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:

firefighter2

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.

Beware the Black Mamba

Posted: July 25, 2014 in Gym, In Transition
Tags: , ,

Despite blogging candidly about peeing, pooping, the time I seemingly shit myself in the locker room (click HERE) and, oh, let’s not forget about being perceived as some deviant who likes to watch roadside animals fuck (click HERE), I am actually a somewhat modest person, especially when it comes to nudity as I’ve already discussed in my post about locker room etiquette.  In high school Phys-Ed I would marvel at the other boys who’d casually stroll around the locker room buck naked while I showered in my underpants.  Yes, I was one of those poor shy bastards.  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against  nudity; I just prefer to keep my shit covered up to everyone who’s not my doctor or my girlfriend because the general public doesn’t need to see my intimate bits.

Nowadays I’ve gotten pretty skilled at slipping out of a wet swimsuit or soggy exercise clothes and into a dry outfit without exposing so much as a random fold, pube or crack.  Of course, I shower and everything but, even then, it’s all business.  I keep my head down and focused on getting back to my locker (discretely wrapped in a towel, of course) and into my street clothes and out of the locker room as innocuously as possible…

…unless someone takes it upon himself to strike up a conversation with me while his monster schlong dangles in front of me like an uncaged python.  That’s  when things tend to get a little awkward.  Because you know what? If you’re naked and you’re talking to me, I’m probably gonna stare at your unmentionables.  How can I not?  You’re freaking naked, for crying out loud, and you’re talking to me about the weather and how humid is out today while I try not to gawk at your junk.  It’s human nature to stare at something that’s out of the ordinary, and an old dude (honestly, this guy was probably older than fire) with a penis you could use for home defense qualifies as being a bit on the “abnormal” side of things.  Typically, my encounters with old dudes at the Y never go well.  Click HERE  for a little reminder.

Take this most recent encounter.  Today I went to the Welland International Flatwater Center for an early open water swim which is one of the true joys of triathlon training if you ask me.  It’s just you, the mist, the ducks and the peaceful serenity of still water.  Afterwards, I made my way to the YMCA for a sauna, shave and shower before heading onto work.  Because, you know, nobody wants to smell canal all day long.  Anyway, as I plodded towards the shower portion of the program I noticed an old black guy engaged in his own morning cleanse ritual which, apparently, included lathering up his asshole but, hey, who’s judging?

I think it’s an unwritten rule that if given the opportunity to allow for a little distance to exist between exposed naked bits then it is ones responsibility to take that initiative and position themselves as far as possible from the other exposed bit.  I call this the ‘Urinal Philosophy’ that guys typically observe at ball games and such.  You don’t use the urinal directly next to another dude doing his business if there’s an opportunity to use a free urinal elsewhere and thereby allowing for some ‘privacy’, what little it may be (unless, of course, it happens to be John Stanton).  I take this same philosophy to the showers at the gym: NEVER shower directly next to another dude if there’s the option of showering one shower head over, or elsewhere if possible.  In this case, I made my way to the other side of the showers altogether as I definitely have a limited quota of soapy bungholes in my day (i.e. zero).

The guy was naked, obviously, gettin’ his scrub on.  I quickly glanced in his direction as I walked by when I entered the shower room before looking away because I didn’t want to stare at his ridiculously huge cock.  I mean, seriously, this thing was scary. Like way scarier than anything I might have encountered in the canal (for example).  It was like a policeman’s baton with a nutsack that resembled something a bank robber might be carrying had it a dollar sign tattooed on it.  It didn’t.  I checked.  I fumbled with the shower faucet and began my quick rinse.

And then:

Dandy McDinoschlong: “You think it’s gonna be hot out today?”

Oh god.  No.  Don’t do this.

Me (staring at the farthest corner of the room): “Hmm?”  Maybe he wasn’t talking to me.  Maybe he was…talking to himself?  I dunno.  I just hoped he wasn’t trying to get a very exposed me to talk to a very nude him.

Dandy McDinoschlong: “Do you think it’s gonna be hot out today?”  Damnit.  Now he had moved over to, you know, talk.

