Archive for the ‘In Transition’ Category

“Won’t you step into the freezer
Tease her with a tweezer
It’s gonna be cold, cold, cold, cold, cold…”

It’s been almost two years since I last stepped back into the Brock University Kinesiology Department headed by Dr. Stephen Cheung.  I figured that either they didn’t have anything particularly interesting going on since my last trip into the over (click HERE) or they had simply run out of ideas on how to adequately make my life mentally and physically miserable.

Well, for whatever time it is that I’m spending in the lab anyway.

But as it turns out, they were apparently biding their time in a two year brainstorming session on the next best way to torture me and, boy, did they come up with a doozy this time.

This time around the oven is being converted into a meat locker, so instead of being roasted alive, I’m going to be turned into a human Popsicle in the latest and greatest “Effects of Hyperpoxia on Exercise Performance in the Cold” study.

Sounds like fun right?

The study is aimed at determining whether or not Hyperpoxia can improve exercise performance in the cold.  And seeing as how I typically do the bulk of my long distance Ironman training in the winter, hey, this might be a great learning opportunity (as I’m choosing to tell myself anyway).    At the very least I figured, “hey, I already run in -stupid° temperatures until I can’t feel my feet, face, or hands, so how bad could this really be?”  Not that it ever takes me any time at all to decide whether or not to volunteer for these crazy experiments but, honestly, in this case, I actually begged to be a part of it.

Once again, my lunacy knows no bounds.

Anyway, to begin with, let’s first review what in the sweet Sam Hell this “Hyperpoxia” beast is.

Hyperoxia occurs when the body’s tissues and organs are exposed to an excess supply of oxygen (O2) or higher than normal partial pressure of oxygen.  In medicine, it refers to excess oxygen in the lungs or other body tissues, which can be caused by breathing air or oxygen at pressures greater than normal atmospheric pressure. This kind of hyperoxia can lead to oxygen toxicity, caused from the harmful effects of breathing molecular oxygen at elevated partial pressures.  Hyperoxia differs from hypoxia in that hyperoxia refers to a state in which oxygen supply is too much, whereas hypoxia refers to the state in which oxygen supply is insufficient (a feeling of which I am very familiar with from swimming endless laps in the pool).  In a properly regulated doses however, that extra oxygen in the blood can give the body that extra ‘umpf’ in performance (ie. blood doping in cycling).

Now, in the extreme cold it has been proved that the body’s blood flow is significantly decelerated in its ability to feed oxygen rich blood to the muscles to sustain performance; hence the overall performance declines.  Makes sense right?  Anyone who’s ever tried to run in polar vortex temperatures, such as I have, will already know that it’s a significantly harder effort.  But what would happen if you “super-oxygenate” that blood beforehand?  In other words, what if what little blood – decelerated in delivery as it is – was enhanced with above normal oxygen levels to fuel the muscles once it got there.  Would that then counter-effect that decrease in performance?  While this super-oxygenating blood to improve performance has been widely known in the sporting world already resulting in some pretty clever scandals to cheat the odds, no one has thus far attempted this same principle in an extremely cold environment where the blood flow has also been slowed down.

Enter yours truly (along with a few other willing “suffer bunnies”); let the chips fall where they may.

Session 1: VO2-Max and Familiarization

As I have come to learn and understand, before I can look at the bike I have to first run the gauntlet of having my fatness measured, scrutinized, and recorded.  It’s not a very dignified process, believe me.

Here’s how the consent form describes the process:

“Body fat testing will be performed using skinfold calipers, which might cause a slight pinching sensation.”

Slight?

Ha! 

It was like being goosed over and over again by a giant mechanical lobster.

Let it be known now that Steve, the new Principle Student Investigator (PSI), has absolutely no caliper skills whatsoever.   Sorry, buddy, I still love you and all but you definitely need some practice; not that grabbing ahold of and pinching another man’s body fat ranks up there on your resume of skills, I get it, but still…

Ouch!

aMaybe there is something to say about having a few cute female undergrads girls do it like a few years ago.  Whatever the case, if I had any misgivings about it before, I’m definitely not cut out for the hardcore S&M lifestyle.

Fortunately, after a minutes of poking, pulling and pinching, not to mention not much eye contact, it was all over with and we could hook me up to the censors and move into the chamber to get down to business beginning with the dreaded V02-max test to determine my overall level of aerobic fitness.  And considering that I have been spending ample time on the bike doing some tempo and interval workouts, I was hoping for something a bit better than the ‘Good’ status I received last time.

Seriously, it is worthy pausing here to note that had I not fared better this time around with my V02-max, I likely would have thrown the Velotron bike through the wall of the Kinesiology lab in a fit of anger that would have made Bruce Banner cower in the corner like a little nancy girl.

Seriously.

Anyway, on goes the silicon mask to measure my peak oxygen consumption (VO2peak) and immediately I feel like this:

bane

So, you think the bike is your friend?

Of course, I didn’t look quite so badass.

self-portrait

The test began shortly afterwards where I am required to warm up at 100 watts for 5 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 I have been training at this 80-85% threshold level for some weeks now.  I was feeling strong and confident.  But once that over all fatigue begins to set in, boy, it’s a quickly spiraling slope downward into total agony.  But by the 13 minute mark (350 watts) I was suffering and this is where I tapped out last time.  Damned if I was going to give in at this point this time around, so I synched up the apple sack and made it another minute or so more well into the 375 watt mark and then ‘ol Thunder n’ Lightning imploded in on themselves and I slouch over the handlebars wheezing into the silicon mask like an asthmatic orangutan.

Thank Christ.

Here’s what all this data looks like on the screen:

img_1459

Of course, this could be the EKG results performed on a rutabaga for all I know, but here is what all those squiggly lines and graphs really boil down to:

results

So these results can be broken out into the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The obvious good news – scratch that, make it GREAT news – is that my relative VO2peak improved to 61 ml/kg/min, representing a 19 ml/kg/min  improvement over my last crack at the bad two years ago.  This places me squarely – FINALLY I might add – in the “Superior” classification for my age group.  In fact, I tested as “Superior” for a male in the 19-25 age range.  So I am extremely happy with this.

