing I recall is having one serious appetite…like, ravenous.  Seriously, on top of the leftover sandwiches I was offered in the lab, I could have easily made short work of any buffet table I might have encountered had I been given the opportunity.  I mean there’s ‘hungry’ and then there’s HUNGRY, and I was definitely HUNGRY.  Secondly, I was probably more tired than I’ve ever been in my entire life.  Not just the typical kind of fatigue I experience after my other workouts and events, but the ‘holy shit, I can barely remember my name’  kind of fatigue; I could have slept for weeks and I was practically useless at work the next day.  I didn’t really work so much as I just stared blankly into the computer screen.

The good news is that I know now what they mean when they say ‘challenging’.  String Theory is ‘challenging’; following the plot to Inception  was ‘challenging’; running a marathon is definitely ‘challenging’.  This was torture…pure and simple.  So while I was still nervous about the days protocol, I felt I was more mentally prepared than I was the week before and I was determined to give ‘er, even if for only one minute longer.

For that particular protocol the girls took over applying the blood pressure cuff and all the heat sensors to my pudgy body with tape, and afterwards helping me to get dressed; definitely not one of the finer moments in my life.  I guess they have to learn somehow by talk about awkward!   The indignities we lab rats subject ourselves to.  Within minutes, however, I was all fixed up, attached to all my bodily devices, dressed in the FPR and SCBA gear and ready to get my sweat on.  It’s evident how nervous I was when my first blood pressure reading came in at 155/91.

Here we go again...

Here we go again…

Although I had been through all this once before, it was almost worse this time around knowing what was going to unfold.  Ignorance is definitely bliss.  During the previous week’s familiarization session it had all been revealed how incredibly difficult today’s protocol was going to be; Pandora’s Box had been indelibly open.  I knew now how challenging that days session was going to be.  It was going to suck on a proportionately epic scale.

Whatever fun we might have had last week with the joking and humorous back and forth banter was now tossed directly out the window and I was beginning to focus myself on the task at hand…survival.  It was go time.  It was really no different than the moments before any major triathlon events, all is silent as the participants ready themselves mentally and put their game faces on.  The mood in the environmental chamber got serious…fast.  After getting squared away on the treadmill I was asked if I was ready to begin and I gave a very nervous thumbs up and within seconds the countdown started, “THREE…TWO…ONE…”

…and my return to Hell started.

Much like the previous week, the first 20 minutes were manageable and were completed fairly quickly.  I mean, it was hot and it sucked but it was doable.  Unfortunately, today’s protocol was passive cooling (no cooling hood), so my subsequent 20 minute “cool down” (and I use that term extremely loosely) was going to be passive (i.e. no hood).  My body was so hot and uncomfortable.  As part of the cool down I was offered a water bottle with only 200 ml  of water to sip on; in impossibly small amount given the nature of what I had just completed.  It’s like offering someone who’s just crossed the Sahara Dessert a Dixie cup.  But I made due by rationing my meager portion accordingly and resisting the urge to dump the entire contents over my head.

Simply hanging on...

Just hanging on…

While sitting, my blood pressure was retaken a few more times which was extremely unpleasant given my current state.  Each time the blood cuff was inflated, I could feel my heart beating in my teeth.  My fingers tingled to the point of extreme discomfort and I felt like crying out in pain.  I just can’t articulate how discomforting it is to have your blood pressure taken when you’re hotter than Hades and feeling cranky and uncomfortable.  It’s brutal.

I also have to say that sitting idly for 20 minutes is almost as unpleasant as walking on that damn treadmill.  You become keenly aware of all the sweat dripping down your body and pooling into your shoes.  Within the first five minute the towel I was given was completely saturated.  Likewise, knowing how intensely shitty the second 20 minutes is going to be its rather like waiting to be executed by a firing squad.  Not fun.  You just want to get up and get it over with, but you don’t.  It’s a total mixed bag of emotions.

Once the cool down session is over, the next two minutes are also particularly ‘challenging’ (insert faraway look in the eye here).  Immediately upon standing, all the blood that has been running to your legs immediately rushes back up to your head and you become extremely disorientated and dizzy.  You almost want to quit altogether at this point as it’s hard to imagine continuing doing, like, anything.  All you want to do is lie down, preferably in a Turtle Pool full of beer…ice cold beer.  But what choice do you have?  So you allow yourself to get suited up again, slip that fucking mask over your face and before you can protest it’s “THREE…TWO…ONE…”

…and you’re off.  Let the Big Suck commence.

