Thursday, July 31, 2008

the meaning of love

note: i've been talking a lot w friends about my current situation lately (for that, reference: a broken heart), and i decided to put them into this post. ordinarily, i wouldn't lift entire passages from e-mails i've written to them (privacy thing, you know...and sorry guys, hope you don't mind), but i figured this kind of brings up a major purpose behind this blog and my writing...that, and it expresses my sentiments in a way i like--and remember: i keep telling everyone that i'm about as profane a person writing about the sacred as you're ever likely to meet. this pretty much displays what i mean. and it's pretty much who i am.

i used to be pretty idealistic in my youth. all full of ideals about things like truth and freedom and life and mortality and immortality and eternity and god and humanity and beauty and love. especially love. i used to think it was so special. because it was so mysterious, so seemingly irrelevant to existence, but yet so compelling, and incredible in how it gave our lives meaning. it preoccupied a lot of my time.

but somewhere along the way, things changed. i've gotten more realistic about things as i've gotten older. i guess people have to be in dealing with the mundane bullshit of living and paying bills. love and eternity and god and immortality kind of get lost sometimes in the crush of papers and deadlines and work and survival.

i'm not the only one. many of my friends feel the same way. a lot of them, in fact, say they've even started to give up on love. because there just doesn't seem to be any room for it in this life--or any other.

it's cause quite a bit of soul-searching on my part. and not just because of what's happened to me recently (although, that definitely did aggravate the situation). but i've given it some thought, and here's what i think:

i still believe...still because life is not just a science, but also an art. or it should be. because otherwise it's just an utter waste of time in the vast scale of the cosmos--and yeah i know it is, but for all that there is this one undeniable truth: it is profound. because it is. the same way that the ancients described god as "i am that i am".

and in order to know just how profound, we have to see life in its totality...or as much as we can within the limited confines of our own selves.

and part of that totality is love.

which is why i think it's special whenever you find someone else who gets it. because there's not too many of us around. we have to understand the value of love, and have to know how to respect it (and i don't mean just the other person; i mean life itself).

and we have to know that anytime you find someone who can help you see--and better yet, aspire to reach--the greater things in this universe, you better hang on to them with both hands as hard as you can, so that your mortality can become something beautiful (as opposed to just mundane bullshit), and your life can become sacred (as opposed to just profane).

because we are art. we are profound. and not respecting that is an insult to everything divine.

and in the end--the end, as all things end--it's all we have.

that is why we don't give up on love. because without that, there is no hope.

and with no hope, there is no life.

and what's the point of that?

(or at least no life beyond the muck and mire of human misery. which sucks. i'm tired of sucks. my grandfather said this: you have stop looking for things worth dying for, and start looking for things worth living for. my grandmother said this: survival isn't enough, you also have to flourish.--but for either one you need to believe in life, hope, and need to have faith).

life. hope. love.

once we realize this, we're a little closer to art. a little closer to profound. a little closer to everything that is great and mysterious and beautiful and wonderful and holy and sacred in this universe, and a little closer to the divine truths that we were placed in this creation to discover, so that it could be made known and manifest to all the denizens in all the realms of light exploding into brilliance--dazzling, radiant, glorious--for the very first time to banish all the reaches of the darkness.

a little closer to art. a little closer to profound. a little closer to god.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

a broken heart

Did I disappoint you or let you down?
Should I be feeling guilty or let the judges frown?

i tend to be tentative with relationships. i've been around the block a few times, seen many things, done many things, experienced many things. in equal parts good and bad, depending on how i'm feeling on any given day. i've played this game for many years. and it's left me guarded, cautious, hesitant, knowing all the things that i know can happen and remembering all the memories of the ways they did happen. let's just say there's a few too many wounds that i can't forget, and that i've lost my faith in love, and i find it very hard to believe.

i never intended my relationship with her to have turned out like this.

i knew she was new, and just starting school, and looking to explore and learn about her life and find her place in this world. just like anyone else wants to do...and just like the rest of us are doing now.

but she spoke to me, and sought my answers, and laughed at my jokes, and hung out after classes. and as much as i tried to not think about it, i found i liked it. and as much as i tried to keep myself away, i always thought about her smile.

and she was kind, and she was gentle, and soft as the whisper of the evening breeze. and her spirit resonated with life and with art and with hope and with truth. all things i had dreamed about and come to long for but had lost my faith that i would ever find.

she grew on me.

she was like my dreams.

i kept asking her if we really worked. even when we were holding hands. and she said yes. and pretty soon, as much as i was afraid to, i began to allow myself to believe in us. and i finally decided that i did believe, when on a quiet autumn morning as we drove the streets to school, in a moment that opened like the petals of a flower unfolding in the stillness of the bloom of the early dawn's silent sun, she looked at me and sighed and said that she liked the way the colors of our skin contrasted against each other, and that they looked like they belonged together, and that she wished this moment would last forever.

the emotions of that moment crashed over me like the coming of the tides...and it was then that i was lost, and then that i knew that whatever she wished for, i would do. whatever she dreamed of, i would do. whatever she wanted, i would do. because she asked.

You touched my heart you touched my soul.
You changed my life and all my goals.

And love is blind and that I knew when,

My heart was blinded by you.

that was why it was such a shock when she came back from a weekend home after a stressful midterm exam and said that she needed to leave our relationship because she was struggling in school. she needed space, she said. she needed a friend.

and as much as i was hurt, and confused, and lost, and felt like i'd been blindsided by a freight train at 100 mph, i did what she wanted. because she'd asked.

and so i found myself packing for Ironman New Zealand in a state of sorrow and grief, on a trip that originally had been planned as a triumphant end to school but suddenly had become one of dejection and loss. and i found myself in a foreign country, directionless, aimless, numb, holding nothing but the pieces of a broken heart, with emotions that i struggled to hide from and ignore.

and on race day, as they always do and as much as i did not want them to, my emotions finally found me. and that day become a horror. with a storm as freakish and harsh and severe as the chaos of her decision. and the waves of my pain and my tears flowed like the rain. and the wind was the only companion to my utter despair.

it was everything i could do just to finish. it was only because of the presence of my parents that my spirit held together.

but not even they could fix what had really dreams. my dreams had been taken away. my dreams were gone.

and so was my faith.

