Friday, December 21, 2007

the gut check (training notes 12-21-07)

you know the feeling. it happens to everyone. the time when you wake up one morning, and find yourself shuddering at the thought of the upcoming slate of workouts.

it's not that you're injured (although, at this point, you are very much hurting). it's not that you're overtraining (although, by now, you are definitely tired). it's not that you're sick (although, with Ironman, many would say you have to be some kind of sick to be doing this). in fact, there's really nothing wrong with you at all--at least, nothing enough to stop you from doing the workouts you should (and need...if you want to avoid having a really bad, really painful race day) to be doing.

the only thing there is, in truth, if there is any word to describe it, is dread.

or possibly distaste. or maybe fear. or even revulsion.

whatever. all you know is that it's not pleasant.

it's made even worse by the fact that somehow, inexplicably, perhaps stupidly, you made a very fateful decision to sign up for an early spring Ironman...meaning that you've signed up to be training all winter, and training hard, when everyone else with any semblance of sanity is enjoying the comforts of a nice long off-season, comfortably esconced in the warmth of their abodes, likely cuddling with a loved one with a very warm blanket and a very hot mug of hot chocolate, while you're out in the bitter winds and freezing cold getting blasted into the frozen hell that is the polar expeditions of each and every one of your workouts.


the only thing that pulls you out of bed, and into your running shoes, or bike, or wetsuit, and out the door to face the december and january weather by yourself is the very real knowledge that if you don't do this, you never will, and that this will ensure you pay a very heavy and very nasty and very unpleasant and very painful price on race day.

not that race day is ever pleasant, but there's a difference being paying the price that's listed versus the price with a full training period's dose of interest added on top of it. the less you have to pay, the better.

and so you tell yourself to suck it up. and you make promises to yourself that you'll just make it through this next workout, and then you'll take a break. or make it to just this next hill, and then stop and assess how you feel. or you'll go for just a few minutes, and then figure out if you want to go on.

but you always do. and somehow, you make it to the next hill, and then all the ones after that. and you not only finish the workout, but also all the ones you had scheduled. and the only time you stop is when you had planned on your schedule to stop.

and when you do finally stop, and take a break, you do so with the realization, reassurance, and memory that you completed the hard workouts. all of them. even though you didn't want to...and it has made you better for it.

sometimes, the real reason for the hard workouts--the long ones, intense ones, the ones piled up in the times that people in the know euphemistically call "build weeks" (as opposed to what they often are: sheer and utter hell)--isn't so much for conditioning the body, but rather the mind.

you have to push yourself through these workouts, not because you can (because, barring injury or overtraining or sickness, but this stage in the training you really can), but to know you can. you have to do them, to 1) learn how to push yourself to do something you know will cause supreme discomfort, and 2) gain an awareness that you can push yourself to do something that will cause supreme discomfort...things that will very much happen on race day.

you need the gut check. because you need to know how to deal with it, especially when you're at mile 127, and suddenly, horrifyingly get the yawning, overwhelming, supremely disheartening realization. that. you. still. have. another. 13. miles. to. go.

afterwards, you can thank your gods for rest. but until then, there's only you, by yourself, plumbing the depths of your fortitude to finish the race.


so this build week, as you can tell, i hit some milestones: 16-mile run (with follow-up runs), 4200 yd swim and 4400m swim (difference in units because i had to switch pools from one that used yards to another than used meters...i personally prefer meters), and simulated hill work on the bike (and heavy weights). tough workouts. swim-heavy. i feel like i earned the recovery week. i'm back end of december, and then another 2-week build phase heavy on bike and run, and then recovery again before the last 2-week build phase, heavy on bike and swim. after that, taper into race week.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sagas for Valhalla

A common Viking custom during the interminable nights of Arctic winter was the hosting of gatherings in the mead hall, where families and guests would congregate to finish their day's work, conduct their lord's official affairs, pool resources for meals, or simply wait for the coming of daylight (which in winter is only a few hours long, or in Arctic regions not at all). Frequently, to help pass the time, they would recite the Viking sagas.

Sagas were a peculiar tradition of Norse culture, and consisted of a mixture of poetry and prose of epic scope. Originating in the oral histories of ancient Norse society, they evolved into transcribed accounts of the past, imagined or real, passed on from one generation to the next. Sagas fell into several categories with varying degrees of truth depending on their purpose: Konungasögur, which gave the histories of kings (such as the Heimskringla), Íslendingasögur , which were the histories of major families (famous ones are the Saga of Erik the Red, who brought settlers to Greenland and whose son Leif Erickson reached North America, or the Greenlander's Saga, which tells of the creation and ultimate doom of the Viking Greenland colony); and Fornaldarsaga, which were historical legends (such as the Volsunga saga, which is tied closely to the Germanic Niebelungen story).

The latter were the most enduring, since they reached beyond simple recounts of the past to encompass the ideals of Norse culture. With complex plots and relationships that engaged listeners through long winter nights over the course of several months, the historical legends told stories of characters that--like their audiences--had to tread amoral, ambiguous lines between good and evil, and who invariably had to struggle with their own limitations even as they vied heroically against the awesome powers of gods and monsters.

On-line, there are several succinct introductory references to sagas:
In the modern era, sagas have largely faded into artifacts of history. While seen as works of art reflecting the Viking culture that produced them, sagas are still frequently discounted as quasi-factual, quasi-fanciful constructions of less civilized peoples. Moreover, they are generally held at a cautionary distance by critics, who point out the sagas' obsession with violence and brutality, and their ingrained outdated and quixotic notions of glory, honor, and divine luck.

Despite this, sagas should be seen with some relevance for the modern world. Filtering out the layers of the past and the imprints of ancient society, sagas reveal at their core a number of values still holding universal significance across the gulf of cultures and times:
  • Actions, not words: Sagas were spare in their language, following the use of objective narrative with little space for descriptive commentary. As part of this, audiences were left to judge characters by the nature of their actions, and the consequences those actions had upon their lives. The implication given to listeners was that people were to be evaluated by what they did and not by what they said. In life, it does not matter what you say, it only matters what you do. Because only actions can change the world.
  • Tenacity against the odds: Heroes in sagas did not abandon their missions. Even in the face of discomfort, suffering, or overwhelming odds, they did not turn away, but instead persisted, undaunted and resolute. This was not because their challenges were temporary, nor to suggest to audiences that persistence always results in victory. Indeed, sometimes the foes triumphed, resulting in the hero's death. Rather, heroes persisted because of who they were. For them, their actions were statements of their character...character that was in many ways more important than life, because it would be known even after their death.
  • Courage against the unknown: Sagas frequently had characters encountering gods, monsters, and supernatural forces. Almost always, these challenges were awesome in their power, and greater than the hero, who in contrast was often shown as an individual of personal foibles and all-to-human limitations. None the less, characters demonstrated courage in facing their challenges, rising to meet them even though the outcome was uncertain or even doomed.
For ancient Vikings, the message was that how you lived was a statement of who you were. Hence, your actions and your character defined your life. Ostensibly, for the ancient Norse, a person's deeds and behavior while living were taken towards earning a place among the gods in Valhalla. But the undercurrent was still clear: even as your life was short, and could end at any time in any manner of ways, the way in which you lived your life would be remembered long after your death by the world you left behind...a world ultimately made of nothing more than the countless lives that have passed through it; a world that reflects you.

This was, and is, important.

In modern society, the world is beset by challenges. Problems of complexity defying description. Issues of scale and scope beyond comprehension. Horrors of magnitude exceeding imagination. The temptation is apathy, inactivity, surrender. To give in to the weakness of our own humanity in the face of the awesome darkness that surrounds us.

It was no less than in the Viking era. But then, as the ancient Norse huddled in the low firelight of their mead halls through the bitter cold of the encroaching winter, besieged by a world of harsh brutality and violence and ignorance and cruelty and mystery and fear, they still recited the sagas that told of people who rose to stand against the night and the terrors all around them...people who struggled against gods and monsters, who strove against the supernatural and unknown, even in the face of their own death, despite the assurance of their own suffering, through the utter desolation of winter, across uncharted frozen seas, and unto the ends of the earth. People who dared to become heroes.

The sagas told people how to live, even if there seemed no hope. They told people that they could change the world, although it was beset by dangers seemingly insurmountable. The sagas told people that the manner in which they struggled against the impossible would speak of who they were and what it meant to be alive, and that because of this each person should strive to make of their own life their own saga, worthy of the gods in Valhalla, worthy of having daylight upon the earth, and worthy of all the later generations that are yet to come.

