Thursday, August 28, 2008

Shakespeare For Runners, Part 1

If you weren’t an English major, you probably just groaned at the title above. But stick with me, if only because it’s another of my hair-brained ideas out for all to see.

Every year I get a running log either from Runner’s World magazine or at the bookstore. And every time I open it up I read those inspirational quotes and sayings thrown into the calendar that are supposed to motivate you to achieve your goals and dreams and other crap. Funny thing is, those quotations never make it any easier for me to get out the door for a tough training run nor do they help me cross the finish line. I’m thinking other thoughts then, like ‘this hurts’ and ‘who came up with this stupid course’ and my favorite of all, ‘thank God that’s over’. But never something so dumb and puerile as ‘the first step is the most important on the road of life’ and other Hallmark card sentiments they throw at you, quoting some track coach who never ran a day in his life.

I decided I had to find my own quotations. And from less-obvious personalities than marathoners of the 1970s. So off I went in search of quotes from poets and writers and real people who weren’t afraid to say or write things along the lines of ‘this hurts’. I quickly realized I could spend years cataloguing identical missives in modern Russian literature, just for starters.

And back to the basics I went, only to settle on the greatest playwright in the English language, and possibly in any language. Shakespeare had it all, even if he’s not your cup of tea, so to speak. His dialogue may not always be easy for modern ears to follow, and it takes some getting used to, but he sure knew how to create a character or two. And scene, and situation, and everything else.

Well, I don’t have the time nor the expertise to go into why we should all at least know something about Shakespeare and his work, so I’ll get into the quotation that I found that I, and hopefully you, may relate to.

Richard II was one of his early historical dramas, and like many of them, does not have what we’d call a happy ending. Richard II (1367-1400) was not well-liked, he suffered continual bouts of assholism, and really, really enjoyed being in charge of everyone else. Historically, his enemies tried to overthrow him twice and finally succeeded; they hated him so much that when they threw him into prison they just let him rot there, as if he wasn’t worth the trouble of execution. Shakespeare makes him out to be a bit indecisive, and kind of, well, a downer. And a bit of a prissy miss thang, letting a ‘snap’ fly when making a point now and then. Oh, yes, she did!

So today’s quote is from Richard II, Act 3, Scene II. The Que-, uh, King, realizes that everything is over, he’s lost the battle against Bolingbroke over his crown, and it’s a bad day all around. It’s no pep talk; he tells his friends that it’s too late to even save themselves and they might as well just give up and go to Denny’s. ‘Cause that bitch Tyra ain’t never gonna let them walk the runway.

(Here’s the excerpt, you may skim like many a freshman lit class student has done before you:)


No matter where; of comfort no man speak: 

Let's talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs; 

Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes 

Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth, 

Let's choose executors and talk of wills: 

And yet not so, for what can we bequeath 

Save our deposed bodies to the ground? 

Our lands, our lives and all are Bolingbroke's, 

And nothing can we call our own but death 

And that small model of the barren earth 

Which serves as paste and cover to our bones. 

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground 

And tell sad stories of the death of kings; 

How some have been deposed; some slain in war, 

Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed; 

Some poison'd by their wives: some sleeping kill'd; 

All murder'd: for within the hollow crown 

That rounds the mortal temples of a king 

Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits, 

Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp, 

Allowing him a breath, a little scene, 

To monarchize, be fear'd and kill with looks, 

Infusing him with self and vain conceit, 

As if this flesh which walls about our life, 

Were brass impregnable, and humour'd thus 

Comes at the last and with a little pin 

Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king! 

Cover your heads and mock not flesh and blood 

With solemn reverence: throw away respect, 

Tradition, form and ceremonious duty, 

For you have but mistook me all this while: 

I live with bread like you, feel want, 

Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus, 

How can you say to me, I am a king?

Now wasn’t that delightful? Who wouldn’t invite this guy to happy hour? OK, OK, you got it, he’s not being particularly uplifting (for good reason, he wasn’t around for much longer), but sometimes life is not so uplifting, either.

And here’s what I think we can take away from this little, albeit beautifully written tirade. Obviously, at some point in our lives we feel like this and can relate on some level. Of course, we may not relate to this situation, but to the emotion in the text (which is one reason why Shakespeare is a genius). Here, all is lost, but Richard, after all, is a human being, and he at least understands that and admits it (finally) at the very end, right when it’s too late to find out. And besides, being king is so ten minutes ago.

