Good-bye Summer Joy

Posted on June 27, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , |

My ode to summer joy officially ended on Monday, June 23, at 5:48 am.

I know. That’s less than 48 hours after summer officially started.  But I can explain.

You see, I live in Texas. Summer in Texas is pretty much like I imagine the fourth ring of hell to feel like. Maybe muggier.

We were spoiled this year, however. We made it well into June lulled into a false sense of comfort.  The start of summer here felt almost like summer in Michigan. Pleasant, breezy, green. You could sit outside and enjoy your yard, your grill, the sunset. You could roll out of bed in the morning and go for a pleasant run.

But then it all ended when summer officially arrived, rolling in on blanket of hot, wet air, which wrapped itself heavily around my shoulders and worked its way deeply into my lungs on the morning of Monday, June 23, when I stepped outside at 5:48 am to run.   swimming_cat

Texas is now officially into the season of running clothes drenched with so much sweat you have to wring them out and lay them in the sun for an entire day to dry; two or three shower days; lethargy; pulling the grill closer to the back door; watching the sunset through the window (if you can see around the mosquitoes); and much earlier morning runs.

As much as I am cursing Texas summers this week, I know that I will soon adapt and forget how much it sucks. By mid-July, I will have pulled the grill back out to where it belongs, purchased more citronella candles or Off, and created a sweaty-clothes-drying-only bench on my deck. Two showers a day will be nothing. Maybe one of them will even be a swim. If memory serves me right, the kids don’t get to the pool until well after sun-up anyway. Maybe a little chlorine to temper the sweat isn’t such a bad thing after all.

 

 

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Hello Summer

Posted on June 6, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

It’s here, semi-officially, this week.

I know, it doesn’t officially start until summer solstice, Saturday, June 21, at 6:51 am. In case you’re counting.

But this week marks the end of the school year, which means…

Less traffic.

school-buses-300x172

Less shoe-wearing.

summer-quotes-sayings-overdressed-feet

More lawn mowing (I love the smell of fresh cut grass. It reminds me of watermelon. And my dad.)

how-to-mow-your-lawn-1

 

More pool time.

swimming_cat

 

More down time.

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And more sweat.

seat lodge

Well, maybe not that much more. I’m just glad it’s here.

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Creating Order out of Chaos

Posted on March 21, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Lawn-stripey-1mg1

My new training plan is posted on the side of my refrigerator, a black and white grid containing daily directives and empty white space awaiting my penciled-in results. I love a new plan. It’s challenge and promise weigh equally. It gives me a sense of purpose each day. A reason to get out of bed earlier than the birds.  And the direction and clarity to know what to do even after the white space is filled in.

That’s the key, really. The “after” part of completing the daily plan.

Sure, running is the reason for the plan. And, for now, for my new 16-week plan, biking and swimming is too.  It is the reward, the goal, the tool, the end in itself and the means to a greater end all rolled into one. There is freedom in running. There is joy and health and confidence.

But there is more.

Running helps me to create order out of chaos. And chaos is, after all, life, mostly.

It is a million different forces all pressing on us at once, vying for our attention, demanding action.  It is a million bits of information clamoring to be heard, absorbed, incorporated into the design.

It is a million blades of grass forming a raggedly blanket of a lawn that the HOA insists must be flattened and smoothed.

I get tremendous satisfaction in mowing my lawn.  Watching straight lines form in the grass behind my mower, leaving a wake of structure.

So it is with me in running.  The sheer act of physical movement, of allowing my mind the freedom to construct my day, week, month, story, life at the dawn of each day produces the structure for all else.  Without it, I cannot write, at least not well.  Without it, the organization I lead would not be led strategically, compassionately, or wisely, a goal I mindfully set each day, but instead would become like the field behind my house, overgrown with weeds.