Eventually, the queasiness passes and after the initial 3 minute “warm up” (I guess it goes without saying that this is another understatement of supernova-like proportions) on the treadmill we begin the second 20 minute session.  At first, it’s not so bad.  I’m still hot and uncomfortable but, again, it was manageable.  I was beginning to think that I might be able to make the distance this time so I tried to focus on anything but the burning sensation in my gloves, the sweat pooling in my mask, the soreness in my neck from supporting the helmet and the ever rising temperature rising inside the suit. 

Remember, this is all I have to look at for the entire session:

The view from within.

The view from within.

Not very stimulating is it?

Fuck no.

After, say, the first 10 minutes into the second session what little confidence that had started to build suddenly began to crumble…rapidly.  It’s incredible to me how fast your mental and physical state can deteriorate in the oven.  I actually started to pray.  It’s true.  I would have happily converted to just about any world religion at the time had it provided me with any actual relief.  Shit, I would have sacrificed my firstborn to the Dark Lord himself had someone offered to save me from this torment.  As the heat and discomfort continued to escalate and my breathing became more difficult I asked my mom for strength, I continued to recite what few verses of prayer I actually know and genuinely tried to convince myself that I only had another 10 minutes left…I can do anything for only 10 minutes right?  How wrong I was.

A single minute later (which still felt like an eternity), Maz reminded me that I had reached last week’s tap out time (11 minutes) and to keep it going.  She reminded that I still had lots of oxygen and to try and breath comfortably but by that point it was all to no avail…I was cooked.  Quite literally!  I was growing desperate.

By 12 minutes I was reaching my critical mass again.  My breathing was extremely labored and I had that pot roast feeling again.  Just…hang…on…

At the 14 minute mark (17 minutes including the warm up) I tapped out.  Same as the familiarization session, the researchers scramble to get me out of the gear.  It’s an ‘all hands on deck’ kind of deal, all scrambling simultaneously to release me from my confines as if my life depended on it which, truthfully, it certainly felt like.  I didn’t even make it through the next 20 minute “cool down” session, after my blood pressure was taken (which I’m surprised didn’t explode off my arm) I begged to get out…like, begged.  It was right out of Oliver Twist, pleading eyes and all.

“Get me…out…of…here…like, NOW!”

I was nice about it, of course, but still very insistent I’m sure.  I just wanted out badly as I’m sure you could tell from this video:

 

Taking off the tank and jacket might just be the most joyous thing I have ever experienced; I swear, angels sang.  I stripped out of my drenched clothes down to my skivvies (running shorts) in what must have been the unsexiest striptease ever attempted.  I’m sure the girls are probably scarred for life now and I couldn’t care less.

Oh, and yeah:  Mental Note to Self: NEVER step on the core probe wire as you’re trying to undress.

Ouch.

The final measurements were then taken and consistent with the previous week I had expunged a complete tsunami of bodily fluid; this time exactly 2 kg (4.4 lbs.) of sweat during the 40 minutes of testing.  Yay me!  Not quite the achievement I had been looking for originally but I’ll take ‘em wherever I can get ‘em.

Day 4 – Experimental Protocol 2

It is with mixed emotions that I begin the next  protocol session.  Where I wasn’t at all thrilled to go back into the oven (never mind the core probe, heat sensors, FPE, etc.), I was extremely pleased that this would be the last time I had to do it.  Likewise, knowing I was also going to be allowed to wear the cooling hood this time around that that will make things in the oven marginally more comfortable and (dare I say it) less ‘challenging’.

By then I had the whole pee, weight and probe routine down pat.  I’m certainly beyond the embarrassment and indignity of having my chubby frame taped up and affixed with sensors and what have you, so with little difficulty I was all dressed rather quickly and ready to roll.  You could say I was pretty eager to get this last torture session over with…pronto!  I guess my mindset was similar to the common philosophy for removing a band-aid…STRAIGHT OFF!

I was determined to make the distance this time, well, I’d be happy with one minute longer anyway.  To help, I decided to take matters into my own hands and provide my own motivation aside from those damn scales taped to the wall:

I give you:  Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Of course, Maz wasn’t too impressed.

So much for that!

Boo! So much for that.

Similar to before the first 20 minutes went by pretty smoothly.  There was a little complaining from Thunder n’ Lightning given I ran 17k the day before but, other than that, things went pretty uneventfully.  Helping matters along, of course, was knowing that I was going to spend the next 20 minutes during the cool down session wearing the cooling hood.  So upon finishing the first test session, I took a seat and allowed the hood to be applied and just reveled in the instant relief it offered against the roasting feeling in my body.

I also took the advice from another peer who is also doing the test, to raise my legs on an incline against the treadmill to help prevent the blood running to my feet and then back to my head afterwards when I stood back up and, hopefully, avoid the whole nauseous light-headed feeling again.

So there I sat, legs raised, Nalgene bottle in hand, and pretending I was looking at this:

Awesome right?

