Wednesday, July 29, 2009 a rest day

it's a little-known fact of the Tour de France that the competitors do not uniformly like rest days. in fact, most (if not all) the teams continue to hold bike rides on the days off.

they don't do this as an expression of some cycling-related obsessive-compulsive disorder. Bob Roll, cycling commentator and former Tour cyclist himself, regularly notes that rest days are actually viewed upon with some tension by cyclists, because they find that their bodies react in very unpredictable ways the day after: sometimes they return refreshed, other times they come back sluggish, a few times they come back completely out of sorts with the performance levels they'd been sustaining before the day off and find themselves spending hours, days, or even the rest of the Tour trying to find their racing form.

the rest days, while giving recovery time, also break up the daily schedule. this means that your body, which may have become accustomed to a regular daily routine that induced a regular bio-chemical cycle of performance, refueling, and regeneration, is suddenly confronted with a disruption that throws it off-balance. the disruption, even if seemingly minor, can be enough to produce a major impact on a body already on the edge of its performance limits--perhaps even pushing it into biological shutdown...which is not what a person in the heat of competition like the 21-day Tour de France wants.

this phenomenon is often noted in endurance sports in general. athletes are warned that rest days, while a necessary component of the training cycle, can produce some very unexpected complications. while the complications vary on the individual, the most commonly encountered situation is a general sense of sluggishness on the day(s) following a rest day, particularly when finishing a particularly heavy period in volume or intensity.

the typical explanation i've heard is that your body has a "delayed fatigue" effect, in the sense that the physiological events of fitness-building (e.g., breakdown and rebuilding of muscle tissue, expansion in blood vessels and air sacs, escalation of hormones and chemicals, accumulation and flushing of oxidants, etc.) tend to respond to training with a slight lag. as a result, the cessation of physical exertion and adoption of a rest period allows the fitness-building process to catch-up--and since most fitness is built during the recovery phase, your recovery system will occur in the wake of the rest period. hence, you don't necessarily feel the most tired on your rest day, but instead the day(s) after.

i'm thinking about this now because i've spent the past couple of days feeling all the above.

i've had a series of build weeks, with increasing volume and intensity, and took my regular rest this past Monday. i had planned for Tuesday to be a regular training day (with a morning swim and weight training session, followed by an evening long run), mixed in with a fair amount of work (researching, grading, etc.).

instead, i woke up Tuesday morning with a severe level of grogginess, and managed to shower and eat breakfast just in time to go back to sleep...for another 2 hours. of course, this meant that i'd lost time originally planned for training or working, and given my priorities this meant that i lost my morning swim and weight training. i spent the remainder of the day catching up on work, and just barely fit in the evening long run--which turned out to be an adventure in slogging, stumbling, sloughing along the trail, barely conscious enough to even see where i was placing my feet. the entire day, i was in a state of complete lethargy.

and it didn't really get better today, even though i did manage to make it through the 2-a-day (that morning swim and weight training i should have had yesterday, with an evening bike). i'm still feeling sluggish, like i'm having to work out the molasses from my veins and get the cobwebs out of my skull.



as in:


it's not a pleasant feeling.

ugh. i'm starting to have the same mentality as the Tour de France guys: i'm becoming a little nervous about rest days, because the days after are a real pain in the butt. in some ways, i'm tempted to take the same approach the cyclists on the Tour do and just train right through them.

except that i know that recovery is crucial. and i know that if i'm feeling like this and sleeping like this and--oh yeah, incidentally--eating like this, then my body is telling me it really needs this. and since i'm not racing, but training, and hence not performing but building, then maybe i really should listen to my body and just give it what it needs.

and just let the rest days, and the day(s) after, be about that: rest.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

vegan athletes

my last post dealt with vegan athlete Rich Roll (reference: getting fit & healthy). i found his story impressive, not just in terms of athletic achievement or personal change, but also because of his adoption of a vegan diet. i'm like so many others who find it hard to associate veganism with sports, given the integral nature of protein into physical recovery and growth. clearly, just based on Rich Roll, veganism isn't so incompatible with athletics.

Rich's story got me thinking about the nature of vegan athletics, and about what it involves in relationship to sports & fitness lifestyle. i've written about vegan/vegetarian athletes before, and found some interesting videos on the subject (reference: videos: vegan & vegatarian athletes), but decided to dig around to see what else i could find on the internet.

turns out that veganism--and also vegetarianism--isn't as uncommon in sports as i thought it was. there's a list of vegan athletes you can check out (reference: vegan/vegetarian athletes). there's even another vegan professional Ironman triathlete (reference: Brendan Brazier). seeing these profiles and their levels of success, it's pretty clear that any perceptions of veganism being incompatible with sports or fitness are pretty much wrong.

from a certain perspective, i guess you can argue that veganism might actually be beneficial to sports and fitness. considering all the dangers of meat products, let alone the ills of the modern diet--e.g., excesses of saturated fats, trans fats, LDL cholesterol, simple sugars, and chemical preservatives, inversely matched with deficiencies in unsaturated fats, HDL cholesterol, natural ingredients, and nutrients, vegan and vegetarian diets seem to avoid elements of the former while offering a better supply of the latter. this would suggest that vegan and vegetarian diets would actually be more conducive to better health and hence better performance.

the catch, of course, is to make sure that a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle gives you what you expect and need for athletic development. you can eat all the vegetables and fruits and give up all the animal products you want, but unless you give your body what it needs you're still going to end up throttling it, or worse, breaking it down.

it's not about the diet, it's about what in it. meaning that you still have to ensure that whatever diet you follow, including vegan or vegetarian, has the requisite ratios of protein, carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins and minerals in adequate quantities to maintain your biochemical processes.

here's a couple of articles discussing vegan athletes i thought were informative:
for deeper exploration of veganism and sports, i found these:
i'm not vegan or vegetarian. but i have to admit i have given it some thought. and there are times in the training cycle when i definitely develop an aversion to meat and meat products and acquire a craving for vegetables and fruits. it makes me think that my body is telling me what it wants and needs. maybe i should listen to it more.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

getting fit (& healthy)...with not so many excuses

i've always insisted that anyone can do an Ironman. anyone.

i've heard a lot of excuses from others about why that's not true. from work (read: long hours on the job, few hours at home) to family (read: kids) to fitness (read: lack thereof, or fat) to diet (read: vegetarian, or vegan, or whatever) to whatever to blah blah blah blah blah blah.

i've done my best to respond to these arguments, asserting all the benefits physical, mental, spiritual associated with Ironman. but a lot of the times, i can tell that all i've managed to do is to convey words words words, with nothing that's really hit home and induced any real changes. even my own story, from just another schmoe to an Ironman, doesn't seem to register--a lot of times people can't see anything other than "athlete" in me, despite everything in my life to the contrary. and i think for many, their conception of Ironman is one that involves the "after" picture of the person talking to them and ignores the "before" picture of the person who started out just like them.

well, here's an article that i think might really register with some people:
i'm including the full text of the article below. it's a CNN health article guest-written by Rich Roll. you can also check out his personal website:
Rich started out as just another guy, replete with all the excuses that i've heard from others: a job, middle-age, with family and kids. he hid behind these to justify his personal state. you can see what he was in the "before" picture on the CNN link.

