Day 67 – Every Moment

We are the sum total of our experiences…

BJ Neblett, Author.

Day 66 – The Good Old Days

Sixty six days into training for IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga and I feel great… except for work.

Don’t get me wrong. Work is OK, but HR has us all worried that we are going to say or do the wrong thing. How I yearn for the old days when practical jokes were not only tolerated, but almost encouraged.

The year was 2003. Or 4. I was working for a non-profit organization in Denton, TX. at the time. I had a big office, a fun group of coworkers and a few good victims on which to practice the time honored craft of practical jokes. There was one particular joke that almost killed our victim, or so it seemed.

The Victim

B was in her early 60s. She was sort of like a mother to us and we loved her dearly. In fact, I still hear from her now and then. She had worked at this outfit for so long and done every job there that she had earned a certain level of respect, yet she could laugh, tell jokes and have fun after hours like anyone else. In other words, she could “dish it out” a bit. She was the kind of woman that could dress professionally for work and dress down for weekly outings at the garage sales around town.

B moonlit as a night cleaner for several offices in town including ours and, because of that, she knew everyone’s dirty habits. She could tell you who left skid marks in their office chair and which stall in the bathroom was used by whom. It’s not that she enjoyed it, but when she wasn’t disgusted by it she and I used to laugh about that kind of stuff. B was the perfect victim.

The Accomplice

In the office down the hall worked K. He was a creative genius which, I think, made him very outgoing and bold. He spoke from his head, sometimes without filters, but you knew where you stood with him. He was never mean, he just saw life a little more clearly than most and was not afraid to say something mildly offensive. He had a wild streak that could make a San Francisco liberal blush. K and I were friends.

The Setup

Are you familiar with those cylindrical pastries? Pepperidge Farms makes a version of them called Pirouette. Someone brought a chocolate frosted cake with those little phallic pastries protruding out in all directions. It was quite the sight.

K and I were standing in the break room and chatting over cups of coffee when we both became aware of the cake: this strange cake that seemed so out of place. The strangeness of it bothered me so started playing with one of the pastries. I slowly pulled it out from its gooey, dark chocolate foundation and held it between the two of us almost at eye level. K and I looked at each other and simultaneously uttered the same sound, “Ewwwww”. Either the pastry or the frosting had to be put to good use. Without thought or intention, my finger swiped off a glob of frosting. K followed closely behind as I ran into the women’s room where I deposited the frosting on the edge of a toilet seat. I don’t have to tell you what it looked like, but I do need to tell you that it looked real: very real.

The Sting

I cleaned off my finger, went back to work and forgot about the incident until almost 60 minutes later when S came into my office. S was not a gossip, but she wanted to tell me about “the mess” that someone left behind in the women’s room because B had apparently seen it and was so disgusted by it that she told half the office what she had seen. I was imagining B performing her job that night as office cleaner wearing full industrial HAZMAT gear to clean that toilet.

K and I allowed the joke to go on for a little longer, until B was beginning to get a bit out of control. She was quite upset that someone would leave the bathroom in such a state. S was disgusted as well, but she was more concerned about B, so we let S in on the joke. S, K and I had a giggle fest behind closed doors until we realized that it was time to bring the joke to a close.

I was still in my office when K made his move, but I could hear the important stuff. K approached B,

K: “B, what’s all the fuss?”

B: “Somebody. Uh… Come here. I’ll show you”

I heard the bathroom door open and they went in. The next thing I heard was B screaming so loudly that I though she was going to have a heart attack. K later told me that the look on her face suggested a cardiac arrest after the air had depleted from her lungs. It took B a little while to recover from the shock.

The Analysis

Unfortunately, I had to learn what happened in the bathroom after the fact from K himself. When they first entered the bathroom together, B pointed out the evidence of someone’s unhygienic behaviors. K acted cool, but suggested that something didn’t look right. He reached down with a pointed finger to sample the offending evidence. That’s when B began screaming. K brought the sample to his nose which only made B scream louder. At some point K realized that all this was too much for B so he calmed her down and explained the whole story.

