In case you haven’t been paying attention, I haven’t really announced any serious racing intentions for this year.  I do have a few commitments competition-wise, but not many.  I’m still not feeling that urge to be overly competitive and I haven’t quite found that confidence within myself to do so.  I’m getting there…but not quite.

In fact, for the first time in six years I’m opting to say ‘No’ to any serious competition.

My initial plan last year was to begin building up enough physical stamina and mental toughness to launch into full blown Ironman mode this summer but, well, last year didn’t exactly play out very well for me did it (click HERE)?  No, I ended up pretty much sidelined with injuries as a walking bag of cortisol as the result of a very unstructured, haphazard and thoroughly inadequate training plan.  It was more about pain and suffering than it had anything to do with building strength and endurance.  I’m not saying there weren’t some successes along the way but in general, I performed well below what I know to be my personal potential.

As a result, I’ve focused this past off season on regaining that physical and mental health and I am just now beginning to be capable of more challenging workouts; specifically in regards to my running.  I now complete one speed interval run per week (which was the staple of my Ironman training back in 2012) and I just completed my first half marathon distance run in three months this past weekend.  It was slow, painful, and about as much fun as having red ants poured down your pants but, hey, after months of dealing with Morton’s Neuroma issues in my right foot I got ‘er done.  It’s not perfect (my foot or the run, take your pick), but it’s getting better day after day.

I still do have some events in mind for the summer that I committed to early on before I really thought about it, including a return to the Musselman Half Ironman triathlon in Geneva, NY next month and an Olympic distance race in Rochester, NY in August.  I initially signed up for Musselman at the urging of my coach back in January/February and while I’m excited to participate, my lack of “race-ready” preparations have been extremely inadequate at best.  Where I usually like to have one or two short distance triathlons under my belt (on average, I’ve been competing in 4-5 triathlons per year since 2009) before anything major as a means of honing my race transitions and fueling strategy, this event is going to my first triathlon of the season; not to mention my first long distance brick run since the Incredoubleman Triathlon back in September – and you all remember how that turned out.

Muddying the waters even more, is that the Musselman was my first half iron distance race, like, ever and it did not go so well.  It pretty much ended with me limping across the finish line with a blown ITB in an abysmal 5:56:47.  It was pretty much how NOT to do a triathlon and that experience allowed me to refocus and regroup the following year leading into a successful performance at the Cancun 70.3 the following year and, ultimately Ironman Wales the next.  It was always my intent to return to this course and conquer it successfully as I would have liked to have done back in 2010 so when the Coach made the suggestion I was all in.

Today, I’m kind of regretting that decision.  Not because I think I’m woefully unprepared (and I might just be) but because I’m actually enjoying not being in a competitive mode for a change. I’m actually beginning to enjoy training again (okay, maybe not the long runs so much) but I’m not enjoying the feeling of having to stick to a strict training schedule.  Making matters even more complicated is that I’ve also committed to other projects that are near and dear to me such as volunteering more regularly with the SunRype Tri-KiDs Triathlon series, completing my annual Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids this past April, leading a weekly Monday Night Master’s spin class at the YMCA (not to mention a “Family Cycle” class in the Fall/Winter) and, of course, being the “Tail End Charlie” for the anual The Big Move this coming September.  I also have some fun things on the docket like the La Bico Classica 100k charity fun ride on my dad’s old road bike that I am having restored (story to come) and, hopefully, making good on the Toronto Island Swim that I missed out on last year.   So it’s not like I’m totally ‘slothing out’ and just doing nothing. I’m busy, I’m active and – for a change – I’m having fun.

I’m just not ready to actually compete yet.

So what’s the difference?

Well, while I support everyone’s reasons for doing what they do when it comes to being active and racing and whatnot, including just having fun, I don’t like to do anything half ass.  If I’m going to compete I want to be able to give it 100%.  Just finishing or making it to the finishing line does not motivate me like it used to when I first started out on this whole triathlon crazy train.  I’ve spent 6 years now working on my inadequacies and getting proficient in the sport and now that I feel like I’ve acquired some decent skill and experience, I tend to get disappointed when I’m not able to perform to that full potential and it can be very defeating when I don’t.  So, aside from the two events I’ve already signed up for earlier this year on a whim, I’ve chosen to say ‘No’ to competing in anymore.

Now, I realize how incredibly arrogant this might sound to some but I’ve come to learn about myself that I’m a competitive person and driven to achieve results.  It’s just the way I’m wired. I see all my other friends and training peers currently accomplishing great things and setting new KOM’s on Strava and it kind of makes me feel a bit behind the eight ball.  Shit, two of my friends completed a 50k trail run this past weekend…how incredibly amazing is that?  I know I’ll get this confidence back eventually but, for the time being, I’m liking training for the sole purpose of training…for nothing in particular.  I’m enjoying the absence of a detailed schedule plan and not having the pressure to perform when it falls by the wayside because of business travel, family obligations, volunteering opportunities or just because I feel like a lazy shit.

Hey, it happens to the best of us.

Usually I would just try to persevere and carry on carrying on as I did last year, but now I realize that that quality of extreme persistence can sometimes be our own worst enemy and last year, it ultimately did me in.  My body basically shut down and it’s taken me literally a year to get back to the point where I’m beginning to feel confident and able again.  Hell, it’s been a long road since 2012.  This whole ‘Ironfunk‘ thing is very real.  So maybe I’m still a bit gun shy or, maybe, just maybe, this whole ‘saying no’ will be the best decision I’ve ever made.  Either way, when I do decide to return to serious competition I want it to be on my terms.  Not to fuel an overriding desire to simply suffer for the sake of suffering.  I’m so done with that.

