Monday, December 22, 2008

against the darkness

the holiday season was always a special time for my grandparents, but not in the ways that have become so typical in our world.

sure, they followed the common formalities of christmas trees and ornaments and carols and cards and gifts and dinner and eggnog and fireplace stockings and crackling logs glowing long into the night--all the banal routines that often serve to make the season trite. and just like the usual fare, my grandparents did so as to excuse the right of everyone to be of good cheer, and to be gracious to one another, and to actually be kind and nice and gentle and decent human beings for at least one period every year.

they followed these traditions, knowing full well just how superficial they could be. in fact, they insisted on it, because they knew just how superficial they could be. performing them, my grandmother would say, was important, because it was what we did in upholding traditions that gave them meaning.

i asked her why we did this once. it was a late December evening and i was sitting by the fireplace. she was doing her customary holiday knitting and my grandfather was setting the record player for Bing Crosby's White Christmas.

she paused at my question, looked over her spectacles at me, and replied very quietly: "because we want you to have memories of these times."

and then she said enigmatically, "one day you will understand."

i didn't understand then, of course. i was too young. and stupid. and clueless. and ignorant of the world. and oblivious of any need to know any better.

all i did was follow my grandparents and went through the motions to uphold the traditions they associated with the holiday season.

including the one called Advent.

for those of you (of any faith) who don't know, Advent is the period of time preceding Christmas that marks the period of expectation for the birth of Christ. it's observed by some (although not all) Christian denominations, each of whom observe various intervals of time. for my grandparents, coming from Northern European (and hence Lutheran) stock, it was taken to cover the four weekends before Christmas, and essentially marked the duration of the entire holiday season. for the pious, Advent is taken as a way of preparing the self for God's arrival by gathering the soul and connecting it with the sacred, to remind ourselves of the reality of that which is greater than ourselves...and the promise of the truth that it was meant to be.

my grandparents, as it turned out, were pious. very much so. in keeping with the Advent tradition, they upheld the observance of vespers, which are the evening services meant for recollection, reflection, contemplation, meditation, and finally (and above all), prayer.

and so we'd bundle up, and drive to church, and stand in the chapel, and go through what always seemed at first to be just another service save for the fact that it was at night, replete with the liturgy known by rote sung with the same hymns given with the same sermons accompanied by the same prayers--going through formalities, the routines, that serve to make the season trite.

but then would come the moment when the liturgy would end. and the hymns would stop and the sermons would cease and the prayers would fade.

and then lights would be turned out. and then there would be darkness. and then there would be silence.

and then we'd be alone with our God.

and recollection, reflection, contemplation, meditation, and finally (and above all), prayer.


and somewhere, somehow, sometime, someway, a flame would rise.

and then from the flame a candle would be lit.

and then that candle would light another candle. and then that candle would light another. and then another. and another. until at last the fire from every candle arose, reflected off the faces of the people holding them, and the chapel would become aglow.

and in the chill of winter, in the blackness of the night, we'd stand together and know: this is what it means...this is what it means to bring light into the darkness. one candle at a time.

i asked my grandmother why we did this once. it was a late December evening, and the 3 of us were standing together, our candles joined close between our hands.

she paused at my question, looked over her spectacles at me, and replied very quietly: "because we want you to have memories of these times."

and then she said enigmatically, "one day you will understand."

she was right, of course.

i do know better now. i'm less ignorant, i have a clue, and am not so stupid, and no longer so young. i do understand. maybe not everything, but enough to know the meaning of the memories of the times with my grandparents; at least enough to know this:

you see, our world is not so pleasant. it's not always holiday time. there is no right to be of good cheer, nor to be gracious to one another, nor to be kind nor nice nor gentle nor decent human beings. and there are things that are not pious, nor sacred, nor even holy.

there are instead things that are very much profane. and some of them are very much sinister and brutal and malevolent and cruel. and they seek destruction at every turn, and strive to sound the knell of doom. for the sole purpose of bringing darkness to every corner of the earth, so that every soul may know despair.

but i know different.

because i know the reality of that which is greater than ourselves...and the promise of the truth that it was meant to be.

and now you do, too.

we are bringing light to the darkness.

one candle at a time.

o come o come emmanuel:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

winter (not) waking up


seems like every time the temperature heads south i suddenly find it virtually impossible to get out of bed in the morning. and it's not by choice--i'm not even hearing my morning alarm. if i actually could hear it, i'd be up and getting started. but right now, it's like i'm turning into mr. morning hibernator.

here in LA, there's been a cold snap that's taken night temperatures down into the 30s (Fahrenheit). doesn't sound like much to most of you in the Northern Hemisphere, but keep in mind this is Southern California, where we were wearing shorts and t-shirts well into November. this morning there was actually a sprinkle of snow in Pasadena, which i've never seen in my 15+ years of living in this city.

as a result, i've been curling under my blankets and getting comfortably warm every night. which is maybe the problem...getting comfortably warm makes it that much harder to face the shock of morning chill. especially considering that i've been avoiding using the apartment heating system (just trying to save some money).

thing is, i've got workouts to do. and i had some big ones planned this week. right now, it's been 3 straight days of sleeping through the morning alarm (didn't even hear it), and missing the morning workouts. and i can't make them up in the afternoon (traffic, grading, traffic, grading, traffic, grading, especially since it's the end of the semester/quarter and EVERYTHING is due NOW).

i'm starting to get that red alarm going off in my head--you know, that red alarm of paranoia and anxiety over losing conditioning and succumbing to laziness.

i don't have any races planned (off-season, dude). but still, i just can't stand the thought of getting out of shape. and i desperately want to avoid becoming anything resembling that dreaded image in my mind of a fat, slovenly, disgusting blubbery turd. i just need to get off my fat ass and EXERCISE.

i guess this is part of what they mean when they say sports is really about lifestyle--an active one. after awhile, it's not by choice, but really something obsessive-compulsive. it certainly seems that way to me.

all i know is:







Saturday, December 13, 2008

playlist: winter & christmas songs

i am writing this post with absolutely no point whatsoever.

as you can probably guess, this isn't typical for me. usually, i write things with a purpose, and try as much as possible to have something to say. if for no other reason that i want readers to feel like there's a value in reading my stuff.

but right now, for various reasons, all i can really think about is music. winter break music to be exact. and for no purpose, other than it's just winter and christmas (apologies to non-Christians out there...just substitute whatever holiday of your choice occurs around this time) and new year's, and my mind is wandering as it always does this season.

it's not music i consider extra-special. but just stuff that has a certain charm. i'd almost label it sweet. if nothing else, music that just makes me feel good, in a subdued, nostalgic, sentimental, innocent, hopeful sort of way. enough so that i thought maybe it'd be nice to share.

so here's what i've been listening to--and feel free to add yours to the list:

otis redding, merry christmas, baby:

otis redding, white christmas:

here's some older stuff for those of you who prefer the classic stuff:
bing crosby & marjorie reynolds, white christmas:

margaret whiting & johnny mercer, baby, it's cold outside:

nat king cole, the christmas song:

and here's some slightly more modern stuff, for those of you who prefer that:
david bowie & bing crosby, little drummer boy:

band aid, feed the world:

john legend, when it's cold outside:

happy holidays, folks. hope the best for you.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

recession proof

there was an article posted on Runner's Web regarding triathlon in the current economic crisis.