My desk has always faced a wall. Until recently, the wall has been blank. Now, a corkboard hangs in front of me, the center space empty, all else tacked to the sides.  Whenever I look up, I see the vision of what will be that my mind’s eye projects there, like a movie on a screen, the endless possibilities a swirl of chaos.  Writing and leading an organization have this in common:  You must always keep your vision in front of you to make the right choices, choose the right ideas, to create order out of the chaos.

My new training plan started this week.  The Royal Empress and Mountain Laurel have just begun to bloom. Their fragrance rolls out before me like a red carpet when I run. There is so much promise in the newness of spring, its plan unfolding.

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Tri Dog

Posted on August 16, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Queequeg cropped

Nearly two weeks ago, the morning before the Tour de Jalapeno, my dog Queequeg went tearing out the door at 4:15 am after some small animal that’d been lurking in our backyard for weeks.  She came back on 3 legs, dragging one behind her.

A torn ACL, it turns out, requiring extensive surgery to repair both it and her knee.

She spent more than a week laying around and staring at me with sad eyes, her leg swollen and bruised and ugly.  She wasn’t at all interested in toys or food or playing with my other dog, Smaug, from whom she is usually inseparable.

But then one morning as Smaug and I were leaving the house for a walk, there she was, tottering on 3 legs in front of us, wagging her tail slowly, nudging my hand and sticking her nose in the door crack.  She wanted to walk too.

I think I know how she felt.  Habit and instinct and whatever sense of fun dogs have was kicking in. A morning walk is what we do, what we’ve done her whole life.  No sooner had she started to feel even a bit better her first impulse was to be outside and run.  A dog after my own heart.

Queequeg’s stitches came out yesterday, and the doctor gave her the all-clear.  He suggested I take her to the pool for a few days, make her swim, rehab her leg.  Looks like we’re going to have to drag ourselves out of bed earlier than usual for a while, sneak to the pool before the neighbors are up and about. Somehow I think they’d frown on a Chihuahua using the neighborhood pool, even on doctor’s orders.

I hope Queequeg likes swimming as much as I do.  Soon enough, she can walk to her heart’s content. Maybe next week I’ll get her a bike.  Before you know it, she’ll be a bona fide tri dog.

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I Tried

Posted on June 28, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Jumping_Gator

Believe it or not, I survived last Saturday’s Gator Bait sprint tri at Lake Boerne, Texas.  Better yet, I actually enjoyed it.  Once I got there.

My day did not go quite as planned. But they never do.

Prerace

For once, I don’t wake up before my alarm.  When it sounds at 4 am, I’m startled from a dead sleep and am so disoriented that I contemplate sleeping for another hour.  But then I remember the race.

I packed up my gear the night before, pinned my bib to my shirt, loosened my shoes.  You know, all that prerace stuff. All I have to do is drink lots of coffee, force my pre-run breakfast down (buckwheat, banana, honey, chocolate almond milk, and blueberries), shower (Yes, I know, I’m just going to get all gunky with lake water and sweat and dirt, so why bother? Because it wakes me up and helps me focus. Showering is my second most powerful think time.), and load my bike onto my car.

My plan is to leave at 5, but secretly I know I can leave at 5:15 and still be way on time.  Start time isn’t until 7, and it’s about a 45 minute drive.  I’m one of those people who get anxious if I’m not at least 45 minutes early to a race (10 minutes early for everything else), so I factor in plenty of time.

So I think.

Even though my plan is simply to enjoy the day and not stress about my time or drowning or anything else, an unusual prerace anxiety kicks in. To make a long and unpleasant story short, I don’t leave until almost 5:30.

I drive 70ish mph (the speed limit) with one eye in my rearview mirror. My bike rack, you see, is almost older than I am, and I rarely use it.  It’s one of those models with lots of straps and buckles and only one brace.  My worst nightmare is that my bike will fly off the back of my car and onto someone else’s hood.

(I’ve been procrastinating getting a new rack, simply because I don’t use it that often. For the most part, I bike from home. Although that would probably change if I had a bike rack I felt comfortable with, right?)

