Dear Roberto

Posted: February 26, 2015 in In Transition, Swim
Tags: ,

I documented once before my successes in “swimming” as a kid (click HERE for a little reminder).  Now, I put swimming in quotations marks there because, well, it wasn’t really swimming so much as it was a full body seizure 25m  at a time, and what I thought I knew about swimming wasn’t really swimming at all; enter the weekly TryForce Masters swim and my progression from the “Advanced” lane directly to the “Beginners” lane six years ago.  I mention this all again because, the coach in that Beginners lane was a guy named Roberto.

The Man.  The Myth.  The Legend.

The Man. The Myth. The Legend.

Sadly, I received an email a few weeks ago that Roberto will be temporarily stepping down as a swim coach for the TryForce Group.  I had to reread the email a few times for it to sink in as I can’t imagine TryForce swims without him.  And although I don’t participate in the group swims as much anymore given it’s a bit inconvenient and far for me to travel, I still consider Roberto in many ways to be my swim coach.  With that in mind, I made it a point to show up last night and participate in what had been identified as his “last official coaching session”.

Roberto has been with the TryForce coaching team since its genesis.  A quick browse of the TryForce Niagara website will tell you that Roberto comes from a “swimming background”  and “instructed youth programs while in Mexico and has been instructing with TryForce for (seven-ish) years. He truly enjoys teaching the fundamental swimming technique for those looking to become comfortable and efficient in the water especially those new to the sport.”   I will expand on this to say that he’s one of the nicest, most patient people to ever walk the planet; and then there’s that smile.  Besides swimming, I’ve also had the pleasure of riding and running with him from time to time, and participated in a few workshops he hosted on basic bike maintenance and how to change a bike tire.  So, yeah, Roberto has been pretty instrumental in my development as a “triathlete”.

But back to the swimming…

When I was moved to the Beginner’s lane all those years ago I was mortified.  Hey, I won a Bronze medal as a child, remember?  Of course, there were only three people in my heat but that’s entirely beside the point.  For the next few weeks, Roberto patiently explained the proper mechanics of really  swimming and ran me (us) through some drills to help develop those skills.  It turns out that wind-milling your arms through the water at 100rpm  doesn’t generate speed.  Huh.  Whatyaknow?   My confidence in the water was shattered.  After all, as a kid, the swim coach at the local Lions pool had screamed “swim faster, Terry!”   at all those swim meets, not “make sure to properly utilize your catch in order to pull yourself comfortably through the water Terry!”

The bastard.

I recognized quickly then that I was basically starting over from scratch and relearning how to swim and I took it my new challenge. Roberto was a huge part in that.  Each week, we were given some instruction on the different parts of the stroke and then given “homework” (drills) to practice in the pool later on our own.  I took this homework seriously, often going back to the pool the very next morning for 20-30 minutes at a time and practicing my drills.  After a few weeks of practicing my technique, my form improved enough that I was ‘graduated’ to the next lane with another coach; but that didn’t end my relationship with Roberto.

While I continued to practice all the “shark fin”, “single arm”, “doggie paddle”, “zipper”, “catch-up” and God-knows-what-else drills the new coach gave us (most of which I still use and practice regularly today), I always made sure to sidle up to Roberto during our post-workout coffees to glean as much as I could about ways to continuously improve my form in the water.  I recognized that it wasn’t exactly a strength and I was determined to make it just that.

Eventually, Roberto even invited me to join him and another TryForce peer once a week for their workout and, honestly, this scared the bejesus outta me.  I knew there was no way I would ever be able to keep up with these two during their workout (and I didn’t), but I considered it an honor just to be asked and I couldn’t pass it up, not to mention the opportunity for a little extra tutorial. It was largely through these sessions that I learned that when it comes to swimming, it’s definitely quality over quantity when it comes to swimming.  It’s not how many lengths you accomplish, but the quality of the time you spend in the water to benefit your overall form and technique. This is the basic fundamental principle that I subscribe to today.

Also, it was during these sessions, on top of the usual drills I would do on my own, that Roberto gave me added advice on how to develop my kick which was practically non-existent and ugly even at the best of times (click HERE), he explained the benefits of and then made suggestions on how improve my bi-lateral breathing (click HERE).  He introduced me to the Swim Smooth website (click HERE) and taught me how to use an Aquapulse Heart Rate Monitor (click HERE).  Shit, he even tried to help me with my Butterfly Stroke (click HERE), something I have still managed to fail miserably at I might add.

But more than all this, Coach Roberto taught me something I have come to value above all else: a real LOVE of swimming.

Where I used to hate it and thought only of it as a necessity in order to compete in triathlon, I genuinely have a real passion for swimming now and I am continually developing it be my true strength in the sport.  I’ve become something of a real “Aquaholic” in that regard.  I now see long distance swimming as, potentially, my new future if/when this whole triathlon thing falls by the way side.  I already participate in one 10k charity swim per year (click HERE) and I would love to do more, even seriously compete at that distance – and longer.  I even have a future lake crossing in the back of my mind.

Yeah.

Beyond that, I am also now sharing and creating this same passion for swimming with HRH, who is turning into quite the water baby herself (she even used to ride in the canoe with Roberto during our open water workouts a few summers ago – something that she still fondly recalls from time to time now).  And it’s this overall drive and passion for swimming is what I am most grateful to Roberto for instilling in me.  Thank you for that, buddy.

Sincerely.

And even though it’s only temporarily you will be sorely missed and I am looking forward to the next time we can get in the water to simply, swim.

Brakes Are For Sissies

Posted: February 12, 2015 in Bike
Tags: ,

Now, I must confess that when the initial suggestion went out amongst my TryForce group to try the new Velodrome in Milton, this is immediately what popped into my head:

..and this:

Yeah, fuck no.

Pass.