So, race fans, where you can still expect posts to this blog in the coming months about events I’ve chosen to participate in, know now that there aren’t likely going to be any new ‘Personal Bests’ or crazy “tough guy” challenges.

I’m still training.  I’m still improving.  I haven’t given up.

I’m just finally exercising my right to say: ‘fuck it, not this year’.

I love where I live.

There’s a nice ebb and flow to it in that it’s busier and more lively in the summer season and then quiet and peaceful again during the winter months.  After my long run this morning I can definitely say without any uncertainly whatsoever, that we are definitely ebbing.

Gawd.

Is it October already?

Seriously?

You see, I live in Ridgeway, Ontario and I feel very fortunate to be able to train here.  There is ample room to roam on my bike and enough country roads to keep my running route options plentiful.  There is a nicely paved ‘Friendship Trail’ that runs the entire span from Port Colborne to Fort Erie and then the Niagara Parkway itself, one of the most scenic roadways anywhere, which follows the Niagara River past Niagara Falls and then along the Niagara Gorge all the way into the historic townships of Queenston and Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Other times I can ride to Port Colborne along the trail and then follow Lakeshore Rd., through cottage country all along the edge of Lake Erie through Long Beach, Low Banks and Rock Point.  For the 50 or so kilometers between Port Colborne to Dunnville it’ all beaches, embankments and huge spinning windmills – it’s awesome! It’s just too bad there are too many drunken boaters otherwise there would be lots of good swimming opportunities as well.  So I have it pretty good if I do say so myself (and I do).

Ridgeway stands alongside Crystal Beach on its eastern side; a single street (Ridge Rd.) separates the two.  I literally can run an entire marathon distance completely contained within, say, a 2 kilometer square area between Erie Rd. in the south and Michener in the north, and between Gorham Rd. on the east and Schooley on the west; the very heart and epic center of Canadian cottage country.  Think endless streets and lane ways all lined with quaint beach homes and outdoor patios – each one of which will inevitably have a BBQ.  Ridgeway itself has its own elaborate network of sleepy streets and neighborhoods that spread out between Highway 3 and Thunder Bay Rd. which runs along the lake.  There there’s MacDonald Drive that picks up after Thunder Bay and twists and winds along the Erie lakeshore past vast private properties, meticulously manicured lawns and more tennis courts than you could shake a racquet at.  So, yeah, there’s a lot of space and I know pretty much all of it by this point.  Shit, I could run some of my more popular running routes blindfolded.  Once you get out Ridgeway a little further to the north it’s out and into proper southern Ontario farmland; cows; horses; sheep; and bees…lots and lots of apiaries.

There is also a lot of history in this area (click HERE for a small sample from of my favorite running routes) as well and for all directions there’s practically an unlimited number of cool old rickety barns, school houses, farms, historical brick manors, stone silos and abandoned and dilapidated stone walls.

Another feature to the area is that it is practically pancake flat.  I’m not sure where the “ridge” is that Ridgeway is officially named after, but it can’t be much of a drop.  Sure, we have some rolling hills and little incline that rises off the lake but, really, it’s pretty much flat ground.  This is good if you’re not a particular fan of hilly workouts meaning that if you’re serious you have to take matters into your own hands (click HERE).  But, hey, you can’t have everything I guess.  I still think of this as a good thing though.

When you talk about ebb and flow, you typically begin with the ebb.  Well, I’m going to buck popular convention and start with the flow instead.

Beach season begins to wind down in October when the water starts to cool a bit more and the days get shorter.  It’s still incredibly beautiful in the area with the changing autumn colors, but nobody goes to the beach to look at the trees am I right?  By November, 70% of the cottages in the Crystal Beach area are boarded up shut.  The traffic begins to wind down, restaurants shorten their hours or close up altogether, and the prices return to normal at the local grocers.  By December, its eerie quiet and the locals get to return to their favorite café’s and haunts.  Suddenly everybody is doing the speed limit again. On some days I can run down the middle of Ridge Road through town and not have to worry about traffic.  I can run through Crystal Beach and not see a single person; in fact, it’s uncommon if I ever do.

But after a while all this quiet gets kind of lonely, ya know?  You can only run so many country roads in the middle of winter through polar vortex temperatures and 3″ snow drifts before you begin to think to yourself, “Hey, this kinda sucks.  I wish there was more people around”.

Queue the ebb.

On Memorial Day (May 25th), the day I will forever recognize as the official opening of “The Season”, every street in almost every neighborhood will play host to dozens of bonfires and backyard parties, the like of which even Nero himself would be ashamed to attend.  Suddenly I don’t have the place to myself anymore as the place literally goes ape shit.

Yes, The tourists are back en force.  They begin rolling in on weekends through April and early May to open up their summer homes and cottages for the season.  Suddenly, you can’t get a parking spot outside your favorite breakfast nook for all the out of town license place; much less a seat inside.  The traffic returns with a vengeance and suddenly everybody is in just a little bit more of a hurry to get everywhere and, consequentially, a little less willing to move over and give some safe distance to the runner on the side of the road as they pass; there is definitely a lot more raised index fingers than waving hands.

Signals?  Who needs ‘em?

And then there’s all the rental scooters and e-bikes to contend with and everyone suddenly feels obliged to occupy what few bike lanes we actually have. Just heading out of town on your bike and you’ll inevitably end up sprinting with some douche canoe on a mobility scooter who thinks he can make the next right hand turn before you get there.  And then there’s the moolyak who’s more focused on searching out “Beach” on his GPS while driving and just about runs you over as you try to attempt to navigate a busy intersection safely.  It never stops.