I am a dreamer but when I wake,
You can't break my spirit - it's my dreams you take.

when i came back, i committed myself to being the most loyal friend that i could be. i gave her my support, and my concern, and words of comfort and thoughts of care, and things of interest that i knew we shared. and when i saw that she was sad, or hurt, or tired, or weak, i did all i could do to offer help. i set all my feelings aside, and i endeavored to be the best friend a girl could ever have. i did this, because she'd asked.

even when i found out that 2 days after leaving me she had entered into a relationship with someone else. and that he'd been reading her e-mails, and had read everything i'd been writing to her, and had told her to stop talking to me. and she did, because he'd asked.

and then he sent a message to me claiming to be writing on her behalf. in the message, he berated me for being a "pathetic loser" for being interested in her, and told me i knew nothing about love, and threatened me with what he'd do if i interfered in their relationship. it was a nasty, angry, vindictive, venal message, the kind whose venom poisons you long after you've read it.

i don't know if his message were her real thoughts. i don't know.

in my life, i've tried to be a good man. and if not be one, at least try to become one. i've put myself through graduate school to earn 2 doctorates, with a JD from law school and a PhD in international relations. i've worked myself to earn 3 Ironman finishes. i've read and trained and studied about the arts, and letters, and humanity and culture and divinity and life. i've traveled the world to learn what there is to learn.

and i've done all of it, in no small part, to try and make myself the kind of man that could make a woman happy; who could show her respect and kindness and compassion and beauty and all the things that make our lives a work of art in the glory of the supreme mystery that is this creation, and to help her know the freedom to discover for herself the person, the soul, the art that she was meant to be.

but now, i'm starting to wonder. i'm starting to wonder if i was wrong. maybe i am a pathetic loser. and maybe i don't know anything about love.

i'm not the only person he's done this to. i've found out from others that he's done this before. in fact, he has a proven track record of threats and violence and aggression and intimidation against people. he seeks to control and dominate and pressure and manipulate. he's not the kind of person who knows love as being freedom, discovery, or person or soul or art that anyone was meant to be.

i've seen his kind before. many times before. and sooner or later, his behavior towards others invariably translates into his behavior at home. he's already read her emails. he's already written notes on her behalf. and now he's choosing her friends.

she's no longer talking to me. because he asked.

and there's nothing i can do. because she asked.

the good guys lost this one.

i feel like i'm mourning the loss of a soul to the darkness...if asked, i would have sacrificed mine own to save it.

And I will bear my soul in time,
When I'm kneeling at your feet.

i'm alone.

and there's a few too many wounds that i can't forget, and i've lost my faith in love, and i find it very hard to believe.

my heart feels like it's been broken twice. by the same person. and the second time i didn't even think there was anything left to break. but i guess there was.

i'm lost. i can't sleep. i don't want to eat. i keep listening to the same sad song over and over again, because i don't want to hear anything else. and i keep thinking about her.

my coaches have noticed. they're telling me that my movements look empty, that my actions seem to lack substance. i don't feel like training. i don't feel like racing. i don't even really feel like living. and they keep asking me "dude, what's going on? is something wrong?"

and i don't know what to tell them. what can i tell them? everything is wrong...i'm training, racing, living on a broken heart. and there's nothing left for it to give.

friends of mine in the military tell me that a Dear John letter is the equivalent of setting off a hand grenade. one officer told me that he's seen entire units fall apart from the effects of a single letter, and he suspects that entire armies have risen and fallen on the basis of love alone.

i don't know if he's right. but i know that for me, right now, i feel like i've been broken, beaten, destroyed, crushed. like my life has been taken away from me. like there's nothing inside. nothing anywhere.

our lives are a work of art in the glory of the supreme mystery that is this creation.

that's what i keep telling myself.

our lives are a work of art in the glory of the supreme mystery that is this creation.

that's all i can tell myself.

our lives are a work of art in the glory of the supreme mystery that is this creation.

i don't know what else i can do.

except write this and make some record of events and try to make sense of what's happened somehow. even though i know i can't. because things just don't work out that way. they didn't work out that way.

i lost a love. and worse, i lost a friend.

i lost my dreams.

i'm so empty.

I'm so hollow, baby, I'm so hollow.
I'm so, I'm so, I'm so hollow.

Did I disappoint you or let you down?
Should I be feeling guilty or let the judges frown?
'Cause I saw the end before we'd begun,

Yes I saw you were blinded and I knew I had won.

So I took what's mine by eternal right.

Took your soul out into the night.

It may be over but it won't stop there,

I am here for you if you'd only care.

You touched my heart you touched my soul.

You changed my life and all my goals.

And love is blind and that I knew when,

My heart was blinded by you.

I've kissed your lips and held your head.

Shared your dreams and shared your bed.

I know you well, I know your smell.

I've been addicted to you.

Goodbye my lover.

Goodbye my friend.

You have been the one.

You have been the one for me.

I am a dreamer but when I wake,

You can't break my spirit - it's my dreams you take.

And as you move on, remember me,

Remember us and all we used to be

I've seen you cry, I've seen you smile.

I've watched you sleeping for a while.

I'd be the father of your child.

I'd spend a lifetime with you.

I know your fears and you know mine.

We've had our doubts but now we're fine,

And I love you, I swear that's true.

I cannot live without you.

Goodbye my lover.

Goodbye my friend.

You have been the one.

You have been the one for me.
And I still hold your hand in mine.
In mine when I'm asleep.

And I will bear my soul in time,

When I'm kneeling at your feet.

Goodbye my lover.

Goodbye my friend.

You have been the one.

You have been the one for me.
I'm so hollow, baby, I'm so hollow.
I'm so, I'm so, I'm so hollow...

-James Blunt, Goodbye My Lover

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

heartache and pain

"because there's always been heartache and pain"
--savage garden, crash and burn

in my life, i've come to learn that pain comes in many forms. none of it good, but some far worse than others. and a few--a very specific, very special few--that lie beyond any level of conceivable suffering.

and i don't mean what most may think.

physical pain, i've come to know, is the least of worries. physical pain, for the most part, is temporary. it doesn't last. it hurts, yes, but the hurting goes away. bones break, muscles strain, ligaments rip, tendons tear, cartilage ruptures, skin shreds. but for the most part, short of lethal force, and given enough time and care, we ultimately recover and become whole again. and the scars, if there are any, heal and fade in time and go away to be lost in the recesses of our memory. forgotten and left behind.

more than this, physical pain can be managed. it can be contained. even eased or eliminated completely. so much so that you don't know there is even any damage anywhere, and go on living your life as you did before.

mental pain, however, is a different story. this i have come to dread the most. because it's never temporary. it lasts. it doesn't go away. sorrow, anguish, depression, despair. heartache and pain. emotional and spiritual. all of it suffering. enough that you never recover or become whole. so much that the scars never really heal, and never fade in time and never go away, but instead thrive in the forefronts of our memory...and are remembered, to become burdens forever borne.

it can't be managed. or contained. or eased or eliminated. as much as we try or wish or pray it could. sometimes it actually grows. festers. propagates. so much so that it goes beyond you to affect others around you. it can be draining. overwhelming. paralyzing. to the point that it takes your life from you forever.

