What I Think About When I Swim

A while back a friend of mine marveled at the fact that I was routinely swimming 40 laps or more during Ironman training.  One day he asked what I think about when I’m in the water for that long.  I had to think for a minute. 

He told me he was up to 10 or 15 laps and he thinks about all kinds of things while he’s swimming and comes up with some of his best ideas.  After a few minutes I told him I “think” I used to be that way, but now most of my thoughts are usually focused on breathing. In fact, I almost HAVE to keep my focus there or I will lose momentum and form goes to hell.  

Today, though, I have to admit New Orleans crossed my mind a few times.  It’s coming up quickly and I need to make serious love to the pool for the next couple months.  It’s not about making the swim as much as coming out of the water fresh and I am not even close. 

I swam about 20 laps and it wasn’t awful considering my last attempt in the pool. I didn’t feel wiped out, but I could tell my body was saying, “What the hell was that BS you just put me through?!?” 

It’s amazing how quickly you lose your swim shape.  My arms felt a little weak, so I really focused on using my core.  I know just enough about swimming to be dangerous, but it reminded me that the core is king.  Not only in swimming, but bike and run. 

When you are throwing and pulling your arms with your back and core it is a lot easier on your arms and breathing.  I don’t really see my natural swim getting much faster than a 1:50/100 meters, so I want to figure out the most efficient way to hit that number. 

The plan from here is simply to spend a lot of time in the pool.  So much of swimming is feeling comfortable and that’s the easy goal. 

So, yeah, I guess I understand letting your mind wander while you swim, but it has never worked for me.  It becomes more of a meditation where I clear the mind rather than put stuff in.  I do this on the bike and run, too, which I think ultimately makes me a better racer. 

I’m actually really curious to know what, if anything, you think about in the pool. 

 

Sunday’s Surprising Plot Twist

Sunday, was weird.  There was no alarm or intent, I just woke up at 4 am and gave life my best shot.

I have to say, it was quite amazing.

My only “plan” of the day was to meet friends at 7:30 for a run, which is normally a daunting hour, but by the time I cleaned the kitchen, bedroom, and did some laundry, it was still only 5:30.  I was smack dab in the “go back to bed danger zone.”

But I kept moving.

I woke Mattie and tugged her for a walk, took out trash, and did a little writing.  I was closing in on 7 am and it really felt like I could pull this off.

From 7 to 7:15 I did a few leg warm ups and light stretching.  I filled my water bottle and jumped in the car with a small sweat and actually prepared for a run.

What happened next was nothing special, but felt perfect.

We took off together and kept a sub 9 pace for 8.8 miles.  We talked about current events and genuinely had a peaceful run.

We ended with a climb up Mount Nasty, which always pushes the blood a little faster.  Your heart pounds and discussion goes away.  It’s not for the meek, but you are always a better runner for having ascended.

I a little post-run coffee and muffin.  Went home, cleaned a bit more, watched a few minutes of college hoops Game Day, then staggered to my room for an incredibly passionate nap.

My day felt complete and it wasn’t even noon.  Everything after the nap was gravy.

The moral of the story:  When you’re awake, be awake.

I’ve Made a Huge Mistake

Sometimes you just don’t make good decisions, and lately I’ve been wallowing in the past.  I mean, I try to set goals like most like most good people, but it’s not always the right plan.  I’ve just never had all the answers, and thankfully, I’m pretty good at remembering that.

I have written hundreds of posts on this blog and most have been positive words about training or life.  I spent the entire year surrounded by inspiring people that helped get me to new levels.  But now, I am questioning what those levels mean.

My goal was to simply finish an Ironman, but as it neared I secretly thought I could not only complete it, but do it in 11 hours and 30 minutes.  I came close, and it felt like one of the most rewarding days of my life when I crossed that finish line, but for the months that followed, many of my days seemed empty.

Many of my nights in November and December were consumed by staring at the ceiling wondering why I was doing this.  Why would I put my body and mind through such a grueling exercise?  What was the point?

Even as recent as two days ago I contemplated whether or not this quest for Ironman was something I really wanted.  I already did one.  A major feat indeed.  But what would motivate me this time?