Try that in an office today and you might find yourself on the bad end of a lawsuit.

Until tomorrow…

Day 65 – Goodbye Kobe Bryant

5.24 miles. 30 degrees F. 122bpm. 12:45/mi.

Those numbers don’t seem so impressive on the surface, but underneath, they’re a breakthrough. For many years I would have dismissed a run like that as being too easy to accomplish anything. Today I appreciate an easy run.

As I look back on the events of this past week, I also appreciate the life of Kobe Bryant, basketball superstar. I never idolized him like I do Michael Jordan, but I love part of what he stood for. Let’s get the negative aspects out of the way so we can see the positive.

Allegations of sexual assault need to be taken seriously and Bryant’s position in society does not excuse him from accountability. In my view, there will always be a cloud over his legacy because of his infamous legal situation in 2003. I don’t know the case beyond media hype. Maybe he was exonerated. Maybe he was a victim. Maybe he should have been incarcerated. I don’t know.

But there were things about Kobe Bryant that are worth honoring. With his death earlier this week, I am reminded of two things: 1) passion and 2) experience.

Kobe Bryant did not just love basketball, he was passionate about it. His passion drove him to great success on the court. Basketball was his life. Would he have been just as great at something else had basketball never been invented? That’s an interesting philosophical question that has no rational answer. However, I would argue that he would have been great at something, because he had a singleness of purpose that could probably have been applied to any other endeavor.

I heard a story about him this morning. Apparently, he taught himself to play a song on the piano because he wanted to sing a song to his wife on a special occasion. He could have hired anyone to sing that song, but he knew that it meant more for him to play it and sing it himself. Which leads into the second thing I talked about: experience.

Kobe Bryant was 41 years old at the time of his death. That is quite young by today’s standards. What he accomplished in those 41 years seems like far more than what most of us accomplish in a lifetime.

I can’t say I’ll miss him, because I never knew him. But I am thankful for his positive influences on people around the world. I’m sorry for his darker moments. Maybe we, as individuals, can learn from those too.

Until tomorrow…

Day 64 – The Scale of Confusion

How accurate are your gadgets?

Most of us endurance athletes record a lot of data. We monitor heart rates, power, pace, speed, cadence, time, weight, lactate, VO2max, calories expended, calories consumed, water intake, sodium intake… the list goes on.

To make many of these measurements possible, we have to use gadgets: some high tech like GPS sport watches and some low tech like your doctor’s beam scale. On the other hand, some measurements are subjective and only require your keen judgement like RPE and quality of sleep, but today I want to focus on the gadgets.

Usually, you step on a scale and you take the displayed weight as the absolute truth. However, the reason I am writing this post is because my sister was quite upset that she stood on her scale, recorded a number, stepped off then stepped on the scale again and read a different number. “How can that be?”, she asked. “How do I know which one is right?”

In case you are wondering the same thing, this blog post is a primer on precision, accuracy and confidence intervals. Don’t worry. I’ll hide the math in a black box, but you’re going to have to trust me.

All measurement devices are subject to measurement error. The next time you put gasoline in your car at a gas station in the U.S., look for the government sticker on the pump. It’s from your state’s Office of Weights and Measures and it certifies that the pump is not ripping you off, but it doesn’t guarantee that you get 10.000 gallons like the pump readout says. It just means that the pump delivers an amount of gas that is within a specified tolerance.

Your scale and GPS watch and every other gadget are the same way. They all measure something within a tolerance. Sometimes the product literature will explain it in plain english. Actually, it’s not plain english. It’s plain obscure. Down in the technical specifications there might be a number with a little &plusminus; sign and it tells you the standard error which is, itself, a measure of tolerance. The standard error simply means that your device – let’s use a scale as an example – is not perfect. The scale doesn’t measure your real weight. It approximates your real weight.

The Example

How accurate is it?