but isn't one related to the other? aren't physical and mental pain on some level just the same?

sure. of course. all the time.

that's part of the reason so many people do Ironman. because they seek to reach the limits of the physical so that they can find the origins of the mental, and in so doing come to know where physical pain ends and mental pain begins, and thereby come to understand the causes of their own suffering. it's part of what it takes to earn the title of Ironman.

it happens to everyone. even me. especially me. even when i don't want it to.

in my time in sports, particularly once i began on the journey to becoming an endurance athlete, i've come to know the extent of emotional and spiritual pain, and just how great an impact they can have.

even when i didn't know it. or denied it. or hid it.

you see, mental pain--sorrow, anguish, depression, despair--they take your race away from you. they make you half the person you were before, and far less than the person you were meant to be. they make mounds into mountains, risers into cliffs, cracks into chasms, the smallest of obstacles into the most insurmountable of challenges. they take you down and rip you apart and throw you over into a darkness deeper than any beyond imagination.

they are unendurable.

because they take your spirit. your will to live.

because they break you.

broken. beaten. cracked. consumed. destroyed. blown up. hammered. an empty shell. in sports it goes by many names, but they all refer to the same thing.

every athlete knows exactly what i'm talking about.

there was the story this past year of an Australian track & field athlete who announced his withdrawal from running, and his departure from the Australian Olympic team, because of a broken heart. he could no longer motivate himself to run, or even train. he needed time, he said, because his sorrow was to great to bear.

some people may snicker. some people say that winners always find a way to rise above such things.

but i felt for him. some pain is so great that it will exhibit itself no matter what you do.

because i've been there. i've had to race with a broken heart, and during an Ironman no less, where i found the distance pushed me so far beyond the physical that i could no longer hide from my feelings, and was forced to confront my emotions, which came so deep and so strong that they literally froze my body so that i could not move. it took everything to just. take. a. step. forward.

and the process of excising that pain was a torment marked by miles of bloody footsteps and wind-swept despair and rain-soaked tears in a storm as great as my own suffering. just to be spent of my emotions. all of it purged and left on dirt and concrete and asphalt and pavement. leaving scars that i know will never heal. because they're the kind that never do.

physical burdens can be let go. they can be dropped. once they're gone, they're gone. you no longer have to carry them--in a race or in life.

mental burdens, however, are so much harder. because we ignore them, deny them, hide them. meaning even when we think they're gone, they're still there. meaning you carry them. all of them. in a race. in life.

and as much as they are a burden on your race, imagine how much a burden they are to your life.

heartache and pain? heartache is pain. the worst kind of all.

which is why it gets me when people say they're afraid to do Ironman because it might hurt. you have to earn the title of Ironman. and until you do you can't ever really understand what that means. all i can do is just look at them, and think:

you. have. no. idea.

Friday, July 18, 2008

ice cream (national ice cream day 2008)

note: in the U.S., the 3rd Sunday of July is National Ice Cream Day, which for 2008 is this Sunday, July 20. i wrote about National Ice Cream Day last year, which you can read at: it is national ice cream day. that post was more tongue-in-cheek. this one is more sentimental.

my love for ice cream began with my grandparents. more specifically, my grandmother.

as diligent, pious, humble, hard-working, and upright as they were, they allowed themselves to take a respite every now and then, in the form of things like weekly Sundays in sabbath and daily mid-day siestas or afternoons with music and evenings of reading. among them was one that became--although i didn't know it at the time--my personal favorite: ice cream.

my grandfather, although he never refused a serving, was not that ardent in his fervor for the stuff. he liked it. but never to excess. certainly not the same degree the rest of us did.

my grandmother, on the other hand, was different. of the two, she was always the first to ask for ice cream, and she always endeavored to have it stocked in the freezer. during summers, and often throughout the year, she always looked to have it available.

especially whenever i was sad, or hurt, or struggling to make it through the day.

i remember coming home from school as a little kid, with all the weight of the world on my shoulders, and her arms hugging me, and then asking me if i wanted to talk things over.

invariably, i'd always shrug, and she'd sit me down at the dinner table, and bring out a cup of ice cream, and we'd sit and share and discuss the state of the world, with me mumbling my sorrows and she listening gently.

eventually, sometime between me playing with the spoon and staring at the cup and half-heartedly picking at the ice cream while going through my thoughts, she and i would sort things out.

inevitably, at the moment when i had finished my last bite and was scraping the cup and staring at the last remaining melted layers at the bottom, she'd take a pensive look, and softly nod, and offer her advice, qualified by her admission that it was just her opinion, and just her stock of things.

and then we'd finish with a hug. and sometimes she would cry and sometimes i would sniffle and we'd both have to go and get a tissue. but somehow i always felt better.

i didn't know it then, but those were some of the happiest times in my life.

not because of ice cream that i ate. nor the flavors that i chose. nor the scoops that i took.

but because they were times of comfort. and moments shared between two people dealing with the profound mystery that is life...and moments shared in an even more profound mystery still: love.

i think of her often now. whenever i'm sad, or hurt, or struggling to make it through a day. and i think of being a child once more, and coming home, with all the weight of the world on my shoulders, and her arms hugging me, and asking me if i want to talk things over.

i miss those days.

i miss her.

she always said that everything went better with ice cream. and she was right. they did.

and they still do.

Monday, July 14, 2008


when we're young, we live in a world of dreams. of worlds, and places, and things to do and sights to explore and experiences to feel and people we'll meet and what we'll become and what might be. dreams made in the freedom of unknown horizons, stretching as far as we can possibly imagine. no limits too small, no challenges too great, no deeds impossible.

they light the lights of our minds, stoke the fires of our hearts, lift the radiance of our spirits. so that our days are days dwelt in the realm of tomorrow, where lies the miracle of hope in truth.

in our age, we lose our dreams, almost assuredly as we lose our youth.

or lose ourselves.


in the burden of chores and tasks and work and deadlines and duties and and responsibilities and liabilities and bills and taxes and loans and credits and rents and deposits, all to feed the never-ending pressure of food and drink and light and heat and water and gas and clothes and shelter, in a world that hounds us reminds us tells us beats us with the reality that we live in a world of realities.

and nothing else.

until all we can do is dream of dreaming dreams.

and so we respond, react, act out, in ways we don't really understand but inside deep down in places we've forgotten we really do. and we seek the solace of water and wind and earth and sky, taking ourselves upon journeys so that we can fly, and leave the world of realities.

and in the solitude of distance taken in the mystery of grace, we find ourselves alone again, and find our minds and hearts and spirits once more, and find that the journey is not about our bodies traveling over miles to a final end, but rather a return to someplace somewhere sometime somehow someway we've been something we need.