Awesome right?

Of course, this is what I was actually looking at:

Yeah, not so much...

Yeah, not so much…

Once again…quite the let down.  But what can you do?

Truthfully, the cooling hood really helped improve my recovery and I definitely felt more comfortable for the first cooling session.  If my body was still roasting (and apparently it was) I couldn’t really notice.  I was beginning to think that maybe my next 20 minute test session was going to be a bit easier, then Maz explained to me that, physiologically speaking, while I might feel better now, the test was rigged in that ergonomically it was still going to be ‘as challenging’ during the second test session.  My positive can-do attitude began to shatter around me like breaking glass.

Thanks Maz.

Making matters a bit worse is that the cooling hood started to fail.  I felt completely ripped off.  For 4-5 minutes it lost its cooling properties and my normal sense of heat discomfort began to return.  Thanks Christ Phil got it all sorted out pretty quickly and I had the remaining time of my cool down in relative comfort, but then it was back to the grindstone I’m afraid.

Fortunately, my legs up strategy worked and when I stood up I felt relatively good and I didn’t need that extra moment to collect myself.  I had the hood, helmet and gloves put back on and began the process of mentally preparing myself for the complete Suckfest to come.

Eventually Bryan counted me down: “Exercise to begin in THREE…TWO…ONE…

…and here we go again.  God help me.

Just as Maz explained, the heat returned rather instantly; so much for my whole physiological argument.  Don’t you just hate it when girls are right?

Just...keep...going...

Just…keep…going…

Anyway, I labored on just as I had before and the suck factor ramped up quickly to nearly unbearable.  After the 12 minute mark my breathing started to become labored through the SCBA gear and I heard Maz whisper to Bryan that it probably wouldn’t be long now.  How I ever heard that I’m not sure; maybe some super natural presence wanted me to hear it.  I gave her a look and shook my head…whether she had understood or not that I had overheard her I’m not sure.  I wasn’t angry exactly, but I definitely more determined than ever to suffer.  14 minutes was my benchmark to aim for and as it approached I was trying to mentally assess how much longer I could go.  At exactly the 16 minute mark, I made the mental choice I was going to go for broke and shoot for the 20 minutes, if anything to prove Maz wrong.  Hey, in this kind of experiment you simply take your inspiration wherever you can get it.

Now, I know what she mentioned to Bryan was not intended for me to hear, nor was it a challenge or pre-determination on my ability.  She was only basing it on her past experiences and observations with us lab rats in the oven under these circumstances, as any significant increase in breathing difficultly typically spells out the beginning to the end.  I get it.  In fact, by the 18 minute mark I was beyond suffering.  The torment was almost surreal and I almost tapped out twice.  My ‘RPE’  was 19, my ‘Breathing Stress’  was maxed out, and my ‘Thermal Comfort’  was definitely a 9 to boot, or ‘The heat is unbearable’  according to the rating system. In other words, I had pretty much maxed out across the board and it sucked.  It sucked bad.  This was making my whole experience with the heat and humidity during the Cancun 70.3  competition seem like a walk at the water park.

For whatever reason, I thought about this from the consent form:

“If you become ill or injured as a result of participating in this study, necessary medical treatment will be available at no additional cost to you.”

It did considerable little to comfort me.

By this point, however, Bryan was counting down my time in 30 second intervals and I was simply taking it one painful interval at a time.  The last two minutes were brutal and were far beyond any realm of discomfort I have subjected myself to in any of my previous training or competitions. In fact, simply being flogged for an hour would have been infinitely more pleasurable and preferable.  Words simply cannot express.

Eventually, I reached the 20 minute mark and there was an all out panic to get me out of my FTE and SCBA gear.  I swear, I could not get those gloves off fast enough.  The feeling of air, regardless of how hot and humid it was, was still an immediate relief once the mask came off.  I was spent.

I was pleased to have finally made the entire 20 minutes but I was barely cognizant of that fact at that exact moment.  It was rather like being rescued from a bad dream in that everything was still very surreal.  The consequence however was that I was 100% broken mentally, physically and emotionally.  It was a few minutes before I could really stand or communicate effectively.  All I could really do was bury my face in my hands and thank Christ it was finally all over.  Luckily, when you’re that sweaty nobody can instantly tell if you’ve been crying or not.  I’m confident that sweat was not the only liquid that poured from my helmet, believe me.

I think the end results tell the true tale: another 2 kg (4.4 lbs.) of sweat lost during the testing.  Now, how much of that was actually lost in tears will forever remain a mystery.  I have never been so happy to be finished anything in all my life.  This was definitely harder than anything I’ve ever subjected myself to.  Shit, even the 35 kilometer mark of the Ironman Wales marathon was more bearable than this.  I could probably spend a month in a Turkish prison at the height of their summer season and say, ‘Hey, at least it’s not the oven at the Brock University kinesiology lab.’