In short, against the onslaught of night, the sagas told people to face the darkness, and to continue living.

And they do still.

The race may seem impossible, the distance may be daunting, but the sagas tell us otherwise, and they bid us to do our utmost to the very end of the finish.

Friday, December 14, 2007

the big weeks (training notes 12-15-07)

this is it. crunch time. Ironman New Zealand is roughly 9 weeks away. meaning that whatever i do during this time is pretty much whatever i'm going to do on race day.

generally, at least for amateurs, the 3-4 weeks before Ironman are treated as taper, when workouts are gradually reduced in volume and intensity to allow the body to recharge and heal in time to be fully prepared for race day. this means that if you don't have the training foundation by this time (the start of the taper), you pretty much aren't going to get it in time for race day.

the result is that fitness gains and physical performance have to be built prior to this time. given the lead-up required to even get the base fitness required to get to a level where you can begin Ironman training, this pretty much leaves an 8-week block before the 3-4 week taper period to get all the Ironman-distance (read: really long) workouts in and taken care of.

which is what i'm in now.

going on the 3-week cycle this training iteration, i'm going on 2 weeks of build (heavier workloads in terms of volume or intensity) and 1 week of recovery (lighter workloads). the 1st week of this month was recovery. i just did the 1st week of build, and have another before a recovery week of Christmas break.

it's been brutal.

you can see what i've been doing on my Google Training calendar:

i started the build cycle with a 2:45 run covering 16 miles. tired of the monotony of running alone, i used the Rose Bowl Half Marathon to get some company--besides, it was using a good portion of the trail i use, so i figured i might as well have some company (and aid stations). i ran 3 miles before the race, then ran the race itself. i would have run faster, but my legs were still sore from a lower body weight-training session 2 days before (i know, pretty stupid, but i figured that's pretty much how your legs are going to feel on race day, so you might as well get used to it).

i followed that up with a 4200 yds. swim (hey, i prefer metric too, but the freakin' pool at school is only measured in yards...boooooooooo!!!) that went surprisingly well, considering i was still beat from the run. the day after that i went ahead and had a stationary bike session with another round of lower body weight-training.

i've been told it usually takes about a week to recovery from a 3-hour run. i can believe it. i'm still pretty beat up even now, and it's just getting to the end of the week after the race.

a coach told me that by this point of the training schedule you pretty much expect to be sore all the time. at times it's bad enough that all you want to do is whimper. at times that's all you can do.

that's Ironman. it's just pretty much the way things are. all you can do is suck it up and go on.

what's funny is that i still have another build week to go (at least until January, when things get even harder). oh joy. i've got a long swim (the full 2.4 miles, or 4400 yds.), a solid simulated 90-minute hill session on the stationary bike with immediately following lower-body weight training, and then an 8-10 mile run. i expect to be good and tired by the time the next recovery week comes.

of course, it'll be Christmas by that time. which is good...even though i'll be alone.

but that's a story for another time.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Falling in Love Again (Marlene Dietrich Was Right)

Note: This was a song made famous by Marlene Dietrich, and originally featured during her performance in the movie Der Blaue Engel (English translation: The Blue Angel). It's pretty much the theme here.

If the video doesn't work, you can check out the Youtube link:

Marlene Dietrich was right.

It happens all the time. Near the end of every season. Past the big race of the year. After all the training.

You'll feel it, in the middle of a workout, when you're slogging through the miles in mind-numbing monotony, in the drudgery of yet another set of hours in sweat and pain. You'll feel it, chewing emptily over a plate of food, contemplating the prospect of the training schedule and roster of races. You'll feel it, crawling wearily into evening bed, dreading the thought of being woken up by the crack of the alarm in the darkness of a cold autumn morning with nothing more the promise of another slate of workouts repeating your daily cycle yet again, when all you really want to do is to stay warm and snuggled under the sheets in your bed.

You'll feel it. The dejection. The jadedness. The burnout.

You'll try to push it off. You'll mix things up, adjust the workouts and the races, and try and break out of the cycle.

But for some reason, it won't make any difference. It will all just remain the same...Stale. Hollow. Empty.

And you'll start to question yourself. And wonder about everything you're doing. And sometimes, when things start to get really bad, you'll think to yourself: You used to love this sport. But now? Maybe not so much any more.

In desperation, you'll sign up for a race you hadn't planned on, with no training you've really organized. Just a random race, to get out of the house--really to get out of your mind. As in to just get out. No reason, no purpose, no goal. Not even anything really that important. Just a handful of time out in the air and the light and somewhere anywhere anyhow away from what were doing before.

And that's when something special happens.

You'll be in the middle of a crowd, running along the race course, surrounded by people in all manner of accoutrements and attire in all shapes and sizes in all states of physical exertion. There'll be people with baby strollers. People in Santa costumes. Families huddling in groups. Couples holding hands. Kids barely old enough to walk. Adults struggling to get under 300 pounds. Some struggling between a run and a walk. Some gasping as if they were taking their last breaths of air. Many looking nothing at all like seasoned athletes, nor even anything close to the pros up ahead already crossing the finish line.

Somewhere in the midst of this bizarre carnival, you'll suddenly look around, check each person out, maybe even talk to a few. You'll listen to their stories, hear what they have to say, share a few words of your own together.

And you'll find there are people here who have never done anything like this before. People just starting. People just figuring things out. People who just began on the path that you all are on now. People feeling fear and uncertainty and trepidation, but full of curiosity and courage and thrill and excitement and a desire to see what is around the corner up ahead...and they're happy.

And you'll learn that for them this race, and everything associated with it, is a new adventure of mystery and wonder and discovery. It's an exploration into strange unknowns both mystical and magical. It's about a journey through places not traveled before--in the self, in others, in the world.

And you'll realize that what is really happening is something that has happened before to everyone who has ever entered this sport, and is about something ultimately much deeper.

It's not about training. It's not about racing. It's not about personal bests, qualifying slots, or podium places. It's not even about competition or athletics at all.

In truth, it's about people coming to revelations about themselves and what they can do, and in so doing coming to an understanding of their place in the universe, the ways we can go about living, and what it means for all of us--each of us--to be alive.

It's about becoming a better person.

It's about enlightenment.

And that's when you'll remember this was what pulled you into the sport. This was what made it so special.

And that's when you'll know it still is.

And that's when you'll think to yourself: You. Love. This. Sport.

Falling in love again,
Never wanted to. What am I to do?
Can't help it.
Love's always been my game.
Play it how I may, I was made that way.
Can't help it.
--Falling In Love Again (performed by Marlene Dietrich), Fredrick Hollander & Sammy Lerner

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

olympics in china (sportsmanship, in a centralized party politic kind of way)

ok, now i'm really curious.

ESPN posted a recent article from the AP about the ongoing preparations in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. the link is here, but if it doesn't work i'm including the full text at the end of this post:

the article is a mix of serious and light-hearted, pointing out some of the amusing oddball activities to ready the city to host the Olympics while still providing some provocative notes. in a way, a lot of the observations in the article to me are just the kinds of things any country would be expected to do in getting ready to run a multi-cultural, multi-national event--such as teaching citizens how to cheer in different languages, educating them on social mores, and stressing the need to be hospitable for the sake of good sportsmanship.

however, some of the stuff is a little...disturbing. particularly in a centralized party politic authoritarian state kind of way. it's not the preparations for the Olympics that are the issue, it's the way the PRC (as in China, People's Republic of) government is going about doing it, and the philosophies they're exercising in doing so.

it's kind of eye-opening. i mean, "approved" cheers? referencing the 1984 Olympics as "the year the humiliation ended"? a mandatory "queueing day"? hmmmmm...just a tad bit on the insecure-defensive-historical complex-racial identity-nationalist-big brother-ish side, don't you think?

my favorite line from this article: "Civilization equals order...We need to express the same slogans, think the same and behave the same way. That's how we become civilized.

uh, yeah, uh-huh. hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...

i've discussed this with other academics (grad students and professors alike), but i'll say it here: a sociologist or psychologist would have a field day investigating the national identity of the PRC. seriously, you could devote an entire dissertation to the causes of current PRC national personality alone.

like i said, some of this is just a little disturbing.

it's giving me some really mixed feelings about having the Olympics in China. something about allowing an international sporting event espousing human ideals of freedom and growth to be hosted by an authoritarian state with a dodgy human rights record, questionable rule of law, and persistent (some say growing) issues with corruption. it just doesn't really jibe. i'll try to write a post on this soon.

but in the meantime, i'll let you make your own observations from this story. Olympics Olympic cheering program hopes to stamp out bad sportsmanship
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Associated Press

BEIJING -- The drills are about to begin. With his right hand, Zhang Ran hoists a yellow flag above his head, much like a sailor directing traffic on an aircraft carrier.

