The Goodness at the Top

This morning’s workout was a 10 mile run on the river trail.  Most of the trail is flat, and lots of it is shaded.  Both of those factors were important this morning, as it was already 80+ degrees when I started the run at 7:00.  Every bit helps.

To be honest, the first couple of miles were a slog.  I did a 30 mile ride yesterday on rolling hills, and was probably still feeling some of the effects of that.  My legs started to stretch out a little, as I ran, so each step got a bit easier.  I felt reasonably well by mile two; good thing, because that’s about where the trail climbs significantly over the dam for about a third of a mile.  Long, slow climb.

As I came out of the shaded section of the trail and started the climb, I got an unexpected surprise… a breeze!  Wind is not usually my friend when I’m riding, and it’s not much more welcome on a run, but today it was awesome!  By the time I hit the top of the bridge, it felt almost like stepping into air conditioning!  I admit I was still pondering the possibility that this morning’s conditions might not be prime for extending my mileage, and considering cutting the run short until I got to the top of the bridge.  That breeze was enough to revive me, and revitalize the run.  I wouldn’t call the entire 10 miles glorious, but I’m glad I pushed through for the entire distance.

At the start of the run, I was focused so much on the heat and the blazing sun that I would have expected relief to come from clouds overhead or trees along the route to provide shade.  But sometimes the goodness in life comes from places you don’t expect it, like the breeze at the top of a hill you didn’t want to climb, or finishing the job that wasn’t really yours to do in the first place.  Truthfully, sometimes there’s no great goodness to bring relief… only the satisfaction of having completed a tough task.  And sometimes, that’s good enough.

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Other Than The Intended Purpose

In the interest of public safety (or preventing injury to people like me who start sentences with, “I wonder if I could…”), many tool manufacturers apply a warning label to their products.  There are variations, but it often goes something like, “Do not use this tool for anything other than its intended purpose.”  With all deference to my lawsuit-minded tool-making friends, I have to disagree.  Sometimes the best results in life can come from using something for other than its intended purpose.  I can prove it.

Okay, this may not be the best example...

Okay, this may not be the best example…

There is a building along one of my more common cycling routes that began life (yes, buildings have lives… just read “House”, by Tracy Kidder) with the intended purpose of becoming a lawyer’s office.  It’s really off the beaten path, but the area is beginning to grow, and the scenery is beautiful, so maybe the lawyer thought the location would attract clients.  Construction stalled at the “slab is poured” stage for quite a while; then the building eventually went up, but remained empty.  It is now fully occupied by a… yoga studio and art gallery.  Not a lawyer in sight.  Even while it was in the fits and starts of construction over a four year period, it filled an alternate role as a parking area for local cyclists on Saturday morning rides.  While I have no idea whether the yoga studio and art gallery will thrive there, they both seem equally well-situated in a beautiful location that was originally intended for some other purpose.

Unintended purposes emerge in our lives, too.  I started running again as a way to accelerate weight loss.  While I still run in a somewhat vain attempt to keep my weight under control, I actually get more benefit from the mental distraction and relaxation these days.  The same is true of cycling.  I originally started riding to improve my run times without putting more pounding miles on my knees.  I now find that I get more benefit out of the fresh air and the scenery on less-traveled roads than I do from building leg and lung strength.  And swimming?  That’s the real proof for me.  I started swimming to commemorate my 50th year with a triathlon.  I now swim because I like it.  I’m not good at it, and I’m not sure I want the added pressure of ever trying to be good… I just like to swim.  Not at all why I started.


On a grander scale, many people have found a greater calling in some other “unintended purpose” than the one they originally pursued.  Millard Fuller was a highly successful businessman when he chose to sell almost everything he owned and start Habitat For Humanity.  Chuck Colson was a vicious political operative serving time in prison before he founded a ministry dedicated to changing prisoners’ lives.  Dick Hoyt ( become famous as the father who rededicated his life to competing in marathons and Ironman races with his wheelchair bound son.  I was surprised to discover their journey started because his son, confined to a wheelchair, wanted to participate in a local 5 mile run to benefit an injured athlete… a purpose greater than himself, and different than anyone around him might have imagined.  There is an organization called “Halftime” that is focused entirely on that goal… helping people find purpose beyond success, especially later in life.  Nothing wrong with success… but it can be measured in a lot of different ways.