See how happy I am?

See how happy I am?

 So, that’s that.  My time in Hell is finally over.  Based on my time in the oven (as well as others), the lab researchers were able to determine that….well, I’ll have to blog that when the results get officially published.  In the meantime, I’m back focused on my training and preparing myself for September’s competition.

What about future testing you ask?  Well, I’ve already volunteered for the next two series of lab experiments beginning in July and November respectively.  Maybe I lost a little a few marbles through this experience, but I really do enjoy testing my limits and seeing the quantifiable results afterwards.  Plus, by now I’ve developed a rapport with the researchers and I take great pride in having some part in them completing their studies (however small a part suffering on a treadmill provides I guess).  So while I won’t say I’m necessarily excited to get back in the lab, I will do so happily when the time comes.

Besides, after this total horror show, how bad could it really be?

P.S.> I am also happy to report that I got my promised t-shirt.  Yes, it might be for the Edmonton Fire Department but, shit, I’m thrilled nonetheless.  After all, a well-earned trophy is a well-earned trophy.

So apparently I am no good when it comes to going to these competitions on my own. With Kelly, we get there and organized and I get twaddle off to the starting line successfully, on time, feeling good. On my own, I have the logistical prowess of a newborn baby deer. You might remember my last epic fail when I tried to do something like this in Woodstock last year, so it’s safe to say that today’s planned Toronto Island Lake Swim didn’t, well, let’s just say it was the hardest swim I’ve never actually done.

Come; let me regale you with tales of my extreme dumbassery.

Yes it’s a word.  Look it up.

Anyway, I woke up Saturday morning at 5:45am on the dot (otherwise known as “stupid o’clock”  in our house) to make a breakfast of scrambled eggs and coffee. I’m usually not this ambitious in the morning, but I’m not usually waking up to swim 3.8k in the lake most mornings either. I like to allow for time to let it all settle and drop a bomb in the bathroom before I get on the road to the competition; no muss, no fuss…easy as falling off a log really. And this morning was really no different, just up a bit earlier.   I had already packed my wetsuit and gear (not that swim goggles and a towel really counts as ‘gear’) in anticipation of the early departure (post-bomb, of course) so I was out the door and moving comfortably (and satisfyingly empty) by 8:30am heading for Toronto. Everything was going according to plan.  I was going to do this. How hard could it be?

The trip to Toronto was pretty uneventful and I found parking fairly easily and mad my way to the Jack Leighton ferry terminal. I have never been to Toronto Island before, but the emails from the organizer I had been getting mentioned that there would be accurate signage and lots of “Toronto Lake Swim Volunteers” to point me in the right direction. Again, easy right?

I have to say, it’s kind of fun to take a ferry and as much as I’m not a fan of Toronto or big cities anymore, the skyline from the ferry is pretty impressive. Here is my obligatory tourist ferry pic:

The obligatory tourist shot.

The obligatory tourist shot.

Okay, here’s one more from the island:

Okay, make it two.

Okay, make it two.

My first inkling that something might be amiss is that I didn’t notice any other, well, ‘swim types’ on the ferry. There seemed to be a complete lack of dry bags, wetsuits, competition t-shirts, etc.. It was just all baby buggies and knock-off designer bags as far as the eye could see. I didn’t let this worry me though as it was only a small event (less than 300 people) so I’m sure the athletes were just blending in and I went back to enjoying our taxi ride over to the Island.

The ferry disembarked directly on Center Island, or the main focal point of the island. I looked for some signage as to I go next but, huh, nothing. Then I looked for these volunteers – again, nothing. Huh. I started to get that sinking feeling in my gut.

The instructions I had printed out told me to make my way for the ‘Center Island Pier’, so I located it on a nearby site map and began the 5-10 minute trek over to what I hoped was the staging area. Again, along the whole way there I saw nary a potential “athlete” aside from the casual joggers who , clearly, had a different agenda. I was starting to get nervous. I checked my watch and it was 10:40am; so there was just another 5 minutes to get signed in – my heat wasn’t scheduled to begin until 11:50am though as it had been pushed back to accommodate for the anticipated cold temperatures and wind (more on that shortly. I quickened my pace anyway just a little.

Up to this point, I had still seen absolutely nobody that might be participating in an open water swim. In fact, there didn’t seem to be anybody in the water, like, anywhere. Not surprising given how chilly it was out, but open water swimmers are beasts so I tried to maintain the face that I would arrive at the pier and be instantly welcomed by my fellow loony lake swimmer brethren.

