Posts Tagged ‘Motivation’

Today, I was to go forth “once more into the fray” except in light of recent events, that’s obviously not happening any more.  No, I’m going to be on a surgery table now gets pins and screws embedded into my hand while you wait patiently in the waiting room; not exactly the kind of hardware I was hoping to add to my collection today.

Hardly the Ironman adventure we planned for the summer.

Had I actually been racing today, I had this whole pre-written letter to you as my way of acknowledging your efforts and thanking you for your ultimate role in the whole execution of today’s intended event.  In that regard, nothing much has changed and I still owe you a huge debt of gratitude so with only a few minor edits, here is that planned letter.

Dear wife (ie. ‘The Maker of Black Bean Brownies’, and ‘The Procurer of Early Morning Coffee’):

Today, as I go forth “into the fray once more” I am confident because I am not going alone.  Sure, I might be doing all the swimming, cycling and running today it wasn’t through my sole efforts that inevitably brought me to the starting line tomorrow morning.

That was the result of a team effort.

In many regards, you actually had it more challenging than I have.  Sure I endured countless hours of pounding pavement, early dips in the canal, and a never ending assortment of aches and pains but you have endured far worse.

In most cases you see me off through the front door whenever I go for a long run or bike ride, give me a kiss and wish me luck.  You remind when I leave early in the morning for a swim to be careful and have fun and the coffee is always  ready for the drive.  And then when I come home afterwards I’m usually exhausted and cranky so you allow me my quiet time to decompress and, of course, I’m hungry so you make sure there is a warm healthy meal waiting for me at some point.

Throughout it all, more often than, you also take on the insurmountable Herculean task of doing my laundry and making sure that all my toxic-smelling workout clothes – each one a festering petri dish of bacteria and contagion – are all washed, dried and ready to go for the next day’s ass-kicking.  Seriously, this Sisyphean effort alone must be about as much fun as having holes bored into your ear drum with a rusty drill bit.  Oh, and of course there hasn’t been much sexy time lately seeing as how all my bits look and feel like chewed leather after endless rubbing on a bike saddle or being slow-cooked in my running tights.  In fact, it’s probably been so long now that I likely couldn’t find your first base anymore without the use of my Garmin.

Probably worst of all, I get down on myself – a lot – especially when things don’t go exactly according to plan and I’m starting to feel like the all-haloed training schedule is stomping me into the ground like a late season gewürztraminer.  When this happens, you are always there to comfort me, hand me an ibuprofen and gently remind me that I’m only human being and sometimes as a human being I’m going to fail and that’s…*gasp*…okay.  I may not always want to hear it, but I absolutely know you’re 100% right.  And on those occasions when I started to doubt myself and lose focus on why I chose to take on this ridiculous challenge, you never  lost faith in the magic that is me even though it’s obvious that the easy answer is that either a) I’m an idiot, b) I’m an idiot, or c) all the above.

And let’s not forget how cranky I’ve been over the last few weeks.  At the best of times, I’m exhausted, mentally taxed out and, often, my taint is on fire thanks so some god awful bout of chafing in my loins from whatever it was that I last subjected myself to.   Basically, I have the disposition of a rabid hyena these days and I’m surprised you haven’t driven a stake through my heart by now.  What I’m really saying then is that I’m a real hot mess of sweaty shorts, blister pads and steroid cream, yet you still go to bed with me anyway.

There are a lot of words commonly tossed around when one is training for and competing in an Ironman:  pain, commitment, sacrifice, fear, tears, determination, courage, et al.  I’m confident that I have the fear and tears all locked up and nailed down, but you certainly have assumed the full brunt of the pain, sacrifice and commitment aspects of that equation; hands downs.  I’m not sure which is more daunting but the role you have played in this whole Iron journey is certainly no less difficult or challenging.

