(Disclaimer: I recognize that when I say “new” in this post, I actually mean “new to me” in that this device is probably already outdated and possibly obsolete. But the fact that I am even using one at all given that I have the technological prowess of a retarded chimp, is to be commended.)

As of this past weekend, my faithful Garmin Forerunner 305 is no more.

Lest we forget.

I suspect it happened this past Tuesday night (click HERE) somewhere along the 3rd or 4th hill repeat up and down Welland Vale Rd.. It was a cold, rainy and miserable night; the kind of night where most sane people would remain indoors with a pizza and cup of hot chocolate. Not me. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to slip inside the “Pain Closet” for an hour or so and run hill repeats. But then again, no one has ever accused me of being totally sane. Anyway, while I might have been totally down with a little suffering, apparently, my aged and decrepit Forerunner felt otherwise and at some point in the workout gave up the ghost, let out a sad and pathetic ‘bleep’…and up and died.

I didn’t stress too badly though as, at the time, I just figured it was just the harsh weather playing up in that it had just lost its satellite connection and not it’s overall will to live but, come Friday morning the issue persisted. After a quick call to Garmin support services, they confirmed the worst: my Forerunner 305 was no more.

Rest in peace, my old friend.

I have suspected the end was near for a few months now as it has – like an old and failing Italian man – it had become increasingly cranky and difficult to work with. It refused on occasion to sync with my computer or the Garmin Training Center, it offered up corrupt files which wouldn’t take to the Garmin.Connect website, and it even refusing to hold a full charge. Still, like a sick and ailing pet, I refused to take it out behind the shed and put it out of its misery. Let it never be said that I am not loyal by nature.

Unfortunately, Tuesday’s weather was the last and final nail in the coffin and, finally, after six glorious years of dedicated servitude, enough was enough and it shuffled off this mortal coil once and for good.

Anticipating this tragedy, I had already invested in a replacement Garmin 910XT that Kelly had located on Kijiji a few months ago. So my back-up plan was already in pocket (or, ‘wrist’, as it were) and I decided to bring it out from the sidelines and bust it out of the box.

When I opened the box out fell about a dozen pieces and I’m pretty sure my heart skipped a beat and proceeded to begin jack-hammering like a quarterback on prom night. Let’s just say that bricks were definitely shat. Hey, it’s not without a lot of trepidation that I ever take on new technology (it’s true, I welcome new technology like an orphanage welcomes a five alarm fire), or any other deviation from my usual routine for that matter, so when bits and pieces started to spill out I was all like:


But what other choice did I have? Fortunately, after a quick check online I discovered that I didn’t really need all the different adapters, ANT devices and shit. All I needed really was the device itself, and the USB charging clip. I immediately calmed down. I was freaked out though to learn that the particular version that I had purchased was the one that did not come with a heart rate strap!


Thankfully, Garmin support to the rescue (thanks, Josh!) and they instructed me on how to sync my current 305 heart monitor with the new 910XT and in seconds I was back in business with all the yellowed, sweaty residue that’s currently growing in the crevices of my current heart rate monitor living on like last years’ charcoal remains on your backyard BBQ adding to the taste of next seasons burgers.

Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right?

There was nothing left to do then but fire it up, strap it on and go for a run.

I won’t lie. It felt like I was cheating. But what choice did I have? I couldn’t lose that all precious data and, besides, you know what they always say, “you have to pick yourself up and move on”.

So move on I did.

A few things hit immediately about the new device. First, it’s infinitely cooler looking. I mean, the one thing that the Forerunner did not have going for it was style. It was like this ugly, bloated red tick that had attached itself to you and stuck out from the end of your arm. Seriously, you could spot a 305 from orbit. The 910Xt is black, sleek and – dare I say it – sexy looking. Secondly, was how small and lightweight it is in comparison to the Forerunner 305. I guess this makes total sense since the 305 is about 6 years old now and technology, moving at the breakneck pace it does, well, it stands reason to believe that would definitely be the case. So, for a change, it was not like running with a breadbox strapped to your wrist.

Check out this comparison:



So that’s kinda cool.

Furthermore, unlike the original plastic wristband that came with the 305, which conversely, snapped and split almost immediately upon use, the 910XT band is – wait for it – comfortable! I almost didn’t even know it was there. Even better, there is also a Velcro band available for the 910XT just as I got with the 305 but I figure I might not even need to spend the extra money given how comfortable it is already.

Another feature I liked immediately was, while being the smaller of the two devices, was how BIG and easy to read the display screen is on the 910XT which, with my failing eyesight these days, means I don’t have to squint at the screen while I hold it inches from my face while I run or cycle. And, hey, anything that doesn’t make me feel like an old fart is a total bonus these days.

Nice touch Garmin!

But so far, these were just all just the instant cosmetic assessments. What it really comes down is its functionality which, truthfully, is where I begin to get a little intimidated.

The biggest issue I have with Garmin currently is that their products are no longer supported if you’re still running Windows XP – which I am. I know, I know, I’m not exactly an “Ambassador of Change”, remember? So I already knew that wirelessly syncing the 910XT to the ANT device I use for my Garmin Swim and, therefore, Garmin Express, was going to be next impossible. And my next call to the Garmin support team (thanks again, Josh!) confirmed this. I was well and truly fucked now with no way to load my workouts from my new device to my Garmin Connect catalog of awesomeness.

Luckily, I had a Plan B:


Well, Kelly’s laptop to be specific.

So with a little anxiety, frustration and – I admit it – a little arguing, swearing and shedding of tears (on my part, of course) we (she) managed to get the Garmin Express program loaded onto her computer and synced with my Garmin Connect once again so I could successfully log all my workouts once again.

Home free!

Everything else is simple since much of the 910XT operates much like the 305 did with all the same functionality and tools. Well, what I actually use of the device anyway. It calculates my covered distance, time, pace, average pace, heart rate, burned calories, time of day, total ascent and descent, etc. Anything else to me is the beginnings of dabbling in sorcery, witch craft and hocus pocus just shy of, say, devil worship.

Having said this, there are some neat additions to the 910XT that I can (and will) take of advantage of.

For example, I can use my new Garmin 910XT for open water swimming. Yeah. I can use it in the pool too and it will do everything my Garmin Swim will do but I have grown to love my Garmin Swim and, in keeping with my loyal nature, will not be removed from my swim routine. But the open water is a different story. Now I can track my open waters swims come spring and summer using the same recordable stroke metrics that the Garmin Swim does in the pool, but also with a rough distance as well. I say ‘rough’ because it’s not quite perfect.  See, the way GPS works every time my arm drops below the surface of the water GPS signal is lost.  That’s to a large degree just the nature of GPS signal strength.  So each time during my stroke recovery (the part above the water) it has to reacquire GPS signal and then plot a data point.  The challenge will be that sometimes it doesn’t quite get an accurate GPS point during that split second recovery.  That’s where the ‘open water swimming mode’ comes in.  It will use an algorithm to make a guess at where you actually swam, and will determine a distance.



Likewise, I can also use the Garmin 910Xt whenever I go skiing or paddle-boarding but, really, the chances of that ever happens are slim to none. And then there’s a cadence counter to track my footsteps during a run if I want to purchase an additional foot pod (I don’t), as well as measure all my power output while cycling providing I have a power meter and the software to use it (I don’t). I can even track indoor dry-land swim training if I was so inclined to do so (I’m not). Shit, I’m pretty sure it will also fix me up with a stack of buttermilk pancakes and a green smoothie if I ask it to.

So, yeah, while I still mourn the tragic loss of my beloved Forerunner 305, maybe this new 910XT thingee won’t be so bad after all.

Now if only Garmin would get working on something to accurately predict the next winning lottery numbers…

Old School Funk

Posted: November 7, 2015 in In Transition
Tags: ,

I was faced with a bit of a dilemma today.

The initial plan had me going to the gym after work (and a quick and dirty 20k tempo ride) to get my He-man on which, in and of itself, is no big deal.  The problem was in my haste to get the child packed and ready that I had forgotten to pack a t-shirt.


Where this might pose as no real issue for other dudes but, when you have the upper body of a melted ice cream cone such as I do, working out shirtless (which, fortunately, is frowned upon at your local YMCA) is not an option unless you also happen to enjoy working out to the sound of other gym goers around you dry-heaving through their weights sets…and I don’t.  Hence my distress when I realized that I had overlooked this necessity.


Not wanting to cancel my planned workout I went so far to inquire at the front desk about any extra volunteer shirts that might be lying around unused and even rifled through the Lost & Found…all to no avail.  What does it say about you when you’re willing to risk a whole cornucopia of infections by wearing a strange and potentially dirty shirt from an unknown gym patron rather than forgo a workout?

Fortunately, I remembered that I always carry a “Plan B” bag in the back of my car.

What’s a “Plan B” bag you ask?

