Thursday, November 18, 2010

Opposite of good?

What is it about time off of training that makes me want to chew off my arm or cry? Wait, that was a trick question. When you chew off you're arm, you are naturally going to cry in pain. Regardless, the last few weeks have been a test.

Here are my darkly innane observations to match my mood....

Why do people think they have to be happy all the time? I think it's a farce. Only here in the US do you have to be smiling ear to ear to be fufilled. It's just not realistic to be overjoyed all the time. In fact, being happy all the time seems as dangerous as being sad all the time. Isn't there a happy medium where we can have appropriate emotions for the given situation?

Why are people so outraged about the new TSA screening. Firstly, isn't it designed to keep us safe. If that isn't enough, then why are we willing to give up our privacy everyday as we talk on our cell phones in public, join facebook, tweet about our lives, and many even would willing sell their privacy to be on a reality show for their ten minutes of fame....yet we won't give up a little bit to be safe in an airplane?

Why is it okay to tweet about yourself in the third person? Seriously. If you talked to anyone in public in the third person, you would look like an ass but it's totally okay to do it on the internet.

What is the opposite of good stuff? I don't think it's bad or evil stuff. I think it would be the one and only null set. No stuff.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Just call me the Minute Maid

I have been dormant these last few months having a pity party of one. This year has been one of the toughest in my life as an athlete. It’s been one hard knock after another. Instead of facing my bad race results, injuries, and illnesses with my head held high, I have slunk off feeling embarrassed and like I let myself and everyone else down. As a professional athlete, I have had plenty of bad results but never such a consistent drought of good performance. As the adage goes, when life hand you lemons you make lemonade, so from now on I am going to be the Minute Maid and start producing with what I have.

The quick synopses of these year’s trials reads like a tragic play. As a preface, I failed before the season even started by trying to do too much this year. I can no longer spread myself thin trying to race competitively in ITU races up to 70.3 events. Unfortunately, in trying to do too much, I ended up doing everything poorly. In Act 1, I started the season full of hope and had some mediocre race results from March until early July where my biggest issues were merely attempting to stay sharp for too many distances/styles of racing and not getting my bike fit dialed in properly. The groundwork is laid as each sub par result leads me to train harder not smarter. In Act 2, the perfect storm begins to surface on the horizon. I left my coach and started working with multiple single sport coaches rather than one triathlon coach. In retrospect at this point, I started doing all the work of three single sport athletes and headed down the path of overtraining. Tragically, the worse my results, the harder and more I trained. In this act, the injuries started to creep in as I tore the joint capsule in my 2nd metatarsal in my right foot. Instead of heeding this injury as a red herring, I continued along my path pushing through the injury with brute force. As this act closes, I made the fateful decision to race un-rested in my last event before the ITU world champs and train through it like a hard workout. Already dancing on the line of overtraining, I have no doubt that this pushed me over the edge. At the start of Act 3, I arrive at the world champs overtrained, sick with a virus, and exhausted. After a horrible result, I arrive home and continue to feel awful for weeks only to find I had a recurrence of the Epstein Barr virus along with overtraining syndrome. With a month of rest, I start to feel amazing and the play seemed to be heading for a happy ending. In the light of a new day, I begin to train for Clearwater and am rejuvenated by the hope that I can finish my season off with a redeemable performance. The training was going better than expected until my friend injury came to visit yet again. A second MRI of my hip this week will tell me if it is just a torn labrum or additionally a stress fracture in my hip. Needless to say, I won’t be able to race Clearwater and the play ends with a sad tragic figure on a ledge ready to jump…start next season and juice lots of lemons into a boatload of lemonade.

Top five lessons learned from this year’s school of hard knocks:
  1. For most type A triathletes, it’s best to stick with one specific triathlon coach rather than single sport coaches. In addition, if you don’t have a coach now, run don’t walk to get one especially if you have a tendency to overdo. Rest and recovery is vital and taking a day off doesn’t mean you’re a slacker.
  2. Injuries are signs not be ignored. When you get injured, there is a reason. Don’t just tape it, suck down some Advil, and continue your current training as if nothing happened. Evaluate your races and training, take a mid-season recovery break for a week or two, and come back stronger.
  3. Illness is a red flag too. If you get even a cold, don’t exacerbate it by being “tough” and trying to train through your sickness. There is a difference between a good tired from hard training and the exhaustion that means you are sick and/or on the path to overtraining. Start listening to your body and learning how to tell for yourself. If you’re consistently feeling tired everyday for a week or two, then something is wrong. Take some easy days and keep adding in more recovery until you bounce back. It’s normal to feel tired after hard sessions but not weeks on end.
  4. Look for trends in your body and performance to learn how best to proceed. An interesting correlation for me is that the last time I had Mono I got a stress fracture. By the time, I reach the exhaustion point of overtraining; I need to realize that there are probably bigger skeletal issues lying dormant. Keeping a training log and diary can help to unlock these trends in your own body.
  5. Finally, set goals but reach for them with enthusiasm. Even for professionals, this sport must be fun, and there could be something wrong if you’re not 100% excited to train everyday. When my enthusiasm wanes, it is usually a sign that I am heading toward overtraining. While every session may not be fun and some goals are evasive, take time to ensure that you are enjoying the journey that is triathlon.