and we find then that we are still the children we were before.

with dreams. in a world of dreams.

because we know, at that point beyond the world found simply by taking another step after another step after another step after another step, that sometimes--in the darkest times when we need them most--all we have in life are dreams.

because they light the lights of our minds, stoke the fires of our hearts, lift the radiance of our spirits, so that our days are days dwelt in the realm of tomorrow, where lies the miracle of hope in truth.

and all so much in heaven more.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

dara torres' training methods (training at age)

there seems to be a lot of talk recently about Dara Torres, with a lot of the attention centered around what kind of training regimen is allowing her to be so competitive at age 41--even on this blog, which showed over 500 visitors in 2 days (!?!?!? i've never had so many, nor expected so many, for a blog directed to the more reflective, introspective, spiritual side of niche sports like triathlon and endurance racing).

i have to admit, i've been curious myself. anything as remarkable as her performance certainly warrants some observation. and i'm always open to alternative training methods--especially when they're being proven successful in athletic competition. that, and i have to admit that i am starting to feel the pull of age, even though i may not look it, and i'm starting to understand that my body isn't quite working the same way it did when i was an undergraduate. as a result, i've been putting a lot more time into figuring out how to adjust my training to work with the current state of my body. seeing that a 41-year old Dara Torres seems to have found something effective to deal with her age, i'm definitely interested in trying to learn more to help me with mine.

i sort of made a few notes about her training in my last post (reference: dara torres). but i dug around a little bit more for any other sources that might reveal further information about her training methods.

obviously, i'm sure the exact details (exercises, distance, duration, intensity, repetitions, mass, training schedule, nutrition, etc.) about her regimen are a closely guarded state secret, and on a strictly need-to-know basis (it's her competitive edge, after all, and no athlete ever just gives that away). and i'm sure anyone who wants those details are going to have to 1) get a slightly watered-down version (again, no athlete ever gives away their competitive edge), and 2) pay for it (as in money, to whoever is making her training regimen).

but i figure that it's possible to glean at least some insights just reviewing what's been publicly disclosed. at the very least, it can generate some food for thought and point out directions to go in changing training plans (mine, or anybody else's). which is fine for me, since i'm not in the same sport as she is, nor the same person, and so don't expect to have the same training. i prefer to just have principles that guide the training plan, so i can orient things according to whatever sport i want to pursue.

here's the articles i've found that mention her training:
the last 2 are perhaps the most illuminating, with the last article having the greatest amount of detail of her training, and the 2nd-to-last article seeming to be the best summary. i put the text of the 2nd-to-last one at the bottom of this post, since it seems to cover the most for the least amount of reading.

i should note that one component of her training regimen--her resistance stretching--is conducted by a company called Innovative Body Solutions (check out their website: ). but this is only one part of her total training process, and so i think it's important to look at the other elements to get a sense of her total training regimen.

based on these articles, this is what i've been able to draw out:
  • fewer workouts
  • more strength work
  • more recovery
  • more nutrition
i'll expand on each of these below:

observation #1: fewer workouts

she has fewer workouts now than she did when she was younger. in her youth (up to her mid-20s), she was doing 10-12 swim workouts a week, whereas now she's only doing 5 or 6. this entails a number of qualifiers:
  • workouts have a longer duration--her total exercise time on a daily basis seems to last about 3-4 hours, with about 90 minutes per swim workout, followed by roughly 90 minutes of strength training, and then finished with about 45-60 minutes of stretching and massage work (i'm including the stretching and massage work as part of exercise time, since her heart rate and muscle strength is probably still coming down during this time to return to rest state). this contrasts with most swimmers (and most athletes) i know, who usually have 90-120 minutes of exercise for any given training session, with the exception being distance runners and cyclists (who can easily go 3 hours for marathon training or 8 hours for road cycling). even in Ironman, i know of very few people who ever go beyond 2-3 hours of exercise in a single workout.
  • no 2-a-days--given that she has fewer workouts of longer duration, she maintains only 1 workout per day. no 2-a-days. WOW. most athletes i know (particularly triathletes, and also swimmers) try to get in 2 workouts a day, even if it means 1 workout is just an "easy" session and the other is the "real" or "hard" one. typically, this means a morning and an evening workout. this is so common in triathlon it's almost assumed dogma. hardly anybody even questions it. but she's done away with it entirely.
  • less volume--even though the workouts are of longer duration, the overall total weekly volume is less than what she covered in her youth. one of the articles has her noting that when she was younger she did as much as 65,000 meters a week, but now has reduced that to 25,000 meters per week. this points to the reduction of weekly workout sessions.
  • clearer focus--because workouts are fewer and weekly volume is less, each workout session is done with a very clear set of objectives for each one. most athletes in their 20s i know just do workouts without any question as to purpose--either they don't know to wonder why, or just figure that any training is good. but with Dara Torres, it's very clear that each workout is done for a specific reason, and performed to fulfill that reason. this is something i've heard before from most coaches and sports science experts, who consistently complain that athletes need to have a better sense of "quality" workouts (i.e., those that improve athletic performance) as opposed to "junk" ones (i.e., those that don't do anything, and in many cases actually damage, athletic performance).
  • thought-out training--workouts are not isolated. each one is related to another. this means workouts have to be organized over the course of a training cycle (lasting weeks, months, seasons, or even years) in a way that makes the athlete progress in performance towards a specific race. again, this is something that most younger athletes seem to miss, and something that coaches and sports science experts gripe that more athletes need to understand. with Dara Torres, she has a very clear race (well, if you include qualifying heats, set of races) in the Olympics that she is aiming for, and has evidently timed her training over the past few years (yes, years, going back to her return to swimming after her pregnancy) to peak for the Beijing Olympics.
observation #2: strength training

