Thursday, October 26, 2006


Written for the USC Triathlon Newsletter 10-26-06:

You've been getting so many directions from so many people on so many things for so many years. What to do, how to dress, what classes to take, what major to choose, what job to work, what vacations to reserve, what bills to pay, what things to buy, what goals to set, what what what what what what...*what*. Directions, telling you what way to go in your life.

And it didn't get any easier when you got into this thing called triathlon: what schedule to follow, what workouts to do, what routes to stay on, what times to fill, what distances to go, what intensities to hit, what food to eat, what calories to burn, what races to enter, what goals to set, what what what what what what...*what*. Directions, telling you what way to go in your sport.

All of this...and *what*. And never any wondering as to *why*.


The Inuit peoples of the North American Arctic were known for culturally unique practices. Among them was a habit of erecting stone cairns across their lands. Invariably built to roughly approximate standing humans, these stone edifices were placed in remote locations as varied as waterways, open tundra, barren glacial fields, and empty rock flats. Early European explorers, mystified by the human-shaped stone formations spread across the barren permafrost, referred to them by the Anglicized term "inukshuk."

Subsequent cultural education and anthropological research revealed that the inukshuks were built as directional markers conveying ulterior meanings of hope, friendship, safe passage, good shelter, available food and water, and remembrance of the supernatural. The stones, in short, gave directions to traveling Inuit peoples about where to live, sleep, eat, drink, travel, congregate, and worship.

One question, however, that persisted among researchers was why the stones were placed in the shape of humans. Scholars know that stone cairns are prevalent throughout human culture and history around the world, but the use of human-shaped cairns was unique to the peoples of the North American Arctic. Academics spent years speculating as to the question of why they were the way they were.

The answer, ironically enough, came from direct conversations with the Inuit tribes of northern Canada. Their reply was that theirs was a world of overwhelming isolation, of endless sky and roaring winds, vast fields and barren glaciers, blinding snow and frozen earth, stretching as far as the eye could see and the soul could hold, and empty of everything save the awesome realization of utter desolation that consumed the insignificance of a solitary human heart in the great expanse of the void of deep eternity. It was because of this, they said, that the inukshuks were shaped as humans. It was because, they said, so that the universe would know that "we were here."

All of this...and what...and then the wondering of why.

So the universe will know that we were here.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

40 mile bike ride

40 mile bike ride today.


only 3rd time on a bike since IMAZ last April.


long and slow.


no problems. no worries. nobody to ride with, other than 1 other rider. but no big deal.

we took the usual team bike route from the USC campus to the Ballona Creek Path and on to Marina Del Rey. from there were rode down the boardwalk to the Redondo (or is it Hermosa?) Beach Pier--the one that has Sharkey's on it.

i don't particularly like this route. it goes through some gang-infested territory in South Central, and the Ballona Creek Path has gotten some notoriety recently as a place where robbers hang out and hold up cyclists going by. and the boardwalk, while definitely winding through nicer areas, is full of sand that clogs gears and brakes and wheels, is sometimes washed out by large surf, and is frequented by heavy pedestrian traffic (especially once you head south of the pier).

for all that, it does have its advantages. it's relatively flat (meaning easy). there's very little time on the road (meaning less danger of car accidents). the bike route is relatively decent quality (no potholes or flat-tire-inducing trash). and on warm, clear days, it takes you past beaches full of AMAZING eye candy.

i treated this as an aerobic ride. didn't ride any faster than 18 miles an hour the entire time. we covered 42 miles, but factoring in the stoplights, stop signs, and bathroom breaks, it took us around 3:30.

it was pleasant more than anything else. just checking on things and making sure my legs weren't shot. and to start that capillary development that coaches and athletic medicine says is a crucial benefit of aerobic workouts--and the critical component in developing base.

i'll be riding a whole lot farther and longer here soon.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Beat up, Tired, and Cross-training

sometimes i find myself asking myself "just what in the world i am doing?"