A couple of years ago we bought a scale and I’ve trusted it all this time. However, today I want to find its standard error because I can’t find it in the product literature. Any good scientific investigation will start with a hypothesis, a list of assumptions, a method to test the hypothesis and beer… lots of beer and obscure drawings on napkins from the local pub. I don’t have any beer so we’ll skip that for now.

My hypothesis

The scale measures my weight with a standard error different from zero. This is what I want to test.

My Assumptions

  • My weight on the scale and the variability of the measurement (standard error) are not correlated
  • The measurement errors occur randomly – no trends
  • The measurements are unbiased – the scale measures mass consistently and without other influences like a five pound cat on the platform.
  • Effects of temperature, humidity, air density, air movement and type of music I listen to are negligible.
Measurement bias

My Method

If there is a non zero standard error associated with this scale, then I expect that it will show different weights each time I step on it even if my real weight doesn’t change. Therefore, I will step on and off the scale to get 30 measurements. The measurements will be summarized to determine if there is any variability in the 30 measurements.

Here We Go!

I will spare you the tedium of this process and get straight to the results.

  • n (number): 30 weights we recorded
  • Mean (average): 170.25 lb
  • SE (standard error): 0.02 lb

I’m surprised at the accuracy. What these results say is that there is a 66% probability that my actual weight is between 170.23 (170.25 – 0.02) pounds and 170.27 (170.25 + 0.02) pounds. That is what statisticians call a confidence interval: a 66% confidence interval. The 99% confidence interval is from 170.20 pounds to 170.30 pounds. That means I can hold my head high and declare with confidence that I weigh 170 pounds (to the nearest whole pound). For all practical purposes, the standard error is zero, because the variability in weight does not affect the final estimate of the weight which I’ve reported in whole pounds rather than 100ths of a pound. This scale is very accurate to the whole pound.

In conclusion, my sister needs to get a different scale.

Until tomorrow…

Day 63 – Professional Triathlete’s Organization

Triathlon has a new organization and it means business: big business. The Professional Triathlete’s Organization aims to do for triathlon what the PGA has done for golf.

If you are a fan of Triathlon Taren’s media outlets, then you probably heard one of his recent podcasts where he interviewed Sam Renouf, CEO of Professional Triathlete’s Organizaion (PTO). First of all, I have to give high complements to Taren and NTK for conducting a very good interview. And second, I have to condemn them for conducting the interview in Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State University (I’m a University of Arizona Wildcat). So it all evens out.

The gist of the PTO is described in their mission statement which is proudly displayed on the home page of their web site. I encourage you to have a visit.

The Professional Triathlete’s Organization mission statement

So how does it relate to golf and the PGA?

To get an answer of any detail, I encourage you to listen to the interview here

But if you don’t have time or you’d rather not listen right now, here’s a simple, diluted and slightly accurate version. I’ll try to be accurate 😉

  • The PTO is a not for profit organization of professional triathletes.
  • Only card carrying professional triathletes can be members
  • One goal is to grow the sport by showcasing the elite athletes in a consumer friendly package.
  • Another goal is to bring more money into the sport so professionals can be compensated for their contributions to making triathlon a great sport (heavily paraphrased by me)
  • The PTO and Challenge will be hosting the Collins Cup race in May 2020: an event only for members of the PTO. This event has been designed specifically for media in order to attract a large audience. Athletes will participate in a three team environment: USA vs. Europe vs. Everyone Else.
  • The business model is based on creating a limited number of events (starting with the Collins Cup) made for broadcast that create excitement about the sport.

There’s more to it and on the surface it seems like a great organization with a great purpose.

My Initial Reaction

I like the idea that young professionals might be compensated better. I also like the team concept of one nation against another. If the PTO and its broadcasting is able to bring more people into the sport, then that’s a good thing as well. Is it beginning to sound like golf? Think Ryder Cup. Think Tiger Woods. Professional golfers at all levels are thankful for what the Ryder Cup and Tiger Woods have done for the sport.