I once had a tourist pull his car over into the driveway directly ahead of me completely blocking my way. He wanted to know where the lake was.  Are you shitting me?  My heart is about to explode, I’m leaking from every pour in this God forsaken heat and you stop me to ask directions?  I just told him to keep driving south until his ankles got wet.

I don’t simply run/bike the first 10-15 minutes (depending on which I choose to go) of my workouts anymore just to get out of town and into the countryside, away from the steady congestion of rude ass tourists; I am running/riding for my life.  Tempers will flare and I have been known to pitch the “double finger salute” in inattentive tourist’s rearview windows.  Inevitably I also have to spend this time getting out of town to the chants of “Run Forest Run!”, or the ever popular “Run Fatboy Run!”  tossed out by the odd drunken beach goer driving past in a Jeep, who resembles some reject from the cast of ‘Entourage’.

Try much, buddy?

Mostly it’s the looks they give me.  I could be running down Erie Rd. past all the public beaches (one of my usual routes out of town) and people will look at me in complete bewilderment, as if thinking to themselves: “what the fuck is that?”   You’d think they’d never seen a runner before.  I get that I’m not all that attractive at the best of times and I’m sure I’m quite the spectacle when I’m an absolute hot and nasty mess and there’s about an inch of bug carcasses stuck to my sweaty skin and matted into my arm and leg hair but, still, those looks can hurt.

I like to pretend that they’re just 100% mesmerized at just having witnessed some incredibly sturdy and impressive go by, as if Godzilla had successfully mated with a Panzer tank and it was jogging past at just that very second.

Of course, I know whats really going through their minds: “Eww”.

People – tourists – are absolutely everywhere.  As I ran by the only local grocer in town on my long run today I couldn’t help but notice that the parking lot now had 3 Mercedes, 2 Humvee’s and a Porche; just the kind of rugged vehicles necessary for rural life.  There was a lady standing at her car complaining to her Rico Suave boyfriend that they didn’t have any cold vitamin water inside.

Gawd x 2.

It’s like in that vampire movie ’30 Days of Night’, only the tourists are the vampires who have come to prey on the unsuspecting locals, except during the daytime where they run rampant through the streets devouring everything and anybody in their path while we locals hide under buildings and front porches waiting for them to leave.  Come June (i.e. now) it’s kind of annoying but livable, by July I’m hitting the brink of insanity and by August I don’t even want to leave the house.  If I make it through to late September I consider it a good training season.

I rest.

I recover.

I can begin returning to the local restaurants and cafes.

I get anxious for the inevitable flow of people back out of Ridgeway and for the peace and quiet of the winter months to arrive again and rescue us all; when I can run and roam pretty much unchallenged through my rural paradise once again.  That’s where my head space was today anyway, as a steady stream of tourists narrowly zoomed by me by the side of the road with merely inches to spare.

I’m glad you’re all back, but fucking move over already!

So while my social self is happy that life has once again returned to the area, the triathlete in me is already counting down the months until I can have my community back with which to train again normally…safely.  Only three more months to go.

Such is life and training in Ridgeway.

(Disclaimer: This was written purely out of sarcasm.  I have no ill feelings towards anyone referred to or mentioned in this post, especially Kyle.  I’m just taking some “creative liberties” here for the sake of telling of what I hope is a pretty funny story.  As least that’s how I’m choosing to see it anyway).

My training is pretty routine now, as it is for most triathletes I guess; eat, shit, hydrate, train, recover, repeat.  On designated swim days I’m typically up three minutes before my alarm at 5:17am to make it to the pool for 6:25am to wage Mortal Combat with all the old fogies over who gets into what lane.  Sometimes I win out and get the fast lane, other times I’m stuck in No Man’s Land doing kicking drills with the floating log with arms.   But what can you do?

I have mentioned before to the pool staff my sentiments about rearranging the swim lanes to be more accessible by moving the slow lanes to the outside of the pool and the faster lanes to the center, but these suggestions have typically been received with nothing more than a yawn and a blank, bleary-eyed look that tells me “yeah, yeah, I hear you dude, but it’s 6:30am in the morning and I’m stuck here watching old people swim for minimum wage – so I don’t really care about your piddley ass pool problems, mkay?”

Okay, fine.  Mortal Combat it is.  And so it has been for about the past two years that I have been training at my YMCA.

Luckily for me, with a little patience, eventually all the old folks (especially the three graying grizzly bears in Speedo’s who insist on doing their “dead man’s formation” in the fast lane come hell or high water) bail after about 20 to 30 minutes to go about their normal days of tending the weeds in the garden, tinkering in the garage or sipping tea in their backyard gazebo, or whatever is it that retiree’s do to pass their days besides bobbing in the fast lane, so I typically will do my drills in the slow lane until then before I switch to a faster lane and get on with my main set.   Rarely does the 90 minutes or so pass by with me ever having to say a anything to anyone, much less the lifeguard; except that all changed a few weeks ago.

One day I was going about my usual routine and was just moving into a faster lane when another guy entered the pool area, a sleek-looking, V-shaped bullet of a guy in a pair of Triathlon Canada Speedo’s.  He proceeded to get in the lane with me (quite properly I might add) and, quite literally, proceeded to swim circles around me.  Dude was fast!  I tried to hold pace with him and I could for, say, 100-200m or so, but then I had to let him go before my heart exploded inside my chest. By comparison, he was just cruising…easily.

At first I was like, “The fuck! Who is this guy?”