it's usually in the early morning, just after the alarm goes off and i'm staring bleary-eyed at the clock that says 5:15 am. it's also usually just after i get into the gym, just before it opens, and stand hunched over staring at my shoes in abject misery in the lobby, waiting for the 6 am opening. occasionally (on really persistently groggy starts to the days), it'll happen just when i get to my locker, and i'm staring at the contents with a blank, empty, utterly confused gaze of utter dejection.

and when it's really bad, it'll happen in the afternoon, just after lunch, as i lay in a spot taking an afternoon snooze, and i stretch a very sore, very tired, very stiff, and very unhappy body into a teasing snippet of a long languorious sojourn in the neverending comforting land known as sleep that i did not get enough of the night before and that i so desperately wish i could have lingered just a little longer in. yeah.

invariably, this question is accompanied by a moan. not for any reason. i just find moaning seems to be a very good, very succinct, very easy, and very comforting answer that i can give myself to the existential angst of the morning training schedule. besides, it pretty much expresses what i'm feeling, making it mildly cathartic that way.

of course, i don't really know if it's a moan. sometimes it's more a whimper.

so just what am i doing?



i tell myself that the alternative is to sleep in and then wake up and face the daunting prospect of driving to school in rush hour traffic...and in LA, that's just not even something a person ever wants to think about.

i tell myself that it's the only time i have to train, given that i'm working 2 jobs (3, if you count this other pesky annoying irritating one), taking classes, and trying to finish my PhD dissertation. all of which leaves my days full. so it's the 6am morning workouts and 6pm evening workouts, or nothing at all.

i tell myself that it's the best quality time in the gym. it's practically empty at that time, and there's more than enough space to get in the swimming pool, stationary bike, treadmill, weights, or exotic mixture of all things without having to worry about waiting in lines, asking if equipment is available, engaging in conversations, or avoiding poor behavior and manners. by the afternoon, it's a raging meat market and cattle call perfectly suited for zero training and zero development.

still, for all that, sometimes i find myself staring off into space, wondering just exactly

i suppose it's the burnout factor. you know, the state you get into when you've had too much of something and not enough of nothing. when you've gotten to the point that training has become more breaking and less recovery and no building.

part of it is the body being overworked by workouts with inadequate rest time in between. part of it is the mind being drained by the focus and concentration needed to push through fatigue and exhaustion. a lot of it is the monotony of doing the same things over and over again, with everything it entails--overtraining, repetitive motion injuries, boredom, muscular and mental imbalance, distraction, loss in enthusiasm, loss of interest, loss in dedication, loss of motivation, loss in a general desire to do much of anything even remotely connected to following anything even remotely resembling a training schedule.

at points like this you're supposed to back off. rest. chill out. and if anything at all, maybe do something different. work out different parts of your body and your mind, give yourself a chance to get refreshed and renewed.

that's why the prescription--if it isn't rest--is almost always cross-training. technically, triathlon is cross-training, since it encompasses 3 other disciplines: swimming, biking, and running. which is why the sport is seen as giving the body a balance and variety between the training for each event.

but sometimes you're so beat up that so tired from the same damn things that you need something way different...and i mean WAY different.

following my own advice, i've recently picked up some activities that are pretty different--or at least, different enough.

what have i chosen, you may ask? well...believe it or not: kung fu and surfing.


that's right.

kung fu.

and surfing.

and if i get adventurous enough, maybe kung fu surfing.

the kung fu i've kind of always had an interest in since i was a kid, but i never seemed to have the time or energy or money to take classes. i also see it as being useful in terms of self-defense (although, it's becoming very clear to me that it takes a little time before you get good enough to actually use it effectively as self-defense). more than that, i can see how it relates to improving my performance, since it seems to incorporate development of breathing, energy generation, efficiency, and recuperation--all things that i need more of.

you can read about it. i started a blog, since it seemed appropriate:

the surfing is another thing i've always had an interest in. it just looks cool. and i figure that there is absolutely no excuse for anyone to be living in a place like Southern California and not know how to surf. seriously. and i figure it's a rough equivalent of a "light" swim workout, still gets me out in the ocean, and helps me work on my core muscles, sense of balance, and overall physical coordination.

although, i'm finding surfing is a lot harder to pick up than it looks. i've only been out once, but i wiped out a whole lot more than i managed to catch waves...this is going to take some bit of practice to get used to.