I don’t know if there’s a downside to the PTO and what they may do to triathlon, but I do wonder. I enjoy that I am able to race on the same course at about the same time as the professionals. As I began my run at IRONMAN Lake Placid, the leading professional, Andy Potts, was coming in to mile 24. That was pretty darn cool. But that’s not the case in golf and that’s not the case in tennis which follows a similar business model.

Could it happen that professionals will soon have their own media friendly races and age groupers will be viewed as little more than dreamers who only want to be like their professional heros? I hope not. We age groupers may be dreamers, but many of us are serious contenders for greatness. We seek the ultimate prizes that a lifetime of dedication to this sport can yield: a sense of meaning, a sense of accomplishment, a sense of belonging.

Professionals need recognition, and age groupers need it too. The professionals need to leverage the age groupers for support and the age groupers need to leverage the professionals for inspiration. I believe the sport can be grown from the top, as the PTO wants to do. I also believe the sport can be grown from the bottom, as USAT and IRONMAN have done with My Time To Tri. All I hope is that these efforts are kept in balance.

I’m very hopeful because the PTO mission statement includes age groupers as well as professionals.

The ironic thing is that the Collins Cup race is named after John and Judy Collins who founded this whole IRONMAN thing. Some time around 1977 John Collins offered a challenge to those around him who argued about the merits of cycling, running and swimming as separate sports. He suggested the first 140.6 mile race of the three sports combined as a challenge: not as a business model.

Nothing can stay the same and stay relevant. If the PTO eventually does purchase WTC (the IRONMAN company), what will that mean for all us age groupers trying to win a spot at Kona?

Until tomorrow…

Day 62 – Best Race Ever

114 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

What gets your heart rate going? A good workout? A scary movie? Christmas morning?

Our bikes were carefully strapped in for the two day drive to IMLP

In the middle of July, 2013 Marty and Mike picked me up from my house in Marty’s SUV. After a bit of wrangling and repositioning, all three of our bikes were comfortably situated on the bike rack. Then Marty handed me the keys and made me the driver for the day: Mr. Sulu of the Yukon. We were headed to IRONMAN Lake Placid, in the mountain town of Lake Placid, New York. That first day on the road was rather uneventful, but it was nice to just hang out with good friends and yell at other drivers.

At lunchtime on the second day we stopped somewhere near Albany, NY to get a bite to eat. I found a Peruvian restaurant through Google that sounded fantastic and had stellar reviews. Mike and I had eaten from a Peruvian food truck in Madison just before IRONMAN Wisconsin. That meal changed my life!

I tapped the “Directions” button on the Google page and we drove straight for “the best Peruvian restaurant” in a nameless little town somewhere in New York. The neighborhood was sketchy, but we weren’t worried so we bounded out of the SUV and headed straight for the little restaurant. It was closed. Permanently. Out of business. We ended up eating at a little pizza joint in the same strip mall.

One thing about Mike that I admire is that he’s a doctor. Sometimes his patients call him for advice so in the middle of lunch he took a call and went outside. Eventually he returned and it wasn’t long before we were off and driving again. I know this sounds very uneventful, but it was at this point in our trip that the story was created.

I like Lake Placid. It’s a nice town that get’s overrun by tourists most of the year and by triathletes in the middle of July. We stayed at the Northwoods Inn where Marty expertly parked the SUV in a narrow strip of a parking lot behind the hotel. I took my bike off the rack from the SUV and wheeled it into the hotel. The elevator was so small that I had to turn the bike up on its back wheel and hold it by the pedals. Nothing seemed out of the norm until the next morning when we were getting ready for a bike ride.

This is where the memory is a bit foggy. Either I noticed the missing pedal as I was leaving my room with the bike or Mike said something about it when I got to his room. MISSING PEDAL? WTF!.

  • Did I lose it on the trip up? Was it that loosely attached that it vibrated off from a two day car ride?
  • Did someone steal it? But why? Who would steal a single pedal?
  • Did it fall off in the hotel room? I searched every crevice and crack in that room.