Well, in it is an extra towel (2), baby wipes, swim goggles (2), swim cap, socks, first aid kit, spare tire (for a bike), air cartridge, a set of levers, zip-lock baggies, water bottle, protein bar and, yes, even an old t-shirt.  Everything a busy on-the-go triathlete might ever need, you know, just in case.

But let’s back track a little bit.

Years ago when I first routed myself down this active lifestyle pathway and started going to the gym, I didn’t have any of the kazillion (seriously, I think these things multiple like Tribbles on their own in my bottom cabinet drawer) of fancy dry-wicking t-shirts that I have now.  Whenever I went to the gym I just inevitably threw on any random ordinary cotton t-shirt from my drawer that invariably absorbed every single drop of sweat that oozed from my bloated frame so that it eventually hung off me like a wet shower curtain by the of the workout.

It was not pretty…but it worked.

I meant that after 60 minutes or so I would smell like a rancid pole cat and I then needed a gas mask and 10ft. pole to fish it out from my gym bag afterwards but, not knowing any better, this was the routine.

To this effect, I had three go-to shirts for the gym since after about a dozen uses or so I couldn’t really wear them anywhere else; clean or otherwise since you practically needed a priest to exorcize the stink away.  They were all threadbare and sweat-stained and I was immensely proud of them.  So much so, that while they are pretty much unwearable now, I still have them lovingly stashed away (hidden) in my closet as a reminder of the early days.  But in the grand scheme of things, these “fat shirts” ultimately befell the same fate as my “Fat Shorts” and went the way of the dodo.

The other thing to recognize as well is that these shirts were huge…like, really HUGE.  Hey, I was a much bigger dude when this all this started so each of these shirts was an extra large to begin with, coupled with the fact that they had been stretched even bigger after baring all that spent sweat.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I realize now the many health hazards (various rashes, skin irritations, et al.) as well as the various social faux-pas of wearing this type of unruly garment to the gym (#9 in my own Gym Commandments) and I have since stopped this practice in favor of wearing cleaner, more efficient, breathable and presentable shirts.  I still sweat pure battery acid, but at least I don’t look like someone from whom you might get a staph infection.

You’re welcome.

Anyway, one of these old gym shirts also just happens to be the same shirt I just fished out of my “Plan B” bag.

It was a faded green concert t-shirt that I picked up way back in June of 1995 after attending a Yo La Tengo concert at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, U.K..  It’s, easily, an XXL…well, more like an XXXL now after years of wear n’ tear.  Holes?  Oh, it has holes.  In the pits…in the collar…in the front, back, shit, I’m a walking peep show.

I do have to admit, though, I was kind of excited.  While not exactly “gym fashionable” anymore, it did feel pretty nostalgic as if I was going back to my early gym roots back when I didn’t know any better and didn’t give two flying fucks.  For 60 minutes I got my He-man on in and among all the spandex-clad gym beauties and their perfectly accessorized Under-Armor beaus.

Yup.  I was that guy.

Of course it wasn’t beautiful but, tonight, to all those fashionable gym haters I was all like:

So, fuck the popular gym etiquette, tonight I got my He-man on old school style.  Yeah, sure, it was 3 sizes too big and I probably looked like a midget wearing a camping tent but, still, I totally enjoyed going all Rocky 3 and going back to basics – gnarly sweat stains, rips and tears n’ all – old school funk if you will.  After about 3 nanoseconds on the ergometer, the first hint of moisture appeared under my arms and across my chest.  After 3 minutes it was an all out hot mess and I couldn’t have been more pleased.


Old school funk

Because, baby, that’s how REAL men do it.

…well, this  time anyway.

Get Stravafied!

Posted: October 26, 2015 in Equipment, Lifestyle
Tags: ,

When I first started “seriously” training for triathlon I kept meticulous track of my daily workouts.  I would pencil them in on a kitty-cat calendar that hung on my kitchen wall.  This was about as high tech as I got back then.  I would calculate all my distances out afterwards by plotting my routes into the mapmyrun.com website, and then used the kitchen clock as my sole means of timing.  If I ever cared enough to figure out my pacing I would have to do all the calculations by hand and seeing as how I have the basic math skills of a chimp, I never bothered.

My first brush with “technology” came on a trip to the Philippines (which is funny unto itself given that the place is a literal black hole for anything modern) where one of my coaches at the time, Coach Bill, loaned me his GPS tracking system to bring with me as my goal was to continue my long run training while there (click HERE  for a recount of some of those training sessions). Remember though that was back before the little sports watch-sized Garmin’s that are common now.  This thing was freakin’ huge. It looked like something a marine might carry into battle to call in air support on, meaning I ultimately ended up lugging around 3 lbs. of stone age electronics around on my hip on each and every run I did.  Furthermore, it took about an hour to connect with its satellites in orbit.  But, still, I thought this was some pretty slick shit.

A year later I saved up a few months (which, unfortunately, meant that I inevitably had to go without my usual morning muffins on the way to work) I invested in my own GPS tracking system, a Forerunner 305 that I still use today.  I felt so guilty for having splurged on a (then) $300 piece of equipment but I was excited nonetheless.  The 305 is practically obsolete now, but as long as it continues to track my progress and then transfer it to my “training center” on my computer and the Garmin.Connect website, I am a happy guy.  Sure, this might make me the Fred Flintstone of the triathlon world but I give absolutely zero fucks of what other people think as I am not one to play “Keep up with the Jones’” when it comes to technology.  Hell, I might have been the last cyclist on the planet to actually get a bike computer.

The benefit of this upgrade was that now I had a more modern way to track my progress as the Garmin automatically kept track of all my workout particulars like heart rate, calories burned, distance, pace, time, as well as a whole host of other stats and measurable that I never, ever, paid attention to.  Shit, I could program it to race a virtual training partner and tell me if I was ahead or behind that partner based on how fast (or slow) I was running.  To me, this was the total shit and I had now gone from being Fred Flintstone to Bill-fucking-Gates.  Suddenly, I loved my new technology like the Russians love their suicidal authors.

Yay me!

I even invested in a Garmin Swim last year specifically to enhance my swim workouts (click HERE).

“One small step for a poor, starving, fat triathlete wannabe; one giant leap for mankind.”

Well, something like that anyway.

Fast forward a few more years and I have now been introduced to another popular training tool that other have, apparently, been into for a while now.  As ever, I’m just catching up.

I’m referring here to the Strava website.

I’ve been an active member of the Strava community for approximately two years now.  Primarily, Strava is a free website in which you can upload all your workouts to and then compare your results with other athletes with whom you are connected.  It’s kind of like the Facebook of athletes and sporting types alike.  Actually, it’s exactly like the Facebook of athletes and sporting types; a social media outlet for triathletes, runners, cyclists, and swimmers alike.

Initially you can join Strava for free.  There is a premium upgrade as well that you can pay a monthly or yearly fee for that then allows you to take advantage of other perks like being able to upload photos, power analysis, detailed heart rate analysis and something that’s known as a “Suffer Score” because, yeah, that  sounds like fun.  There’s other stuff too but, really, I’m cheap, so I just stick with the basic bare bones.

However, I have begun to recently notice that, well, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows on the Strava site and there can be a rather dubious, even nefarious side to Strava if you’re not careful.  At times it can be a great place to be motivated and inspired by.  But therein lays a dark side as well. If you’re not careful you can become totally consumed by it and it will end up being a total detriment to your meticulously planned out training regimen.  In other words, you might try to go all ham only to end up with a fistful of bologna instead since, as with anything in this life, you have to be careful.  Allow me then to try and review a few of these features – both pros and cons – that I think you need to be conscientious of before considering using the site, or maybe how to use it a bit more intelligently and effectively.

First of all, it’s kind of nice being connected to the other athletes in your area and seeing what they’re up to on any given day and, yes, there does come a sense of satisfaction when I’ve done something a bit longer, or maybe – on rare occasions – even a bit faster.  There’s nothing wrong with a little friendly competition is there?

Hells no!

To this regard, Strava features ‘Segments’  that will automatically compare not only your own efforts, but also to other local athletes who might also have happened to run/ride the same route.  In this way, these segments allow you to track your progress as you proceed through your training program.

It’s funny to pause here for a moment to recognize now that I tend not to think of my routes by the actual names of the roads I run/ride, but by their broken up Stravafied aliases with names that sound like they have lept off the pages of a Marvel comic book.  Names like ‘The Monkey’s Knuckle’, ‘The Quad Killer’, ‘Death Hollow’, and my favorite from my area: ‘The Wheel Suckers Attack from the Tracks…Ridgemont’.

Anyhow, when I upload my results from my Garmin to the Strava site, it will automatically tell me how that particular effort compared to other results I’ve logged in the past and will even reward me with a new PB (Personal Best), or a 2nd and 3rd effort, depending on how awesome it was – or not at all.  I think this is kind of cool and I have a few routes I follow semi-regularly as well as a few segments that I’ve created to test myself along on occasion when I’m feeling up for it.  The top overall ranking along any of these segments is then calculated and a KOM/QOM (“King of the Mountain”) classification is then awarded to the top performer.  I admit it, I do enjoy that sense of accomplishment when Strava tells me, basically, in no uncertain terms, that I just kicked ass along the ‘Devil’s Breakfast’ segment and set a new personal best by 5 seconds.  I enjoy that.