So.  Ten miles out from my exit, one eye in the rearview mirror, and I realize I can’t see my bike’s front tire anymore.  That can’t be a good sign.  I pull over at the next exit.  Sure enough, a strap has loosened and the rack has slipped.  My front tire is only inches from the road. I tighten up the straps, readjust my bike, and decide to take the frontage road the rest of the way.  I swear once or twice (maybe three times), and vow to throw my bike in my car on the way home, ditch the stupid rack, and get a new one.

I drive 55ish mph (the speed limit) with one eye still in my rearview mirror.  Before I know it, I’m in the middle of lovely downtown Boerne, where the speed limit is 25, there are lots of stop lights, and the road is under construction.  Apparently, the frontage road doesn’t front I-10 for the whole stretch.  I swear once or twice (maybe three times), turn around, and try to figure out how to get back to the highway.  Eventually, I do.  My heart rate is slightly elevated.

I arrive at the park at 6:30. Just enough time to pick up my chip, get body marked, and spread out my stuff in the cramped little corner area that’s left in transition.  Barely enough time to stand in the massive porta-potty line, where I meet a nice woman who says her husband told her she should just pee in the water while she’s swimming.  We agree that this is not an art either one of us has yet mastered, but if they teach it in triathlon courses, we may just take one after all.

The Swim

I decide that if I’m going to enjoy the race, I should be one of the last people in the water.  I haven’t been in the water as much as I’ve liked, and I really don’t want to deal with elbows and feet slapping me around.  I stand toward the end with a dozen or so first-timers.  We joke and laugh and I loosen up enough to have fun.

It’s a windy day and the water is choppy.  I try to swim slow and steady. Every time I turn my head for a breath, a wave slaps me in the face and I inhale water.  A couple of strokes in I revert to the breaststroke, which is my strong suit, but not what I have been practicing for nearly a month. I try at every turn to swim freestyle, but quickly switch to breaststroke so that I can breathe easy and see in front of me.

I feel like I’m moving in slow motion, but I don’t really care. I swim at a pace I can comfortably sustain, with my eye on the guy in front of me, who I secretly want to pass.  I do, finally, and am later stunned to find that my time is less than 20 minutes.

500m swim time:             12:17 = 2:27/100m

TI

What can I say about a transition?  I don’t practice them. I was wet.  It was hard to pull on my shirt.  But I remembered to stick a piece of gum in my mouth.

T1 time:                                2:37       

 

The Bike

I love my bike.  It’s about 7 years old, bottom of the line.  It’s a hybrid, with slightly thicker tires than pretty much everyone else’s, has mountain bike handlebars, and is relatively heavy.  I don’t care.  It’s my bike, and it gets me where I want to go.

The 13 mile ride is an out and back, with a turnaround on the top of aptly named Heartbreak Hill. We head into the wind.  A half mile out, three miles of road has been freshly graveled and tarred.  The out is slow-going, but breezy, and at least I dry off relatively fast.

I pass a guy as the sun peeks out from behind some clouds and shines on his backside.  He is wearing gray spandex, and as soon as the sun hits him, his shorts become less opaque than he is probably aware. I gasp and wonder if I should tell him later.  A guy passes both of us.  He is wearing black spandex.  The sun has the same effect on his shorts.  I make a mental note that they are both wearing regular old spandex and not tri shorts.  I chuckle, but then realize that so am I. This is no longer funny.

(Later that morning, I drag my boyfriend outside into the sun, bend over, and ask him if he can see through my shorts.  He cannot.  I am relieved beyond words.)

I start my way up Heartbreak Hill, giving myself a pep talk. I rode all the way up last year, dang it, so I’ll be danged if I’m going to walk it this year.  Two-thirds up my quads are burning, I am traveling at a speed of 2 mph, and I realize I still have to run.  I swallow my pride, dismount, and run my bike up the hill at over 4 mph.  At least I’m gaining speed.

