Thursday, December 01, 2005

southern california

originally written for the USC Triathlon Newsletter 12-01-05

This is the time of year when those of us at USC can sit back in our t-shirts, boardshorts, flip-flops, and sunglasses, and call our favorite friends and relatives on the East Coast, Midwest, or Pacific Northwest, and with the biggest stupid self-serving vacuous grins say "Duuuuuuude, what is up with all the sun? It's like so not snowboarding weather." Oh yeah. Soooooooooo Cal. You gotta love it. Let the rest of the country drool. Let the rest of them whimper. Let them gnash their teeth in jealousy and rage, let them utter their lamentations of envy and despair. Let them worship the land of surf and sun, and all the blessed who inhabit this realm. Let them suffer.

Truth be told, this is really our competitive edge. Against all the competition we're likely to see from the rest of the country next season at races like Nationals, those of us in SoCal have the opportunity to take advantage of the climate and train all year round. Swim. Bike. Run. It's all possible. Just for you, you perky little obsessive-compulsive exercise rat you.

And you can do it all with the knowledge that all the other schmoes in New York, Massachusetts (tell my brother MIT sucks), Minnesota, or various other random snow-flooded locales of your choice (South Korea, Dave?) are stuck indoors sucking eggnog and getting fat. And all those holiday parties people here are slinging around? Consider it carbo-loading for that extra-long training day. All the cookies and pies and cakes? Energy bar substitutes, my friend, energy bar substitutes. Hot chocolate and cider? Recovery drinks! Fuel to the fire that is the furnace of your raw, flame-throwing, high-octane, high-tuned, high-performance aerodynamic cheetah-sleek supersonic warp-speed perpetual-motion mega-dynamic bio-nuclear body!!! All of it, just mere excuses to suck up sun and surf and 70 degree days under crystal-clear blue skies calling your name.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

stamford bridge

On September 25, 1066 at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, a lone Viking warrior held the bridge at the River Derwent against the full array of the armies of the English King Harold. Bereft of shield or ally, with nothing more than armor and axe, the Viking repeatedly repulsed the Anglo-Saxon soldiers and refused to surrender the bridge. His own armies defeated, his own king destined to death later that day, his entire civilization in the British Isles crumbling to a close, the Viking stubbornly persisted against his own fate. Historians have always wondered what drove that Viking that day, alone against an army and annihilation.

Our sport is in many ways a solitary endeavor. The quiet struggle to wake up for an early morning workout, the drudgery and cacophony of juggling competing priorities around a working schedule, the personal reflections conjured within laps and miles and stride count and hours and minutes, the lonely torture of race day stretching from water to wheel to rubber sole...And with the only promise of more tomorrow, and the only memory of what happened yesterday.

It's a lot like life. Like the pile of work sitting at your desk. The endless questions and exams. The legion of papers and performance reviews. With no one else to help you, and everything resting on you. The solitary figure making a way in a wide, wide, very wide world.

The daily grind. The Sisyphean curse. So much of it is predicated on faith. Faith that things will work out. Faith that there will be some reward. Faith that you'll become stronger and that the sport becomes easier. Faith that somehow, someway, it all means something.

But what if it doesn't? What happens if that faith is broken? What happens when the performance gains don't happen? What happens if things don't get easier? What if everything you depended on simply fails? What happens then? What's left to drive you?

There is always disillusionment. Cynicism. Anger. Despair. The descent into neurosis and doubt and crisis. The usual panopoly of negative emotions and psychic burdens that haunt the loss of faith. The kinds of things that drive some to darkness and self-destruction.

But the funny thing is, beneath the storm and tide and descent into self-destruction, there's still something left to hold onto.

What happened at the bridge? What happened when all dreams were shattered, when an entire civilization disintegrated? When it was nothing more than a lonely figure against an army and all the gods, and when all faith had been left to annihilation? What drove a solitary person to continue to hold a bridge?

In the end, there's still you. There's still muscles and sinew, heart and lungs, mind and soul. There's still you, waking up every day. Through training, work, and race day. There may be nothing else, but there's still you.

And that's what gets you through the suffering. That's what gets you through the miles. That's what pulls and pushes and kicks and thrashes against the heat and cold and waves and asphalt and cramps and exhaustion and deadlines and exams and workweeks and the living of day after day after day after day after day. You. Because you can do what you do. Every day. Against everything there is against you. You.

And that's what there is to hold onto. That's what there's always left. That's what will always remain to reward faith. That's what will always drive you. You, and anything you choose to do.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Attitude. You've been beaten down so much and told so often to get rid of attitude. But the funny thing is, sometimes attitude is a good thing. It's just a question of what kind of attitude.