He's facing 150 sales clerks sitting in tidy rows, hand-picked by their labor union to learn the approved cheers and chants for next year's Beijing Olympics. It's all good-humored without the slightest whiff of swearing or boorish behavior.

Nobody doubts that TV-friendly venues will glitter when the Olympics open in eight months. It's other matters that cause worry -- people's manners, their knowledge of many unfamiliar sports and the government's promise to allow more than 20,000 reporters unfettered access.

Zhao Xi, a 24-year-old Communist Youth League member, works in a nearby shopping mall, a five-minute drive from Tiananmen Square. Zhao is using an off day to work on the cheers.

"We want to do this because we are making contributions to the Olympics," Zhao said. "It's an honor."

Zhang's left hand snaps another flag and cheers erupt with military precision.

"Zhongguo, Zhongguo -- ha, ha, ha. Zhongguo, Zhongguo bi sheng," the crowd shouts, simultaneously beating yellow, stick-shaped batons to the rhythm. "Jia you, jia you." Rough translation: "China, China -- ha, ha, ha. China, China must win. Let's go, let's go."

One of about 20 cheers approved by authorities, it's drilled a half-dozen times, orderly repetitions practiced in a meeting hall darkened by stained gray carpet squares and wood paneling. Thirty red and yellow paper lanterns dangle overhead, casting faint light on government slogans papering the walls.

Welcome to the "Beijing Civilized Workers Cheering Squad," a public-education program to teach sportsmanship, all part of a larger Olympic etiquette campaign to show off a polite, prosperous and powerful China.

"Civilization equals order," Zhang said. "We need to express the same slogans, think the same and behave the same way. That's how we become civilized."

Chinese are ecstatic about the Olympics. And though the cheering lessons are highly programed, 48-year-old Liu Aimin -- balding and a generation older than almost everyone else -- springs with gusto from his chair to practice the wave.

"The younger people make me feel so much younger," said Liu who, like most attending, has no guarantee of getting any of the 7 million tickets available for Olympic events.

In a 2 1/2-hour session, Zhang also leads a cheer in basic English: "Come on, come on -- go, go." His pupils wave yellow scarves this time, and everybody wears multicolored vests carrying this slogan in Chinese on the back: "I participate, I'm healthy, I'm happy."

"There will be foreigners attending, so we have to take this into account," says Zhang, who shared the teaching duties with Zhai Yue, deputy editor of Sports Vision, a magazine published by the Beijing Sports Bureau, the government's top sports body in the capital.

Hunched behind an office desk draped with a white sheet, Zhai lectured on China's Olympic history, which dates from 1894 when founder Pierre de Coubertin sent an invitation to the Qing Dynasty to compete. Unfamiliar with the sports, the government reportedly didn't reply.

He asks simple questions, rewarding correct answers with a thick handbook of Olympic sports and etiquette. For laughs, he shows a video in which a zealous cartoon character roams a stadium and berates fans for smoking, littering and swearing. And he repeats four major points: don't insult former wartime enemy Japan; don't swear; respect the referee; and don't snap indiscriminate photos.

Specks of nationalism also creep in, calling 1984 "the year the humiliation ended" and China won its first Olympic gold medal. This time, China is expected to challenge the United States for the most gold medals.

"Many Chinese don't understand why they can't take photos when athletes are about to serve or hit the ball; they think it's the best moment to take the shot," Zhai said. "The most basic and most important thing we teach the fans is about when to cheer, when to snap photos and when to clap."

China has a tradition of hospitality, but some manners can seem rough by foreign standards. Historians say that's partly a fallout from the Cultural Revolution, when old-line values were discouraged.

Broad-reaching campaigns are under way to remedy littering, swearing, spitting and dirty taxis. Everyone is being encouraged to speak some English. The 11th of each month is "queuing day" when residents are forced to stand in line to catch public transportation.

"When Chinese invite you to the house, they'll clean the house first," said Dr. Luo Qing, who researches China's national image at Communication University of China in Beijing. "No matter how poor, guests will be treated with all the best stuff. We're definitely sweeping the house before the Olympics."

"We care very much about how foreigners think about this nation," she added. "We feel we have a responsibility to show this nation is rising again."

The state-run China Daily newspaper regularly rails against careless driving, and harps about English misspellings like this on a restaurant menu: "Hot Crap," instead of "Hot Carp."

"After the 2008 Olympics, will there be fewer people spitting or jumping ahead in line?" Zhai asks rhetorically. "Will more people respect women and children? I don't know."

China's authoritarian government fears any glitches, which could happen with fans attending unfamiliar sports like baseball, sailing or field hockey, which are as foreign in China as a bullfight in Belgium.

Cheering at the wrong moment, taking photos when they're prohibited or cell phones going off as swimmers teeter on the starting blocks are potential snags that could draw negative coverage.

At a field hockey test event this summer between Argentina and Australia, hundreds of middle-age women were bused in to add atmosphere -- the kind of instant numbers only China can muster. The women tried to imitate cheers in Spanish, but got it wrong.

"Ba mao si fen han de di le," they chanted, which in Chinese could roughly mean: "Eighty-four cents, you've offered a price too low." Nobody could figure out what this had to do with field hockey.

Golf isn't an Olympic event, but players often complain that Chinese fans breach the game's etiquette.

"The good thing is we do have a lot of fans following us," Chinese veteran golfer Zhang Lianwei said at a recent tournament. "The bad thing is they are so excited and yell at all times."

American player Boo Weekley was more blunt: "They don't quite understand the game, I don't think."

Chen Xiaohai, a 25-year-old accountant, acknowledged she wasn't familiar with all Olympic sports. She thought snooker was in the Olympics and confessed to being stumped about the equestrian events.

If there's trouble, it could come in soccer -- or any team event in which Japan participates. Scuffles with police and general chaos erupted in Beijing in 2004 after Japan defeated China to win Asia's national soccer title. Japan's women's soccer team was peppered with insults three months ago at the women's World Cup in China, and fans jeered Japan's national anthem.

Shouting obscenities at opposing players is common in Chinese soccer, which has been plagued with match-fixing scandals and on-field fighting. Beijing's top club team, Guo'an, plays at the Feng Tai stadium, which is draped with huge signs urging good behavior. Dozens of closed circuit cameras have been added in the last few years, and the police presence has increased several fold.

"Be civilized when you watch the match. Don't get angry about the results," one banner reads. Another banner in Chinese was recently removed. It read: "Welcome to Hell."

Dozens of closed-circuit cameras will dot each Olympic venue, many looking down on the crowd from the ceiling. Organizers say they may dress police and soldiers in volunteer uniforms to help ensure order.

"We are not going to shout profanities in front of foreigners because the Olympics is a show for foreigners," said Lui Wei, a 21-year-old spectator attending a recent Guo'an game.

"The government has told us it's not polite," Lui said. "The government wants to show a good image of the country."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Individualist Sport

There's a frequent perception that triathlon is an individualist sport.

People point to the sport's primacy on personal achievement, with rankings and times and accolades going to the single athlete. They also point to its fundamental rules, which outside of ITU events requires solo time trials on the bike with no drafting. Often, especially when discussing Ironman, they turn to the sport's origins on the sun-baked wind-blasted humidity-laden fields of Hawaii, where the theme has always been one of the lone athlete taking on the elements. Sometimes, people will talk about how the sport is less about competition against others and more about a deeply reflective, intensely personal, strangely profound journey into the self and one's own humanity.

In many ways, this perception is a misnomer.

Increasingly, we see organized teams on race courses, branded by sponsor logos and adorned with identical uniforms and equipment. There are clubs, associations, organizations with fixed dues, regimented training, and identified rosters. Colleges routinely field teams in intercollegiate competition and mark scores by collective point tallies. Even professionals now identify themselves by team names.

This extends to recreational participation. We seek the comfort of fellow athletes, and attendant camaraderie of shared experiences, understanding of common wisdom, support of training companionship, connection of mutual emotions. We have our network of family and friends, and their words of encouragement, acts of warmth, comfort of kindness, tenderness of compassion, and promise that no matter what happens, they will always be there.