Rich, however, made a decision to change. and just not change for a little, but a lot. and to carry out this change, he chose to pursue endurance sports, with a commitment to a lifestyle that would enable them--he increased his physical activity, switched to a vegan diet, and committed to a path that led to Ultraman, which is an endurance event with swim, bike, and run distances 2x as far as an Ironman. and he did all this while still juggling his job and family. you can see what he became in the "after" picture in the CNN link.

what i like about this article is the hints that he gives. he recognizes it's not about the race that he did, or about the "before" and "after" photos of himself, but instead about the choices he made to follow a trail of health and well-being. and those choices are really what the race was about.

i think the photos and his story speak for themselves. he was just like anyone else, but still managed to do an Ultraman. if he could do that, then it should be entirely feasible for many others, if not all others, to try for an Ironman.

but i want to be clear: i'm not saying this or raising his story just to convince people to do that race just for its own sake. it's not about the race. it's about the changes, and the choices to produce those changes, that the race brings. changes--as can be seen in my own and Rich's stories--that are for the better.

could you achieve the same changes with something other than endurance sports? of course. but endurance sports involves a totality of experience that encompasses your entire life, physical, mental, spiritual, in a way that leads on a path of development unlike any other. the journey is something that is unique to distance, and produces wholesale alterations that make you different than whatever you were before.

and it's not that special. it's not that hard. anyone can do it. anyone.

you just have to choose to do so.

From miserable man to 'Ultraman': A fitness journey
By Rich Roll
Special to CNN

Editor's note: Rich Roll, one of Men's Fitness magazine's "25 Fittest Guys in the World" in 2009, was the first athlete to compete in the Ultraman World Championships on an entirely plant-based diet. He's sharing insights today as part of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's "Four Months to Fitness" effort.

(CNN) -- I can still remember it, vivid as yesterday. It was the eve of my 40th birthday, and I walked upstairs to take a shower. And I was winded. I mean very winded. As I was trying to catch my breath, I took off my shirt, looked in the mirror and tried to convince myself that I was still that fit guy I had always thought I was.

Somehow, I had been able to skate by on this delusion for all too many years. But the denial had finally caught up to me. I saw my true reflection, and I couldn't lie to myself anymore. I was in the worst shape of my life. I was fat, unhappy and fed up.

It's the typical story. First it's the career. Then comes marriage, followed by kids. Your time is no longer your own, and you resign yourself to "maturity," "filling out" or whatever euphemism for middle age that soothes that idea that you are simply overweight, unfit and unhealthy.

I'm here to say that it doesn't have to be that way. I don't care how busy you are. I don't care how old you are, how many kids you have or how little time you think you have. The power rests within yourself to enact any change in your life you desire. And I can say this because I have seen it happen in myself and countless others.

After that fateful day of clarity, I made a decision to change my life. Not a vague, wishy-washy notion that I should "get in shape," maybe "eat better" or possibly "go on a diet," but rather a specific long-term plan to enhance my wellness in a way that would not only stick, but fit within the parameters of my busy life as a full-time lawyer, husband and father of four small children.

In my case, it began with a well-researched and supervised seven-day fruit and vegetable juice cleanse (during which time I weaned myself off caffeine), followed by an entirely plant-based nutrition program -- an animal-product-free regimen I have adhered to ever since. The immediate result was a rather surprising and unexpected increase in my energy levels, leading to a very gradual return to exercise, building up slowly over an extended period of time.

The results were hardly overnight. But two years later, I had lost well over 30 pounds. And not only did I keep the weight off, I was the most fit I had ever been in my life.

At 42 years old, I competed in the Ultraman World Championships, a grueling three-day uber-endurance triathlon circumnavigating the Big Island of Hawaii that involves 6.2 miles of swimming, 260 miles of cycling and culminates with a 52.4-mile double marathon run. I placed 11th overall and was the third-fastest American. To top it off, Men's Fitness magazine recently named me one of the "25 Fittest Guys in the World." (Not that I actually believe I deserve such an honor!)

Quite an extreme contrast from that day I looked in the mirror. I'm not advocating that everyone should test himself or herself so severely. But my point is that change starts with a decision followed by baby steps along a new, consistent trajectory that, over time, can lead to dramatic results.

I'm nothing special. I'm not a professional athlete. I'm just a normal family guy. But if I could experience such a vast transformation in my own life, I know with certainty that everybody has within himself the power to enact his own well-balanced transformation.

Change is never easy. And despite what you may see advertised, I'm sorry to say there is no secret diet, mystery pill or overnight miracle that will do it for you. But there is a solution. Here are some helpful tools I employed along the way that can help you get started:

Set a goal: Vague, nonspecific notions of "getting fit," "going to the gym," or "eating better" are all fine, but they are not true "goals" and all too typically devolve, paving the way for relapse to old habits.

Instead, establish something very concrete you would like to achieve on a future date. The more specific, the better. Then create a solid plan with reasonable interim "steppingstone" milestones along the way to achieving the larger goal. Chart your progress, as meeting interim milestones will boost your confidence and invest you more deeply in the ultimate goal.

Create community and accountability: If you go public with your quest, then you are on the hook. A good support network is a key to success. But beware of the negative dream crushers. Be selective, surrounding yourself with people who encourage your success.

Do what you love: When it comes to exercise, it shouldn't be too painful. Ideally, it should be fun. If you absolutely hate running, find something else you enjoy. Otherwise, you set yourself up to fail. And don't be too rigid -- mix it up with a variety of activities you like to keep it interesting and fresh.

Don't diet: Instead, get honest about your habits and embark on implementing healthy, lasting changes in your nutrition. I feel quite strongly that a nutrition program built entirely around plant-based foods and completely devoid of animal products is optimal. Conventional wisdom would say that an athlete cannot perform on plants alone. But I am living proof that this is false, and I have ample research to support this position. Personally, I cannot overemphasize the difference this has made in my own life, a secret weapon for enhanced athletic performance and overall long-term wellness. (In the last two years, I have not gotten sick or even suffered a cold.)