When do I feel (sort of) like this? For starters, when I’m hating the world and everyone who ever lived, at mile marker 20 and beyond. No, I don’t get this dramatic, but in my own mind it’s not a happy place. I definitely ‘kill with looks’ and ‘write sorrow on the bosom of the earth’. See? I’m quoting Shakespeare already, and you can, too.

And my favorite line of all, the one you can quote all you want because after all it’s Shakespeare, give it up:

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground 

And tell sad stories of the death of kings;

That is the famous quote here anyway, but my favorite part:

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground

So if you made it this far today, that’s the famous line you can at least throw down during your final marathon death march. Amaze and amuse your friends (that is, if you have any left) with this little gem and others and be sure to mention Richard II Act 3, Scene II. Now, isn’t that better than:

A wish is a dream your heart makes.’ – A. Funicello

P.S. For the sake of full disclosure, I am not entirely impartial about Richard II. You see, last year I researched my own genealogy and discovered that I’m a descendant of King Edward III (1312-1377), he’s a great-(add seventeen more ‘great-’s) grandfather. And Richard II is a grandson of his. Which means this Richard has a cousin Richard, too. Funny enough, I’m also descended from an Ann Shakespeare; not sure if she’s related to you-know-who, but I’ll have to find out more on that.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Training to Get Faster

Some might call me a fast runner, I don’t. I’m moderately fast. To me, fast is running under a 6:30 minute/mile, moderately fast is between that and an 8 minute/mile. A moderate pace is between 8 and 9:30, and any pace that takes longer than a 9:30 minute/mile is slow. Those are just my benchmarks, yours may be different, that’s perfectly fine. Speed is relative. And not everyone wants to get faster.

The key to much of my training is based on these different paces. Speedwork can be anywhere from 6-7 minute miles, tempo runs between 7 and 8, and long, easy runs clock in at an 8-8:30 pace. My recovery runs can be even slower, and that’s fine with me.

So my training, usually for marathons, involves two speed or tempo workouts per week, one long run on the weekend, and easy runs or cross-training during the week. I am not reinventing the wheel, as you probably can tell, almost all marathon training plans are similar to this.

This summer I’ve been meeting with two different coaches/running-triathlon teams for workouts and on Sunday mornings running long, 15-20 miles. I haven’t had a schedule per se, but since the workouts kick my ass I figure something must be going right.

Anyway, one point I’d like to make is that knowing what your fast, moderate and slow paces are is useful when training. I run with too many folks who take off like bats out of hell on easy runs, only to poop out on the first hill. You need to know your paces and know how they feel so you can keep them on any given run. You need to know the difference between 85% effort and 70% effort if you want to get faster. If it makes it easier, find out how fast 90-95% effort (ready to throw up) is for you and work down. Go to a track or measured course and time yourself on it at various speeds and efforts. On the other end of the scale, use your training log or past times to find out what ‘easy’ is for you.

Over the last few years I’ve used coach Jack Daniels’ (as apposed to Jack Daniel’s, that’s helpful a bit later) running charts to help me know which paces I should be using in training to get faster. Using previous race times and a VDOT (a coefficient that correlates to maximum training intensity) chart that gives you training paces depending on distance, you can come up with a general idea of what each particular pace should be, and use that information when setting up a training plan.

For instance, say you’ve run a recent 10K at a 7:30 minute/mile, or 46:30. At that intensity, Daniels says you are running at a training intensity (VDOT) of 43 (this value gets higher at faster speeds).  And using Daniels’ table on ‘Training Intensities Based on Current VDOT’:

Easy pace: 9:37 minute/mile
Marathon pace: 8:15 minute/mile
Tempo pace: 7:42 minute/mile
Speedwork: 4:26 minute/1000 meters (because you can’t and shouldn’t be doing ‘miles’ of real speedwork)
Sprints: 49 seconds/200 meters

Here’s an easy Daniels training calculator, by the way.

I’ve used these tables to determine training intensity before, and I got faster. Over the winter I used the treadmill at my gym to keep correct pace, and I thought I’d kill myself on occasion, but it’s not a bad idea to at least try out a pace on a treadmill to get the feel of it. However, I do not run a speedwork pace on treadmills, it’s too fast for me, running all out on a treadmill is not something I recommend. Go to a track or measured course for real speedwork, or all-out run-til-you-puke pace.