Who wouldn’t?

Well, the potential problem then becomes when this ever-constant quest for a new PB, or to be the new KOM (“King of the Mountain”) for each and every segment in your area becomes the sole focus of your workouts, as it tends to fuel that all-important alpha-male ego.  Remember, people have died in search of this all elusive PB. Such was the case with the story of William “Kim” Flint II, the Berkeley, CA cyclist who was killed in 2010 when he careened into a car while chasing the elusive ‘South Park Drive’ KOM downhill segment. In typical American fashion, a lawsuit quickly followed, filed by the family of Flint claiming Strava as the liable party.  Although many believe the lawsuit to be frivolous, it has not yet been thrown out of court. As much as I think Strava can really suck at times, trying to blame Strava for an individual’s irresponsible behavior sucks even harder.  To say that Strava is itself bad because some people behave badly when using it is akin to saying beer is bad because some people drink too much and then wrap their car around a telephone pole.  We all know telephones poles will remain forever endangered, but I certainly don’t want to outlaw beer.

There is a popular Strava joke:

“What do you call two people going for a bike ride? A race.

What do you call two people with Strava going for a bike ride? A race that never ends.”

At this point, Strava has become an unhealthy obsession where every workout becomes a “do or die race”.  This isn’t healthy, physically or mentally.  But what can you say?  Human beings haven’t always proven t be the smartest creatures otherwise Honey Boo Boo wouldn’t be a household name.  I have learned from experience that I need easy workouts (I actually look forward to them) in my routine and these are not the times to go seeking Strava PB’s. These are typically known as “recovery workouts” and they are important.  I have learned therefore to keep this quest for PB’s to a minimum, or at least to only the harder workouts throughout the week when the focus is ultimately to test myself.

Others, I’m sure, don’t quite get this concept and become what is known as “Strava holes”, where if anyone should be so bold as to claim a new KOM classification in their general area; it becomes their new ultimate mission in life to knock that perpetrator off the throne.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m for friendly completion but, geez, let me enjoy it for at least ONE day will you?

I have also heard of something called “Strava doping”, where an athlete will actually fudge their results and, basically, “cheat”, in order to gain the KOM classification.  Seriously!  I have even heard of people driving in their cars along segments at a specific speed with their Garmin hanging out the window in order to capture and record their falsified results and, therefore, their ill-gotten KOM.  There is even an app called ‘Digital EPO’ which will help falsified your results to help you accomplish this.

How fucked up is that?

I suspect that this has even happened in my little town of Ridgeway.  There is a segment that runs along Thunder Bay Rd. that I run, easily, 2-3 times a week.  The current KOM along this segment suggest that someone ran all 4km’s at a pace that couldn’t match on my bike.  So, it’s forever “So long KOM!”  along this particular stretch of road for me, meaning I will never sip from this particular gauntlet of success despite the how many times I run it or how fit I get.

The bastard!

Then there are those people that track absolutely everything, and I mean, EVERYTHING!  Walk to the corner store for hot pockets?  Better track it and upload it right away to Strava.  Going for a ride to the park without step-daughter?  Better track it.   Now (as Kelly is apt to quickly point out) I myself have been guilty of this on occasion.   But I will defend myself here that I now have my Strava linked to my Garmin site so that any uploads to one will automatically result with a syncing to the other – it’ not because I’m tracking “progress”, per se.  I do like to record my “healthy lifestyle” decisions and activities and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  I do wonder though to what end someone else might log their activity whilst they cut the lawn.

Who the fuck knows?

So what did I aim to accomplish through this point? I dunno really.  It was just the culmination of the conversation that played out in my head during yesterday’s long run (click HERE).  As far as Strava goes, I will remain a firm fence sitter on the subject.  There are times when I think it can be a valuable, even fun, tool to supplement my training. Other times it can be a nefarious detriment.  But, like anything else, you just have to be smart in how you embrace it and then incorporate it into your life.

Everything is good in moderation after all, right?

Be smart.  Train safe.

The Enormous Elephant Run

Posted: October 19, 2015 in Run
Tags: ,

I’ve mentioned before that sometimes you run for distance while other times you run for speed, hills, and, so I’ve heard anyway, you even run for fun – although this “fun” thing still tends to elude me.  Shit, sometimes you even run for survival (click HERE).  But, occasionally, there are those others rare times that you run for the sole purpose of making a total and complete ass of yourself like I did this morning when I agreed to run 10 kilometers in an elephant suit.

Yes, you read that correctly:

…in an elephant suit.

Okay, actually, we were running in support of a pretty good cause, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which works to protect wild elephants and rescue orphaned baby elephants, giving them a second chance at a life in the wild.  Did you know that an elephant is illegally poached every 15 minutes or something ridiculous like that?  Awful, right?

But, c’mon, seriously!  How cute is this?


Just try and say ‘No’  to that widdle winkily bundle-wundle of infinite cuteness.

Not this tough guy!

Anyway, the long and short of it is that when the Coach, for whom this is an important cause, messaged me last month to ask me if I’d be interested in running with her while wearing an elephant suit I was all in…hands down.

No questions asked.

I mean, seriously, if I’m going to drop 60-70 bucks on a race anyway, it might as well go towards supporting a good cause and then be able to do it on my own terms.  Making a total spectacle of myself was just the icing on the cake.  Forget the dry-wicking shirt that I’m likely never going to wear anyway, it may as well be a full elephant costume which might just come in handy later on down the road.

You never know do you?  Someday it might just be convenient and handy to just happen to have an elephant costume hanging in your closet.

Just sayin’…

The whole premise of the “Enormous Elephant Virtual Run” is that once entered, you will receive your elephant costume in the mail and then be asked to run either 5k or 10k in it sometime between October 1st and October 31st. What the fuck. I was looking for a new winter running outfit anyway so I registered right away. And I will admit, when it did arrive I was pretty damn excited.


What has two thumbs, one truck and is damn excited to make an ass of himself?

What has two thumbs, two tusks, one trunk and is pretty damn excited to make an ass of himself?

Shit, I might never take this thing off.

Upon agreeing and registering, the Coach created our own ‘Enormous Elephant Run – Niagara Area ‘ Facebook page so it was definitely carved in stone with this past Saturday being our official “Go” date.  We met at Starbucks on 4th Avenue at 9:00am in our costumes (and for the record, it is pretty easy to spot friends in an already busy parking lot when they also happen to be wearing elephant costumes) and ready to stampede our way down Martindale Rd., or so for 5k and then back again (click HERE).

Our Niagara Herd

Our Niagara Herd

The reception we received was pretty damn funny with people either honking their horns, waving or just flashing us that surprised “what the fuck is that?”  look that people get when they haven’t had their first coffee of the morning yet and they stumble upon three people running along the road in elephant costumes.  I’m surprised that someone didn’t actually drive off the road honestly.  Primarily, I think people were pretty amused for the most part.

And we're off....

And we’re off….

And so we ran for an hour or so, waved at passing motorists, acknowledged catcalls and threw out the hig-5’s to other morning runners along the way; not to mention the odd “Pfft.  Nice jacket”  as they passed by because, well, when a guy who is wearing an elephant costume chooses to mock your choice of running attire, well, that’s some funny shit right?  So fun was definitely had by all.  And, shit, if a baby orphan elephant manages to have an easier time in this life as a result, well, that’s pretty awesome as well.

Elephant Selfie

Elephant Selfie

So if anyone is still interested to acknowledge my complete buffoonery by making a small donation to my online fundraising page in support of this cause, they can please click HERE  to do so.

I thank you in advance.

(Note:  You might remember when I alluded to another experiment in order to test the results that we determined during the fight-fighting testing I was a part of (click HERE).  The premise being that if overall improvement in extremely hot and shitty environments is more a mental thing than it is physical, how do you improve someone’s mental ability exactly?  This is that experiment.)

For the past two years, I’ve had the fortunate – or ‘unfortunate’, depending on how you want to look at it – opportunity to participate as a research volunteer at the Brock University Kinesiology Department.  This department, headed by Dr. Stephen Cheung, also just happens to be on the cutting edge of sporting science, so getting to be a test monkey as part of something with that scope of importance is a real privilege in my opinion.

Anyway, as such, I’ve undergone some pretty intense experiments in the past, both physically and mentally, in order to improve our understanding of human performance and the limits of our endurance.  I’ve had various sharp pointy things inserted into my arm, had my body scrutinized and measured for all posterity, seen my precious life fluids including blood and sweat (and tears for that matter) vacated forcibly from my body, and been subjected to insane heat and humidity in that god forsaken oven (click HERE  for a lengthy recap).  Basically I’ve stoically suffered whatever tortures and indignities that were deemed as either important or necessary to the project, and probably some that weren’t but only served to further humor my tormentors.