And finally I arrived at the pier, aaaaaaaaand…nothing. Like, nothing. Not a thing. No wetsuits, no registration tent, no signs, no buoys, no turnaround points, no timing chip booths…nada. In fact, the pier was pretty much deserted. My heart did one of those flip-flops. Uh oh!

I approached a bored looking lifeguard and asked about the “Lake Swim”. He looked at me blankly. Clearly, he had no idea about any lake swim, or swim meet, or anything of the like.

“Well, it’s really rough out there today. Maybe they moved the course to the east side of the island at Ward’s Beach. It would be more protected out there”, he suggested.

I vaguely remember an email mentioning that the course had been ‘altered’ to accommodate for the rough water conditions, so I was hopeful that this was in fact the case, so I asked to be pointed in the direction of Ward’s Beach. “It’s down that way”, said the lifeguard as he pointed eastward down the walking trail.

How far could it be, right? I’m on an island for Pete sakes!

I found another island site map and was instantly dismayed to learn that Ward Beach was exactly 3 km’s away.

I was already short on time, so I synched up my knapsack with my wetsuit and gear and started jogging for east end of the island. By now it was after 11:00am, I had missed the official registration period, and I still had 3 kilometers to get there. My heart beat began to rise as the panic began to set in; and I was off running down the trail.

In what might have been record time for me to cover that distance in flip-flops, I arrived at Ward Beach to…nothing…UH-gain.

Shit!

There were some retirees, some fishermen, a few people spread out on beach towels reading, a lazy cyclist or two but, otherwise, nothing or anyone to suggest that a swim meet was about to take place.

I started t craft some’ hate mails’ to the event organizers in my head thanking them for all the ‘signage’ and ‘volunteers’, n’ shit. Shit, at the time I was probably blaming them for homelessness, world poverty and the depleting ozone to boot – I was that livid.  Here I had driven two hours in morning traffic, paid $25 for parking, another $7 for the ferry and it was now beginning to dawn on me that the chances of me ever competing in this thing were fading quicker than Justin Bieber’s teen idol status.

It’s true, I was pissed.

At that point, a fire fighter named Troy drove by and I flagged him down to see if he knew anything about the swim. I got the same blank stare and I wanted to scream. Didn’t anybody know about this thing? Troy was actually a top-notch guy and offered to look up the swim’s website to see if any course changes had been made. After all, it was “pretty rough out” he reminded me.

Then I heard those four dreaded words which made my heart retract down into my nut sack:

“What’s the date today?”

I hesitated. “Saturday, the 17th?, I offered hopefully.

I knew what his next response was going to be and Troy gave me that look that said: “Congratulations dumbass. It’s tomorrow.”

Double fuck.

Somehow, someway, I managed to screw up the dates on my calendar. Even though the 17th had been squarely looking at me from the top of the photocopied email instructions I had been carrying, I had placed the event in my calendar at home on the 16th.

Let the dumbassery commence.

I was gutted. I had spent the better part of a week scheming to find someone of babysit the child so I could make the trip to Toronto to do this thing and, now, after nearly $37 spent already in getting here (never mind the price of gas or the original registration fee), there was no event.

Yes, I’m a dumbass.

Well, ‘fuck this shit, I’m swimming anyway’  I thought to myself, so I wandered back to the Center Island pier. Maybe I could still do the course on my own and recoup my day’s plans for an open water swim.

The lifeguard greeted me again and when I inquired if I could go out, he told me the water temperatures and current conditions had pretty much closed the swim course for the time being. “It’s too rough today”, he said. Not surprising I guess as waves were crashing over the breaker wall just beyond the beach. For the past two days or so, the swim’s organizing committee had been sending out regular updates to this effect: “cold weather conditions…high waves…wind warnings…blah blah blah”. It was most certainly not going to be fun, I got that. But then the lifeguard offered a glimpse of hope:

“You could try further down the island at Gibraltar Point”.

So Gibraltar Point it is…just another 2 kilometers away in the opposite direction.

I started walking.

When I got there, the water conditions definitely did not look any more favorable. In fact, there were big waves rolling into the beach and over another short breaking wall stretching out into the lake to the east. There was no one else on the beach aside from two, very bored looking lifeguards.

I asked them what were the chances they’d let me in to swim.

“It’s pretty rough”, they said. I rolled my eyes at them on the inside.

“Yes, I know. I’m okay with that”, I replied.

“It’s cold too”, they warned.

Yes, I’m okay with that as well. I brought a wetsuit so I’ll be good”, I replied again. I was practically pleading by this time.

“Well, okay. I guess. Maybe I’ll just go out with you in the boat”, one of them said.

“Deal”.