Then I learned that a “Velodrome” was just the fancy term for the special arena that houses track cycling.  Okay, so no one’s ever accused me of being smaht. Count me in!

So with a little maneuvering around the Mattamy National Cycling Center website which included my providing everything just short of a stool and hair follicle sample just to login successfully (all to be accomplished between the precise hours of 10:14 and 11:37pm by the light of Harvest Moon), I was all booked in to “Try the Track” for this past Saturday at 2:00pm along with about a dozen or so of my peers.

I’ve never cycled on a track before so, of course, I did a little preemptive investigating on the Interweb to see what this whole track cycling thing was all about.  My only familiarity with track cycling was watching Canada’s Curt Harnett silver medal performance at the 1986 Los Angeles Olympic Games in what was known as the 750m Match Sprint.  I liked the whole “cat and mouse” game between the two riders which inevitably would start out at a snail’s pace and gradually lead over into both cyclists sprinting for the finish at light speed. It was awesome.  Later, I discovered the Tour de France and avidly followed Steve Bauer’s days in the ‘maillot jaune’ in the local Standard newspaper in 1988 and 1990.  Both became heroes of mine and I remember imaging myself sprinting for glory to the end of my street with my buddies during any one of our daily bike rides around the neighborhood.  Likewise, I am fortunate enough to cycle now in the same area that Steve Bauer grew up in and every time I climb Saylor’s Hills in Pelham, I still image myself racing against him to the top of the mountain summit so, yeah, I guess you can say I never really did grow out of that childhood hero worship. So a chance to try the track was exciting.

Anyway, my initial research taught me that a velodrome is a steeply banked oval track, consisting of two 180° circular bends connected by two straights. The straights transition to the circular turn through a moderate easement curve.  Banking in the turns, called “superelevation”, allows riders to keep their bikes relatively perpendicular to the surface while riding at speed.  When traveling through the turns at racing speed, which may exceed 85 km/h (52.8 mph), the banking attempts to match the natural lean of a bicycle moving through that curve.  At the ideal speed, the net force of the centrifugal force (outward) and gravity (downward) is angled down through the bicycle, perpendicular to the riding surface. The $56-million velodrome at the Mattamy National Cycling Center features a 250m long, 7m wide timber track constructed of untreated Siberian Spruce (well, la-di-da) which is renowned for its hardness, stability and long, straight lines. The track has 42° banked bends and 13° banked straights.

Does that sound like fun or what?

The bikes used in velodromes are also completely different than the typical road bikes of which I am accustomed to riding. For example, they have no brakes.  Pardon?  I had a full stop at that point. Not that I ever had any chance of reaching 85km/h but, no brakes?  Fuck.  Seriously?  Furthermore, they are fixed wheel bikes that employ a single fixed rear gear, or cog, that does not freewheel. This helps maximize speed, reduces weight, and avoids sudden braking while nevertheless allowing the rider to slow by pushing back against the pedals.  I mean it makes sense I guess but, still, no brakes?  Really?  It sounds like a perfect recipe for disaster.  I can see the morning headlines now: “Ridgeway Man Dies in Horrible Velodrome Accident”  and, underneath it, a picture of a perfect Terry-shaped hole in the velodrome track floor where my body had passed through it at Mach 3.

Oh joy.

So two months later, following a reschedule with the Center requiring us to reregister on their website, add our next of kin and answering the mandatory skill testing question – don’t even get me started on the list of required equipment specifications – Kelly and I were finally in the car with the Coach heading towards Milton.

Upon arrival, we headed upstairs to get our first gander at the track itself. First impression: it was gorgeous – all shiny wood and slick running surfaces.

Seriously, how cool is this:

1

It was like a Valhalla for cyclists.

There were riders already on the track and they seemed like they were enjoying themselves. I followed the riders as they rode around the track on a blue band at the bottom, or what’s known as the “côte d’azur”, aaaaaaaaand then I saw it…the embankment at the end of the track.

Ho-lee shit.

The End Embankment.

The End Embankment.

I had to get a better look so Kelly and I walked around on the running track that circumnavigates the velodrome itself to get a better look at this, this, this…”wall”. I don’t know how else to refer to it. Standing at the top looking down it was certainly steep, like impossibly steep. All that was missing was maybe a Sherpa, or some dude in lederhosen blowing on an alphorn. But, seriously, from my particular vantage point at that exact moment here is how I viewed it:

Here it is in actuality but, believe me, the picture doesn’t really do it justice.

Looking straight down.

Looking straight down.

I decided that this was doing nothing for my confidence so I figured I’d go and get changed into my cycling kit, all the while wondering why they hadn’t included either crampons or an oxygen tank on their lists of required equipment.

Shortly afterwards, we were all herded into a small classroom for our “track orientation”.  After a short wait we were introduced to a guy named Christoff with tree trunks for legs and an accent so thick you could cut it with a cheese knife. “We are going to ‘av vun ya?”, he said in his East European accent.  Also in the room was an unassuming guy seated in a chair that I instantly recognized as Steve Bauer himself, Head Coach of the Milton Cycling Academy.  Sure he was a little older and not wearing his yellow jersey but, still, you could have knocked me over with a feather.

I admit: I was a little star struck.

After a short info session which, truthfully, I didn’t catch a lot either due to Christoff’s accent (or possibly my stargazing at Steve Bauer), at least nothing I hadn’t already gleaned from my own research – it’s true – there were no brakes – we were ready to pick up our bikes and make our way to the track.  Goodie.

Certain death, here I come.

Can't you just sense my excitement?

Can’t you just sense my excitement?