the link is here:
i'm putting the full text of the article at the end of this post. according to the credits it was originally posted at the USA Triathlon home page, but i wasn't able to locate it there.

according to this article the sport of triathlon is recession-proof, in the sense that it keeps growing (in terms of numbers of races and competitors).

which is funny, because it's counter-intuitive. you'd think that in times of tight economics, when people are struggling to make money and doing everything to find ways to save it, that people would shy away from activities involving money not related to immediate survival. triathlon isn't exactly cheap--factor the costs of race suit, wetsuit, swim gear, bike gear, bicycle (the big $$$), running shoes, food, race fees, and the miscellaneous random expenses of the sport (and never mind luxuries like coaching, massage, yoga, etc.). given this, you'd think triathlon would be among the many things people in financial distress (most of the world's population right now) would be avoiding, or not even thinking about.

but i guess i'm wrong.

you could argue that people are using equipment they already have. but a lot of money is not tied to equipment, and can all these new competitors entering all these new races really be working with gear they already have? i doubt it. sounds like a big assumption to me.

you could argue that maybe the economic crisis really isn't all that bad, and there are more people out there with more money to spend than the news would lead us to believe. but then how does that explain all the grim economic statistics, a lot of which are coming from pretty reputable sources? seems a reach to say that too.

you could argue that maybe people are just foolish, and that in the face of one of the worst recessions in recent history--domestic and global--people are oblivious and spendthrift, and expending money they don't have. this, given my impressions of so much of human nature, is something i can entirely believe.

in which case, i want to know: where is everybody getting the money for all this?

and can i have some?

Triathlon: Is Triathlon Recession Proof?

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (December 9, 2008) -- With virtually every aspect of the U.S. economy reeling, it figures that an expensive participant sport fueled by discretionary income would feel the pinch.

That's not the case, at least not yet, according to an informal survey of race directors across the country. If anything, the boom the sport has experienced in recent years continues despite the economic downturn.

In fact, USA Triathlon, the national governing body for the sport, saw its list of sanctioned races grow from 2,340 to over 2,500 and its total annual membership soar from just over 100,000 to 115,000 over the past year.

In September, no less a source than The New York Times hinted that the sport was recession-proof, calling it "a luxury hobby that does not seem to lose its luster even in an economic downturn."

"In tough times, people need a diversion more than ever," says Jim Rainey, whose Georgia Multisports Productions stages nine races in the Peach State. "At $65 or $75, it's still a cheap day of entertainment."

Because of the triathlon boom in recent years, athletes in most parts of the country can find plenty of races within driving distance. Without hotel and transportation costs, expenses consist of entry fees and training costs. Those are significant, to be sure, but still relatively modest.

"If an athlete can get in the car and go and not incur hotel fees, they're still going to go," says Jack Weiss, whose Ironhead Race Productions stages events in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. "But if they have to get on a plane where tickets have doubled in price and then pay for a hotel, they're going to think twice."

In the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, for instance, athletes can find at least one race virtually every weekend from mid-April through Halloween. Only the popular St. Anthony's Triathlon, which serves as a sort of national kickoff to the season, attracts a significant percentage of athletes from out of town.

"We continue to sell out fairly quickly," says Fred Rzymek, whose RPM Promotions company stages three triathlons and several other multi-sport events in the Tampa Bay area. "If anything, we're finding people are staying home and that has a positive impact on races locally."

Rainey staged a sold-out event in Georgia on Oct. 5 that followed on the heels of a tropical storm that sent gas prices up to $4.50 a gallon and yet he still had athletes trying to get in at the last minute. He figures he could have sold an additional 100 spots to the race, which he capped at 880.

Jeremey Davis, whose Set-Up Events stages races in the mid-Atlantic area, held a triathlon recently in the remote town of McCormick, S.C., on the border of South Carolina and Georgia, and attracted 115 college-aged athletes in a field of 600.

"You'd think if anyone wouldn't have money, it would be college athletes," Davis said. "It doesn't seem to be affecting anyone. Triathletes are a resilient group, I guess."

If any niche of the industry would be affected by the economy, it would seem to be Ironman and Ironman 70.3 races. With entry fees that average $475 for an Ironman and $225 for a 70.3, and located in destinations where athletes spend multiple days either out of desire or necessity, an Ironman is an expensive proposition even in robust economic times.

Still, even with Ironman there has been no indication that the economy has had an impact, says Blair LaHaye, spokesperson for World Triathlon Corp., the parent company of Ironman, which in September was purchased by Providence Partners.

Just as sports fans continue to pay escalating ticket costs for major events, Ironman triathletes seem unfazed by the costs, even as the number of full- distance and 70.3 races has exploded in recent years.

"In some respects, it's a recession-proof sport," says LaHaye, who attributes Ironman's increased entry fees to increased fuel costs and vendor fees. "We have been fortunate not to see a downturn based on the state of economy."

It helps that the Ironman competitors have an average income of $161,000, according to WTC research, and that triathletes in general have higher incomes on average than the general population. They're not immune to shifts in the economy, of course, just perhaps better equipped to deal with financial adversity.

Tim Yount, senior vice president of marketing and communications for USA Triathlon, believes the sport should be able to weather the economic storm.

"We have been fortunate over the past two decades to be able to survive several economic slumps," he says. "Our belief is that the sport is the outlet that many need to escape from the everyday stresses of life. People may be more selective in the races they do, drive more and fly less but overall do the same number of races."

Weiss wondered how the economy would impact the sport late in 2001 after the burst of the technology stock bubble and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. One of his friends dealt with the loss of a high-paying job by dedicating himself even more to training and racing.

"He figured since he had the equipment and suddenly had more time to train, he could use the downtime to see just how good he could be," Weiss said.

Though the up-front cost to entering the sport of triathlon is significant, with bike and equipment purchases and perhaps one-on-one swim lessons for those who need it, triathlon is relatively inexpensive compared to other sports. Unlike golfers, who must pay greens fees for every practice round, triathletes can go for a training ride or run for nothing more than the cost of wear and tear on equipment.

While the economy may not be having an effect on the number of athletes registering for races, the cost of staging events has never been greater. Fuel charges for everything from police and emergency vehicles to pizza delivery have increased. Those costs get passed along to race directors and ultimately to athletes in the form of higher race fees.

Athletes also tend to be more demanding during tougher economic times, expecting more out of races. High-end "tech" shirts that were seen as premium items just a few years ago now are all but expected at triathlons, as are more extensive post-race spreads.

If athletes are not letting the economy dictate their triathlon participation, it could be because an "investment" in a race fee or piece of triathlon equipment rarely leads to disappointment like a foray into the stock or housing markets. At a time when few investments seem safe, that's a comforting thought.

"We can give you something you can hold in your hand," says Weiss. "Part of the problem with the stock market is you're selling hype; it's air. In our sport, we give you a real shirt and a real event and real equipment. At times like these, people fee better spending their money on triathlon. If nothing else, it's an escape from reality."

