Monday, April 30, 2012

The road to becoming a superhero is strewn with broken ice makers

It must be tough to be Superman.  You don't ever get to screw up or off.  Every action, every word, every choice has to be on-mission all the time.  I actually think though it would be harder to Batman.  Batman has the same problems that I outlined for the man of steel - plus he has to work out like a fiend.  He is not born with superhuman powers, he is just a regular Joe (albeit one whose wealth puts him in the infamous 1% that we hear so much about these days).  I am not a superhero at all.  I don't have an ultra-cool Batmobile that turns into a submarine - or a rolling wet bar.  I have a 12 year-old truck with 150,000 miles on it.  I don't have access to an injectable radioactive serum that will give me strength, agility, and restore my hearing.  I drink coffee.  I have no problem admitting to this.

My problem lies in the fact that I have created a superhero in my fantasy future and I am trying to become him.  Let's call him Super-Bad-Ass-Dada, or SuBAD for short.  Subad holds an american record in one/several masters swimming events.  Maybe he even holds a world record.  He is a highly sought after personal trainer who has transformed the lives of his clients.  However Subad is not just an amateur swimmer and trainer, he is also a professional athlete who is sponsored by industry and non-profits to compete in open water swimming, triathlons, bike races, and running events.  He has been invited to compete in several adventure races around the world.  The bikes that he builds are so awesome that several are displayed in museums around the world.

Harley Davidson routinely calls and begs him to stop building motorized bikes for fear that he will render the motorcycle obsolete.

... then I will get a cold bucket of reality in the face.  Today I had that happen.  I had grandiose plans of a weight room session.  The weights (in this story I was telling myself) were to be followed by 40 mile road bike ride..  That ride would have wound up at the newly renovated pool where our masters team would have our first practice in that facility since it closed down 6 months ago (we have been using the lap pool at the Hilton).  When you are training for some major life altering shit (like trying to become a superhero) there will be days when your best laid and intended plans blow up.  That is what happened to me today.  None of it went the way it was supposed to.  I worked on the broken ice maker in the fridge and cleaned up the garage.  Not exactly superhero work.  No records broken in the weight room.  Not even any weight room.  The 40 mile roadie did not happen either.  Indeed, I did not even get on my road bike at all.

To add the final bit of irony, when I drove my old truck over to swimming practice... I had the date wrong.  We were still at the Hilton pool for another month.  Subad my ass!  Some days are like that.  The trick is to remember to shake it off and start again the next day.  No one ever said it would be easy to become a superhero.

My first whiskey

Yesterday (Saturday 28 April 2012) was my first whiskey.  I don't mean my first Jameson or Powers or Tulamore Dew.  Those were a quite a while back.  I am talking about a mtn bike race in Prescott, Arizona.  A big-ass one.  A seriously bad-ass one.  1700 racers.  City streets blocked off.  Live outdoor concerts.  Vendors.  Beer tents.  Industry demos.  A big deal.  The race came in three flavors: a 15 mile, a 25 mile, and a 50 mile (there were two of those - an amateur race on Saturday and a professional race on Sunday).  I did the 25 mile on Saturday.  I learned a lot.  Some of the lessons were a joy to learn:

  1. The people I love that supported me and encouraged me made the experience an uplifting one for me  - no one does this kind of thing alone, the ones we love are with us
  2. I don't need to start at the rear of the pack with the folks who are out to "finish it" - I can ride with those who are "in it to win it"
  3. My self-made $500 all-rigid single 96er (mtn bike parlance for a bike without any suspension or gears and that has a 29" front wheel and a 26" rear wheel) can hold its own alongside bikes that cost 10 times as much
  4. I am really good at this shit - my two wheeled creations kick ass and I can ride them at a killer pace and skill level
  5. I can be truly competitive in next year's 25 mile race, the year after... maybe I set out to do something extraordinary in the 50

Not all of the lessons on Saturday were so pleasant to learn:
  1. There is a a hell of a lot of distance between skilled amateur and professional athlete - I really want to cross that gap and have some more work to do
  2. If you willingly choose to start at the back of the pack you do not get to complain when you loose 30 minutes in 5 different single-track traffic jams
  3. Don't ever be at the mercy of preventable equipment failure - my front tire flatted out 16 times costing me somewhere around an hour of lost time and $40 in CO2 cartridges, next time I will remember to bring a tube

If I look at my first whiskey as a learning experience and a litmus test for my fitness level... then I would have to rate it as a great success.  If I look at it as a first foray into competitive off-road bike racing I would have to give it a lukewarm score.  I finished.  I was in the upper third.  I rode some awesome trails.  