However, I don’t enslave myself to any particular training intensity. In this example, if I wanted to do a long easy run I might end up running 9:30 minute/miles instead of 9:37. However, the point is to slow down on those long runs, and keep that general pace. And if I finish a 200 meter speedwork course in 47 seconds (instead of 49), then I’m not losing sleep over that, either. Sometimes it’s like weight training, if you’ve got one more rep in you on a heavy day then go for it.

One caveat, though, the longer the course, the more your pace can change. I’ve trained for marathons that I should’ve finished in 3:15 but finished in 3:30, and it’s the luck of the draw on race day. You know anything can happen, you can start walking and just add extra time to your total even though you kept your pace when running. Or just feel lousy and slow down starting at mile 20, which happens to everybody in some races. So I take these predicted marathon times with some reservation, the point I’m making is I train at a certain intensity to train myself to keep that marathon pace, and whatever else that happens that day is going to happen.

Also, those of you who swim two miles followed by a 100+ mile bike ride, and then run, well, you’ve got to adjust your expectations. My training does not assume hours of other exercise before a run, so, for example, if you want to go from a 7:30 minute/mile to a 6:30 minute/mile marathon (which is a tall order for any race event), then good luck. The faster you get, the harder you’re going to be able to whittle away at that race pace ceiling, we all plateau at some point. Face it: we’re not going to be passing Kenyans in the last mile. And the longer you’re out there running, the more that can go wrong (or right, I’ll try to be positive for once).

All that said, I still recommend determining a set of challenging paces that are comparable or a little faster than your paces now, and then devising a plan of action. And one other thing, in that sample pace list above is a marathon training pace, that’s good to know. At the very least, you should know that so you can try it out on a moderately long run once a week or every couple of weeks. It’s faster than a long, easy run pace, but slow enough that you can run that for a few hours (somewhat) comfortably.

Sorry if I didn’t go into the science of all this, and didn’t get too detailed, but after reading several books and articles on the subject, I’ve discovered that most training programs give the same general advice: two training-specific runs a week, a long run on the weekend, recovery/easy runs in-between. You’re weekly mileage is yours alone, it should be a function of when that marathon is and how much you plan to run long in the months leading up to it.

Anyway, here’s the book I use: Daniels’ Running Formula (Second Edition), it gives you concrete workouts based on these paces... I’m not going to say you have to use this method because other methods are similar. I’ve used it in the past simply because I like using tables and numbers that tell me exactly what I should be doing and it helps to not think about it when you’re stuck on a treadmill during the dead of winter.

And my training paces, in case you’re wondering: Easy: 8:32; Marathon: 7:17; Tempo: 6:51; Speedwork: 3:55/1000 meters; Sprints: 43 seconds/200 meters. All based on my recent 41-minute 10K time and 1:31 half marathon time. And yes, some of these paces are too fast for me on particular days, but I do the best I can. I cut myself some slack on some days, and other days I’m faster. But I stay in the neighborhood, it all works out, and my experience has been that I got faster. And that slow pace? Learn it, you need to know how to take it easy, I see so many runners who just have to ‘run-fast-all-the-time’ who wouldn’t know a recovery run pace if it bit them on the glutes. Save the competitive spirit for race day and your own goals. Be smart.  Teach yourself how to run really, really fast on certain days and learn how to recover from it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Upcoming Races

While I mentally write a script treatment for my latest long run/crazy idea, the first living dead/marathon running movie, 26 Miles Later, I decided to mention my race schedule. More on training soon. In the meantime, mirth and mayhem, dead ahead.

9/6 fitness® Mind, Body, Spirit Games (4M) – Central Park
10/4 Norwegian Festival Half Marathon – Central Park
10/12 Staten Island Half Marathon (tentative)
10/? Marathon TBD (suggestions?)
11/2 New York City Marathon
11/15 Knickerbocker 60K – Central Park
12/7 Joe Kleinerman 10K – Central Park
1/11 Walt Disney World Marathon (which will be frickin’ magical, of course)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Race Report: Club Championships (5-Miler)

Sure haven’t written a race report in a while. Not because of the reason you’d guess (hadn’t run any races), but because my experience was much the same throughout each one. Had I PR’d in one of them, I probably would’ve said something at least, but believe me, I didn’t PR. But no real regrets here other than that I probably should’ve come back from Boston in April and started speedwork immediately and kept at it through June and beyond. But I didn’t, I didn’t even show up for tempo runs until the end of June, and so my race times were slower than they were in spring. Guess what? I got over it.