-- by Pete Williams (Special to USA Triathlon)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

welcome to the club

you first learned about it a very long time and very many miles ago. from friends, from strangers, from stories, from rumors. you didn't know. all you knew was that it began as a glimmer that grew to a gleam and then to a glow, until one day you found it had become something that you just had to know.

you talked about it. you thought about it. you dreamed about it. you wondered what it would be like.

and more importantly, you wondered what it would mean.

you just had to know.

and so you began. despite your doubts. despite your fears. about yourself. about your life. about your world.

you began the distance, commencing in the darkness before the beginning of creation, as cold and as chilly as the spirit passing through the earth.

and it continued, over a course laid out across the land so vast it reached from one horizon to another, measured in numbers so inconceivable it struck awe to even attempt to comprehend it.

and it endured, from the break of dawn to the gathering of the dusk, in moments that passed as inevitably, indelibly, ineffably as the flickering of the mundane lost in the forever of eternity.

and it lasted, in toil in sweat in body in mind in exhaustion in suffering in passion so intense so great so overwhelming so powerful so unexpected so unknown so undescribable so unidentifiable that it became simply, singly, supremely, serenely profound, so much so that it reached the deepest secrets of the soul, and revealed nothing more nothing less nothing else than the truth that underlies all truths.

and that's when you realized that you know. in the way that only someone who's experienced it, lived it, became it could ever really know.

you know. in the way that only someone who's gone the distance and reached the finish could ever really know.

you know. in the way that only someone who realizes that it was all just another step into creation could ever really know.

you know.

you know what it means:

welcome to the club.

Monday, November 24, 2008


there was a brief spotlight of sports news recently on a sport completely unrelated to triathlon or anything endurance-related, but which i see as touching on a subject that concerns all sports--or for that matter, all society.

the story dealt with an aspiring professional golfer named J.P. Hayes. to join the PGA, golfers have to get a PGA card. most golfers get this by qualifying through qualifying school and/or tournament play. J.P. Hayes was at one such tournament crucial to his chances for qualifying. however, at the end of his rounds he found a ball which he had inadvertently used on a hole. rather than concealing the fact and accepting his score (and thereby keeping himself in the race for a pro card), he reported himself and took a disqualification from the tournament--effectively destroying his chances at qualifying for the PGA.

there's a number of good links on the story of what happened (i put the full text of the 1st article at the bottom of this post):
what gets me about this story is that J.P. reported himself. golf is different from other sports in that it's self-regulating. that is, there are no referees or judges on the green monitoring penalties and infractions of athletes. as a result, players are expected to hold to a code of honesty, even if it means hurting their own competitiveness in play.

this is something that a cynical person would argue is naive at best and ludicrous at worst, since it's contrary to human nature to act out in a way that penalizes the self. particularly in sports, where the primacy is on trying to win, and the pressure is to exercise supreme pragmatism and employment of any possible option that aids achievement of a win. often, this means bending or violating the rules when given the opportunity to do so.

this attitude is so prevalent that social scientists even incorporate as an assumption in social models of human behavior--the "rational actor", where "rational" is defined as acting out of self-interest. it's as if we accept it as the norm.

but people don't always act that way. people, in fact, often act in ways that are entirely selfless, even to the point of penalizing themselves. how do you explain acts of charity? how do you explain parents forgoing personal opportunities to raise children? how do you explain soldiers on a battlefield who throw themselves on grenades to save the lives of their comrades?

people often say that these are extreme cases, and that human beings don't act that way in normal settings, particularly in settings where the pressure is for self-gain at any cost.

well, here's a situation where a human being did. and in sports, no less, where the drive is win at any cost.

there's a saying that "our character is what we do when we think no one is looking." sad to say, i think most of us would show a pretty poor character if we knew that there was no one to catch us cheating. not just athletes, but society in general.

which is why i think this story is so special. because it shows that there is still character in this world, and that it exists, even in a pressure-packed environment like sports. because it means that if a person in such a context can still retain a measure of character then the rest of us can as well.

you might say that such a lesson is still lost in this case, because character wasn't rewarded. J.P. Hayes lost his opportunity for his pro card because he turned himself in.

thing is, i'm not so sure. my father and grandfather before him always told me that a person shouldn't be rewarded for doing what they're expected to do; doing the right thing is the standard, not the exception.

but even in a world where it is not the standard, i still see the lesson here as relevant. and here's why: it means that there is still a place for things like good and decency and virtue in this world, and that these just aren't words but ideas that people live by...ideas that lift humanity out of the morass of bestiality and darkness and frees us to aspire to the greater aspects of existence. ideas that allow us to be better. ideas that allow us to become noble. ideas that allow us to truly live.

and these achievements are only possible when we act for the greater whole rather just for ourselves.

and that's the meaning of honesty.

Hayes becomes latest to cry, 'What a stupid I am.'
Canadian Press
3 days ago

The moment J.P. Hayes looked down at the golf ball on the floor in his hotel room, he knew there were only two options. Keep his mouth shut and his chances of playing full-time on the PGA Tour next season alive. Or pick up the phone and disqualify himself.

Ten days later, the only thing that seems remarkable to Hayes about that decision is the stir it created. He said he was only doing what any golfer would, although in Hayes' case, totalling up the cost probably will require six figures.

"It's blown me away," Hayes said Thursday about the reaction. "I certainly don't want to be made out as a hero. I'm just a player that did the right thing. If it's served to remind people what a good game we've got, that's great. But I've already moved on."

Hayes was on the tee at the par-3 12th hole in the first round of the PGA Tour's qualifying tournament when his caddie flipped him the fateful golf ball. He missed the green, chipped on, marked his ball and then realized it wasn't the one he'd started the day with. Hayes called over an official and took a two-shot penalty, then went back to playing his original ball on the next tee and finished the round with a 74. He shot 71 the following day, leaving him with a very good chance of moving on to final stage of Q-School, from where the top 25 finishers and ties graduate to exempt status on the PGA Tour for 2009.

Like a lot of golfers, Hayes is such an equipment freak that he goes through his golf bag every night. When he did that in his hotel room the night after the second round, he realized the ball that had already cost him two strokes was a prototype that hadn't been approved for tournament play. After he called a PGA tour official, he recalled, "I pretty much knew at that point I was done."

The last thing Hayes wants is people feeling sorry for him. He lost his tour card after slumping to 178th on the money list last season, but nearly two decades after turning pro and years of bouncing between the big tour and the minors, he's bankrolled US$7 million in career earnings.

He also knows there are worse ways to make a living than another stint on the Nationwide Tour, even at age 43. What he still doesn't understand is the fuss.

"We don't have refs on the course, so we have to call penalties on ourselves. I've done it before, dozens of guys have," Hayes said. "Just about everybody out there does, but usually we move on and nobody hears about it."

That's not entirely true. Enough stories like Hayes' have slipped out over the years to suggest that while golfers are hardly saints, they tend to do the right thing a lot more often than their counterparts in just about every other sport.

Golfers have called penalties on themselves after discovering their child's cut-down club rattling around in the bottom of the bag (too many clubs) and because a ball wobbled in stiff winds while they were getting ready to putt it. There are too many stories of players DQ'd for signing incorrect scorecards to list, but the most famous one ended with Argentine Roberto deVicenzo delivering perhaps the most-famous and least-bitter lament ever in pro sports: "What a stupid I am."

If the same thing happened in major league baseball or the NFL - where the unofficial motto is, "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying" - his agent would have filed a grievance while the ink on the scorecard was still dry. For some reason, golf is different.

"It's the most honest thing anyone could do," fellow pro Rich Beem said about Hayes, who's a good friend. "This guy lost his job because of it. To me, it not only shows how much class J.P. has, but most PGA Tour pros in general. Most would do the same thing."

But Beem acknowledged a moment later, "I would like to think I would in that position, but it would be tough. I'm glad that wasn't laid on me."

