Friday, September 30, 2011

getting lost will help you find yourself

"getting lost will help you find yourself"

i think i've found a manifesto. or at least, as near to one as i'm likely to find and as close to one as i'd like to write. 

and i'm ashamed to say it's a bit of consumer-pop culture that i found from a eco-aware lifestyle company called Holstee (i'd provide a link, but i don't want to be seen as providing a shameless plug, especially since there's nothing for me to even be shameless about--now if they provided a reciprocal link to me, *that* would be another matter, but that's something to address another day).

still, this being post-modern times, i guess it's ok as an exemplar of dry wit (or not) and serious mixing (or not) of memes and metaphors (or not) in a consciously intentional (or not) ironic cultural pastiche of messages (or not).
i've attached the picture above. you can see what i mean. it's an amalgam of dopey romantic idealistic sentiments. the kind you feed to people to get them inspired and excited and motivated just before they charge forth to get hit with a hard, brutal, ruthless dose of reality to knock them back into their place, cowering in fear and despair with the shattered remnants of their hopes and aspirations, their dreams dispelled by the truths of this world.

except for some of us it's not.

there's one line that sticks with me, and it's the title for this post: "getting lost will help you find yourself."

i always tell people that one of the motivations for participating in endurance sports is the chance to find yourself. the real self. the truth about who and what you are.

because for so many of us, it's only in the moments when we've completely exhausted our physical and mental energies that we're forced to release the burdens of all the lies, half-truths, falsehoods, distortions, deceptions, and perversions that we tell ourselves to avoid dealing with this reality, and only in those moments that we're forced to confront the simple, unadorned, undisguised, unchained truth that we're so afraid to face.

and the extent of the energies needed to cover the extent of the lies calls for a corresponding extent of demands to provide the necessary extent of exhaustion. for some of us it goes as far as 140.6 miles. for others, even more.

of course, you don't need to go that far. you don't have to work that hard. it's entirely possible to reach these same realizations without anywhere near the same level of suffering. in fact, it's entirely possible to do so from simply sitting. psychiatrists claim to help others do it all the time; they call it therapy. Buddhist monks claim to do it on their own all the time; they call it enlightenment.

but you see, for some of us, it's only in the distance where we get lost. far out in the depths of space. far out outside of time. we lose ourselves. and only there, and only then, do we realize that we need to know who and what we are. and only there, and only then, do we realize that we need to take action to find out.

because it's the only true point of reference we'll ever really know. the only true compass pointing out the direction that we should--and that we need--to go to make it through the eternity that is the distance.

because in those times when we are confronted with hard, brutal, ruthless doses of reality, it will serve to remind us that we can still rise up from beyond our place.

because in those times of fear and despair it will serve to remind us that we are still the keepers of our hopes and aspirations.

because it tells us that we are not just our dreams; we are also our own truth:

a truth as true as any among all the truths of this world

and hence, not to be dispelled, but to live

simple unadorned undisguised unchained

it's only when you get lost that you find yourself


Monday, September 26, 2011

triathlon in the great recession

a couple of years ago i wrote a post regarding triathlon and the current recession (reference: recession proof). sad to say it's been ~3 years, and the "Great Recession" (i'd venture to argue it's actually worse than that, but that's another story for another venue) is still ongoing and looks to continue for the foreseeable future (and potentially longer, but again, that's another story for another venue).  seeing that things seem to be getting worse, or at the very best staying the same, i thought i'd revisit the topic.

that post was dated December 8, 2008, and referenced a USAT report that suggested triathlon was recession-proof, with data indicating that USAT membership was still growing and race participation was still increasing despite the recession. the implication was that triathlon, at least in the United States, continues to be a growing sport and that it could still attract competitors and audiences even in a bad economy.
well, i'm starting wonder about that.

for its part, USA Triathlon continues to provide data showing continued growth. they provide a substantial amount of reports that you can review for yourself:
something about this data bothers me. it just seems entirely too rosy and entirely too positive given the current state of the economy. there seems to be a major dissonance between the ideal being presented by USA Triathlon and the reality of what i (and i suspect most of us) are witnessing around us.