I realize, of course, that not everyone is ready to go 100 percent vegan, but a program built on a strong foundation of fresh organic vegetables, fruits and grains should be the focus. Don't skip meals, but reduce your portions slightly. Read the labels and educate yourself. Avoid saturated fats, processed foods and soft drinks, all of which are entirely devoid of nutritional value. Eating whole fresh foods high in nutritional content will also stave off those unhealthy urges to binge.

One day at a time: Large goals can seem insurmountable. The idea that you can never eat a cupcake or sleep in again is daunting at best. Instead, just focus on what is happening today, even if it's hour to hour, and don't worry about tomorrow.

"Today, I'm not going to eat that cupcake. Maybe I'll eat it tomorrow, just not today." And if you miss a beat, don't flog yourself; it only leads to discouragement and quitting altogether. The important thing is to make sure you get right back on it the next day -- don't let another day go by.

Prioritize: Take an honest look at your average week, identify your inefficient uses of time and eliminate the things that don't serve your goals. No matter how busy you are, if you are truly honest about this inquiry, I guarantee you can make some cuts and carve out some time. Remember: Nothing changes if nothing changes.

Be consistent: It's not about how much you do in a given workout or how hard it is. Ten minutes of core exercises four to five times per week is far better than one long run a week. Establishing a consistent rhythm of repetition is key, and another reason that your choice of exercise should be something you truly enjoy.

Let's join together to shift the world's perspective on long-term health and wellness. No matter how old, overweight or out of shape you are, you have the power to make a decision, set a goal and create a plan. Positive change is always within your grasp, and today still remains the first day of the rest of your life. Make it count!

Friday, July 17, 2009


i am a piece of sirloin.

yes, indeed, i am.

USDA grade A 100% all-american.



and red.

and juicy.

and above all, lean.

yes. yes, i am.

quite some years ago i had a coach who was rather attentive to the body composition of the athletes under his care ("care" is a euphemism, "baleful glare" would be more apt, "obsessive preoccupation" would be the most clinically accurate). he would have us log a weekly chart of our body fat percentage to help us (and perhaps more importantly, him) track our progression (or more preferably, degression) of personal lipids. lest we be tempted to record optimistically false numbers, he magnanimously--and gently--offered us the advantage of his access to university resources, including a physical therapy staff equipped with any number of bodyfat-measuring devices.

for him, fat was a scourge. adipose, cellulite, blubber, flab, jiggles, thunder-bumpers, call it what you will, he considered it the bane of athletic endeavor. it was the useless deadweight that served no purpose, except to impede physical performance. and by doing this, it served to impede the qualities which came from the pursuit of physical performance: discipline, diligence, commitment, courage, aspiration, achievement. which meant that fat was more than just a threat to the human body; it was a threat to humanity itself. it was, in all truth, tantamount to being the greatest evil our species has likely ever encountered.

which was probably why he held to a logic that your body was a reflection of your spirit and mind: where a lazy body means a lazy spirit and a lazy mind, a strong body means a strong spirit and a strong mind, because to have one requires that you have the others.

which probably also explains why he insisted on us doing everything we could to reduce our body fat levels.

which, unfortunately, for the young man i was, didn't really mean much, content as i was to test the limits of my mortality with a steady diet of gustatory delicacies that would have shocked and horrified him: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chili, chili burgers, chili cheese burgers, chili cheese dogs, chili cheese fries, chili fries, fries, curly fries, steak fries, whole fries, followed up with ice cream, pies, cakes, cookies, muffins, scones, donuts, milkshakes, floats, and malts, all the time any time every time for post-workout meals, mid-afternoon snacks, midnight munchies, and 3 am all-nighter breaks. every day every week every month every year.

based on my coach's reactions to my body fat numbers, i'm guessing it must have showed.

i remember one time, out of frustration, he took me and a few other fat-guilty parties to the nearest grocery store (Vons--yes, i know, the grocery store...but just keep reading, you'll see why in a moment). he then led us to the butcher's section, and then, in a fit of pique that barely disguised a seething mixture of contempt, disgust, and rage, he looked into my face and said on the verge of apoplexy:

"lil-yay-blaaaaaaad!" (he always pronounced my name this way, i think intentionally, with just enough mangling of the pronounciation to get my attention) "here's what i'm trying to get you to do: 6 percent! 6 percent! that's what i want from you!" (he was referring to bodyfat percentage here, and why that number...well, i'll tell you my suspicions below)

at that moment, he grabbed a package of sirloin steak (lean, no marbling) in one hand and a piece of round steak (fatty, very nice marbling) in the other, and held both of them in front of my face:

"you see this? you see this?" (he loved to repeat himself for emphasis) "you see this?" (he was holding up the round steak) "what do you see?"

i nodded and said, yes, it had very nice marbling.

the veins in his neck visibly bulging, he pushed it closer to my face. "fat!" he spat out "fat! faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!" (see what i mean by repeating himself? with the additional mangling of pronounciation?) "disgusting! diiiiiiiisssssssss-guuuuuuuuusssssssssssss-tiiiiiinnnnnngggggggg!!!"

he then waved the sirloin, and asked "you see this? what do you see?"

i said, no, no fat.

he sighed, nodded, looked deep into my eyes, the veins in his neck so thick they pushed his jaw forward into my nose. "that's right! no fat! noooooooooooooooooo faaaaaaaaaaattttt! lean! leeeeeeeeeaaaaannnnnnn!!!"

he then set the meat down, looked at me, and then at everyone else, and said abruptly: "and THAT's what i want you to be! sirloin steak! not the the fat round steak with the nice marbling, but the fat-free, lean sirloin!"

i've thought about this quite a bit over the years. not so much about the idea of being compared to meat--because i've had all number of coaches compare me to a piece of meat, so i've become rather used to's quite comforting, really (but that's a story for another post)--but more about the idea that i was a specific kind of meat.

you know: not just any meat, but a special kind of meat. the kind that only develops through use. real use. the kind not possible for a recreational armchair weekend warrior. the sort you can't fake or hype or exaggerate. to a degree that it burns out the blubber, eliminating the deadweight and only leaving only the tissue that is functionally productive. the kind that shows there is no laziness, but only something strong.

the kind that shows what i've become.

because you see, i think my old coach would be shocked but no longer horrified--in fact, he might be shocked but incredibly pleased--to know that in the years since he knew me i have undertaken all manner of training, dieting, working, and thinking to change my capacity for physical performance, and in so doing had to exercise all manner of discipline, diligence, commitment, courage, aspiration, and yes, achievement, to change myself. and i found that changes in the body required changes in the spirit and mind...changes greater than anything i ever imagined, on orders of magnitude that i will never be able to measure.