Upon getting on the bikes for a quick test drive it is very apparent that fixed gear fixes are very different by design.  Once you start pedaling it’s not so easy to stop, impossible actually. You have to use your quads to slow your momentum and that takes some getting used to when you’re accustomed to simply reaching for the brakes. Upon taking our first few spins around the inside of the track (the safe zone), I will admit it, I didn’t like it.  I didn’t like that loss of immediate control. We quickly learned that in order to avoid any possible, shall we say, “Oopsies” (oopsies like colliding with another cyclist at 50km/h), you had to focus your attention on the person ahead of you, but the other riders waaaay ahead of you.  That takes some getting used to, let me tell you, when you’re more accustomed to focusing your attention on the wheel of the rider directly ahead of you in the pace line.

Eventually, we were allowed to ride on the blue côte d’azur I saw the previous riders cycling on, which is typically about 10% of the tracks surface.  The blue band is not technically a part of the track; although it is not illegal to ride there, moving into it to shortcut another rider will result in disqualification.  For our purposes, it was the first tentative steps to actually riding the track. Kelly referred to us as “baby deer” in the way we cautiously weeble-wobbled our way around the track trying our best not to fall off or collide with anyone else.  She’s definitely not far off in her assessment either as that’s exactly how I felt and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

Finding our baby track legs.

Finding our baby track legs.

Shortly, with each passing lap of the track my confidence grew but, hey, we were still only riding on a relatively flat surface so, yeah, whoopee.  What I mean is that I was getting more accustomed to using my quads to control my speed and keeping my focus well ahead of the rider ahead of me.  Soon, we were allowed to ride a little up on the track itself and back down again to practice looking over our shoulders for other riders; not the crazy Grand Canyon embankments at the end, mind you, but just along the sides of the tracks.  By doing this we were gaining confidence little by little. But there was still that monster 42° monster at the end to contend with.

Getting the feel of the track.

Getting the feel of the track.

Between turns riding around the track (there were two groups of us) we were eventually given permission to ride between the black and red lines (the red being known as the “sprinters line”) which is known as the “sprinters lane”, the optimum route around the track.  This zone may only be comprised of a mere 90cm in width, but by the time you get to that huge angle at the end, suddenly that 90cm looks rather menacing – believe me.  In fact, it’s hard to image the bike sticking to the track at that angle and it wasn’t until I had completed a few circuits around the track that I actually managed to stay securing in this zone the whole time around without pussying out and dropping back to the safety of the côte d’azur.

My biggest fear was my having to hear Christoff say:  “ve vill ‘av to call you an ambulance now, ya?”

What I eventually learned is that it had nothing do with power and everything to do with cadence.  By bringing your cadence up you could power around the end embankment up on the sprinter’s line and then surge back down again into the straightaway. It was neat to be able to look over your left shoulder and see the floor whipping past you at an impossible angle.  Okay, now I was hooked.  I might have even let out a “Weeeeeeeeeee!!!” as I went flying around the track.

Riding the "Sprinter's Lane"

Riding the “Sprinter’s Lane”. “And a little bit faster now…”

Although we weren’t really allowed or encouraged to, I gradually brought my bike above the sprinter’s line at the ends up to the blue “stayer’s line”, a whole 250cm above the floor.  Now the adrenaline was really pumping.  By keeping my cadence fast (95-100rpm) the bike navigated around the bend smoothly and easily and then I could slow the bike just a little into the straight away to be not to ride headlong into the rider ahead of me.

I’m sure I was giggling like a schoolgirl.

Testing the "Stayer's Line".

Testing the “Stayer’s Line”. “…a little bit faster now…”

Feeling the leg power required to rise higher on the track gave me a whole new appreciation for the leg strength these Olympic Match sprinters must have. It’d be akin to riding a bike – slowly no less – up a vertical wall.  I shit you not!  I also remember seeing these cyclists doing what’s known as a “track stand”, or simply balancing there motionless high up on the track.  It’s little wonder their bodies are 99% comprised of leg muscle.

Unfortunately, our time on the track came to an end. But it wasn’t before we got an excited two thumbs up and a “you did great, ya?”, and maybe a “ve vill see you again soon, ya?”  from Christoff himself.  I have to say, once you grasped the concept of the fixed gear bike it was addicting and I could really enjoy track cycling if this triathlon thing doesn’t work out so well. So will I be back?

Ya!

2015 Gym J. Bollock Award

Posted: January 22, 2015 in Gym
Tags: , ,

Lord knows that the gym is a literal breeding ground of schmucks. From your typical bevy of weight room goons (which are many – click HERE), to the girls who monopolize the machines in order to take selfies of their boobs, to the guy who likes to trim his pubic hair on the changing room sofa, and lest we forget the Black Mamba.  Shit, you can probably even add me to this cast of characters as well given I’ve had my own fair share of awkward moments (click HERE).  And now that it’s winter and most people are taking to the indoors for their workouts, never mind the influx of current New Years Resolutioner’s, that pool of schmuck’s is a-plenty for sure.

For me, part of going to the gym is the morbid attraction to scope out these schmucks in their natural habitat.  I consider it as something to do between sets on my mat, and such was the case yesterday on a recent visit to the gym to complete a short functional strength and core routine after work. To say the gym was “busy” would be like suggesting that Miley Cyrus is merely a bit “off”.  Suffice to say, it was fucking crazy.  I could barely squeeze myself into a corner without also rubbing asses with either the tweener in neon spandex and the scary looking bearded guy in the gnarly, stained “Tap Out” t-shirt who looked like he’d sooner eat me than offer me a little room to workout out.  So, while the schmuck-watching was great, it was with great haste that I ran through my series of planks, push-ups and crunches to get the fuck out of there…which I did.

Now, if you think the actual gym floor has its fair share of wacko’s, than the locker room would be the Ground Zero from which all the imminent wackiness emanates, and yesterday proved no different. My basic strategy on any given day is to get in and get out as quickly as possible without making eye-contact, or being forced into any “howdy do’s”, etcetera and so forth; less is definitely more when it comes to the locker room in my opinion.  But, every now and again, you see something that will suddenly make you freeze in your tracks and gape in bewildered astonishment.  And such was the case yesterday, when I spotted this years’ winning recipient of the “Gym J. Bullock Award” for total and complete gym buffoonery.