Furthermore, while I would have been out swimming, bike, running and otherwise kicking ass today, your day was inevitably going to be a lot less exciting.  Essentially, for the entire 12 or 13 hours that I would have been in perpetual motion out on the road you could probably have expected to see me for about 15 to 20 nanoseconds.   Realizing that this isn’t exactly the most spectator friendly sport, you came anyway and wouldn’t have complained once about how boring it is once and I realize that no matter how long that challenge would have taken or what shape I’m was in when I accomplished it, I knew you’ll be there at the end of it all cheering like a 16-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert.  And let’s not forget that what I was going to wear today would likely have made my body look like a topographical map of Utah and yet, for whatever reason, that still wouldn’t have embarrassed or detered you from cheering for me like the rock star I think am anyway.  And don’t think that for once second I wouldn’t have appreciated your efforts at becoming my personal Tenzing Norgay for the day having to cart around all my excess gear and post-race necessities.

Honey, Juan Valdez’ donkey wouldn’t have had it that hard and I appreciate you.

And of course, there were the events of one week ago (click HERE).

Of course, there was only one person to call ahead of all others – you.

So for the remainder of the day you did your best to console and comfort me.

Not that I was having any of it, mind you.

Just look at me:

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But I did appreciate the intent.

You then relegated yourself to being my chauffeur to and from the plastic surgeon, administered the drugs and just generally kept looking after my general comfort as I deal with the injury and the overall disappointment of loosing my dream (albeit temporary) of being 2x Ironman.

Did my demeanor improve any?

Of course not.

So whatever happens today, for good or for bad (Disclaimer:  it was, or likely will be bad), please realize that I love you (more than I ever say) and appreciate all that you have done that has enabled me to be here today and – hopefully – accomplish this momentous goal further (Disclaimer:  I didn’t).  With me today, besides all the “Nutella bombs“, performance formula and gummy frogs (or in my current condition: Percocets, Tylenol, surgical bandage and gauze), I was to carry your strength and support and likewise use it as fuel to keep going and reach ultimately that finish line…for both of us (Disclaimer:  ah, never mind).  And once this whole Iron madness is done I’m looking forward to pulling back, slowing down and being more present (promise) the rest of the summer.

This I absolutely promise to follow through with.

Of course, above all else, I’m also anticipating and looking forward to rocking your world on a more regular basis (Disclaimer: once the pain meds wear off that is) so brace yourself woman, as I’m about to put all this endurance training to good use once again.

Fortunately, I have lots of leftover lubricating cream and anti-inflammatories we can use.

This morning I began my taper; sweet, sweet taper.

Well, technically, I suppose that my taper began with that second helping of pecan pie last night, but I digress…

However, prior to this morning this weekend was full of challenges including a full 180k Ironman simulation ride with a 60 minute brick afterwards (click HERE) and then another half marathon early yesterday morning (click HERE).  So that’s nearly 10 hours (220k) of either pedaling or running which, believe me, gives one lots of time to contemplate life and their place in it.  Well, that’s when I’m not either focused on the increasing numbness in my ass, the stiffness in my legs, the stupid crosswind, the heat and humidity (not to my well-defined cyclists burn), worrying about whether or not my Snickers bar is being reduced to a liquid puddle on my crossbar, or the developing chafing going on in places you don’t even want to hear about.

So.  Much.  Chafing.

Anyway, for a significant amount of time when I was otherwise distracted by the above, I contemplated what is going to occur in two short weeks: namely, my second full Ironman distance race which also happens to be my first triathlon in nearly two years.

Because, hey, when you make a comeback it may as well be BIG, right?

I thought about what a crazy situation this is, including the original setback last year (click HERE), and then again this year (click HERE), and then the injury to kick off 2017 (click HERE) and then, well, let’s just say the entire past two years has been one crazy rollercoaster of emotion.

And in less than two weeks the entire journey finally comes to fruition.

And even though I haven’t even toed the starting line yet (July 8th), just to get to this point I owe a metric shit ton of gratitude to a lot of people who have either supported me, guided me or just plain put up with my whiny bullshit.