I was just excited to get the approval to go out. The problem was, that even though they were going to let me out, Gibraltar Point only existed as a small beachhead between a white marker on the left, and the breaking wall to the east…maybe 350m apart…at best.

In other words, from here:

Point A (west)

Point A (west)

To here:

Point B (east)

Point B (east)

Yeah, not much of a swim really, but I didn’t want the day to be a complete loss so I started to get into my wetsuit while the lifeguard prepped the boat and made her way out into the surf. Likewise, from the pictures above the water doesn’t really look very choppy, right? Well, believe me, they were. I was told later by the lifeguard that in her opinion, the swells were approximately 3ft. in size.

The first thing that hit me however, was the frigid water temperature. Upon my first few steps out into the water my feet turned into frozen TV dinners and I almost packed in my plans right then and there. Of course, by now the lifeguard was out in the boat so I was pretty much committed by this point. I summoned up my best tough guy façade, put my face in the water and started to paddle for the white marker on the left. Almost, instantly, I had brain freeze…over my entire body.

Fuck! This was cold!

I’ve been pretty spoiled swimming in the warm waters of the Flatwater Center this season, so the 11°C/54°F lake temperatures were, well, let’s just call them pretty “bracing”. I could feel my testes instantly retract into my abdomen.

I started my first swim to the breaking wall and was pretty much tossed around by the waves for the entire short distance. At one point I was even thrown on my back. And so I went back and forth under the close scrutiny of the lifeguard for about 45 minutes or so. And in all that time I probably covered, maybe, 1.5 kilometers. I was feeling pretty defeated and exhausted (Probably even more so than my Ironman Wales swim) but still happy that I did something.

Just see how happy I am:

DSCF1920

This is “pre-freeze”

Upon exiting the water, my feet, face and hands were completely numb and it was sometime before I could manage full sentences with the lifeguards for all my chattering teeth. I was actually kind of relieved that the event as tomorrow, because I’m certain that it would have been one bitch of swim had the organizers gone through with it – and I sincerely doubt they would have.

So despite all the confusion and disappointment and shitty ass planning and imminent dumbassedness on my part, at least I got a swim in, short as it was and the lifeguards got something to do for 45 minutes or so.  Just see how excited she is?

DSCF1919

In the meantime, I’ll just have to take a mulligan on this event and make plans to come back next year to participate. At least I could chalk the day up to either a ‘tough weather’ or ‘conditions simulation’, or maybe even a ‘mental toughness’ training day prior to my next competition in September (click HERE).

Whatever I choose to call it, I’m also never…ever…going to plan these things again without Kelly to also manage the logistics given I – apparently – can’t be trusted to do so. Stroke, pedal and run I can do, sure, tough weather and cold conditions…no problem.

Scheduling…clearly not.

So if swimming 10k for Strong Kids and running the Around the Bay 30k on literally no sleep after rolling my truck into a ditch during ‘Ice-ageddon’ back in March wasn’t enough, I’ve officially signed up for my next (and last) tough guy challenge for the season: back to back triathlons.

Okay, so I might be a little nuts.

However, this challenge is something I’ve been eager to do for the past few years now (since I saw a white-bearded old guy doing just that at the Musselman weekend in 2010) to truly test my over all “Iron fitness” and mental fortitude.  The plan this year has been to once again reacquire the mental toughness that I’ve seemingly lost a bit over the last year while getting over injuries and regular competition in lieu of more fun opportunities and charity events (hey, sometimes you just have to have a little fun) last year, so this challenge seemed to be appropriately timed as next year will mark my return to long course Ironman competition.

So, what the hell, time to get my crazy on!  What’s the worst that can happen?

Wait, let’s not go there…

I am then committing to compete in the ‘IncredoublemanTriathlon’ this September in beautiful Sackets Harbor, NY.  This event features two days of triathlons and aquabikes with the first and only back to back half distance races in the world; except I’m not quite that crazy…yet.  No, I figure I’ll try the short and fast followed by the long and slow.  My goal then will be to complete both a sprint distance (Saturday) as well as a half iron distance (Sunday) triathlon over the course of this one weekend.

The course promises to be both scenic and challenging.  In fact, Kelly and I rode through this area last year on our ‘Tour du Lac’ trip (click HERE  to read the series) so I already know how pretty the area is.  The swim is in Sackets Harbor and the bike course will be all within Jefferson County on roads with little vehicular traffic.  Oh, there will also be some rolling hills just to keep things interesting.  But if I can survive what was thrown at me in Gravenhurst, this shouldn’t pose to be much of a problem.  Fingers crossed anyway.  The run will be around the village of Sackets Harbor proper and promises to be nearly pancake flat (thank Christ!).  Sounds like fun, right?

Well, as much fun as covering a total of 142.9 kilometers in 48 hours can be anyway.

