Friday, July 31, 2009

The Cost to Compete

Tomorrow I’m off to the Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference for a week so I decided to register for the Tuscaloosa race now. I hope to run while at Squaw, but I won’t be able to bike or swim (unless I take the ski-lift up to the Olympic pool at the top of the mountain.) I was going wait until next week to sign in case my hamstrings don’t get better.

But if I wait, everything will cost more and the rooms will be gone, so I went ahead with the registration.

Multi-sport is not cheap. Here’s what it is going to cost to compete:

Registration: $139.00 - this is “late” registration plus a $9 service fee; my qualifying race was in July and the late fee is for everyone who registers after June 30 – which seems unfair to those of us who qualify in the later races. The nine dollar processing fee seems pretty steep, too.

Bike Service & Transportaion: $270.00 - one of the local bike shops in Tuscaloosa provides a service whereby we can ship the bike to them and they will assemble and then later after the race they will disassemble and take care of the return shipment. They charge $150 for that service and I’ll have to play UPS about $120 roundtrip for the freight. If I bring the bike along with me on the plane – United will charge me $195 one way and I’ll have to do all the assembly work. So this is a good deal, because if I assembled the bike, there is no telling what I will end up with.

Airfare: $300.00 – roundtrip from O’Hare on one of United’s commuter jets. At least it is non-stop.

Car rental: $174.00 – for three days in a compact car;

Hotel: $220.00 – the host hotel didn’t have any rooms on Friday; the Hampton required a three night stay; the Marriott Courtyard was sold-out. The Fairfield Inn had one room left – their Executive suite - $105 / night, but they didn’t require three nights – so I took it.

Grand Total: $1,103.00

These kinds of sports expenditures require some additional perspective. I figure a round of golf with a cart and few drinks afterward costs about $150 – so this is really the equivalent of seven rounds of golf.

Therefore, to pay for this outing I have foregone any golf for the last two months.

Workout: Swim – 1600 yards – 43:10; water was calm;

Weight: 190; daughter brought home really tasty chocolate cookies; crème-filled; hard to resist;

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Swimming Lessons

When I started competing in triathlons four years ago, my notion was that I needed to train, but I didn’t need trainers. I could see taking lessons for golf or tennis, I don’t even think Tiger Woods can naturally hit a golf ball without some instruction. But I knew how to swim, bike and run so I didn’t figure that a trainer could help me much.

I needed endurance and more strength. So I decided my success would come by putting in the hours, dividing my training time up between the three segments. That wasn’t a bad plan to get started, but after two years I could see that I wasn’t going to get much better without some expert help.

When I started training with Craig, he helped me realize that the greatest opportunity for improvement would come from improving my skills and upgrading my equipment. We agreed swimming should be the first area that I should focus on for skills improvement.

I was proud of my swimming technique, which I had learned when I was eight years old. Apparently there have been some advances in swim stroke theory since the 1950s. After Craig checked me out, he decided I should join his Masters swim program at the YMCA that met every Tuesday and Friday at 6 am.

There were five or six guys that swim regularly in the program. Most had been high school or college swimmers. They were a little faster than me. Okay, they actually gave me my own lane, so I could stay out of their way.

Swimming baffles me. Take the kickboard drill. All I have to do is hold on to the goddamn board and flutter kick. I run twenty, thirty miles a week, bike for hours – I should be able to hold my own in a drill that is just a simple leg exercise.

But no. The swim team dudes blow my doors off every time. And 200 yards just kicking – that’s not fun at all. By the end of four laps I feel like I’m kicking through jello. The only thing I hate more than the kickboard are the bi-lateral breathing drills – where we alternate which side we breathe on.

I’ve been breathing on my left side for forty years. Okay fifty years. When I try to breathe on my right side I forget everything I’ve learned about swimming. I can’t get my arms, legs and head to synchronize. If I drown in the pool, it will be while practicing bi-lateral breathing.