if you need a reminder of the sobering state of things, you can check out the sample of recent new media reports:
i'm scratching my head to make sense of the dissonance.  i find it difficult to believe that there are that many people who have 1) the financial status, 2) the job security, and 3) the comfort level to dedicate discretionary income to the expenses of this sport (race registration, equipment, training, nutrition, etc.) in the quantities presented by USA Triathlon. what makes it even more hard to believe is that USA Triathlon claims that their numbers actually accelerated for a portion of the recession.

i can only offer a number of possible explanations as to the disjuncture in outlook.

first, the US economic data may be wrong. there may not be a recession. the economy may actually be growing. unemployment may actually be low. poverty may actually be nonexistent.

uh, yeah. i doubt that. and as the saying goes: if you believe that, then i've got the Brooklyn Bridge to sell you.

second, the converse is that the picture presented by USAT may be suspect. i've heard grumblings from acquaintances in the industry to this effect, and apparently they're not alone. you can see a summary of the sentiments at the following (i should note that it was written in response to the USAT data from 2008, but i think the arguments are still applicable):
third, it may be that triathlon is becoming popular with a certain segment of American society for whom there is no such thing as a recession and for whom there is no reason to stop spending money. this is entirely conceivable, and something i'd be willing to accept on a conceptual basis.

but if so, it poses all kinds of issues for those of us who see triathlon, as well as endurance sports in general, as a vehicle for popular acceptance of healthy, active lifestyles. for those of us who want to see a larger proportion of society engage in sports as a way to improve physical and mental health, it's troubling to think that triathlon is becoming a domain for a specific elite--especially if it's a financial elite, since it means the barriers to the sport are not ones of motivation (and hence choice), but instead ones of money (and hence, given the current economy, not of choice). and that would mean that triathlon is a sport of exclusion rather than inclusion.

this is something i'm leery of, and prefer to reject on an ethical basis. even from a utilitarian perspective, i think it's bad for the long-term survival of the sport (sports that endure are the ones that have mass appeal, and mass appeal means mass access to participation). from an ethical perspective, i just think it's better to have sport (all sports, including triathlon) operate on the basis of equality in terms of access--inequality in terms of winning/losing should be proven on the field of competition via preparation and talent, not at the bank account via cash and credit. we want athletics to be on the field. not off it.

although, i should point out, that even here there seem to be some cracks forming, in that even if triathlon is becoming an elitist sport, that elite may not be as impervious to recession as it is letting on. there's a poll at BeginnerTriathlete that i think is really illuminating, in that it reflects a self-selecting sample of triathletes reporting on their financial struggles vis-a-vis the sport in the current recession:
the numbers seem to be supported by others in the triathlon community. Competitor magazine had an article from Samantha McGlone that seemed to present sentiments consistent with the BeginnerTriathlete poll numbers, with advice on how to pursue triathlon on a budget:
which brings me back to my original conundrum: how can we explain the dissonance between the rosy numbers being touted by USA Triathlon and  current US economic indicators?

the disjuncture in narratives is just...Orwellian.

it's just bizarre.

Friday, September 16, 2011

dynamic (dis)equilibrium

one concept that's taught in chemistry is the nature of equilibrium. equilibrium exists when there's a balance between various forces in a system, such that the system is stable and the relationship among the variables are not changing.

having said that, it's always emphasized that stable does not mean static. equilibria can appear in systems that are either. static systems are those in which there are not ongoing interactions (in chemistry this usually means no ongoing chemical reactions). dynamic systems, however, are ones where interactions are constantly happening (for chemistry, this generally means that the system continues to experience chemical reactions). as a result, as much as there can be static equilibria there can also be dynamic equilibria.

equilibria themselves, of course, can change. a system that is stable can experience a perturbation that disrupts the relationship between variables. sometimes the perturbations can be accommodated, so that after an initial phase of disruption and instability the system adapts to a new balance between variables and reaches a new equilibrium at a different state. sometimes, however, the perturbations are large enough that the system is thrown completely out of balance and is unable to find a new equilibrium.

