How We Consistently Succeed

Over the weekend I attended an AA meeting in support of a friend.  Before the meeting started, I was having a conversation with a lady who was marveling about doing an Ironman.

“It’s just crazy, I don’t know how you do it!”

On many levels, I agree with her.  It is a overwhelming to think about as a whole.

But, I didn’t tackle the 140.6 miles the day I signed up, I slowly built confidence day after day.

A 5K turned into a 10K into a half marathon, etc . . . and I was surrounded by people just like me doing the same thing.  It made these feats more manageable, and more importantly, believable.

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Everything about Ironman loses its mystery over time.  In my case, after about a year, I just did it.

Coincidently, my friend was at this AA meeting to receive his one-year chip.  One year of listening, learning, and doing the work.

He made it!  Well, he made it to that day . . . but it doesn’t mean it’s over.

After the meeting it dawned on me that most things in life, including Ironman and AA, are about convincing yourself you can do something, and that’s always easier when you are surrounded by people on the same mission.  It’s that support, that big picture focus, and visual reinforcement that keep us on track.

AA works because they are always around by people accomplishing the things everyone wants.  It’s a road map and constant reminder that anything is possible.  “Quit drinking forever?!?,” impossible.  Quit drinking today, “Sure, I can do that.”

But we forget if we’re not around people going through the same thing.  We go into our heads and rationalize the easy way out.

I’m also pretty sure this is why religion thrives.  We’re all in this together . . . we just need to be reminded.

 

Why Is Bill Cosby On My Mind?

I just wanted to run.  An easy 5 or 6 miles on the trails at Shelby Bottoms.

It’s become my new favorite thing.  Running wild in nature.  Being one with the earth, wind, and the eery sounds I hear in the woods.

Lately there have been tons of deer in the park and for some reason they never want to hang around and chat.  Each time their exit is filled with grace and power that leaves me in awe.

So, I took off and tried letting go of my mind, but couldn’t stop thinking about this Bill Cosby business.  It had me a little fired up for some reason.  I think mainly because, “If not Bill Cosby, who can you trust?”

But, I think on a deeper level, I was frustrated with the fact that I was frustrated about this.  I mean, is anyone really surprised?

Not me.  It seems as natural as the sun blinding my eyes.

Taking a run break.

Taking a run break.

The real question is, “When are we going to realize that we are still basically animals?”  How else can we explain the unmatchable feeling we get running through nature?  It’s the epitome of highs (well, maybe after sex, and of course that’s an animalistic activity as well and we know what that did for Mr. Cosby).

Manners and social graces wear us down.  We have to let that animal roam.  We just want to be free.

In no way am I defending Cosby’s actions, I’m just trying to figure out what the hell’s going on in this world.  It’s almost like we should start expecting these things instead of being surprised.  Like they say, the first step is admitting there’s a problem.

Maybe that would make us more compassionate creatures.  Maybe we would understand that humans are flawed and no amount of rules, regulations, or no trespassing signs is going to change that.

I think all of this is what draws me to running.  You’re alone with nature and don’t need anything but your body.  It’s a perfect escape and I see wrong with that.

But it’s hard to run with Bill Cosby on your mind, so I turned further inside and started thinking about cookies.

 

 

 

 

What Most Triathletes Should Practice

As far as I’m concerned this is basketball season.  I like college football, but for some reason, my fan-sweet-spot lies in college hoops, especially with Wisconsin.

It’s well documented in this blog that I used to shovel the driveway in December as a kid and act like I was leading the Badgers to the National Championship.  But that was another in a long line of pipe dreams.

After 30-plus years of waiting, I finally got my chance to see them in the Final Four last year.  It was an experience I’ll never forget.

For those of you who don’t know, Wisconsin is coached by Bo Ryan, who is a grizzly realist from Chester Pennsylvania known for practical quotes like, “It’s just life, it unfolds right in front of you.”  He’s the consummate under-reactor, and when asked how they would approach this season with four starters back from a Final Four team he said, “We’ll probably start with passing drills.”

The other day I was watching this interview with him and the interviewer noted Ryan’s favorite sayings is, “Be good at the things that don’t take talent.”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, and especially how it relates to triathlon.  I just think it’s so appropriate because 95% of people in triathlon are past their prime or probably weren’t great athletes to begin with.  And it’s the perfect sport for people like that because talent can only take you so far.