And then there’s sculling. I know sculling must be really important because every time I have had a private lesson with Craig, that’s all we do. I’m supposed to keep my hands in front, make figure eights, feel the water.

I didn’t think I would figure it out. Why am I doing this and is that a figure eight looking from the side or the top? Then one day Craig tells me to pretend I have a convertible and I need to clean the windshield by leaning over the top. Okay I can visualize that and now I’ve conquered sculling. And I sort of understand how it relates to swimming. Sort of.

My awareness of what I am doing in the water has increased dramatically. I think about my body position, swimming in the front quadrant, rotating my hips with each stroke, scooping the water on the “catch” (I think that’s where the sculling part comes in.)

Right now I’m like the golfer who has had a dozen golf lessons. He has a bunch of things to think about and when he goes to the course, instead of shooting 90 like he used to, he shoots 107.

That’s where I am today. But I think this year I will start to put it all together and there’s going to be a big improvement in my times. Stay tuned.

Workout: Personal training session with Nibra at the YMCA. I did frog walk laterally across the gym, then swiveled a medicine ball in the air clockwise and counterclockwise for thirty seconds and then repeated the lateral stretches. Then I did ten jumping jacks, ten pushups, nine jumping jacks, nine pushups… down to one. (I haven’t done a jumping jack since high school football practice. I thought they’d been banished). Then I did bands on my legs – lateral movement back and forth.

Bike – rode fifteen miles to a bike shop where I talked with a friend of Craig’s about the fit for my bike. More on that later.

Weight: 188.9 okay 189; but a lighter 189 than yesterday.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Writers and Runners

I tried to come up with a clever title for a post that compared the writing profession with the triathlon world. “Runners” isn’t really the right word, but it has more alliterative merit than “multi-sport endurance athletes” or “triathletes.”

The two activities complement each other. I like to workout in the early early morning. It’s quiet and there are few distractions. On a long bike ride or swim or run, I can compose entire stories in my head, and they are all really good. Engaging, humorous, tension-filled.

Sometimes some of the brilliance is lost when I return to my desk and have to actually write them down. I’m still working on that part.

One of the things I’ve learned about writing and sports is that you can actually get better if you work at it. And for the marginally-gifted like myself, getting help from professionals (that sounded better than getting professional help) can make a big difference.

I’ve been training with Craig Strong (he’s works for the Evanston Y and is affiliated with Experience Triathlon) the last couple of years. There are so many things to learn and until you work with someone who knows the business you don’t know what you don’t know. (I think Donald Rumsfeld said something like that.)

The same goes for writing. I sort of thought I could write when I started taking courses at The University of Chicago’s Writer’s Studio back in 2003. Over the last few years I’ve attended summer writer workshops at Iowa, Tin House and Squaw Valley. Next week I’m returning to Squaw Valley for a week. I leave those workshops with more knowledge – they help me to become a better writer – and more awareness – they make me realize how much I don’t know or can’t do well. Yet.

For me the key difference between Writing and competition is that writing is purely subjective, and so at times it is easy to lose perspective, especially after seventy agents pass on your novel or you get twenty rejection notices in a week (not that either of those things could ever really happen), while competing can be purely objective, quantifiable, measurable: I finished the race in two hours, fifty-two minutes, forty-four and five tenths seconds. I’m glad my novel can’t be reduced to a number, but some days it’s nice to do something where nobody’s opinion really matters.

That is, until the race pictures come out and my daughters ask me why I looked so mean.

Workout: Open Water Swim – Craig had his weekly open water swim at Gillson Beach. The waves were at least twenty feet high. Maybe higher. Anyway it was rough. He told me I should sight on every two strokes (I tend to pull to the left and I think he was afraid I would end up in Michigan) but I didn’t see the point. Every time I looked up there was a huge wall of water between me and where I was pretty sure the buoy was, so I kept my head down as much as possible.

My plan for the next race is for the water to be calm. We stayed out for about 45 minutes.

