(Disclaimer:  I’m not really confident that I’ve articulated myself well in this post but I have committed myself to 100% transparency within these blog pages for good and for bad, so please continue on with a grain of salt.  My apologies in advance if I upset or insult any of my fellow sensitive yogi’s.)

Over the past 2-3 years I’ve developed this love- hate relationship with yoga.  Where I used to do it on a near daily basis and genuinely believed it was a major contributor to me doing so well in my past long distance triathlon events, I’ve really struggled to get back to practicing regularly.

I’ve tried and failed on few occasions now (click HERE and HERE) to incorporate a regular yoga session into my weekly training schedule.  But miss it as I do from time to time, truthfully, I’ve been really nervous – skeptical even – about getting back into it so I’ve never really committed myself to making it a reality.  I’m not even 100% sure why.

Then recently a friend (Vanessa) advertised that she would be leading a drop-in class at a new studio in Fort Erie, On the Mat and I thought to myself, “Okay, let’s give this another shot”.

How bad could it be?

And, honestly, it wasn’t bad at all.

Awesome actually.

I thoroughly enjoyed the class and she was awesome (she played great music completely void of the traditional New Age-y whale song bullshit), however, I also rediscovered one of the reasons why I think I became so disconnected with yoga in the first place: it makes me feel awkward.

Allow me to explain a bit more.

Have you ever had to join a new school in the middle of the school year?  I have and it’s awkward.  Suddenly you’re air dropped into this new room with all new faces and where bonds and relationships have already been formed and cultivated.  You’re immediately the outcast, the unknown…the outsider.

Now, kids being the cruel little monsters they are don’t make it any easier does it?  Often times (it was with me anyway), there is a hazing phase before you transgress to becoming one of the recognized collective and this process can take weeks to months before you’re truly accepted.

Yoga (for a guy anyway) can be just like that.

Of course, as an adult now no one is going to throw pudding in my face or threaten to meet me at the Four-Way stop after class to bash my face into pulp, hells no!

But let’s just say I don’t anticipate a lot of ‘hello’s either.

Suddenly this “Beer Yoga” (click HERE) was beginning to sound a lot more enticing.

Hell, I bet the baby goats in “Goat Yoga” (click HERE) wouldn’t be so off-ish would they?

When I first pulled up outside the Fort Erie studio I looked through the front window as the first class was wrapping up, I saw all your stereotypical henna-ed, dolphin tattooed cuties in their fancy Lululmeon garb and I absolutely panicked.

Honestly.

Full on panic.

I almost pulled away and went home (For the record, I’m glad I didn’t).

Being a little early, once the class cleared out I ventured in when while it was quiet said my hello to the instructor (whom I already know well – Hi Vanessa!), paid my $10 and proceeded to set up my mat and await the next participants to arrive.

Easy-peasy, right?

But here’s where it got a little weird.

There I am, sitting on my mat in the middle of the room, the new guy, the outsider, and in comes the next wave of young spandex-clad yoga bunnies, who suddenly hesitate for a split second when they see the new face…a bearded one at that.  Reading their expressions, it’s as if they think that they’ve just walked into the wrong place or something.  In an attempt to assimilate myself I smile politely and, suddenly, their eyes are immediately diverted to the floor or the other side of the room.

Shit.

Here we go again.

For the next 10-15 minutes I sit there pretending not to notice everyone else pretending not to notice me as they set up their mats pretty much as far away from me as they can along the periphery of the class until, I’m this sole island in the middle of the room with no immediate neighbor.

I don’t care what anyone says:  this makes me feel weird.

Yoga tends to be a very female-centric practice and being the sole dude in the studio doesn’t often come without its awkwardness.  And I get it, the girls are trying not be objectified, or whatever it is they’re overtly concerned with but when did not returning a friendly gesture become normal practice?

I realize that in comparison, I look like Shrek with more facial hair but geez Louise, c’mon girls!

Be nice already.

There’s “No judgement in yoga”, right?

Ha.

Anyway, I signed up for a 10 class pass which I hoped would more successfully re-open the door to my rebuilding a regular practice once again.

And it did.

I went faithfully each week and I now feel stronger, my nagging injuries from the New Year are gone and I’m ready to transition into my long distance phase of training outside beginning next month (tomorrow).

So overall, getting back into this yoga thing once again was a big success for me and one I’m not parting with again with some disappointment.