i've found this concept useful in the course of living, whether as an analogy or a literal explanation how things work. for some people, life is static, and it's fairly easy to find and hold an equilibrium between all their responsibilities and interests.

for others (particularly those leading active lifestyles), however, things are more dynamic. our lives tend to be a juggling act, wherein we're constantly trying to balance different and often competing demands on our time and energy. most of the time, we're usually able to find some success working through some fixed regular schedule that allows us some point of reference from which we can find our own equilibrium.

most of the time.

life, as we know, has a way of not being fixed or regular. and the more fluid our lifestyle the more fluid our life. meaning that we're invariably buffeted by all manner of perturbations in the system of our demands. perturbations from a job, a family, acquaintances, strangers, creatures, objects, things, obstacles and injuries and mistakes and conditions outside of our control. anything and everything we invariably encounter as we make our way through whatever we find in this experience that is this existence that we call life. and every time there's a perturbation, we're caught trying working through the increased chaos as we try to make the transition to a new state of equilibrium.

which isn't always easy. because, as we know, the transition is always a little messy.

we all know what this means. we've all experienced the symptoms. inconsistent and inadequate sleep. erratic eating. unstable attention span. lapses in concentration. disorientation. confusion. all combined with elevated stress and an air of freneticism.

it's not always fun. especially since in the back of your mind, there's always the concern if whether the disturbance in the system is the one of a scale that you can't accommodate--that is, if it's the one that you can't restore to equilibrium.

the one, in short, that can derail your journey and your race.

it's enough to drive ourselves crazy.

for all the anxiety, however, we have to maintain our drive. our belief in our capacity to recover, a faith in a stable outcome, a commitment to making the transition to a new equilibrium.  because if we don't, then all we are is a figment of an imagination lost in the chaos of a universe beyond our understanding. and in that environment, the system of our lives will collapse on its own for lack of our own internal energy...and a system without energy is not a system. it's death.

and we're not ready for that.

which is why it's important to try. to work. to act. someway. somehow. here. now. because if we do, we at least provide ourselves some chance of making our aspirations a reality and continuing our mission to find our hopes made real in the midst of the chaos of this universe even though it's beyond any understanding. and in such an environment, the system of our lives can survive just a little bit longer from the devotion of our own internal energy...and a system with energy is more than just a system.

it's life.

dynamic to the end.

Friday, September 09, 2011

cities and cycling

those of you who've followed this blog know that i've been a fairly strong supporter of increasing cycling in the general population. i'm among the contingent of people who believe that bicycles, particularly in urban environments, offer benefits addressing a number of issues that plague so many cities:
  • traffic congestion--encouraging cycling, specifically among commuters, will reduce automobile traffic on streets
  • air pollution--reducing automobile traffic brings an attendant reduction in automobile exhaust, improving air quality
  • productivity--the time wasted in automobile traffic, especially during the times of peak congestion (i.e., rush hour), represent an opportunity cost both individually and societally in terms of time wasted sitting in a car that could have been devoted to other, more productive activities (and as much as this might be debatable considering how slow bicycles are, i think that bicycles are still better than the insanity of gridlock when drivers often don't even move)
  • cost--cycling is cheap. much cheaper than public transportation tickets and tolls, at least over time. and much cheaper than a car. a car involves the cost of the vehicle, the cost of the driver's license, the cost of insurance, the cost of fuel, and the cost of parking. a bicycle involves the cost of the bicycle and the helmet. and maybe the food and drink to fuel the rider. and that's about it.
  • general health--cycling, even for simply commuting, operates as a form of physical activity, and hence fulfills the calls among the medical community for greater exercise to mitigate the issues associated with excessive weight and sedentary lifestyles in modern societies (e.g., heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.)
lately, however, i've started to become more critical regarding the nature of bicycling within urban areas--although, make no mistake, i still support it, and still advocate it. but i have become more aware of some of the issues that surround it, and the consequences that can arise in adopting as a part of city planning.