Part of me has been using Kona as a motivator.  Just push yourself to qualify for Ironman World Championships, Mike.  THAT will make you happy.

Last night I sat in meditation and just listened to the noise swirling around me.  All of the crap that wears you down on a daily basis.  Slowly, that noise gave way to peace.  To a higher plane of thought, filled with empty space, and ready to accept truth.

I moved past the materialism, fame, and goals to make room for something real.

I sat, patiently, not thinking about anything, only listening.  After some time, the only concept that spawned in my mind was “purpose.”  What is my purpose?

Ahh, that old question.  But this time, I saw it from a new perspective.  It wasn’t something like save the world, become a prophet, or famous filmmaker, it was simply this:  Live every day with your mind centered on the greater good.

That’s it.  No more goals or grand visions.  Simply be.  And be better the next day.  I can’t control my world, so why not be a vessel for a universal energy much grander than myself.

Most of my life I have tried to control my environment.  To influence people and shape their opinions of me, but it never worked, and never made me happy.  My life strategy was a huge mistake.

This is a major breakthrough, not only for daily living, but for the Ironman dream that won’t die.  I spent much of the night thinking about how this would impact another year of training and it made the thought of another Ironman less daunting . . . and a lot more enjoyable.

So, I will continue to train, but with an even greater awareness of my body and mind.  What feels right and feeds my purpose.  Thankfully I don’t have to make a decision about Louisville yet, so it may or may not happen.  And, you know what?  I’m cool with either outcome.

If new seeds dry out and die, let them blow away.

A Very Humbling Day

Have you ever had someone try to warn you, but you didn’t want to listen?  You didn’t want to believe it?  Even though you know it’s true, you just can’t accept it as fact. 

I’ve had a training buddy telling me to be careful for a couple weeks now and it was not something I wanted to hear.  But he was adamant and I kept hearing his voice in my head . . . over and over.  Today, I decided to address my neglect head on and it lasted all of 17 minutes. 

17 minutes! 

Just over four months ago I swam two and a half miles in an hour and twenty minutes.  The waves were brutal, and I was in the middle of a 2,800 person mosh pit.  Today, I swam in my own lane, with no obstructions or current and made it 17 minutes. 

My buddy was right.  He kept imploring me not to skimp out on swim practice.  “You lose it quick, man.” 

Yeah, but this quick?

I also did a 1/2 triathlon, 1.2 mile swim in mid-October, and while it just about killed me, I finished the race and felt like I could swim a bit more . . . but seventeen minutes?

I’m pretty sure a lot of it has to do with my diet and hopefully “temporary” fascination with coffee.  I can honestly feel weaker when I drink too much coffee and I have certainly been doing that lately.  Sleep has been a little off, too.  Hopefully some of this will sort itself out soon. 

So, tomorrow I will come back for more.  This is literally one day at a time for me now.  I have to keep dragging myself back to the pool to get familiar with the feelings.  The goggles, the initial splash in the water, and that freak show that can be the YMCA locker room.  Image

Until then, I will stay in the moment with no goal other than to get it going again.  Things will fall into place, but you gotta keep showing up . . . and listening to your training buddies when your heart tells you they’re right. 

Half this Stuff is 90% Mental

After a mentally challenging month I dubbed “No Run December,” I’m back on the asphalt.  The year started with a few ticklers, then on Saturday, decided to get a honest reading on my fitness. 

When I start running, I often have no idea how far I’m going.  I just take off up the street and play it by ear, but sometimes that gets me in trouble.  I don’t have mental capacity for walking back home and often find myself in serious pain at the end of runs.  I suppose that strategy ultimately helped me at Wisconsin, but it’s an entirely different deal when you are 5 miles in with four miles back to your house.   
None of it was easy, but I kept repeating, “don’t quit” in my mind.  Once you stop running, you’re sunk.   

Stopping to walk is a hard habit to break and I don’t want the addiction.  I’ve gone through some pretty intense training for Ironman, and really believe branding “non-stop” mentality into my brain was one of the toughest things to do. 

I only ran 9 miles on Saturday and half of it was hell.  The good news for me, though, is that most of my struggles were cardio.  My legs felt pretty strong and I “proved” to myself I’m still in pretty decent shape. 