The bad news is that I’m only marginally lighter than I was at this time two years ago, weighing in at 96.06kg  which is only 0.3kg  lighter.  It’s not a lot, but I’ll take it.  I’m chalking this up to all my newfound core muscles and recent weight training.  After all, muscle is heavier than fat but, regardless, that’s what I’m choosing to roll (no pun intended) with.

The ugly news is that my body fat percentage rose to 26.2%, an increase of 4.2% over two years ago meaning I’m lighter, but also flabbier.

The fuck?

bApparently, fat is my new secret weapon as it would seem on paper that the larger I get the fitter I become, so it’s ‘Goodbye kale salads, Hello bacon double cheeseburgers!’

How or why this is beats the living shit out of me as I’ve been working hard on my core (click HERE) daily, and doing lots of tempo and hill intervals on the bike in recent weeks.  How I got bigger when I feel that I’ve actually been losing weight absolutely baffles me.  I’m counting this up to Steve being a little overly aggressive into digging those calipers into my body fat.

Thanks Steve.

Regardless, the bottom line is that I’m stronger so that’s the ultimate positive here in all this kerfuffle.  Maybe all those weekend pints courtesy of my sponsor Brimstone Brewery (click HERE) have given me some kind of super powers?

Who knows.

Onto Phase 2, the familiarization time trial.

After being allowed to spin idly for another few minutes, be began the official 15k time trail that I will have to perform at the end of each protocol in the following weeks, complete with silicon mask just to simulate what it will be like in the actual protocol sessions.  This familiarization is more of a formality really as I’ve done this in the lab on numerous occasions already but, hey, how often do you get to time trial on a real Velotron so, yeah, strap me in boys let’s go for it; 13 minutes or so of blocking out all the weeks worth of media bullshit on Lady Gaga’s belly fat and whatever the hell it is that Donald Trump is currently waging a Twitter war against and simply…giv ‘er.

Basically, I’m wired up and hooked into to a computer which displays a virtual me as it tracks my effort and progress through a virtual 15k course.  The computer tracks all the important details of my time trial performance including my gear setting, speed, heart rate, average wattage, peak wattage, RPM, average RPM and, apparently, that I am a pink-clad female cyclist.

img_1477

WTF?

Luckily, I have no gender status issues so I’m terribly bothered as long as I’m still kicking ass and taking names.  The only distraction is to provide the PSI with 2.5k with my perceived ‘Rate of Exertion’ (RPE) as represented on a traditional Borg scale, as well as my ‘Thermal Comfort’ (otherwise known as a Bedford Scale) and ‘Thermal Sensation’.   So, essentially, there you are wallowing in your self-induced pain cave as you focus on applying power to the pedals at pretty much your 90% threshold until the time trial is complete.

Here’s but a small sample of it:

When it was all said and done, I covered the distance in 25:39 with an average wattage of 235 and at an average speed of just over 35kpm.

Not bad for a fat chick, eh?

Of course, this was all completed in a neutral temperature with normal doses of precious oxygen and lots of encouragement.

In other words, this was about as easy as it was ever going to get.

Session 2 – Exercise Protocol

By the time a week had rolled by, I had more or less racked myself into quite a fright about this whole cold thing.  I mean, when I first started doing these testing protocols at Brock years ago I had no idea what I was getting into so I really had no expectations about how bad it would suck.

I was ignorant.

But now that I have a reference point or benchmark on how bad things can really get, well, you begin to wonder “will this be as bad as that?”  Sure this study is is different in that I’m not begin roasted alive but that doesn’t exactly mean it’s going to be any less tedious.  And truthfully, I’d rather shit in my hands and clap than have to ever endure that firefighters protocol again (click HERE for a little reminder on how bad that was).

However, this time around I was to be sitting in a cooler at exactly 0° until my core temperature had dropped exactly 0.5°, or essentially, had gone hypothermic. 

Ever been hypothermic before?

Me neither.

Basically, I was going from this:

hot

An oldie but a goodie

To this:

freezer2

See why I was a bit worried?

Upon arriving in the lab I have to run the gauntlet of getting prepared by having my urine tested for adequate hydration levels and then getting hooked up to a whole battery or wires, sensors, electrodes and, oh yes, let’s not forget:

It’s real glamorous business this suffer bunny stuff.

Everything is being 100% monitored, my hear rate, my rectal temperature, my skin temperature/heat flow, the amount of oxygen in my blood and even my brain activity through a near infrared spectroscopy sensor (NIRS), so that by the time I was done having all these instruments successfully fished through my cycle attire and  attached to my body you kind of begin to feel a bit like this:

borg_2366

And only marginally less menacing.

img_1516

See how happy I look?

img_1518

Just ecstatic I tells ya.

Anyway, from there it’s onto business and you couldn’t help but notice a slight chill in the air as Steve the lab guy begins to describe exactly what’s about to go down.

To begin with, I’m to get cozy in the freezer where they already have a nice, comfy lawn chair already set up for me and it’s a few minutes before all my sensors are then fed through a small hole in the freezer wall to the outside and hooked up to all that fancy shit outside so they can get their accurate reads on my suffering inside.

When they’re finished, they take a blood lactate sample with a lancet device (which, fortunately, looks nothing like the huge ass sword variety) from my ear lobe to get a base read of my lactate concentration prior to the anticipated madness.  Immediately after that, I am asked to sit quietly with no stimulus (music, talking, etc.) so they can get another base read on all my internal systems before they officially open the Gates to Hell.

Usually when they begin the actual protocol you begin doing something.  Cycling, running, walking, whatever.

But not this time.

Nope.

This time I’m simply sitting in a lawn chair connected to about a thousand wires and seated across from me is a guy (Gary) in a snow suit.

And it begins to get cold.

Very fucking cold.

Almost immediately I began to shiver as the fan in the freezer pumps in air at around -4° to get the temperature to drop to the required 0° as quickly as possible before it stabilizes. It was clear from the get go that this was going to be a completely different kind of suffering.  On my previous trips into the “oven” my butt crack more or less turned into Splash Mountain for all the sweat that began to pour, now you couldn’t slide a credit card between my ass cheeks if you had to for all the clenching that was going on thanks to the cold.

Keeping in mind, they were anticipating my having to be in here for anywhere between 45 and 90 minutes in order for my core temperature to drop to the necessary 0.5°, yup, this was going to sure suck.