All this, summing to the fact that we are not ever truly alone. Even though we sometimes see ourselves to be.

There are, however, aspects that still make this sport truly, ultimately, undeniably about the individual.

Like the sound of the alarm in the early morning darkness, and the only thing getting you out of bed and the dreamy solace of soft sheets is you. Like the thought of a swim in the midst of pouring rain when everyone else is home, and the only thought getting you into icy waters is you. Like the prospect of a long bike ride when everyone else is taking rest, and the only body pulling you into the pedals is you. Like the step out for a run on a freezing winter's day when everyone else has called it a season, and the only soul out upon the earth is you. Like the constant, never-ending temptation to stop, and call it an end for the night, and the only thing carrying you forward is you.

You. With your ambitions and aspirations, desires and dreams, inspirations and hopes. With your demons and ghosts, angels and spirits, imagined and real. With your varying by parts strong and weak, courageous and afraid, faithful and agnostic, committed and dispossessed, pious and profane.

You. Body and mind, flesh and soul.


And that's what still makes this an individualist sport.

Because no one else can drive you, no one else can push you, no one else can pull you, no one else can lead you. Not in the morning darkness nor the longest stretch of day nor the waning dim of twilight. Not through seasons rolling endlessly by marking your time within this world. Not through water, not upon earth, not beneath the sun and stars and heavens and skies and the silent witness of all creation.

When there's no one else to watch you. When there's no one else to goad you. When there's no one else to carry you. When there's no one else at all.

Only you can imagine for yourself what you want to do.

Only you can decide for yourself what you are going to do.

Only you can go and do it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

training principles (training notes 11/25/07)

started up the build cycle again this week.

hit some positives, with the biggie being a solid long bike (290 minutes). i was kind of surprised by this ride. i was worried i was going to be suffering, with the headwinds being 10-15 mph during a 30 mile stretch, but i managed to hold things together. i was also worried about soreness (for the last 2 years, i've gotten soreness off bike rides that took weeks to get away), but i'm feeling fine 2 days after (well...fine as in no soreness, although i can tell there's no way i'd go out and do the same ride again right now). both are big positives compared to the training cycles from previous seasons.

i don't know why things are better this season. it could be my body is starting to adjust to Ironman training distances (i was told you need 3-4 iterations of the Ironman cycle before your body starts to adjust; this is my 3rd iteration). it could be i'm spending more time in recovery and less time in workouts (although, whether this is smart remains to be seen on race day). it could very well also be i'm not going as hard as i think i am (or should be going), and am under a delusion of adequate training that is actually deficient (i don't even want to think about that).

i have to say that i'm taking a number of different approaches this year:
  • for the past 5 years that i've been in triathlon, i operated under the principle of "pushing." by that, i mean that i pushed hard in workouts (effort level) and pushed hard to get workouts (volume per workout and quantity of total workouts). this year, i'm operating under the principle of "holding back," meaning that i'm controlling effort level in workouts (sticking to the workout goal: aerobic conditioning means aerobic zone heart rate, anaerobic conditioning means anaerobic zone heart rate...and never confuse the 2--see below), and spacing out workouts (set the volume and quantity of workouts to allow more recovery--see below). this change in principle came after some discussion with coaches, who told me that in Ironman, you have to know--and more importantly, balance--2 opposing dualities: the art of knowing when and how to push, and the art of knowing when and how to hold back. it's tricky, which is why it takes some iterations of the Ironman cycle to get a feel for it.
  • keep the easy workouts easy, and the hard workouts hard. NEVER confuse the 2, otherwise your workouts just become a muddle...and race day reflects your training: if you train in a muddle, you race in a muddle. the reason to keep "easy" and "hard" workouts separate is that training is about developing specific aspects of your fitness, which involves targeting specific systems in your body in specific patterns that allow recovery time to adjust to greater performance demands while still allowing simultaneous training of other systems (e.g., you do an aerobic swim workout, stressing the muscles in your upper body, then later do an aerobic run workout which allows your upper body to recover but still develops your lower body muscles). muddling means you keep stressing the same system over and over, denying recovery time to build fitness; keeping workouts divided allows recovery for individual systems while maintaining overall progression in fitness. this means that in a given week, you target maybe 1, 2, or at the most 3 workout as the "hard" workouts ("hard" as in high volume, or high intensity) to incite adaptive change in the body, but then keep the others very "easy" ("easy" as in lower volume or lower intensity, or even both) to allow recovery while maintaining conditioning and technique. this year, if a workout is meant to be aerobic, zone 3, i try to keep it aerobic zone 3 (even if i feel the temptation to open up the throttle, i ignore it), and if a workout is meant to be anaerobic, zone 5, i try to go anaerobic, zone 5 (or i just don't do it at all).
  • space the workouts to allow more recovery time. i used to think that packing more training in less time meant better training (as in better performance gains). not so much anymore. after talking things over with some coaches, i started becoming much more spare with how many "hard" workouts i cram into any given week or build cycle. this past 5-hour bike ride, for example, i did with the knowledge that it would take me about a week for my body to really recover, and that any workouts i did during this time would have to be aimed more for maintenance of fitness, or otherwise i risked just simply overtraining and prevention of recovery that would deny any fitness gains from the ride. at this point, i'm holding to no more than 2 hard workouts in any given week.
  • training is about 3 things: workouts, nutrition, recovery. i used to obsess about the workouts, focusing on numbers (heart rate, distance, time) and feeling (amount of fatigue, amount of sweat). but now i'm spending a lot more time thinking about food (particularly in terms of nutrients like protein, complex carbohydrates, fats) and recovery (especially with respect to how i feel: stronger, vibrant, restless, or fatigued, listless, sluggish).
  • in "feel the Force." this is where you get into the Zen. i'm dedicating a lot more care into sensing my body and my emotions--i know this is crossing over into "touchy-feely" territory, but i'm figuring that my body and my mind are giving me signals as to training, and i need to monitor them if i want to make sure the training results in fitness gains (as opposed to fitness losses). i'm starting to realize that if you have a 3-hour run scheduled and you wake up that morning 2 hours late and struggling just to get out of bed, any attempt you make to train is going to be weak, likely to fall short of whatever training goals the workout was meant to have, and thereby just a waste of time, since it risks expenditure of energy with no fitness gain. if anything, it's likely to push you into an overtraining mode, meaning you actually lose fitness. these kinds of feeling are your body telling your mind that it needs more time to recover. in which case, the smart thing to do is to understand the signals and hold don't push the Force, you follow the Force; if you push the Force you only hurt yourself. you have to allow the Force to flow through you.
i should note that last piece is suspiciously like Taoism (not that i'm Taoist...i'm not, but it's interesting to see how George Lucas borrowed from Taoist and Zen philosophies). in Taoist terms: you cannot push the Tao (i.e., the Way), or the Tao will only allow you to hurt yourself; to use the Tao, you must follow the Tao, flow with the Tao, so that the Tao helps you.

so far, all this has helped me with my training, in the sense that i'm able to get through the hard workouts without suffering so much. and i'm feeling a lot fresher in my daily life. meaning that i'm easier for other people to be around, and more enthusiastic about training.

of course, the real question is what this means for race day...and for that i have no idea. and i don't think anyone ever really knows, given all the random unforeseen chaos that occurs on race day. all i can do is hope that i'm coming in maximally prepared and at my peak. we'll see.