First and foremost, I need to acknowledge the huge and vitally important roll my wife and partner Kelly, as well as my step-daughter Hailey has played in this entire process.  Essentially, they have allowed me to be non-present for the past 3 months in order to swim, bike and run a stupid amount of time through the week and then again on the weekends.  And there’s the feeding me, keeping my never-ending “stinkies” clean, and putting up with my (as of late) deep-rooted grouchiness.  None of what I have accomplished through this training process would have been possible without either of their support and dedication to the goal at hand.

Love you girls!

I also need to acknowledge the coach, Nicole van Beurden for not only laying out the master plan but also allowing me to grow and develop through this entire process through failing time and time again and not allowing me to become too discouraged with myself and reinforcing the positive (click HERE).  In other words, it’s not always about the “Suck it up buttercup and get ‘er done you sissy!” philosophy of long distance that many of us are no doubt conditioned to accept as part of “The Plan”.  Making the decision to go rogue and become a lone wolf in this whole “Ironman: Part 2” quest, without the immediate support and social comradery of other like-minded athletes as part of a local triathlon club, also meant that I had to endure lots and lots and lots of alone time.  So what this also inevitable meant is that Nicole also became a part-time on-call psychiatrist able to receive lots of last minute “cry baby” calls from yours truly when things either went wrong, or I was just feeling sorry for myself.

If anyone is looking for an awesome coach and mentor, look no further.

Thank you, Nicole.

And, of course, I need to acknowledge my three incredible sponsors who were both kind enough to support and believe in the little guy (figuratively only).  Jason Pizzicarola and Nadine Foerstenberg (and the whole staff) at Brimstone Brewing, Matt MacGregor at Crave Local Fresh, and Brandon George McGuire at in.cep.tion cyclery and head guru for the UnRoyal Ride Ambassadors -URRA, of which I am thrilled to be a part.  Between these three amazing local enterprises, not only have I an amazing new race suit to sport (seriously, it’s pretty bad ass:  click HERE) but a cause to race for.  They have kept me hydrated (beer is a hydrator, right?), fueled with delicious local fare, my bike tuned and ready to go and, often, just the inspiration to get out the door and train!

Basically, I am one lucky son of a bitch to have such amazing team to support me and there’s not a day that goes by when I am not grateful for these folks taking the ultimate risk on me.

Thank you.

I will not let you down.

Also,  when this whole Ironman craziness is done, I’m looking forward to continuing representing you during my planned fun group rides in and out The Sanctuary beginning in July.

Beer and pretzel bites for everybody!

(stay tuned friends)

I also want to acknowledge Dr. Kristen Burr at Legacy Health & Performance in St. Catharines, Ontario for dealing with all my ouchies and owies which are inevitably part of the Ironman process.  When cooler heads needed to prevail after I had gone and got myself all worked after consulting “Dr. Google” and come to the conclusion that immediate amputation was necessary, Dr. Burr was there to get me back on the healing path quickly and painlessly.  Sometimes, I also walk out with a good book suggestion to boot.

And then there’s Cori Dodds, and Ben McDermot and the entire amazing staff at the YMCA located at the Vale Health and Wellness Center in Port Colborne YMCA for not only being friendly and supportive, but also for allowing me some flexibility through the off-season to both train as well as keeping Hailey occupied and productive whilst I train.  I realize that I can be a right difficult SOB sometimes (Hailey too I am guessing), so I appreciate you all for not having suspended my membership by now.

There’s my friend Stephen Apps who also took on the daunting challenge this year of training and participating in this year’s Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids with me.  They say that “misery loves company”  and when it comes to doing ridiculous amounts of laps, Steve was all aboard.

Thank you, my friend.