It has to be said, it’s a total crap shoot each and every time you walk into the showers. It’s like blindly walking into a crime scene in that you’re never really going to know what you’re going to witness. It could be something mundane and ordinary, or it could be a total bloodbath.

And yesterday was a total bloodbath.

Upon walking into the showers and retiring to a corner showerhead I quickly and discretely took stock of my surroundings as men are prone to do when naked and, therefore, feeling vulnerable. In there with me at this specific time was the requisite old guy, some dude on the opposite side of the showers minding his own business, and…that’s it.  Perfect!  And so it went for a few minutes or so until another guy entered and sidled up to the showerhead directly next to mine.

Immediately, I was like:

Nevermind that there were any number of showerheads available elsewhere that he could have easily chosen from (seriously, choosing shower facets is like choosing urinals, you select the one as far away from everybody else as possible), it’s what he did next that completely freaked me out, earning him this years’ award hands down.  No contest.

At first, he just stood there under the cascading water, dousing himself as one typical does, but then he proceeded to fondle his junk for the next few seconds or so.  And not just “fondle” fondle, but literally tugging at himself like he was playing with a Stretch Armstrong (click HERE) or something.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I realize your frank and beans need a thorough cleaning as well – they get sweaty too – but there is a very specific point at which it becomes too much. When it comes to washing your privates, I like to observe the “five second rule” similar to when food falls on the floor; providing it’s retrieved within the allotted five second time frame, it is still safe to eat.  Well, in this case, after five seconds of scrubbing your junk, it’s no longer cleaning…it’s just fucking weird.  And this guy was the epitome of weird in the way he was pulling at it, rubbing it, and whipping it around like he was going to lasso a steer.  Honestly, it was very disconcerting.

But then seconds turned into, well, minutes, and there he still is…thwacking at it like he was trying to punish it for some misdeed or other.  Although it seemed like hours, I’m sure it was only three to four minutes he was doing this but, still, that’s a fucking long  time to spend playing with your genitals in a public shower!

But he wasn’t done yet, oh no.  After the initial round of yanking and tugging during which I was sure he was going to rip it off, he proceeded to get a fistful of soap from the dispenser and started to lather it all up…like, seriously lather up.  Okay, weird just turned to extremely awkward as, suddenly the shower area turned into an Ibiza foam party.

At this point, I had to vacate the premises…quickly. The sounds of slapping and flapping were simply too much to bear.  It was freaking me out to be perfectly honest.  And I wasn’t the only one either, as just about every other guy in the shower decided to join me in my exodus, so, clearly, I wasn’t the only one who thought this behavior was inappropriate.  Hey, when you actually manage to scare old dudes out of the showers, you just know that whatever it is you’re doing is fucking bizarre.  And this guy brought it in spades.

I think I may actually need therapy now.

I admit that – like every other triathlete on the planet I suppose – I absolutely LOVE my gear.  I bond with it; I name it; I build meaningful relationships with it.  Of course, this is all well and good as long as we’re talking about shoes and bikes, but when the subject suddenly turns to technology (i.e. gadgets and gizmos), well, not so much.

You see, I’m a technology Neanderthal.  Seriously, I’m about as close as one can get to actually being anti-technology in that I have never owned a cell phone and the digital clock on my microwave flashed 12:00am  for approximately 10 years when I lived on my own.  Now setting the clock falls under Kelly’s umbrella along with updating the computer software, programming the cable box, adjusting the settings on the tablet thingee and locating addresses on the GPS in the car.  Me?  I bitch.  That’s pretty much my jam when it comes to technology.

Now, I have been using a Garmin Forerunner 305 (which, for the record, is practically obsolete) for running and biking for about six years now, but I really only use the most basic time/distance/pace features.  In other words, I only use about 10% of its overall capabilities.  In other words, if you ever dropped me off in the woods somewhere and asked me to only rely on using the GPS coordinate tracking features to get out I’d be fucked; total bear bait.

For swimming (both in the pool and in the open water) I have been using the Polar F6.  This too, is a pretty basic device.  It tracks my heart rate, total time, calories burned and…that’s it.  It has no GPS feature so I have to manually calculate all my distances and then do the required math to figure out my pace which, of course, I never do.  It’s just a way of logging my total time spent in the water and the amount of calories I burn.  And if I should ever forget what lap I’m on, I’m pretty much screwed.  The real downside with the Polar monitor however is that it comes with that blasted chest strap which I have had to replace now at least a zillion times as the chlorine tends to eat through it like battery acid given the amount of time I spend in the local pool.  Plus it’s annoying as hell; nevermind that it makes me look like a dinosaur.

However, I have just recently taken a huge step forward in my embracing of technology by purchasing the new Garmin Swim device.  My Coach has one and she sure loves it and I see some of my training peers on Garmin Connect using one and their data is pretty cool to look out so, yeah, I was certainly tempted.  I figure I have to get with the times sooner or later and Lord knows I love me my swim workouts and I am looking to improve even more so it appeared like a good investment.  So I reluctantly slapped down the $140 on my credit card (at Giant Tiger no less!) and five days later, there it was sitting on my front door step.

Bedhead not included

Bedhead not included

Now, I won’t lie…at first, it scared the bejesus outta me.  So much so, that upon arriving it sat in the package for at least three swim workouts.  You see, I am not necessarily what you would call an “Ambassador of Change”, particularly when it comes to anything resembling modern technology.  I tend to look at new technology – specifically the “wireless” kind – the same way a mid-16th century pioneer might view, say, a 3D hologram – it’s witchcraft.  I just don’t have a very good track record when it comes to these kinds of things.  Will it work?  Will I be able to make it work?  Will it be accurate?  Etcetera and so forth.  It all kept me up at night.  But finally, I opened the package and decided to give it go.  It’s a brave new world after all.