I shot a brief glance back at him and my eyes tractor-beamed back to his gigantic Johnson before I forced them to pull their gaze up towards his face.  He was staring at me inquisitively while sudsing his crotch.  I flashed back to a previous experience in the locker room a few months ago (click HERE) and, honestly, this couldn’t have been anymore awkward had the ‘Crying Game’  started to play over the muzac system.

Just excellent.

Was he lonely or what?  Why now of all times and places to strike up a conversation?  At the very least, couldn’t he choose a moment when he wasn’t also rubbing and fondling his pet anaconda?

Dandy McDinoschlong: “I don’t mind the heat, but I can’t take this humidity”, he continued.

He bent down and started washing his knees and – I swear – his disco stick plonked itself on the floor with an audible ‘thud’.  I bet this man’s poor wife hasn’t walked right since their honeymoon.

Me: “Uh huh”, was all I could muster in response.

Maybe if I ignored him he’d simply go away back to his own shower head.  No dice.

Dandy McDinoschlong: “Yeah, I used to live in Florida so I know humidity and this is about as bad as it gets.”

My brain: “Goddamnit, eyes, stop looking at his dick! Look anywhere else! ANYWHERE!!”

My eyes: “You got it, boss!” (immediately flicks gaze to his crotch)

My brain: “Oh for crying out loud…”

Dandy McDinoschlong: “So, you going to work then?”

Me: “Uh, yeah.”  Maybe this was my way out but he wasn’t having any of it.

Dandy McDinoschlong: “I’m retired now so this is my only workout before going home to watch television.”

My brain: “I bet just lifting that thing to scrub yourself is a workout!  I wonder if you can use that thing to change the channel too?”   Damnit!  Shut up brain!

Me: “That’s great.  I’m late as it is so…”

At this point I would have literally limbo-ed my way under his monstrous black mamba just to get out of there.  I was desperate.

Dandy McDinoschlong: Oh yeah, well don’t let me keep you. Welphaveagoodone”, he offered.

Me: “Thanks! You too!”, I replied as I made my big prison break towards the shower exit, desperately trying to keep my eyes forward on where I was going.  I failed.

My brain: “C’mon, one last looksee…”  Fuck!

This man’s phallus will forever be etched in my mind.  I probably now know it better than my own.

Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe every other dude on this planet enjoys chatting with his peers in the shower while nude, furiously washing every wrinkly nook and cranny like a raccoon on crack while discussing the weather, the local sports team, or what have you.  Maybe I’m  the weird one because I don’t particularly like partaking in conversations while my taint is exposed and vulnerable.

If that’s the case, so be it.  Personally, I don’t relish being naked in front of strangers and I don’t particularly enjoy naked people talking to me, so if you’re thinking of striking up a convo with me while you’re bent over with your leather Cheerio thrust up towards the ceiling, please grant me the courtesy of throwing on a pair of pants before chatting me up.  Because contrary to what you may think, I assure you that I don’t  want to see any of that.

Unfortunately, my yoga practice has been suffering a bit.  Well, suffering in the sense that I’m not doing it daily as I used to do.

Mostly, I do a little at the gym as either a core strengthening routine, or as a warm down after a heavy weights session (or workout).  Sometimes I just slip down to the lake and spend 45 minutes or so stretching lightly, or doing some Sun Salutations.  Mostly, it’s an excuse to listen to some tunes on my iPod and enjoy an easy, effortless stretch down by the water.  It’s not that I no longer subscribe to yoga as an important strengthening tool or recovery vehicle – it is – but time simply does not allow me to do everything I’d like to do so concessions have to be made.

Anyway, I received a pass recently for my birthday to enjoy a free yoga session.  What a treat!  I miss my near daily instructor lead yoga classes so I was kind of eager to participate.  I packed my shamefully neglected yoga mat (I never use it down at the lake as the grass works just fine) into the car along with a change of clothes and after work, made my way to the studio nice and early to claim my spot in the class.

Let the bendy-twisty commence.

However, it seems I am a little out of the yoga loop now.  Sure, there were still all the cutesy frog, dolphin and Sanskrit tattoos galore, but the mood of the place was decidedly…different.