I hope that sharing by my experiences and lessons I am able to help even one person avoid my mistakes and stay on the happy healthy path of triathlon success.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Another article on xtri

Triathlon on a Grecian Urn

John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn encompasses everything that I love most about triathlon. The most intriguing parts of the poem for me are the paradoxes that weave throughout the entire text as well as the elusive meaning of the poem which enables everyone to experience it in their own unique way. Similar to Keats’ Ode, in triathlon each competitor experiences the race from their individual perspective and throughout the event may feel joy and pain intertwined as one. While Keats expounds upon the fantasy world of the figures trapped for an eternity on the urn, he interplays the dichotomy of their frozen time versus the reality of their lives if they were living creatures. The real world of pain and time is contrasted with a frozen unchanging existence of the figures on the urn. In a triathlon, during the pursuit of a goal each athlete faces similar paradoxes: life and death, joy and pain, desire and fear, participant and observer, beauty and truth. The beauty of the triathlon is the struggle each and every competitor faces in a quest of his or her true potential.

For me personally, the section of the poem that speaks most vividly is when Keats is addressing the pursuing lover on the urn.

Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal - yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young;

Standing at the starting line of a race, I imagine that I am the bold lover frozen on the urn ready for my moment to chase my beloved, my goal for the race. There is something magical about standing at the starting line of a race, it is akin to being a young fearless character on the urn frozen in time waiting for my moment to pursue an unreachable dream. While frozen there for an instant, anything is possible and my goals though just out of reach are still golden and lie just ahead of me.

As I get older so many doors in life are closed. As a child, anything is possible; I could have been an astronaut, doctor, the president, movie star, or on American Idol. But now, many things that once seemed possible are no longer as life forces each one of us to make choices and determine our own path in life. However, there is one place I know where any goal still seems possible and where I may control my own destiny; that is in the sport of triathlon. When I line up at the start of a race, anything is possible. It is simply me and my beloved, the goal that I have set out for myself, all I have to do is chase. When the gun goes off, I have the rare chance in life to once again pursue my dreams whatever they may be and make them a reality. It’s not just me, but every athlete out there starts the day frozen in time at the instance where his or her goals are there for the taking. In addition, each athlete must battle the paradoxes of joy or pain, hope or despair, to fight or surrender. At the end of the day, whether we win or lose life will continue with our friends and family, but for that brief moment in time, similar to the urn’s frozen time, each of us can choose to suspend the pain in an effort to reach that finish line. There is nothing sweeter than putting it all on the line, setting the bar high, and reaching that seemingly unattainable goal. And as triathletes, we have the chance to do this every time we toe the line.

THOU still unravish'd bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunt about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal - yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"Open" to new lessons

Like Julie Dibens, a friend and fellow pro triathlete, I too have been reading Andre Agassi’s book “Open”. Julie has a great blog discussing her reflections on the book and how it applies to triathlon. I read her post and was not only struck by her insights but also by the fact that we had completely different portions of the book that resonated in our minds. While Julie was struck by Agassiz’s “last ten minutes before you fall asleep”, there were different lessons in perservence and perfection that I extracted from the book. (click here for her blog it‘s definitely a worthwhile read) I must admit that I am mostly a fair-weather tennis fan just tuning in for the big tournaments, but this book gave me more appreciation for Agassi and the game. In addition, the life lessons that Agassi articulates so eloquently are applicable to triathlon and everyday life.

For me, Agassi had several life experiences that struck me as an athlete, but perhaps his resilience was the most inspiring. Despite facing numerous setbacks through his career, he kept on overcoming challenges that would have stopped many lesser athletes. Agassi continued to keep playing and improving over a long career. Remarkably for a tennis player, some of his best performances were later in his professional life when he should have been past his prime. In addition, as he matured, Agassi seemed to relish the wins more as he appreciated all the hard work and perseverance that were required to get there. As a triathlete, anytime an athlete can overcome injuries, personal difficulties, and burnout, to achieve success, it is very inspiring. I hope that I can continue to triumph over my challenges half as well as Agassi.

Likewise, another key insight for me came from one of Agassi’s coaches, Brad Gilbert. Brad stressed to Agassi that he didn’t need to aim for perfection with every shot. He merely needed to beat the man across the net and force the other athlete to feel the pressure and make mistakes. I think many athletes fall into the trap of trying to achieve perfection all the time every day. Unfortunately, this is never possible in training or in racing. Most days, you just need to go out there and give it your best. Setting unattainable standards, only sets an athlete up for failure and disappointment. For me, the most satisfying training days or races have been not when I was perfect but when I succeeded despite one issue or another. The real trick is to stay positive mentally despite the ups and downs that are inevitable in sport and life.

Finally, the last lesson from the book was that Agassi trained and performed best when he was happiest and his life was going smoothly. While some of this can't be controlled, I hope that I can keep a positive and happy attitude in 2010. It seems like easiest way to improve my chances of having a great season.

For anyone looking for an inspiring and real book, I definitely recommend it. In fact, I might just read it again now.