Part of endurance sports--and part of sports in general, is the need to develop and maintain mental skills necessary to achieve your goals. Without them, your training and your race day experience will suffer. Poor mental acuities will cause you to consistently underachieve, fail to reach target objectives, and set inferior standards. Good mental ability will allow you to fulfill potential, complete target objectives, and encourage an ambition for superior standards. The Navy SEALs have a maxim: you are capable of 4x as much physical output as you believe possible. To unlock the potential for such output, you have to engage the proper attitude.

So what is the proper attitude? Positivity. The constant belief that you can do anything you want to do--you just have to go out and do it. In your mind, there may be a struggle between a "Mr./Ms. Positive" telling you "you can", and a "Mr./Ms. Negative" telling you "you can't." Negative is going to sit your shoulder and climb on your back and become a 900-lb. bear clawing at your insides, and go from whispering all kinds of excuses for laziness, underachievement, and failure to roaring a stream of denials and impossibilities. Positive is going to tap you on the head, throw you a smile, and point you forward--and make everything a crystal clear landscape of choices and consequences and options and rewards, with the seemingly impossible and unrepentantly intimidating nothing more than illusions that dissolve like 1...2...3... Which one you listen to is up to you.

It's like the song goes: You have to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. And don't mess with Mr. In-between.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

it just doesn't mean as much unless there's some kind of suffering involved

Lance Armstrong has been quoted as saying "It just doesn't mean as much unless there's some kind of suffering involved." The competition, the training, the solitude, the unending grind of all the effort and energy and exhaustion and sweat and concentration and juggling of schedules and friends and work and classes and time time time...It just doesn't mean as much unless there's some kind of suffering involved.

Why? It's like your parents told you: You'll never understand the value of something until you pay the price. Because only then do you realize what it took to earn it. It's not about the money--you can't go out and buy a magic suit that makes you an Ironman. It's not about the GUs and gels and energy drinks--you can't go out and eat something that makes you Uber-human. It's not about the bike, or wetsuit, or shoes, or racing suit or stopwatch or sunglasses or timing chip or wristband. At the end of the day, after the 6am rush out of the starting chute, after the eternity of the swim and bike and run, after the chaos of transitions and the rush of the finish line party, it's not about anything you buy or eat or wear. At the end of the day, it's about nothing more than the energy and effort and 2-a-day practices and sacrifice and commitment to time and distance and time and distance and time and distance. Every day. Each and every day. For nothing more than crossing the finish line and keeping a t-shirt and holding a piece of metal called a finisher's medal. And yet, you'll wear the remember the finish line, wear the t-shirt, and look at the finisher's medal, and you'll swear it's one of the most valuable things you'll have ever done.

Why? Because you know the price you paid to earn it. You know what it took to get it. You know what it means. And it just wouldn't have meant as much unless there was some kind of suffering involved.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

the moment

Every competitor, at some point in every race, faces THE MOMENT. Some times it's worse than others. But it's there. Always. THE MOMENT. The moment when that kernel (or knot or bowling ball or bear) of outright fear strikes and you suddenly face the very real thought of pulling over, stopping up, dropping out, and QUITTING the race altogether. The moment when your fear turns to doubt and your resolve starts to break, and you go from finishing a race to just ending the race.

Different people deal with this in different ways. Some turn to pride (doing the race for reputation). Some turn to anger (doing the race to show everybody--or the race--up). Some turn to desire (doing the race because you Some turn to love (doing the race for someone else). Others return to their training (if you put in the time to train you can put out the energy to finish). Still others call upon life lessons (quitting in a race is quitting in a life...are you ever going to quit in life? do you ever want to be know as having quit in life?). A few even turn to trivialization (this race is just like any other...and just like anything else. just another day on the farm, and just another chore for the day).

Regardless, you need to remember one very important thing: you can do this. Every person, every one of us, each in our own way, can do this. Your body, your mind, your spirit is capable for far more than you can believe. The Navy SEALs make it a mantra in their training that the human body is capable of 4x as much output as you believe it can. Many philosophers have noted that too often modern society (in particular, modern American society) lulls people into an underachieving stupor, in that rarely in our society are we ever pushed (or encouraged or motivated or forced) to push beyond the limits we have put on ourselves. We often leave it for emergencies to truly find out the truth--when in reality the truth is something available at any time. And that truth is just simply that you can do anything you want to do. You just have to go out and do it. One step at a time. Beginning with the first...The journey of a thousand leagues begins with just one step. Yours. Finish the race. Finish it strong.