But, alas, there is only so much time in the day…week…month.

You get the idea.

Hopefully, I’d like to keep the practice up once a week on my own (or at the YMCA) but I just don’t have the flexibility to commit to a full on membership at the moment.

But I’ll be back.

Oh, and because I’ve been dying to say it:

Every time an instructor tells me to “clear my mind”, or “quiet my mind”, this is actually what is going on in my brain:

It’s pointless.

So let’s just get to it, shall we?

Oh and, hey ladies, if a new guy in class smiles nicely, there’s likely no need to cross to the other side of the room, maybe he’s just hoping to fit in and be made to feel welcome.

Just sayin’…

The Harpy

Posted: March 17, 2017 in Swim
Tags: , ,

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed in mythical creatures called Harpy’s.  Harpy’s were thought of as a female monster in the form of a bird with a human face.  Their purpose was generally to wreak havoc on their victims by stealing food and otherwise antagonizing and tormenting them throughout the day.

Their name literally means “snatchers”.

Most famously, Harpies are remembered in the Greek legend of Jason and the Argonauts, where they were sent by the god Zeus to torment the blind seer Phineus.  Here they were portrayed as winged demons; voracious, malodorous, and snatching away souls to carry off to Hades (click HERE).

Of course, we don’t believe in Harpy’s any more, unless you consider politicians as those who were put upon the earth for the sole purpose making our lives a living hell, but I digress.

Myself?

I absolutely believe in Harpy’s.

In my view, Harpy’s still have the same purpose and effect as the ancient mythological ones in that their main mission in life is to antagonize, torment and other otherwise annoy the living shit out of me.  I further believe we all have one and in my case, my own Harpy visits me every morning in the pool.

Yes, I know, I complain a lot about the different types of schmucks you encounter in the pool (click HERE  for a few reminders).

It’s true.

But in this case, it’s not some random moolyak who I happen to cross paths with.

No.

In this case it’s every…freaking…day!

Now for the sake of anonymity, I will refrain from using this particular person’s name (*cough*cough*BILL*cough*cough*) and simply refer to him them as “the Harpy”.

The Harpy has been a long standing regular at all the local pools over the years and the Port Colbourne Aquatic Center is simply his latest hunting ground, however, to call him a “swimmer” would be a bit of a stretch.

I’m sure outside of the pool the Harpy is a nice enough guy.  I mean, sure he has that rather odd look about him that simply screams any number of lonely and angry lighthouse keepers from Scooby Doo, but don’t all old dudes?

Be that as it may, when the Harpy enters the pool 40-50 minutes into my swim, all those misgivings I have about him being a harmless guy go right out the window and I begin to see red.

I literally begin to go all Bruce Banner as soon as he steps on the pool deck.

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You see, the Harpy’s main mission is to get in my fucking way as often as possible.  For the last half of my swim (an hour or so), it’s all I can do but stay out of his way.  No easy feat I assure you!  And it’s not like there’s a lot of people in the pool at that time either.  In fact, there may be one, maybe two  other people there at that time meaning that between the 3 or 4 of us we more or less have the entire pool to ourselves.  So how then the Harpy manages to get in my way as often as he does is a mystery right up on par with the Pyramids, Stonehenge and who kidnapped the Lindbergh baby.

For example, the Harpy likes to choose the lane right beside my own and then proceed to do this weird sideways swim right down the middle so that his feet are kicking squarely in the middle of my lane.  On several occasions I have been scratched by his gnarly, sabre-like toe nails.

But does this deter him?

Fuck no.

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If I move over to another lane to avoid him, he will inevitably cross over to the lane beside me again and proceed as he was.

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It’s maddening.

If I’m doing 50m  sprints, he will decide that this is a great time to go into the opposite end of my lane and begin to bob at the wall.  Never mind that he has the whole fucking pool in which to do this, but he has to choose to do it in my lane!  Sometimes I do flip turns so close to his head that my heels are practically grazing his ears and the sheer force is all but parting what few hairs he has on his head …but does he take the hint?

Of course not!

If I’m doing long continuous swim sets, he will decide to change lanes – in the middle of the pool – at the exact moment I’m passing by.

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As it is, he changes lanes about a kajillion times and each and every time he somehow manages to get in my way or interrupt my workout.

In essence, in true Harpy fashion, he literally “snatches” away my focus and motivation.