What I’m really looking forward to is the opportunity to honor my parents who have both passed away this year.  Yes, it’s been a real shitty year – it’s true.  Yet, through it all I’ve somehow managed to maintain my weekly training regimen as best I could; if anything, as a means of coping with the stress and sadness.  But in many regards, I haven’t really dealt with any of it.  This has become increasingly clear during some of my longer runs where I have been rather surprised to discover a whole range of emotions bubbling to the surface.  Like, way more than ever before.  Truthfully, I’m realizing now that I’ve just bottled much of this sadness deep inside in my (probably misguided) attempt to maintain the status quo with my family, be that pillar of strength I feel I need to be, as well as simply keeping on with keeping on but, now, I feel like a volcano ready to go off.  So I’m hoping this challenge will provide me that opportunity to release it all in a positive and familiar way – out on the race course, in whatever form that might take – and arrive at the finish line purged.

Once again – fingers crossed.

I expect there will be a significant amount of tears at some point, so I apologize now in advance for those race photos.

To help mark the occasion I am going to have my family and a few close friends at hand to help me celebrate the occasion and provide the support I know I’m going to need.  So I won’t be alone throughout this endeavor, on or off the course.

I’m definitely nervous – okay, scared shitless – but I’m also excited to see how my body and mind will respond to this challenge.  I’ve definitely come a long way in my training over the past few years and I’m curious to see what transpires.  From there, I’ll take a few weeks off to relax (finally!) before launching myself headlong into full blown Ironman training again in anticipation for next years’ ultimate challenge.  But that’s an entirely different post.

I felt charged, inspired, motivated.

This is not typically how I feel before or during my early morning pool workouts.  What gives?  I tried to put my finger on it. I woke as groggy-eyed as I always do that particular morning, and I had the same banana and travel mug of instant coffee on the drive to the pool as I always do.  In fact, my whole morning routine had been pretty much the same and, yet, I felt awesome; totally ready to giv’ er.

Then it hit me, the in-house muzac stereo in the pool that morning was playing ‘Roar’  by Katie Perry.

Oh snap!  I instantly wanted to die.

Mere words cannot express how disappointed I was with myself.  I wanted to instantly regenerate myself into a second body just so I could kick my own ass.  I looked around nervously to see if anybody else had witnessed my shame, specifically, me bopping my head along in time with the chorus in full-on rock mode.

God.

Shoot.  Me.  Now.

Believe me, being a devout manly-man’s AC/DC kind of guy, I wanted to really, really dislike Katie Perry and, in truth, I actually thought I did.  So discovering that I was not only enjoying, but actually being inspired by a Katie Perry song was really, really  disturbing.

But let’s look at the evidence:

“You held me down, but I got up
Already brushing off the dust
You hear my voice, your hear that sound
Like thunder, gonna shake your ground
You held me down, but I got up
Get ready cause I’ve had enough
I see it all, I see it now”

When you finally manage to forget the cupcake-breasts and daisy duke short-shorts for a minute, these lyrics are pretty poignant from a motivational perspective.  But it gets worse, or better, depending on how you wish to look at it:

“I got the eye of the tiger, the fighter, dancing through the fire
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me ROAR
Louder, louder than a lion
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me ROAR
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’re gonna hear me roar”

See what I mean?  That’s a pretty empowering message don’t you think?  Okay, so maybe I don’t ‘dance’ so much as I ‘kick ass’ but, hey, the sentiment is still pretty much the same.  Definitely an inspiring message that I can get behind that.  Most definitely a message I’d like my step-daughter to embrace some day.

At the very leas,t it’s nothing less inspiring than what I might otherwise get all pumped to during, say, ‘Thunderstruck’, one of my favorite go-to tough guy anthems:

“I was caught in the middle of a railroad track
I looked round, and I knew there was no turning back
My mind raced, and I thought what could I do
And I knew there was no help, no help from you
Sound of the drums beating in my heart
The thunder of guns tore me apart
You’ve been…
…Thunderstruck”

Sure Katie doesn’t have the same rocking drum beat and punchy guitar licks, but it still has that same message of survival, determination and that whole ‘never quit’ philosophy I think is important for endurance-type sports.

But, regardless, I still didn’t want to admit to myself that I was actually enjoying a Katie Perry song so I decided to check out the video thinking that it would be all rainbows, fluff and girly nonsense allowing me to get back on track with hating it but, shit, nope.  No luck there either.  Instead, YouTube showed me endless images of cancer patients singing with frail voices and absolute sincerity, Down-Syndrome sufferers rising above it all and, hell, other real tear-jerker type stuff.  Suddenly being a big tough guy triathlete was pretty miniscule in the grand scheme of things.