While he was vaguely familiar to me, I was more concerned with my suddenly being punk in my own pool.  Suddenly I wasn’t the “fast guy” any more and my ego had taken a bit of a hit; I confess.  So for the remainder of the workout he lapped me over and over and over again and despite my attempts to keep up, or rival him in either speed or form, I basically ended up looking like a retarded and dying sea lion.  Oh well.

It wasn’t until later on when it was announced to me at the front desk that the speedy, skinny guy was in fact, Kyle Jones, an up-and-coming Canadian Olympic triathlete on the ITU World Triathlon Series circuit and our next big Olympic hopeful.

“Did you see that guy? That’s Kyle Jones”, the girl explained excitedly.

Huh.

What’ya know?

“Yeah, he kicked my ass alright”.

I then remembered that’s why he seemed so familiar to me as I have seen him several times in my monthly Triathlon Canada magazines.

“He’s training for the Pan Am Games you know”, she continued.

“Excellent.”

Now it beats me why he suddenly ended up swimming in our little community pool out here in the middle of BF Idaho, but there he was – large and in charge.  Apparently, he is in the process of recovering after a crash in New Zealand and the subsequent surgery afterwards and all the while preparing for the Pan American Games that are being held at the end of this month in Toronto, Ontario. Cool, right?  I’m swimming with one of Canada’s best triathletes! I even forgave myself a little for looking like such a slow ass chump alongside him.  After all, the guy is an Olympian!

Shortly afterwards, as I was walking out to the parking lot with him (coincidentally, I swear!), he mentioned how odd it was that the pool was arranged with the fast lanes on the outside edges of the pool and the slow lanes on the inside, opposite of what you’d typically expect in most other pools that offer similar lane swims.  I agreed quickly and related my frustrations at having expressed that concern already in the past to no avail.

“Maybe I’ll mention something too”, he said casually.

“Go for it”, I encouraged.  I might have rolled my eyes a little too.

I missed the next morning’s workout, but when I returned two days later, I discovered (albeit happily) that the lanes had been rearranged with the fast lanes in the middle and the slow lanes on the outside to provide easier access for the slower swimmers to their appropriated lanes – just as I had described.

The fuck?

The lifeguard was still quietly dozing, or mediating, or whatever it is she does quietly in the corner by herself and all the usual fogies are jumping into their usual lanes, be it fast or not, and we all commence with our Mortal Combat.  Except this time, the fast lane that I normally gave up to the grizzly bears was now appropriately designated as the slow lane and my slow lane was now actually the fast lane.  Score.

Booyah, the system works bitches!

Later, when Kyle walked on deck for his own workout I expressed my pleasure at finally having the pool organized more logically as we had discussed.  I had taken this whole lane switcheroo business as a major victory in my two year quest to bring both rhyme and reason to community pools everywhere.  Surely he, a fellow swimmer, could understand the magnitude of my accomplishment.

“Yeah, I mentioned something too”, he said flatly.

“Like, yesterday?” I stammered.

“Yeah”, he replied.

I swear, I just about shit in the pool then and there.

You mean after nearly two years of bitching and nobody gives a rat’s ass, but suddenly one bona fide athlete shows up and it’s “hold up, we got this shit all wrong!” , and the entire pool is instantly reorganized?

Really?

But whatever, progress is progress and I’m happy it finally got sorted out.  I’d like to think that I still played some minor role in all.  Sure I’m a little bitter that you apparently have to be a cute Olympian for anyone to take you seriously but, hey, it got done.

So for the past few weeks I’ve been enjoying the sweet life of being able to finally swim in the fast lane, except (interpret that as:  every day) whenever a slower swimmer happens to jump in the lane unaware of the newly designated lanes – not that the lifeguard cares mind you – and it’s Mortal Combat all over again.

C’est la vie.

But the big slap in the puss came only this morning.

There I was, waging my usual Mortal Combat with a breast-stroking grandma and the log with arms in the appropriated fast lane and it was pretty much business as usual.   Soon they both had to leave and I could proceed with the rest of my workout.  About 45 minutes later and Kyle shows up just as I’m warming down and swimming easy in my fast lane.  There is at least one person in every lane at this point except the medium lane; the next best thing to having the pool (or a lane) to yourself.

When I stop at the end the first thing I heard echoing from the opposite side of the pool is:

“Hi Kyle!”

Awesome.

I’ve been swimming here for years and I’m lucky to get yawned at in the morning and here the lifeguard is already on a first name basis with the new guy.

Figures!

But then she takes it a step further and says: “should I get that guy to move over into another lane?”

Like, out loud…so the whole  world could hear.  It actually echoed around the pool and I’m pretty sure it was heard in, like, Madagascar.  Surely she’s shitting me, right?  Or maybe she’s talking about somebody else?

I looked around hopefully…

Nope.

She definitely meant me; the fat, slow guy obstructing the fast lane.

I was mortified.

I definitely think I shat a little in the water.

Now, to Kyle’s credit, he motioned back to her shyly that everything was just fine and he jumped in the available lane and bid me a jaunty good morning just as I was leaving and everything was just hunky dory but, the lifeguard?

She can bite me.

She doesn’t give a flying fig newton when the old fogies do their breast-stroking down the middle of the fast lane while I’m trying to do intervals, but suddenly when the OLYMPIAN  shows up, it’s “Hey, fat guy! Get out of the pool! The real swimmer is here.”

Uh huh.

I see how it is.