Monday, November 19, 2007

the incongruities of life

there was a personal, somewhat random piece in the LA Times today that i found particularly interesting, and thought i'd share. the link to it is:
if the link doesn't work, i've included the text at the bottom of this post.

i found this piece compelling. not just because of the pick-up line (speaking of which: 2 words --"hola guapa" or "hello beautiful"--got this man a wife 17 years younger than him? what kind of mojo is that? can i get some?), but more so because about what it says about making your way through a world just a little less than sacred.

the op-ed piece is more a funeral eulogy, with the writer (Gregory Rodriguez) honoring his uncle by presenting the theme of the man's life as one of somehow finding joy despite so much suffering. in doing so, he points out the strange, but often necessary, human ability to live with contradictions in ways absurd but also profound.

i wanted to present this, because i think it shows some truths that carry over to so many other facets of our world. even something ultimately banal as athletics. and especially something so sublime as life.

most everything (if not every everything) we deal with in our existence is filled with incongruities. things that just don't make sense, situations and conditions that do not operate with any rational logic: tears that come with joy, fascination that comes with pain, distaste for things beneficial, allure for things forbidden, attractions to self-destructive tendencies, addictions to repeat the same mistakes.

between life and sport, there's not much difference. we see it all the time. things are hard (you have to pedal up this hill?!?!) but also easy (all you have to do is pedal to get up this hill). things are long (there are sooooooo many miles to go) but also short (there are only so many miles left to go). things are absurd (you're thinking about something like that right now?) but also profound (you're thinking about something like that right now, and it is making all the difference...).

thing is, if we think about these incongruities, if we try to make some sense of them, if we look to resolve the extremes, we're likely to only drive ourselves mad.

because sometimes things are meant to be different. sometimes they don't make sense. sometimes they are just simply polar opposites...and they won't change no matter what or how much we think. to try and rationalize them in our minds only means our psyches are doing nothing more than throwing themselves onto the unyielding harshness of reality, to shatter our sanity on the stony face of a universe gone utterly insane.

on a race course or on a training trail, the reality stays the same. the only difference is what goes on in our minds. and if our minds our lost, we will never go anywhere in the race, much less even find the finish.

for all the progress in human understanding of the world, for all the advancements in our knowledge of nature, there are sometimes things that are better left to just simply be as they are; to live with dichotomy of things so different but yet together.

the world takes all kinds. it is all kinds. even opposites, fused together to make the full range of our experiences in this creation. black and white. hot and cold. yin and yang. good and evil. heaven and hell. all different. all together. all chaos. in the universe we have been given to be our home.

which is why navigating from any point to another requires accepting the world for what it is, and thereby avoid the insanity--the trap--of incongruities. because otherwise our minds will never be explore the many sides to this existence, to experience the richness that can only come from the spectrum of extremes, to discover the full expanse of life that reaches so far as to bridge all differences.

this is the only way we'll ever find and see and realize and comprehend and grasp and share and give and then finally, ultimately, profoundly, create so that others may find again and continue on the cycle of joy out of all the suffering, the beauty from all the horror, and the peace in the midst of all the chaos.

only then do we find resolution. only then is there congruity. in our lives, in this world, in all creation.

My tio's secret of life
Surviving the Spanish Civil War made my uncle a pessimist, but that didn't hold him back from enjoying life.
Gregory Rodriguez
November 19, 2007

Imagine this: I was 14 , seated at the dining room table with my Uncle Francisco in the Madrid apartment he shared with my Aunt Marie. A refugee from a miserable suburban adolescence, I had persuaded my parents to send me to Europe for a year to live with these relatives I barely knew.

The three of us had just finished a leisurely Sunday meal -- most likely a poor man's paella, i.e, a whole lot more chicken than shellfish. My aunt was collecting and cleaning the dishes and shuffling back and forth down the long corridor that connected the dining room to her tiny, tile-lined kitchen. I just sat there watching my uncle in his post-meal glow -- picking his teeth with a toothpick and pontificating. He began to sigh, leaning back in his chair.

"Bueno, bueno," he said. As contented at that moment as any man could be, he was nonetheless in the process of formulating words that he thought would help me survive the pitfalls and tragedies of life. And then they came.

"Gregorio," he said, pausing to think. "Gregorio," and then he picked his teeth a little more. "La vida," he declared, "la vida es una mierda."

Life is misery (more or less).

You might think that that was a horrible thing to say to a teenager. But I already had an inkling of what he meant. And he imparted this unhappy counsel with pleasure and with love.

I've been telling this story to friends for years now -- how many adults share that particular secret of life with 14-year-olds? -- but it wasn't until my tio Francisco passed away at the age of 80 on Wednesday morning at a hospital in the San Gabriel Valley that I considered all that it meant.

My tio knew from pain. When he was 9 years old, during the Spanish Civil War, his father, who was a noncombatant, was shot and beheaded by a cadre of village communists for the mere fact that he had money. Three years later, after the war had ended, he accompanied his mother to identify his father's decomposed body.

I don't presume to understand what made my uncle tick, but I believe that experience gave him a tragic view of life. But it didn't make him a dour or sullen figure. He was hardheaded; he complained a lot about the state of the world. But for all his pessimism, he found pleasure and consolation in people and things. He embodied that most critical of survival techniques, the ability to harbor contradictory ideas.

My uncle wasn't easy. He liked things the way he liked them. Finicky to a fault, sometimes he made his disappointment palpable, whether it was with people, restaurants or America. But at the same time, his contentment was born of many things. For one, he loved good food. At breakfast, he'd routinely ask my aunt what they'd eat for lunch. At lunch, he'd ask what she wanted for dinner. And particularly in his later years, after he and my aunt came to Southern California, he developed a love for gardening and cars.

At only 5 feet 6 inches tall, he was a slight man, but he carried himself imperiously. He was a strident political conservative who never lost his hatred for communists, rojos. Talk of politics could make his blood boil, and it wasn't wise to engage him in political debate.

Still, he was in no way a conventional man. A confirmed bachelor until he was 47, he finally married my father's sister, a left-wing child of the 1960s and the Chicano movement; she was 17 years his junior.

He loved to talk to strangers, particularly good-looking women, and even after he moved to the States, he didn't allow his nonexistent English skills to keep him down. He'd employed the same opening line he used on my aunt in 1973, "Hola, guapa." "Hello, beautiful." And if I happened to be standing next to him at the time, he'd expect me to translate for him word for word.

It's not surprising he used the line again and again because it was a spectacular success with my aunt. She met him in the elevator of a Madrid hotel on her first full day of vacation in Spain from L.A., and then stayed for 18 years.

In fact, he had a lot of repeated one-liners. "Gregorio," he liked to say, "vives como principe." "You live like a prince." And whenever I called after a long interval, he'd invariably ask if I had been "in [the city of] Leon," a phrase of his, suggesting that I had been hiding out, that I had disappeared.

This week, it was my tio who went to Leon. It happened relatively quickly. It was not exactly conventional. It was as unhappy as death can be.

On Aug. 21, he was at a Home Depot in Alhambra, and a man in the line behind him got impatient, and then angry. He knocked Francisco to the ground and ran. My tio's hip broke, and that was the beginning of the end.

As sad as all this is, "la vida es una mierda" isn't what I'd put on my tio's gravestone. I'd choose: Francisco Martino viviste como principe.

build and rest (training notes 11/17/07)

okay, so this is a little late.

but i have an dissertation defense is coming up this coming Wednesday, and the past few weeks have been just a little busy finishing my manuscript in time and getting myself prepped. as a result, this entry is going to cover 2 weeks (as opposed to the usual 1), and is going to be somewhat curt.

the week ending 11/11/2007 was good. excellent build week. i finished with a solid long bike ride (66 miles in 4:09), and also got in a good long runs of 10-11 miles and a long swim of 3400 yards over the 2 weeks prior. obviously, these aren't going to be the longest long workouts i have planned--or need--but they're good steps up in the training workload.

this past week was a recovery week. i had much lighter volume, and even though tempted to keep pushing the training, made it a concerted effort to hold myself back and allow my body to rest up. i'm really trying to be religious this year about the training cycle, which is for 2-3 weeks build and 1 week rest.

i'm operating under the theory that you have to let your body adapt to specific workload to enable it to take on additional workload, and if you don't give it time to recover then it will never adapt, and hence never grow to accommodate higher volumes.

the build phase of the cycle begins again this week, and the distances are going to get longer than before. strangely enough, i'm actually kind of looking forward to it.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!

On August 5, 1864, during the American Civil War, a U.S. naval force of 18 ships under the command of Admiral David Farragut was ordered to enter Mobile Bay, Alabama, and engage and destroy the Confederate flotilla based there. Mobile Bay was one of the Confederacy's largest ports, and a major port of entry for blockade runners supplying the South.

Upon entering the bay, the U.S. ships encountered a field of mines, which at that time were commonly known as "torpedoes." Within a few minutes, one such torpedo exploded and sank the U.S.S. Tecumseh. The other U.S. ships, alarmed by the loss of the Tecumseh, and under heavy fire from Confederate naval and coastal fire, began retreating.

According to legend, Admiral Farragut, upon seeing the carnage and fear in his fleet, defiantly issued what has become one of the most famous (and perhaps distorted) lines in naval lore: "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" Emboldened by his order, the U.S. flotilla re-engaged the enemy and subsequently won the battle, successfully shutting down a major supply line for the Confederacy and hastening the end of the Civil War.