Prior to beginning this whole freezing thing, I chatted with Gary (the guy in the snow suit) who has had the fortunate – or unfortunate, depending on how you want to look at it – task of keeping all the study volunteers such as myself company through this freezing protocol.  He mentioned that what he really found interesting was how each test subject dealt with their suffering.  Some plugged into their music on their iPod’s, or played on their cell phones in an effort to forget the fact that their bodies were being frozen into Popcicles, while others simply zoned out and willed themselves through it.  Others still spewed out random obscenities and pithy expletives for the entire duration as a way of coping with the stress.

Me?

Figuring that given my 26.2% body fat that I was going to be in this for the long haul, well, let’s just say I came prepared to stay a while.  I brought a book, my iPod with a per-established playlist of “hot” themed tracks, a notebook to record my thoughts; everything but a picnic basket, a collection of the New York Times crosswords and the entire 8 seasons worth of Dexter  really.  So once the shivering began I plugged into my playlist, cracked my book and….

Nope!

That wasn’t going to work.

Apparently, I needed to forget that I was there altogether and reading simply wasn’t going to do it.  And, honestly, my body was shivering so badly that even had I wanted to, the book which I had resting in my lap was shaking so bad that it probably could have phased right through my body altogether and into the chair had I allowed it.

Snoop Dogg had nothing on me what he says he’s “chillun'”, believe me.

So, instead, I struck up a conversation with Gary and talked about, geez, everything under the stars really.  Anything and everything was on the conversational menu; work, travel; politics and, yes, at times even the current situation.  What I can assure you though is that despite my efforts to block out the cold, it absolutely sucked and I was shivering like a chihuahua at the Arctic Circle.

Shivering is your bodies unconscious way of fending off the cold and trying to keep itself warm  and, apparently, my body was putting in some serious overtime.  In fact, at exactly the 30 minute mark my core temperature had actually risen by 1° as this process was taking place.

Not that I ever felt warm or comfortable mind you.  This simply not the case.  On the outside you’re fucking cold but, inside, your body is working hard to protect itself by regulating it’s temperature and therefore protecting you from serious harm, despite how you feel on the outside.  Gary assured me that this increase in core temperature was normal and that all the other test subjects had experienced the same thing.

At the 60 minute mark my core temperature had rose another 2°, or 3° over in total from my normal body temperature.

Fuck.

It’s a curious thing to actually want your body to fail.  Under any other “normal” (and I use that word loosely) circumstances, you want your body to endure, to overcome and to triumph.  In all the other research experiments I have been a part of this was certainly the case; how long can I go?  Now, here I was in the rather unique situation where I was actually wanted my body to pack it in, throw in the towel and traipse off gaily into the light at the end of the tunnel!

“Go into the light, dammit!”

The quicker my body started to fail, the quicker my core temperature would drop, and the quicker I could get on the bike to begin the time trail and to generate some heat.

But, NOOOOOOOOOOO!

Not my body.

Apparently, my body is extremely good at regulating it’s internal temperature – too good in fact.

So there I sat…shivering…suffering.

img_1532

Not exactly a relaxing day at the beach is it?

By the 90 minute mark (the longest point at which any other test subjects had taken), my core temperature was back to 0°, or where I had originally started from exactly 1 hour and 30 minutes ago meaning all this suffering and freezing had simply gotten me back to the starting point again.

Do you have any idea how defeating that feels?

A lot.

I was determined to make this work.  I mean, after you have suffered for that long why not go whole hog and see it through to the end.  Such is the life of a “suffer bunny” after all, right?   Gary had also mentioned at some point as well that once the body begins to actually drop it’s core temperature, it’s typically a gradual slide downward so, yeah, maybe I just had to hang on a  little longer.

Again, remember, I am actually willing myself to fail  here as I am pretty miserable by this point.

The real question now was, how much longer was this whole failing process going to take?

At 100 minutes, my core temperature had only dropped a mere 0.1°.

Big fucking deal.

By 120 minutes (2 hours) it as the same, so the decision was ultimately made to pull the plug altogether and get me out of there. What it really came down to to the lab guys was how long can you ethically let someone suffer, knowing you have no idea what the end point is going to be?  What’s an acceptable amount of time you can let somebody sit in a 0° environment?  1 hour?  2 hours?  3 hours?  What?

img_1533By now, I had endured exactly 30 minutes longer than the next longest sucker test subject in the freezer and, I can assure you, it was awful.

I mean, sure, “Yay me!”, but still, it totally sucked.

Would I have stayed longer?  Absolutely.  If the last ‘Effects of Mental Skills Training on Endurance Performance and Cognitive Function in the Heat’ (click HERE) study had taught me anything, it’s that I can be one tough bastard when I need to be.

And, yes, I definitely used my mental skills training here as well.

Thanks Phil!

But as a safety precaution, a 2 hour suffering time limit had been predetermined for the study so, yeah, I never even made it to the bike.

Needless to say, I was disappointed; disappointed that I had failed at having successfully failed.

What?

It just is what it is.

Having said all this, when the guys started to help out of the chair, I realized that just about everything had locked up in the cold; my back, my legs, my knees, everything.  The chances are that even had I made it to the 15k time trial, I wouldn’t have been able to do little more than simply over the pedals, much less time trial.

Furthermore, the skin on my forearms had freezer burn (which ultimately wouldn’t go away for another three days) and my pecker had done it’s best Punxsutawny Phil impression by burying itself in my abdomen, and considering the size of my abdomen these days, I likely wouldn’t see it again for another six weeks either.

In a picture, I felt like this:

o-frozen-meat-facebook

The other thing to consider is, let’s say that my core temperature finally did drop the required 0.5° and I did make to the bike to complete the time trial – shitty as it would likely have been.  That means I would then have had to endure that same 2-3 hours once more for the second protocol, and it I was nervous before, I would definitely have not been looking forward to doing it all over again.

img_1535

Don’t let the smile fool you, inside those mittens I’m really giving Gary the finger.

It was another 20 minutes or so outside the freezer sporting a full winter jacket before the shivering finally subsided. And, truth me, you will never appreciate just how warm room temperature is until you sat in 0° temperatures for two fucking hours.