So my race experiences became very predictable. I would show up, start out with a slower first mile than normal, by about 10-20 seconds, then I’d try to make it up with a faster pace. Then the heat and/or humidity would strike and with 1-2 miles to go in each race I knew I wasn’t going to break any records. Crossing the finish line was never particularly easy, but I knew if I gave it 90% or more I’d end up with a professional photo of my breakfast crossing the finish line before I did. So I kept my effort just a little on the down low, and thus never really got very close to my best finish times.

Last Saturday was the Team Championships race in NYC, and a faster bunch of skinny mofos you could not find anywhere, except maybe right now in Beijing. The men had their own race at 8AM, and as it was, fewer than 800 finished the race. We were put in rather tightly-controlled pace corrals, and I was in the third one, when I’m usually in the first. I wasn’t complaining, I did not want shoe tread marks on my back from speedsters running 5:30 minute/miles, so I was happy right where I was. Surrounded by several friends from my running club, we all looked like we would’ve been just as happy bagging the race and hitting the International House of Pancakes. In other words, my kind of people.

Before taking off I noticed a guy not far in front of me with way too much swag and flair going on. Expensive sunglasses, headphones, iPod, etc. People, you don’t need to pack for a five mile race. A marathon in Death Valley, yes, but not a 5-miler in New York City. So I commented on this sad state of affairs to someone behind me, who half-agreed with me. Oh well. Swag Boy is so cool, though he would just have to listen that much harder for all the rest of us out on the course.

So we took off and I realize at the 1-mile marker that even with the 10-second delay to get to the chip mats at the start I would have to make up about 20 seconds on the next mile just to be at PR pace. And then during the second mile I realized that with the 90% humidity it wasn’t too likely; the temperature was great, right about 70, but the humidity was way too high for me. Damn, it’s happening, I’m breathing too heavily in this soggy atmosphere. Again.

So I pass some runners, some I know, and some runners pass me. You know how it is. Same old story. And the hills of Central Park, which I know every inch of, are still not easy to do at a faster-than-normal pace.

Before we arrive at Cat Hill, one of two steep hills on the course, I see Swag Boy and his headphones and assorted paraphernalia pass me. I keep his pace, running about ten feet behind him, and then on the hill he hits the wall. Did I mention I’m rather good at keeping my pace on hills? Well, Swag Boy found out, and I passed him with not much problem, and never saw him again. Folks, if you’re going to be running a hilly race course sometime soon, train on one.

After all that hubris, I was soon repaid with the nasty urge to reexamine recent food choices. Since it wasn’t the longest race, I sucked up the nausea and finished up. Not before two idiots decided to cut me off with about 15 feet of room on the course. It wasn’t crowded at all, really, but they just had to pass me (which is fine, go right ahead), and then had to take an immediate left into my lane so they could run about a foot and a half right in front of me. What is this, the New Jersey Turnpike? Ever been driving on an empty 3-lane highway and then out of nowhere, somebody drives past and then gets in front of you in your lane, only to slow down? So of course, both times I let out a sarcasm-laced ‘Thanks’. The first guy who cut me off either didn’t hear me or just ignored me. The second heard me and mumbled something like ‘sorry’ that didn’t sound overly convincing. I know, I should probably take a Zoloft or something and move on, but living in a world of Me First and The Gimme Gimmes (an actual rock band name I didn’t make up) just pisses me off.

So I finished up, just in time to see my race time was about 30 seconds slower than my PR. A loud sigh followed, but I’m relieved I didn’t end up puking and crawling all over the chip mats. Five miles in 32:31 is perfectly OK for me, blazingly fast for many and embarrassingly slow for others as well. I see some friends and everybody talks about how nice the weather was and I smile weakly and quietly disagree.

To be fair, there were some fast finish times out there. The top twelve finishers ran a pace of less than 5 minute/miles, and there were so many speedy guys ahead of me that my race stats sucked out loud. I came in about the middle of the pack, and I never do that, but I knew going in what I was up against. So what, I wasn’t that far off my best time.