she does almost as much strength training as she does swimming. this differs from a lot of swimmers i know, as well as a lot of endurance athletes, who tend to insist that strength training is detrimental to their sport training, since it 1) takes away time that could be spent on training for their sport, and 2) builds muscle mass that doesn't contribute to performance. Dara Torres, however, is proving that strength training--at least, the right kind of strength training--can actually help training for a sport, and can contribute to performance in that sport. in particular, the strength training she does involves the following:
  • compound, complex movement--she is doing exercises that involve multiple muscle groups moving in complex ranges of motion. according to sports science, this is building power that can be employed in a functional manner, and is the kind of power considered "functional strength" or "sport-specific strength" (i.e., the kind of strength that can actually be used in athletic events). the theory is that traditional forms of strength training followed body-building principles focused on isolating muscles, and that this creates unstable structural imbalances in overall body muscle composition that detracts from athletic performance (or worse, leads to injury), and hence is inappropriate to sports.
  • eccentric and concentric resistance--her strength work places resistance in both eccentric (as the muscle elongates) and concentric (as the muscle contracts) phases of muscle movement. the "resistance stretching" the articles refer to employ resistance as muscles both compress and expand. incidentally, this is the kind of method used in plyometric training (which focuses on explosive muscular contractions), albeit in a more violent manner. the general reasoning behind this method is that it builds elasticity (thereby preventing injury) and strength throughout a full range of motion--for both muscle and connective tissue.
  • core work--much of the work she's doing involves the core. this is nothing new for most people, since it seems to be a dominant theme in sports science in this era. the theory is that core work (i.e., strengthening the torso) builds the base from which power can be generated--and because the muscles in the core tend to be large, this power can be significant in relation to that produced by the arms and legs alone. as a result, core work can complement the limbs, and thereby improve overall physical performance.
  • stabilizing--the overarching theme of all the above is that it increases stability in the body's musculature and connective tissue. as a result it prevents injury, and allows for greater synchronization of all muscle groups in athletic competition.
you can the sense of the reasoning behind her strength training from the following quote:
Torres’s innovations for keeping her body in top shape as she advances deeper into middle age are almost entirely out of the pool. In Florida, after her two-hour water workout, Torres changed into a black workout top and shorts and met her strength coach, Andy O’Brien, in the gym. Over the past year and a half, O’Brien, who is also the strength coach of the Florida Panthers hockey team, has switched Torres’s focus away from heavy, static weightlifting and geared her training toward balanced, dynamic exercises that stimulate her central nervous system. “The idea is not to isolate muscle groups but to get muscles contracting together in the right sequences,” O’Brien explains. Weight training, he notes, grew out of bodybuilding, and that low-rep high-weight tradition is ill suited for a sprinter since a body comprised of big muscles that have been trained to produce force only individually wastes considerable energy trying to move. O’Brien says speed derives from highly coordinated movements and fluid timing. Under his tutelage Torres is 12 pounds lighter, stronger and more cut than she was in 2000.
in addition, you can also get a feel for is done in her "resistance stretching" in this quote:

“Dara and I haven’t seen each other in like 10 hours, so we have to catch up,” Anne Tierney, one of the stretchers, explained as she sat on a chair near Torres’s head. Her partner, Steve Sierra, sat on a chair near Torres’s side, and the two proceeded to “mash,” or massage Torres’s shoulders and legs with their feet — sometimes standing on her body — so their hands wouldn’t tire and they could apply more force. After 45 minutes, they began Torres’s resistance-stretching sequence, a series of maneuvers that looks like a cross between a yoga class, a massage and a Cirque du Soleil performance. The concept behind resistance stretching is that muscles can gain more flexibility if they’re contracted and stretched at the same time. At one point Torres rolled onto her stomach, tucking one leg underneath her chest (in what yogis call pigeon pose). Then Tierney leaned her torso against Torres’s slightly bent back leg, pushing it toward Torres’s glutes, as Torres worked to overcome Tierney’s force and straighten out that leg. Later, Torres moved up onto a massage table and Tierney and Sierra worked on her tensor fascia latae, a muscle that starts on the outside of hip and extends down the leg. Sierra used his hands and shoulders to rotate Torres’s thigh externally; Tierney stood at the foot of the table, pulling outward on Torres’s calf near the ankle.

Torres calls resistance stretching her “secret weapon.” Bob Cooley, who invented the discipline, describes it in less-modest terms. According to Cooley, over a two-week period in 1999, his flexibility system turned Torres “from being an alternate on the relay team to the fastest swimmer in America.” The secret to Torres’s speed, Cooley says, is that his technique not only makes her muscles more flexible but also increases their ability to shorten more completely, and when muscles shorten more completely, they produce greater power and speed. “What do race-car drivers do when they want to go faster?” Cooley asks. “They don’t spend more hours driving around the track. They increase the biomechanics of the car. And that’s what resistance flexibility is doing for Dara — increasing her biomechanics.”

and if you want to know what the results of her strength training look like, you can refer to a picture of her taken in 2007:
as you can see, this is not the big, bulky muscle-bound body that so many endurance athletes associate with strength training. instead, it's the lean, powerful, but fluid and coordinated type of muscle that is relevant to sports i think most endurance athletes would accept as being competitive in their endurance events. and yes, i know Dara Torres is a sprinter (50m and 100m freestyle), but i'm willing to bet most endurance athletes would be happy to have her type of body.

observation #3: more recovery

recovery is just as, if not more, important as workouts. this is pretty well known, not just in medical science or sports science, but also among the general public. as you get older, your body does not recover from hard physical events as quickly as it did when you were younger. even Dara Torres is quoted in the articles as saying that she felt very sore after her Olympic trials swims, and that she needed help to recover in time for the next swims. it should be noted that recovery doesn't mean just eating and sleeping, but an active process of helping her body flush out toxins and heal. this means the following:
  • more rest time--with fewer workout sessions and less training volume, she's allocating much more space in her schedule for recovery time in the form of sleep, lying down, or even just relaxing by hanging out with friends and family. and this isn't just each day, but over the week. i notice she's getting 2 days of rest a week, which is more than most athletes i know (almost everyone i know, in endurance sports or otherwise, only reserve 1 rest day each week). your body just needs down time, since this is when it rebuilds tissue and restores glycogen reserves--and the older you are the longer this takes. since training is about building tissue and storing glycogen, this means that you have to be willing to put a greater priority on resting relative to training as you get older.
  • more stretching--she doesn't skimp on this. her stretching routine lasts almost as long as the sport and strength phases of her workout sessions, going almost 45-60 minutes. this is almost inconceivable to younger athletes, who i know (i was one of them) generally bypass stretching altogether, because they often don't have the attention span or the understanding to grasp the importance of stretching in the warm-up, cool-down, or recovery process. stretching helps in flushing out toxins, and also helps to restore elasticity in muscle and connective tissue that often become taut from the trauma of workouts (and really, that's what a workout is: a process of inflicting trauma on tissues so that the body's recuperative systems are incited to regenerate and grow to adapt the body's tissues to accommodate the trauma being placed upon it). flushing out toxins and restoring elasticity are necessary to speed up the rebuilding process and ensure it does so in a way that builds strength through a range of motion (i.e., in a way that builds functional strength)
  • more massage--again, she doesn't skimp on this. this is part of the stretching routine, but i'm listing it separately since the articles indicate she pays for masseuses separately from her stretching therapists. massages do roughly the same thing as stretching: flush out toxins and restore elasticity in the muscles. but they can go much deeper into the muscle and connective tissue than stretching can, and so can be much more effective. in addition, they can target specific problem areas, and so can be much better at treating individual trouble spots.
observation #4: nutrition