i'll put it this way: i'm not a unilateral ideologue championing bicycles as total dogma, and i believe that cycling needs to be utilized with recognition of the issues and challenges posed by its integration into a society and a city.  and not all societies and cities are the same.

as an example, for Los Angeles i see bicycles as useful. hugely so. i consider it insanity that it sometimes takes 1 hour to go 1 mile during rush hour. i see cyclists who routinely beat car traffic in work commutes (e.g., a friend of mine regularly gets to work every morning from Santa Monica to UCLA in 15-20 minutes, whereas in a car he found it took 45 minutes...go figure). which is why i support the efforts to encourage cycling in Los Angeles, whether by increasing bike lines or advancing traffic safety. you can reference:
however, i can see that traffic brings its own issues. you can reference these links, which highlight what's been happening in Denmark and England:
apparently, cities in these countries have found that cycling is not a simple, straightforward solution. just as much as there can be automobile congestion, there can still be bicycle congestion, with traffic still being traffic. the issue also extends to parking, with bicycles usage increasing the demand for bike storage. and there is the challenge of acculturating motorists and cyclists to share roads in a safe and useful manner. essentially, what these cities are finding out is that cycling has to be introduced and encouraged with a measure of thought and planning--at least, if it's going to serve as a constructive component of urban life.

again, i don't want this to be construed as a back-track away from my support for cycling. i'm just saying that i think we need to be mindful of the challenges that face efforts to advance bicycling in modern societies, and not operate under idealistic romanticized illusions of it being an easy fix to all of humanity's problems. it's not as easy as a prayer for salvation; it's going to take a little more in terms of diligence and effort appropriate to the conditions in which we hope to have it exist (or co-exist). and each society and city is different.

i want cycling to be popular, i want cycling to be accepted, and i want cycling to work, and for these things to happen i think cycling needs to be appropriate to societal context.

Friday, September 02, 2011

finding time (or not)

well, okay, it's been a couple of weeks since i've put up a post. i started sensing that the blog was getting a little lonely and i decided i needed to post something to keep it company.

i don't have much of an excuse, other than that the past few weeks have become extraordinarily busy, and i just haven't had the time to devote time to personal composition. work has taken a bit of a priority recently. it's been heavy enough that it's even started to affect my workout schedule. i'm experiencing the challenge so many people who are pursuing active lifestyles experience: finding the time to do what we want to do.

the problem isn't finding time in general. we can all find bits and pieces of time everywhere in a given day that are available for any number of uses.

the real issue is finding chunks of time. blocks of time. enough continuous stretches of time that can individually accommodate a very specific form of use.

in endurance sports, and arguably any sport, that use is training.

real training, quality training, requires sufficiently sized segments of time large enough to enable the types of workouts necessary to develop the abilities needed to compete in a chosen sport. and in endurance sports, this means workouts that invariably need to be 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 hours at a stretch. sometimes (oftentimes) even longer.

and right now, i haven't been able to find those types of time. and have not been able to get the workouts i need.

which is what i think has really thrown me off-balance. training provides a certain level of regimentation, and regimentation brings with it a certain measure of stability, and that stability converts training into a framework around which the rest of life can be arranged. in a sense, the schedule of workouts operates to organize the rest of life.

i suspect this is why so many athletes become obsessive-compulsive with their workouts. the fixation on the training schedule acts as a security blanket that provides stability in a life that so often has none. and the straightforward layout of effort and time within it acts as a code that offers a measure of simplicity in a world that so often is not. it makes things easy, so we don't have to think. it gives us direction, so we don't have to worry.

which is why i guess so many athletes who leave sports frequently end up going through a hangover phase, when they struggle with feelings of aimlessness, confusion, uncertainty, anxiety, even depression. it's tantamount to mourning something lost. which there is: the backbone of a regimented schedule where everything was understood and everything had its place and everything was geared towards a single recognizable goal of self-improvement.

and i think that's what's really getting me right now.

i know i can deal with it. as much as anyone else juggling personal life v. professional life can. but it's not trivial.