except perhaps this: the changes were enough to get my body fat content to 6%. and in season even lower (around 4%).

so why that number?

you see, i was in the grocery store the other day, and i actually checked the sirloin steaks to check for their fat content. they've started putting nutrition labels on the meat, and i figured it was time to see just how bad the damage was from the food that i'm ingesting. and on the label for the sirloin, in very clear numbering, it read: "fat: 6%."


it was funny. i didn't think about my coach. well, okay, i did, but only for a little.

what i really thought about was what that number means...about how far i've come.

yeah, i am a piece of meat. but just not any piece of meat.

i am a piece of sirloin.

yes. yes, indeed. i am.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

why i don't follow the cheaters

people have asked me why i don't follow pro cycling, much less the Tour de France.

this article pretty much will tell you the story why:

it's an article from Sports Illustrated on the nature of drugs in pro cycling. if the link doesn't work, i've put the full text at the bottom of this post.

the article essentially points out how professional cycling is intertwined with drugs, particularly the Tour de France, which has been embedded with them since its beginning. the story details how cheating is sustained, and even encouraged, by the sport at all levels, from athletes to teams to race directors to medical doctors to spectators, all of whom accept it as part of the culture. the message is that drugs are institutionalized, and hence something that should not come as a shock to anyone--especially Americans, who are perceived by Europeans as being naive and hypocritical for thinking that cycling's accomplishments and spectacle would be possible without drugs.

which is the problem for me. because i kind of differ on this point. i'm not shocked by the cheating, but i don't approve of it.

i'll explain things this way:

my take on life is that it is a very strange journey within which we are confronted by special questions entailing very profound truths, and that one of the better things we can do with the time we have and the senses we've been given is to endeavor to learn these truths and thereby explore the full nature of our existence in the context of eternity's greater creation.

which means that life--including our life--is about realizing what we can truly be...and then becoming it.

the implication of this is that everything we are, and hence everything we do, should be a reflection of such a philosophy, from work to school to relationships to time alone to eat to sleep to awake to everything about how and when and why we live. like in sports.

and cheating--in life, in sports--essentially means denying yourself the full experience of your endeavor, thereby denying your learning of whatever truths you were meant to learn and thus denying your realization of whatever it is that you were meant to truly be.

which is why i don't follow cheaters. because they represent a way of life with which i don't agree. because they represent a perspective that doesn't get it--it, life, existence, and just what it really means and everything about how and when and why it is.

yeah, i know: so what happens if it's institutionalized? what happens if, like this article says, everybody is doing the same thing, and you're the only one out? what happens then? maybe i'm the crazy one. maybe i'm the one who's wrong. maybe i'm the one who doesn't get it. maybe i'm the one who's naive and hypocritical.

my reply is this: oh well. at least i'm living the way i think we should live. at least i believe in the possibility that we can be better. and at least i'm trying to become it.

and isn't that what sports is about? isn't that what life is about?

Tour de France, cycling a clash of cultures for Americans, Europeans
By Alexander Wolff,
Posted: Wednesday July 8, 2009 11:15AM; Updated: Thursday July 9, 2009 11:49AM

Alberto Contador is a 26-year-old professional bike racer from Spain who in two seasons has won the Tours of France, Italy and his homeland. It's a feat matched by only four other riders in history, and by last fall Contador's performances had depleted the European press of its supply of superlatives. Then, in March, wearing the yellow leader's jersey one week into the Paris-Nice stage race, he did what even the finest racers are occasionally known to do, but Contador since his rise to prominence had not yet done. During a mountain stage, he cracked.

What followed revealed the abiding gulf between the cultures surrounding pro cycling on either side of the Atlantic. European sportswriters spilled liters of ink on this revelation of Contador's humanity. He is one of us! He is plus sympathique! He is ... Sartre on a bike!

Contrast that over-the-top reaction with the off-the-radar response in the U.S.: [Crickets] ... and this terse tweet from Lance Armstrong, Contador's American rival on the same Astana team: Unfortunate day for Alberto. Amazing talent but still a lot to learn.

Even as the U.S. has produced, in Armstrong, the sport's most dominant performer, cycling remains a virtual cipher in the States. When it's consumed at all, it's consumed differently than in Europe. It's framed differently. And as Armstrong returns to the Tour de France after a three-year absence, that ongoing pas de deux of mutual loathing and suspicion, Lance vs. France, is only part of a larger cultural loggerheads.

Here's a stab at what's behind it: Bike racing in Europe is what boxing is in the States -- a poor kid's way out. A chimney sweep won the first Tour de France, and since then honors have gone to carpenters, plumbers, bricklayers, welders, baker's apprentices and metalworking trainees. (One of the greatest, Italy's Fausto Coppi, wasn't even a butcher, but an errand boy for a butcher, which is how he learned his way with a bike.) The European peloton is a clan with a code, a sweatshop on wheels that doubles as a testing lab for designer doping products. Fans make the biggest heroes of those who suffer most; the founder of the Tour, Henri Desgranges, believed that the ideal race would be one survived by a single rider. If these hero-sufferers take drugs, goes the continental line of thinking, it's because no one can be expected to survive such an ordeal without palliatives, and besides, cheating has been woven into the Tour since its second staging in 1904, when the winner of the first, that chimney sweep, hopped a train for part of the route.

The men who plied the roads of Europe a generation ago run the sport today, and why should they begrudge their heirs the pharmaceutical relief they once enjoyed? Even fans see little stigma in a positive test. As the Sixties-era rider Rudi Altig of Germany once put it, "We are professional cyclists, not athletes."

In the U.S., bike racing is a way out too -- a way out of high school hell for geeky middle-class boys blown off by the jocks and cheerleaders. They take up cycling for the romance, for "breaking away," as that Indiana italophile, Dave the Cutter, did in the 1979 movie of the same name. Otherwise a bicycle is either a child's toy or an affluent middle-aged adult's means to health and fitness. In 1981 the first American to ride the Tour, Jonathan Boyer, traveled with a Bible, a blender, and a cache of nuts and dates. California's Bob Roll, who was living in a tent in Switzerland when the U.S. 7-Eleven team picked him up to ride the 1985 Tour of Italy, would inscribe his sidewheels with poetry.

Watching her adolescent son get bewitched by the John Tesh soundtrack on CBS's weekly Tour wrap-up shows 20 years ago, Jonathan Vaughters' mom had to tell him, "You know, when you're actually racing, there's no inspirational music playing in the background."

Vaughters learned quickly enough, competing in Europe for nine seasons before taking over as director of the current U.S. team Garmin Slipstream, whose rookie riders he now disabuses of his gauzy old misconceptions. "I tell them that European cycling is like working in a coal mine," he says. "You wake up, turn on the light on your miner's helmet, and go down into the ground. It's the furthest thing imaginable from wine-swilling aristocrats."