The most beautiful thing about Heartbreak Hill is that you get to go down.  I do, feeling like that stupid pig in the insurance commercial as I squeal “Wheeee!!” all the way down. Seriously. It was fun. Plus no one was around.

Because I was one of the last in the water, much of the bike route has cleared and during most of my ride I am alone.   I hit a stretch of road with a breathtaking view of misty, rolling hills; birds sailing; flowers blooming; fingers of sun touching here and there.  I dawdle along, gaping, thanking God that I am here, until the little voice in my head screams that this is a race, dang it, not a joy ride, and I better step it up.

I do, and truly enjoy the entire ride, minus the gravel and tar.  Later, however, I will be disappointed in my bike time. It’s the nature of the racing beast, I guess.

                13 mile bike time:            54:32 = 14.3 mph

T2

I approach the transition area with a little boy who’s maybe 10.  He’s in my way and I want to run him over, but decide that might look bad, as the spectators hanging around the area ooh and aah about a kid in the race.  I give him a wide berth and run to my space.  He pulls up next to me.  (Go figure.) I start to feel bad about the urge to run him down, so I make small talk.

“How was it?” I ask as I change shoes.  “Did you have fun?”

“Yeah,” he says. “It was fun.  But not that bad.  I rode 56 miles last Sunday.”

The pummeling urge resurfaces, so I quickly look for the exit.

T2 time:                                1:54

The Run

I am a runner.  Have I mentioned that? This is the leg I am looking most forward to.

The run is several out and backs on 3.5 miles of trail. The trail is rockier than I remember, with steeper hills.  I feel like I’m running through molasses at first, and consciously make myself run faster.  I fix my eyes on the trail ahead of me, repeat a mantra in my head:  Slow and steady, slow and steady.  I level at a pace I could maintain for hours.

There are no mile markers on the route, and I have no idea how far I’ve run or exactly how much farther there is to go.  The wind picks up, and my hat flies off twice. I run clutching it in my hand until I can finally keep it in place on the last stretch.

I feel good, and when we turn the last corner I am surprised to see the finish.  Surely we can’t be done already?  I turn to cross the field toward the line, and a runner comes up behind me, yells at me to pick it up.  Her encouragement lights a fire under me, and we sprint together to the finish line.

                3.5 mile run time:            29:19 = 8:22 min/mile

Post Race

I did it. I finished the sprint tri without drowning, twisting an ankle, lobbing my bike onto someone’s windshield.  I even came in under my goal time of 1:45.

                Overall tri time:                                1:40:40

I guess the bottom line is this.  I am a runner. But I love the heck out of training for tris.  I have my eye on an Olympic distance in August.  It will be my first.  At least it will prompt me to finally get a new bike rack.

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I Can Tri

Posted on June 21, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Image courtesy of Triathlon Gifts & Merchandise

On Saturday I am participating in the Gator Bait sprint tri.  My training log for this race has been posted on my fridge since early March. I included in my plan vacation time, other days I knew I’d need off. I included races I intended to run between then and now, extra weeks of training to focus on running.

Usually by now, the week going into a race, I’m a bit anxious. My mind is completely focused on the race. I’m visualizing the entire morning—from waking up before the alarm to getting ready, getting there, fidgeting at the start line, going the distance, and crossing the finish line with the hope of setting a PR.  I’ve checked my gear a million times. Put on my lucky necklace.

This time, however, it’s different.  I feel relaxed, at peace.  Although the race is certainly on my mind and I’m preparing, I’m not obsessing as usual.

I race and train for several reasons:

  1. It feels good.
  2. I’m a better writer when I run.
  3. Training promotes self-discipline.
  4. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment.
  5. My confidence increases when I push myself to do things I think I cannot do.
  6. If I can reach an unreachable goal here, in this area of my life, why can’t I do it anywhere?

For the most part, I’ve enjoyed the training more than the races I’ve entered.  I get a supreme satisfaction when my training log progresses from empty to full, when there’s the least bit of improvement in my running, biking, or swimming.  I even enjoy it when I stop eating cookies and my body gradually changes.