When I first arrived, I was recognized by a few patrons of the studio who greeted me enthusiastically so which I responded in return, to which I was shushed.  The girl at the desk wagged her at me finger (albeit very nicely) and pointed to the sign on the nearby door that read ‘Class in Session’.  Oops, my bad.  So I lowered my voice to a whisper.  Hell hath no fury like a granola cruncher scorned.

I got changed next and waited patiently with the other Lycra Lululemon clad yogis in the lobby for the class to let out so we could get in and get set up, as you do.  When the door opened, it was chaos.  It was like rush hour on the TTC or something, with an entire mob of yogis all pressing forward to get in quickly and claim a spot of available floor space.  It was like the great California Land Rush.  I ended up stuck between two girls who were, apparently, making a nest with pillows and blankets and stuff.   Both of them had dolphin tattoos…in the same place.

I tried to be friendly and polite by saying ‘hello’, but they just gave me a blank stare and resumed with their pillow forts.  I swear the temperature dropped a degree.  But it wasn’t just these girls as nobody was talking, like, at all.  Everyone seemed to be avoiding each other as they fussed with their mat and assorted accoutrements.  Eventually, the class filled up as other exercise bunnies also poured in and I ended up sandwiched between two sets of feet directly above and below me, both decorated with some sort of cosmic henna pattern on their feet.  Maybe there was some sort of deal down at the local Henna Shop or something.

This sure wasn’t the lake, believe me.

While the class itself was great, I couldn’t get into the mental swing of things.  I found the rather devout dedication to silence to be awkward. I’m a talker – I admit it.  I hate having to be 100% silent.  Now, I definitely get the whole ‘Silence is Golden’ rule of yoga but, I still like to feel as if I can openly communicate with the instructor and maybe the participants around me when it is appropriate and fun to do so and, even then, only sparingly.  After all, if it’s not fun why bother?  This, however, felt decidedly different.  It was rather like being in a Trappist Monastery.  Definitely not the ‘fun’ I had originally envisioned and remember.

So what changed?  Was I once so dedicated to my practice that I was this serious too?  God I hope not.  I don’t think so anyway.

So what is it then?  Why did this class feel so different from what I remember loving?  Of course, the faces had changed since the last time I practiced at that location but, that couldn’t be it could it? I did try to be friendly and that clearly failed.  So what gives?  I felt like that creepy stalker guy who’s more interested in scoping out fresh ass than they are in the yoga.  Is that how the girls viewed me now?

Maybe part of the whole issue resides in that I haven’t been attending regular classes for a while, preferring now to do them solo now as time allows.  And when I do, I’m typically outdoors and plugged into my own world completely void of others.  Suddenly, being back in a crowded studio with a group of other strangers all doing the same thing had a rather cultish feel to it.

Maybe I’ve just temporarily lost my tolerance (interest?) for the whole dogma surrounding yoga.  Perhaps when we attach too rigidly to a belief system as the others seem to be doing (my opinion only), it’s possible that we also shut down the potential for connection.  My best experiences in yoga have been about having fun and building a connection to myself, to pushing into my self-imposed limitations, to my physical body, to the teacher, to the practice, to the other students in the class.  This typically involved some sort of spoken communication, albeit brief. But these students didn’t seem to be too interested in connecting to anything verbally or otherwise; much less having fun.  I mean, I’m sure they are having fun otherwise they wouldn’t be there in the first place, but maybe their idea of fun just happens to be much different than my own.

Thing is, I don’t mind a little distraction with my yoga.  I like the open communication; the teasing, the laughing, the music, the assorted yoga weirdoes, the regular poops, the sweat and, yes, the occasional yoga fart…the whole enchilada.  The workout is nice too of course as it is always a good idea to get feedback from the instructor regarding form and technique which might begin to slip when you only practice on your own.  I’m sure I was far from perfect yesterday.  And sure mediation is nice as well as I love me some good Shavasna but, really, that it’s not the entire be all and end all point of the practice.  To me, I shouldn’t feel like I’m going to church.

I also realize that many people do go for that whole meditation-spirituality thingee (and good for them!), but I think I’ve either moved past that or I just missed it altogether.  I think for the time being, my yoga practice will remain solo, on my own terms.  This may change in the future and I may wander back into the neighborhood Ashram once again but for now, the lake and my iPod suits my needs perfectly.