Finally I was able to remove all the sensors and, yes, the probe which, honestly, made me feel a bit like this:

popsicle

Oh, and I also had the longest and most enjoyable hot shower I have ever had.

After each of these studies I ultimately try to find the learning lesson in for me.  How does this translate to the outside world and, hopefully, provide me with a little added value.  The results of the ‘Mental Skills Training on Endurance Performance‘ study taught me how to improve my performance through positive mental conditioning and the firefighter study taught me that’s no way in fucking hell I’d ever want to be a firefighter.  But what did this teach me exactly?

After two hours of suffering you’d think there would be some sore of profound “Ah ha!” moment, right?

But here I was at a bit of a loss.

Sure, if I happen to wander out of a bar in the middle of winter with an unseasonably fashionable jacket and end up passing out in a forest somewhere, the chances are good that I will survive for at least 2-3 hours.

But is that what I was meant to learn?

Doubtful.

Maybe there wasn’t a learning lesson here beyond knowing that my body is very good at regulating it’s internal temperature.  Maybe this is a result of all my cold weather training and conditioning, or maybe my body is just retarded in that it just doesn’t know when to say “I quit”.

Who knows?

What I do know for sure is that there are definitely better ways to spend a Wednesday evening.

Hopefully though, I will get some sort of honorable mention or maybe a footnote somewhere in the final paper about being the tough bastard (idiot?) who sat for two hours in a freezer with a probe up his ass.

The Shark

Posted: February 15, 2017 in In Transition, Swim
Tags: , ,

I first started swimming at the Port Colborne YMCA and Aquatic Center about 2-3 years ago.

Now, it’s never easy being the new guy on deck at a new pool.  Here the swimmers were typically older (seniors most of them) and had obviously been swimming together in the mornings for quite some time.  Before that (I have since learned), they swam at the now closed Centennial Pool in Port Colborne.  In other words, they were all very familiar with one another as well as each others swim pace and specific routines, and they already had a predetermined order to the way in which they organized themselves in regard to who swam with whom, and in what lane, so on and so forth.

And this young buck in Speedo’s with the Santa’s sack of fancy swim toys shows up and everything is completely FUBAR-ed.  It’s made only worse that he also happens to swim at double the pace of those currently using the Fast Lane.

Needless to say, we didn’t necessarily all get along well in the beginning.

However, over time they grew to know me, and I them, and I have more or less been accepted into the common collective of local swimmers in Port Colborne and we have reorganized ourselves accordingly in that we can all successfully get to the business of swimming without it feeling like Mortal Combat.

It took some time but we eventually did it.

During that initial “getting to know you” phase though it was, well, let’s just say that it was ‘awkward’ at the best of times.

One of the first swimmers to make an effort to get to know me was an English woman named Margaret.  One morning, out of the blue, she invited me into her lane which we then proceeded to split down the middle so that we wouldn’t be in each others way.  To me, this was kind of like Diane Fossey being accepted into her troop of mountain gorillas on some remote mountainside in Rwanda somewhere.  At last I was accepted as one of their own.

Well, with Margaret anyway.

The others?  Maybe not so much (at that point anyway).

We continued sharing a lane for some time after that and even started chit-chatting at the wall periodically between sets.

She was curious about the kind of workouts I was doing, the distances, and of course all the weird-looking pool toys (pool buoys, fins, paddles, etc.) I brought with me (click HERE for but a small sample).  She even became a little interested in how they worked so I invited her to try using some of them which she did before politely nodding her head that, “yes, that’s definitely different, isn’t it?”  in that adorable English accent before going back to doing whatever it was she was doing.  However, I did notice sometimes that while I was doing my sets she would occasionally reach into my bag of swim tricks on the wall and help herself to a pair of small paddles, or maybe my fins, do a few lengths, and then replace them again carefully.

I was only too happy to oblige.

Sometimes we would even race each other.  I would try to complete a 100m interval in the same time it took her to swim 50m.  It was a way of pushing ourselves through a little friendly competition.  She usually completed her interval seconds before I could finish mine, but I was getting closer.  And of course there was just the proper amount of egging one another on at the all as well.

“You just got beat by an old lady!”, was her favorite.

Funny that my swim partner would turn out to be an 70+ year old lady with penchant for trash talking.

Rather appropriately I think, I nicknamed her “The Shark”.

But then Margaret stopped showing up altogether.

Now it’s not terribly unusual for one of the old timers to go AWOL at some point.  Usually, one at a time it seems, they will inevitably head off south on vacation for a few weeks at a time, but they all eventually come back eventually looking like an old boot; such was the ebb and flow when swimming with seniors.  So I half expected Margaret to come waltzing back onto the pool deck as some point as well all tanned up.

But she never did.

In fact, months passed and no Margaret.

I figured that maybe she had moved onto something else, or moved away altogether.  It happens.  By this time though I more or less owned the Fast Lane and the other regulars stayed out of my way (except Bill, who I am sure has been sent here by the gods like some sort of a Classical pool harpy, to interrupt all my workouts by getting in my way as often as possible).

More months passed.

Then this morning, low and behold, there she was.

She looked a little confused and proceeded to plop herself into a completely different lane (not ours), but when she saw me she smiled broadly and announced “I remember you!”

Umm, hey…thanks?

She mentioned to me that she hadn’t swam in two years and, again, there was that confused look.  When I congratulated her for being back, she just shrugged her shoulders and started swimming…zig-zagging down the middle of the lane…without her goggles on.

Long story short, Margaret has developed Alzheimer’s and recently lost her driver’s license and therefore, her ability to get to and from the pool every day.  This morning, however, her husband must have brought her so that she could finally get back in the pool.

She didn’t immediately recognize everyone else but I am thrilled that she remembered me and our “workouts”.  She even started to ask how my swimming was going, what distances I had gotten myself up to and if I was still planning to race again this year.

In other words, it was as if we had just picked up where we left off…trash talk n’ all.

It was a real joy for me to see her swimming again and, clearly, she both loves and misses it judging by the HUGE smile on her face.  And while we might not have shared a lane this morning, I will definitely be sure to return the favor and invite her into my lane (whether she remembers me or not) with me if she continues to show up in future mornings, just as she originally did with me.

Welcome back, Margaret.