My first course of action was to attempt to figure what the buttons – all six of them – actually did.  By comparison, my Polar only has one and I only ever use the ON/OFF and Start/Stop features (two buttons in total) on my Forerunner.  SIX?!  Fuck.  I might have to take a night course to figure all this shot out.  Furthermore, the direction manual is only a whopping four pages…FOUR!  It’s madness.  The user manual for my Forerunner rivaled a Chinese telephone book and that learned me how to use two buttons…so what are four measly pages going to teach me?  I wanted to package it back up then and there, admit defeat and ship it back.  It seemed hopeless.  Fortunately, a buddy linked me to a website by a guy named DC Rainmaker (click HERE) who featured an “easy” step-by-step review of the Garmin Swim device.

Easy, eh?  I’ll be the judge of that.

As it turns out, programming the initial settings (you techies might refer to this process as “presetting the data”) was pretty easy.  So, yeah, I got the date and time and even my weight (never you mind) programmed successfully.  Yay me!  Take that blinking microwave.  I was feeling so confident that I even programmed the pool size (25m) as well.  Booyah bitches!  Take that you nerds.  So, okay, so far so good.  I was actually ready to start swimming.

So far this Garmin Swim thing is pretty awesome.

After hitting the ‘Start’ button (I’m pretty good at that by now) in the pool, I swam a length and paused to check out the results and – sure enough – it had registered 25m.  But…but…how?  What kind of sorcery was this?  I was flummoxed.  Like I said before…witchcraft.  But cool witchcraft for sure; so I kept swimming .  And it all was all going great until I tried to do some drills, then…nada.  No distance logged.  Huh.  Then I tried to do some kicking.  Nothing.  Did it somehow loose its voodoo all of a sudden?  What gives?

Well, as it turns out, the Garmin Swim (like the Forerunner 910XT/920XT and the Fenix 2) houses a sensor, called an ‘accelerometer’, which measures motion.  With software specifically designed to analyze motion, the device will measure three basic metrics for swimming:

  • Stroke count – counts a stroke for every full cycle of the arm wearing the watch
  • Length count – counts pool lengths by detecting your turn or stop; one length count is one trip down the pool (25m in my case)
  • Stroke type – displays different types of strokes detected by specific swimming motions

Pretty neat-o, right?  But here’s where it gets even neater.

The stroke count and length count are used in combination with timing to compute other swimming data, such as distance, pace, stroke rate, and your “SWOLF”.  What is “swolf” you ask?  Well, swolf is derived from combining the terms ‘swimming’ and ‘golf’.  The swolf data adds the time and the number of strokes it takes to swim a pool length.  For instance, 30 seconds and 10 strokes to swim the length of a pool will equal a swolf score of 40.  A lower score is better, just as in golf.  So this gives me something to measure my overall efficiency with.  I like that.  Who knew that all those years caddying for my grandfather would actually pay off?  Well, okay, it didn’t really…but it’s still kinda neat.

Here’s what the drill sets look like in Garmin Connect (of course, getting to this point to view them was a completely different challenge, but I’ll come to that later):

Swim1

Pretty bad ass, huh?  But what are those blank parts between the colored bits?

Well, the problem is that without that motion, the device can’t register its distance (lengths) properly.  Crapsticks!  Not so neat.  So after returning home and scanning DC Rainmaker’s post a little more, low and behold, it turns out the device has a solution for this problem.  I learned that I can log “drill time” with the watch similar using its “Drill Log” feature the same way I would add a manual entry on the Garmin Connect site.  In essence, while in this mode it keeps the timer running and allows you to manually set the swim distance after you’ve completed that drill set; essentially an override.  So I returned back to the pool to give it a go and, well, I completely fucked it up.  But after a few swims – not to mention a ‘cheat sheet’ of instructions (thanks Coach!) – I finally managed to use all the buttons to log my drills correctly.  The real amazing thing about all this is that now I am using not one, two or even three buttons in conjunction with one another…but FOUR!

So, apparently, the watch even makes you smarter as well.  How awesome is that?

So those blank parts between the colored bits I pointed out were the points of my workout where I enabled the Drill Log, so despite still swimming (be it drills or kicking or whatever) the timer was kept running but no actual lengths were recorded by the device itself.  I just entered the drill distance manually and it then added that measure to my overall accumulative distance.  Am I kicking technology’s ass or what?

Winning.

The next challenge, however, was bit more dubious: connecting all this shit to my online Garmin Connect site.  It’s one thing to have the information, but it’s entirely a different thing to actually be able to review it.  I.e. look at the pretty colored graphs n’ shit and, hey, let’s face it, I loves me some colored graph shit.  Now I mentioned before that the Garmin Swim is “wireless” (which still sends shivers down my spine just to type it) but fortunately, despite my still running off the stegosaurus of operating programs (Windows XP) I am still able to use Garmin Express to upload my workouts to my Garmin Connect site…barely…except this didn’t go as easily as you might expect.  Ha!  Who am I kidding?  This was bound to be a disaster and it was.

For uploading from my Forerunner, Garmin Express completely blows.  I basically have to download the .tcx file (whatever the fuck that is) from the Garmin Training Center after I sync my workout, then manually upload it to the Connect site afterwards.  It’s a bit of a process but I manage to get it done.  Now, for those of you in the know Garmin has been experiencing some, shall we say, “issues” with its online site.  Don’t get me wrong, their customer support (when you can get through to them) is amazing n’ all, but the fact that I now know them all by name might give you some idea how utterly shitty their website is right now.  So my first effort to sync my swim workout to the Connect site crashed and burned and, ultimately, my workout disappeared like Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.  Even after spending an hour on the phone with Lars from Garmin, we still couldn’t retrieve the file from my device and successfully upload it to Garmin Connect.

Shitsticks!