As anybody who plays the game knows, golf can be cruel and nowhere is that manifest more than at Q-School, where the pressure is palpable because so many livelihoods are at stake. A golfer named Roland Thatcher came to the 18th hole at Bear Lakes in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 2001 needing only a par to get his card. He bounced his approach over the green, onto a cart path and eventually onto the roof of the clubhouse. Not only was his lifelong dream scuttled, he had take a drop in a pampas bush and play his next shot from there. Thatcher made triple bogey and hasn't been heard from since.

Hayes may be much luckier. Among his calls the last few days were several from tour sponsors who might be willing to give him an exemption. Between those events and several second-tier tournaments where he's won in the past, Hayes figures he'll get a dozen starts on the big tour next season.

"A few people who've called reminded me good things can come out of tough situations," he said. "We'll see."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

videos: dynamic stretching (part 1)

ok, so my post on stretching and warm-up discussing dynamic stretching got quite a bit of attention--not just in terms of comments, but in terms of visits to the post (reference: stretching and warm-up).

a fair number of people asked me what dynamic stretching actually looks like, so i decided it'd be worthwhile to write a follow-up post with some demonstrations to help people understand how the concept of dynamic stretching is translated into application. i took some time to look for videos on Youtube, and filtered out a selection that i thought were best.

i should caution that there are different kinds of dynamic stretching exercises, geared towards preparing different parts of the body for different kinds of motions involved in different types of sports. as a result, no single video can really be taken as comprehensive or universal, and you should recognize that your sport of choice (in my case, triathlon) calls for a sport-specific set of dynamic stretching.

to some degree i already talked about dynamic stretching in my posts discussing running drills, which showed a selection of what i considered to be excellent videos on Youtube showing drills common to running in terms of warm-up and technique work. you can check them out:
but in terms of videos actually identified specifically as dynamic stretching, i also found a few more that i think demonstrate the concepts involved. most of them come from other sports (it appears mostly basketball & football), but i think they're largely applicable to triathlon since they manage to cover most of the body:
there's also a series from DRIVE Fitness focusing on basic dynamic stretching:
i'd like to try and find some dynamic stretching exercises used by triathletes--or at the very least, used by swimmers, cyclists, and runners, just to see if there's anything different between the 3 disciplines. but for now, i think these will do.

you can see what dynamic stretching actually looks like. that, and you can see how each of these reflects the principles of dynamic stretching (i.e., gradually lengthening the muscle tissue through an increasing range of motion, but doing so while increasing blood flow and elasticity while under light resistance), and so can get an idea as to why they're good for the warm-up phase preceding workouts or competition.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

teasing for fat loss (because that's what friends will do)

i came across a small feel-good story recently while randomly perusing the internet. it's heartwarming, and quite touching, in the way that every once in a too-long while little things in out-of-the-way places on quiet days often tend to be.

it's about friends. and just what friends will do for one another.

the link to the article is here:
and as always, if the link doesn't work, i've put the full text of the article at the end of this post.

i don't know who wrote the article--there's no byline given--but i'll let the story speak for itself, and skip summarizing it here. i'll just introduce it by saying that it's about 2 men, Frank Lynch and Antonio Douglas, and how Frank became concerned over his friend Antonio's obesity and managed to entice him back to a healthy weight. that's their picture at the top.

i've written about friendship before (reference: choices in friends). but this story gives a real-world illustration about just what it means to be a friend.

you see, friends--real friends--are the ones who care enough about you that they'll always keep a watch out for you. they're the ones who care enough about you that they'll do whatever it takes to help you. they're the ones who care enough about you to tell the truth, even if it hurts. and they're the ones who care enough about you that they'll do so even if it means risk to themselves or even their friendship with you.

and they'll keep caring. and watching. and doing. and telling. no matter how you change or what you do or who you become.

and it won't matter the differences in age, or race, or gender, or looks, or class, or profession, or politics, or religion, or worldview, or country of origin.

because they know, just as you know, that friendship is about just one thing, and just one thing only:

to help you become a better person.

and that's all any of us can ever really ask for in life.

A running friendship saves the life of one pal
Teasing by boss helps an obese man shed 151 pounds and get in shape
The Associated Press
Sun., Nov. 9, 2008

ATLANTA - Frank Lynch had been in Antonio Douglas' head for nearly 10 years.

The sarcastic sexagenarian seemed to revel in mocking the 5-foot-4, 330-pound Douglas, lumbering around the Cactus Car Wash lot. But of all the taunts Douglas had endured from his boss over the years, this was the one that stuck.

"I'm going to be 70 soon," Lynch boasted in his heavy Scottish burr. "And I can run twice as fast as you can."

Douglas made a decision: He would make Lynch eat those words.

A year and a half later the two friends have raced twice — each claiming a victory and winning a total of $22,000 for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. But given their fierce competitiveness, it wouldn't be a surprise to find these two lining up for Douglas v. Lynch III: The Ultimate Revenge.

Relentless insults aside, this is a tale of an unlikely friendship that saved a life. It kept a boss from giving up — or letting up — on a man he considered not only a business investment, but a personal challenge.

Years before they met on the starting line at Grady Memorial Stadium, Douglas was hired by Lynch to supervise one of his car washes. It wasn't exactly a fast friendship.

"He was just anal," Douglas said, an observation that also translates into an unprintable seven-letter description he had for his boss. "He wanted perfection. We had growing pains."

But Douglas soon won Lynch over with his work ethic and sense of humor.

"He can do all kinds of impressions," Lynch bragged, and laughed as Douglas mocked the Glasgow native. "I felt an affinity towards him. There are other people who work here who I like, but nobody I felt that connection to."

Growing concerns
A bond developed between the black employee and his older, white boss, who became like family. Lynch was there to help Douglas through his divorce and brags about Douglas' teenage son like a proud grandfather.

Over the years, as Douglas frequented the fast food restaurants near the car wash, his waistline gradually expanded. He gorged on cheeseburgers and fries, fried chicken and burritos. "If it didn't move, I ate it. If it moved too slow, I ate it," he said.

"Antonio, you're getting bigger every time I see you!" Lynch exclaimed when he came from Charleston, S.C., to visit the franchise.

Lynch had grown fond of Douglas, and watched with concern as his friend grew heavier. By 2007, it had become a real effort for Douglas to get around the car wash, and Lynch took every opportunity to remind him of it.

"His stomach turned the corner before he did," Lynch said. "We were all getting anxious about his health."

Douglas didn't let on — Lynch was getting to him, "but it also motivated me," he said.

The old man kept wearing on him, but he was worried, too. But when humor didn't work, the boss turned to scare tactics. He knew Douglas' son had a promising future.

"I told him, 'I predict you're not going to be around that much longer,"' he said.

Lynch admits some of his motives were selfish.

"He's loyal, he's hardworking," Lynch said. "What the hell am I going to do without him if he's not here?"

When Douglas decided to have gastric bypass surgery in April 2007, he told Lynch and his wife before his own family. When he woke up from surgery, Lynch was his first visitor.

"A lot of people say they care about you, but when they show they care, that means a lot," Douglas said. "Anybody else could've said the same things and it wouldn't have meant nothing to me."

David v. Lynch
In the six months after the surgery, Douglas lost 112 pounds. And he challenged the old man to a 100-meter race.

Douglas v. Lynch was set for Oct. 28, 2007, and word spread quickly among the employees and customers as the sprint turned into a public showdown.