Fins and Paddle Power

Posted: June 5, 2015 in Equipment, Swim
Tags:

It’s on the record now that I got married over the weekend. As part of our master plan, we eloped to Stratford, Ontario where we got hitched at our favorite Break & Breakfast.  The Coach was on hand with her family to act as our witnesses and eight minutes or so of ceremony on the front porch, it was official, we were pronounced as “husband and wife”; commence with the kissing.  We spent the following day walking around the downtown core in the rain and shopping for chocolate balsamic vinegar, cheese and whatever else tickled our fancy before retiring back to the B&B to read and nap…*sigh*…good times.  On the Monday, we headed back home again to begin the rest of our lives together (after a bike ride, of course).

Anyway, I managed to convince Kelly to stop off quickly at the Team Aquatics shop in Burlington on the way home.  I know all about the “happy wife, happy life” thing already but, hey, who’s to say that the hubby doesn’t also needs some placating?  And it just so happens that this new hubby needs himself some new flippers so we stopped off to pick me up some new pool toys.

Up to this point I have been using a pair of flippers not specifically designed for swimming, but diving.  What’s the difference you ask? A fin is a fin, right?  Ha.  Wrong.  I had the exact same question when someone first told me about their fancy new swim flippers but I didn’t have that kind of scratch at the time so instead, I’ve been using my “perfectly fine” pair of Cressi fins that I picked up cheap at Dan’s Dive Shop here in St. Catharines.  I just didn’t know any better.

As it turns out, long fins are perfect for the beginner swimmer (which I was at the time) as the long blade rewards the swimmer with easy forward propulsion and raises the hips to the surface.  And, believe me, at the time I needed a lot of lift in the water.  However, what I didn’t know is that those long fins were also making it difficult to replicate the type of quick kick I’d likely need when racing.  Of course, I didn’t really kick back then either (click HERE for a little reminder) but that’s a moot point by now.  So for the past 3 years or so I’ve been happily using my Cressi’s until, low and behold, they finally bit the bullet last week when the foot box all but ripped off them on both sides.  Oh well, time to invest in a new pair.

Now, of course, being a bit more seasoned – not to mention a better swimmer – I decided to finally invest in a pair of proper shorter blade swim fins that would better blend in with all my other triathlon and swim buds.

On the shelf at the store they had two varieties, Speedo and Arena.  I tried both on but the Arena fins felt a bit more comfortable over the Speedo’s.  As it turns out Arena are all the rage in Europe the way Speedo is here.

The only problem?  They were a god-awful acid lime green color.  Now I’m not self-conscious at all when it comes to what I look like in the pool but, seriously?  Puke green?

Yeah.

Not sexy.

Thankfully they had one last pair of black Arena fins in the back so with great relief I picked up a pair.   Unlike long fins, the short bladed “Zoomers” allow your legs to cycle fast enough to keep up with a normal arm stroke rate and still maintain a six beat kick.  Of course, I consider myself successfully if I just remember to kick – period.  But by reducing the length of the blade and positioning it at the correct angle, the legs and feet will start to better mimic a natural swimming kick; at least the kind of kick I always envisioned anyway.  As a result the swimmer (in this case, me) can build true swimming-specific leg strength and hit a race tempo, all without fatiguing too prematurely. Certainly, they definitely felt a lot different and I had to work at being more efficient in my kick form just to maintain any pace that I could establish better with my old Cressi’s; so much for easy propulsion.  In fact, they felt more difficult than when I kicked normally without them.  Huh?  It’s true!  It may not be obvious at first, but when you’re using fins to swim faster, your legs are actually working harder than they normally would (without fins) to maintain that speed.  Over time, your leg muscles become stronger which will ultimately allow you to swim faster and longer when you’re not using fins.

So these have now been added to my current swim arsenal.

While I was at the store, I also inquired about these bad boys:

The Finis Agility Paddle.

I have two different types of paddles in my swim bag already so when I saw these only recently I was all like, “what are those?”

Long story short: there is a certain Canadian athlete currently working out in my local pool in preparation for the up-coming PanAm Games in Toronto, but since Kelly also has a penchant lately for referring to him as my latest “Man Crush”, well, suffice to say, he swims very well and he uses these paddles a lot…like, a lot.

Of course my interest was piqued.

So I used the opportunity to grill the swim guru at Team Aquatics as to their purpose and learned that the Finis Agility is a clever new paddle, perfect for intermediate and advanced level swimmers looking to develop their stroke technique.  In one sense the Agility is a traditional paddle, designed to increase the surface area of your hand and so create more resistance to the water.  However, it’s uniquely contoured to the shape of your hand and relies on positive pressure on the palm at all times during your stroke to keep it in place. In other words, there are no straps or anything to otherwise secure the paddle to your hand. Instead, you just put your thumb through the little hole in the paddle and off you go!

The Agility has several advantages over a conventional resistance paddle:

  • The three dimension shape, a natural thumb position and lack finger strap means the hand sits in a very natural position as you swim with very little pressure applied to the fingers.
  • The strapless design means that a light constant palm pressure must be kept on the paddle at all times (Finis terminology: ‘Palm Positive’).  A poor catch or pull technique will result in the paddle coming loose or falling off.
  • The Agility increases the working area of your hand to increase resistance on the water but the paddle is not so large as to apply too much force through your shoulders, which would risk injury.

So they’ll make me stronger and help me “self coach” myself to better perfect my stroke through the water?

Shit, sign me up!

When I first used them I learned that it was necessary to go a bit slower through the water with them, instead, focusing on my hand position so that they wouldn’t fly off and lodge itself in another swimmers forehead.  So what is lacks in developing speed and power, it more than makes up for in aiding my overall swim technique.  I can certainly get behind that and I think they’ll make a fine addition to the swim bag o’ tricks.