And for the record, in her absence I’ve only gotten faster.

As she said this morning:  “I see I have some work to do”.

You bet your sweet bippy you do, Shark.

So here’s a bit of a progress update on my Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids training program.

My (our) annual charity swim has been planned for April 15th at the Port Colborne YMCA and Aquatic’s Complex and my training has been going well.  On the average I am swimming anywhere between 15,000 to 17,000 meters a week with my long consecutive swims on Saturday’s (after riding 20k out to the pool on my mountain bike no less) so far stretching to 5,000 to 6,000 meters without any breaks.

And it feels good.

Also, I have just recently just set a bench mark personal best at the 100m  distance by finally getting my time down under a 1:30.  Probably not a big deal for other swimmers but for me, this is HUGE progress.  My daily core workouts are inevitably helping to make all this possible and all things considered, right now I’m feeling very strong in the water…more so than where I have been in previous years at this point with my 10k program.

In other words, things are going great.

What is different this year, is that I have enlisted some help in a friend who will be joining me in this whole 10k swim madness, Stephen Apps.  Steve was one of the first people I met through the TryForce club years ago and was one of the big motivators and inspirations to train for and complete my first Half Ironman distance triathlon in Welland (click HERE), culminating with my competing in Cancun (click HERE) the following year and eventually the full Iron distance Wales (click HERE).  So, although he may be surprised to hear it, Steve has been a major influence on my life over the past 8 years or so.

Now, we usually just bond over beers with is significantly more fun.

Anyway, this year Steve has graciously offered to join me for the Frank & Friends swim and has jumped back into the pool and launched into his own training plan for the April 15th event date.  However, this week he has been taking a bit of a much-needed break from the program and relaxing somewhere in Costa Rica.

(lucky bastard)

I’m envious.

Of course, I figured the only training he’d be doing this week might be the one arm curls he performs every time he hoists a tequila shot to his lips, but then this video pops up in my Facebook feed suggesting that Steve isn’t actually relaxing at all:

I just don’t know what to say.

Here I am up at stupid o’clock every morning suffering through endless intervals and grueling paddle workouts, and here is Steve doing obscene things to a floating crocodile in a tropical paradise.

Clearly, he has the better training program.

Good on ya, bud.

It all started last Friday, promptly at 3:01pm when I opened my email and saw a message from the Event Director of the Subaru EPiC Dartmouth Triathlon casually stating (as if nothing odd was transpiring):

You are receiving this email because you were registered for the 2016 Subaru EPIC Dartmouth Triathlon, and deferred your entry to the 2017 event.

I am going to attempt to transfer the amount you paid back into your hands electronically, but want to confirm that these are all still good addresses.

So send me a reply, so I will know this address works, and can send your refund.

My heart sunk.

This was me:

patrick-stewart-says-hed-reprise-his-role-of-captain-jean-luc-picard

Oh shit, here we go again.

If you recall, my planned Ironman was canceled last year due to road closures (click HERE).  I chose to take this as a sign, deferred my entry to the next year, and opted to focus on other goals, namely assisting with the SunRype Tri-Kids group for the summer.  And I’m glad I did as it’s ultimately a very rewarded experience, one that took my family out west to the Okanagan Valley, Calgary and then all over Ontario making kids triathlon dreams come true.  I (we) will be doing it again this summer as well.

However, it was the first year I didn’t compete in a single triathlon all summer and I realized that while the recovery was likely well needed and much enjoyed, I missed the thrill of completion and looked forward to getting back to business in 2017.  So, come October of last year it was back to the task at hand of kicking ass and taking names.

The EPiC Triathlon Challenge Facebook page was making semi-regular updates on the improved road conditions which only further whetted my appetite to race.  Once again, I was developing high hopes that this race would truly be an epic experience.

Until I received that recent email, that is.  Needless to say, it was not a welcome intrusion on the day.

As it turns out, the EPiC Triathlon Challenge had been cancelled uh-gain!

FML.

Here’s the official announcement/rationalization as provided by the Event Director:

Dear 2017 EPIC Triathlon Registrant,

When we lost our cycle route, and had to postpone the Subaru EPIC Dartmouth Triathlon in the Spring of 2016, we were on track for our best year ever (in terms of numbers of competitors).  At that time we didn’t know how being forced to take a year off would affect registration for the 2017 race:  Would we have even more registrants for 2017 from pent up demand, or would we have less from loss of momentum?

EPIC 2016 continued without the long distance triathlon, and the overall EPIC event had it’s best year ever!  We set record numbers in the EPIC Canadian Runs (becoming the 3rd largest Canada Day run in the country, plus adding a new Half and Quarter marathon).  We set record numbers in the EPIC Kids triathlon, record numbers in the EPIC Swim, and started a new adult Try-A-Tri.  Even without the long distance triathlon, we had the largest total number of participants ever – to the pleasure of the City and our Sponsors.

Immediately following the 2016 event, we opened registration for 2017 EPIC Kids for just one week…  57 kids signed up in the first 48 hours – all for a race 350 days away!

On the run side, excitement for 2017 and Canada 150 means registration for the EPIC Canadian runs will again be strong this year (now 5 race distances over three days, with the EPIC Double, the EPIC Triple and the new 3-day, 4-event, EPIC Marathon – 42.2k over three days).

Unfortunately, that same enthusiasm just has not materialized for the 2017 long distance events.  We had more kids register for our 2017 kids event in that first 48 hours registration was open, than new registrants for our 2017 long distance triathlon in the first six months between July and December.  Therefore, we have made the not-easy decision to focus 2017 on these growing events, and wrap up the long distance triathlon portion of the EPIC Weekend.

We know this news will be disappointing to those of you who did commit to the 2017 race.  Our entire team shares in that disappointment.

We know that the quality of the event has been there – from medals and swag, to meals, to medical services, to photo and video, to support on course.  We also know the experiences of the participants, lives changed, goals reached, and a huge amount raised by our participants for charity (over $135,000).

Yet, we never hit critical mass with this event – meaning registration fees never covered the cost of producing the event.  Each year we’ve found ways to continue, and to gather funds to subsidize the athletes – hoping that numbers would grow to the point where it could be self supporting.  Ironically, the events that are experiencing great growth, and that will continue for 2017 and beyond? Are those events that were initially started to share costs with, and subsidize, the long-distance triathlon.