i'll have to let you stay tuned.

i'm not stopping the triathlon training--dude, i'm too neurotic and obsessive compulsive to do that (i mean, after you've worked your ass off to get into shape, there is no way you ever want to have to go through that kind of suffering you find yourself unable to go a day without wondering if you're missing out on some training you need to be doing or losing some conditioning that you do not want to be letting go). but i am probably going to cut back on the triathlon training volume a least until it starts time for the next Ironman (which is IMAZ next April).

regardless, i needed the change. i needed the break. and i'm just going to chalk it up as cross-training.

of course, i'm still asking myself "just what am i doing?" every morning.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

because you're different

You chose triathlon as your recreational pastime out of a slew (legion!!!) of extra-curricular options available from our fine university (dear old USC!!!). You chose early mornings and late evenings (all day, EVERY day!!!) bathed in sweat (shivering in hoodies and sweats!!!) and baked in sun (freezing cold!!!), over sleeping in and partying late. You chose loooooooong weekend excursions leading to godforsaken places (out of the ghetto!!!), when you could have been clinging to University Park or a fashionable off-campus cozy love-nest (West-SIIIIIIIIIIIIDE!!!).

And you know why...

You could have done Competition Cheer and been sampling the latest micro-fiber technology in cheerleading shorts and mini-skirts, but NOOOOOOOOO, you chose Triathlon. You could have done Ping Pong Posse and hung around a dinky cardboard table debating the merits of rubber paddles, but NOOOOOOOOO, you chose Triathlon. You could have done Undergraduate Student Government and been the BIG MAN/WOMAN ON CAMPUS and gotten berated by Vice President Michael Jackson every week, but NOOOOOOOOO, you chose Triathlon.

And you could (coulda woulda shoulda? maybe? heh? no regrets? sure? ha ha ha!!!) have pursued the big 900-pound gorilla that everyone KNOWS is on this campus but nobody EVER talks about (because, after all, anyone who EVER talks about it is know...*loser*): GREEEEEEEEEEEK!!! But NOOOOOOOOO, you chose Triathlon.

And why? Why did you give up on bacchanalia? Who did you give up on decadence? Why did you give up on the chance (no! the opportunity!) to stand around and listen to lines like: "If they're walking alone, it means they're not popular--and we don't want anybody who's not popular!" or "Prada is sooooooooo last year! This year we only wear Fendi!" or "They have to be pretty and their friends have to be pretty, or they're not worth talking to!" [NOTE: these are actual lines overheard during Rush Week]. Why did you give up on so much FUN?

Why? Because you're different, that's why!

You want to get outside of campus. You want to try things new. You want to get out of your shell. You want to do more than think outside of the box. You want to grow beyond the confines of your ordinary world with its ordinary people living ordinary lives thinking ordinary things doing ordinary shopping eating ordinary food listening to ordinary music watching ordinary television pursuing ordinary activities and dissing everybody and anything who is not

Every day.

And the rest of the whole wide world spins on, even though so many people don't know it.

But not you. You want to explore. You want to see what there is to be seen. You want to meet whoever there is to meet. You want to learn whatever there is to learn. You want to free your mind. And you want to experience what there is to experience. As much as you can pack into the limits of your life. Even if it means studying the arcane arts of swim technique (sculling!!! finger-tip drag!!! catch-up drill!!!), cycling (clinchers!!! wheel true-ing!!! seatpost angle!!!), and running (intervals!!! plyometrics!!! ascending sets!!!). Even if it means doing a workout at 6am in the morning, and then turning around and doing another workout at 7pm at night. Even if it means an entire weekend on the bike rolling out on Pacific Coast Highway to F-O-R-E-V-E-R. Even if it means getting far, far, far, far, far---FAR---away from campus.