So along with my snorkle and, say, a rocket propulsion system, gills or maybe a sick-looking trident to wave around menacingly at other lane swimmers, I think I’m pretty well kitted out for the pool for the next little while.

Shit, I’m like the Batman of the Port Colborne YMCA pool.

It’s a good day indeed; especially if you’re a fat guy like me.  Yesiree, Bob!

It’s a good day because suddenly, being of a larger and, shall we say, chunkier body size is sexy.  That’s right – Sexy.  Gone are the six-packs abs and, suddenly, it’s just the six-pack as God intended it to be.  Beer, that is.

You see, the “Dad Bod” is now officially “In”.

That’s right, with a capital-fuckin-‘I’, bitches.

You literally can’t access the Internet these days without seeing pictures of fat dudes everywhere.  The Internet is literally saturated with them…saturated with saturated fat that it.  The Dad Bod represents only the latest trend for male physiques.  Fat.  Yes, biceps are out and belly bellies are back in. It’s a physique that looks like a formerly fit athlete has gone a bit to seed and grown a nice layer of protective fat around his muscular girth.  He’s less Muscle & Fitness than he is Ben & Jerry’s.

Yes, thanks to Clemson University’s Mackenzie Pearson (click HERE), the “Dad Bod” is the newest body trend…for dudes.  Basically, it’s a delicate tightrope balance between working out and a beer gut.

According to Mackenzie, the Dad Bod says:

“I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.”

Well, isn’t that just swell.  It’s the new “IDGAF” attitude and, presto!, I’m now being compared now to Leonardo DiCaprio.  And not the retarded one in ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?‘  either (click HERE), but the fat bearded one (click HERE) who, through whatever means, still manages to date super models.

Just…freakin’…excellent.

I should be excited, right?  After all, I have a body that resembles, say, a melting ice cream cone and, suddenly, it’s considered as desirable.  I should be happy, shouldn’t I?  Maybe I can start skipping the odd workout to maintain my imminent bloated and sexy manliness.  Hell, if I have a “Dad Bod” now after all these years of triathlon horseshit, what I had before would have made me the T-Rex of all Dad Bod’s.

What was I thinking?

Just think of all the money I could have saved on gym memberships and race entrance fees over the years had I know all this time that fat would eventually come full circle to be sexy once again?  Never mind that whole gluten free madness (click HERE).

Take this guy for example:

Ever think he was concerned about gluten free?  This was considered hot; Hawt, even.  Henry was known as being a real athlete back in the day and ended up having over six different wives at different points in his life, not to mention countless affairs with other women dignitaries of the time.  Sure, they all eventually ended up headless but, no doubt, it was just a necessary reaction to stem the flow of hot, desirable women throwing themselves at his desirable “Dad Bod”.

Fuck me.

And how about this guy:

Shit, despite his deep love and affinity for deep-fried peanut butter sandwiches, Elvis still maintains a cult following of people who thought of him at the sexiest thing to ever move on God’s green earth.  And let me tell you, the only spare tire Elvis ever dragged around was the one around his waist (click HERE).

So how did this whole fat trend come about anyway?

Well, apparently, if you are to believe Ms. Pearson’s article, it has less to do with a changing of fashionable sexual stereotypes then it does with women just being insecure.  They want to feel “pretty” and be the “center of attention”, so being seen next to a guy who looks like a clay sculpture that’s been left out in the sun is the way to achieve that feeling of self worth.

Umm, really?

Is that why Kelly hooked up with me?

C’mon, seriously?

Shoot.  Me.  Now.

So, basically, twenty-something dudes are now sitting around drinking $4 pitches on a Friday night instead of hitting the gym or, god forbid, running/cycling/swimming.  Dammit!  When was somebody going to send me the memo?  And here I’ve been wasting all my time in actually trying to lose  weight.

What an idiot.

But you know what?  Maybe I’m actually looking at this thing all wrong.

Upon closer reflection, I’m actually okay with all the young dudes sitting around getting fat and lazy.  In fact, you guys keep doing that.  Have another beer.  Shit, make it a double.  Biggie-Size your fries and add extra bacon to your burger while you’re at it.  Pass on the chicken breasts and egg-white omelets; milk it for all it’s worth, kids.  And while you’re doing that, I’ll keep running my intervals, working on my swim technique, cycling my hill repeats and continuing my quest to get all thin and – apparently – “unsexy”.

I guess that makes me the “Dad Bod” in reverse seeing as how I’ve worked hard just to get to this point.  Kinda like the Reverse Flash, only fatter and in banana yellow track pants as opposed to leotard. Providing this trend keeps up, maybe I just might actually have a chance at successfully accomplishing this whole Kona thing.  After all, when it comes to a battle of the fat guys at the starting line of any Ironman or triathlon, I might just have a fighting chance.  If not, I always have a promising future in competitive eating.

So bulk up boys and make your prissy princess girlfriends happy.  I’ll see you on the starting line…or not.

Either way, I’m liking my new-found chances.

When I first started this blog exactly four years and seven months ago I was a very different person.  In fact, my very first typed words within this blog were:

“I have a rather sensitive confession to make: I smoke pot.

There.  I said it.

I’m just not making the bid to be another serious triathlete here; I’m going for the quiet accolades of being the first hippie Ironman.  So put that in your aero bottle and smoke it.”

Yeah.

Like I said, I was a very  different guy back then (click HERE for the entire post).

Since this time, I’ve gone through many personal transformations, least of which was my giving up regular marijuana use of nearly two decades.  Now I’m a step-dad, fiancé, AND  an Ironman…albeit, not as the aforementioned version that I had originally envisioned.  I’m also a much more relaxed and less paranoid person to boot.  I also don’t eat nearly as many Little Debbie’s snack cakes pre-workout either.