Perhaps the EPIC Triathlon will be re-imagined in a different format in a few years time, or perhaps we will just have the memories.  In either case, it’s been fun, and a LOT of great times.  Those of you receiving this email were part of making EPIC happen, and if there were simply more like you eager to join us, the event would have continued for many, many years.

We have shut off registration, and are calculating refunds.  It’s a bit of a process, and some shuffling back and forth between us and Events.com (the registration host), but the goal is to have all refunds processed and back in to your hands by the end of January.

We hope that you will still join us for one of the other EPIC events this Canada Day Weekend 2017.  Canada150 is the biggest Canada Day that most of us will ever experience, and we’d still love to have you join us on the shores of Lake Banook for Canada Day Weekend 2017.

Now go do something EPIC!

What was my EPIC reaction?

I cried…epically, of course.

It felt like the triathlon gods had forsaken me and maybe this whole Ironman thing just wasn’t meant to be.  I was now faced with the same problem as the previous year, I had planned out our entire summer around this event meaning I had made other commitments, namely the SunRype Tri-Kids, and I hate  breaking promises.

This well and truly sucked.

EPiCally, even.

So while I had my own epic pity party, Kelly went on line and started looking for other opportunities.  However, most of the events she found either had closed their registration (ie. filled up) or were situated on a weekend that I already had a SunRype event planned.  Also, I am loathe to do my peak long distance training in the absolute worst (ie. hottest) point of the summer.  Fuck, no!  And seeing as how I’d already been down this path before last year, I started to give in that my 2017 Ironman simply wasn’t going to happen…maybe never.

I’m going to pause the story here for a moment to tell you that having the carpet yanked out from underneath you after you’ve already put in several months of training (not to mention the money into a proper training schedule provided by a coach) really, really sucks.

But having it happen twice?

tony-fuggedaboutit

FML x 2.

Then I found an event put on the HITS Triathlon Series (click HERE), located in the Hudson Valley of New York state (only a 6 hour drive away) on July 8th, only one week after the anticipated EPiC Challenge was to be held on July 2nd.  The website didn’t look very detailed or enticing but, hey, an Iron distance event is an Iron distance event right?  The challenge is still there.

So I did a little digging and read this on the event website:

The Hudson Valley is a top 20 destination in the world. A top destination deserves a top race! Introducing HITS Hudson Valley, NY July 9 at Williams Lake.

Less than 90 minutes from NYC lies the perfect setting for a perfect race. You’ll swim is in the pristine spring-fed Williams Lake, bike to the majestic Ashokan Reservoir and run on the historic Wallkill Valley Rail Trail.

That doesn’t sound too bad, right?

I also Googled the area and it does look pretty scenic.  So, yeah, maybe this wasn’t such a bad option after all.

And looking at the results from previous years, I also had a real chance of “competing” and placing well.  Sure there aren’t two thousand participants to compete against but, really, when can I ever possibly say that I had a real chance to podium in an Iron distance event?  Likely never, that’s when.  And I know that this is kind of an “ego-licious” thing to think, but I’d really like to be able to say that just once.

The other bonus to this event is that it wouldn’t also mean that I’d have to cancel any of my planned summer SunRype commitments.

And that  is truly EPiC.

So after receiving my prompt refund from the canceled Subaru event (kudo’s to them for being so professional) I signed up, and now it’s “So long Dartmouth, and hello Hudson Valley!”

It’s back on for 2017.

I will have another exciting announcement to make shortly in relation to this upcoming season, but for the time being it seems that my future Ironman status has been rejuvenated once again for the summer.

Time to get back at ‘er.

I’m sure it’s happened to every swimmer at least once before.  In fact, it’s happened to me on a number of occasions actually, just never on such a grandiose scale or under such inauspicious circumstances.

But, hey, at least it’ll make for a good story at my expense.

Today is our family Christmas seeing as how HRH  is home again after spending the Christmas weekend with her father.  So while Kelly was off making “the exchange” and dropping off to visit the grandparents I decided to slip in a nice, relaxed long swim seeing as how I didn’t have any real time constrictions today as I’m still on holiday leave from work.

Part of my planned workout this afternoon was a series of 200m interval sets in the pool which, after a lengthy warm-up of drills, I launched myself into.  I practically had the pool to myself.

Beautiful.

The first few intervals went by relatively easy and uneventful.  Everything was turning over great through the water and I felt smooth, sleek and powerful; just the way one likes to feel when doing their swim intervals.

I was reveling in this feeling when my mind started to wander a bit to other things (as happens).  What should I have as a snack when I get home?  I wonder what I’m going to get in my stocking later on?  Did I remember to wrap everything I meant to?  What on God’s green earth is that weirdo doing over there in the corner?

The usual.

Anyway, around the 4th or 5th 200m interval I began thinking to myself that my swim trunks were feeling kind of loose.  Which at first I was happy about.  I mean, after all this working out who wouldn’t to lose a little weight after the holidays, am I right?

But by the sixth interval I realized that I hadn’t really done much working out in the past three days other than drink and eat my fill of holiday indulgences and there was likely no way in hell I had actually lost any actual weight.  In my Speedo’s, my ass probably looks like two raccoons fighting in a sack of corn as it is.

So by the next interval I started to worry.

Something definitely wasn’t right in the state of Denmark.

It’s probably best at this point if I break down my thought process over the next 200m for you lap by lap.

The first 100m :

“Huh.  The water suddenly feels a little cooler.  I wonder what’s up with that?”

100m :

“Oh shit.  I wonder if I have a hole in my swim trunks.”

150m :

“Please Lord don’t let there be a hole in my swim trunks”.

I knew I needed to quickly assess the situation.  So on my next flip turn at the 175m  point I reached down between my legs for a little feel around and what I felt wasn’t good.

To put it bluntly:

Nothing but sack!

Oh.

Shit.

In truth, I didn’t feel any material at all.  Just a whole lotta bare ass and, well, you get the idea.  In other words, I had been mooning the entire pool each and every flip turn…seven of them to be exact.