He did though encourage me to give it another go upon my next workout suggesting that it might just be a corrupt file or something; just my luck.  But try I did two days later.  I swam in the morning, logged in my drills, swam my intervals, stroked my swolf’s and what have you, and then went to work.  Now I think it’s worth mentioning here that the Garmin Swim is just hip and ungawdy enough that you can actually wear it throughout the day as a normal watch without attracting negative attention.  Try doing that with your Forerunner 305!  Anyway, when I arrived home it wasn’t without a certain amount of trepidation.  So much so I just dropped the watch on my desk figuring I’d play with it after dinner, maybe give Lars another dingle to say ‘hi’ and simply go from there, but I hadn’t even gotten 5 ft. from my desk when my computer beeped and happily announced that my “data had been transferred”.  Really?

I immediately checked my Garmin Connect site and…AWESOME!

I almost did a happy dance right there on the spot.

More happy colored charts to peruse.  Here is what the displayed interval information looks like:

Swim3

Notice how the device recognized and listed my stroke during my warm up interval as either freestyle and breast stroke.  Notice how the second interval is listed as “Drill”.  Also listed in there is my rest periods (in grey) as well as my third interval which was actually the first interval of my main set and I can scroll down to see the rest of the intervals to boot.

Yup.  Witchcraft.

There is even a Table display that shows the data for each of my intervals, telling me the number of lengths, my times, average pace, best pace, the swolf, total strokes, average strokes and, shit, it even tells me how many calories my fat ass is burning per lap.  How fucking sweet is that?

Swim4

I wonder if Gandalf has it this good?

So, yeah, initial spooks aside, it turns out that I love this thing.  Heck, I might actually even try to figure out how to set that microwave clock next.  It’s all enough to make me reconsider my views on technology and embrace all things modern…almost.

For the past four months or so I have taken on a new role in my active lifestyle progression, that of a “spin instructor”.  And I love it. I like to think that I have a very unique way of leading classes in that I – myself – very seldom ever get on the bike, like, at all. I know, I know…but you’re supposed to be spinning right?  Well, yeah, they  are.  Me?  Who says so?  Allow me explain.

My argument here is that it’s not my  workout – it’s their  workout.  Instead, I prefer to walk around and motivate, assess their form, provide face-to-face encouragement – maybe goad them a little bit if I think they happen to be dogging it – and otherwise orchestrate what’s happening within the class much the same way a conductor conducts an orchestra. The conductor’s not actually playing  anything; he’s simply acting as the instrument through which all the moving parts are harmonizing together towards one cohesive effect.  In my case, that overall effect is my class collectively kicking ass. And they do.

Some instructors might argue with me, of course, that instructors should be riding along with the participants and, of course, they are entitled to their opinion.  But over the past three months, my class has risen from 4 casual drop-in’s to a regular group of 20 (plus drop-in’s), so I’m confident I’m doing something right.  My personal thought is that I can’t necessary max myself out as I repeatedly ask them to do if I’m also supposed to be motivating and encouraging them.  And any instructor that tells me they can keep up with a steady banter while their heart rate is soaring like a jack rabbit on crack during maximum effort, I will ‘tsk tsk’  them and call ‘bullshit’.  The very definition of “maximum effort” is that it’s impossible to speak for all the gasping for breath, so if you can do that then you’re not really  giving it 100% – I don’t care what they say.  For my purpose, I’d rather be standing in front of them and driving the pace than being a silent leader at the front of the room huffing and puffing through the another Tabata interval.  No, sir!  Not me.  I’m not willing to do that. Instead, I circulate through the class coaxing as much out of my participants as they are willing to give.  I am my own unique and beautiful snowflake after all.

Another part of being an instructor I have found is having your workout prepared beforehand, including the all-important playlist to accompany it.  Hey…without music, spinning sucks. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Music is to spinning what this kid’s selfie:

…is to total awesomeness.

Oh yeah.

And, believe me, there is nobody who loves their music more than I (click HERE – need I say more?).  In fact, you could say that I obsess about my spinning playlists as I like to keep them fresh and evolving.  It is a personal pet peeve of mine to attend a class regularly and hear the…exact…same…music…each and every time.

BOOOOOOOOOOOORING!

I mean, seriously, variety is the spice of life and having to hear the same ‘ol ho-hum, vanilla flavored, shoot- me-in-the-face boring techno tracks (I actually promise a “Techno Free Zone” for my participants) being played over and over again to the very definition of tedious. In my opinion, it’s just detracting from the fun (well, whatever “fun” there is in having your ass handed to you) and therefore the intensity, and the lesser the fun and intensity the lesser the overall ass kicking.  And in my class, that simply will not do.

So that brings to light every instructor’s dilemma: do I use the commonly accepted music that everybody expects to hear, or do I keep things different by keeping an ever-changing playlist of songs that happen to motivate me in my own workouts no matter how obtuse or unknown they may be to the rest of the participants?

I personally opt for the former.

When I first started putting together my playlists, I spent a lot of time trolling various websites for spinning-themed and spinning inspired playlists being used by other instructor’s in the spinning business.  My conclusion: spinning music sucked. If the recommended songs weren’t already dead to me after years of attending countless spin classes, they were just more of your typical mindless electronic pap that I’ve come to despise.  I still felt I had to cater somewhat to these “spin standards”, but I then noticed that people for the most part were disengaged with these more “popular” tracks; they were more or less just going through the motions.  After all, how many times can you do the same set of intervals to the same song before that’s all that song is – a pyramid of 30/45/100 sprints.  If that same song should ever get played over any in-store music system while you’re standing in line buying Q-Tips or something, you’re likely to instinctively start breathing heavy and preparing to pedal your ass off, anticipating what’s coming next.  It becomes that programmed and ingrained.  I still can’t listen to ‘Madness’  by Muse without my quads beginning to ache, no matter where I am or what I happen to be doing.  To that effect, I had a former spin instructor that liked to play percussive drum tracks while doing sprint sets and now I can’t even sit through a drum solo without getting the urge to pedal my ass off at 120 rpm.