I think this was Thursday morning, three days before the race. What the hell was I going to do? I hadn’t even started the bike ride and my heart rate was already at anaerobic threshold.

And then I remembered: I had three days before the race. I knew I would be able to find a pair of pedals at the expo or maybe someone would have a set I could borrow. No problem. I remember thinking that my compadres could start their bike ride and I could hunt down some pedals. My brain quickly returned to a calm state by the time Marty came into the room, but he and Mike were freaking out more than I was. They put on a good show.

Just as I was fully prepared to buy a new set of pedals, Mike produced a Ziploc baggie with my missing pedal and in the other hand he was holding a pedal wrench. THOSE BASTARDS!

The previous day when we stopped for lunch and Mike left to take the call, the only thing he took was the pedal off my bike. He always carried bike tools with him, so the pedal wrench was handy. The funny part is that I never noticed until almost 24 hours after he had done it. And as much as I handled the bike in that 24 hours, I should have noticed. I don’t know how they kept from laughing the whole time. Maybe they did laugh and I just didn’t notice that either.

IRONMAN Lake Placid 2013 is on my list as being the most fun race I’ve ever done.

Until tomorrow…

Day 61 – Another VO2max Day

115 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

What a day!

I’ve been on the computer for the last 10 hours and my brain is fried: fried like a Paula Deen banquet at a NASCAR rally, fried like a Bojangles family pack ten minutes before closing time.

Why is fried food so bad for us, but it tastes soooooo good? Nevermind.

I don’t have the mental energy to talk about how much I enjoyed Bob Babbitt’s latest interview with Patrick Lange. Just go listen to it yourself. You’ll thank me later.

Workout

Bike-Walk-Run. It was another VO2max bike workout and I loved it. The walk part is something Sami throws in there to approximate getting through transition. The run was just long enough to get some benefit of bike to run adaptation: 2 miles.

Bike power profile
I had to use both devices to get my stats today

The bike profile is a bit wonky. You can see that the timing isn’t exact because the red power line (watts) doesn’t line up with the planned workout (blue). The problem is that my Garmin watch doesn’t collect power data unless you manually tell it to do so before each workout and I forgot to tell it. The result is that my timing for the intervals came from the Garmin watch and the power data came from the PowerTap.

Run stats

The run numbers are probably not impressive. They have me in zone 3 more than I wanted. What scares me is that tomorrow’s workout is a swim session with Trent. If today didn’t kick my butt, Trent will.

Ive had enough of computers for one day. Until tomorrow…

Day 60 – Banned for Life

116 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

There’s a Facebook group out there that seems to not want me.

Before you label me a whiner or a complainer, let me say up front that I’m not bitter about it. I’m actually OK with it. And to prove that I’m OK with it, it’s been two years since I was banned from it and I haven’t given it much thought until now.

I was listening to a Triathlon Taren podcast. By the way, those podcasts are really quite good. I just love a good Canadian accent and he’s got a great one. Seriously. English Canadian. Not French Canadian (which is also nice on the ears).

Anyway, Taren was saying how there was a seemingly, large number of people in a certain Facebook group that were doubting his methods and throwing bad energy his direction. I don’t know if he and I are talking about the same group but that got me thinking about the culture of our sport. Actually, it got me thinking about a specific culture within our sport: The YADIAWAMWITB culture. That’s pronounced yadi-a-WAM-wit-bee and it sounds like a South American tribe that lives deep in the Amazon.

I live by acronyms and this one is great. It stands for

You Are Doing It All Wrong And My Way Is The Best

Nowhere is that attitude more prevalent than on social media. In fact, one of the podcasts I subscribe to has an episode with “You’re Doing it ALL WRONG!” in the episode title. OK. Tell me I’m doing it wrong.

That’s fine, but I don’t understand where that attitude comes from. How do you know I’m doing it all wrong? Maybe it was my intention to finish last in the one mile fun run.