Go figure.

At the time when I gave it up, it was more of a situational necessity (click HERE) than it was a any conscious decision on my part but, be that as it may, I was still considering the pros and cons of my pot usage long before the actual decision was ever made for me.  Regardless, less than six months after starting this blog journey, my quest to become the first ever “Hippie Ironman” died a spontaneous and tragic death; the end.

I succeeded in my Ironman quest, but I did it without the crutch of marijuana.

I’m not bitter about it at all as it was simply the right time to take that all important leap forward in my evolution of becoming a more responsible, disciplined and capable adult and triathlete. Shortly afterwards I met Kelly, adopted two very needy and emotionally damaged cats, moved in to be a part of this newly developing family which also includes my being partly responsibility for raising a very vibrant and engaged 7-year-old girl and, considering that my only responsibility prior that was in looking after and maintaining a cat and a mini-cactus that occupied my kitchen window sill, this was all a pretty significant step forward if I do say so (and I do). Pot just no longer factored into the equation that became my life.

It is what it is and that was that.

Sure I have some fond memories of my “indulged” past, but they’re just that: memories.  Reflections of a simpler time when I had few responsibilities other than making sure the cat was fed; the cactus was watered, eating, peeing, training…repeat.  Sometimes I look back on this period as the “Good ‘ol Days”, but I’d never actually want to go back there.  It was great at the time but time has definitely moved on.

So why am I dredging this all back up again now four years later you ask?  Well, this ultimate realization of my personal transformation towards pot use came crashing in on me only this past week as I was out on one of my bike rides.

It all happened innocently enough, and at no point did it include a back alley somewhere with a shifty guy sporting a trench coat, the fuzz, or a Little Debbie’s snack cake for that matter.  No, it was much less obvious than all that but it was no less profound.

There I was minding my own business riding down Nigh Rd. after looping around Fort Erie and heading home.  I know Nigh Rd. like the back of my hand and consider it to be the road most often traveled, given that I cycle and run this particular route several times a week.  It’s a long straight away back road about 8k long with a gradual incline at one end and more than a dozen scenic landscapes, manicured lawns and cool broken down barns along the roadside.

Typically, Nigh Rd. is the route I take back home again as part of my warm down, which was the exact purpose I was riding this route on this particular day.  However, on this day, as I was approaching the intersection at Bernard Rd., when another cyclist on a BMX bike came careening around the corner narrowly missing a car in the opposite lane and then myself as he veered back to my side of the road.  Forget for the moment that he was riding on the wrong side of the road (against traffic), not wearing a helmet or, clearly, not paying any real attention to where he was going, as he whipped past me with nary inches to spare I noticed a little baggie fall out of his knapsack and flutter to the ground.

My mental reaction was as second nature and instantaneous as, say, standing up and cheering when your’ favorite team scores a goal in overtime:

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“Ground score!”

Within a nano-second I had executed a complete 360° turn and was pulling up to the accidentally discarded baggie.  As I inspected the baggie’s contents, yup, my initial thoughts were 100% right – it was weed – a big honkin’ bud of the sticky-icky.  I opened the baggie and inhaled a deep, delicious snootfull of its precious contents.

If I wasn’t already straddling my bike, I might have done this:

It was like winning the lottery; or so it should have felt anyway.

Except, it wasn’t…much to my own surprise.

No, suddenly, free marijuana literally raining down at my feet wasn’t quite as miraculous as it would have been a few years ago.

I guess I have no real desire to be this guy again:

lelu8

This total complete and lack of enthusiasm for this gift of free chronic from the divine pot gods was a complete watershed moment for me.  Had it been a cheeseburger, I probably would have break-danced right then and there in the middle of the road, but as it was, I really didn’t care.  In fact, I even considered picking it up and sprinting after the stoned cyclist who was slowly weeble-wobbling his way down the road into the distance.  But then I figured, meh, giving him his weed back probably wasn’t going to get him home any safer and, hey, the next passer-by might appreciate the gift instead.  So I left it there.

Yup. I left a baggie of pot in the middle of the road.

Me!

That’s fucked up, right?

In my former life, I would have inevitably set a new land speed record while accomplishing a PB along the Bernard to Ridge Rd. segment on Strava in order to get home and smoke my heady nugget but, today, well, not so much.  Instead I went home and had an apple.

WTF?

I guess my days of being a burnt out pothead are way behind me.  I think deep down I already knew that but, today, I know those days are truly long gone.  I simply can’t afford, nor do I want, to end up incapacitated somewhere giggling my ass off and babbling like a complete fucking retard into a bowl of Fritos.

Been there, done that.

This past Saturday, I accomplished my first goal of the season by successfully completing the ‘Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids’ for my third straight year. This event, while supporting a very noble local cause near and dear to my own heart, has become the annual benchmark of my swim training in the off season.  In short, while most of my peers are either primarily focused on their running or indoor trainers, I tend to place all my off-season eggs squarely in the swim basket by spending a stupid amount of time in the pool with this 10k swim being my ultimate ‘coup d’etat’.

Arriving on site

Arriving on site

The goal of this event is not a preconceived time or pace, per se, but simply to complete the distance and support a great cause. The personal benefit of such is twofold:

  1. A commit to ensure that my ass gets in the pool and thereby, establish a strong foundation for my triathlon training.
  2. Build mental toughness.

Now in regards to the second point, it’s true that you can build mental toughness on the bike or while running, there’s nothing quite like the tediousness and ultimate “aloneness” to build one’s mental fortitude. The truth of the matter is that despite this being my third year doing this event, it still scares the bejesus out of me; 10 kilometers (400 laps) is a long ass time to spend swimming laps.