While in some ways apocryphal, historical accounts tend to agree on the major points of the story. Useful references can be found at the following websites:
So often in our sport, we visualize for ourselves scenarios of desired perfection. Partly for self-motivation, partly to assuage our fears, partly to give ourselves hope, we visualize the perfect training day, the perfect race day, where everything is the perfect breakfast, the perfect check-in, the perfect set-up, the perfect transition, the perfect swim, the perfect bike, the perfect run, the perfect finish, complete with the perfect (read: victorious) journey home.

We cling hard to these habits, telling ourselves that if we believe in something hard enough, long enough, often enough that they might, just might, become something more than grandiose aspirations of imagination but instead become manifest as our own self-made reality.

And we do this to the point that it starts to spread beyond our sport and into our lives, until it becomes an endless search for perfection...our lives, our jobs, our homes, and soon our friends, then our family, and eventually our world.

But that's not the way life works.


As in the thing--the one thing of all things--you cannot control.

Things happen. Things go wrong. Things break down. Accidents happen. People make mistakes. There are differences of opinion. The world behaves in bizarre, insane, crazy ways. Chaos rules the universe.

Including you.

Just like rogue waves, missing buoys, and floating driftwood in the water. Just like flat tires, broken rims, slick pavement, and drunken drivers on the bike. Just like open blisters, raw skin, strained arches, torn achilles, and shattered ligaments on the run. Just like wet weather and hot days and lost equipment and bad nutrition. Just like one of those days--all of those days--when nothing, absolutely nothing, goes right for you at all.

And that's when you have to decide for yourself what you are going to do. That's when you have to decide for yourself if you turn around, retreat, and go back home.

Or if you settle down, grit your teeth, lower your head, and go. full. speed. ahead.

Not to impose your expectations upon the world, or the people and creatures in it. Not to find your vision of perfection. Not to chase some fantastic delusion of your own grandeur.

But to just move forward.

Or die trying.

Because while you are not the master of the universe, and as much as the universe may not care, you can still be a lord of chaos, and you can still make an impact on life.


The one thing--of so many things--you cannot control.

But you can still make a difference.

For the better.

Monday, November 05, 2007

build build build (training notes 11/03/07)

aha! so it was a build week! you can see my schedule this week at:

the air cleaned up pretty well, and i managed to get some solid training in this week. i shuffled the schedule to put the long run on Wednesday, just to get some extra space for the smoke to clear. the catch is that Wednesday became a 2-workout day (3, if you include the weight training), with a solo long trail run in the morning and a solid swim workout with USC Triathlon in the evening.

no biggie. sort of. my long run accidentally turned into a 115 minute run, when it was supposed to have been 90 minutes--i misjudged the distance on the trail and didn't realize the mistake until i checked Google satellite maps later (geez, what did we ever do before Google Maps and Google Earth? dark ages!). this kind of made the weight training session and evening swim go from an easy weights and easy 2400 yards to a survival stretch.

but i figure no worries. i'm increasingly of the suspicion that training for endurance event is really about training the heart and lungs, and not just the muscles, to sustain greater workloads for longer periods of time. meaning that a principle should be to see a progression in the total amount of time your heart and lungs are working during the course of a day--with the training time not necessarily having to be a single long workout in a single discipline (e.g., 3-hour runs), but just as readily multiple workouts in multiple disciplines (e.g., 60 minutes of swimming, later followed by 2 hours of running, etc.). of course, the long single-discipline workouts are valuable, but probably more so for training sessions focused on muscle conditioning...for hearts & lungs, you can think more about cumulative time for a given heart rate and elevated breathing.

the Friday long swim was painful. excruciating. i thought i was swimming backwards. but that was probably because i was still recovering from Wednesday. but i managed to recover fine over the weekend.

the workouts are only to get longer and harder from here, so i'm just seeing things as milestones on a journey to IMNZ.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

salvaged smithereens (training notes 10/26/07)

training this week was almost shot to smithereens. and that may be putting it kindly.

it wasn't laziness.

as the previous posts this week indicate, the wildfires pretty knocked all the build workouts i had planned this week. not because i'm living in a fire area--South Pasadena and Los Angeles are not the same places as Malibu, Lake Arrowhead, Orange County, San Diego, etc. but more because the smoke and ash produced from the wildfires made the almost unbreathable.

and if it wasn't unbreathable, it was still dangerous. using the U.S. government air quality website for L.A. (reference: Los Angeles Metro & Inland Orange County) the air quality forecast most of this week has been rated "unhealthy."

i did manage to get in a long swim Monday morning (before the fires erupted). and i got so frustrated Friday that i went ahead and put in a 140 minute ride on a stationary bike in the school gym. probably not a good idea, since the air didn't feel any better inside than it did outside. but at least i assuaged my paranoia...hopefully not at the expense of too much danger to my health.

you can see my workouts this week on my Google calendar (click on the "Google Training" button to the right, or reference:

the bigger concern is the coming weeks. the news says the smoke and ash is so fine that it is likely to linger for weeks. rains may help to filter it down, and there was a little rain this morning, but it's going to take some time. which means that this puts my build workouts for the foreseeable future into jeopardy...serious jeopardy.

we'll see. i'm going to cross my fingers and keep an eye on the air quality forecast. and hope.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

california wildfires - (still) poisonous air

so things are supposedly least, the fires are better up in the mountains. but the smoke is sort of worse down in the Los Angeles basin.

if you look at the real-time Google map of the burn areas on my previous post (reference: wildfire california - (more) poisonous air), you'll see that many of the wildfires are under control.

thing is, i woke up this morning, and found i couldn't breath. i was wheezing just to get from the bed to the bathroom. my nose has been bleeding constantly. i've still got a headache, and i've been feeling lightheaded to boot. and all this was before i even got out of my apartment to go to class.

the air smells of ash. it's that distinct pungent odor of soot mixed with burned-out dirt and dead wood. and it's everywhere.

it's also thick: normally you can see all the way to the mountains from campus, which is about 12-15 miles, but today you couldn't even see the skyline, which is only 1 mile away.

i don't even want to know what it's doing to my lungs. i decided to go to the gym and get some training in, figuring a workout indoors would be safe...wrong. the tightness in my chest stayed with me through the entire workout, and i noticed that my breath had the distinct smell of smoker's mouth (you know, cigarettes)--and i don't smoke.

a friend of mine decided to do the big F-U to the fires, and went out for bike ride yesterday afternoon. he had to stop 12 miles in because of chest pains. by evening he was coughing up black stuff. today, he's still hacking and suffering just to make it through class. just peachy.

i was going to stay on campus and try to do some work, but i figured enough was enough and decided to go home. not that it's an improvement, but at least i can get more comfortable.

and at least i've got a place to stay. i pity all the people who don't even have that.

not that it helps, but here's a series of satellite images over the past few days.

this is today:compare it to yesterday:and then check out the day before, yeah. things are improving. maybe? somewhere? somehow?

well, somebody tell when they do. cuz right now, things are still pretty miserable.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

wildfire california - (more) poisonous air

okay, this is to follow up my post from yesterday (reference: poisonous air).

it's amazing how fast things can change...for the worse.

so this was the satellite image of the fires yesterday:compare this to the satellite image today:ummmmmmmm...yeah. fires seem a little worse, yeah? smoke and ash ditto, yeah? and they're saying that it actually could have been worse, since they were originally expecting winds as strong as those from the past 2 days (as much as 75-100 mph) but instead got winds of only 15-30 mph.

as a matter of timeliness, i'll embed a live Google map of the fires created by the LA Times:

View Larger Map

and the stuff i wrote yesterday about the health dangers from the smoke and ash is now confirmed by news reports. CNN posted an article about the dangers of inhalation from wildfires, even for people in areas not immediately affected by them. the link to the article is: but i'll excerpt the relevant part here:
...the real concerns are the particles and gases in the smoke. When a fire burns it generates carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and other chemicals.

And the wind can carry those particles to areas far from the fires. See the NASA photograph of smoke from the fires

When you breathe the smoke, the tiny particles burrow deep into the lungs, causing serious irritation, mucous build-up and breathing problems.

Most masks don't really help, because the particles are so tiny they pass through the filters, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC said that people with heart and lung disease, children and older adults are most vulnerable, but even healthy adults can suffer symptoms when smoke levels are high enough.