Ironman 70.3 in New Orleans is the only race on my calendar at the moment and I feel relatively secure, but know I have to pick it up if I want to hit my time goal.  But, patience is the key.  We have to be patient . . . with everything. 

I have to let the story unfold.  Just because I can’t do it, understand it, or visualize it now, doesn’t mean I won’t be ready then.  I have to trust the process and peak when the time is right.  New Orleans is a race along the way, but it’s not my primary goal.  Louisville is king and I want to peak on that day.  Not now, not the day after, but on August 24th. 

But, I also want to enjoy the process.  It is a methodical journey of finding solutions and motivational tactics.  It is about sticking with the plan and believing you will rise to the challenge. 

———

Note: I sort of borrowed the concept for that title from one of my favorite Yogi Berra quotes: “Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical.”

Let it Go

Two monks were on a pilgrimage. One day, they came to a deep river. At the edge of the river, a young woman sat weeping, because she was afraid to cross the river without help. She begged the two monks to help her. The younger monk turned his back. The members of their order were forbidden to touch a woman.

But the older monk picked up the woman without a word and carried her across the river. He put her down on the far side and continued his journey. The younger monk came after him, scolding him and berating him for breaking his vows. He went on this way for a long time.

Finally, at the end of the day the older monk turned to the younger one. “I only carried her across the river. You have been carrying her all day.”

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It’s so easy to blame problems on other people, and I do that too — but I’ve found with training (and life), only one person is responsible . . . me.

I have wallowed about my ankle, my heel, and asked myself a thousand times why I would want to do another Ironman.  I have dug for excuses not to, rather than reasons to push myself higher.  To become a better person.  It’s taken a bit of soul searching, but I finally figured out why I do this:  Because everything truly worthwhile is hard.

We always want more money, a better body, or someone we can’t have, but instead of looking inside to figure out how we can make that happen, we project bad energy on the very things we want.  It’s totally fucked up and that’s what I’ve been doing with Ironman.

Why on earth would I want to do Ironman? They don’t care about me.  They never retweet me or follow my blog.  It’s too expensive. They’re all about the pros, blah blah blah.  But this isn’t about fucking Ironman, it’s about me.

There is only one way out, and that way is in.

This world is full of people who blame everything on everyone else.  We prey on other people’s problems.

News is a continual stream of catastrophe.  Daytime talk shows parade sick people in front of us so we feel better.  Radio personalities fuel arguments, even when they agree with the person calling.  It’s all for show and it’s all to make the passive viewer/listener feel better about themselves.  Comfort food for our soul.

Listen to me.  Nobody gives a shit about what you think.  They don’t care about your little injuries or broken dreams.  If you are so insecure that you need to project blame on outside forces to get attention, it’s time to look in the mirror.

That is what I’m doing.  Standing there and taking responsibility for my life.  Who I am, what I want, and who I want to be with.  Because nothing good ever happens when you stab yourself in the back.

My Top Ten Memories for 2013 #triathlon

2013 will always be remembered as the year of training for my first IRONMAN, which would be the obvious choice for the biggest moment of my year, but it’s not that simple.  After a lot of reflection I have truly come to understand that training for an IRONMAN is much more than the race.  It’s about the challenges, the breakthroughs, and the people.  I didn’t recognize many of these memories at the time, but now I see them for what they were, a list of inspiring moments that have helped re-shape me as an athlete, and a person.

1.  Early season group spin at the East Nashville YMCA.  This was a miracle on many levels.  For one, I got to the YMCA before it opened.  I sat in the parking lot on that cold February day wondering what the hell had gotten into me.  I was meeting the Fab 5 +1 for a four hour spin, followed by a 30 minute run.  I’d never done either of those either, but by the time we finished our little jog through some of Nashville’s shadiest neighborhoods, I started to believe I could actually pull this Ironman thing off.  Great moment, but the most memorable part of the morning was having breakfast with everyone at the Pied Piper.