These people in the videos are real champions and whatever I accomplished in the pool that morning was insignificant to what they were currently dealing with.  And that in itself is pretty fucking inspiring.  These are fighters.  Whatever the eye of the tiger is, they’ve got it.  These are people whose souls have withstood the crushing blows of cancer, even if their bodies are crumbling.  These are people with a zeal for life who refuse to sit in the background, even though society has not offered them any alternatives.  They have spent their precious lives roaring louder than lions, even if their vocal chords can’t produce more than whispers.

Damn you, Katie Perry!

So a weakened woman in an abusive relationship might listen to ‘Roar’  and be reminded that she is more than her manipulative spouse declares her to be.  A dying patient might hear this song and exult in the declaration that they will not go down without a fight, and that even if the illness steals their body, their soul will not be defeated.  And this former fat-guy-gone-triathlete can take on challenges that would otherwise have destroyed him just a few short years ago…with confidence.

So what is the essence of a good motivation song?  A good motivational song inspires the resilient spirit in those who have a hidden reserve of strength left in their bones.  It rallies that fighting instinct and lights a fire to drive you continually onward despite what obstacles lay in your path.  So it’s not really about the ball-clenching rock factor, but the overlaying message to keep pushing forward no matter what, and maybe my unconsciousness was ready and willing to accept this fact, even if my balls were not.

So while I might not exactly sing ‘Roar’  out loud at the top of my lungs before a big event any time soon, I won’t instantly shy away from hearing it periodically in my future playlists.  Having said that, I’m certainly not going to give up my AC/DC anytime soon either.  But, I will consider my world a little more expanded having now accepted ‘Roar’ into my vault of inspirational anthems.

So without further adieu, here it is in all motivational grandeur.  So rock on wit’ your bad selves.

 

You’re welcome.

So here’s some exciting news: the Niagara Region has just issued a warning that ‘Coywolves’ are now believed to be present and a very real threat to pedestrians and *gasp* runners.

Oh perfect.

Up until now, blisters, asshole drivers and shitting myself were the worst of my worries as a runner but, now, I also have to contend with becoming a potential meal for hungry predators to boot.  Yay!

Isn’t that just fucking fabulous?

“Oooo, and what flavor are you?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love nature and one of my greatest joys of running is being out and witnessing deer, birds, chipmunks, and widdle wabbits n’ shit all in their natural habitat.  But ‘coywolves’?  Yeah.  Not so much.

The Coywolf, a hybrid between the coyote and the wolf, is a “versatile, new top predator that feasts on everything from rabbits to deer to moose”.  And you just know that if these furry fuckers can take down a moose then they’re not going to think twice at taking down a slow moving fatty like myself.  I’m just a convenient moveable feast in their eyes.

Naturalists say the coywolf is one of the most adaptable mammals on the planet but what surprises them most is how this remarkable (not the word I would use under the circumstances) creature manages to live right alongside us but just out of view.  We share our parks, our streets, our gold courses, even our backyards with these wild animals.  They know us, but we don’t them.

Worse yet, despite being seldom seen, they have literally no fear of humans.

Terrific!

I first suspected their presence some two years ago during my Ironman training, specifically in the winter months.  I would sometimes notice this mangy-looking dog thing scoping me from a distance (it did not have a Chinese menu in it’s hand).  I figured it was just a really ugly farm dog of which we have a lot of in this area; for the most part they keep to themselves.  I already knew we have lots of coyotes in the area but they seldom hang around when they hear my huffing and puffing come down the road.  But this thing wasn’t so bothered.  He left me alone so I trudged on past (albeit warily) and onward through my workout.  The warning also refers to them as being “beautiful”.  Thank you David Suzuki but, yeah, no.  This thing was fucking uuuuu-gly.

Later at breakfast, I overheard a local hunter talking about them and he showed me a picture he snapped earlier that week.  Yup!  That was the thing alright. He called it a ‘wolf-ote’.  Apparently – if you are to believe him – the nearby city of Fort Erie introduced wolves into the area a while ago in an effort to reduce the growing coyote population but the wolves decided that they actually liked the local coyotes…a little too much it seems.  Insert some sexy music and a little candlelight and it was the perfect recipe for this new mix of animal.

It’s been sometime since I’ve actually seen one, but since I typically run along rural country roads, well, let’s just say I always have an eye out.

I mean, seriously, in my running tights I must look pretty tempting; like a huge sausage with legs providing both sport and snacking potential.  What hungry coywolf could resist?

How does this affect my training?  Fucked if I know, but I will tell you this: if I so much as see anything – and I mean anything – that closely resembles one of these things ever again, I’m going to turn around and set a new land speed record getting home, I assure you.

Suddenly my LSD turns into a steady tempo run.