Well, as I’ve said, all my race experiences this summer have been just like last Saturday’s, with comparable finish times.

6/28 Pride Run (5 miles) - 34:03
7/13 Park to Park (10K) – 41:20
7/19 Run for Central Park (4 miles) – 26:18
and then this race, where at least I ran my fastest pace this summer.

Sure, it’s been hot, but not too brutal, like ‘close the course’ brutal. I know I’ll soldier on, and we’ll all survive to race another day. But in case you wanted to know, at least for me, it’s been an imperfect race season in an imperfect world. If you have had the same season, you are not alone.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

In The Pool with Cranky

So in my effort to one day rock the triathlon world (like Speedy Speed Racer did very recently), I have been learning to swim. This began in January with lessons which quickly established I had issues with the water. I like to think that the issues are fewer now since I have no problem hitting the pool three times a week, all the while looking like I know what the hell I’m doing while I’m there. I’m no way near ready for completing any measured distance, but I can sure do my time at a good pool facility (good enough for you-know-who to train there when he visits NYC) on the upper east side of Manhattan. And I’m not as good a swimmer as I’d like to be, but like the grownups say, it’s important to have goals.

I have a day membership (only) at the pool, which for me means no early morning or evening swimming with the Olympians and other wannabes. Instead, the folks I encounter are either senior citizens or kids, so I’m often the sole representative of the demographic in between. This makes for some odd looks from the other swimmers and an occasional lifeguard, usually bored out of his mind and silently contemplating murder/suicide by paddle board.

To get to the reality of all this, it’s like a senior citizen party, √† la Cocoon, every single day. The old men amble down the pool lanes, and a handful of elderly women crawl on top of the water with full scuba-diving outfits. On most occasions, I’m passing these folks, and I’m no speed demon, either. And I really don’t think I’m ready for the cover of GQ anytime soon, but when I’m in the locker room the wrinkles and back hair and rolls of skin that everybody else seems to have makes me look like Crank E. Adonis just in from Marathon. Believe me, I don’t try to look, but, either way, it just ain’t pretty in there. I’m just glad the kids have their own locker room, we don’t have enough money in the health care system to cover that kind of therapy.

Anyway, on this particular day I get in the pool and am surrounded by members of the AARP since 1942. And then there’s the kids; if you’re under ten years old, you must, must, scream at the top of your lungs like Mariah Carey finishing an encore, or calling her dog, or both. Kids are LOUD. And they get in the water and do the splashy-splashy and scream like they’re recreating scenes from The Old Testament. Pharoah probably had a public pool outside his bedroom window, and one day, just snapped. Like the whole Moses thing was an afterthought.

The kids over age 10 are more serious about swimming, so they get in the marked lanes. My pool facility has a ‘Summer Day Camp’ program with what seems like 7000 schools in New York City, so every day for the last month or so orange school buses line up in front of the facility and push out scores of kids ready to work off all that bodyfat the news media keeps going on about. And so crowds of chubby pre-teens ring the pool waiting for their time to get in while I and several 70- and 80-year-olds slap at the water. By 10AM you’re out, because Charles Manson Middle School is ready to get in and work off last night’s KFC. I’d like to write a letter to somebody to complain, but I know I’d get some ‘kids are our future’ and a ‘precious resource’-type answer, and I’d be fighting a long, losing battle in child-centric New York.

So one day I show up at the pool right after 9AM, giving myself about an hour to swim before eviction. I notice two gray-haired guys in the widest lane on the left, and it looks like they’re wearing scuba gear. I get in the lane next to them, between them and the younger kids’ pool, a veritable toddler soup of high-pitched ultrasonic screams probably driving some german shepherd in the neighborhood completely insane.

As I make my way down the lane, with reasonably good form I’ll have you know, I see that one of the divers is CNN’s Anderson Cooper. He’s learning to use a tank, and dive, and all that, while wearing black, rubber flippers that would even look too big on Bozo the Clown. I overlook my flipper envy and return back down the lane like the rat in water I am. This routine goes on for a while, and every time my head is down in the water (most of the time) I can hear the hissing of oxygen tanks alternating with what sounds like the slaughter of the innocents. So the soundtrack of my day goes something like this:

(dive, swim, blow out)
(come up for air, right ear hears children screaming)
(head back down, four strokes)
(come back up for air, hear more screaming, etc…..)