No one was even remotely worried about me closing in on them, but they will be next year.  This year getting a hug from my little boy when I crossed the finish line was reward enough.  As for next year, I'll be back.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hips don't lie

On February 26 of this year I did a triathlon in Scottsdale, Az.  It was the first that I had done in over 10 years.  It was not a terribly long one.  I did not do as badly as I expected, if I recall correctly i think that I finished 7th in my age group and 40th overall.  500m swim (I think I was the 2nd or 3rd person out of the water), 20km bike (I got caught by a lot of folks but managed to average 18mph - could have been worse), and then came my weak link - the run.  It was a 5km shuffle in which I got whipped.  I had been running for about 5 weeks up to that point and I have never been a runner.  Every day (or damn near anyway) I would go a little longer and a little farther afield.  It is an activity that I am not supposed to do.  Ever.  Fused L4/L5 vertebrae.  Orthopedic doc was crystal clear about it years ago when he pinned my spine back together.  Turns out I was right.  He did not know how I can heal - how tough I am - how I can reinvent myself.  My back did just fine.  It was my my left hip that started to hurt after my 27 minutes of shuffling along.  It got steadily worse over the next several weeks too.  That 27 minutes was the last real run that I have had.  Somedays I worry that... well, best not say to it aloud.

Indeed, within two weeks it was so bad that I had to pull out of two back to back events - an offroad duathlon at McDowal Mtn Park on 10 March and what was to have been my first swim meet at Sun Devil's Nadatorium in Tempe on the 11th.  I felt like a failure.  In truth I still do struggle with not being there to plant my standard in the sand.  Ego is a powerful thing.

I have been to the Doctor.  Had an x-ray image.  Got a diagnosis.  Bursitis.  Tendonitis.  Arthritis.  Soft-tissue damage from repetitive injury.  Over training.  Getting older.  Anti-imflamatory.  Ice.  Rest.  Ease back into things.  I am reminded of the classic Mel Brooks scene in History of the World where the senators are all milling about in their togas repeating "bullshit, bullshit, bullshit".  What is real is that my hip hurts so much that I practically need to puke when I try to run and that a x-ray image shows no visible problem.  What is very very real is that I have no medical insurance.  Lastly, what is terrifyingly absolutely real is that if it does not get better this present story ends.  I don't end.  I get that.  But the path I am on does.  That is some sobering shit my friends.  

So... next Tuesday (Mayday) I go to the orthopedic doctor, pay $320, and get (hopefully) a cortosone injection.  One little challenge before then is that I have a race this weekend.  Before the doctor's visit.  A serious mtn bike race.  25 miles of single-speed off-road torture in the Prescott National Forest (  Say a prayer to the deity of your choice for me on Saturday.  I need to get through the weekend so that I can have a Mayday miracle.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Come fly with me

Progress, weight loss, personal growth, and my story telling are not always linear.  So jump with me from the October a Sedona Century ago (see blog entry of the same title) to this most recent April Fool's Day.  In a sense this step forward was a personal trip back in time for me.  As a young man swimming defined my schedule, my goals, my friendships, even my ego.  So on 1 April 2012 when I stepped onto a starting block for the first time in over 20 years... I was coming home.

I began swimming with a masters team in February of 2012.  Our practices are on Monday nights from 6 to 7pm and the great group of folks that I have the privilege of spending one hour a week with have a different set of goals and expectations when it comes to swimming than I do.  They never kept their identity in a box labeled "swimmer".  They are not trying to qualify for US Masters Nationals.  They are not telling themselves a story that ends with them setting a national record, or getting elite status as a triathlete, or being a quasi-pro athlete.  They are real.  They are real good for me.  I think that I am good for them too.  I don't only swim with them, indeed I try to get in the water 2 or even sometimes even 3 other times per week, but I try not to miss swimming with them.  Athletics and success in training is at some level about belonging to a community of thought.  This is bigger than being a part of a team.  A beer-league softball gaggle of guys in matching blue shirts is a team.  A community of thought is something else entirely.  It exists as an entity whose life-force is made up of the connections between the members.  Its power grows with the strength and number of those connections.