Yes. I’ve had people tell me I’m doing something wrong and it has helped me greatly. However, that sage advice came from people who knew me well and knew what I was trying to do. I’m not saying anyone should stop telling other people that they are wrong. I’m just observing an interesting behavior which I believe is a result of our general lack of understanding of fitness and physiological adaptation.

It’s not that we are ignorant. It’s that there are many questions about how best to train and race that have not been answered by scientific investigation. Every year we learn more, but without answers based on reason we settle on our own methods. This is the art of training. Yet in that art, there’s self doubt because the results of our art are measured objectively (race times, placings, etc) and the relationship between our methods and the objective measures is not well understood. Self doubt makes it easy for marketers to convince you that you are doing it all wrong so they can sell you a gel, or compression boots or a transition mat. “Buy their product and you’ll be doing it all right. ”

Self doubt may also be a reason to tell people they are doing it all wrong. I’m no psychologist, but it seems that if you are unsure of something you might try to recruit others to your way of thinking. Right?

Not everyone is like that, of course, but it makes sense for some people I know.

They can tell me I’m right or they can tell me I’m wrong. Either way it doesn’t matter because I’m probably not buying their products and I’m not looking for a solution to a problem I don’t have.

Enough of my B.S. for one day. Until tomorrow…

Day 59 – A Very Short Swim

117 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Yesterday I was blathering on about how life is so stressful. Maybe blathering is not the right word (I just wanted to use it in a sentence and here I’ve used it twice!). Perhaps I was complaining which really is not like me at all, but I meant what I said about how we focus so much on the physical training and not on the psychological and emotional training.

This morning’s swim was interesting. I tested out the new beeper thing that is going to teach me pacing. I like it. I set it to 25 seconds so it would beep every time I got to the wall as long as I maintained a 1:40/100y pace. Normally, that’s a pretty easy pace for me if you add in flip turns and push offs.
I was just getting the hang of using it when I stopped for a rest interval and heard someone talking. It was the life guard talking to me. Apparently, the chlorine level in the pool was too low which meant everyone had to get out, so she blew her whistle and made the announcement. I guess it took quite a bit of time to empty the pool of people. She should have thrown a Baby Ruth bar in the pool. It worked in Caddy Shack.

Now I’m creeped out by thoughts of giant bacteria infecting me. In fact, there may have been one wearing swim jammers and swimming in the other lane. He looked like a bacterium. He swam like one too.

Six hundred and fifty yards. That’s all I got this morning. I’ll do something later like watch a funny video and laugh really hard. That’s an ab workout, right?

Until tomorrow…

Day 58 – Training Stresses

118 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

There are days when everything goes right and every expectation seems to be fulfilled. Today was not one of those days.

Currently at work, I am managing a piece of a big project. We are moving our computing resources to “The Cloud.” I can not underestimate to you the amount of stress I have experienced in the last month and I have very few words to describe it. Suffice it to say that I now understand how stress affects my workouts.

I am an age grouper: an amateur triathlete. You probably are too, so you likely know what I mean when I mention stress and I’m not talking about an intense bike interval or hill repeats. My project at work is behind schedule. Tensions in the workplace are beginning to reveal themselves. The family can not be ignored. The dog pooped in the living room again. And I’m not the only one in my life feeling the stress: Lori is getting it from all directions too. In a family, stress is neither additive nor multiplicative. When two family members are stressed, their problems feed off each other to exponential proportions. ( I have no citation for that, but I had to work in some math so I could understand this when I come back and read it in six months or a year)

My plan today was to come home and run on the treadmill, but that plan was diverted to take care of family business. I’m OK with that, but I wonder how I will be able to handle all this psychological stress without the benefit of a physical relief valve. I think what I’ve overlooked in my training is adaptation to emotional and psychological stress factors. I’ve been so focused on lactate and zones and FTP and TSS.

In hindsight, the family is good. Work will not kill me. There will always be time to workout later. The problem is that hindsight always comes after the damage is done. We just need to recover from the damage.

Until tomorrow …