2.  First open water swim.  The first time I walked down the hill to Percy Priest lake, I was nervous and confused.  I grew up in lakes, but I was more of a “screw-around-chase-the-girls-kind-of-a-swimmer” back then, so the idea of actually “swimming” in deep water freaked me out a little.  It was also the first time I wore a wetsuit (other than the day it came in the mail and I put it on immediately and walked around the house like I was some cool triathlete, then realized it made me look like a lard ass).  It was cold that morning, too, but getting that day out of the way was major, and the perfect transition for my first “real” race of the year.

3.  Rev 3 Olympic.  If I had to site the most important training day of my summer, it would be this race.  It was in the mid 50’s and rained all day.  The water, too, was cold.  56 degrees at race time.  I didn’t have feeling in my feet until mile 4 of the run, but the confidence I gained at this race carried me a long ways.

4.  First long ride outside.  Jim and I volunteered at Cedars of Lebanon Sprint triathlon, then decided to act like bad ass Ironman-training-guys by doing a four loops around the old 15 mile sprint course.  I remember it being pretty hot that day, but the part that sticks out is how hard it was.  The roads were unbelievably bumpy and I shit you not, the tip of my left pinky finger stayed numb for the next 6 months.  My back was killing me, and allergies tore apart my eyes.  But the WORST part was the rash I developed somewhere on lap three.  It started taking over my upper body and kept getting worse.  We cut the ride to 3 laps, then ran a couple miles.  I surmised heat rash and with all the variables (and virtually no breakfast) it was one of the hardest workouts I did, but it definitely made me even tougher.

5.  First ride on Natchez Trace.  I used to ride my motorcycle on this very road and remembered it as beautiful, but I did not fully understand the terrain or general vastness of this glorious bastard called Natchez Trace.  I think we only went about 30 miles or so that day, but it was a rude awakening.  Thirty miles and I was ravished with hunger and reeling with pain.  It was a sign of things to come and initiated my hatred for the bike.  It was a long, painful summer on the Trace, but eventually I would overcome my disdain.

6.  Muncie Half Ironman. This was my first Ironman brand race and it definitely had a different energy. It was also my first half and that thought shot fear into my skull.  But it wasn’t panic.  I knew I was training hard and thought I could do a sub 5:30.  My attitude changed a little when I saw the desolate course, however.  I would have to race without the energy of a crowd and that scared me a little.  I’d been swimming a lot, but it still made me nervous.  The year before they shortened the race because of the heat, this year the swim was wetsuit legal.  It was a godsend for my confidence and the first long swim where I didn’t have a brush with panic.  It was a smooth, deliberate, and strong swim for me.  I knew the bike would be fine, but the last 6 miles proved to be quite a challenge.  The run was tough, but mainly because my feet were on fire the last half.  Every step felt like walking on coals.  Somehow I toughed it out and it paid off in a 5:16.  This was a breakthrough and probably the first time I knew I was going to be ready for Wisconsin.

7.  Watching Louisville.  If you’ve never watched an Ironman, get your ass out of bed!  I went in 2012 as well, but this year, it was different.  I had my first IM looming in less than a month.  I watched with a different eye.  It was both inspiring and intimidating now.  I saw the pain in their faces a lot clearer this time.  I saw one of my friends DNF and another battle through cramps for 26 miles.  An awakening to the realness that is Ironman.  But I also saw my training buddy, Corey, navigate the terrain with a calm and cool that gave me hope.  While sprints, olympics’, and even half’s turn you into rabbits, the full is definitely more suited for the turtle.  Especially your first time.  You need control and pace.  Corey showed me the way that day.

8.  Pre-race at Ironman Wisconsin.  I get chills just thinking about this moment.  The half hour before my first Ironman.  My friends and family gathered and we talked, laughed, and high-fived over the fence.  It sounds strange, but I truly enjoyed seeing the concern in their eyes.  I interpreted it as love.  It was a happy, yet stressful moment.  In under 15 minutes, I would be swallowed by a mass of nearly 3,000 others in a massive lake.  I would swim off into the mystery and they would be forced to wait.  It is an anxious hour for friends and family, but the rush you get when you see their body emerge from the water is undeniable.  I’d seen it before, now they would be waiting for me.