"I thought, there's no way that an old, kilt-wearing white man can beat me," said Douglas.

Those looking for a good cause — or maybe just a good laugh — bought tickets at $3 apiece in 10 days. More than 800 tickets were sold and more than $10,000 was raised.

At 42, Douglas post-surgery wasn't fat, but he wasn't in shape either. He thought that with so many pounds melting away it would be easy to cross the finish line ahead of Lynch. But he was no match for the spry senior — Lynch beat him by nearly 5 seconds.

"He's a freak of nature," Douglas said of his 69-year-old boss.

The younger man nearly lost his pride from the constant teasing around the car wash. A video of the race was played on a loop in the lobby for a month.

Douglas had to discipline himself, and as he did the pounds continued to fall off and he grew determined to mount a rematch. Lynch got wind of the plan and confronted his skinnier friend.

"I hear you've been shooting your mouth off," Lynch told him. "Are you serious?"

Their eyes locked. "I'm serious," Douglas said.

"I realized, he's for real," said Lynch, who had beat non-Hodgkin lymphoma and whose wife had won her battle against breast cancer.

Fitter and slimmer
In the past year, Douglas replaced eating to excess with exercise — lifting weights for half an hour, swimming for an hour and walking for 45 minutes a day on his treadmill. He hasn't had a soda since before the surgery and has traded in his bucket of fried chicken for a grilled chicken salad.

Now 43, Douglas, who has since been promoted to general manager of the car wash, is significantly fitter and slimmer, at 179 pounds. Still, he knew better than to take his 5-foot-7-inch, 158-pound boss for granted.

"I gotta be faster," he said in the days leading up to the Oct. 26 race. "I feel stronger. I feel healthier. But he's cagey."

Around the car wash, he was feeling the pressure — not just from Lynch.

"You can't let him beat you like that again," one of men said.

The statement was more than just a word of encouragement. There were side bets at the office.

And on that Sunday evening as the sun set at Grady Memorial Stadium, the men took their marks. And this time, it was the younger man who crossed the finish line first. Even though both men stumbled and fell towards the end, Douglas won by two seconds.

Which was fine with Lynch. Better to lose the race than to lose his friend.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

stretching and warm-up?

there was an interesting article in the New York Times recently dealing with stretching and warm-up routines.

the link to the article is:
if that doesn't work, i've put the full text of the article at the end of this post.

a lot of this article confirms the idea of warm-up routines, and mentions a few of the drills that are typically used in the running community. i wrote a couple of posts on these before, with some useful Youtube videos demonstrating the drills:
what got my attention in the article, however, was the commentary on the notion of stretching. the article gives the impression that stretching is of questionable value, and to some degree is actually bad, for anyone preparing to engage in athletic activity.

i've heard these comments before from various other sources, both within the larger sporting world and the smaller endurance sports community. there have even been studies showing that stretching is not effective, either for preventing injury or for improving physical performance. as a result, i've seen a growing movement arguing against stretching altogether, saying that people should stop doing it at all.

thing is, i don't know if this is really wise. it seems like people are jumping from one extreme (i.e., believing that stretching is everything) to the opposite extreme (i.e., believing that stretching is the root of all evil). i doubt that either perspective is entirely right, and i suspect the truth is something entirely different.

from a personal standpoint, i have largely been taught that the processes of stretching and warm-up are complementary, and if done correctly help each other. the key words are: if done correctly. the issue is, they rarely ever are, neither individually nor together. instead, they are frequently treated as separate, independent, mutually exclusive activities. more than that, even when used together, they are often employed using incorrect or improperly applied techniques. the end result is futility at best and injury at worst.

what i've learned is that stretching and warm-up serve several major purposes:
  • physical therapy aiding recovery of muscular, skeletal, and connective tissues;
  • physical conditioning improving flexibility and elasticity of aforementioned tissues;
  • physical development increasing power and endurance;
  • injury prevention;
  • preparation for competition.
to accomplish these purposes, however, requires that 1) correct stretching techniques and correct warm-up techniques are employed in correct ways, and 2) such ways are combined in correct combinations.

personally, i know that i've always suffered whenever i omitted stretching routines from my training regimen, and likewise whenever i omitted warm-up routines. similarly, i know i've always suffered whenever i attempted wrong routines, or did right routines in wrong ways.

through many bouts with coaches, physical therapists, sports doctors, other athletes, and personal experience, i've come to believe that your body has very clear needs in terms of improving or maintaining elasticity and flexibility, and that as a result it needs exercises that enable these things. there are specific exercises that exist that do just this--and they involve a regimen of both stretching and warm-up, but in ways that require very specific combinations of both with very strict form and a very clear understanding of just what it is that they are trying to do.

i can say that i have a stretching and warm-up regimens before and after every workout, as well as for waking up and going to bed, and that they all vary depending on the nature of the workout (which sport, what intensity, what duration, etc.) or on the day (rest day, active day, recovery day, etc.) or on the goal (physical therapy, physical development, physical conditioning, etc.). and i can say that without these, i've suffered terribly in terms of injuries and degradation.

of course, i've been able to do workouts and competitions without stretching or warmup. but i've always regretted it. and it's one thing to go without them when you're young (when i was a kid, i never did this stuff), but another thing entirely when you're older. as you age, your body doesn't adapt or recover as well, and it becomes almost imperative to stretch and warm-up. believe me, i know.

which is why i'm a little leery of what this article is saying. i wouldn't be so quick to discount stretching. it's not everything, but it's not nothing either. we need all the help we can get.

Phys Ed Stretching: The Truth
By Gretchen Reynolds
New York Times

WHEN DUANE KNUDSON, a professor of kinesiology at California State University, Chico, looks around campus at athletes warming up before practice, he sees one dangerous mistake after another. “They’re stretching, touching their toes. . . . ” He sighs. “It’s discouraging.”

If you’re like most of us, you were taught the importance of warm-up exercises back in grade school, and you’ve likely continued with pretty much the same routine ever since. Science, however, has moved on. Researchers now believe that some of the more entrenched elements of many athletes’ warm-up regimens are not only a waste of time but actually bad for you. The old presumption that holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds — known as static stretching — primes muscles for a workout is dead wrong. It actually weakens them. In a recent study conducted at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, athletes generated less force from their leg muscles after static stretching than they did after not stretching at all. Other studies have found that this stretching decreases muscle strength by as much as 30 percent. Also, stretching one leg’s muscles can reduce strength in the other leg as well, probably because the central nervous system rebels against the movements.

“There is a neuromuscular inhibitory response to static stretching,” says Malachy McHugh, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. The straining muscle becomes less responsive and stays weakened for up to 30 minutes after stretching, which is not how an athlete wants to begin a workout.

THE RIGHT WARM-UP should do two things: loosen muscles and tendons to increase the range of motion of various joints, and literally warm up the body. When you’re at rest, there’s less blood flow to muscles and tendons, and they stiffen. “You need to make tissues and tendons compliant before beginning exercise,” Knudson says.

A well-designed warm-up starts by increasing body heat and blood flow. Warm muscles and dilated blood vessels pull oxygen from the bloodstream more efficiently and use stored muscle fuel more effectively. They also withstand loads better. One significant if gruesome study found that the leg-muscle tissue of laboratory rabbits could be stretched farther before ripping if it had been electronically stimulated — that is, warmed up.