Just kidding, of course, they’re really nice guys…I think.

Oh, and let’s not forget the probe.

So when I got the message from Phil, the Principle Student Investigator (PSI), asking me to undergo yet another run of the gauntlet, it was with mixed emotions that I accepted the invite.  Shit, after that last firefighters test, surely, I can endure anything  (nearly a year later, it’s not uncommon to wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares of being cooked alive).  I’m not really sure what it says about me as a person that I like, no love, being a part of scientific testing that is in part geared towards breaking you down physically and mentally in order to see what makes you tick.  Truthfully, I think I may be developing some bizarre case of sado-masochistic pleasure from performing as a lab rat and I’m sure there will be some professional counseling in my near future.

All that aside, I agreed to participate in the latest (and greatest) ‘Effects of Mental Skills Training on Endurance Performance and Cognitive Function in the Heat’  study.

Doesn’t that sound like a real page turner?

In a nutshell, the test is designed to determine whether or not a psychological intervention can improve endurance performance and cognitive function in the heat.  Oh goodie.  I’m good with my limited athletic prowess being exposed but, well, let’s just say that what lies between these two ears may not exactly paint a pretty picture.  In other words, I’m hoping that this research doesn’t also expose me as being a total and complete moron.

What have I gotten myself into?

Day 1: Anthropometric Measurements, Cognitive Tests and Maximal Aerobic Capacity Testing

This is sure going to suck to get off

This is sure going to suck to get off

Similar to the other studies I’ve been part of, it’s necessary to get a baseline of my physiology and athletic ability.  What this really means is that they’re going to poke and prod my body fat and then subject me to approximately 15 minutes of torture on a bike.


The differences this time around is that 1) there were no cute female PhD students to do the actual poking and prodding of fat folds (thank GOD!), and 2) I also had to complete an initial assessment of my cognitive abilities by answering a questionnaire and then work on what’s known as a “Purdue Pegboard”.

Sadly, it has nothing to do with pirates.

The first “anthropometric measurements” step is no big deal as this certainly isn’t my first rodeo when it comes to having my fat marked up with a Crayola marker and then being pinched with cold metal instruments; no sweat.  The second step with the “Purdue Pegboard” was certainly more entertaining though.

Now, if you consult the Interweb thingee you will learn:

“The Purdue Pegboard is a neuropsychological test of manual dexterity and bimanual coordination created by Dr. Joseph Tiffin, an Industrial Psychologist at Purdue University, designed the test in 1948.”

Now that’s all well and good but, really, what it is?  Well, what it really means is that I have to build little “castles” out of little metal pieces (“pins”, “collars” and “washers”) to test the gross movements of my arms, hands, and fingers, and my fine motor extremity, also called “fingerprint” dexterity.”  Poor Pegboard performance is a sign of deficits in complex, visually guided, or coordinated movements that are likely mediated by circuits involving the basal ganglia.  Yeah, yeah, I already hear you: “What’s ‘basal ganglia’ Terry”?

It sounds dirty, I know.

It’s not.

Basal ganglia are little nuclei in the brain that are strongly associated with a variety of functions including: control of voluntary motor movements, procedural learning, routine behaviors or “habits” such as bruxism (excessive grinding of the teeth and/or excessive clenching of the jaw), eye movements, cognition and emotion.

To start, I was given three attempts to build as many little metallic castles as I could within a 60 second period.  A castle consists of 4 parts, 1 pin, 1 collar, 2 washers for a total score of 4 points if completed successfully.  So, say, if six complete assemblies are made then your total score would be 24.  But if a castle is incomplete, then you only score 1 point for each part that was properly assembled.  If, say, only the 1 washer and pin on a seventh castle are properly placed you add each part separately (i.e. 24 plus 2, or 26 total); something like that anyway, I dunno. I’m no rocket scientist – clearly.  If you really want more information on how to score this damn thing click HERE, but all you really need to know is that in three attempts my best score on the pegboard was 34, which probably puts me somewhere between a coconut and a chimpanzee.


Pass the banana.

Anyway, time for the main attraction.

Bring on the oven.

I’ve been through this same test once before coming off my Ironman peak in 2013, and given (I feel) that my fitness hasn’t been particularly on point since that time, I was little apprehensive about what today’s results were going to say about my current fitness.  I’ve spent considerable time in the pool in the past six months and my run fitness is just  beginning to come back after last year’s total and complete breakdown at the Incredoubleman Triathlon but I haven’t really spent any considerable time on the bike.  I spin 2-3 times a week with one session being a tough 90 minute Master’s class but, aside from that that, I haven’t focused too much on it instead preferring to wait for the nicer weather before amping up my cycling program.  So, yeah, what my fitness level is going to be as a result of being on the Velotron bike is anybody’s guess.

Remember then that the entire point of this test is to have my level of aerobic fitness determined through an actual scientific means.  To do that I am fixed with a soft silicone face mask to breathe through to the point of exhaustion in order to obtain my peak oxygen consumption (VO2peak) and maximum heart rate.   The improvement this time around is that the lab has been reequipped with a fancier and better fitting mask that wasn’t quite so uncomfortable or difficult to breathe in.

Check it out.


Am I beautiful or what?

Once the test began, I was required to warm up at 100 watts on the Velotron for 3 minutes before 25 watts were added each minute until the point of total burnout.  Everything felt pretty good for the first 11 or 12 minutes or so, as what time I do spend on the bike I train at my 75-80% threshold level.  But by the 13 minute mark (350 watts) I was clearly suffering and shortly after passing the 14 minute mark (375 watts), I tapped out.

Here are the results:

V02-Max Results

This result is, well, as odd as it was unexpected.  After analyzing the data, it was determined that my Absolute VO2 equated to 3.10 l/min, which represents a HUGE improvement of 0.93 l/min  over my last test. My relative VO2peak , however, only improved by a minimal amount to 41.9 ml/kg/min (rounded to 42.0 ml/kg/min).

Why you ask?

The short answer is because I’m fat; nearly 22 lbs worth.

Now, had I maintained my Ironman weight from just over three years ago, theoretically speaking, my VO2peak  would have been approximately 46 ml/kg/min, or in the “Superior” classification as opposed to today’s meager “Good” effort.  Or would it?

There is also the theory that by losing too much weight I will also lose some of the strength I’ve acquired; what to do…what to do.

So, yeah, basically, the official result is that I’m fatter but fitter.  Go figure.  This is definitely going to factor in later this year when I begin to strategize about what my “ideal” race weight should be.  Do I focus on dropping weight and therefore roll the dice in regards to maintaining my current level of fitness, or do I focus more on improving my fitness at (or around) my current level of fatness?

Decisions, decisions…

To summarize, I now have lots of motivation to improve this result through the quickly approaching coming season as I start to build into more speed/pace based workouts.  I may never be up there with the greats (click HERE), but in my own mind I’m already becoming a legend.

Chimps beware!

Day 2: Familiarization Testing

Its one week later and I’m back in the lab ready for the first familiarization session.  The thing is that this time around I’m also playing Dad as I have HRH  in tow because, hey, what 10-year-old girl doesn’t love watching her half naked step dad being fixed up with wires and electrodes prior to being tortured in a meat locker?   It may not exactly be a picnic lunch at the zoo but, still, good times.

The real crazy thing is that she was actually looking forward to seeing me “suffer” and had been talking about for days in advance.  I’m not sure what I’ve done as a parent to warrant this kind of excitement but, whatever, she’s along for the ride today.

According to the Consent Form:

“A familiarization trial will be scheduled prior to the commencement of the two experimental sessions to ensure that you are able to fulfill the requirements of the exercise protocol.”

It get's a wee bit humid.

It get’s a wee bit humid.

You can basically interpret this as a “Hey, this is how bad it’s going to suck. Think you can handle it tough guy?”  type of statement.

The session is intended to be identical to the actual experimental session to follow in a few weeks.  The environmental chamber (aka “the oven”) will be set to 35°C with 50% relative humidity, which may not seem like a lot but, believe me, it is.

To begin with, there’s the usual “preparation” routine that I’ve been through before on the other two testing sessions.  This process involves having all my baseline measurements done and providing a urine sample to record my over all body euhydration (normal state of body water content), not to mention getting all fixed up to a bevy of instruments including skin temperature/heat flow censors and, yes, there is that rectal probe to deal with as well (Oh, and for the record I didn’t exactly let HRH  in on the probe thing as, well, it didn’t seem like it was something appropriate to “bond” over).  Fortunately though, this whole probe business is old hat by this point.

Okay, maybe not quite like that.

No, I won’t say it’s like being reunited with an old friend but, well, let’s just say that if this whole lab rat thing doesn’t work out I definitely have a promising future as a drug mule.