9.  The time I almost quit.   I documented this moment with a full post, but in a nutshell I was shooting for sub 12 at Ironman Wisconsin and my timing device was basically a stop watch.  I was resetting it with every mile marker on the marathon, but missed mile 25.  Time was closing in and I thought I was cooked. Over a mile to go and my watch said I had 8 minutes.  I could not pull that off.  I stopped to walk.  It was a painful ending to a glorious day.  But, somehow, someway, I convinced myself into believing I had missed the marker and had less than a mile.  I took off in a sprint and the rest is history.  This moment stays with me like glue.  Never quit.

10.  The Finish Line.  You train a year for this moment and yes, it is far more than finishing, but I cannot deny the feeling I had the moment I saw the white IRONMAN arch.  It was like a thousand pound weight was dropped from my back.  I hit the carpet in the finisher’s chute and all the blood, sweat and tears felt justified.  I was about to officially be an Ironman.  Nobody can take it away now.  I have done something that less than 1% of the population will ever attempt.  I am very aware that this doesn’t mean much in its own right, but it was proof, to myself, that I am capable of doing what I set my mind to.  You don’t just “do” an Ironman, you commit to it for a long time.  Endless weeks of two-a-day workouts and 10 hour weekends on the bike.  It’s not for the weary, but anything worthwhile rarely is.

Scared Straight Training Motivation

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’re probably familiar with my neighbor, James.  He’s not a triathlete, but he is loaded with motivation and not afraid to share it.  Lately I have been avoiding him because I have been slacking on my workouts and ole boy doesn’t miss a thing.

This morning, I was out walking my dog, Mattie, and he caught me in the front yard.  Hell hath no fury like Neighbor James.

James: Damn, Mike, where the hell you been?

Me: Oh, you know, just . . .

James: Mike, don’t give me no damn bullshit, I see you gettin’ fat.

Me: Well, I guess I put on a couple pounds.

James: A couple? Damn, Mike, you look like you been rollin’ wit Oprah.

Me: C’mon, bro. It ain’t like that.

James: Listen, Mike, I know we only neighbors n shit, but u my boy.

Me: We’re tight, man.

James:  We ain’t all that tight, but I know you got some shit you wanna do and I ain’t gonna sit here and let you waste that all away.  You feel me?

Me: Yeah, man, I mean I have . . .

James: Mike, you ain’t been doin’ shit.  Even little James be like, “Where Mike?”

Me: It’s a little tough in the winter.

James: Mike, the winter is when you win the race!

Me:  I hear you.

James:  You might be hearin’ me, but that shit ain’t sinkin’ in.  Now where them shiny white shoes you be wearin’ when you ride ya bike?

Me: In the closet.

James:  Put em on ya damn feet.

Me: Uhh…

James: And I know it cold, but get you a hoodie like damn Rocky did and run ya ass around this town like you the champ.

Me: Well, my ankle has been kinda sore.

James: That’s cause you gettin’ old, man.  Them pains ain’t goin’ away till you get them damn legs movin’.

Me: True.  It does seem like it feels better when I’m running.

James: Hell yeah it do. You can limp around ya ass around the house or shake that shit up on the road.

Me: Thanks, man.

James: I ain’t done wit you yet, Mike.  I know you been skippin’ out on ya swimmin’ too.

Me: What?

James: C’mon Mike.  I was a coach, you can’t fool me.

Me:  Swim coach?

James:  Hell naw… When you eva seen a brotha coachin’ swimmin’?

Me: Good point.

James: I just ain’t seen you carryin’ that little swim bag.  I know it cold but that pool is warm man.  My old lady be doin water aerobics.

Me: Yeah, it’s just hard to get it together.

James:  Sound like you tellin’ me you wanna drown.

Me:  No, it’s not that.

James:  What is it then?  You a damn Ironman, Mike . . . and you scared of the cold water?  Don’t make no damn sense.

Me: You’re right.

James:  Damn right I’m right.  Now pull up them tight ass shorts and start thinkin’ like you a damn dolphin again.

Me:  Okay.

James:  You know I care bout you, Mike.  I don’t want you comin’ back to me tellin’ me how you regrettin’ on shit you shoulda been doin. That Ironman shit ain’t no joke and don’t wait for dreamers.  Ain’t nobody eva read War and Peace if they couldn’t read.  You feel me?

Me: Got it

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And so is my life in East Nashville.