In basketball that translates into getting back on defense, boxing out on rebounds, and taking better angles.  So where can triathletes get an advantage?

I think about things like patience, consistency, and dealing with pain.  In my short experience as a triathlete, these seem to be the qualities that lure me most and ones that can give a huge advantage on race day.

Patience - How do we pace myself in workouts, the off season, and especially the race.  Ironman is long.  For most of us there is never a time when we’re going to be balls to the walls.  It’s all about walking a fine line of effort.  One time a guy told me he always walks the first mile of an Ironman just to make sure he’s got himself under control.  I shrugged it off as stupid advice and thought, “This is a race, man, what the fuck is this walk talk?”  But if he walks one mile and runs 25.2, he probably crushes most people in the run.

Consistency - Am I working on swimming and running form, practicing staying in aero on the bike, eating right, and giving my body the chance to recover.  Your mind can’t help but drift in long workouts, but the more consciously inject effort toward your form in swimming, biking, and running, the more good habits build, even when my mind is thinking about pop tarts.

Dealing with Pain - Before my first Ironman, I never stopped when I ran.  Never.  Last year as I trained for Louisville, I was dealing with nagging injuries and often walked on my practice runs.  I think the injuries were “real” but I’m not sure they were “substantial.”  Running is hard and I don’t think I ever convinced myself of a good enough reason to push through the pain.  I was already an Ironman and in the back of my mind I always knew I could walk during the race.  My goal for this year is to overpower that thought and not make it an option.  We all know what’s a real injury and what’s an excuse.

Be good at things that don’t take talent.

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Me working out with soup cans at Pain Management class.

 

 

 

A Case for Strength Training

Okay, this isn’t formal case for weight training . . . like everything else in my repertoire, I’m going by gut feeling.

The last couple of weeks I have been following my coach’s leg training plan.  Lunges, squats, calf raises, hamstrings, quads, box steps, etc . . . and I can honestly say it feels like it’s making a major difference in, not only my strength, but my attitude.

I don’t understand physiology, but have read enough to know that it’s important to stimulate muscles on a deeper level.  I fear that simply swimming, biking, and running just sort of scratches the surface.  After three weeks, it is quite obvious to me that spending a bit of time pushing your muscles harder with weights is critical to building speed and endurance.

HitTheWeights

Before getting into Ironman I was always miffed by how people could go these distances.  Early in my training, I thought it was all about cardio, but now I know skeletal and muscle strength is a much bigger issue for most.

Don’t get me wrong, excellent cardio shape plays in a big way, but for most people running the end of an Ironman at 10-14 minute miles doesn’t seem to have much to do with cardio.  It was never my breathing and always my legs.  They hurt, a lot.

If I’m gonna push my muscles to go faster, doesn’t it make sense that they should be well-rounded and stronger?  I’m pretty sure that’s what got me in trouble last year.  Trying to train fast on “weak” legs created all kinds of nagging injuries that never recovered.

I plan to run often this winter, but mainly to keep my legs familiar with the motions.  Nothing too hard or fast.  And in the process I’ll lifting heavier and heavier weights.  Maybe even doing these Turkish Get Ups like I saw some guy at the gym doing last night.

 

 

How I’m Handling the Off Season

I’ve always felt that life is about balance and finding vitality, but it’s really hard to achieve and seems to be getting worse.  Social media is a continual stream of “look at me and all the awesome stuff I’m doing,” but someone’s public feed rarely tells the whole story.

So, I am trying to take it all with a grain of salt (I should probably not go on Facebook as much) and stay focused on the right plan for me.  And that right plan is to strengthen my frame, or as my coach says, “Rebuild the chassis.”

I’ve been walking a lot, doing yoga, weight training, a bit of swimming and a little running. The trouble with doing a “little” (especially when combined with the societal pressure) is that omnipresent fear that you’re not doing enough.

Yesterday, I just sort of had to get a grip on my current status.  So, after a four mile walk with my dog, I put on the watch and hit the trails for a run.

The goal wasn’t to go fast, I just wanted to see if I could do around 8 miles without struggling.  And, after walking Mattie through the scenery, it was hard to resist.

Shelby Bottoms Trails

I took off with my sights on 10-minute-miles and stayed pretty close to that as I blazed these gorgeous trails and mixed in a few short stretches on the connecting blacktop.  I decided that will actually be part of my new strategy.  I much prefer the cushion and serenity of dirt and grass, but it is a noticeable impact difference on pavement, so I don’t want to run away from it completely.

