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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Easy Day

Monday and Tuesday are my easier training days… in part because I’m recovering from two long workouts over the weekend, but also because my pre-work workouts need to be shorter so I can get to the office for early meetings.  This morning was a fairly light 3 mile run, following yesterday’s 15 mile ride.  Summer is certainly in full swing, though, with temps in the high 70s or low 80s by the time I hit the road at 6:00 a.m., and humidity on the rise.

This week’s training is a little jumbled, as commitments on Saturday and Sunday will disrupt next weekend’s planned long workouts.  So, I’ve shifted some things around even more in this week’s schedule to salvage some of the heavier training I’d lose otherwise.  I should be able to get my long ride in on Friday the 4th, since I’ll be off work.  I’ll need to cut the long run short on Sunday… that’s okay, I’ll just make it an easy week as we head out for vacation.

Tomorrow is a long ride before work… another chance to challenge the hill into my neighborhood on the tri bike.  I made it farther up the hill on Monday than I did on Saturday; I’ve already got my goal spot picked for tomorrow’s climb.  A little farther with each ride, and I’ll eventually make the whole climb.

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Embracing Change

Human beings are notorious for resisting change.  We hate it… fear it… we’ll expend more energy fighting it than it would take to accept it and move on.  My run this morning reminded me, though, of how awesome change can be.  This was my Sunday long run, 9 miles along the Arkansas River trail.  For those unfamiliar, the river trail is a 14 mile loop between downtown Little Rock and West Little Rock that parallels the Arkansas River on both sides.  Until a few years ago, the two sides we connected downtown, but not on the other end.  Building a running/cycling bridge across the river was impractical and expensive.  Then the local government leaders came up with the idea of adding a foot bridge across the top of an existing dam.  Local lore says that, despite mounting opposition and concerns about cost, the gentleman leading the effort exclaimed in a meeting, “We’re going to build that dam bridge!”  He insists he meant the bridge on top of the dam, and not the expletive kind.  The name stuck, and so did the idea.  Almost 8 years after it was completed, the Big Dam Bridge has spawned a Century cycling event, countless road races, and led to Little Rock being named one of the top 10 outdoor cities in America.  What does all that tell us about change?


Change is inevitable.  We are changing continually, from the day we’re born until we take our last breath.  You can fight it, or work with it.  For some undefined amount of time, changes are mostly positive.  We’re growing, getting stronger, learning more; then things start to stagnate.  At some point, often without us realizing it, the change curve reaches its apex and starts back down.  Muscles degrade, energy starts to wane, we stop taking in more information than we dispose of.  It’s as true for cities as it is for people.  Little Rock expanded west, and the population center moved with it.  City fathers could ignore the trend, or work with it.  A cycling trail that led people back into downtown became part of an effort to revitalize the Rivermarket area.  That effort continues today with new restaurants, loft apartments, and new entertainment venues.  For individuals, exercise and healthier eating can slow the aging process and add to quality of life.  Remember, you’re going to change one way or another.  Make it positive.

Change is disruptive.  Despite the positive results for Little Rock, there were some bumps along the way.  After the bridge was complete, roads around the area were clogged with joggers and cyclists.  Parking became a huge issue.  The once quiet boat launch near the trail became a busy parking lot crammed with cars sporting bike racks.  Needless to say, local residents and boat owners were not pleased, and everyone had to adjust to the new reality.  Personal change is like that, too.  If you’re going to change your eating habits, or ramp up your fitness routine, it’s going to be disruptive.  It might mean less sleep, or less television, or different food in the fridge (even getting rid of those temptations you just can’t resist).  Don’t let change lead to despair.  Stick it out, and the results will be well worth it.  Eventually the change will lead to more energy and smaller pants sizes.  Which leads to…

Change fuels growth.  After the trail fueled a surge in walking, running, and cycling, new bike shops opened.  New running stores started.  New sporting goods stores.  Healthier restaurants.  Additional trails, new construction, new city-wide events.  While it might be a stretch to say that all of these things happened as a direct result of the Big Dam Bridge, they did all feed off of each other.  The same is true for people.  Positive change fuels more change.  Conquering a 10K gives enough confidence to try a half marathon.  Cycling a little farther every week helps you believe you can also tackle new challenges at home, at work… you name it.  In many ways, we are what we believe.  If we believe we can change, we can.  Believe you’re stuck where you are, and… well, you get the picture.  So, go ahead… embrace the change.


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Gears and Legs

Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum strong enough, and I could move the world.”  Given that my understanding of physics is equaled only by my understanding of women’s shoes, I’ll take his word for it.  I’m guessing that the same concept applies to climbing hills on a bike.  Give me a rear cassette big enough and legs strong enough, and I can climb anything.  Unfortunately, I seem to be short in one, or both, categories on my tri bike.

felt s22

I bought my tri bike shortly before I moved to Florida a little over two years ago.  It’s a machine built for Florida… gears made to go fast on flat terrain.  I’ve hit speeds on flat surfaces while riding the tri bike that I’ve never seen on my road bike unless I was going downhill… with a tailwind.  The thing likes to go fast.  It does not like to climb.

Since I moved back to Little Rock (so named because the guy who found it hadn’t seen the part of the city where I live), I’ve done most of my riding on the indoor trainer or on my road bike, primarily because of the hill that leads back into my neighborhood.  This hill is steep.  Really steep.  And long.  And did I mention how steep it is?  Really steep.

Image of hill may not be to scale...

Image of hill may not be to scale…

It took me a few months before I could successfully climb it on my road bike.  And the road bike has a triple chain ring on the front and a climbing cassette on the back.  But I did master it.  A couple of weeks ago, I decided it was time to get the tri bike out again and start mixing up my rides.  Knowing what I’d be facing if I started out from home, I loaded the bike into the SUV and drove to the nice, flat river trail.

Last Saturday I decided to face the hill head on.  I started out for a 30 mile ride on the tri bike from the house, knowing I’d have to climb the hill to get home.  The ride itself was tough… 30 miles isn’t that long, unless you’re not used to being in the “aero” position.  I was well short of the entrance to my neighborhood and I was already sore, cramped, and tired.  At that point, tho, there’s not much choice.  Press on.  Needless to say, I did not make the climb.  I did the cyclists’ walk of shame up the hill, and pedaled the last section home.

Fast forward to this morning.  The schedule called for another 30 mile ride.  The big decision… tri bike or road bike.  I knew I could easily complete the ride, and the final climb, on the road bike.  But easy never got me anywhere worth being.  So, out came the tri bike.  I followed much of the same route from last week, and focused on making minor adjustments to find the right position .  The ride went well, although I admit to being pretty spent by the time I hit the neighborhood entrance.  I should mention that the last 3-4 miles back to the house are a gradual climb out of the river valley, capped off by the mega hill.  After almost two years of being ridden only on the flats of Florida, the bike’s gears hit a lot of previously unexplored territory.

I’d love to say that I gritted it out and made the climb.  Alas, it was not to be so.  What I did, tho, was pick a spot about a third of the way up the hill and headed for that.  I rarely stand to climb even on my road bike, and doing that on the tri bike can be really awkward because the geometry is so tight.  But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and I will eventually make that climb on the tri bike.  So I stood in the pedals and gritted it out to the one third point.  Did I mention this hill is really steep?  Fortunately, I still had enough forward momentum to unclip one foot before I fell over, and I walked the rest of the hill.  Not a walk of shame… a walk of progress.  I’ll keep attacking the hill, and each week I’ll make it a bit farther.  I’m not getting any more gears, so the solution is in the legs… and the mind.  A little stronger every day.  A little farther every week.  I’ll let you know when I climb the hill.

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