she is faithful to her nutrition plan. as any doctor and most sports scientists will tell you: garbage in, garbage out. the articles don't describe her nutrition in any detail, but i'm willing to bet it has a good ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. and i'm willing to bet there's no fried chicken or pancakes or potato chips or BBQ or ice cream or cheesecake or cookies or pie. nutrition should not be a surprise to any athlete--particularly anyone who does Ironman, where it's almost a necessity just to make sure you actually finish. but it's surprising just how many athletes i know blatantly ignore nutrition guidelines under the reasoning that they're bulletproof invincible gods of physical perfection with bodies that can metabolize anything on this planet (or any other) with absolutely no consequences on race day. well guess what? maybe it's true when you're 18. but as you get older the margin of error starts to get a whole lot smaller, and any deviation from a good nutrition plan starts to make itself much more apparent--on your body, and in your performance. and at 41, you either stick with the nutrition plan and keep yourself in the competition for race day, or you don't and pay the price of failure. your choice.

i'll finish by saying a lot of the above observations are ones that i've also gotten from other articles and other sources (reference my comments regarding Bernard Lagat, a middle distance runner now in his mid-30s and going to his 3rd Olympics, in my post: coaching (and training) different--you'll see his coach is exercising many of the same principles illustrated by Dara Torres), and are ones that i've started to experience in my own life and hear about from the lives of other athletes. at 41 you just can't train the same way you did when you were 21--your body is different, you are different, and so you need different training methods more in keeping with what you are now (as opposed to what you were 20 years ago).

can your body still perform at age? well, looking at Dara Torres, the answer is yes. and she's not the only exemplar--just go to any Ironman and look at the ages of people racing, and then check and see how fast some of the older racers are relative to their younger competitors (you'd be surprised). your body can still perform at just have to train in a way that helps it do so--you have to train at age.

can your body perform better at age? i'll let the following speak for themselves (note: this chart came from the 1st NY Times article listed at the start of this post, and which was written in 2007 when she was 40...obviously, she's now 41):

Torres Is Getting Older, but Swimming Faster
New York Times
Karen Crouse
November 18, 2007

Correction Appended

Dara Torres, the fastest female swimmer in America, plunged toward the bottom of the pool, like a child scavenging for coins. She came up for a breath, grinning. The lanes next to hers pulsed with swimmers pushing themselves through 100- and 200-meter timed sprints, but Torres was under orders from her coach to rest, the better to let her 40-year-old body recover.

It was a Friday, the end of another unorthodox training week for Torres, a four-time Olympian who is doing less in the water to wring more results out of a swimming career that was supposed to have run dry by now.

Her day had begun just after dawn in the weight room, where she worked her legs until they quivered and her arms until they ached — without pressing a weight or lifting a dumbbell. The 90-minute workout was the first leg of her training triathlon. It was followed by 90 minutes of swimming and 60 minutes of stretching.

Torres’s training is cutting edge so that her personal pharmacy does not have to be. A nine-time Olympic medalist who made her first Olympic team in 1984, Torres is at a short-course meet in Berlin this weekend, representing the United States in the freestyle sprints in her last competition of the year. She has the 2008 Summer Games in her sights after winning the 100 freestyle and setting a United States record in the 50 freestyle at the national championships in August.

In a one-lap race, where personal bests are typically whittled by hundredths of a second, Torres’s progression is astounding. Her age adds to the intrigue. What she is doing would be akin to Roger Clemens’s throwing a fastball harder now, at 45, than he did 20 years ago or goaltender Ed Belfour’s coming out of retirement at 42 to post his career-best save percentage.

“I think what Dara’s doing is fantastic,” said Gary Hall Sr., who was 25 and considered ancient — his teammates nicknamed him the Old Man and the Sea — when he swam in his third Olympics in 1976. “It proves that we really don’t know what the peak age of performance is.”

For every person who marvels at Torres’s motor, there are others who wonder what kind of fuel she is putting in her tank. It is the nature of a sport that lost its squeaky-clean image long ago. Beginning in the late 1960s with East Germany’s state-supported doping program and continuing through the 1990s with a rash of failed drug tests by the Chinese, the pool has turned into a breeding ground for skeptics, suspicion and cynicism.

“Behind my back people are saying I must be using something,” Torres said. “I know it. I hear it.”

She has been tested for performance-enhancing drugs more than half a dozen times this year, and the results have been negative, said Mark Schubert, the national team’s coach and general manager. At Torres’s request, her blood is being drawn regularly so she can be tested for illegal substances like human growth hormone that cannot be detected in urine.

“My attitude is, bring it on,” Torres said. “Do what you have to do to prove I’m clean.”

Torres has ridden the wave of popular opinion from crest to crash. In 1994, she was the first athlete to appear alongside supermodels in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, her face instantly recognizable as belonging to the golden girl who graced the American 4x100 freestyle relay team that beat the big, bad East Germans at the 1992 Olympics and bettered their world record.

In 2000, when she returned to the sport after a six-year layoff and won five medals at the Sydney Olympics, Torres became the face of innuendo, her success grist for the rumor mill. The rumors troubled Michael Lohberg, the coach at Coral Springs Swim Club in Florida. While working with West German swimmers in the 1980s, Lohberg saw how destructive steroid use could be to the health of the users and the emotional well-being of their pursuers who were clean.

One swimmer he worked with was Birgit Schulz, an individual medley specialist who later became his wife. At the 1986 world championships, Schulz placed sixth in the 200 individual medley. Four of the finishers ahead of her were from Eastern bloc nations where steroid use was considered rampant.

Seeing her frustration crystallized Lohberg’s stance on performance-enhancing drugs: he did not condone them and would not coach anyone who used them.

In late 2005, while pregnant with her first child, Torres began swimming three or four times a week at the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex, where Lohberg’s club is based. After giving birth to her daughter, Tessa Grace, in April 2006, Torres raced in two masters meets and posted times that were competitive with the world’s elite swimmers, emboldening her to try another comeback. She asked Lohberg if he would coach her, and he sat her down to have The Talk.

He asked Torres if she had ever used performance-enhancing drugs. “For myself, I needed to have this clear before we started anything,” Lohberg said.

Torres recalled, “I said, ‘Why do you ask that?’ and he said, ‘Because that’s what everybody was talking about on the deck in Sydney.’”

She assured Lohberg that she would never use drugs. After they began working together, he saw no reason to doubt her.

“Technically, she’s brilliant,” Lohberg said.

“And Dara wants to be perfect,” he added. “She’s very conscientious.”

People who know her say it is ludicrous to suspect Torres of doping. If she is guilty of anything, her friends say, it is of being a compulsive exerciser.