I don’t want to proclaim it was an easy run, but it kind of was.  My hips got a little tight by the end, but the real payoff was that I actually felt refreshed as I sat around watching my Badgers demoralize the state of Nebraska.

My tendency to push too hard beats me up, and this is the exact opposite of my plan.

In my case, “what I am training for” will be measured by my time at Ironman Chattanooga, and while it is still 10 months away, I don’t want to miss my opportunity to use this off season to my fullest.  That opportunity is building slowly so I am not battling injury next season.  Yesterday’s run was a great example of how I can go for a decent distance (1:15) and not strain my achilles, IT band, or ankles.

I don’t really even feel like I ran yesterday, and I kinda think that’s the point.  It reminds me of something a martial arts instructor told me once while I was complaining about being tired all the time.  He said, “Exercise is supposed to give you energy, not take it away.”  I try not to forget that, but often do.

 

 

 

New Pool Workout

My swimming improvements are sort of remarkable.  In my first Olympic I thought I was having a heart attack while I held onto the kayak after only 200 yards.  I was this close to quitting and giving up triathlon all together.  Now I’m not only comfortable in the water, it’s probably my favorite sport.

But it’s tough to keep in a swim groove, especially when it gets cold outside, so I’m trying to stay realistic with my expectations.  Just get to the pool once a week or so to keep it familiar.

Yesterday, I ran into my coach in the locker room and he suggested a new workout that isn’t about yards as much as building power.  I can’t imagine having a coach that is more passionate about swimming, so as usual, I listened carefully as he explained.

-  Start with a little warm up.
-  Next go to 5 x 100 with paddles, pull buoy, and your feet strapped together with a race belt.
-  Then take away the paddles for 5 x 50
-  Then take away the pull buoy for 5 x 25
-  Then swim without any of them for 200

It’s exactly the kind of low-distance workout that I love, but let me tell you, by the time I got to the last couple 25′s with just my feet tied, it was tough.

The whole point is to build power, turnover, and keep good body position.  I have always had a tendency to over-rotate and take my head too far out of the water, so he’s always working to keeping me streamlined.

I tried the band a few times last summer in open water and it’s not fun, but once you figure out how to swim without letting your body drop straight down, it is a major breakthrough.  I think it was ultimately the key to me cutting 15 minutes off my Ironman swim in Louisville.

A second part of that equation is to breathe with only one eye out of the water, and somehow they both work together.  Keep your head lower and your feet stay higher.


Everyhuman

——

On another note, I really wonder about the effects of chlorine.  I made sure to take a long soapy shower after swimming, but later that night still smelled chlorine, and worse, had this depleted feeling or something.  Like it gets into your nerves and toys with you in a toxic manner.   It’s weird, though because last summer before my race I swam nearly two weeks straight without problems.  Is this something related to the cold weather?  Ie… dry skin and less sweating?  Please send me info.

 

 

Make The Best of What You Have

“Never judge a day by the weather.” – Zig Zigler  

A triathlete friend of mine was telling me about the woman who lets him store his snowmobile at her home in Northern Wisconsin.  She’s an elderly woman, lives alone, and has already reported 18 inches of snow.  She also plows her own driveway with a blade attached to her riding lawnmower.

I said, “Dude, that sounds like paradise, you should move there!”

He said, “Fuck that, it’s early November and it will be like that through the end of May.”

It’s really kind of remarkable that people even survive in those conditions.  No wonder Tomahawk, Wisconsin is known more for its drinkers than its triathletes.

I moved to Nashville from Wisconsin in March of 2003 and didn’t wear a jacket until December of that year.   I’m not sure if my blood has thinned or what, but now mornings like today give me pause, and it was probably in the low 40′s.

One thing growing up in the North taught me was that you have to make the best of what you have.  You have two choices, sit around and wait for things to change, or adjust to what you’ve been given.

I lived in Minneapolis for a year and till this day think it’s one of the most active places I’ve been.  There would literally be two feet of snow on the ground, cars plowed under, and a bitter wind ripping down Hennepin Avenue and people would put on their layers and go celebrate life’s options.

The gyms, restaurants, theaters, art galleries, and frozen lakes were always packed.  I can never remember anything being cancelled by the weather.

Living with bitter cold and snow makes you appreciate even the slightest reprieve.  Two feet of snow may stop you from running, but one foot might not.