It said smoke can cause:

• Coughing
• A scratchy throat
• Irritated sinuses
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain
• Headaches
• Stinging eyes
• A runny nose
• Asthma exacerbations

The government's Air Quality Index shows "unhealthy" pollution levels in much of Southern California. That means that people may experience these symptoms.

CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said those problems can last for weeks after the fire.

He said the best thing to do if you smell smoke is to stay inside.
yeah, i live in South Pasadena and my school is USC (down by downtown), meaning that i'm not anywhere near the burn areas. but we are most definitely directly in the smoke plume from the fires to the north and east (depends on the direction of the winds, but we're getting it either way). and i--and all my friends--are pretty much getting all the symptoms given in the article.


that's kind of an afterthought at this stage. i can get stuff in at the gym, but beyond that there's pretty much nothing that's going to go on. not at least while things are the way they are. that, and it seems kind of ludicrous to go for a bike or run (or even swim) with all the toxic material in the air and with people streaming down to the city to get away from the fire.

if there's more to post, i'll post.

Monday, October 22, 2007

poisonous air

oh how lovely...

air quality is lovely across the nation. except the little corner in the lower left--the one marked in bright red.

the color legend marks "good quality" as being green, "moderate" as yellow, "unhealthy for sensitive people" as orange, and "unhealthy" as red. this, of course, is the current state of Southern California.

contrary to popular stereotype, the cause is not smog (even though current temps of around 90 certainly exacerbate this). rather, it's a sudden onslaught of wildfires. and i mean sudden--as in the space of a few hours.

check out the following satellite images for October 22, and note the time stamps on each:
note: no major indications of fires, apart from the areas in Malibu (the white tracers coming off the shore). incidentally, the Malibu fires came Saturday night and erupted by Sunday morning, shutting down the entire community.

note: that's right, 2:50 pm. only a little over 3 hours later. it was an eruption across major stretches of the outlying suburbs in the foothills and mountains.

this isn't the half of it. there's apparently also fires raging east of LA and south towards Orange County and San Diego. meaning there's flames all around the city. i tried to find satellite image showing these, but the fires have only occurred in the past few hours, and so i'm guessing satellite imagery hasn't quite caught up yet. the point is that--while not evident from the above photos--this entire region is now afloat in a ring of wildfires being carried towards the city regardless of which direction the wind is blowing.

you can sort of see it in this satellite image:
note: the white tracers are plumes of smoke and ash. the red dots are computer-generated indicators of fires.

it's not helpful that the city of Los Angeles and its related metropolitan communities all sit in a basin facing the ocean and surrounded by foothills and mountains. because all the fires are in the foothills and mountains, this means that the heavier particulate matter rising from the flames are being blown down into the basin, where they settle out of the higher winds and sink into the relatively still air within the local neighborhoods.

isn't that nice?

those of you familiar with this kind of thing know what i'm getting at: smoke and ash.

lots of it.

bad enough that you can feel it in your lungs. i kind of knew something was up, since my nostrils started burning around lunchtime and i've become a non-stop snot factory since then. which is odd, seeing i have no allergies during this time of year. i also now have a major headache, a sore throat, and tightness in the chest. it doesn't help that the level of pollution in the soil around here makes all the smoke and ash toxic.

i'm not the only one. everyone else i've spoken to around campus is saying the same (or similar) things, with the same (or similar) symptoms. and they all noticed around the same time i did.

as athletes, you also know the consequence of this: no training.


oh you could go out and get a workout in. but based on the particulate matter readings, you'd be inhaling enough material that you'd end up doing long-term damage to your lungs. this would effectively negate any benefits from training in terms of increased conditioning, and very likely actually incur costs from decreased conditioning. working out in these conditions--hell, just breathing in these conditions--is tantamount to sucking in poisonous air. who knows what it's doing to your insides.

i'm not particularly happy. this was supposed to be a build week. an important one. now it may not be anything.

and i feel particularly bad for all communities getting torched (literally) by this. i've got friends from communities in the affected areas, and they're freaking out. tough situation. they've got my sympathies.

i guess on a morbidly (and perhaps inappropriately poor taste) positive note, i suppose this means more time for me to work on my dissertation and hunt down a post-doc. yippee!

hey, you have to be as constructive as you can, right?

i'm really worried this may go on for awhile. Southern California is in the worst drought it's had in the past 50 years, and everybody is talking about how dry everything is--trees, shrubs, grass, weeds, dirt. dry dry dry. parched to a crispy crumbly crackly goodness. just perfect to serve as...tinder.

yeah, this is going to go on for awhile. and that's not good. not for me, and not for anybody.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

dissertation acclimation expectation paranoia (training notes 10/20/07)

one of the hardest parts about training is holding back. it sounds odd, but a driving rule in training (or so i've been told) is to stick to a plan of building up to race day, and to rein yourself in even thought the temptation is sometimes really strong to ramp up intensity and volume. i've had several coaches stress to me that training is like building a house: the higher you want the house to go (i.e., the greater the performance), the bigger the foundation that has to be laid (i.e., the more expansive the base and build periods).

for me, it's always a struggle with paranoia and expectations. paranoia that i'm not training hard enough, and expectations that i should be meeting or exceeding the physical capabilities i had before. i'm having to constantly remind myself of several things:
  • this is the beginning of the training cycle for Ironman, and that i'm building the groundwork for higher intensity and volume later. which means the workouts shouldn't be brutal. they should just be pushing the envelope a little bit to alert the body's systems that they need to adapt to a higher workload.
  • supposedly, because this stage of training is initiating the body's adaptive mechanisms, it's really an acclimation phase to let you get used to a higher stage in training.
  • acclimation, by definition, involves recovery. without recovery, there's no adaptation...there's just destruction. which is not what you want.
and i think that's what makes it so difficult. because i'm dealing with 2 conflicting things:
  • in the back of my mind i'm very much aware of the big numbers of Ironman: 2.4 + 112 + 26.2 = 140.6 freakin' miles. and i subconsciously (or consciously) compare that to what i'm doing now...which this week, was at best an 8 mile run and 2 hr. stationary bike ride and a modest 2600 yds swim. pitiful.
  • training is telling me to focus on recovery, not just the workout numbers. meaning that even as my mind is racing with anxiety to get those numbers up, the training plan is asking me to hold back and allow rest time. which means inactivity. ugh!
it doesn't help that my stress levels are somewhat elevated right now because of this freakin' doctoral dissertation. not all of you are PhD graduate students, but the way it works is that as a doctoral student you're supposed to spend a number of years creating a mammoth work of research that presumably contributes to human knowledge, and you finish by presenting the research to a committee of professors who then get to pepper you with questions to test your knowledge in something called a "defense"...and for my field (international politics), the dissertations are usually 200-400 pages long and the defenses are generally 2-3 hours.

i'm not running up the walls (yet), but i can still tell this dissertation is weighing on me mentally, and it's already taking time away from training. i'm working on a deadline to finish by the end of October and defend by the end of December. both of which are real soon. meaning hours and hours of time in front of this computer.

i'd call it part of recovery time, but i really wonder.

you see? dissertation. acclimation. expectation. paranoia!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

who i am

well, this blog has been around a while in one form or another, and i've been pretty much anonymous during that time.

but seeing that i've been doing this seriously within the past year, and seeing the Google Analytics data on this blog, i figure it's time to finally get around to introducing myself. i'm trying to get a writing career going, and the material on this blog seems to be the area that i want to go in--you know, stuff on life using triathlon and sports as a vehicle to deal with deeper issues (or not). that, and the data on this blog shows that i appear to be building up a regular following, with people from around the world. i've got pageviews--and i'm having pages quoted--from places like Brazil, Japan, Taiwan, Russia, Israel, South Africa, Germany, and (of course) my original place of Sweden (heja, svenska allihopa!). hey everybody, and thanks for reading...hope you keep coming back!

so to help everyone out, and to answer your potential questions as to "just who is this guy?!?!" i'd like to offer up this brief run-down.