There are times I have actually stopped my workout outright and glared at him expecting to see him snickering to himself, but then I look into his eyes and this is what I see:

The lights are certainly on but, clearly, nobody is home…if you catch my drift.

FML.

So what other option do I have but do my best to ignore him?

I mean, trying to explain my frustration to him would be like climbing a tree to catch a fish…

Pointless.

Fortunately, in most cases the regular morning lifeguard will step in and promptly restore order whenever she notices that he’s becoming erratic or beginning to get under my skin.  Either she’ll chase him out of my lane, or lure him somewhere else so that’s he not in my immediate path.

I love her.

But when she’s not there to act as a buffer (as has been the case all this week), it’s all I can do stop myself from having a nuclear-sized meltdown and bludgeon him to death with my kickboard.

“Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

About two weeks ago I noticed I wasn’t attacking my normal weekly workouts with quite the same enthusiasm.  Sure, I was still on the mend with a nagging run injury but everything was still looking up with some decent 90 minute tempo rides on the trainer and decent mileage in the pool.

But, still, I wasn’t looking forward to the workouts themselves.

And then last week I slept through a swim workout on the Friday and on Sunday, I attempted an anticipated long swim of about 7,000m, except that after a mere 2,000m  I pulled the plug.

I just didn’t want to be doing it anymore.

It’s not that I was fatigued, or sore, or anything like.  Truthfully, I felt fine physically…keeping in mind that I also completed 5 hours of spinning the day before for the Move for Strong Kids Campaign at the Port Colbourne YMCA (Saturday) and then a 10k run on that morning prior to hopping in the pool.

But mentally, I just didn’t have it in me…so time for a break.

Now to add a bit of perspective on this, two years ago I would have told myself to “buck up, sissypants” and continued on with the training.

“Breaks are for pussies.”

But we all know how that turned out in the end:  click HERE and HERE.

So recognizing these signs and then making the decision to take seven days off, I think, represents a significant amount of growing maturity on my part as an athlete.

YAY ME!

Having saying this, an entire week off was always in the training plan and in this case it couldn’t have come at a better time.  So all I have done this week is my 15 minute core every afternoon, hydrate like a beast, a little bit of yoga and a whole lotta sitting around.  As well, I’ve been chatting with Coach Nicole and in one of our chats she mentioned this little tidbit:

“Ironman is one of those things where when you hit a low spot, you can sometimes hit a reeeeeeeeally low spot and when you ask yourself why you’re there, doing this crazy thing, you REALLY need to know the answer to that question!  It’s what’ll always get you through the dips.”

Of course, this got me to thinking this afternoon:  why am I doing this?

Of course, I’ve pondered this question numerous times already and have likely offered many rationalizations on several posts to this blog already but in the spirit of “Recovery Week” this week, I’m revisiting this question again.

Why am I doing this?

To the coaches point, if that answer is not immediately obvious then perhaps it’s time to reevaluate what it is I really want to accomplish through this Ironman process.

Fair enough.

After all, there has to more to the big picture than regular suffering and ultimate burnout, right?

However, easier to answer is the reason why I am not doing it.

For example, I do not think that I am special or gifted in any way relating to endurance sports; I’m just a guy and pride has nothing to do with this.

Sure triathlon represent s big accomplishment over what my life used to be (click HERE for the last part of the whole transformation story and links back to the beginning) but I am not doing it because I have any real gift for it and am looking for any bragging rights. I couldn’t necessarily have said that in the past but, now, this is certainly true.

In other words, I realize that I am not a professional; Lionel Sanders I am not.  I have to work stupid hard simply to make it to the starting line, much less to the finish.  Sometimes I do well, and other times I completely tank it (click HERE and HERE for some reminders).  Of course I’m not suggesting that professionals like Lionel Sanders don’t work hard but, hey, let’s face it, they have the “gift”.

I do not.

Also, it’s their job.

I’m just an Average Joe and that means that I have other responsibilities in life and need to be more strategic in the way that I approach everything…family, earning a pay check, and training included.

Likewise, I’m no spring chicken anymore.  If I go and pound out a 12 kilometer fartlek run, or spend 90 minutes doing hill repeats on the bike, I’m likely going to be sore the next day and can’t necessarily do as much the next day where even 5 years ago I probably could.

So, again, I need to be smarter and focus less on what others are doing (mileage, hours, etc.) and more on what is right for own body and lifestyle, seeing as how I also have a day job and two very engaged girls in my life who also want to spend time with me.