Once I was all connected up, I also needed to establish a baseline for my overall mood using a Brunel Mood Scale (BRUMS) Questionnaire.  The BRUMS is a 24-item questionnaire of simple mood descriptors such as angry, nervous, unhappy, and energetic.  It has six subscales, with each of the subscales containing four mood descriptors including anger, confusion, depression, fatigue, tension, and vigor.  For the record, my mood was pretty good. Again what this says about me as a person in that I enjoy being experimented on I’m not really sure.  But I digress.

Groton maze testing

Groton maze testing

Following the questionnaire, I was required to work through a Cognitive Test Battery (CTB) on a computer tablet to assess my cognitive abilities.  These tests (designed by Cogstate Research) consist of what’s known as a ‘Groton Maze Learning Task’, a ‘Detection Task’,  and a ‘Two Back Task’.

The ‘Groton Maze Learning Task’ (actually a series of two tests, ‘Maze Learning’ and ‘Set Shifting Task’) tests my executive functions which include working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving abilities.  The ‘Detection Task’ which, easily enough, required me to hit a single key on the keyboard whenever the Joker on a deck of cards appears on the desktop (Disclaimer: it appears every time), tests my reaction time, while the ‘Two Back Task’ tests my working memory and attention skills.

Now, given my current lacking of technical prowess given I don’t owe a cell phone so I don’t text or play video games, etc., these tablet tests – while still basic – took some time general getting used to. I’m sure for HRH  it must have been like watching the monkey’s with the obelisk in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.   Basically, I felt like whatever banana I had earned with the Purdue Pegboard on my last visit to the lab was just taken away from me.  I hate computers and computer testing at the best of times and I wasn’t terribly confident in how I performed and, in my mind, I think I might have even heard monkeys laughing at me.

Purdue Peg Board

Purdue Peg Board

Computers just arn’t my jam.

Anyway, after the cognitive tests were complete (20 minutes or so) it was time to get in the oven; time to suffer.

Suffer I can do.

The trial protocol consisted of two exercise bouts, and two identical rest periods during which I would do more cognitive testing.  Throughout the protocol I had to wear the same soft-silicon mask that I wore during the V02-Max test to continue to monitor my ventilation and metabolic data throughout the two exercise rounds.  And, not to jump too far ahead, but this would inevitably be the worst part when the heat and humidity began to kick in.

The first exercise protocol consisted of a 5 minute cycling warm up at 100 watts followed by 25 minutes set to 60% of my “Peak Performance Output” (PPO) that we determined during the VO2-Max test last week (210 watts). Compared to my past runs in the oven, this particular session didn’t hold a candle “suffer-wise”.  That’s not to say however that is was “easy” either. No, spinning in that kind of hot and humid environment while wearing and breathing through a silicon tube is never fun and soon enough the sweat began to pour.

And let me tell you when all you have it this to focus on:


Time grinds down to an absolute haul, let me tell you.  My only reprieve from the whole thing was seeing HRH’s face appear periodically in the oven’s window as she peeked in to monitor my “suffering”.  So after 30 minutes of spinning, sweating and playing peek-a-boo, I was removed from the bike, weighed, and draped in a bright yellow rain poncho to preserve my core temperature as much as possible.


If I wasn’t sweating before, I sure as shit was now!

I felt like a BBQ-ed steak that had been left out to rest.

Oven selfie

Oven selfie

During this rest period (30 minutes) I wasn’t allowed to leave the oven, but asked to perform the same mood (BRUMS) and cognitive (CTB) tests as before.  From what I recall, neither my mood or cognitive abilities with the tests changed much; I was still happy and dumb as mud.

Yay me!

The second exercise bout was intended to be a “Time to Exhaustion (TTE)” test performed at 80% of my PPO (280 watts) after an initial 5 minute warm up at 125 watts.  The premise is very easy: cycle your ass off until you drop.  Yup, this was definitely going to suck.

Basically, it works like this: exercise (i.e. my suffering) would only stop due to volitional fatigue, if my cadence should drop below 60 rpm  for more than 5 seconds, or my core temperature reaches 40°C for 1 minute (talk about “hot shit”!), or my heart rate exceeded 95% of my maximum for 3 minutes.  So basically, anything that indicates you’re mere seconds away from death itself would count as viable grounds for stoppage.  Awesome!  Furthermore, there was to be no motivation queues provided aside from being asked for my RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) on the Borg Scale (taped to the wall in front of me) every 2 minutes.

Making matters worse, is that the whole thing was being filmed.

But that will have to wait for another post.




I had assumed at the time that the best strategy was to begin spinning slowly at approximately 65-70 rpm  figuring that I could maintain that particular cadence for a while.  The problem being (or so I learned anyway), was that once I began to fade there really wasn’t much wiggle room in regards to lowering my cadence any, which is exactly what happened.

Everything went fine initially and I felt pretty good, despite the conditions and mask and stuff, but when I began to struggle cardio-wise, it was quick, slippery slope into painful torment.  Part of the problem is that as a requirement of the test, I wasn’t able to stand up at any point.  Usually, on the road when you climb in a heavy gear you can give yourself a quick break by shifting the primary working muscle group by standing up and then being seated again.  Here, there was none of that; it was ass in the saddle all the way.  So when my working muscles started to go, they went…fast.

Now I have no idea how long I lasted, but I’m estimating approximately 10-12 minutes including the warm up based on how many times my RPE were requested.  Of course, it might have been 30 seconds…who knows.  In essence, though, it went something like this:





Tap Out.

Just like that.

Die I did, much to HRH’s enjoyment.

I will admit, I was a bit disappointed with myself and I made a mental plan to last longer by incorporating a quicker cadence to start off with and then gradually wind ‘er down when the legs begin to fail afterwards; more on that strategy to come.

Anyway, immediately following this, it was time to don the poncho and complete another round of mood and cognitive testing.  This time, however, it was significantly more difficult I can assure you. In fact, the ‘Two Back Test’  pretty much kicked my ass and I was more or less just tapping at the keyboard with reckless abandon.  I was hot, uncomfortable, and didn’t really give a shit if the card was a Queen, Jack, or 10 of Spades.  I simply didn’t give a shit, nor could I if I wanted to.  However, I think I did make the ‘Groton Maze Learning Test’ my bitch.  Again…go figure.

Only time will tell I suppose.

Day 3: Experimental Session #1

Now that the preliminary VO2peak  and familiarization sessions are over with, it’s time to get on with the real festivities; the actual exercise protocols themselves.   Yup, it’s time to get medieval, time to officially put my suffering in the books, it’s go time, or whatever other popular euphemism you wish to use to associate with the underlying message of “time to put or shut up”.

Needless to say, everything else up to this point was just for shits n’ giggles.

Anyway, by now the whole pee, probe and final shuffle of shame are just part of the ordinary “business as usual” drill, every bit as routine as brushing your teeth in the morning.  Of course, I’m not shoving flexible core thermometers up my ass most mornings, but I digress.


All bid’ness.

There is very little else to describe at this point that I haven’t already haven’t discussed in the previous familiarization session; 30 minutes set to 60% of my “Peak Performance Output” (210 watts) and a balls-to-the-wall “Time to Exhaustion (TTE)” test performed at 80% of my PPO (280 watts). Before, between and after each exercise protocol there is also the series of cognitive tests that I’ve described already as well.  Oh, and let’s not forget the yellow poncho to keep me as uncomfortable as possible – you know, just because.  Seriously, you’d think these lab nerds lay awake at night under their Star Wars bed sheets conjuring up ways to torture me.  Sometimes, I think this is all part of some elaborate ruse and at the bottom of some resume somewhere, there’s “making Terry suffer”  listed underneath the heading ‘Interests and Hobbies’.  Of course, I still willfully participate as a volunteer and no one is holding a gun to my head but when the going certainly turns shitty, well, let’s just say that sometimes I wonder.

As per usual, the only stimulus I am ever afforded are the three charts in front of me with which to gauge my RPE and overall discomfort.  There’s no encouragement (visual or otherwise), no chuckles, no giggles…no nothing.

It’s all bid’ness.

How’s that for “comforting”, right?

move over chimps

Move over chimps.

Same as the previous familiarization session, the first 30 minutes are boring as all fuck; total bag of dicks where I sit pedaling aimlessly, breathing into my mask in the hot and humid environment and trying not to think about how incredibly boring and shitty it is.  Basically, I just try to visualize my inner happy place from underneath my silicon mask which, for the record, just happens to be a nice pub in a remote countryside somewhere that serves decent beer, a complimentary bowl of nuts and an amazing cheeseburger.   Just sayin’.  Then I do some more cognitive testing on the tablet, sit around for a bit in the heat n’ shit and, finally, jump back on the bike for the eventual opening of the Gates of Hell.

Good times indeed.