Training is transformative.  Race day is not the culmination of training; it is the by-product.  It’s a goal I shoot for, but not the end in itself.  It’s one step on the road to becoming something more, something better; one more reminder of capability, as well as potential.  It’s a measure of ability in the moment.

If we are lucky, there will be another race.

Going into this race, I already know what’s next for me.  Two races–bigger races.  Two goals I have never been able to meet before.  One I have been too afraid to try.

That doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy the moment on race day tomorrow.  On the contrary, I think I am finally in a place where I can enjoy the race itself.

My training plan didn’t pan out as I expected.  I took a lot of time away from training to recover from illness, a car accident I am still feeling.  During this forced hiatus, I was surprised to find how often I’ve taken for granted my body, my ability to do the things I love.

So I’m approaching Saturday’s race with a new excitement, a peaceful satisfaction.  The joy I feel in doing this tri—not having been able to do anything for weeks—is that I can.

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Cross Training, Island Style

Posted on December 11, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Usually, I post on Fridays.  I missed last week, but I have a good reason.  No, my dog didn’t eat my post.  Better:  I was in the Bahamas.

It’s ok to hate me for a minute or two.  I can take it.

I took my running shoes with me, intending to stick to my training plan.  In fact, I wore them on the plane.  Then threw them in the back of the hotel room closet.  And didn’t take them out again until I left.

I did, however, manage to get in some training.

I walked a lot of beach.  IMG_0391

Snorkeled with my sister.  IMG_0397

Saw lots of cool sea life.   IMG_0379

But mostly, spent quality time with my mom and sister.

IMG_0435

This morning it’s 30 degrees, and I’m wishing I was waking up to steel drums playing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” instead of the local news telling me to put on my ear muffs.

Nevertheless, it’s back to the training plan, Texas style.  Guess I better find my running shoes.

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The Wonder Wall: or, I wonder why I hit that wall

Posted on September 7, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

There you are one early morning, in the pool swimming laps, on your bike cruising down country roads, or out for a long run through the backstreets. You had a plan, you set your distance, knew your route and were off. But half way through your workout, your arms stopped rotating like a windmill, your legs resembled the rubber chicken sitting on the corner of your desk, and your body slumped into something you liken to the compost pile in your backyard.

It’s happened. You’ve hit the wall.

This can be dismaying, to say the least, especially when you thought you were doing fine and felt like you were in great shape to be out there rolling.

What causes us to hit the wall and what can we do to prevent hitting it?  It seems to me there are three important factors athletes—yes, even amateur athletes like most of us—need to consider before we hit the dawn running.

Nutrition

If your body was like Janet Jackson, it might sing you a song: What have you done for me lately?  (And if your mind is like mine, you get a song stuck in your head whose words you either don’t like or can’t remember, but you sing it to yourself anyway, making up different words to suit your situation. Like what did you eat for me lately?)

The question is a serious one. What did you fuel your body with before your workout?  Before, in my mind, is not only the 30 to 60 minutes before you head out the door, but the long stretch of hours that lead into your workout, the night before if you work out in the morning or the entire day if you work out in the afternoon or evening.

I work out first thing in the morning.  I always eat a small meal 30 minutes or so before my workout, but I am also cognizant of what I eat the night before.  If I am doing cardio in the morning, I make sure I eat complex carbs with dinner.  And if I’m hungry before I go to bed, I eat.  Your body needs the right balance of proteins, fats, and carbs, complex as well as simple, to function at its best. Don’t deny it what it needs.

Hydration

If you feel thirsty, it’s already too late. You’re dehydrated.  What do you do?  Drink, drink, drink!  Drink before you go to bed, drink before and after your workout. Drink always, all day long.

Notice I didn’t include the middle of your workout as a time to drink. That depends on what you’re doing and how long you’re doing it.  I always have water with me when I bike, swim, and weight train. I drink frequently during all of these activities. But I don’t take water with me when I run unless I plan to be out there more than 60 minutes. I know there are some people who would say, so what? Take water anyway!  For me this is simply a personal preference. I don’t like holding things in my hands or feeling extra weight hanging on my hips when I run.