If 50 percent of the battle is putting on workout clothes, the other half is taking the first step.  Don’t ever judge a day by the weather, just dress for it and get your ass out the door.

• Click this photo for snow running tips.

Two women run down Mountain Avenue in a snowstorm.

 

A Lot of Running Thoughts

I’ve been reading a lot of things about running lately.  Not running, but reading about it.

This morning I saw a surprising amount of people running on the Greenway at 6:30 am while I was walking my dog.  I guess people do run that early.

I thought about running a lot today and eventually ran one mile on the treadmill before doing a leg workout.  It felt fine, but I can’t stand treadmills.

Running is going to be the key for me this year.  I want to be the best runner I’ve ever been, so I’m preparing for that by reading, thinking, and observing.

I wonder if that will work.

Ironman Chattanooga Run

She’s a good runner.

Ironman St. Louis 70.3 Gets Real-er

If you had doubts about Crushing Iron’s investigative prowess, fear no more.  We recently uncovered this document from the City of Wildwood that leaves little doubt that Ironman 70.3 St. Louis is all but a lock for June 7th.  (excerpt from cited document below).

WildwoodCityDoc

 

I’ve never been to Wildwood, but I have a ton of faith in their City’s Board of Public Safety, and anyone that has a Bicycle Advisory board is alright by me!

I know there’s been a lot of chatter about Chattanooga, but St. Louis is the home of the Cardinals, Jim.

 

 

 

 

 

What Art Teaches Me About Ironman

I have been watching a lot of films lately.  Partly because I’m editing one; but more importantly I’m trying to be more patient, disciplined, and mentally prepared in life — and training.  It’s not easy in the day of Social Media.

When I was preparing for my first Ironman I would eagerly log onto Facebook for the inspirational posts.  There was always a flood of workout recaps and this either made me feel guilty or gave me motivation.

But I have become increasingly frustrated with this strategy.  The real stuff is inside us, not cloaked in headline chatter of strangers.

Serendipity often presents itself if we’re listening and last night I was blown away by a documentary on performance artist, Marina Abramovic, who pulled off one of the more incredible feats of mental strength I have ever discovered.  For three months, she sat in silence for her exhibit “The Artist is Present,” at the Museum of Modern Art.

Talk about patience.

This is how her installation is described on the film’s website:

ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, FROM EARLY MARCH UNTIL THE END OF MAY, 2010, SHE WILL SIT AT A TABLE IN THE MUSEUM’S ATRIUM, IN WHAT SHE DESCRIBES AS A “SQUARE OF LIGHT.” MEMBERS OF THE AUDIENCE WILL BE INVITED TO JOIN HER, ONE AT A TIME, AT THE OPPOSITE END OF THE TABLE. THERE WILL BE NO TALKING, NO TOUCHING, NO OVERT COMMUNICATION OF ANY KIND. HER OBJECTIVE IS TO ACHIEVE A LUMINOUS STATE OF BEING AND THEN TRANSMIT IT­­––TO ENGAGE IN WHAT SHE CALLS “AN ENERGY DIALOGUE” WITH THE AUDIENCE.

Marina Abramovic Artist is Present

Talk about discipline.

What captivated me most was how the people reacted to Marina’s energy.  By the end of her exhibit people were sleeping outside MoMA for a chance to sit in the chair across from her the next day.  She gave each person her full attention.  Her eyes pierced their souls and many described it as a healing experience.  The only place Marina could go, was deeper into the moment.

I mean, can any of us sit in silence for 10 minutes, let alone 9 hours a day for 3 straight months?

Talk about mental preparation.

How did she prepare for this?  The film didn’t focus much on methods, but there was an omnipresent stream of anxiety leading to her exhibit.  It reminded me of my preparation for Ironman, which more or less centered on the unknown.  Would it be the end of the world if she didn’t finish, no, but the potential was very real.

Somehow, Marina had to prepare for the unknown.  Sitting in silence for three months can only happen one moment at a time.  Focusing on the end by guiding the current breath in the right direction.

The Hardest Part

On the surface, her feat was exactly the opposite of an Ironman.  We travel 140.6 miles, she didn’t move an inch.

But those hours she spent sitting on a chair sound exponentially more difficult than racing a triathlon.

For me, moving is the easy part.  Patience, discipline, and mental preparation are the real challenges.