To raise the body’s temperature, a warm-up must begin with aerobic activity, usually light jogging. Most coaches and athletes have known this for years. That’s why tennis players run around the court four or five times before a match and marathoners stride in front of the starting line. But many athletes do this portion of their warm-up too intensely or too early. A 2002 study of collegiate volleyball players found that those who’d warmed up and then sat on the bench for 30 minutes had lower backs that were stiffer than they had been before the warm-up. And a number of recent studies have demonstrated that an overly vigorous aerobic warm-up simply makes you tired. Most experts advise starting your warm-up jog at about 40 percent of your maximum heart rate (a very easy pace) and progressing to about 60 percent. The aerobic warm-up should take only 5 to 10 minutes, with a 5-minute recovery. (Sprinters require longer warm-ups, because the loads exerted on their muscles are so extreme.) Then it’s time for the most important and unorthodox part of a proper warm-up regimen, the Spider-Man and its counterparts.

“TOWARDS THE end of my playing career, in about 2000, I started seeing some of the other guys out on the court doing these strange things before a match and thinking, What in the world is that?” says Mark Merklein, 36, once a highly ranked tennis player and now a national coach for the United States Tennis Association. The players were lunging, kicking and occasionally skittering, spider-like, along the sidelines. They were early adopters of a new approach to stretching.

While static stretching is still almost universally practiced among amateur athletes — watch your child’s soccer team next weekend — it doesn’t improve the muscles’ ability to perform with more power, physiologists now agree. “You may feel as if you’re able to stretch farther after holding a stretch for 30 seconds,” McHugh says, “so you think you’ve increased that muscle’s readiness.” But typically you’ve increased only your mental tolerance for the discomfort of the stretch. The muscle is actually weaker.

Stretching muscles while moving, on the other hand, a technique known as dynamic stretching or dynamic warm-ups, increases power, flexibility and range of motion. Muscles in motion don’t experience that insidious inhibitory response. They instead get what McHugh calls “an excitatory message” to perform.

Dynamic stretching is at its most effective when it’s relatively sports specific. “You need range-of-motion exercises that activate all of the joints and connective tissue that will be needed for the task ahead,” says Terrence Mahon, a coach with Team Running USA, home to the Olympic marathoners Ryan Hall and Deena Kastor. For runners, an ideal warm-up might include squats, lunges and “form drills” like kicking your buttocks with your heels. Athletes who need to move rapidly in different directions, like soccer, tennis or basketball players, should do dynamic stretches that involve many parts of the body. “Spider-Man” is a particularly good drill: drop onto all fours and crawl the width of the court, as if you were climbing a wall. (For other dynamic stretches, see the sidebar below.)

Even golfers, notoriously nonchalant about warming up (a recent survey of 304 recreational golfers found that two-thirds seldom or never bother), would benefit from exerting themselves a bit before teeing off. In one 2004 study, golfers who did dynamic warm- up exercises and practice swings increased their clubhead speed and were projected to have dropped their handicaps by seven strokes over seven weeks.

Controversy remains about the extent to which dynamic warm-ups prevent injury. But studies have been increasingly clear that static stretching alone before exercise does little or nothing to help. The largest study has been done on military recruits; results showed that an almost equal number of subjects developed lower-limb injuries (shin splints, stress fractures, etc.), regardless of whether they had performed static stretches before training sessions. A major study published earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control, on the other hand, found that knee injuries were cut nearly in half among female collegiate soccer players who followed a warm-up program that included both dynamic warm-up exercises and static stretching. (For a sample routine, visit And in golf, new research by Andrea Fradkin, an assistant professor of exercise science at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, suggests that those who warm up are nine times less likely to be injured.

“It was eye-opening,” says Fradkin, formerly a feckless golfer herself. “I used to not really warm up. I do now.”

You’re Getting Warmer: The Best Dynamic Stretches

These exercises- as taught by the United States Tennis Association’s player-development program – are good for many athletes, even golfers. Do them immediately after your aerobic warm-up and as soon as possible before your workout.


(for the hamstrings and gluteus muscles)

Kick one leg straight out in front of you, with your toes flexed toward the sky. Reach your opposite arm to the upturned toes. Drop the leg and repeat with the opposite limbs. Continue the sequence for at least six or seven repetitions.


(for the lower back, hip flexors and gluteus muscles)

Lie on your stomach, with your arms outstretched and your feet flexed so that only your toes are touching the ground. Kick your right foot toward your left arm, then kick your leftfoot toward your right arm. Since this is an advanced exercise, begin slowly, and repeat up to 12 times.


(for the shoulders, core muscles, and hamstrings)

Stand straight, with your legs together. Bend over until both hands are flat on the ground. “Walk” with your hands forward until your back is almost extended. Keeping your legs straight, inch your feet toward your hands, then walk your hands forward again. Repeat five or six times.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


"and although it seems heaven sent
we ain't ready, to see a black president"
-changes, tupac shakur

we tell ourselves that our life is one of opportunity. of unlimited choices and unlimited horizons stretching as far as the mind can dream. and that to reach them, all we have to do is believe and commit to working to achieve them.

but things aren't always that simple. life has a way of always proving otherwise. obstacles, hurdles, obstructions, challenges. expected and unexpected. accidental and intentional. many annoying, some frustrating, a few unyielding, and all of them all together overwhelming. or at the very least, more than enough to show us that opportunity is a myth.

and for some more so than others.

which is why it's so important to see dreams fulfilled. so important to see them manifested beyond our belief and past the efforts of our work.

because you need more than myth. you need reality.

because you have to do more than talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.

because dreams are just dreams, belief is just belief, and work is all in vain, if opportunity is nothing more than a figment of the imagination. they, just like the human spirit, will starve without the sustenance of substance to nourish the hungry heart. or worse, they will implode in the self-destruction produced by the bitterness of their own resultant anguish and alienation.

which is why it's so special to see what's happened now. so special to see dreams made manifest. so special to see that the myth of opportunity is now the reality of opportunity.

and to know that it exists for everyone.

this is why it's so special that we can now wash away the bitterness, provide the sweet sustenance of nourishment, and re-write the lyrics to finally say:

"and it must be heaven sent,
we're finally ready to see a black president"

Sunday, November 02, 2008

the hour has changed

the hour has changed.

there was a time when you feared the morning alarm. the hammer that cracked the serenity of your sleep, the reality that sliced through the bliss of your dreams, with all the harshness of the morning chill and the inevitability of the gathering dawn, pulling away whatever solace there had been to comfort you.

the hour has changed.

there was a time when you would ignore the alarm and pull the blanket over your head and curl closer into your bed and bury yourself further into your sheets and dig deeper into your pillow and do anything to go back to sleep sleep sleep and to seek the comfort of warm and soft and cozy and still.

to turn away from the crispness of the rising air and to close your eyes to the glowing of the growing light, and do everything you could to just stay where you were...just away from whatever lay out there, beyond the confines of your own night.

the hour has changed.

now? now things are different.

now, you're actually awake before the alarm sounds. you actually can't wait for it to ring.

now, you rise, and throw off the blanket and step out from bed and push away the sheets and set aside the pillow and get away from sleep and seek something more than what there was before.

now, you delight in the morning. you taste the clean crispness of the chill, you smell the fresh aroma of the air, you hear the subtle sounds of rustling life, you feel the gentle gathering of early light, and you see the broad spectrum of the deep colors that come with the ascendance of the dawn.

and your senses tell you what you have come to know: it is a moment symphonic. and sacred, and holy, and profound. and it is a miracle that you are there to be a witness to it all.