Mark Twain said it best, “everything popular is wrong”  (thanks Nicole) and it’s really amazing how you start to view and react to the world and people and situations differently when you begin to view life through that lens.

Knowing and understanding these things is HUGE.

First and foremost, I’m a dad and a husband so part and parcel with that are the daily and weekly responsibilities around having a happy and functional family life, therefore training always has to take the back seat (albeit, my wife will likely dispute that a bit).  While I aim to be a rock star on the race course, I also aspire to be a rock star at life, namely at home and one simply cannot do that if I’m a) never around, or b) tired and broken 24/7.

There needs to be a “symbiotic relationship”.

There’s the Coach being all smart n’ shit again.

I didn’t have those responsibilities before.

It was always  about me.

So if I’m feeling burnt out, taking a break isn’t the end of the world.  In all honesty, it’s damn good thing!  It’s a resetting and recharging period to focus on the family and having a little fun, and get my mental and physical strength back so I can proceed to do it all over again in the coming weeks and, maybe, in two more months I will even do it once more.

Who knows?

But back to the question at hand, why am I doing this?

I guess my reason nowadays is that I want to set a good example for not only my daughter but my community.  I want to represent what it takes to be a good father, husband, community member (after all, I have local sponsors now to support!  *giggle*) and, yes, an Ironman – and, of course, I enjoy piecing together the parts of making the whole epic scene come together.

I want to epitomize what is possible  with dedication and focus.

I like having a physical challenge to rise to but, lately, I’m also enjoying the puzzle of putting it altogether so that not only does it happen but that there are no regrets in the end.  Even after Ironman Wales in 2012, I went into a profound “Ironfunk”.  Great that I did well n’ all, don’t get me wrong – but it was nearly two  years before I even started to feel like myself again.  In fact, it’s only now 5 years later that I’m actually getting around to doing it again.

I don’t want that happen this time around.

I would even like to think that I might even do it yet again.  Qualifying for Kona was originally the endgame when I started this blog, right?

Yes, I know I was still riding high on my laurels of completing my first Ironman at the time, but still…

Who knows?

My goal now is to obviously complete this thing in July and feel like I did my absolute best, competing to the level that I believe is within me.

However, and most importantly, I want to finish it feeling good and ready to tackle the next challenge down the road whatever that might be.  I want to inspire my daughter to realize that she can do things that might at first seem difficult, even impossible…if she just puts the technology down for a few seconds.  Life and everything in it is a gift.  And knowing that just last week, my body’s central nervous system was on the verge of collapse, well, pushing through it just didn’t seem to be in keeping with this last objective, does it?

Onward and forward…

So I have one more day of tomorrow and then, come Monday, it’s back nose to the grindstone with a renewed vigor.

This evening then, it’s records, maybe a wee drinky poo and bullshit session at the bar courtesy of The Sanctuary and simply enjoying the little things in life.

“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:

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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.

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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:

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And only marginally less menacing.

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See how happy I look?

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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.

I’ve been holding off on this writing this post for a while now because, well, I still can hardly believe it.  But I’ve got the confirmations, did the leg work and I suppose it’s safe to finally accept it as well as put it out there publicly that:

I AM A SPONSORED TRIATHLETE!

Yup.

I shit you not.

That’s pretty exciting, right?

Excuse me while I hyperventilate a little…

(Inside I’m screaming like a tweener at a Bieber concert)

But before I divulge the particulars, let me first comment that I am no rock star triathlete nor do I possess anything resembling a “God-gifted skill”, or even somewhat “pro” qualities and/or status.  I’m just an average guy who works his ass off to be the best that he can be come race day, with what little there is to work with of course.  Or, maybe it’s that there is actually a lot to work with given the current size of my ass, I’m not sure how you want to spin it.  However, what definitely holds true is that I work hard and try my best.

The idea came to me a few years ago to approach a few local businesses of which I am both a supporter and frequent customer, with the request to sponsor me as a local athlete.  I didn’t of course because, well, I’m a schmuck.  I figured that no business owner in their right mind would ever want to endorse a “nobody” which, in the greater scheme of things, I am.  After all, sponsorship’s typically go to athletes who win events and thereby promoting their said sponsors through the act of standing on the podium for all to behold and revel in.  And while I have been on the podium once or twice, it’s certainly not a regular occasion.  Besides, finishing first in the “Clydesdale” age group category isn’t exactly the “Big Time”, so I let the idea slip away like so many lost dreams.