Weight: 189 (so far this recording of the weight every day isn't working. Maybe I need to actually eat less.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fifteen Minutes

My goal is to finish in the top ten at the USAT National Age Group Championship for the 60-64 year old age group. I will turn 60 in 2011 so at least I’ll have youth going for me.

I started competing in Triathlons casually in 2005 when I was 54. I’ve noticed that as I moved from the 50-54 to 55-59 cohort, there are fewer competitors, but those who remain are really tough. There aren’t many casual competitors in the 55-59 group and I suspect that there aren’t any in the sixty plus categories.

Last year’s winner of the 60-64 group was Steve Smith with a remarkable time of 2:15:17. The tenth place finisher, David Roadhouse, from Wilmette, Illinois finished in 2:30:48. My personal best time for Swim, Bike and Run segments would have garnered me a time of 2:45:09 if I had made those times in one race.

So my goal over the next two years is to improve my time by fifteen minutes. Here are my goals for each segment:

Segment…….. Personal Best……Target
---------- ……..----------------…….-------
Swim………… . 34:31………….... 28:00
Bike…………..1:15:51……….... 1:11:00
Transitions ……….4:07…………...4:00
------------- ……..---------………. ---------
Total ………….2:45:09………… 2:30:00

I had a nice table that showed the pace for each event – triathlons are great for stats – almost as good as baseball – but the blogger thing didn’t take to tables very well so I will just say that to reach my goal I need to improve my swim pace from 2:09 (minutes / 100 yards) to 1:45; my bike time from 19.7 mph to 21.0 mph; and my run rate from 8:10 minutes per mile to 7:35.

Right now my focus is on rehabbing my injured hamstrings so that I can compete at Tuscaloosa in three weeks. After that I will start working with my coach on the plan for the next two years.

Workout: Bike – 70 minutes / 18 miles; got out at 5:20 am and no real traffic along Sheridan Road for the first half of the ride. Slight hamstring tightness for the last couple of miles.

Stretching / Strength: 20 minutes of calf and quad stretches and did the glut exercises that my chiropractor proscribes. He said tight calves and weak gluts were putting too much strain on the hamstrings;

Run: 30 minutes - easy jog at 3 PM; trying to get acclimated to heat that I will experience in Tuscaloosa.

Weight: 189

Monday, July 27, 2009

Do Not Go Gentle

Do not go gentle into that good night
by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


I thought I should start out with something literary. This isn't the first day of my blog - this is still dress rehearsal.

I hope with this blog to develop a dialogue with other athletes in their fifties and sixties and seventies. The specific goal that I am working toward is to compete in the USAT National Age Group championship in 2011 when I am 60. I want to finish in the top 10. That will take a time of 2:30 or better and my best time so far is 2:52 so I'll need to get a lot better. At everything.

I've qualifed for the championship this year with 5th place finishes at Keuka (5th out of 6) and Evergreen Lake (5th out of 16). I finished that race with two pulled hamstrings so I wasn't planning to compete at the championship (Tuscaloosa August 21) but now I'm feeling better, so I think will try to race there. It will be a good starting point for this journey.

I've looked at the times from last year and I could easily finish last, but I figure that's a good place to start. There are some awesome athletes in that competition. Last isn't that bad.

WORKOUT - swam 1800 yards at Gillson beach - Lake Michigan. Time: 42:02. Water was great, haven't used a wetsuit all summer. I love the feel of the water. I'm an average swimmer, but open water early morning swimming (5:30 am) is my favorite workout.I just need to get faster and that will be part of my workout master plan: More swim lessons. Harder workouts in the McGAW YMCA pool. I hate the pool.

WEIGHT - I want to track this and some other "metrics" but I haven't figured out the best way to do that, yet. I think if I post it daily, maybe it will make me more disciplined. To be truly competitive I need to get my weight down to 180. Which might require giving up my daily wine and cheese course. That's going to be tough. Don't need to start that today.

Morning weight: 190