Monday, October 09, 2006

injury report

i'm injured.

and i'm a somewhat irritated and annoyed. mostly at myself.

it's not bad bad. but it's bad.

i strained my lower back doing plyometric drills with the rest of the team. in the muscle on the right side of the spine next to the tailbone.

it's a pulled muscle. nothing permanently debilitating, nothing long-term serious. but definitely something that's knocked me out of commission for awhile, and definitely something excruciating.

i never realized just how crucial the tailbone area was. it hurts right now to walk. it hurts to stand. it hurts to sit. it hurts to lie down. it pretty much hurts doing everything.

and not just a little.

i figure i'm out of any exercise for a week. which is driving me nuts. i'm used to following my training schedule, and i'm used to having a certain level of conditioning. and now i'm going to have to deal with the a week's loss.


i hate injuries. just hate them.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

cadence and love songs

something funny happened at the Nautica Malibu Triathlon a couple of weeks ago.

so much of this sport is driven by cadence. swim stroke, pedal rate, stride turnover. all of it driven by cadence counted by the number of repetitions of per minute of perfect form executed in perfect time in perfect repeat of each repetition completed before.

the cadence is determined by a person's heart rate, overall level of physical conditioning, body mass index, aerobic and anaerobic capacity, muscular endurance, and target race goals. it's superficially a complex formula, but in reality is made remarkably simple when treated less as science and more as art.

or at least, it's supposed to be.

determining cadence is one thing. keeping it is another. invariably, with all the distractions on race day, amidst the traffic and rush to the setup, under the physicality of the mass swim starts and navigational intricacies of the bike and run, along the confusion and dangers of course conditions and weather changes, beneath the noise of the crowd and chaos of the aid stations, against the struggle of exhaustion and suffering, keeping steady to a cadence becomes a perilous exercise in concentration. many times, cadence just becomes an afterthought.

people deal with it in different ways. some count. literally. from 1 to infinite, or in an endless loop from 1 to a finite number utterable in a single breath. others recite mantras, prayers, rosaries, poems. some try to focus on the natural rhythm of their heart and pulse rates. a few take to singing songs silently as they roll along the race course.

i've tried all of these things. all with varying degrees of success.

but something funny happened at Nautica.

ordinarily, if you're using a song, the theory goes that you're supposed to have something that keeps you on a target turnover rate. usually, the ideal turnover rate is pretty constant for bike and run, with whatever target cadence you have on the run being the same on the bike. given that the ideal cadence on the bike is around 90 rpm, that means the target cadence for the run is also around 90 rpm. since a turnover is taken as the equivalent of 2 strides (1 turnover=1 step with left leg+1step with right leg), that generally means a cadence of 180 steps per minute. all this means that if you're running to a beat, you're going to want a song with 180 bpm.

if you know anything about music, 180 bpm is pretty steady. it's also pretty frisky. not too slow. but not hyperkinetic either. still, it's moving.

as a result, i'm invariably aiming to get some up-tempo music in my head, and find myself locking in some corresponding songs. hip hop is good. pop music sometimes works. punk also works. whatever it is, it just needs to 1) keep the 180 bpm, and 2) be loud and hard enough to be sustained over race day distractions. simple, direct, energetic, quick.

but something funny happened at Nautica.

it started in the transition area prior to the starter's announcements.

i didn't hear any uptempo music in my head. i didn't hear anything loud and energetic. for sure, i didn't hear anything resembling 180 bpm.

what i heard instead was love songs.

slow ones.

bittersweet ones.

sad ones.

you know the kind. the ones that kind of slow your day down. make you think. give you those pangs of anguish and confusion. the ones that make you wonder about the way things have been going in your life...and the way things have gone with other people...or with one other particular person...

this is what i was hearing:

i could not get them out of my head. the entire race. even through the sound of the starting gun. even through the rushing of the waves. even after i got out of the water and got on the bike and the run. even above the roar of the crowd and the chaos of the race course. the entire race seemed to go silent, with the exception of the solitary songs in my head.

i dunno.

it was maddening.

i like those songs.

and they're helping work through some things.

but on a race day?

that's never happened before.

they say that race day reveals certain truths that are subconsciously left hidden.

maybe this is what happened to me.

oh i know what the songs are about. and i know whom they're about. but i guess the fact that they surfaced and clung to me on a day and an event that i ordinarily would have not recalled them is a sign of just how much things have been bothering me.

but the funny thing is (and this is why it's funny) is that i didn't mind.