and it makes you realize that you want to be be a part of everything out there, beyond the confines of your own night, in the freedom of open light. to be the miracle that is life.

in time without fear.

the hour has changed.

and so have you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


the past couple of days i've finally started feeling somewhat normal least enough so that i'm actually able to think about food without getting queasy, and able to think about workouts without wondering if i'm going to collapse.

boooooooooo, food poisoning (or whatever it was)! remind me not to get it again.

i decided to get myself back into training this morning. i'm not quite 100% (if you asked for a number, i'd peg around 80), but i can see the fat accumulating and the love handles returning, and i'm just feeling disgusted with myself. that, and i've only managed 1 workout in the past 2 weeks, which is not good.

things actually weren't so bad today. 50 minutes on the treadmill, and i was shocked at how decent i felt--i'd expected a really really really painful 40 minutes, but was feeling good enough that i ventured on for another 10. the post-run workout wasn't that bad either, with me able to do most of the usual lower-body and core training. all that, and my digestive system didn't give me any issues. i'm actually feeling better now than i did before.

one thing that kept me going today was daydreaming about myself being a kenyan runner....not so much kenyan, but more runner. with the effortless, graceful, silky smooth, supremely beautiful stride and superbly built lean physique of someone attuned in all phases of their existence with the pure act of moving forward at speed. it's a daydream summed up in a picture i found of several kenyan runners at an unknown race, caught in profile, each one framed in perfect form, with the ease and flow that can only be displayed by someone with supreme mastery of their skills, so that it becomes more than science, but rises to art, and at its best becomes a reflection of the majesty that is life.

i daydreamed this. i held this picture in my mind. and i believed in me being the image. motion caught without a time. and i thought of no tension, no tightness, no laboring, no weakness, no hurting, no suffering, no fear, no anxiety, no tentativeness, no anguish, no pain.

just easy. just smooth. just graceful. just beautiful. just supreme.

yeah, i know. it may have been just a dream. and i may have been anything but.

but guess what?

1 workout down.

and i can handle infinite to go.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


yeah, i haven't written a post in a while.

but i've been really sick this past week, and in a way that goes beyond most anything i've experienced.

it was either food poisoning or this weird virus that's been going around school (norovirus). i can't figure out which, since the symptoms are roughly identical for both, and i exhibited them in high degree.

i woke up wednesday with severe nausea, indigestion, and abdominal cramping. i almost threw up just getting out of bed. i realized it was really severe when i blacked out in the shower and woke up to find myself on the bathtub floor with the water running over me--apparently i collapsed and became unconscious while soaping myself. i found myself so weak i couldn't even get my clothes on. it took me forever to get to class, and i don't think i was really safe to drive.

thursday the cramping subsided, but was replaced by a high fever and chills. things got a little better on friday, with the fever going away, and this morning i'm starting to feel okay--at least, well enough to consider getting back to work. but my abdomen is still distended and i'm so far beyond bloated that i look like a tanned Swedish-Asian version of the proverbial beer belly redneck.

needless to say, i didn't get in any workouts at all. and i pretty much just went through the motions with work. and i spent most of my time at home curled up in bed and sleeping. i found things seemed to get better if i consumed acidic nutrition, particularly since i found myself craving sodas (i'm guessing my brain was giving me signals of thumbs-up for the carboxylic acid) and sour foods (as in sauerkraut...yes, sauerkraut)--these did wonders for my nausea. although, i should note, i really have not appettite for anything right now, with the thought of food just not being very pleasing.

like i said, i can't figure out if it was food poisoning or norovirus.

at first i thought maybe it was the norovirus that's been going around USC (it infected more than 400 students at last count...officially they said 330, but then an email from the university put it at over 400, reference: USC Daily Trojan Norovirus), particularly since i've been in contact with so many people in the past few weeks (training and also waltz lessons with the Ballroom Dance Club...i know, so cheezy, but i've always wanted to learn, and unfortunately it means mandatory multiple dance partners during the class, and so put me in close contact with 8-10 different partners).

but now i'm thinking it may be food poisoning. Trader Joe's tilapia citrone, to be specific. the main reason i said this was that i was feeling fine until i ate this tuesday evening before i went to bed...just a few hours before waking up wednesday in this situation. and i notice the smell of it induces a return of the nausea i was feeling, making me think my mind is giving me a signal that this is the culprit. i took a bite of it last night to be sure, and it seemed like the gastric discomfort and abdominal distension relapsed again, doubly confirming my suspicions. but this is all weird, since i've eaten this a lot before and never had this problem. maybe it's just a bad box.

whatever. all i can say is that right now i still don't feel 100%. i still don't feel like working out. and i still feel weak, dizzy, and bloated. especially bloated. like there's something in me that has a life of its own and just won't leave. as in the movie(s) Alien(s).


this sucks.

i'm guessing you all have similar stories to mine? then you know how i feel.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

spreading the message of Ironman

it's funny how people respond when they find out i do Ironmans.

some know quite a bit about it, and have either followed it, known people who did it, or are themselves aspiring to do it. the discussions i have in these situations trend to a personal nature, with questions about why i do it, how i trained for it, and how i found the experience.

some know nothing at all about it, or the sport of triathlon, or any of the individual events of swimming, cycling, or running. in which case, these conversations lean towards a more descriptive tone, discussing the distances, the locations where races are held, the origins of the sport, and how widespread it is.

in either case, however, i notice that there's always an undercurrent of incredulity, sometimes bordering on disbelief. frequently it's overt, with comments or exclamations of amazement. often it's subtle, with non-verbal signals of wonder. invariably, it's accompanied by sentiments of incomprehension, impossibility, inconceivability, or even outright deniability. in all cases, it comes down to the simple phrase: i don't believe it.

i find it funny because of 2 different reasons on 2 different levels.

first, and this deals with the word "funny" in its literal facetious tone: the subtext always reminds me of the conversation between Luke Skywalker and Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. it's almost literally out of the movie. Luke says the exact same thing. i don't believe it. Yoda's answer is classic, and also so very true: and that is why you fail.

second, and this deals with the "funny" in its figurative serious side: having been through an Ironman--several so far to date, and hopefully many more to come, i don't see it as being strange, or bizarre, or incredible, or incomprehensible, or impossible, or inconceivable. and certainly not deniable. in fact, i see the exact opposite.

because you see, Ironman isn't something done by superhumans or freaks of nature. it's not something accomplished through chance or by luck. it's not something undertaken by the insane or the delusional.

instead, Ironman is something done by average, ordinary people with average, ordinary minds guided by average, ordinary spirits inside average, ordinary bodies who one day wake up--in all senses of those words--and decide to take a journey--in all senses of that word--to become something more than who they were and what they are, and to look for what will come, and in so doing find just who they were meant to be.

yes, the journey is extraordinary. very. very. very. extraordinary. and those who do it become so themselves.

but that's the point. the journey may produce the extraordinary, may be extraordinary, but it begins with the ordinary. it begins with us.

and that's why i spread the message: anyone can do an Ironman.


you just have to wake up--in all senses of those words--and decide to take a journey--in all senses of that word. even though you may be ordinary. especially if you're ordinary. and look for, find, believe in the extraordinary.

and then never stop.

because anything is possible.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


you know that many things will happen on race day.