However, if I happened to slip in something more random from my own musical bag of tricks, I noticed my participants giving me a bit more, well, ‘umpf’, ‘hutzpah’, ‘giv’er’ – whatever you want to call it.  The routine was suddenly new again and they had no preconceived notion of what was coming next be it a sprint, a fast and aggressive climb, a time trial, or a long, gradual slog to the top of a mountain pass; they had no idea.  The workout was FRESH again and they had to wait for instruction – mine – on what to do next.

And I’ve never looked back.  If you keep it interesting they will come.

So I’m sticking with the concept of choosing music that inspires me from my own broad spectrum of musical taste.  What makes my heart go?  What motivates me in the saddle?  What puts that power into my pedal stroke?  If I’m motivated, hopefully, they will be to and I can drive them to the same end result of a total and thorough, yet fun, ass-kicking. That’s the goal anyway. And there is nothing to satisfying for an instructor as when a class is totally clicking together with “fuck yeah!”  moments of complete awesomeness, all choreographed together with songs from my big list of “Spin Class Awesome”.  Think of the possibilities!  How many other chances are you ever going to get in life to coax 14 strangers in the same place at the same time, to listen to Ten Nugent and not complain unless they are also mentally (and physically) grinding their way up an imaginary Cul de Mente?  And who else but a spin instructor can successfully combine cheesy 80’s schlock rap (‘OPP’ by Naughty by Nature) with urban punk (‘Fork in the Road by Detroit Rebellion) and old school trip hop (‘Teardrop by Massive Attack) and not hear a single gripe or moan? It’s a thing of beauty, believe me.

My own workouts now are typically spent discovering new music to use in my playlists.  Okay, first, they are intended to motivate me, but my secondary motive is to find those new kick ass tunes to inspire my classes with.  When I hear something I like, or that gets my own motor running so to speak, then that song will typically be immediately absorbed into that week’s spin playlist post haste.  The real trick is in deciding how that song is then going to best serve your participants within the boundaries of your workout’s intent, be it tempo “race pace” work, high intensity interval training (HIIT), climbing, etc.

To that effect, here are six of the better off-the-wall tracks I have found and used recently with my classes.  All of them worked perfectly within the context of the workout I had prescribed for them, and ending up with great results for the participants:

  1. Sweat Shock ( Roddy Walston & the Business) – Ideal for a fast and aggressive out of the saddle climb.
  2. Rise or Fall (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) – It’s intense and never-ending tempo never lets up for its entire 4 minutes making it perfect for sprinting, or “descending” with a fast cadence after a hard or heavy climb.
  3. Yin and Yang and the Flower Pot Man (Love & Rockets) – Who could have ever foretold that this favorite 80’s Goth standard with its runaway training rhythm would remerge as a suitable spinning tune 25 years later?  I use this song to inspire my participants by offering them the option to “break away” from the rest of their group (their choice) by dropping their resistance and maintaining a fast cadence throughout its entire six minutes.
  4. Sophisticated Honky (Orgone) – Don’t let the name fool you, this is a great funky (and fun) number best utilized for a steady “recovery climb”; perhaps between interval sessions.
  5. Vampire (Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears) – Forget for a moment that the band name is the “Honeybears”, this track is awesome for a “graduated climb” where participants are encouraged to increase their intensity/pace in short bursts while keeping in pace of the song.
  6. Going the Distance (Bill Conti) – I have a rule: “You MUST go hard to Rocky!”  Don’t laugh!  I’m not alone in feeling this way. I use this two and a half minute movie opus as a last opportunity for the class to “empty the tank” by increasing their intensity (as represented by watts) along with the music, culminating in the last 30 seconds being an all-out 100% drive to the finish. Guaranteed to get your participants competitive with one another, leaving themselves 100% spent and thoroughly content in their effort.

1001 Things to do with a Tetrasock

Posted: January 6, 2015 in Equipment
Tags: ,

Like every other triathlete I assume, I can be a bit of an equipment or “gear snob”.  Yes, triathletes are the techies of the sporting world, it’s true.  If it in any way enhances, cushions, protects, builds, wicks, strengthens, or optimizes, like, anything, we’re totally 100% onboard.   Count us in.  I have seen some triathletes set out for their planned 10k runs kitted out with just about everything short of a full kitchenette.   From the looks of all the shit dangling from their fuel belts, they look more like Batman running off to save Gotham City from the latest super villain than they do a runner simply going for a jog.  The other aspect of this is that if any us should ever randomly discover something that we feel successfully does any of the things listed above, we’ll inevitably preach about it to no end to anyone who will listen (or lacks an immediate escape route) until the greater world at bay also buys in and is also reaping those same benefit. Triathletes are very supportive of one another that way and my Coach and I are no different.

Often, during one of our long bike rides or runs, the conversation would inevitably switch to whatever that new thing was in our training program that we’ve recently discovered and believe to be reaping the benefits of be it a new brand of running shoe, cycling short, Garmin tracking devise, training website, what have you.  Many kilometers have been passed while actively discussing the numerous pros and cons of every new gadget, gizmo and article of clothing available on the market.  Sometimes we agree with one another on something specific and sometimes we disagree but, whatever the case, at least we’re open to talk about it.  Such was the case with my Coaches new discovery, the ‘Performance Tetrasok’.