Yet if pro cycling is known today to the typical Stateside sports fan at all, it's through a single race, the Tour de France, which to casual followers exists only to supply climactic scenes in over-the-top red-white-and-blue Movies of the Week like Yank with shotgun pellets in body overtakes Frenchman on Champs-Elysees, and Texan dominates wine-swilling Euros seven times after cancer wracks lungs, abdomen, brain and testicles. "Greg [LeMond, who wrote that first narrative] and Lance [who wrote the second] brought the sport into the American mainstream, and once it was there, it was entertainment," says Andy Hampsten of the U.S., who won the Tours of Italy and Switzerland during a career that overlapped those of both of his superstar compatriots. "And once it's entertainment, do we really want to know that cyclists are on drugs? It would ruin people's fun."

Brian Gilley is an anthropologist at the University of Vermont who studies the sport's constituent parts and how they interrelate. He attributes European fans' cynical sophistication to what Italians call dietrologia, or "behindology" -- the widespread belief that there's more to anything than what appears. Gilley is struck too by what seems like the guild system that began in Europe during the Middle Ages. "You can't get a job in European cycling unless you know someone," he says. "The guild has its rules and customs -- and 'the rules' don't have as much to do with doping as with paying your dues and kissing the ring."

LeMond had been different from his American predecessors in his talent, but he was also willing to kiss the requisite rings -- moving to Europe, learning French, and faithfully riding in support of French teammate Bernard Hinault's 1985 Tour victory. "Greg was perfect for the 'American invasion' -- all smiles, Opie Taylor, everything fascinating to him," says Joe Parkin, the Minnesotan who raced in Belgium during the LeMond era and learned Flemish by reading subtitles on Alf re-runs. "Things started to go south when Greg realized he could just concentrate on the Tour. Europeans didn't really like that."

The guild also permits sundry corruptions and collusions, which Parkin would discover in Belgian kermis races that were fixed on the fly, and Dutch criteriums that involved more aforethought: "All the riders would dress in the same room and a list would get passed around," he recalls. "At the top was the time the winning breakaway would go. There'd be a check mark next to the names of the riders in the winning break. And the name of the winner would be underlined."

Then there was the expectation, even obligation, of doping. A cyclist who failed to ride "lit up," Parkin explains in his new memoir A Dog In a Hat, was made to feel unprofessional. If Belgium is the West Virginia of Europe, pot belge or Belgian mix, a speedball that might contain cocaine, amphetamines, caffeine, heroin, liquor or corticosteroids, was continental crystal meth. "A lot of riders in the European peloton stop going to school at age 13 or 14," Gilley says. "They put their trust in a directeur sportif and basically accept what he says -- and he may say, 'Here, take this.' That's part of the guild, too: It removes from people the power to use knowledge to challenge authority. With American riders, by contrast, doping is their own calculated risk. They're being American about it. Every U.S. small business owner I know has committed some sort of tax fraud. Whereas Europeans tend to see it as, You either ride by the rules of the guild, or you don't ride."

In the early years many American riders, especially those on American teams, felt exempt from the guild's encouragement to dope. "We were willing to talk to journalists about doping," Hampsten says. "While Europeans within the sport were telling us to shut up, our attitude was, 'F--- you, it's our sport too.'"

But by the end of Hampsten's career, crude fixes like pot belge had given way to more systematic stuff. It was one thing to be a member of "the League of Ceiling Starers," as a Dutch rider once described the sleepless aftermath of an amphetamine episode, and quite another to overhaul one's entire cardiovascular system with the banned blood booster EPO. Because of its risks -- EPO can turn blood to sludge, and is suspected in the sudden deaths of dozens of riders, usually in their sleep -- the drug requires a comprehensive "medical program," and thus deception on an institutionalized scale. But the 10 to 15 percent advantage in output that EPO can deliver, and the substance's undetectability 20 years ago, didn't merely present a temptation. It ensured the competitive exile of the clean rider. And so, like innocents abroad in a Henry James novel, American riders reached a moment of reckoning. You can leave Colorado or California with your water bottles and Clif Bars, but eventually you'll discover, as Mart Smeets of NOS Dutch TV puts it, "If you want to dance, you put on your dancing shoes."

For Americans, doping is entwined with questions of character, with goodness and evil. For Europeans, doping is simply something that cyclists are known to do. C'est le m├ętier, the French say: It's the job. ... [It's] the same divergence that occurs when a politician is caught out with a mistress: Americans get outraged -- How could he? While Europeans shrug -- But of course.

-- Daniel Coyle, in Lance Armstrong's War

For the longest time the peloton sang a chorus of but of course. It staged work stoppages to protest doping controls, and you can still hear the bien sur dripping from the lips of five-time Tour winner Jacques Anquetil of France, who once said: "You'd have to be an imbecile or a hypocrite to imagine that a professional cyclist who rides 235 days a year can hold himself together without stimulants." Britain's Tom Simpson, who died in 100-degree heat on a Provencal hillside during the 1967 Tour with amphetamines in his bloodstream and his pocket, had only a year earlier said, "If it takes 10 to kill you, I'll take nine." And Coppi, once asked if he doped, replied, "Only when I have to." Which was? "Almost all the time." A legendary chronicler of that era, Antoine Blondin, wrote in the French sports daily L'Equipe of "a certain nobility in those who have gone down into lord-knows-what hell in quest of the best of themselves. We might feel tempted to tell them they should not have done it. But we can remain, nonetheless, secretly proud of what they have done. Their wan, haggard looks are, for us, an offering." In Europe the rationalizations can come like merchandise at Target -- cheap, but of pretty good quality.

Cycling's tacit acceptance of doping persisted even after European legislatures began to pass anti-doping laws during the mid-Sixties, and the Gallic shrug remained the default setting of riders, officials and fans. After Americans Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis got caught doping during the past decade -- Landis only days after having apparently won the 2006 Tour -- both tried to exculpate themselves with pseudo-scientific theories, cloying Web sites (,, and denials so reflexive and convoluted that, by continental lights, each man appeared to be an imbecile and a hypocrite. Whereas Europeans rarely protesteth too much. Oh, for two years in the aftermath of the 1998 Festina Affair, in which police seized EPO, steroids and syringes from a car driven by a Festina team soigneur on the eve of the Tour, Richard Virenque of France gave stonewalling a try, even publishing a book called My Truth before eventually confessing through tears in court.