“I don’t think she has ever been out of shape a day in her life,” said Schubert, who coached Torres in the late 1980s. “I think that’s what makes this possible and conceivable.”

At the Olympic trials next June in Omaha, dozens will compete for two berths in Torres’s best events, the 50 and 100 freestyles. When Torres won her 14th and 15th national titles this summer, she became a feel-good story for baby boomers and a bad omen for their freestyle-sprinting progeny.

Rumors that she is doping are hurtful, Torres said, “but in another way it’s sort of a compliment.” It tells her that younger competitors perceive her not as a relic but as a real threat.

Torres works in the water five times a week, down from 10 to 12 water workouts in her teens and 20s.

“My body definitely takes longer to recover,” she said. “I have my good days when I feel like I’m 20, and then I have my days when I can’t lift my arms out of the water.”

The cost of being a middle-age champion can be steep, but she can afford it. Torres enlisted Bloomberg L.P., Toyota and Speedo as sponsors to help defray her training expenses. She estimated that she would spend about $100,000 this year on her support staff.

In addition to Lohberg, Torres employs a sprint coach, Chris Jackson; a strength and conditioning coach, Andy O’Brien, who also oversees her diet; two full-time personal stretchers, Steve Sierra and Anne Tierney; a physical therapist; a masseuse; and a nanny. She also leans heavily on her boyfriend, David Hoffman, an obstetrician who is Tessa’s father.

Most days, Sierra and Tierney are waiting for Torres at her suburban Fort Lauderdale home when she is finished swimming. They twist and pull her torso and limbs in a vigorous resistance stretching routine that eases her body’s recovery by flushing out toxins and lactic acid.

“People can say I’m on drugs or whatever, but they are really my secret weapon,” Torres said, referring to Sierra’s and Tierney’s torturous routine.

O’Brien, who is on the staff of the N.H.L.’s Florida Panthers, said, “Dara’s really gone a step ahead of other athletes in terms of taking care of her body.”

He began working with Torres last November, introducing her to an ever-evolving regimen that encompasses Swiss balls, medicine balls, bands and resistance cables. The goal of her four 90-minute strength sessions each week is to stimulate her nervous system and strengthen her core muscles through a variety of multijoint movements.

The results have been striking. Torres’s muscles have grown longer and leaner, with the exception of those in her back and shoulders, which have thickened. She carries 150 pounds on her 6-foot frame, down from 160 in 2000. Her reaction time off the blocks has improved, and she is more efficient in the water.

“Over all, she got a lot fitter,” Lohberg said, adding, “and she’s more balanced in the water.”

One of O’Brien’s longtime clients is Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ star center. For all their differences, the 20-year-old Crosby and Torres are remarkably alike, O’Brien said. Crosby becomes nervous when he is given a new exercise or task to complete because he does not want to fail.

“Dara’s the same way,” O’Brien said as he watched her complete a drill on the Swiss ball. “Even if it’s just her and a Swiss ball, there’s almost a little nervous energy before she tries something new.”

He added, “Dara reminds me of the student who’s worried she’s going to fail the test and then gets a 100.”

Days before leaving for Berlin, Torres asked Lohberg to critique her flip turn. Never mind that she has done hundreds of thousands of turns over the years. In Torres’s mind, there is always room for improvement. Yesterday in Berlin, she twice lowered the United States record in the 50 freestyle on a course that is rarely contested here, venturing further into uncharted waters.

Correction: November 21, 2007

A sports article on Sunday about the swimmer Dara Torres, a four-time Olympian who is thriving at age 40 with the help of a rigorous training program, misidentified one of her sponsors. It is Bloomberg L.P., not the company’s Bloomberg News division. Because of an editing error, the text with an accompanying chart referred incorrectly to the time frame in which Torres had her personal-best performance in the 100-meter freestyle. As the statistics in the chart noted, it was in 2000 — not “recently.”

Saturday, July 05, 2008

dara torres

wow. wow. WOW.

anyone following sports has to recognize one of the more remarkable things that occurred at the US Olympic Swimming Trials last night: a 41-year old Dara Torres making the team, and for the 5th time. here's a selection of articles:
i've included the text of the CNN article below, since it is a little more comprehensive and focused on Dara Torres than the others.

to make the Olympic team is always impressive, but to do so during a trials when world records were being broken on a regular, almost inevitably expectant, basis is extraordinary. and to do so at the age of 41, against competitors who weren't even born when she made her 1st Olympic team, is absolutely amazing...and get this: she won.

what makes it even more incredible is the realization that in order for her to do this, she has to now be swimming faster at 41 than she did when she was 21.



talk about being an inspiration to aging athletes everywhere--or aging anybody anywhere.

i don't know very many people who get faster as they get older. enough to still beat Olympic athletes in their prime who are young enough to be their children.

yes, i know, in this performance-enhancing-drug-age, the instinct is to wonder if she's cheating. but she's adamant about not using drugs, and has welcomed all public scrutiny. and as a show of good faith, she's subjected herself to a regular drug-testing program that's even more severe than those applied to other athletes, Olympic or otherwise.

for me, this kind of proves that it is still possible to compete at an age most people consider to be time for athletic retirement. we can compete at ages in ways beyond what society tells us. some of the things we think are limits really are just imaginary restrictions set by people who really don't know...even thought they think they do. they don't know. we don't know. nobody knows. as the Ironman mantra tells us: anything is possible.

we just have to believe.

of course, you have to make allowances. you have to be smart. and you have to have some wisdom.

it doesn't say entirely so in the article below, but it was expanded on in the Olympic swimming trials telecast that Dara Torres told the commentators about the following:
  • as you get older, your body doesn't recover as fast. meaning that after each of her meets, she's more wiped out than the other competitors and has to do more and take longer to recover
  • your body only has so much in the tank. she knows she only can do so many races during a certain period of time, so she has to be much more careful about how she allocates her effort
  • because of the above, workouts have to become smarter and more efficient. she can't do the same volume of workouts at the same intensity as younger athletes, and so has to 1) have fewer workouts with more recovery time, 2) get more from the workouts she is doing, and 3) in order to accomplish 1) and 2), be smarter in setting a training schedule, with very specific purposes connected to each workout, and workouts following a very defined, thought-out progressive plan.
  • recovery requires help. she has to get the aid of therapists to stretch and massage. she also is meticulous about nutrition and rest
  • you use it, or lose it. even though she retired 2x from the sport (yes, that's right, she could hypothetically be making her 7th Olympic swimming team...!!!), she never really took that much down time from swimming. this means her body never really had the risk of losing its physical abilities--as you get older, it is much harder to gain fitness compared to a younger athlete, and once you lose it, it is much harder to regain it.
much of this was detailed in a November 18, 2007 NY Times article about her, which profiled her training regimen. you can check it out:
all this is stuff that is pretty well known to sports science, and is something that's preached regularly to athletes or prospective athletes of all ages. still, i think very few people actually take any of this to heart, and simply allow themselves to age in ways that are very negative to their personal fitness and long-term health. as a result, they deteriorate much more quickly than they should, or were ever meant to.