Now I’d like to say that this last 25m sprint back to the wall was my fastest ever and I set a new PB but given the added “drag” I was now pulling through the water (ie. my dick) this wasn’t likely the case.  By the time I got back to the wall and really checked out the damage, I was dismayed to learn that the hole was freakin’ huge.  My swim trunks had pretty much burst at the seam at the back from the waistband all the way down and around my taint and even up into the front.

Really, I was now wearing a pair of nylon/elastane chaps.

FML.

But then I realized something else, even though I had made it back to the wall without anyone seemingly noticing my shameful display of buttocks, my embarrassment was only just beginning.  Now I had to get out of the pool and over to my towel way over on the far wall…

Way.  Over.  There.

FML x 2.

And by now the pool was full of screaming kids and parents, whereas when I had started the workout I more or less had the pool to myself.

This wasn’t good.

I carefully hopped up and sat on the pool deck with my legs still dangling in the water.  Okay, so far so good.   Nobody had noticed.  But I still had to get over to the towel on the far wall and if I stood up my cock and balls were surely going to drop out and expose themselves like a boxer’s punching bag.

Instead, I started to scooch backwards on my ass to the wall.  At this point, the female lifeguards (who aren’t exactly personable to say the least) started to notice my peculiar behavior and all three of them suddenly fixed their gaze solely on me inch-worming my way backwards across the pool deck on my ass.

Uh, ‘Hi‘?

I probably looked like one of those little dogs dragging it’s ass across the carpet.

Not exactly my finest moment to be sure.

I tried to give them my best “there is nothing to see here” look, but nothing doin’…they keep their gaze firmly locked on me.  I decided that, hey, maybe I could get a little help over here so I tried to casually motion for one of them to come over and, you know, possibly just hand me my towel.

But, nope.

They just ignored my pleading looks and continued to stare.

Thanks girls.

(Bitches)

Thanks for nothing.

I wasn’t about to call out across the pool deck and call more attention to myself so, fuck it, I stood up, turned around and casually walked back my towel with my bare ass clearly in full view of God and everyone.

I hope they enjoyed the show.

Lord only knows if I’ll even be allowed back in the pool again.

So if anybody should ever hint to you that I have any shame, I want you to kill them and do it slowly.

Very, very slowly…

(Click HERE for ‘Part 1’ of the journey)

For anyone who’s never stepped foot inside a gym, it can be a pretty scary place.

First off, there’s enormous muscle men all pressing weights as heavy as minivans, and then there’s the uber-fit cardio bunny’s all bustling and sweating away on machines of all shapes and sizes (click HERE for more of an insight in the particular ‘Gym Types’ you’ll encounter at your local gym).  To the uninitiated, the gym is like this Utopian society consisting of nothing but buff, beautiful people; Shangri-La all decked out in trendy compression wear.

I was pretty sure that the only reason why I was ever admitted in the first place was to serve as a walking reminder to all these perfectly toned fitness models of what would inevitably happen to them if they stopped frequenting the place.

I was a walking “Don’t Be This Guy” hazard sign, if you will.

But, despite this anxiety, I knew going to a gym was the next logical step in my new ‘Get Healthy” regime as, thanks to my daily walks, my skin was starting to hang off my body in the absence of not having all the usual layers of fat to cling to.  Don’t get me wrong, losing weight felt awesome but I was beginning to feel like one of those little Shar Pei dogs and I needed to start developing my poorly abused and under-worked muscles.

However, when I first contemplated going to the gym – as you might expect – I didn’t know my ass from a dumbbell.  I first searched out and visited a few prospective gyms in my area but they usually came with some unreasonable yearly contract, or demanded that you submit to an initial fitness assessment upon joining and there was no way I was going to have my health scrutinized by one of these muscle heads as I was already painfully aware of my current fitness level – pathetic.

In short, none of them felt like a place where I would be able to confidently walk through the front door, much less workout in.  These places were full of the types of guys who inevitably tormented me at high school dances and in the change room with wedgies, nugies and swirlies, and there was no fucking way I was simply walking into the belly of the beast.  So I decided to settle for a basic monthly membership at my local YMCA instead.  That doesn’t mean that going for the first time was any less intimidating as there were still guys with arms the size of tree trunks grunting and groaning through whatever medieval torture routine they happened to be inflicting on themselves.

But there were other types of people there too; ordinary non-athletic looking people like me, and that was reassuring.

Oh, and the sole vending machine on the premises also had a distinct lack of cheeseburgers.

Perfect.

At first I just fudged my way around and tried everything.  I hopped on and tried all the elliptical, stair-climber and treadmill machines, pushed and pulled at some of the weighted resistance equipment and otherwise tried to blend in even though I really had no idea what I was doing.  At least I was being active and engaging my body in something resembling exercise.  My sore muscles the next day reassured me of that.  Most importantly, I was hoisting things that weren’t cheeseburgers and candy bars.  I was working up a sweat and so, little by little, the weight continued to fade away and in turn, my body started to get stronger.

I developed a healthy addiction to ‘Men’s Health’ magazine and tried all the recommended workouts and exercises aimed at burning fat, trimming my waistline, acquiring ‘ripped, xylophone-like abs’, and giving me the unlimited stamina to boff all my future girlfriends like the stud I was meant to be.

How could I resist?

I am a total sucker for effective advertising and these magazines definitely appeared to my damaged ego and sense of imminent horniness, what can I say?

Eventually my visits to the gym started becoming very emotional and often intense.  I began to go to the gym in the same way others frequented, say, church.  The gym had become my own place of worship where I could quietly atone for all my past years’ worth of sin.  I didn’t just saddle up to an exercise bike and go for a leisurely pedal anymore; I attacked it like a crazed Viking.  There were times, when in a fit of what must have been pure testosterone and soaring adrenaline levels when I thought I might fling the machine through the window, beat my chest like a gorilla and grab the nearest spandex-clad gym bunny and climb out to the roof to await the fighter jets.  It really got that intense and that was all very new territory for me.  Before, I’d be happy to just make it back from the corner store with a bag of Doritos before the season premiere of ‘X-Files’ started, and now here I was engaging in 30-minute Interval sessions on a treadmill.

I even returned to racquet sports and started to play squash regularly with a colleague from work (my boss, no less) and together we joined a friendly recreational group of players who played most mornings at 5-fucking-30am.  Usually, this would be the time I was crawling home from the bar…not heading to the gym for a round of squash.