What do you drink?  Water. Lots of it.  Sports drinks are unnecessary for most people, unless you’re out there sweating profusely for long periods of time. If you’re training for a marathon or a triathlon, especially in summer in Texas, that’s a different story.  Kind of.  I prefer coconut water over sports drinks because sports drinks have a lot of sugar in them. Coconut water has none. It’s a great way to keep hydrated or to rehydrate.

Muscle fatigue

It could be that you hit a wall because your body is just plain tired.  Have you slept enough?  Have you over trained?  Does your body need rest for a few days? Should you stop what you’re doing at the moment, or should you push through?

That depends.

The way you get to know your own strength, to find out what you’re made of, and to improve your endurance is to push yourself beyond what you think are your limitations.  Sure, I can stop when my knees get wobbly or turn into lead pipes.  I may even have to stop. But at what point do I make this determination?

Ask Socrates. He’d probably say Know Thyself.  Part of training hard and pushing yourself to be better, stronger, faster than you were before (like the Six Million Dollar Man) is knowing your body well enough to understand what it’s trying to tell you and to respect it enough to listen. There’s a fine line between breaking through the wall and breaking your body.  The first is exhilarating. The second excruciating. Unfortunately, sometimes we learn to recognize our body’s queues through trial and error. When we err, it hurts.

Inevitably, at some point in training, you’ll hit a wall.  If you pay attention to your body, it will let you know why you hit it and what to do about it.  Listen to it.  Your body knows best. Almost like your mother.

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What Would Barbie Do…in the Olympics?

Posted on August 10, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

from Economic Times, India Times

I love the Olympics.  And although I root for the USA in every event they participate, I have to admit that what I watch for is not necessarily nationality, it’s ability.  The athletes who make any Olympic team are extraordinary. Watching them gives me goosebumps at the least, and sometimes brings me to tears.  The perfection and grace of movement in rowing, diving, sprinting, pole vaulting, gymnastics is simply stunning, particularly since the athletes make what they’re doing look so effortless. It’s easy to forget all the blood, sweat, and years, all the training and discipline and sacrifice that lead to this one event. It blows me away.

So when I heard comments about Gabby Douglas’s hair, I was, well, perplexed.  Here is a woman who won the gold medal in the gymnastics all-around event and is a member of the U.S. team that won a gold medal—the first team gold for the U.S. since 1996—and people are talking about her hair?

It gets better.  Some people are actually calling some Olympic women athletes fat.  That’s right.  Olympic athletes—some of the fittest people on earth—fat.   It doesn’t seem to matter that they’re bodies are conditioned to support them in their chosen field.  It doesn’t seem to matter that many of them set or break records.  What makes the news is that some swimmer or sprinter doesn’t look as “fit” as in the last Olympics.  Or that another one is “carrying too much weight.”

And we wonder why so many girls have eating disorders or body image issues when even the fittest of us are scrutinized as if we were a side of Kobe beef.

I wish I could say I am surprised, but, sadly, I am not.  This Olympics marks the first time women are competing in every event, and from every country.  This year also marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX in the U.S., the law that opened the door for women’s participation in sports where they did not have access before.  Undoubtedly, more women are competing at a higher caliber because of the opportunities afforded by this law, yet those discussions and those women are not what’s making the news.

Perhaps coincidentally, another story making the news this week has to do with Barbie, the 53-year-old who never ages.  Now, I played with Barbie as a kid.  She usually teamed up my brother’s GI Joes to battle the evil Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots.  But it never occurred to me to see her form as an aspiration. In my mind, that would have been like trying to force myself into the shape of a pine tree or something equally ridiculous. I just wasn’t made that way, and, alas, I lacked the Wonder Twins super powers.