But it's difficult to imagine Americans reacting like Alex Zuelle of Switzerland, another rider caught up in the Festina case, who told Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung: "It's like being on the highway. The law says there's a speed limit of 100, but everyone is driving 120 or faster. Why should I be the one who obeys the speed limit? So I had two alternatives: either fit in and go along with the others, or go back to being a housepainter." Or like another Swiss, 1998 World Champion Oscar Camenzind, whom drug testers caught up with during a training ride along Lake Lucerne in 2004. Camenzind told them on the spot that he had used EPO, and that he'd just as soon not wait for his samples to come back from the lab. Whereupon he hung up his bike and did indeed return to his previous job -- not as a housepainter, but as a mailman.

American teams -- first 7-Eleven, then Motorola, eventually U.S. Postal and Discovery Channel -- weren't likely to set up shadowy doping programs; American sponsors would never take the chance. But by the Nineties individual U.S. riders, with no more stomach for losing than any European, had begun to weigh that calculated risk. They too knew the open secrets of the peloton, the dodgy doctors, flim-flam testing procedures and dubious soigneurs, a.k.a. chargeurs and dynamiteurs. Everyone knew -- or everyone but dilettante fans back in the States content with their Pollyanna storylines.

"Any 7-year-old Flemish schoolchild," Bob Roll has written, "knows 100 times more about cycling than all Americans combined." They know the sacrifice -- that, simply to train, a pro will log enough mileage each year to circumnavigate the earth. They know the suffering -- that Rene Vietto's toe, lost to sepsis during the 1947 season, sits in embalming fluid in a jar over a bar in Marseille. They know the fate that four Tour winners have wound up suicides, and that 1998 champion Marco Pantani shot himself up vocationally and avocationally and, finally, tragically. Moreover, they know the positives, raids and confessions that have implicated at some point during their careers half of the 18 men to win the Tour since 1974. They've read the corpus of European journalism devoted to doping in cycling, some of which implicates Armstrong, and find it more human and persuasive than any clinical positive test. They've heard the testimony of repentant dopers like France's Philippe Gaumont, who rubbed salt on his testicles until they bled so he could get a prescription for otherwise-banned cortisone; Ireland's Paul Kimmage, who after describing a drug-riddled sport in his book Rough Ride returned to the Tour with a press credential and was advised to leave because organizers couldn't guarantee his safety; and Spain's Jesus Manzano, who after an against-the-rules transfusion mid-Tour, which turned out to be of someone else's blood, suffered a seizure that nearly killed him.

Are you, gentle American reader, prepared to be baptized into the reality of European pro cycling? Are you ready to go from Cutter to continental, to travel the path that Dave Stohler did in Breaking Away when that Team Cinzano rider jammed a frame pipe into his wheel? My own Henry James moment came while covering the Tour for the first time, in 1987. After an early stage a strapping Italian sprinter turned up positive at doping control. Claude the press chief, his mouth framed by mustache and ascot, explained that the rider had been fined several hundred Swiss francs. He would go into the books as finishing last for that day's stage. And he would be subject to a ban if he were to test positive again.

Surely that wasn't the end of it, I thought. A rider had been caught doping in the Tour de Friggin' France ... and he would start the next morning? Over time my astonishment would gradually yield to something else: a sense of being unsophisticatedly and irredeemably American.

A week or so later a British journalist decided to introduce me to the Tour's most storied stage finish, L'Alpe d'Huez, with its 21 switchback turns to the top. "After I covered this for the first time," he told me, "I never again used the word 'heroic' to describe an athlete in any other sport." Sure enough, Ireland's Stephen Roche clinched the Tour that day, clawing back seconds in the final meters before collapsing from the effort. He had to be revived at the finish, whereupon he oh-so-continentally pronounced himself "not ready for a woman just yet." Years later it emerged that Roche's Carrera team had been in the medical care of Dr. Francesco Conconi, whom an Italian magistrate would conclude had supervised the systematic administration of EPO to riders, Roche included.

I returned the next summer, when with the Tour only days from Paris word leaked that the yellow jersey, Spain's Pedro Delgado, had turned up positive for probenicid, a masking agent for steroids. Enter Claude, brandishing another communiqu�: Probenicid would not be formally added to pro cycling's banned list until a week after the conclusion of the Tour, meaning that Delgado was in the clear. My question then -- How could this be, when the substance was already prohibited by the IOC? -- waited more than a decade for a satisfactory answer. In something close to a deathbed confession, Jacques Goddet, who supervised the Tour for 51 years, explained in 1999: "The controls we developed after Simpson's death were a lie, covered up by the highest scientific and medical authorities, and I condemn them."

Time would solve another mystery from that 1988 Tour: the puzzling equanimity of the runner-up, Steven Rooks of Holland. Asked if he begrudged Delgado the title, Rooks had said, "Pedro has been the strongest rider. It is he who deserves it." A dozen years later the reason for that graciousness emerged, when Rooks admitted that he had used testosterone and amphetamines throughout his career. An honor among thieves apparently prevailed, but it was a kind of honor nonetheless, and by accident of nationality I would never fully understand it.

I had begun to appreciate the suffering, however, and grasp the sport's place in the culture. In 1987 I would miss LeMond's comeback from his near-fatal hunting accident, the Tour in which he made up nearly a minute on the final day to beat France's Laurent Fignon by eight seconds. But after SI named LeMond our Sportsman of the Year, I found myself sitting around the kitchen table of the American sports fan, as a guest on WFAN Radio's Mike and the Mad Dog, where co-host Chris Russo took up the cause of the jocks and cheerleaders. How could SI possibly choose Greg LeMond? Cycling was "a yuppie sport," he said, as if anybody could "tour France," and LeMond had done it on the modified American plan. I would have thrown up my hands, but the gesture is generally lost on listeners to sports talk radio.

I swung off the beat just as Armstrong emerged, but not before covering his domestic coming out, an impressive second in the Tour du Pont in the spring of 1993. It was easy to see how he would rock the guild as soon as he hit the continent. In Europe a truck driver who sees cyclists out training invites them to grab hold of his rig for a tow; Armstrong could recount many times that pick-ups and semis in Texas literally ran him off the road. What made Armstrong different -- what would make him a seven-time winner of the Tour, when you get right down to it -- is that he would flip those truck drivers the bird.

Armstrong touched off a couple of low-grade diplomatic incidents soon after his arrival in Europe that summer. By prearrangement with his American Motorola team he dropped out of his first Tour de France with a week to go, only to hear Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc decry his absent "sense of duty" to finish the race. Then in October, invited to meet Norway's King Harald after winning the Worlds in Oslo, he insisted on bringing along his mother, Linda. Armstrong carried the swagger prized by every high school football coach in Texas, and in him Europeans found an American of their imaginations -- "Like from the old TV show Dallas, affluent, arrogant and dismissive of the old style," says John Wilcockson, the British author of Lance, who points out that as a kid Armstrong actually cycled past South Fork Ranch on training rides. "[Eddy] Merckx, Hinault, even LeMond, didn't ride the Tour until they'd been pros for years, while Lance the impetuous kid just wanted to do it."