And on and on it goes. And I look down at the bottom of the pool, and AC of CNN looks up and sees Monsieur Le Crank with his locker room beauty pageant Burger King paper crown passing overhead.

And now it’s nearing 10AM, and it’s attack of the pre-teens. They arrive like the Mongol hordes, and sit at the ends of the pool with their stubby legs in the water, six to a lane. And they watch. The elderly swimmers start to get skeeved, they’ve seen Village of the Damned already, and they’re out of there. And it’s just me on the surface, and Anderson and his trainer lounging on the pool floor. And I’m NO good at being watched by strangers, especially feral ones, so I have to pull out all the stops on correct swimming form for the kids. ‘Do it for The Children!’… And they watch, though I get the feeling they’d much rather see a Rihanna or Jonas Brothers video on YouTube than my speedo-busting butt bobbing down the lane, back and forth. At this point, you probably can figure out that there’s not going to be much of a punch line to this story, all I can say is that it was a rather new experience. Me in a chlorine thunderdome, complete with news media representative in case things got really scary. But it already had gotten scary, in the men’s locker room.

Mr. Cooper (or Vanderbilt, I should say, I imagine he doesn’t need the money) made his way nonchalantly out of the water. After finishing my last loop in seemingly perfect form, I exited the pool as distractedly as the kids went in. Back I went to the locker room for the awards ceremony, where I would win in my age group. Because I was the only person IN my frickin’ age group.

And so this is how I practice swimming. Not with wetsuits and colored swim caps and lake bacteria, but with chlorine and Old Spice consumers and celebrities and hovering city kids. How funky/New York City of me. At this rate I’ll be ready for my first tri by spring, 2010.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Word from NBC & The Olympics

Dear America,

We are happy to report to you some late-breaking news from Beijing, not just the capital of The People’s Republic of China, but the place where America shows how humbly victorious it is during our coverage of the greatest sporting event of your or anybody else’s lifetime.

Michael Phelps loves Chinese food!

Can you believe it? What? YOU like Chinese food, TOO? Get out of here! Wait, don’t, Michael Phelps just said something!

Michael Phelps, you are SO funny! You’re mining comedy gold now, Dude! Wait, wait, what’s on your iPod? Whatcha listening to? Huh?

Damn, you rock.

We saw you win another gold medal with some other guys. I hope they’re American! Not like those mean jerks from… France. You showed them! We could teach them a thing or two about freedom, right? You tell them to come to New York City, U.S.A. and kiss Lady Liberty’s ass! What, they sent that to us? Uh, but we paid them for it, right? Uh, well, uh…. Shut up!

So Michael Phelps, whatcha doin’? You are just awe-… wait, somebody else just got into the pool. Hey, get out, Michael Phelps might want to swim, did you think about THAT?

And then there’s 41-year-old Dara Torres. She’s ANCIENT. Not like you, Michael Phelps. But she’s inspirational, that 41-year-old Dara Torres. So maybe we’ll talk to her in a minute…

But wait! Michael Phelps, did you just say something? Six more to go! You can do math, too?

Damn, Michael Phelps!

Hey Michael, did we mention you better not screw it up?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Specifications for Domination

This summer I’ve been shopping around and reading way too many product descriptions of bikes. They’re pretty much all the same: a mixture of bike geek jargon, ridiculous marketing prose, and the lure of unbelievable coolness. It’s hucksterism, BS, clich√©, and science fiction, all in one.

Since I became more confused the more I read (sort of like reading Proust, without the madeleines and espresso), I decided I could probably write something equally obtuse and grand. So now I give you my very own bike description, it’s Institionalized’s BitchSlappa F-Yawl-2…

Institionalized’s BitchSlappa F-Yawl-2

From the folks who brought you the iconic BitchSlappa F-Yawl comes the F-Yawl-2! New and improved, Institutionalized has done it again! Biking will never be the same. In fact we’re not going to call it biking anymore, we’re just going to call it ‘slappin’!

Your friends will have no choice but to worship and build postmodern edifices to your omniscient greatness as you crush their dreams on our space-age construction of hardon, titanic, carpathium, and inanium. The fork itself is a wonder of science, bringing together NASA-developed technology and Cold War-era erector sets into the 21st century. The front derailleur is manufactured in Estonia using Tupper Laboratories ‘Burp-Less’ vacuum-packing, while the rear derailleur is, well, we can’t even tell you because it’s top-secret and we just won’t let the terrorists win. Let’s just say: “Fission Accomplished”!