It just wasn’t meant to be.

But this year, I need a new race suit.  And that means a pretty big expense seeing as how I only need the one.  The thought then of spending serious cash on a race suit that calls attention to brands such as Sugoi, Zoot, 2XU, Orca, Pearl Izumi or Louis Garneau who, really, don’t give two shits about me beyond the fact that I just handed over my hard earned bucks to wear their outfit, wasn’t very palatable.  Besides, I’d inevitably be just another faceless lamb in the flock along the race course seeing as how it’s very possible that quite a few other participants would also be wearing the exact same thing.

Boooooor-ing.

So I reconsidered the option of asking for a local sponsorship.  I figured, hey, you could probably see my ass from orbit as it is, so what better billboard for getting ones brand name seen and advertised is there?  Those skinny little pro assholes just don’t have this kind of girth on which to show off their sponsors, do they?

Hells-to-the-NO!

Now I’ve mentioned it before in other posts that I’m fiercely loyal to the area in which I live and train (Ridgeway, Ontario), and I practice “think Global, act local” as often as possible.  I also do my very best to support all our local businesses whenever I dine out, or go to shows and events, or just shop.  Maybe – just maybe – one of these businesses would be interested in returning the favor by making a small investment in supporting one of their own.

Now, let’s be clear.  I wasn’t asking for money to buy (or be provided with) expensive equipment, performance supplements, or even to cover the entry fees for my events.  I just wanted something spiffy to race in that has logos and the brand names of companies and businesses that I believe in, support and endorse; things that inspire me.

That’s not asking a lot is it?

I swallowed my pride then and approached three local businesses that I would love to represent and as fortunate would have it – they all agreed.  I guess that makes this my triathlon equivalent of “Say Yes to the Dress!”

So without any further ado, here they are:

Brimstone Brewing Co.

brimstone

CRAVE LOCAL FRESH

cravelocalfresh_mockup

The Unroyal Ride Ambassadors

index

It goes without saying that I am HUGE fan of all these businesses, and not just because they’re local and they’ve agreed to give me money.

I love everything they stand for:

  1. Fresh local food
  2. Great local beer
  3. Awesome local riding

Three of my favorite things in life I might add.

Of course, the bragging rights that go along with showing up to an Ironman triathlon in part sponsored by a brewery also definitely ups the “cool factor” just a bit too.

Take that Clif bar!

“Recharge with Milk”, my ass.

(bitches)

Both Brimstone Brewing Co. and CRAVE LOCAL FRESH operate out of The Sanctuary – Center for the Arts, a converted church 30 seconds from my front door.  My family and I love this place and frequent it often on evenings out for dinner, concerts, or just quiet pints of delicious craft beer (which aren’t exactly part of an “Ironman Diet” but, hey, “all work and no play…”, right?).  I will stop in on weekends for a bowl of homemade “recovery soup” on weekends after long winter rides and runs, and this is also my go-to place on “Daddy-Daughter Date Night” for a few rounds of Exploding Kittens while mommy is at work as well.  Chef Matt and staff certainly take care of us.

I am also particularly excited to represent The Unroyal Ride Ambassadors started by local in.cep.tion cyclery bike shop owner Brandon McGuire.  Essentially, they’re a “group of everyday riders, a few racers, all with no glorious ambitions of World Cup domination; rather to support, love and grow our sport”.

In other words, we’re ordinary dads on a mission.

Kind of like this:

But with bikes.

So what will I be wearing this season?

Well, just check out this bad ass race suit:

15934140_10154706980671351_89075910_o

How.  Cool.  Is.  That?

This is certainly going to turn some heads.

I just can’t wait for the season to get here already and I’m sincerely looking forward to racing for and supporting my new sponsors this spring/summer – hell, all year – by leading more group bike rides to and from The Sanctuary (rumor has it they have good beer and food) in order to explore the amazing area that I am so fortunate to train and live in.  How lucky am I?  Of course, it goes without saying that I will do my absolutely very best  to make them all proud come race time as well.

And, hey, even if I don’t get to stand on the podium this year, I’m pretty sure I still know a good place where I can get a decent victory dinner and drink and maybe even a congratulatory pat on the back and a “good job!“.  Whatever it happens to be, at the end of the day there will always be good soup and beer.

What else can I ever ask for?