Armstrong went on to subvert the guild even more than LeMond had. "It wasn't just that he had one goal, the Tour," Gilley says. "He built a team around himself. He used the latest in science and technology. He commanded a superstar salary. And he talked about conquest and battle and manifest destiny, all American concepts."

But in one critical respect Armstrong did go native. Arriving in Europe just after EPO had presented American riders with that Hobson's choice, Armstrong in 1995 hooked up with a guild-approved personal doctor, Michele Ferrari, who had trained at the knee of the infamous Dottore Conconi. A year earlier Ferrari had publicly said that EPO was "no more dangerous than orange juice," and that "anything that can't be found in drug tests isn't doping." Armstrong has said he consulted with Ferrari only on benign training matters. But until 2001 he concealed their relationship, even from many within his own team, and he would insist on an arrangement whereby the Italian could work with no other Tour contender. After their connection became public Armstrong defended it, though Ferrari then stood trial in Italy on charges of directing cyclists' doping programs. Armstrong broke with Ferrari following the doctor's conviction in 2004 for "sporting fraud" and "abuse of the medical profession," and has kept his distance even after that conviction was overturned on procedural grounds.

Armstrong has never wavered in his denial of having used performance-enhancing drugs. But Armstrong teammates Landis and George Hincapie would go on to work with Ferrari too, and at least a half-dozen of Armstrong's most trusted support riders over the years have now been implicated in doping. The cases of Landis and Hamilton may come closest to classical tragedy: European fans admire both for their Blondinian offerings, in Hamilton's case a fourth-place finish in the 2003 Tour despite a broken collarbone, and in Landis', brief glory as the first to Paris in 2006 despite a degenerative hip. If they were only Basque or Bavarian, alas, their positive tests might be but-of-course blips.

Armstrong has long broadcast on two frequencies -- one to the European peloton, another to cycling-innocent followers in the States. A perfect example took place several months ago, after an out-of-competition tester from France's state-run anti-doping lab doorstepped him on the Riviera, and Armstrong, just back from a training ride, disappeared for 20 minutes to take a shower. Europeans know that the one thing a cyclist may not do under any circumstances is leave a tester's sight before providing a sample. They can recount the sport's colorful history of doping-control subterfuge, from hastily swallowed diuretics and blood-thinners, to stand-in urine delivered through concealed rubber tubing. When this departure from protocol briefly looked like it might lead to his suspension, Armstrong tweeted indignantly, Was winning the Tour seven times that offensive?!? That in turn cued up reactions Stateside of the "Of course they wouldn't let him take a shower -- they don't believe in showers!" variety. Not that Armstrong necessarily had something to hide; given his relationship with the French, he may have simply been up for a game of chicken, to dare them to expel from their great race its biggest name. The point is, he took them on and won, again.

Within the guild Armstrong has been a but-of-courser to the bone, bullying riders like Italy's Filippo Simeoni, who ratted out Ferrari, and France's Christophe Bassons, who earned a "f--- off" from Armstrong for flaunting his own unwillingness to dope. But he's careful to cover his how-could-you flank. At the outset of the 2000 Tour he denounced what he called "the myth of widespread doping," and when Irish journalist David Walsh, author of From Lance to Landis, first laid out the skeptics' case in 2004, Armstrong's response was, "Extraordinary accusations must be followed up with extraordinary proof." Europeans laughed at the first of these comments, and scratched their heads at the second, for it's hardly extraordinary to doubt a run of Tour victories that sits squarely in the sport's EPO era, bookended by the Affairs Festina and Landis. Millions of Americans with little knowledge of cycling are invested in the symbolism of Armstrong's clean, triumphant return from cancer, while Europeans simply hear American hypocrisy and prudery. And so the divide opens wider. Today the relationship between Armstrong and the French has deteriorated into schoolyard namecalling.

After Armstrong, the U.S. will likely continue to send innocents abroad. Gilley is studying attitudes toward doping among 18- to 23-year-old American amateurs, and of 116 confidential responses fielded last summer, only 13 percent of riders with professional aspirations said they would or might dope to win the Tour de France. But Gilley's research also indicates that young cyclists become more willing to consider doping as the potential prize escalates. "Americans who sign with European teams know within two days what's going on," says Smeets, the Dutch broadcaster. "It's not just taking dope. It's deeper than that. Cheat, lie, deny, survive -- it's a way of life. The truth is always different from what seems to be the reality. I always tell my viewers, lying is permitted in cycling. It's a constitutional part of the sport. The U.S. audience has no clue.

"Last year, when CERA hit" -- CERA is third-generation EPO -- "we were expecting fans to turn against the Tour. Instead it was more popular than ever. It doesn't seem to matter."

In the States we're not much for shades of gray in our heroes. But in Europe people take their riders as they are: Wan and haggard, "for us." If doctors and drugs can help a fellow human being survive cancer, Europeans dare ask, why shouldn't doctors and drugs help one contest the world's most difficult bike race? As its most dominant rider contests the Tour de France once more, it's worth pondering not just whether we Americans want the truth, but whether we can handle the truth.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

cautionary tales

over the years since the first running in 1978, Ironman has developed its own body of lore, with stories used in various degrees to inspire, awe, shock, and warn both competitors and spectators about the nature of the distance.

the underlying theme of the stories is consistent: the race is not easy, and is not something to be taken lightly. the distance carries with it strange properties, and provides each athlete with individual challenges reaching not only into their physical depths, but also their mental and spiritual ones as well.

while all sports holds these characteristics to some degree, the distances associated with Ironman endow it with a greater measure of these aspects. it makes the race unique, because of the pathos it brings, because of the enlightenment it provides, because of the empowerment it offers, and most of all because of the depths of humanity that it reveals. and each race brings with it its own lessons and its own revelations of the self, and so thereby brings the athlete one step closer to a realization of life's greater truths.

a sense of the drama can be seen from the following series of videos. they are the ones most often played to show the nature of Ironman.

julie moss, Ironman Kona 1982--julie moss was a college student who signed up for this race as part of a study she was doing in physical education. she never expected to be leading the women with only a few miles left to go. what happened next established Ironman--and julie moss--in international sports lore.