My attempt at looking cool.

My attempt at looking cool for the press (pre-swim)

It’s already been documented that last year wasn’t exactly a primo year for me and in some regard I’m still dealing with those demons – fear of recouping after an injury; fear of losing my fitness; fear of failure.  In training for this event it was also a way of tackling those demons head on so but, while it’s ultimately only a charity event, this also represents my first ‘mano e’ mano’  showdown with these fears and personal insecurities.

Regardless of what it was, I was certainly better trained this year than I have been in past years.  For the past two months, I have been swimming anywhere between 14 and 18 kilometers a week for a whopping grand total of nearly 180k in 2015 alone – that’s 180,000m for God sakes!  Now, I know by marathon standards this I a mere drop in the bucket but for a guy who could barely swim five years ago (click HERE and HERE), is pretty damn good I think.  I’ve used paddles, learned how to use a snorkel to perfect my stroke as much as possible, and done so many drills than that I nearly cried pure chlorine.  I’ve gotten out of bed before the crack of dawn 3 times a week for months on end, suffered dry and pruny skin and now my hair now has the texture of straw.   So let it be known, I’ve put in my time.  I feel I’ve paid my dues.

Pre-swim

Pre-swim

But how does all this translate performance-wise?

A whole 27 whole seconds. That’s it.

Okay, well, maybe not exactly.

Last years’ 10k swim time was time 3 hours, 16 minutes and 51 seconds.  On top of that, there were at least 10 minutes of feeding stops, pee breaks, and a quick meet n’ greet with Frank (the man) himself.  This year, my cumulative  time over all was 3 hours, 16 minutes and 24 seconds.  Of that time, 3 hours, 11 minutes and 5 seconds were spent swimming; meaning I only stopped twice…and even then, only briefly.  The real accomplishment is that I felt infinitely more relaxed and less spent than I have been in the last two years.  In fact, it wasn’t quite so bad…like, at all.

Dare I say it: it was pretty easy?  Physically that is.

Mentally, there were times when it was a real grind.

Me and my pacers gettin' business done.

Me and my pacers gettin’ business done.

It all started off promptly at 1:00pm with me and exactly three other swimmers, HRH included.  Nowhere near the number of participants that have turned out in previous years, and the feeling like it was going to be a long day were already sinking into my brain.  If I’ve learned anything about long distance swimming its’ that it’s every bit as much a mental challenge as it is physical, more so actually. After all, for the entire time doing laps you’re looking at a long black line on the pool with little to no other stimulus whatsoever.  They don’t call it “Black Line Fever” for nothing.

I took my first short break at the 2500m mark (100 laps) when I felt Kelly tap my feet at the wall to remind me to take in some water.  By now, other swimmers had begun arriving so at least I had some company in the other lanes.  After a minute or so I pushed on with the intent of getting through another 100 laps or so.

I’m not sure how much longer after that, but I remember thinking ‘okay, this is getting boring’ and I started to mentally prepare myself for what I knew was only going to get worse, but as I began to mentally talk myself through those first few feelings of ‘aloneness’ , another swimmer appeared in my lane…and then another.

Still at it.

Still at it.

Two other swimmers and triathlon peers of mine, Jim Sunners and Michael Poulsen arrived to lend a hand in pacing me and, basically, just to keep me company.  Both Jim and Mike are extremely successful swimmers and triathletes in their own forthright and both have qualified for Kona this year (Jim has actually qualified and competed in Kona seven times and Mike has done so for the first time this year), so to have them think enough of my challenge to show up to support me as well the cause was – well, I’ll say it – very overwhelming and it certainly very appreciated.

Together the three of us formed a pace line and pushed on.

When I next felt the tap on my feet from Kelly to remind me to stop and drink, I quickly told her I was fine and carried on.  On a few occasions, I called for a piece of banana or a sip of water but I did so by flipping over on my back and continued stroking without stopping (a skill I’ve practices this season) as to not break our formation.  We kept this up straight through the half way point of the swim and by the time Jim pulled from the formation and called it a day at one end of the pool (he had to get to work) we were already at the 7500m mark (300 laps) – my longest consecutive swim to date.

At the finish.

At the finish.

Our pace may have not been anything to brag about and, truthfully, I know we could all have managed a much quicker pace fairly easily, it was still fun and I felt honored and privileged to be paced by guys to whom I look up to and I was just happy to sit on their feet and enjoy the moment…all 75 or so of them.

Mike and I pressed on for another 1000m or so before he too had to get to work, so with only 1500m to go and a couple honey dates in my belly, I pressed on once again…alone.  These next 60 laps were easily the most difficult of them all as by this time, I was pretty much the only one left in the pool.  I picked up the pace just a bit, so keep things interesting (and prove to myself I could do it) and to the encouragement of the amazing staff at the Port Colborne YMCA, I even sprinted the last 50m  to the end completing my third successful Frank & Friends swim.

The after effects.

The after effects.

Here are the final results (click HERE):

  • Total calories: 2,832
  • Total strokes: 4,776
  • strokes per minute: 24
  • strokes per length: 12
  • pace: 155 min/100m
  • Best pace: 0:45 min/100m

On the whole, amongst all the participants at our branch, we completed a total of 50k (2000 laps) while raising exactly $1400 for Strong Kids, both surpassing the goal that had initially been set.  I like to think Frank is proud.

As for me, I’ve already committed to next years’ swim and hope to even set a time goal of under three hours to boot; time to up the game a bit.