the starting gun will go off, the crowd will surge en masse, and you'll be struggling through a seething mass of bodies all lunging for space to move. once you've done that, you'll be buffeted by waves, a random assortment of arms and legs, the glare of the sun, and the throbbing whistling bubbling hissing of the water, all acting to make you lose your sense of direction. you'll swallow water, choke, and also flail.

once out of the water, you'll be staggering to regain equilibrium, just to get balanced on the bike, and even then, there's going to be potholes, and cracked pavement, and glass and rocks and chips and stones and nails and random collateral debris, with the refuse of bottles and wrappers and drinks and food of other competitors, all serving to make an obstacle course of miles. you'll have flats, you'll lose tires, you'll even crash.

and when you get to the run, things will hurt. the shoes won't fit. the clothes will chafe. the ground will feel like a sledgehammer. and your digestive system will be looking to give you payback for everything you've done today. and things will just go on and on and on and on, all adding to make for a very long time exposed outdoors. you'll slow, you'll walk, you'll stop, you'll even vomit.

and none of this includes the other things that will happen. the course the elements the people the day. hot and cold, wind and rain, sun and fog. and everything feeling like it's uphill and many mountains to go.

but for all this, in spite of all this, you also know something else: that you will go on.

you'll swallow water, thrash in the waves, but you'll get your bearings and find your way. even if it means stopping to look every other stroke.

you'll get a flat, crash onto the road, but you'll collect yourself and get back in the saddle. even if it means you're riding on rims packed with dirt and leaves.

you'll slow you'll walk you'll even stop, but you'll catch your breath and start again. even if it means you're taking it just one step at a time.

you'll face everything, but you won't quit. even if it means you're on hands and knees and gasping and tired and sore and weak and in tears, and doing nothing more than an agonizing imperceptible crawl.

because you also know one other thing, and it's one of the few things that makes any difference in this world--or any other--and it's one of the great truths of life:

there is only one finish, and it is ahead, and there is only one way to get there.

and it is forward.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

i know who i am

we meet so many kinds of people in this world. kind ones, nice ones, mean ones, cruel ones. innocent and sinister. gentle and harsh. benign and malevolent. honest and false. noble and vile. in so many degrees and so many guises. so many looks and so many manners. so many that it's hard for us to tell one from the other, and we soon begin to see them as all the same, leaving us in a state of our own mass confusion, surrounded by the chaos of other people's insanity.

and it doesn't help that some do not approach us with the best of intentions: some will help you more than others, but some seek only to ensnare you in their treachery.

and the worst of it is that sometimes they do so even though they promise otherwise, and sometimes they do so even though they desire otherwise. they hurt us, not because they intended to, but because they have's in their nature, and they just can't help themselves.

and yet we cannot know one from the other. cannot distinguish the true from the false. the benevolent from the sinister. the dangerous from the innocent. the good from the evil. leaving us to the mercy of this world. and in our confusion, we are at risk of becoming lost, in surrender to the insanity around us.

but there is one thing that provides an answer to our confusion. and it's as simple as the complexity of a koan, framed as an answer to the question that leads to the answer:

i know who i am.

we can't control the world around us. we can't control the others who surround us. and we cannot even know them nor understand them nor believe them. especially since they can't even do so for themselves.

we can, however, control ourselves. and what we do. and what we think. and what we believe. and through this, know who we are, and thereby come to understand what we are, and through this begin to believe in ourselves.

all we have to do is to realize just one thing:

i know who i am.

you see, when we manage this, it doesn't matter what anyone else does to us. it doesn't matter what they do, or what they think, or what they believe. nor does it matter what they want, or what they intend, or what they say, or that they may be trying to help us, or hurt us, or know or don't know either way.

it doesn't matter.

because whatever they do, it cannot change us.

because whatever they want, it cannot hurt us.

because whatever may happen, the chaos of other people's insanity can no longer confuse us.

because we can never be lost again.

because we know this:

i know who i am.

so as our race winds its long course through the chaos that is humanity and leads us even deeper into the supreme chaos that is our reality, we should know that nothing--not the miles, nor the conditions, nor the path, nor the people, nor for that matter anything in this godforsaken misbegotten misplaced world at all--can ever truly serve to stop us.

even as the utter insanity of those around us falls as nothing more than a mote in the infinite insanity of the universe that surrounds us, there should be no confusion, and hence no cause to ever be irrevocably lost.

because of this:

i know who i am.

and with that, we will always find our way back.

and with that, we will always find our way to the finish.

and with that, we will always find our way to what we were always meant to find: ourselves.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

playlist: a cadence bittersweet

"take away love, and our earth is a tomb"
--robert browning

sometimes you wake up, and you want a different cadence.

sometimes you wake up, and you don't want to go for 180 bpm, or 90 strides per minute.

sometimes you wake up, and you don't want to count out the footstrikes, or turnover, or heart rate.

sometimes you wake up, and it's 5am, and before the alarm, and the clouds are low, and the air is still, and the world is quiet, and all you can do is to lie in bed and think and crawl into your clothes and wonder and fumble with your shoes and remember and stumble stumble stumble out your front door and then reflect.

and it's not on cadence.

it's on something else.

kina grannis: sukiyaki (kyu sakamoto cover)

and so you're running, thinking about the something everything nothing that's on your mind, and it takes over. first your arms and then your legs and then your hands and then your feet and then your breathing and then your heart...especially your heart.

and that's when it leads you down a different rhythm, following a different count, on another cadence, on miles beyond the miles that you are treading.

and there are so many.

david choi: apologize (one republic cover)

you don't know where you're going. and you don't care.

you're just on a path. going wherever paths always invariably ultimately were meant to go.

one memory after another. one step upon another. one mile after another.

and there are so many.

every avenue: where were you

too many to understand it all. too many to make sense at all. just a jumble, just a blur.

all just mixed together.

one after another.

amber pacific: fall back into my life

you go through them one by one.

from the beginning to the end.

all just mixed together.

patty griffin: rain

it's not that you want to live it all over. it's not that you have sorrow or regret. it's not that you were hurt.

it's that you need to understand.

from the beginning to the end.

patty griffin: forgiveness

the memories.

the thoughts.

the feelings.

they come and go.

wherever and whenever and however they must go.

so that you can understand.

patty griffin: you are not alone

and the emotions.

the emotions come and go.

wherever and whenever and however they must go.

so that you can understand.

james blunt: you're beautiful

there is no exhaustion. there is no anguish. there is no sorrow. there is no pain. those limits were passed long ago.

all that's left are memories and miles.

so that you can understand.

bill withers: ain't no sunshine

things happen the way they happen. people are the way they are. hearts feel the way they feel. it's just life.

this is just life...the treading of footsteps on a path. wherever paths always invariably ultimately were meant to go. to places that you cannot understand.

and all you know is that all you can know and all that you will know and all you were meant to know are the memories and miles and memories and miles and memories and miles and memories and miles so many as many as one after another one step after another running running running beneath the passing of your feet and the feelings of your heart and the rhythms that it beats.

and you realize then, in a cadence that is most bittersweet, that the only thing to understand is that there is nothing to understand.

u2: all i want is you

sometimes you wake up, and it's 5am, and before the alarm, and the clouds are low, and the air is still, and the world is quiet, and all you can do is to lie in bed and think and crawl into your clothes and wonder and fumble with your shoes and remember and stumble stumble stumble out your front door and then reflect.

on memories and miles.

on memories and miles.

on memories and miles.

and nothing else.

shaenon: time after time (cyndi lauper cover)