I don't do very well without those connections.  Creating them, for me, has been the key to whatever small amount of success I have had in my life.  The danger for me is that my intensity can burn up the connections.

At the Az Masters State Championships on 1 April 2012 I qualified for 2012 Summer Masters Nationals in Omaha, Nebraska.  That day, after 12 to15 practices of 1800m +/-, I swam pretty well.  100y Fly 1:02.  50y Fly :28.5.  500y Free 5:52.  100y free :58.7.

Swimming, and in truth butterfly, is a singular and strange undertaking.  You don't want to do it, but you need to do it.  It is like drug use.  You might think that you own it.  You don't.  It owns you.  I am relapsed.  My addiction is active again.  I am signed up for another meet in Las Vegas on 16 June.  Indeed the week after I swam in this meet here I competed in an open water race in Tempe, Arizona.  That is a story that will have to wait.  You will have to read about it in another entry.

Come fly with me.


It began a Sedona Century ago

It began last October (oct 2011).  I guess that I had already begun "training" a month or two before then - nothing serious though.  I learned about a bike tour around the Verde Valley to benefit some charity or another.  It was a road bike affair... not my thing.  I had a road bike, but I had only ridden it a handful of time.  I am a mtn bike fanatic (that was the story I told myself anyway) - road biking is for pussies.  It was early September.   All 240lbs of me was sitting at a local bike/coffee shop where I was pretending to be as hardcore a rider as everyone else in there.  Someone had dropped of a flyer for 100km road bike ride called the Sedona Century. "I wonder if I could do that?" I asked aloud.

"Sure you could," replied a friend who works there with a tone in his voice that said sure John, ten years and 50 lbs ago.

That was all it took.  I started riding every day from that day forward.  I stopped eating carbohydrates.  I started to have a secret fantasy of being an athlete again (a fantasy I have not dared to share aloud until the inception of this blog) at a level like I had been as a young man.  I had been an all-american swimmer a million years earlier - if I had been there once I could again.  So I rode.  Mountain bike.  Road bike.  One or the other nearly every day.

A month later I was finishing the Sedona Century in the top 5 or 6.  I was not uber-fit by any stretch of the imagination; but, I was on my way.  There was a little bit less of me; and, the too much of me that there was was a trifle harder.

I went for a mtn bike ride with my pal Mak the very next morning and signed up for my first triathlon in 10 years from my smartphone while on a water break on the Lama Trail in Sedona, Arizona.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In medias res

I confess that I have really been too embarrassed to begin this story ab ovo (at the egg - from the start) for reasons that will soon become apparent.  I have instead begun in medias res (in the middle of things) so that I don't have to be so confrontational with the first part of the story.  I get to gloss over the unpleasant parts, the embarrassing parts, and the sad parts - I get to highlight without reliving.  The story is my own.  It is the tale of how I went from being someone that walked a scary asthmatic wheeziness, dragged a foot, and couldn't see his own feet - to being a world-ranked professional athlete and trainer.  I am only in the middle of things and some days progress ain't linear.  If you want to read about what records I hold, who sponsors me, and see the list of my high profile clients... come back in another year or two.  I am copying Virgil, my own Aeneid begins in medias res.

One year ago I weighed 240 lbs.  At 5'8" (even on a fireplug-like framed guy like me) that is obese.  I did not carry it all as badly as I might have.  That is about all that can be said though.  Two back surgeries and all of that tonnage created some serious aches and pains, as well as some major mobility issues.  I could run to the mailbox but probably not back from it.

I smoked a lot.  I ate compulsively.  I did not exercise.  I told myself a story that it did not matter.  In short, I was about 55 yrs old at 41.  It was not a good place to be.  There is a lot less of me now; and, what there is moves a hell of a lot more quickly and comfortably.  I will tell you how that came to be when next I sit down to write.