Dara Torres serves as a readily recognizable, high-profile, public example of just what can be achieved if you follow the recommendations of sports science. you don't have to try to fight age; that would imply a stubborn resistance to the aging process, and the likely implosion of the physical self that is the invariable result. but you can recognize age, and understand it, and thereby work with it, and in so doing find ways that allow you to realize (yes, realize...don't forget: she's swimming faster now at 41 than she did when she was 21) your physical (even athletic) potential. all it requires is dedication, diligence, flexibility, and wisdom in competition, in training, and--perhaps most importantly--in yourself.

which is a lesson all of us should keep in mind.

especially old geezers like me.

go Dara!

Torres, 41, still making a big splash
Associated Press
Omaha, Neb.

Dara Torres' eyes were watery and not from just having climbed out of the pool. She was crying at the cheers from 13,247 fans who saw the 41-year-old mother complete her improbable Olympic comeback.

Torres made the U.S. Olympic swimming team for a record fifth time Friday night, winning the 100-meter freestyle over Natalie Coughlin at the trials.

A thrilling performance that prompted the crowd to applaud Torres as the new face of middle-aged, weekend warriors everywhere. Toned and tanned, with a flat stomach, she hardly looks like she's been away since the 2000 Sydney Games, her last Olympic appearance.

"That really, really, really hurt," she said. "I kept saying, 'Where is the wall?'"

She got off to a blazing start and kept her lead on the furious return lap to win in 53.78 seconds, defeating 25-year-old Natalie Coughlin.

"I'm ecstatic. I can't believe it," Torres said, explaining she had anticipated finishing anywhere from third through sixth.

"I could not see the scoreboard. I didn't know that I had won it at first. They need to make those numbers a little bigger for people my age."

Torres became the oldest American swimmer ever on an Olympic team. She'll be the oldest female swimmer at the Games since 44-year-old Brenda Holmes of Canada in 1972.

Michael Phelps was suitably impressed with his teammate from the 2000 squad.

"As I call her, my mom," he said. "She's 41 with a kid. It's extremely impressive."

"Don't make it sound that old," chided Bob Bowman, Phelps' 43-year-old coach.

Torres shied away from Phelps calling her Mom.

"I like to refer to it as a big sister," she said.

After the race, Torres' cell phone was clogged with 115 messages, texts and calls.

Before leaving the pool deck, she sat down to reflect and thought immediately of her father Edward, who died 1 1/2 years ago.

"I hadn't told him I was making a comeback after I had already started, and I was feeling like he was with me on that race and kind of helped me at the end of it," she said.

"I was also thinking about my daughter and my family that was in the stands. I was trying to hold a brave face while I was out there because I didn't want anyone to see my crying."

At the awards ceremony, Torres held her 2-year-old daughter, Tessa, in her arms. The blonde girl clutched the teddy bear given to team members in one hand and waved a bouquet of flowers in the other.

Torres put her victory medal around Tessa's neck, but the girl promptly took it off and gave it back.

"It's sort of bittersweet for me because I've made my fifth Olympic team, but I'm going to be away from my daughter for a month and that's really hard emotionally," Torres said.

Tessa might not have understood what all the fuss was about, but the crowd sure did.

"It was an unbelievable crowd," Torres said. "It was just so much fun to go out there and race."

Torres, who made her Olympic debut at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, has twice retired from competitive swimming. She owns nine medals, including five from Sydney, where she was the most decorated female athlete.

Torres arrived at these trials knowing people would wonder how someone her age could possibly make it to the Olympics without some sort of illicit help.

She endured those whispers in Sydney, where she won two gold medals and three bronzes at age 33, and it ticked her off.

That's why she volunteered for extra drug testing this time around. She was accepted into a new program that focuses on a dozen athletes in different sports, subjecting them to additional testing and the latest technology.

Since March, she's been tested at least a dozen times, with testers drawing five vials of blood from her body each time to look for the telltale signs of illegal drugs.

"Anyone who makes any accusations, I take it as a compliment," she said.

Torres might appear ageless, but she's endured her share of physical problems.

A nagging shoulder injury required surgery last November to fix a bone spur that was digging into her rotator cuff. Still recovering from that operation, she had knee surgery in mid-January to remove another persistent ache.

Unlike her younger teammates, Torres needs a long time after her races to recover. She employs a team of stretchers and coaches and nutritionists who cost her tens of thousands of dollars but have played pivotal roles in getting her back to the Olympics.

"Her stroke is better now than in 2000," Bowman said. "Now, she's more finesse-like. She's using her technique more than her strength."

Torres still has the 50 free -- her main event -- remaining Sunday. Depending on how she fares, she might give up her spot in the 100 in Beijing to third-place finisher Lacey Nymeyer. That would leave Torres with one individual event and the 400 free relay.

"I'm not going to make any decisions yet," she said. "My body's a little bit beat up right now."

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

the day off

sometimes you just don't feel like it.

you're an athlete. but you don't feel like it.

you're a triathlete. but you don't feel like it.

you're an Ironman. but you don't feel like it.

sometimes you just don't feel like it. the pre-dawn still-dark wake-up alarm. the not-even-yet-morning-light workout. the checking of the daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, even annual training schedule. the monitoring of caloric intake and nutritional proportion and periodic meal distribution. the mid-day afternoon evening workout fit wherever you can find it. the tracking of heart rate and watts and revolutions and distance and time and effort and eating and sleeping and resting and working and studying and assessing and measuring and testing and going to bed and waking up and starting all over again to repeat it all again again again again.

never mind the soreness. the fatigue. the numbness. the monotony. the suffering. the dread.

sometimes you just don't feel like it.

what you feel like is just turning pushing slapping throwing (even ignoring) the alarm. missing skipping avoiding (even not thinking about) the workout. living (yes, even living) without the schedule. with nothing else.

what you feel like is just sleeping. and eating. and lying in bed. and staring at the ceiling. and nothing else.

what you feel like is curling up, in a corner, under a blanket, with a book, or the tv. or nothing else.

what you feel like is nothing at all.

that's the time you know you're not yourself. athlete triathlete Ironman. body mind soul. person. human. you.

that's the time you need to find yourself. whatever wherever however. time space energy. person. human. you.

that's the time you stop.

and do the one thing you should do:

take the day off.

and be.

person. human. you.