I’d like to think I did a bit better this time around then I did in my familiarization session, but I had no real way to know for sure. All I know is that it sucked equally and unequivocally; ‘suck’ is the only constant variable in these types of tests.  In fact, I tried a bit of a different approach to my TTE in that I periodically spun my cadence up a bit from time to time to try and take advantage of the momentum generated in the pedals (not that there’s much momentum on a Velotron bike, mind you) to rest a bit but, honestly, what little rest there was inconsequential to the constant punishment being inflicted on my quads and I eventually tapped out – as I do – thoroughly broken and exhausted.

Yay me!

Mental note to self: the worst part of the testing (inserting the probe) also turns out to be the best part when you get to remove it later. The lesson here though is to avoid any bowel movements prior to inserting for at least an hour or so before testing, otherwise you end up extracting something from your ass that looks like this:Sorry…I couldn’t resist.

So here’s where the interesting part comes in.

Following this first exercise protocol, participants are then randomly divided into two categories.  For the Control group, nothing changes and in two weeks’ time they return to the oven to complete their second protocol just as before.  The second Test group, of which I was selected, will have some additional homework to do in the days (week) before showing up to complete the second protocol.

That’s right – homework.

The premise goes along the lines that scientific studies have already proven that individuals tend to perform better when they feel confident and motivated during high-energy activity.  They feel better about themselves and consequentially try harder and keep going when that going gets difficult.

I know, I know…”but everyone knows that already, Terry”.  And I agree.  But I think most often, people will tend to associate this type of motivational affirmation in this kind of light:

I know I did, or used to anyway.

But, in reality, it’s much more challenging than that.

Thinking happy thoughts

Thinking happy thoughts

For me, this whole “positive self-talk” has proven to be a very difficult, particularly given some of the setbacks I’ve experienced lately.  By comparison, I used to be able to tackle extremely difficult workouts prior to Ironman Wales simply by positively willing myself through them, but since then, I tend to beat myself up more with negativity; negativity regarding my not being able to perform at the same level, for not being in the same peak fitness, etc.  You could say that my confidence has been rattled and while I accept that as part of the current path I’m on and, hopefully, my confidence will return at some point, in the meantime…I continue to struggle.  I still persevere and do my best through all my prescribed workouts, but I’m not rocking them as I used to.  I suspect that this negativity has a lot to do with it.

Lest we forget: click HERE.

So, consequentially, these negative thoughts are really doing me no favors…and Lord knows I have a lot of them.  I am my own worst enemy in this regard.  In fact, any negative thought I might have associated with the difficulty of the task, any unpleasant sensation that I might be experiencing or the level of effort and motivation towards the end goal during any moderate and high-intensity activities tend only to interfere with the optimal performance of the task.  And God knows that cycling in that god forsaken oven would definitely qualify in all those categories.

So, I have now been officially tasked in identifying these negative thoughts and record them in what I am now referring to as my ‘Big Book of Suck’, and then counteract them with more beneficial motivational “self-talk” statements that will ultimately help maintain or improve my level of effort and coordinate my performance towards achieving the best possible performance; namely, surviving a single minute (or more) longer in the oven when the Gates of Hell are opened and the Suck begins to pile up.

On a personal note, the implications of this study are huge, as if I can determine what my “limiters” are motivation-wise through this exercise and then be able to counteract them with more positive inspirational self-talk, then I might be able to get myself back on my way to acquiring that same level of confidence that I had once before.

In this ‘Big Book of Suck’ there are some activities to help me craft my own unique motivation self-talk statements to use in the oven during both my exercise protocols, as well as my cognitive testing, when those other nasty negative comments begin to rear their ugly head and bubble to the surface.

The first thing to do is to identify examples of negative comments that cross my mind while I’m in the oven.  Now, I told you before that when it comes to elf-depreciation, I am an absolutely black belt, so listing every negative thought that goes through my head during those 45 minutes or so in the oven was fairly easy.  Likewise, there’s not enough bandwidth on these blog pages to list them all so I’ve captured a few of the more popular one’s for you:

  1. You’re out of shape
  2. What’s wrong with you?
  3. This sucks.
  4. I’m not good enough to be here.
  5. You’re a loser.

And the ever popular…

  1. I bet I look fat in these bib shorts.

When it came to the cognitive testing, the negativity was condensed into a single phrase: “You’re an idiot.”

It’s true.  When it comes to beating myself up I’m a true artist; I’m the Rembrandt of self-depreciation.  Negative commentary is just the primary tool with which I paint the wretched canvass of my soul.

Too much?

You get the idea though right?

Anyway, the next activity in the booklet challenged me to come up with some more positive phrases that I could use instead of those common negative statements, like “hang in there”, “dig deep”, or “you’re a winner!”   Sounds easy enough, right?  Well, as it turns out, it’s not as easy as you might think given I am not accustomed to pumping myself up regularly with “you’re a winner”, so I found coming up with statements particularly tailored to my own motivational drive challenging indeed.  But after considerable thought I came up with a few statements that I felt would be positive motivational when the wheels inevitably start to fall off.

The challenge now is to use, assess and then retool my suggested statements over the following week during 3 workouts, and then practice them to be as beneficial as possible come time to get back in the oven.

Here’s what I came up with for the exercise protocols:

  1. You can do this!
  2. Relax, focus and breathe
  3. Get tough!
  4. Just be calm and push on

Not exactly Shakespeare I agree, but they’ll do.

For the cognitive testing, I have two other statements:

  1. Just relax and focus
  2. Pass the banana

Okay, I’m totally kidding on the last one but, again, you get the idea.

Positive Phrasing Test #1:

Four days later I had my first trial of my motivational self-talk statements during a long 90 minute interval run.  I haven’t really acquired my running legs yet so these long runs tend to be an exercise in pain and total self-depreciation which, fortunately, gives me the perfect chance to practice my positive phrasing.

The idea is to also detail when these negative statements begin to occur in the workout which, in this case, was about 30 nanoseconds into the run immediately following my stepping off the front porch:

“Oh God, this is going to suck”.


Okay, think positive statements:

“Just be calm and push on”.

It totally worked and I felt better.


Then another negative comment hit me again a minute later:

“Shit, that was only 5 minutes and you’re already winded? What the fuck?”


“Relax, focus and breathe”.

Okay, good.

Then again:

“You’re so slow you fat fuck”.

Jesus. Again?

Okay, “Just be calm and push on…relax, focus and breathe….”

And so the internal dialogue went for the next 85 minutes.  I know I’m a glutton for punishment, but I’m actually amazed at how often my thoughts turned negative during the 90 minute period.  I figure I was probably beating myself up with negativity approximately 8,897,798,990 times.  Wow.  It was being riddled with bullets from a Tommy gun.

The good news was that each time I became aware of that negativity, either of those planned motivational statements ended up bringing me back down to earth so that I was able to push through some intervals at both my half-marathon pace (5:30min/km) as well as my 5k pace (sub 5:00min/km).  Truth be told, the positive “self-talk” seemed to be helping.

Positive Phrasing Test #2:

The next morning I was in the pool for a muscular endurance workout which involved some faster sprint pace intervals which, given I am currently building for a 10k swim in two more weeks, is not a regular feature of my swim workouts.

I’m a little more confident in my abilities in the pool so I wasn’t hit quite as soon or as often with the negativity as I was the day before on my long run, but when I started sprinting they sure started up in earnest. Two or three intervals in the first negative comment reared its ugly head:

“You’re tired. Maybe you should use the pull buoy instead”.

Ah ha!

I see you, you sneaker fucker!

“Just be calm and push on….”


“Relax, focus, and……”


Shit, I couldn’t even remember what my second positive motivational phrase even given as I was too busy, you know, breathing.  After all, staying alive is my top priority in the pool.

Neither statement seemed to be working. So I had to switch gears a bit and went with “You can do this!”, and “Just keep going!”   These statements seemed to work a little better as they were more direct and easy to recall once my mind began to race and the negative commentary started to bombard my lizard brain.

Positive Phrasing Test #3:

Two days later and I’m in San Antonio, Texas and it’s hot as all fuck outside meaning my speed workout around Woodlawn Lake wasn’t going to be much more fun than the oven itself.  Perfect testing ground for my next exercise protocol, wouldn’t you say?

Once I started off it was a bit difficult going in the early stages as I warmed up – literally and figuratively – as my lungs took some time to adjust to the heat and humidity and, for whatever reason, my legs felt weary after 48 hours of traveling. However, when the negativity started to hit I was well prepared:

“Just be calm and push on”.

“Relax, focus and breathe.”



Gettin er done.

Gettin er done.

Once I started with the actual speed intervals (8 x 400m), however, not so much.  I ended up having to revert back to using the more direct statements just as I had in the pool.  “You can do this!”  still worked like a charm but, “Just keep going”, however, did not.  It only made me want to check out my Garmin to see how far I’d gone and then when I realized I had only gone a certain distance, the negative commentary started back up with a vengeance.  Instead, I retooled this last statement into “Get tough!”  as I began each interval and that seemed to work a bit better.  I continued to use “You can do this!”  to see each interval through to the end.

An honorary mention also has to be made for: “Just get through this and you can have a cheeseburger”, but I decided that that’s probably not going to fly in the oven next week so it was left off the list.