So, what’s your “unintended purpose”?  Maybe you’re exactly where you ought to be, which is great.  Or maybe you haven’t found it yet… even better.  Keep looking, and hold on tight.  The unintended ride is often a lot more wild than the one you planned.

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Two a Days

I never played football in high school.  There was some silly requirement about having athletic ability and sports specific skills that somehow eliminated me from consideration at a very early stage.  But I remember hearing stories about the dreaded “two a days” that the players endured before school started.  For whatever reason, players would practice once in the morning and once in the afternoon/evening… avoiding the worst heat of the day, I suppose.  Football players got nothin’ on triathletes.

How I see myself when swimming...

Definitely not me…

This week marked my return to swimming, and a return to two workouts a day.  I’m never planning to do even a half ironman, but just an olympic tri training regimen drives you to two workouts a day eventually.  My hardest workout is scheduled for first thing in the morning… the run or the ride.  Evenings mean swimming or strength training.  Fortunately, I’ve been able to find a pool about 5 minutes from my office where I can get in a short workout over lunch.  I’m not actively training for a race right now, so my swims won’t be very intense.  I really have missed being in the pool, though, so I was glad to find a facility that would fit my schedule.

I was pleasantly surprised that my swimming was almost as bad as when I had to stop in the fall.  My mechanics and form are somewhere on the scale from “how do you not drown?” to “sir, aren’t you a little too old to be rough housing in the pool?  You’re scaring the children.”  Somehow I am able to propel myself from one end of the pool to the other, albeit in a time that could almost be measured on a calendar.  And I enjoy it, which still amazes me.  I never learned to swim as a kid (despite a number of failed attempts at lessons), and only taught myself a couple of years ago when I committed to training for my first triathlon (and only one to date).  Perhaps its the satisfaction of having taught myself something that I was always convinced I couldn’t do.  Just getting into the pool and swimming laps reminds me that life holds far fewer limitations than I might have thought.

I think the part of swimming I enjoy most, though, is the feeling afterward.  After a good swim workout (good is a relative term in my case), I can feel it in my whole body; a satisfying feeling of work.  Arms, chest, legs, shoulders… It’s a whole-body workout and it feels good.  The overwhelming drowsiness that hits after about an hour is a different story, but that’s just another reason for a big cup of coffee.

So, I’m back to two a day workouts, and enjoying it.  Here’s to the hope that I can recover some of my lost form.  On second thought, considering what my form was like before, maybe not.

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Back in the days when I flew for a living (before I had to get a real job), there was a term nobody wanted to hear in the weather briefing… WOXOF.  The official translation was “indefinite ceiling zero, sky obscured, visibility zero, fog.”  The unofficial translation was “you can’t see @#$%.”  The fog was so low and so thick that nobody was going anywhere.

The weather for this morning’s ride wasn’t exactly WOXOF, but there was a low layer of fog hanging around, mostly in the river valley along the turnaround point of my ride.  The upside is that the fog formed because the morning temperatures were so cool, and even more so along the river.  So, I’ll take a little fog in exchange for some cooler weather.  Looks like that will probably be the last one of those days for a while, though.