The seat rests atop a post created from state-of-the-art anti-matter, making for a smooth-ass ride and providing sub-molecular derriere travel. And 71 cogs (a prime number!) will have you smoking the competition on those hills. Hey, what hills? What you talkin’ ‘bout? And the rims on the wheels? Damn, you’ll be on board faster than you can say ‘Vitamin Water stock split’!

Drive your enemies from their homes!

Watch them die slow, painful deaths from envy!

Hear the lamentation of their women!

Handelbar tassles optional.

The audio portion of today’s program is provided by Macy Gray. I’ve never been a big fan of husky-voiced Amazon messes (well, RuPaul may be an exception), but Macy lets it all hang out on this one. I laughed at first, then I realized she’s probably being serious. Then I laughed some more.

Macy Gray – Slap a Bitch

And now the video portion of today’s post. I don’t advocate the taking of drugs, but if you have any, you might think about doing it during this rapturous, Slavic presentation.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sunday, the 20th; New York City Triathlon

Quite a day. Yes, I’ll start putting verbs in sentences.

Backstory: Last November 1st, registration for the NYC Triathon opened up at midnight. Since I like to have a goal race on the schedule before finishing the current one, I thought it would be interesting (to put it one way) to register for a triathlon before doing the NYC marathon, then several days off. I’d watched the ’07 triathlon that year and run with running pal Tim during the final 10K. It looked like ‘fun’. So the morning of the 1st, I went on-line to register and got through. Just as I was about to get my confirmation I received notification that my credit card number had not been approved, which is weird since I didn’t have credit card debt. I shrugged it off and decided to call Mastercard after a while. And that was my mistake, for by the time I cleared up the problem, whatever it was, triathlon registration had closed. Never mind I had registered for over two dozen marathons on-line with a credit card, Mastercard thought someone had stolen my card and registered in a triathlon. At that point, I decided that anybody who actually stole a credit card number to register for a triathlon deserved to be in one. And fate had decided I wasn’t doing this one in July, so that’s how it goes.

Moving forward to July of ’08… I had decided to join the spectators along the course, which in this case, meant crowds of spouses with children and a parent or two, all wondering out loud why their beloved so-and-so is crazy enough to swim, bike and run all in one day. But still holding up homemade signs that tell Megan or Matthew that ‘you’re the best’ and to ‘go’ as if that was some late-breaking race strategy.

I set my clock for 5AM and run two miles to the start on Manhattan’s west side and the Hudson River. I bring a dozen tiny water bottles in a back pack for anyone along the course who might need it, only to find out that water bottles are really heavy. By the time I get to the start, the elites have already gone into the water, as well as the over-60 men and the first few groups of women. Fortunately, I run into running pals Tim and Bryce, fresh from the Patriot Half two weeks before. They’re ready to go, and feeling good.

So they get into their assigned groups and wait to head onto the pontoon jutting out in the river. The weather is warm, but not as bad as it’s been. I head back near T1 along the water and watch swimmers complete the 1500-meter course. After spending most of the year working on my swimming technique (as in ‘not sinking’ and ‘learning to love it’) I discover that as for swimming style, anything goes. Really? All that work on swimming and all I see are triathletes doing backstrokes and doggie paddling and flailing? ‘What’s up with that?’ is the only creative question floating around in my brain. What I didn’t know, and would find out later, was that the hapless swimmers were getting a full Japanese horror movie-style attack from stinging jellyfish. The jellyfish moved in as the swimmers waited to enter the river, and when it was time to dive into the water it was already alive with prehistoric creatures racing humans to T1.

Now, I’m fairly intrepid and well, can tough out a few things, but stinging things in the water? I would not have been happy. Especially since I’m allergic to bee stings. And as a child, watched many, many stinging jellyfish pass by while staring over the side of a boat in the Chesapeake Bay. And once in a while you’d see one with a red blob in the middle, fondly referred to as ‘bloodsuckers’. I could go to a Herschell Gordon Lewis film festival and not bat an eye, but show me a bloodsucking jellyfish and I’d lose my recent breakfast, lunch and dinner, in that order.

So I imagine some swimmers were creating new freestyle strokes to escape the nasty little things waiting for them in the water. I know of one swimmer who had a jellyfish go down the back of her wetsuit, and stay there. Nice.