So, in short, my plan of action come next Wednesday during my last exercise protocol is to use “Just be calm and push on”  and “Relax, focus and breathe”  to push through the first 30 minutes of the warm up to cope with the boredom and tediousness, then revert to the more direct and engaging “You can do this!”  and “Get tough!”  when my heart rate begins to elevate and the imminent shittiness begins to mount up during the last TTE.

As far as the cognitive testing goes, I am sticking with “Just relax and focus”; simple and elegant as it is.

Wish me luck.

God help me.

Day 3: Experimental Session #4

Not much about the whole lead into and set up for my second (and last) exercise protocol is different from the others with one notable exception: I brought the wrong cycling shoes.


Yup, upon pulling out of my parking lot at work, I realized that I had mistakenly brought the wrong cleats meaning I couldn’t use them with the pedals on the Velotron.  In short, I was fucked and I started panic as I hated the thought of letting down the lab gurus by not being able to complete my second test protocol as planned; especially given all the work I’d done in crafting out my motivational statements.

But after a second or so of “oh shit!”, “how could you have fucked up like this?”  and, of course, the ever popular “you’re a fucking idiot”  running through my mind, I decided to take a different approach.

“Relax, focus and breathe”

Seconds later, I had pulled a U-turn into the parking lot of In.Cep.tion cycles, picked up an extra set of SPD pedal clips to match my misbegotten cleats and, Bob’s your uncle!, we’re back in business; In.Cep.tion with the save.

Thanks Brandon!

Hey, maybe this whole motivation self-talk might actually work.


Upon arriving, I ran the pee, probe and shuffle gauntlet, got weighed, got affixed with the usual heat sensors and electrode thingee’s, completed both my BRUMS questionnaire and base cognitive testing on the tablet (which, I am fairly confident went very well when I applied my positive self-talk statements) and minutes later I was in the oven ready to go.

I’m also noting here for the record that I was adequately hydrated for this session as two weeks before, for whatever reason, by hydration was pretty poor.  In fact, my piss sample resembled the liquid version of Charlie’s Golden Ticket, so I was conscientious to hydrate today like a mofo to avoid that from happening again.


Gettin’ sweaty…

The goal today was to be cognizant of all my negative thoughts and, instead, use the motivational selftalk phrases I’ve been working on for the past week.  The idea is to see what difference (if any) that provides to both my exercise sessions as well as my cognitive testing immediately following them.  In other words, shit was about to get real and I was focused on proving that they worked as I generally believe they would.

It has to be said that the first 30 minutes at 60% (210 watts) of my PPO is the most tedious.   I can deal with the 35°C temperature and 50% relative humidity, but it’s boring as all get out and very shortly into it the negativity started to creep in.

“This sucks”, “this is boring”, and “How much longer?”

No problem, I was prepared.

“Just relax, focus and breathe…just keep calm and push on…”

Worked like a charm.

One problem though.  A piece of surgical tape used to secure my probe to the sumo sling I use to keep it, well, wedged up in my ass, had begun to rub under my Charlie Brown’s.  Not pleasant.  So with every pedal stroke there was this uncomfortable scratching going on under my nut sack.  Yeah.

And let me tell you, trying to stay positive and think happy thoughts while your choda is being treated like a Lotto scratch ticket is not easy, like, at all.  Lord knows I tried.  Ultimately, I knew, boring as it was, I could do the first 30 minutes fairly easily so all I had to do was make it through that and then I could try and “readjust” myself afterwards prior to having to get back on the bike.


This is the face one makes when their scrotum is being rubbed raw.

However, despite my attempt to exist in my “happy place”, it was all pretty much in vain.  After all, my happy place in that country pub does not include something coarse and scratchy down my pants.  But I made the first 30 minutes successfully and, yes, I used my self-talk statements as much as possible.

When I dismounted the bike to don my rain poncho and complete my cognitive testing I tried my best to fix the issue.  In the rare few moments I am actually alone in the oven I had both hands burrowed deep into my bib shorts and ferreting around like a squirrel digging for acorns, but to no avail.


The first round of cognitive testing I think went very, very well.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I made the tests my bitch, particularly the “Two Back”  and “Groton Maze Learning”  tasks.  I’m not surprised really as I was very dialed in and focused using my “Just relax and focus”  statement.  For the rest of the 30 minute cool down (and I use that term loosely), I put my feet up and tried not to focus on the chafing beginning to happen under my balls.

I figured I could manage one last TTE but, then again, what choice did I really have?

Eventually, I mounted the bike for the last time and had the mask affixed to my head and I braced myself for the eventual suck to follow.  I immediately reverted to my more calming and passive motivational statements to “get in the zone”, per se. I knew it was going to difficult (isn’t it always?) but I really wanted to do better and by “better”, that inevitably means “suffer”.  It’s just the nature of the beast I’m afraid.

Finally the first 5 minute warm up at 125 watts began, and as soon as it did it started:

“God, my balls on fire!”

“Just relax, breathe and focus…”


“Just be calm and push on…”

Nope.  Still on fire.

“Get tough.”

Okay, that worked…a bit.

Finally, the official TTE at 80% (280 watts) began in earnest and it was on.

Again with the negativity.

Ho-lee shit”, “My legs hurt”, “My balls are burning” (not to be confused with the popular 80’s song ‘Beds Are Burning’ by Australian rockers Midnight Oil)…it was a total cacophony of self pity, remorse and intense bitchiness.

Fueled by “Get tough”  and “You can do this!”, I did my best to block it all out and started with my first spin-up and then remained focused on holding that cadence for as long as it felt “comfortable” to do so.  It hurt, but I did it.

“Well, that sucked”, was the immediate response in my brain.

Fuck you negativity, “You can do this!”…and I did it again…and again…

…and again.

I concentrated on putting power into the pedals more than I have ever done before, even when it felt like my lungs were going to explode and my nuts were going to rupture.  In fact, I became a bit worried at one point that I might have some unfortunate scaring going on in places I didn’t even want to think about but, still, I focused on power.

“More power!”, actually became a new motivation self-talk statement at one point.  I know it wasn’t part of the original plan but I was certainly willing to go with whatever it was that worked in the moment, and in that precise moment, “More power!”  is exactly  what I needed to hear.

I continued to spin up an hold as best as I could and the last 2 or 3 “sprints” were every bit as agonizing as the sensations going on in my shorts, let me tell you.

I had no concept of time.  I know that the research guy in the oven with me (Phil) comes around every two minutes to get my RPE and Thermal Sensation and Discomfort readings so I should be able to keep an approximate track of how much time has passed but, truthfully, after the first two or so and it’s really beginning to get shitty, they all feel like the first.

Eventually, I couldn’t take any more and immediately following my last spin up I quit.  Now, whether I 100% gave up or whether my cadence dropped below the pre-established 60rpm for 5 seconds signaling the finish, I’m not really sure.  What I do know is that I was 100% spent and feeling rather disappointed with myself (as I’m sure was reflected in the subsequent BRUMS scale I completing immediately after getting off the bike).

A picture is worth a thousand words:


I figured that while I had put more effort into the pedals, the eventual cost was in not being able to go for as long as I would have liked.  Plus, I hated the feeling of having to “quit” (whether or not that actually happened, is moot).  On the plus side, I think my cognitive testing afterwards (once my heart rate came back down of course) went very well, just as it had the first time.  In that regard I was definitely happy.

In the first exercise protocol I managed to last 12 whole minutes at my 80% and today, using motivational self-talk, I was able to last 13 minutes representing an improvement of 9% overall.  So, despite how I felt about the second TTE, that positive phrasing definitely seemed to work.  But here’s the part I’m really pleased with:

During the first session, I managed 10 or so spin up’s to approximately 90 rpm before dropping back down to an average of approximately 77 rpm.  This time around, I managed 12 spin up’s overall at over 100 rpm  which I was able to sustain for up to 40-45 seconds at a time before returning to an approximate average of 80 rpm.  That means that my ride on that particular day was a lot less variable in my being able to maintain a steady cadence and power outage.

I guess I can live with that.

Where positive self-talking definitely helps with athletic performance (which is awesome), even in extreme hot and humid conditions (even more awesome), it also works very well in positively improving cognitive ability as well and that’s particularly some pretty awesome shit.

I will include all the actual results in the follow-up Part 2 to this post in the near future so, until then, hang tight, for that awesome shit is about to get real.

(Author’s Note: I might suggest playing this video in the background as you read because it’s what’s currently going through my head right now as I write this.  It might be a bit dramatic, sure, but it does accurately reflect the mood I’m trying to aspire to here.)

Well, it wasn’t the start I was initially hoping for.  A little more than one week after I took my “first steps” (click HERE) back towards this next Ironman challenge and my workout consists of walking to the corner store to check a lottery ticket and buy a bag of Ruffles; ‘Loaded Potato Skin’ flavor.

The ticket was a loser and the chips were…meh.