As I was driving to work about an hour later, I crossed that same river.  By that time, though, the fog was much thicker.  In fact, I couldn’t see halfway across the bridge.  That’s not too much of a problem, because I’ve driven it so many times that I know what’s on the other side.  What you don’t know in a situation like that is, what’s in the fog?  That got me thinking more about metaphorical fog… that stuff that hangs around in our lives and often makes it hard to focus on what’s ahead, or even believe that anything is ahead.  Bear with me for a couple of thoughts.

fogEmotional fog, like the real stuff, tends to hang out in the low places.  Real fog settles in valleys and depressions because moisture gets trapped there.   Fog of the emotional variety does, too.  Ever notice how hard it is to see any possible good in the middle of an emotional fog?  The lower you get, the harder it is to believe there could be anything on the other side… or that it will ever end.  But just like I knew what was on the other side of the bridge this morning because I’ve seen it before, you know there is life outside of emotional fog… you’ve lived it.  Someone once said the most profound statement in the human language is, “This too shall pass.”  There is life beyond the fog… believe it.

Fog blinds us to things that are often right in front of our eyes, both good and bad.  An old rule from flying helicopters in some really crummy weather was “Never out fly your visibility.”  When your emotional visibility starts dropping towards WOXOF, slow down and get your bearings.  The worst thing to do in bad weather is to start randomly turning around to find your way out.  You’re lost before you know it.  My first instructor pilot told me the best thing to do in any emergency was to wind your watch… not because it solved the problem, but because it made you slow down and take a few seconds to think… to focus on something other than the problem that seems insurmountable.  Stuck in the fog?  Slow down, take a deep breath, and wind your watch.  Calm is always better than panic.

fog over fieldThe last thing to know about fog is that sunlight is about the only thing that will make it go away.  The radiant heat warms the air and it eventually dissipates.  Sometimes shining a little light on the subject is the only way to clear the fog.  Some good advice from someone you trust, a little wisdom from someone else who’s been there… that may be all it takes to begin to clear the fog and give you the visibility you need to start moving toward your goal again.  So seek it out.

What does all this have to do with triathlon training?  I don’t know, this stuff just comes to me at 6 in the morning when I am running or riding.  Not usually when I’m swimming.  All I think about then is, “BREATHE!”

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This was an easy training week.  I spent the week on a cruise to Alaska, which meant shuffling workouts around travel days and shore excursions.  I did most of my runs on the treadmill on the ship, although I did get to log 3 miles along the water in Ketchikan, Alaska.  Running in as many different places as I can is a minor point of satisfaction for me, and I was glad to add Alaska to the list.  Thanks to a combination of personal vacations and “all expense paid” trips with the Air Force, I’ve logged miles in Germany,Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Canadian Yukon, the Virgin Islands… and about half of the American states.

Despite the desire to run in Alaska, I knew better than to log too many miles thus week.  Whether through age, poor form, or crummy mechanics, I run on the edge of Plantar Fasciitis most of the time.  Four days a week is about all I can handle before I’m hobbling around for the first 15 minutes of every day.  Cycling on alternate days helps build aerobic capacity without aggravating the foot muscles, but no bike this week.  I made the mistake of staving off treadmill boredom by fluctuating the speed during the workouts.  I always feel it more after faster runs.

I was also able to get in 3 solid strength training sessions on the ship.  Almost all of my strength training is simple body weight resistance… push ups, squats, lunges, etc, so I can do them anywhere.  Doing pushups against the rocking of the ship through the waves added an interesting challenge.  Same goes for the lunges.  That’s the first time I’ve ever stepped forward and missed the floor!

This week it’s back to the standard routine of 4 runs, 3 rides, and 3 strength sessions.  Given a full day of travel on Sunday, I may need to drop one of the runs unless I can find a day to squeeze in an extra workout.  Better yet, I think I’ll just extend my recovery week by one more day.