At first, I listened intriguingly.  After all, it was coming from the Coach and when the Coach speaks, you listen.  But then, she mentioned these socks were of the “toe design” variety.  Crap.  Now, I admit it, at this point I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as she was as I’m not a fan of the whole “toe design” thing that she apparently is; I think they’re pretty gay.  Now, first there’s the Neil Patrick Harris kind of cool gay, and then there’s the complete “Siegfried and Roy sing show tunes” kind of gay, and these toe socks are definitely part of the later classification.  In my mind, they were kinda like this:

Believe me, I felt the same way about the Vibram Fivefingers barefoot running shoe craze as well. I’d rather be slathered with honey and staked to an anthill than be seen in public wearing these things.  However, my opinion not with-standing, a pair of these socks mysteriously ended up under our Christmas tree after our annual Christmas Open House a few weeks back.  Oh boy.  Apparently, she’s not giving up that easy.

Here they are:

DSCF2260

Now, I appreciate what she’s doing here, don’t get me wrong, and on paper they sound pretty damn excellent.  They brag being constructed with 70% “CoolMax moisture wicking lining and resistant nylon outer shell built with Lycra fibers”.  Now, I have no freakin’ clue what “CoolMax” is exactly, but it definitely sounds pretty awesome.  Whatever it is, the benefit is intended to create a thin, anti-friction membrane that is both lightweight and breathable.  Again, sounds pretty awesome right?  Furthermore, they “conform to the contour of your feet allowing for true restriction free movement from your heel to five toes”  encouraging healthy circulation and eliminating skin on skin contact between the toes to prevent blistering.  Really?  People blister between  their toes?  That’s probably a bit of a stretch but, again, it still sounds cool.  Regardless, those five toes still look ridiculously gay so I’m still sitting steadfastly on the fence.

One the one hand, there’s the recommendation from someone I know and trust and whose opinion I respect but on the other hand – gay.  So when it comes down to it there’s only one sure fire way to know for sure I guess.  Yup, I decided to give them a test drive, err, run, whatever.

Now, first, I think it’s important to give you the full scope of my concerns. The whole “five toe design” is fine and dandy providing your feet are as perfectly anatomically correct as, say, a runway shoe model.  Mine feet however?  Well, not so much.

Just take a look at these misshapen hooves:

DSCF2239

DSCF2240

I know what you’re probably thinking:  “Holy fuckfarts are those ever gross!”   Yeah, not exactly model material are they?  Hopefully, I didn’t just put you off your dinner.  Shit, I can barely wear sandals in the summer without developing a complex.  These are feet you’d expect to see sported by some gnarly looking hillbilly playing a banjo on a porch somewhere.

The big toe (also known as the ‘hallux’, or “Big Toe”), second and third toe (“long toe” and “middle toe” respectively) are fine and dandy, but the real ugly begins with my fourth toe on each foot, known as the “ring toe” which is all puffy and clubbed.  They’re like pudgy children acting all shy and trying to hide away from the other toes. Likewise, my baby (“pinky”) toes are  practically attached to their neighboring ring toes like baby spider monkeys clinging to their mama’s.  How are they ever going to separate enough to fit individually into each specific “sleeve” within the sock itself is anybody’s guess.

Here’s my first attempt on fitting my left hoof into the sock:

DSCF2243Looks a little off, right?

The big toe and long toe are definitely no problem but the other three, well, not so much.

Here’s the other hoof:

DSCF2245

Even uglier, right?  In fact, it looks like I’m missing a toe altogether.

Here’s the full effect:

DSCF2248

Yeah.  Who feels sexy?  Not this guy.

Dr. Scholl is probably somewhere doing this right now:

After much stretching, pulling, manipulating, maneuvering, grunting, groaning, huffing and puffing, I managed to get the Tetrasocks on in such a way that they slightly resembled what normal toe socks must look like when they’ve been put on correctly.  This whole process only took about 45 minutes.  I swear, I could probably put socks on a rooster quicker than it took to wedge my deformed digits into these things.  And while I’m on the topic, I learned that I definitely need to do more yoga since the whole process of bending over to fight with my toes was not easy in the slightest; hence all the huffing and puffing.

Anyway, once on they felt, well, weird; as one might expect for the first time having your toes separated by a thin strip of lyrca.  It felt like I had poker chips inserted between my toes and I found it to be very unpleasant.  I think my toes might actually have started to miss one another.  I pressed forward with my planned run despite the discomfort and laced up my shoeing thinking that the weird feeling would subside once I had my runners on and I had started actually running…

…I thought wrong.

Within minutes that weird, uncomfortable feeling gave way to sheer annoyance and then a complete freakout of epic proportions.  I wanted to stop, rip off my shoes and literally chew them off with my teeth right then and there like a rabid coyote.  And given that my neighbors already have enough to shake their heads about what with my current running tights, not to mention my leaping and skipping drills, I figure the addition of seeing me sitting in the middle of the road attempting to chew off my gay toe socks would not help my social game any.  I’d probably be added to the neighborhood ‘Block Parent’ watch list for sure!  My next thought was that this gift was more a case for my Coach’s inane “schadenfreude” condition where she derives pleasure in the misfortunes of others…namely, mine.

I had barely made it home, like 5 minutes later before I stripped them off and replaced them with a normal pair of running socks so I could continue on with my run.

The instant they were off I was all like:

I definitely feel bad but at least I gave them a try.  Sorry Coach.

However, a gift is a gift and it was very thoughtful, so at the very least so I figure I still have to find something – anything – that I can utilize them for so her kindness does not go unappreciated.  Here then are some of the different ideas I’ve come up with as alternative uses for these Tetrasoks:

Running gloves (obviously):

1.a

Handling hot pans on the oven:

1

Preventing dish pan hands:

2

Washing the car:

3

Dusting the woodwork:

4

And my favorite:

5

Yeah, I’m sure there are lots of other more creative uses for these things but, what can I say, I’m a pretty simply cat.  Simple is pretty much my jam.  And with that in mind, I think I’m going to stick to wearing socks of the normal variety of socks.

Sorry Coach, it was a nice try though.

2014 in Review

Posted: December 30, 2014 in In Transition
Tags: ,

You like me!  You REALLY like me!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.