There’s Lucio Gismondi and the whole gang that participates early every Tuesday and Thursday morning as part of the RONA ride for pushing me hard over 40k worth of headwind and relentless pace work up and down the Niagara Parkway.  Every day I don’t get dropped is a good day and as a result I haven’t cycled this strong in, well, ever really.

It’s an honor to share the road with you beasts.

Essentially, as the old say goes:  “It takes a village to raise a child”. 

Well, so too does an Ironman triathlete and, really, my villagers are pretty fucking incredible.  Without them it is doubtful that I would have even made it this far, much less be as prepared and ready as I am.

Likewise, I am going to be doing my absolute best come July 8th in order to make sure that all your support and dedication to my Ironman journey go fully realized and, rest assured, I will acknowledging you all at some point in spirit over those long 226.1 kilometers.

I appreciate you all and I am humbled just to be representing this incredible community of people.

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Now, pass the pretzel bites.

“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.

Unlimited Youth

Posted: August 26, 2016 in Motivation
Tags:

Just in case you needed some extra motivation today to get out there and at ’em, may I introduce to you Sister Madonna Ruder who, at 86 years young, has already completed 40-some odd Ironman competitions.

I mean, after the first two dozen or so, who’s really keeping track?

You can learn more about the “Iron Sister” HERE.

Happy trails today, sonny.

The Roadrunner

Posted: August 17, 2016 in In Transition
Tags: , ,

When I was growing up in St. Catharines, Ontario, we lived fairly close to the Welland Canal.  For those you not in the know, the Welland Canal is a ship canal which connects Lake Ontario to Lake Erie., traversing the Niagara Peninsula from Port Weller to Port Colborne.  The canal forms a key section of the St. Lawrence Seaway, enabling ships to ascend and descend the Niagara Escarpment and bypass Niagara Falls.

So, yeah, it’s kind of a thing in this area.

Anyway, the canal played a major role in my life as a kid as we would take many a family picnic on the weekends to the Lock 3 Viewing Complex (now called the Welland Canal Center) to watch the ships pass.  When foreign vessels passed through we could toss coins out onto the ships deck and the deck hands would often toss back their own foreign currency (I still have these coins in an old tin on our mantelpiece at home – click HERE).  As a kid, this was my first exposure to the outside world.  Other times, we would walk our dogs down to the canal and play along the many footpaths that existed between the current canal and the old (3rd) canal which ran more or less perpendicular to the modern one.

On some occasions, my buddies and I would ride our bikes along the Canal Rd. which ran alongside the entire length of the canal in St. Catharines down to Lock One where my dad worked nearby at a factory.  I remember these bike rides as being long, arduous trips that took most of the day.  I now know, of course, that the total round trip distance was only around 25 to 30 kilometers or so but, still, when you were riding an orange Schwinn bike with a banana seat and ape handle bars, it may as well been a stage of the Tour de France.

I bring this all up now, because one of the features I remember well from the Welland Canal, as popular as any of the ships we saw regularly, was a guy named Dennis, or as my dad had nicknamed him, “The Roadrunner”.

On any given day, most days usually, you’d see Dennis running along Canal Rd. down to Lock One and then back again.  He’d be lumbering along the side of the road (this was long before there was a convenient footpath), topless, with a steely look on his face.  Now, knowing how far that distance seemed on my bike, I thought Dennis must be certifiably superhuman.

In essence, Dennis was my earliest recollection of long distance running.  I wondered what would drive someone to run such long distances.  Did he do it voluntarily?  Did he actually enjoy  it?

Judging by the expressionless look on his face, I couldn’t tell for sure.

God only knows.

Now, contemplating both the distance and time it must have taken him to run that distance, never mind the frequency in which he did it, well, let’s just say that my tiny little lizard brain just couldn’t conceive why anyone would do such a thing.  Not knowing anything about marathons or endurance sports, I just figured he was crazy.

Why am I bringing this all up now?

Well, let’s fast forward nearly 25 years to 2012.