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Ah, trails. I like running trails. Not necessarily backwoods trails over rocks and roots (although those are great, too), but the paved variety that many cities are putting in. I was in Seattle over a recent weekend and headed out for my Sunday long run, having resigned myself to an hour of running on sidewalks with cars whizzing past my elbow. Barely 5 minutes into my run I saw a paved path veering off into the woods on my right. Feeling lucky, I decided to follow. Good choice, as I spent the next hour surrounded by trees and water on a very peaceful run.
I’ve had the privilege of running some great trails in some amazing places. The La Chine Canal in Montreal ranks as one of the most memorable. I spent a winter in Montreal while I was training for the Little Rock Marathon and did all of my long runs along the La Chine Canal trail. I’ve done a lot of running in the snow, but this was wet, heavy stuff. I probably wouldn’t have chanced all those long runs on the streets, dodging cars and braving intersections. But the canal trail winds its way through the city, passing through neighborhoods, industrial areas, and parks, and allowed me to squeeze in my workouts despite snow and temps well below zero.
The river trail in Little Rock is my go to spot for weekly long runs. I’ve written about it often, but it’s worth mentioning again. The trail hums with the life of the city. Families walking together, cyclists and joggers everywhere… it’s hard not to feel energy when you are out on a Saturday or Sunday morning. That has its downside, as the trail can get pretty crowded, but it is manageable. I generally don’t ride the river trail on weekends, as the dodging and weaving between folks out for a leisurely stroll is annoying for them and me. Even though there are plenty of long routes that start from my house, a Sunday long run on the river trail is a great start to my training week.
The trail I stumbled upon in Seattle was what trails are supposed to be. As with the Montreal and Little Rock trails, it winds through a variety of areas. It meanders unobtrusively through neighborhoods, a soccer park, some business areas… a single thread woven through the patchwork quilt of a large city. The lush green of Seattle almost swallows you in many areas, and provided more isolation during the run than my home trails. In fact, I saw only two other runners during the entire hour of the run. Definitely got my peace and quiet quota for the day.
Roads and trails each serve their purpose, and I’m grateful for both. I’d much rather ride on a road, with its open space and room to maneuver, than on a trail. But when it comes to a long run, where I can get lost in my thoughts and wander aimlessly, trails are hard to beat. And finding one where I least expect it is always a great surprise. While there were many other memorable events in the week that followed my long run along the river trail in Seattle, that simple pleasure was a wonderful start to the week. While I could tell from my local maps exactly where the roads led, I dreaded the experience of a long run on the street. I had no idea where the trail went when I started, but enjoyed every step of the way and set a positive tone for the week. It reminds me of the Robert Frost poem I memorized years ago…
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood… and I, I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.”

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Closing Out the Week

As a below average age group triathlete, I’m never quite sure how to define a “good” training week.  During the peak of my training in 2012, I routinely logged 12 to 14 hours a week.  Those high volume weeks included two workouts a day, almost everyday.  Sundays were usually the lightest, with only a 10 to 15 mile run in the morning.  There were lots of “good” weeks, if the standard for good is volume.  Those training volumes produced some performance gains as well (you’d certainly hope so, right?).  My swim distances increased while times dropped, my bike times improved (although I rarely logged the high miles on the tri bike that I achieved on my road bike), and I ran farther and faster than before without injury.  Good weeks were pretty easy to identify.

Now that my training is more a part of my life than the focus of it, “good” is more nebulous.  The heaviest week includes 8-9 hours of training.  My longest ride these days is around 30 miles, and I’m not breaking any land speed records.  I’m gradually rebuilding my long run mileage to “half marathon ready”, meaning I could probably run one within 4-6 weeks if I got the whim.  It wouldn’t be pretty, but I would finish.  I applaud those who can sustain much higher levels for longer periods, but I start to see tears in the fabric of my life if I push much beyond my present level.  I don’t know if recognizing such limits is a benefit of age or a surrender to it, but there it is.

And yet, I’ve been rebuilding my training regimen from the winter low for about 4 months, and I have steady progress to show for it.  Even better, I haven’t been injured in quite a while (not from training, anyway).  I haven’t logged any laps in the pool for a few months (due more to lack of pool availability than anything else), but I plan to get wet again in the near future, and I’m looking forward to it.  Probably no more than 2 swim sessions a week, but it’s better than nothing.

So I finished this week’s training with my longest run in about 9 months, 3 good rides on the tri bike, and three solid strength training sessions.  No injuries, and some solid progress getting the diet back under control.  I’d say that’s a pretty good week.  At least it ain’t half bad.  For an old guy.

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