sian welch & wendy ingraham, Ironman Kona 1997--sian welch and wendy ingraham were vying for the world championship title, and were in a near dead heat heading into the finish. the vision of their final meters has become one of the most replayed videos in sports, as difficult as it is watch. it is also one of the finest displays of sportsmanship you will ever see (watch what happens when they reach the finish line).

chris legh, Ironman Kona 1997--unfortunately, there is only the Gatorade commercial made from chris legh's story. what happened to him at the world championships is one of the more shocking moments in sports, and has thus largely disappeared from public viewing. the excerpts used for this commercial fail to show the extent of suffering chris endured--he almost lost his life, to the extent that 6 feet of his intestines experienced necrosis (the tissue literally died) and had to be cut out, leaving him permanently damaged and advised to not compete in Ironman ever again for the sake of his health.

you can take from these videos a sense of the drama, and just how serious the race can be. you can also take from them a sense of what i mean regarding the physical, mental, and spiritual depths associated with the distance.

but i would be negligent if i also didn't point out some of the cautionary elements associated with the stories in these videos:
  1. the athletes in these videos suffered a loss in motor coordination induced by severe dehydration and loss of electrolytes and calories. the exhaustion goes without saying. by the time you experience the symptoms you see here, it's too late, and your body--and quite possibly you--is in serious trouble. thing is, these are issues that are preventable with proper hydration and nutrition. you have to be diligent.
  2. you have to know when to quit. the athletes here, as commendable as they are for their determination, also put their lives at risk. each athlete has to decide for themselves just how far they are willing to go for their race. and you have to come to terms with the implications of such a decision. all of them.
  3. have someone you trust. someone not in the race. someone observing. people are like horses--just like horses can (and will) run themselves to death, people can (and will) do the same thing. by the time you get to the state the athletes in these videos are in, you won't know what's going on and you won't know what state you're in and thus you won't be in any condition to make any judgment about what you want or should or need to do. you have to have someone you trust tell you when it's time to quit. and the 2 of you need to have discussed just what this means before you get to that point...preferably before you even start the race.
  4. this is no picnic. it's not easy. it's for real. you will face the truth. whether you want to or not. respect the distance. respect the race.
  5. respect everyone in the race.
  6. respect yourself.
i don't mean to scare anyone with these videos. but i think they are good to see, and good to contemplate.

Ironman is a very personal, very powerful, very profound experience, and it's important to see it for its full nature, not just to better recognize its dangers but to also better appreciate its lessons...and to see just how special it--and we--can be.

Monday, July 06, 2009

continue the mission

these are times of great trial. conditions are harsh. the distance is not kind. the race has not gone well. it has, in fact, has been downright brutal. and while you'd thought that things would eventually get better, each mile has only proven to be another step into an unfathomable darkness out from which you cannot see a way.

and it doesn't matter what you do, things just do not seem to change. of course, you can--and perhaps by all rights are entitled to--whine and moan and cry and complain. and wonder aloud about the cosmic forces that have misaligned you to your fate and about the unfairness of events and about the injustice that has infected this life. and recount to yourself all manner of woe and misery. and doing so might actually help you feel a little better, for least a little time.

but it won't make any difference. at least not to the distance, not to the race. because the state of the world is suffering, all of life is pain, the nature of the universe is chaos, and none of it really cares much about how you feel.

in the face of such reality, there is the temptation to give up. to just surrender. and call it a day and crawl back home and cower and hide. but if you do, you'll be following a path that leads to one conclusion: you curling up to die. which is problematic, because it means that you accept your life as not only pointless, but also pathetic.

and that's not something you're going to do. that's not something you can accept. not because it's wrong, not because there's better a option, but because of a principle:

continue the mission.

whatever the state of the world may be, whatever the nature of the universe is, you are still in control of yourself. and that means your life is what you choose it to be. and that means that the world can be about more than suffering, life can be about more than pain, the universe can be about more than chaos, and that to be so it will begin with you. to be more than pointless, to be more than pathetic, it must begin with you.

one step at a time.

and the rest? including all the whining, moaning, crying, and complaining? including all the suffering, pain, and chaos? including all those questions about what the mission is: about what you do and who you are and why it all is so?

that's between you and your god(s). who will--invariably, inevitably, exclusively--give you the same answer you already know, the only answer you need to know:

continue. the. mission.

Friday, July 03, 2009


i've resumed 2-a-day workouts, after a year (more than a year) hiatus.

this is kind of a big step, even though it isn't anything extraordinary. generally, 2-a-days are pretty common in many sports--basketball, football, track & field, swimming, etc., all incorporate 2-a-day workouts at some point into their training schedule, with a training session in the morning and another training session in the evening. triathlon is no different, with many training programs listing 2-a-day workout regimens as de rigeur, since it's the only way to get in the requisite weekly mileage needed to build performance.

as commonplace as it may be, it's not something you see that often. most amateur athletes, especially recreational ones, do not do 2-a-days, nor do they need to. for the most part, they are not aiming for the kinds of goals or the kinds of races that require 2-a-days. in addition, they are not in situations that can accommodate the time needed for 2-a-days--for most people, between jobs, schools, families, bills, there's not much left over for the training and recovery time associated with 2 workouts per day.

that, and there's also the fact that the heavy training load brought by multiple daily workouts can actually be counter-productive if not conducted properly. when done correctly, 2-a-days can produce accelerated gains in performance and ability. however, without a measure of care in organizing the progression of training sessions, it's very easy for athletes to short-change their recovery time and over-stress their bodies, resulting in burn-out, the dreaded over-training syndrome, or outright injury. regardless, it ultimately means lost performance, which is the very point of undertaking 2-a-days to begin with.

which is why it is a big step.

because the decision, especially as an amateur athlete, signifies a commitment and a sacrifice. a commitment to better performance, with an attendant commitment to increased effort, mental focus, diligence, and discipline to create a constructive training plan and stick to it. and a sacrifice, in terms of lost time for the other aspects of your life (jobs, schools, families, friends, bills, etc., something has to go). in essence, the decision to begin 2-a-day workouts signifies the priority you are now placing on training and the priority you are now giving the objective of such training in your life. it's not a trivial decision.

for me, i decided it was time to start now. symbolically, it's a recognition of my return to racing, and the mindset of training for that purpose. for the past year, i've been maintaining a workout regimen (key word "a"), but it was more for maintenance purposes and hence contained to single daily workouts. but now that i've signed up for Ironman Utah 2010, i know that i need to begin the progression back to Ironman shape, and that this is a very big mountain to ascend...meaning that the sooner i start, the less steep (and the less painful) the climb is going to be.

note that i didn't say easy--this past week i've had 3 days of 2-a-days, and i'm already feeling the effects--just less painful.

but at least now i'm mentally prepared for it.