This was the year I first really got acquainted with long distances as I was preparing for my Ironman.  My weekly mileage on the road that year averaged somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-70 kilometers a week depending on the schedule.  Often, I used the same Canal Rd. route for these runs.  Needless to say, I had lots of time to think and reflect and, of course, some of those random thought processes have already been recorded here in these blog posts.

One of the things I sometimes found myself thinking back to (especially when running Canal Rd.) was ‘ol Dennis and how incredibly superhuman he seemed to me in accomplishing what I had originally thought to be the impossible.  I often used that memory to keep me going, knowing that, yeah, it is possible.  I mean, never in my wildest imagination would I ever have thought that I’d ever be that crazy to run those kinds of distances regularly but, hey, here I was…doing  it.

It was  possible.

Motivation sometimes comes from strange places, what can I say?

Now, fast forward again to just these past few years.

Often my runs will take me along the Friendship Trail which runs near my house in Ridgeway (where I live now), which spans between Fort Erie and Port Colborne.  When I’m not running along it I might cycle it as a convenient thoroughfare to either end in order to begin my long bike rides out to Niagara Falls, St. Catharines or out to Dunnville and Nanticoke, or simply (as it was today) to get to the YMCA’s that are also conveniently located at either end.  The trail is also popular with other local runners, dog walkers, recreational cyclists, hikers, etc.

Periodically, I’d see this other runner out on the trail, usually in the sections that were the most remote and removed from the other nearby townships which the trail runs through.  For whatever reason, this runner intrigued me as he seemed so….familiar, for whatever reason.

Then it hit me:  Dennis?

Now, bearing in mind that this was approximately 25 to 30 years later, how odd would it be that this same guy would suddenly appear in my area…much less running!  Doubtful he would remember who I was anyway.  I mean, I was just a kid then.  Sure I used to deliver the newspaper to his mom and periodically, he’d be there and say ‘hi’; he was a friendly enough guy, of course.  But, still, 25 to 30 years is a very long time.

Anyway, on Monday I was riding the trail to the Port Colborne YMCA to teach my spin class and, low and beyond, there’s this guy….topless, lumbering along with that oh, so familiar steely glare on his face.

I decided to take a chance.

“Excuse me, are you Dennis (last name withheld)?”

The reaction I got was priceless.

I mean, really, when a weirdo dressed in a Lyrca cycling kit stops you in the middle of nowhere, and identifies you by name…well, just imagine the look of surprise you might have on your face.

That was exactly the look I got just then.

Long story short:  it was him.

The Roadrunner!

Small world, eh?

I rode alongside him for a brief spell and explained who I was and, yes, he even remembered me (or, at least he was polite enough to fake it anyway).  I told him of my own long distance experiences over the past few years and how I had often thought back to him running along Canal Rd. as a kid, and how much motivation those memories had provided me in those dark moments that will inevitably come at certain points during long runs.

Then I told him how crazy I thought he was and he laughed (thankfully).

It turns out that Dennis now runs “Pony Paradise” at Saddlebrook Farms in Sherkston where, as it just so happens, is where I tend to see him running the trail.  Obviously, Dennis still runs, albeit not the long hauls he used to.  He keeps his distances short (approximately 5 or 6 kilometers) and regular and prefers the trail because it’s “peaceful”.

I guess that answers my question from way back when: yes, he must really  enjoy it.

Now I’m not going to wager how old Dennis is these days but, let me put it this way:  if I’m still running 5 or 6 kilometers with any regularity in, say, another 10 to 15 years or so – and enjoying  it – I will be very pleased with myself indeed.

Again, motivation comes from funny places.

It does bother me a bit though that Dennis, at whatever age he is now, still looks better with his top off than I ever have or, likely, ever will.

Good on ya, Dennis!

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

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

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

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

Oh, and let’s not forget the probe.

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

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

Doesn’t that sound like a real page turner?

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

What have I gotten myself into?

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

This is sure going to suck to get off

This is sure going to suck to get off

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

Yay.