Well, in the end, everybody I spoke to said they got stung repeatedly, but ‘the stings went away after a while’. Well, that’s peachy, but I still wouldn’t have been particularly thrilled to be greeted by Jurassic organisms at the start of my first triathlon.

I went to T1 and managed to see Bryce go by on his bike, and realized I’d probably missed Tim. So I headed closer to where the swimmers were coming out of the water, on another pontoon. They would crawl out on a ramp, and head back up another ramp to the shore and an asphalt bike path and a somewhat longer trip to their bikes.

By this time it’s 8AM or so, and I realize I’ve probably missed seeing Tim, since his swim had started about 7:35. And then there is a commotion. A volunteer on the pontoon is screaming at people to get out of the way. More volunteers arrive on the pontoon, and I can see they’re working hard to get someone out of the water. A few minutes to by, and I see a gurney hurtling down the ramp to the pontoon, and swimmers going up are almost knocked back into the water. Things start to get really quiet.

And after another minute or two, the gurney moves back up the ramp to the shore, and again, departing swimmers are almost tossed back into the river. Volunteers start screaming at people, mostly spectators, to move back.

All of us standing there didn’t say a word, but we were all thinking the same thing: whatever this is, this is serious. And we want to look, but then again we don’t want to, and we shouldn’t be in the way, whatever is going on. But you still feel helpless. So we keep looking for friends and loved ones, and it’s difficult. Because you know there’s a swirl of activity next to you with at least a dozen volunteers and aid workers trying to revive someone, someone that somebody else could be looking for along the course. And all I can see is a tall man, towering over this prone body, giving the most intense CPR and chest massage I‘ve ever seen. And one other volunteer holding the swimmer’s right arm at the wrist, desperately searching for a pulse. And this goes on. And on. For fifteen minutes.

Meanwhile, swimmers come out of the water, and if they can see what’s happening, they don’t let on. Finally, with no actual road for cars to get to the location, two ambulances roll into the area along the footpaths. Whoever has been getting CPR is taken up to one of the vehicles and taken away.

I slowly head back to Central Park and begin to wait on the running course for my friends to get there. And they do, about an hour or so later. I get to cheer on anyone who is willing to hear me. And that’s quite a few, since the temperature and humidity rise enough to make the run really, really unpleasant. At this point the only pleasant thought I have concerns writing a congratulatory letter to Mastercard for it’s diligence against credit card theft. Today, after all, I am happy to not be competing in this event.

In the end, my friends finished and finished well. Some people complained that the officials made no mention of the jellyfish situation (officials explained that they did not want to ‘alarm the swimmers’). Later that day, when I checked the triathlon website there was no mention of any casualties on the course. I figured, or at least hoped, things had turned out OK for the swimmer I saw getting CPR.

And as some of you may know, that was not the case. The swimmer was a 32-year old guy from Argentina, and he had gone into cardiac arrest while in the water. And he was probably gone by the time they got him on dry land. But I’ll never forget two things about watching this: first, how long it took for the ambulances to arrive. And secondly, this guy’s right arm hanging limply off the side of the gurney. It was so white, it looked like chalk. I’ll never get that out of my head. I must’ve known then it was probably too late.

I’d like to write more, but I don’t think I’m able to properly discuss what all this means. Of course, I wouldn’t offer cautionary observations on why human beings should, or shouldn’t push their bodies to physical limits. I do that myself on occasion, and I have no real regrets. Then again, I’m uncomfortable with the ‘he died doing what he loved’ argument, true as it may be. So I guess I know what I wouldn’t say or write, which is indicative of something.

I do know that human tragedy can occur at the office, in a hospital room, on the street, or anywhere. And ‘anywhere’ just might include ‘at a race’. Unfortunately, that’s been all too true this summer.

Above is a picture I took as the swimmers left the water. Notice the crowd of people on the right. Even the silhouettes of the trees look dark and ominous.

P.S. In lighter news, thanks for checking on me, those of you who do. The summer has not been so great, and I didn’t want to whine or complain about it because it’s pointless to do so, so I clam up. But I’m OK. I do wish the year would stop flying by so fast, though. I’ll promise to write more about the drama and comedy of the last couple of months… not that it’s all that interesting, but you know, you know what it's all about...