This was a complete 180-degree turnaround lifestyle-wise.

Gradually, after frequenting the gym five to six days a week, I learned that there was a certain, delicate code of conduct that enabled everyone to play nicely with others.  The gym, after all, is a fragile ecosystem unlike no other.  All one has to do to validate this notion is to wander into the middle of their gym at its peak hour and close their eyes.  It’s like you’ve been instantly transported to the remotest, wildest, unexplored region of the planet.  Besides all the heavy clanging and clamor of heavy metal being mashed together, there are people making noises similar to hissing cats, growling bears, angry squirrels and what have you.  I’m pretty sure I even heard a guy fart through his nose once while struggling to finish his final set of weights.  It’s like you’re suddenly all alone in some weird alien petting zoo.   I eventually learned that while it’s perfectly acceptable to sweat, grunt and make unnatural faces, it’s still no reason to forget your manners.  Besides, if you cram large groups of narcissistic people into confined places with ample pieces of blunt iron lying around, you’re bound to have problems if there isn’t a proper predetermined code of conduct.  And given that even the old woman doing a zillion crunches in the corner could probably kick my ass I figured I’d better figure out – fast – the most effective way to blend in while still getting my workout in unscathed.

For this reason, I created and adhered to my own set of ‘Ordinary Man’s Guide to Gym Etiquette and Survival’ (click HERE – bearing in mind that I still smoked pot at this point so this old post was geared more towards hippies than “ordinary” guys).

Whatever, I still continue to follow these same principles today.

Anyway, the fat continued to drop off my body and I started to build some muscle and, consequentially, I was also beginning to develop something I hadn’t experienced very often:  pride.  Furthermore, and maybe most importantly, I wasn’t so immediately repulsed by my own reflection in the mirror and, believe me, there are no shortage of mirrors at the gym.  I figure this is the gym’s way of reminding you to work hard.

Yes, things were definitely looking up but I was becoming restless.  I still walked periodically, but these workouts had been mostly replaced by things I could do indoors at the gym.

And it was getting boring.

It had been nearly two years since my turnaround from my old habits and I was beginning to crave something new – a different challenge perhaps – something in which to show off my new athletic prowess, basic as it was.  I wanted something different to sink my teeth into.  I felt like I had something to prove to myself, I just wasn’t sure what it was yet.  It was around this time that fate finally stepped in and dropped the gauntlet down squarely before me by offering me the one thing that would eventually consume me for the seven years up to the present.

And it all happened innocently enough:

“Why don’t we do a triathlon”?

I looked at my brother like he had just suggested that we castrate each other in some ritual ceremony by the light of a full moon.  My physical reaction was probably akin to had he just tried to tie my nipples into balloon knots.

“Get the fuck out of here!”, I responded.

You see, my most vivid (and only) recollection of triathlon came at a very early age when I was just 10 years old.  Most likely, I was lazing around on the couch at home and hefting an Oh, Henry!  to my mouth to pass the time – doing as little as possible – waiting for the dinner bell to ring.  It was 1982 and TSN, which was new at the time, was broadcasting the live Ironman competition from Kona, Hawaii and Julie Moss was on the final leg of her marathon and wearing that geeky baseball cap.

I liked watching sports.

I just wasn’t very good at playing them.

What she was doing was completely lost on me as I had no concept then of the distances involved, or what the scope and magnitude of what she was attempting to accomplish was.  I don’t even think I knew where Hawaii was.  Sure, she was running…but she was also walking.  How hard could that be?  I probably would have likely changed the channel had there been something more interesting on.

But then the broadcast took a decided different tone when shit – actual shit – started to stream down Julie’s leg as she began to weeble-wobble, eventually toppling over completely…over and over again.  She would then get up…and collapse right back down again down (click HERE to see for yourself).

The fuck?

What I didn’t know then is that her body was basically beginning to shut down (referred to as “hitting the wall”) and she was ultimately losing control of her ability to function normally as a result of the extreme hardship that she had placed on it over the course of 226.2 kilometers of racing.

My thought?

“Eww”, immediately followed by: “is she retarded or something?”

Hey, I was 10 years old and it was 1982 so that was a perfectly acceptable thing to think.

Anyway, Julie would eventually lose the race to Kathleen McCartney only mere meters from the finish line but I didn’t care, I just knew that triathlon was definitely not  for me.  So when my brother suggested this very notion some 25 years later I thought:

“No fucking way am I ever going to risk shitting myself in public!”

Truth!

That’s fucking crazy.

Of course, my brother wasn’t suggesting we tackle an Ironman, he was suggesting we do something less than total batshit crazy, like a shorter (much shorter) “Try-a-Tri”…for, you know, beginners.  Once this was explained to me I began to give it some serious consideration.

I still had my doubts considering that I hadn’t swum since grade school, and even then it was just to play tag at the local community pool.  I didn’t own a bike.

And running?

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But I won’t deny it, I was curious.

I mean, how else was I ever going to put this newly acquired fitness to the test?  The distances seemed reasonable:  a 400m swim, a 10k bike ride, and a 2.5k run.  My walks around the neighborhood up to that point were easily longer than that so, hey, maybe this was  entirely possible.

Besides, I was beginning to feel the stirrings of sibling rivalry rear its ugly head.  My brother has always been fitter than me…always has.  When I was eating candy bars he was out playing.  Later in life while I was drinking beer, smoking pot and staying out late, he was in the gym or doing something active.  In university he studied physical fitness to become a phys-ed teacher for Christ sake.  Clearly, we were very different apples that just happened to fall off the same tree.

But here’s where fate really  steps in:

The very next day a poster appeared on the YMCA message board announcing that there was going to be a new triathlon club starting up…for beginners.  There was going to be organized swimming and running groups as well as a triathlon specific “Brick Class”.  I didn’t know what a “Brick class” was and it scared me to the bone.  It sure didn’t sound fun.  However, it was all going to be provided at my local YMCA for no extra cost aside from my normal monthly membership, so how could I refuse?

It was as if Fate itself had just stepped out from the shadows and bitch-slapped me.

Reluctantly, I picked up the phone and called my brother that same day.

“Okay, let’s do it.”

(to be con’d…)