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

Sadly, it has nothing to do with pirates.

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

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

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

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

It sounds dirty, I know.

It’s not.

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

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

Whoopee.

Pass the banana.

Anyway, time for the main attraction.

Bring on the oven.

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

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

Check it out.

1

Am I beautiful or what?

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

Here are the results:

V02-Max Results

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

Why you ask?

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

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

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

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

Decisions, decisions…

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

Chimps beware!

Day 2: Familiarization Testing

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

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

According to the Consent Form:

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

It get's a wee bit humid.

It get’s a wee bit humid.

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

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

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

Okay, maybe not quite like that.

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

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

Groton maze testing

Groton maze testing

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

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

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

Purdue Peg Board

Purdue Peg Board

Computers just arn’t my jam.

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

Suffer I can do.

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

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

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

4

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

Goodie.

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

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

Oven selfie

Oven selfie

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

Yay me!

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

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

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

But that will have to wait for another post.

>>wink<<

Suffering

Suffering

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

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

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

12.

12.

15.

18.

Tap Out.

Just like that.

Die I did, much to HRH’s enjoyment.

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

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

Only time will tell I suppose.

Day 3: Experimental Session #1

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

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

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

testing

All bid’ness.

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

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

It’s all bid’ness.

How’s that for “comforting”, right?

move over chimps

Move over chimps.

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

Good times indeed.

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

Yay me!

Mental note to self: the worst part of the testing (inserting the probe) also turns out to be the best part when you get to remove it later. The lesson here though is to avoid any bowel movements prior to inserting for at least an hour or so before testing, otherwise you end up extracting something from your ass that looks like this:

Isolated corn dog on a stick

Sorry…I couldn’t resist.

 

So here’s where the interesting part comes in.

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

That’s right – homework.

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

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

I know I did, or used to anyway.

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

Thinking happy thoughts

Thinking happy thoughts

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

Lest we forget: click HERE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the ever popular…

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

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

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

Too much?

You get the idea though right?

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

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

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

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

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

For the cognitive testing, I have two other statements:

  1. Just relax and focus
  2. Pass the banana

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

Positive Phrasing Test #1:

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

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

“Oh God, this is going to suck”.

Shit!

Okay, think positive statements:

“Just be calm and push on”.

It totally worked and I felt better.

Good.

Then another negative comment hit me again a minute later:

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

Dammit!

“Relax, focus and breathe”.

Okay, good.

Then again:

“You’re so slow you fat fuck”.

Jesus. Again?

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

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

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

Positive Phrasing Test #2:

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

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

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

Ah ha!

I see you, you sneaker fucker!

“Just be calm and push on….”

Nothing.

“Relax, focus, and……”

Shit.

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

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

Positive Phrasing Test #3:

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

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

“Just be calm and push on”.

“Relax, focus and breathe.”

Boo-yah!

Success!

Gettin er done.

Gettin er done.

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

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

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

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

Wish me luck.

God help me.

Day 3: Experimental Session #4

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

Shit.

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

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

“Relax, focus and breathe”

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

Thanks Brandon!

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

Huh.

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

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

sweat

Gettin’ sweaty…

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

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

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

No problem, I was prepared.

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

Worked like a charm.

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

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

suck

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

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

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

FML.

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

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

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

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

“God, my balls are on fire!”

“Just relax, breathe and focus…”

Nope.

“Just be calm and push on…”

Nope.  Still on fire.

“Get tough.”

Okay, that worked…a bit.

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

Again with the negativity.

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

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

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

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

…and again.

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

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

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

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

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

A picture is worth a thousand words:

3

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

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

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

I guess I can live with that.

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

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

My official results:  TN-Handout

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

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

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

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

Music is to spinning what this kid’s selfie:

…is to total awesomeness.

Oh yeah.

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

BOOOOOOOOOOOORING!

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

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

I personally opt for the former.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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