in fact, i enjoyed it. it actually seemed to help. it actually seemed to bring my heart rate under control and focus my mind on the race.

almost like thinking about something that's bothering me (more than i care to admit) actually somehow made me feel better.

funny, yeah?

i guess what it was (or is...cuz i'm still hearing those songs even now) is the feeling of release and relief that comes from letting emotions loose that have been kept inside for too long, and the sense of freedom that comes from accepting thoughts as something conscious (even though not real) rather than suppressing them and hoping they'd just go away.

that, and there's also the understanding that comes from the realization that perhaps things are affecting me more than i thought they would, more than i'd care to admit, and more that i had hoped...the understanding that she probably meant that much to me.

she meant enough that thoughts of her bring these songs to my mind at times when they shouldn't. she meant enough that memories of her bring emotions that can only be described by words like bittersweet and sad. she meant enough that the thoughts i think of her, when wrapped in memories and song, actually seem to help me work things out beyond just my relationship with her--like the chaos and complexities of a race day.

i've written about her already, so there's not much point in going over facts and what i've been going through. you can read it at:

but i guess the fact that songs i connect to her stuck with me all the way through a race day shows just how much she affected me...and just how much she affects me still.

and i thought i'd let her go.

sometimes you have to wonder about the absurdity of life. about finding someone who you could actually imagine being with (as in a long time...maybe forever), and then finding out she has a something else, somewhere else, and even a someone else. the paroxysm of confusion and disappointment and frustration and bitterness and absurdity and sorrow and depression and wistfulness and loss and anguish and helplessness and unrequited emotions and uncertainty and insignificance and plaintive songs playing over and over and over and over and over and over even though you are sick of them but really really deep down inside you want to hear them more just like the memories of her...the memories of someone you don't want to remember but you really really want to hold close and dear and never never ever want to forget.

the memories you wish could be real.

something funny happened at Nautica.

the cadence came from love songs.

and it was not the cadence of artifice, a product of production, made by machine or man or otherwise. it was not the cadence of the real, existent in a natural world.

it was the cadence deeper to the human heart, the cadence underlying the world and conscious mind, farther inward than even the subconscious spirit of the human soul. it was the cadence driven by the rhythm of the truth that comes from the emotions and memories of that which we hold most dear. it was the cadence of the only fundamental truth that holds fast in the unending infinite void that extends beyond the unfathomed reaches of this universe and the insignificant confines of human loneliness and loss.

it was the cadence that came from love songs.

it's continuing still.

and i don't want it to stop, because it's all i have.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

the race has just begun

Written for the USC Triathlon Newsletter 10-05-06:

So many things to say. So many things to do. And so little time and so little space to do it in. And it's all just flying by. The training, the racing, the recovery. It's all just flying by, as sands washing along the shore.

And you've told yourself what it is you want to do. And you've told your family the reasons why. And you've packed everything that you needed. And now...Now it's race day. Game day. Time to get suited, booted, rooted, and centered on the mission to finish the race that you've started. And there is no turning back.

Because you're here. You're lined up. The water is waiting, the bike is calling, and the run is nodding. Now. Now. Now. The race is now. Now. Now. NOW.

And just like that, you'll begin. And you won't know anything else. Because you will focus, and become the moment, and reach the tao and the zen, and find yourself within as far as you can journey across the far without, and know that everything that you will know will be known to you by you through you and only you.

And in the race, you'll go farther than you ever thought. And you'll leave the world you left behind. No home and no bed. No pets and no toys. No mom and no dad. Not even siblings, friends, lovers, or strangers. Nothing. It will all be left behind.

And just when you think you're getting close....just when you think you've found who it is you really are...just when you realize that you are so much more than the person who left home, you'll find out there are mysteries within yourself lying far beyond the horizons you have just begun to explore.

And then you'll want more.

And the race will be over. And people will be going to their homes. And they'll be retrieving their toys. And they'll be embraced once again by mom and dad.

But deep down inside, unspoken and unshared, away from the world around you, you'll know that the journey has just begun. You'll know that it's not over. You'll know that you can't go back.

You'll know, because you started. You'll know, because you are on the path. You'll know, because no race ever truly ends.