Model Katie Halchishick decided to make a point this week.  She marked her body with dotted lines, the way a plastic surgeon marks bodies before rearranging them.  The lines correspond to what a Barbie doll would look like in real life.

Scary. Unnatural.  Those are only two words that come immediately to mind.

Yet the figure and hair and makeup of Barbie is what some people seem to want to see soaring over the vault or flying across the pool at the Olympics.  But with a body like that, what, exactly, could Barbie hope to do in any athletic event, much less at the Olympics?  Her thin little arms couldn’t support her on the uneven bars.  Her skinny little waist could never contain the strong core muscles to lift her body over the hurdles.  And that scrawny (scary) neck?  It doesn’t appear that it would hold her head up high enough to see the crowd.

When I see someone like sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross moving like the wind across the track, her muscular body rippling with the effects of all that training, and then hear someone ask, what’s up with her hair, I can’t decide whether to laugh or scream or cry.

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The Art of Swimming, or how Ben Franklin helps me train

Posted on May 18, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Any time I think of Ben Franklin—and yes, oddly, I think of him a lot—it’s never as a swimmer.  Yet there I was in the pool this week working on my stroke when who should I think of but Franklin.

Franklin has been one of my heroes, I suppose you could say, since I first read his Autobiography in high school.  (I know. I was an odd kid.) What appealed to me about Franklin then appealed to me throughout college and well into now.  Franklin was all about self-improvement.  He was a planner, a list-maker, an organizer of days and details, who believed that hard work, patience, and discipline lead to progress.

He went so far as to devise a character development project—The Art of Virtue—in the hope of attaining “moral perfection.”  To this end, he listed 13 virtues or qualities of character he felt most important, with an explanation or precept beneath each one.  He made a chart listing the 13 virtues down the side and the 7 days of the week across the top.  Each week, he focused on one virtue.

He carried his chart with him everywhere he went, and each time he failed to live up to that week’s precept, he’d make a mark on the chart.  The fewer the marks on the chart, the closer he came to meeting his idea of moral perfection.  The next week, he’d focus on the next virtue, and then the next, until he worked his way through all 13.  Then he’d start over again.

He kept his chart for 50 years.  He never quite reached moral perfection (I highly doubt he ever thought he would), but he became a better man by marking himself through life.

So why was I thinking about moral perfection while swimming this week?  I wasn’t.  I was thinking about my elbows.  Was I lifting them high enough out of the water?  Were they coming up in the shape of a pyramid?  Or maybe a chicken wing wrapped tightly to the body strapped on a rotisserie, turning maybe 75°, but not quite all the way around, just enough to twist my body up and around to take a deep breath of air?  (I know.  I am an odd adult too.  Sometimes I get hungry while I swim.  Usually, I think of oranges.  This time, it was rotisserie chicken.)

My elbows.  That was my focus, just for this week.  Last week it was my kick.  Next week it will be something else.  Each time I get in the pool I try to practice proper form, but I realized this week that I focus on only one thing.  Enter Franklin.

I won’t go so far as to make a list of 13 swimming components I need to improve, but I have one in my mind.  In all other endeavors I have undertaken that involve self-improvement, I have made a plan—created a list, kept a calendar, somehow marked my progress and lack thereof. I have done this, in part, to keep from being overwhelmed.  A project is always easier to undertake if I break it down into smaller parts.

Triathlon training is easier to undertake if I break it down into smaller parts.

I don’t have to master the art of swimming in just one week.  Not even in one month.  There are too many components to take into account, at least for me.  But if I focus on just one thing at a time—just one week at a time—I will at least get better.  And all I ask for is improvement.

So thank you, Ben, for once again reminding me that improvement comes in small measures, over the course of time.

I said that before this week, I had never thought about Franklin as a swimmer. Heck, I never thought of him as athletic at all.  Come to find out, he not only taught himself how to swim in a time when almost no one went swimming, but he invented fins.  He is, in fact, the only founding father to be in the Swimming Hall of Fame.  I wonder what his training log looked like.

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