I’m trying to tell myself that this is “normal” and just a part of the routine as it seems I always start my off-season training with an unanticipated injury.  This time last year I was dealing with Morton’s Neuroma, a sore Achilles tendon, and emotional trauma (click HERE) following my parents deaths, the year before that a strained muscle in my left shin (click HERE), and this year it’s an acute case of ‘Dorsal Scapular Nerve Syndrome’ (click HERE).


I’m trying to tell myself that there’s no better way to start a new beginning than with the tail end of an epic finish so that it can only get better from here.

I hope.

But part of me is still all like WHY ME?’ 

Needless to say that I’ve had lots of time to ponder my pathetic situation this past week while lying around on my back trying to be as motionless as possible. I have watched one friend tackle an epic 100 kilometer trail race (click HERE), two friends complete an Ironman (click HERE), and two other friends are now completing their final workouts before competing in the Kona World Ironman Championships in three short weeks.  One friend posted about his awesome 30k training run recently for the Boston Marathon while another friend frequently updates her progress over Facebook regarding her steady and successful weight loss over the past month.  Other friends still ran the Terry Fox 5k charity run or some other type of endurance feat on their own, to support a great cause in St. Catharines this weekend. Greatness is everywhere.


I walked to the store for chips (click HERE).

I’m trying however not to let this get me down, which is definitely harder than it appears. In the company of so much greatness it’s definitely hard not to be frustrated at being temporarily laid up.  Even though I plan to get back in the pool this week and start running and cycling easy again, my confidence has certainly taken a blow for the worse.  I haven’t been able to keep up with the circuit training I started two weeks ago and I am horrified to discover that I’ve ballooned out to 225lbs since mid-August.

Not. Good.

Regardless, I’m trying to remain positive and console myself that this will just inevitably add to the total epicness of the challenge that I’ve laid out for myself this year, so if I did have  to get injured, than this is the perfect time to do so rather than sacrifice weeks or months of hard work and fall behind.  As it is now, I can’t fall behind in what I haven’t started.

So I tell myself anyway.

Hopefully this is all just temporary and in no time, I’ll be right as rain again and able to get back to the task of reestablishing my healthy base of fitness and monitoring my diet more closely; the pieces will fall together and I’ll be on my way with all guns a-blazin’, chasing down chickens and leaping over park benches with throngs of kids chasing behind me…the whole bit.

In the meantime I’m trying to remain patient, keep doing my exercises, and aspiring to the greatness going on around me.  Good things have got to come…


Exactly seven days ago (as of this writing anyway) I came down with a stabbing pain in the middle of my back. It was (is) absolute agony.  I have no idea from whence it came.  Did it come as the result of my first easy drill run that afternoon, or is it the residual effect of lugging around heavy tents and wet floor mats on and off a truck for the SunRype Tri-KiDS days earlier?  I dunno.  All I do know is that it feels like somebody is repetitively plunging a carving knife into my back.  It totally blows.

I initially thought it was a knot or some sort of muscle spasm and tried to treat it with a topical pain relief lotion but that only ended up with my nearly getting third degree burns (click HERE).  I then dosed myself up on ibuprofen to no avail. I even went so far as to have a co-worker at the office walk on my back.  Nada.  Although I might have developed a new fetish for Geisha girls.

Nothing worked.  The pain just got increasingly worse and worse and for five days I barely slept and I pretty much existed in a constant state of agony and while things have improved marginally since then, I am still in lots of discomfort and I’m popping Tylenols like Pez.  Likewise, I’m now constantly walking around slouched over like a vampire cowering away from the sun.


This was supposed to be my big week back to Ironman training and here I am barely able to make it up the stairs without crying out in pain.  Needless to say I’m pretty frustrated.

Eventually I figured that I had had enough and decided to call in the Big Guns, namely the good people at Legacy Health & Performance, my go-to peeps for all things ouchie.  I booked a massage appointment with Nicole and also received an initial adjustment and assessment by Dr. Burr.  Neither really seemed to know what the issue was as it’s very difficult to treat something so completely systemic.

FML x 2.

I went to my family doctor and was told it was a simple muscle spasm (it wasn’t) and that I should just try and relax and wait for it to pass.  Oh, and she prescribed me some anti-inflammatories which were rather like throwing water balloons at a twelve alarm fire.  Fuckers!  Relax?  Yeah, right!  Ever try to relax  with an ice pick constantly being twisted between your shoulder blades?

Good luck with that.

Since then we have made some progress (at Legacy, not the doctor) in that we now realize that my symptoms (as they’ve changed somewhat since the first few days) indicate something known as ‘Dorsal Scapular Nerve Syndrome’ (click HERE).

Sounds catchy, eh?

Hey, wait, I thought it was dolphins and whales that had dorsals?


Basically, DSNS is characterized by symptoms of a generalized dull ache along the medial border of the scapula, radiating into the lateral surface of the arm and forearm (which has only started to occur recently).  Now, when you read “Dull” here, think “OMFG that’s torture!”  because, baby, it was.  “Dull” just doesn’t do it justice at all.

So what’s the plan of attack?


FML x 3.

I’ve actually had acupuncture before years ago when I was suffering from plantar fasciitis.  At the time I was seeing some quack chiropractor who was more interested in hooking me up to his TENS unit which, I’m sure, was a relic of the Cold War.  Afterwards he would jab a few needles into the souls of my feet and then fuck off for an hour or so leaving me alone in the darkened room to contemplate by pathetic circumstance.

I still remember my first appointment. When I entered the examining room he immediately lowered the lights, closed the blinds and switched on some soothing muzac.  I recall thinking: “is he going to treat me or fuck me?”

Now, if you’ve never had needles plunged into the souls of your feet before it’s really no different than what you’re probably thinking already:  it sucks.  An action you would expect to be preceded by the statement “we ‘av vays of making you talk”.  Anyway, this process repeated itself a few times a week for over a year with no improvement whatsoever.  I realize now being a bit older and wiser, that he was just milking my benefits until they ultimately ran out and I was cast aside like a discarded coffee cup.

That was seven years ago and my feelings about acupuncture are largely connected to that experience.  A barbaric practice geared more towards satisfying the sadistic impulses of the administrator than for the benefit and ultimate relief of the patient.The whole thing kinda made me feel like this:

Or, maybe this guy:

I wasn’t a fan.

So when Dr. Burr suggested we also try acupuncture I was all like:

However, in an effort to make peace with this whole acupuncture thing I decided to do a little research on why so many people seem to accept and appreciate it as a viable treatment practice.  After all, how can 1.3 billions Chinese people be wrong?

Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine and a key component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) involving inserting thin needles into the body at acupuncture points.  Most commonly, it is associated with pain relief. Acupuncture as a practice can be traced back at least 2,500 years.  The general theory is based on the premise that there are patterns of energy flow (Qi) through the body that are essential for health.  Disruptions of this flow are believed to be responsible for disease.  Acupuncture may, it has been theorized, correct imbalances of flow at identifiable points close to the skin.

The practice of acupuncture to treat identifiable pathophysiological (disease) conditions in American medicine was rare until the visit of President Richard M. Nixon to China in 1972.  Since that time, there has been an explosion of interest in the United States and Europe in the application of the technique of acupuncture to Western medicine.

Now, does any of this help my feelings towards acupuncture?

Not one bit.

So Tricky Dick liked him some acupuncture.

Whoopee shit.

But desperate times call for desperate measures, plus I trust Dr. Burr implicitly (she did successfully lay out the foundation for the whole “We Can Rebuild Him” plan two years ago).  So if acupuncture is what she recommends, acupuncture is what I will do.  I made another appointment then with Nicole who also doubles as the clinics acupuncture specialist.

At my appointment I was invited to lie face down on the massage table which, it has to be said, is my favorite thing about the Legacy Health & Performance clinic as this table and I have really bonded over the past two years. This made sense given that I wouldn’t be getting needles into my feet today but, rather, my back and neck.  This was fine by me as I’d rather not watch the entire process as I had before, thank you very much.  Nicole asked me try and relax which, again, I find to be pretty impossible given the situation.  I did my best however.

For the next 5-10 minutes or so, she popped these needles into specific spots in the back of my neck, my back and along my left arm and hand since I have been experiencing numbness and a tingling sensation down my left side.  Oh, and let’s not forget about the one that she stuck directly into the top of my head.

Ever had a needle shoved into the top of your head?


Once they were all in and I adequately resembled a human pin cushion I was left to “relax” (there’s that word again) for 15 minutes or so before they were then extracted which, I must say, was less harrowing then the whole inserting them thing.

Did I notice any improvement afterwards?

Maybe a little.

Did I find it relaxing?

Shit no.

Will I go again?

If it’s suggested, sure.

Will I enjoy it anymore?


But if it’s a means to an end to get over this damnable pain in my back once and for all so I get on with my Ironman training (nevermind just being able to sleep normally again), I will do whatever it takes.


Needles in the head and all.