my Trifuel bio probably gives the most succinct and best introduction:
Jonathan is finishing a dual-degree PhD/JD program at the University of Southern California. He does Ironmans for several self-delusional reasons: health, fitness, fun, boredom, vicarious suffering, existentialist crises, spiritual angst, conversations with god(s), and the meaning of life, the universe, and things in general. He likes to write about all these things in relation to Ironman, and hopes that people like reading what he writes about all these things in relation to Ironman.
of course, i should add by also stating a few more salient points:
  • as an Ironman, i suck. really suck. my 1st Ironman i had heat issues and ended up on the side of the road getting watered down by volunteers (yeah, i was one of those guys), and struggled to just get across the finish. the 2nd Ironman i got to learn the meaning of cycling, when i found out what it really feels like to have to pedal courtesy of sustained 30-40 mph winds (strong enough to blow the port-a-potties lovely). i'm hoping my 3rd Ironman is a break-through performance, but who knows. nobody ever knows.
  • i'm in the last year of graduate school. so i won't be a grad student much longer. i'm actually defending my dissertation soon, very soon. which means i'm looking for a job...which means that if any of you have a heads up on a job that's interested in somebody with a PhD/JD focusing on international politics who likes to write and (oh by the way) also does Ironmans, have them contact me. OR, if you know of any post-doctoral programs or schools looking to hire faculty (note: i really prefer places that have a climate accommodating Ironman training and--oh yeah--surfing), then have them contact me.
  • i'm (obviously) living in Southern California. South Pasadena area to be exact. it's a small suburb, not as famous as its bigger (and more famous) neighbor Pasadena, but it's quaint and has a certain charm. as a grad student, i'm scraping money to make rent payments here, and i'm sure i'll never to be able to afford to buy a house in this town (average house price here: approx. $850,000), but it works until i graduate and get a job.
  • i'm your average single guy. i like to think i'm funny, down-to-earth, and accessible. i've been told that girls think of me as like their "best friend's edgy older brother." no idea what that means...i suspect they're saying they see me as that slightly older, slightly mature, slightly world-wise, smart-ass a-t-t-i-t-u-d-e (but still approachable) college guy they always kinda sorta maybe perhaps one-day-but-oh-uh-i-dunno were really curious about but just couldn't dare to make a step to hang out with. yeah, that guy.
  • whatever.
  • i live in Southern California, but i'm originally from Sweden. go figure. but my family moved over here when i was so young that i've forgotten most of my Swedish and really consider myself as SoCal. parents really want to see me go back to Europe for at least a little while re-connect with my Swedish roots and (just maybe) get married with a decent Swedish girl.
  • whatever
  • i may originally be Swedish, but NO, i am NOT blonde or blue-eyed. i'm EURASIAN. as in a skinny half-breed eurasian. i'm so far from the stereotype of Swedes that people don't even believe i'm Swedish--including most swedes. i think people have a hard time getting their head around the fact that Sweden is increasinly a multi-cultural country, and there are now Swedes of all different kinds of ethnicities. but as i once read in a New Zealand travel brochure: "race relations always end up being resolved in the bedroom." i guess that applied in my parents' case. go figure.
  • whatever
  • triathlon isn't my only interest. obviously, i surf. not regularly, but enough to enjoy it and to know i need to do it more. i also snowboard. ditto. i've been doing kung fu lately, and have gotten serious enough about it that i actually have a blog about it (reference: i also like things like art, poetry, opera, ballet, and getting to know other cultures...which means eating all kinds of food, checking out all kinds of events, meeting different kinds of people, and traveling when i get the chance. call it a way of retaining my sanity in a world of utter insanity
  • thing i live by: to learn about yourself, you have to learn about the world; to understand the world, you have to understand yourself.
  • another thing i live by: all the world is suffering; the question is: what do you do about it?
  • yet another thing i live by: we all live, we all die. so what do you with the time you have left?
  • yet one more thing i live by: damn, would everybody just chill out?
  • and oh yeah: whatever
well, that's about it. hope that satisfies your curiousity...and didn't repel you away.

thanks for reading, and all your comments! please feel welcome to check this blog out anytime.

Monday, October 15, 2007

blog action day 2007: race day trash

i'm writing this on behalf of Blog Action Day (reference: it's being promoted by Blogger, and it seems like the kind of thing that i'm interested in supporting, so i figured i'd go ahead and participate. Blog Action Day is an annual event, and is hopes to bring global attention to a specific issue (a new one chosen each year) by having all participating bloggers write a post on their blog on the selected topic on the same day. for this year, it's the environment.

for my part, i was originally planning to write about "zero carbon footprint" or "carbon neutral" triathlon races (for carbon neutral in general, reference: Wikipedia: Carbon Neutral). this involves reducing the amount of carbon-related wastes produced by triathlon races (including greenhouse-increasing emissions). but this is a topic that seems to be generating momentum on its own, with a lot of impetus coming from Clif Bar (reference: Clif Bar: Our Story, Environment) through its affiliation with a growing number of races.

as a result, i figured to focus on something that was getting less attention, but which was 1) equally as reprehensible and in need of mitigation, and 2) within the immediate sphere of action for most of us as athletes. i'm pretty you sure you can deduce this from the picture at the top: trash. specifically, trash at races.

i used to think that the trash that piles up at races was just a part of racing, that the act of dropping used cups, empty gels, consumed fruit, and random equipment was an endemic part of competition on race courses extending over public waterways and streets. it seemed reasonable--the entire point of racing was to compete, meaning go as fast as you can, which in turn meant that there wasn't time to look for trash cans and then make the concentrated effort to stop and drop garbage off in them.

but lately, i've started to think otherwise.

it wasn't an overnight decision. it was more just a gradual sense of discomfort over seeing the raw quantity of trash that piled up at each race i entered, particularly as i started to stay the day after each race and got to see the amount of work involved in cleaning everything up. the amount of garbage was profound. and it wasn't just in readily accessible urban streets, but also on rural roads and country trails, in locations that were ostensibly parks or even protected natural lands.

a number of things began to bother me:
  • the level of waste is completely out of proportion to the level of competition. by this, i mean that it seems the only people who could be excused for throwing trash on the race course would be professionals and some elites whose livelihoods depended on their velocity and finishing time. for the rest of us, there just isn't that much at stake to justify defacing public property (i.e., if the only thing at stake is your own ego, then how does that weigh against the money that has to be spent to clean things up?)
  • if you're going to walk (or run) through an aid station to get energy drink, water, gels, fruit, etc., then it shouldn't be too hard to walk (or run) to the trash can at the aid station to drop off the garbage. seriously, it's only a few meters. it's not that hard. and even if you're on a bike, it's not that hard to slow down to drop your refuse at the trash bin. it's only a few seconds, and the vast majority of competitors are not going to have their livelihoods threatened by losing a few seconds to maintain a clean environment (i.e., again, if the only thing at stake is your own ego, then it's immaterial compared to the few seconds it will take to properly dispose the refuse you are holding in your hands)
  • even if race fees go towards cleaning up garbage, and hence offset the public taxes expended on the problem, this still creates the subsequent issue of race organizers increasing race fees...just like any business, they're going to pass on the costs (race day trash collection) onto their consumers (competitors). in which case, as a consumer, i'd prefer to save some money and try to see if costs (trash) could be decreased
  • it doesn't seem limited to race day. i'm seriously starting to suspect that competitors who are lackadaisical about throwing trash on the course during a race are also people who are just as lackadaisical about throwing trash on the streets on normal days...their carelessness seems habit-forming
  • it seems entirely contrary to the notion of athletics to be so careless about garbage. athletics is supposedly about values like commitment and discipline. but there's not much commitment and discipline in simply dumping garbage on the race course
  • this was (and is) the kind of behavior that on normal days would be considered littering, which in most places is a crime involving a fine (and in some extreme cases, more)
  • it's ugly. it's nasty. it's disgusting
it's because of this that in recent years i've started to make a more concerted effort in how i deal with my trash during races. i've begun to follow 2 strategies:
  • pack-in-pack-out: this is a hiker's rule held by backpackers camping in the wilderness. it's a general principle meant to preserve the natural world in a pristine state so that its ecology can continue without any more human disruption than necessary. it's also meant to keep things in a way that other people can enjoy it after you've left.
  • aim for the trash can: i figure i can hold on to my trash until i spot a trash can, and which point i can save other people's energy by being responsible and disposing my own garbage into the trash bin. it's not that hard, and i figure it's the least i can do for all the work that race organizers, volunteers, and local communities do in hosting me.
i know i'm just 1 person doing this, but it always makes me feel better to know that i'm doing something constructive. and i always get seem to get confirmation from a race volunteer, a race organizer, a city official, or even public service worker who invariably thank me for my efforts.

i don't proselytize to anybody else. i figure it'd just be 1) annoying, and 2) make me out to be some kind of arrogant holier-than-thou lunatic. besides, i'm usually too tired to even talk. still, i hope that it sets an example, and that maybe somebody else in the race might see me and be inspired to follow my lead.

somebody like you.
Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day