Category Archives: Triathlon

Smooth Swimming

If you’re not a swimmer, you might not get this post. If you are a swimmer, you’ll have your own story to add.

I woke up this morning, got dressed, and headed to work. I ate a banana on my way to work, followed by some trail mix and decaf vanilla soy latte at work. The whole time I was making coffee for other people, I visualized my self-imposed 5K swim time trial.

I calculated how many laps I’d need to swim to do an even-ish 5K, which works out to 107, if you were interested, and even if you weren’t know you know.

I imagined my breathing and stroke pattern. I focused on my form, imagining that throughout the entire couple of hours, my form never wavered.

I counted my strokes from one end of the pool to the other end. My stroke count is uneven, which is nice since my semi-circular canals won’t allow me to do flip turns. I’ve learned that turning to the same side on each length makes that one arm sore form leveraging most of the turn.

I remembered my baptism and was grateful.

I even imagined how I might feel at the end of the swim. I imagined I’d feel accomplished, sore, and exhausted.

When I arrived at the pool, the water was a perfect chilly temperature (if the water’s too hot, swimming can be very uncomfortable), there was no one else in the water (sometimes the lanes are completely full), and I remembered to bring my counting coins. Counting 107 laps is a daunting task, so I broke it down into 500 repeats. For each 500, one pile of ten quarters shrank by one coin and a new pile grew by one. Getting change for tips sometimes comes in handy.

From the moment I kicked off the wall, I knew this was going to be a golden swim. Everything just felt right. My stroke was on, my breathing was on, my turns were as on as they can be in this pool, my goggles didn’t fog or slip at all, and I hauled ass for the first 2850 yards.

The swim was beautiful. I might even say glorious. Magical. Perfect.

While the last 2500 yards wasn’t as pretty or as painless as the first part, my body still felt sleek in the water, and my ego was boosted by the fact that I was swimming nearly the same speed as two younger, thinner, potentially more fit men, who hopped in when I was halfway through. I was also able to slow down just a bit to keep my focus on my form, which I think still looked somewhat passable even on the very last lap.

Each of my last 500s gained a minute on the one before, but I didn’t care. I finished 5350 yards solid, in good form, and without having to stop for longer than a minute between any repeat.

Apparently, visualization is the key to success for me, because I was elated with the way the swim felt. My goal of finishing was met, and my time wasn’t even awful, like I had imagined it might be.

I’m sure I will sleep long and hard tonight. Just after I eat everything in the house.

2016: Dream Casting and Goal Setting

Every year at this time I start thinking about how I can make the world a better place in the coming year. I reflect on the last year, both my accomplishments and shortcomings, and I envision the coming year and the possibilities it holds. For 2016, I am dream casting and goal setting in similar, but more realistic ways.

My biggest goal is to become an Expert at Apple and to help my store continue to be the best with an eye toward becoming better. This goal is certainly attainable, and I feel as if I am well on way toward it. I know what my strengths are, and I’ve named for myself a few areas of opportunity. I’ve begun working on those areas with the help and support of my colleageus, and I am confident that some time within the year, I’ll attain this goal.

I have five other goals that I will be focusing on for this year. Seeing as how I overshot my goals last year and fulfilled a grand total of none of them, I’m being a bit more realistic this year. And, quite frankly, some of my goals are the same as last year, because they are things I really need to do in my life, but I didn’t succeed at last year.

Goal: I will be vegan in my own kitchen this year. For my friends’ convenience, I am going to simply be vegetarian when it comes to going to other folk’s houses or out for dinner. I continue to desire to leave a less violent footprint on our world, and I continue to be pro-life in all regards. One way I can live out a peaceful and life-fostering ethic is to minimize my consumption of animal products. If you want to know more about why I am chosing this lifestyle, here’s a well-written article about ethical veganism.

Goal: I will volunteer one day a week. Going along with the focus on life and peace, I have requested to switch my availability at Apple to have Thursdays off, so I can volunteer at 360 Communties after I work at Caribou. I filled out my application for volunteerism on their website yesterday, and now I am just waiting to hear back from them about where they can use me, or whether they can use me at all given my limited availability. I plan to participate in some other volunteering opportunities with my colleagues from Apple, and I’ll still raise money for other causes like Polar Plunging for the Special Olympics and dedicating some of my bigger sports events I’ll be participating in to causes like St. Jude’s Children’s Hospitals or Mile in My Shoes.

Goal: I will to continue with prayer and meditation as an integral part of my spiritual life. These two practices center me and enable me to practice peace, grace, and love in a way that I can’t do without slowing down my brain to focus on my breathing or to focus on God. By doing either of these practices, I am allowed the time I need to be away from this world, transported to another place where I can just be.

Goal: I will exercise my body. I have two main goals in regards to this goal: Big Shoulders 5K Open Water Swim (September) and Afton 50K Trail Run (July). I enjoy swimming, biking, and running, and I’ve previously killed that joy by making an unattainable goal for myself of exercising every day or of trying to get in my two or three workouts of each type each week. This year my goal is simply to keep the joy in moving my body. I want to do each sport enough to be in shape, and I want to pepper my weeks with hiking with my love. I don’t want training to become a chore. Incidentally, my far-reaching goal is to finish Ironman Wisconsin in 2017.

Goal: I will abstain from alcohol and caffeine. This will perhaps be my most difficult goal. I’ve (nearly) succussfully abstained from alcohol and caffeine since October 10, drinking caffeine three times and having a couple of beers in that time. Those beers showed me, though, and I ended up hives both times. I am attempting this abstinence for no other reason than both alcohol and caffeine are powerful drugs. I’ve noticed in the time that I’ve been abstaining from them that my moods are more even, and that my sleep isn’t nearly as messed up. I can get on board with all of that.

Finally, though I don’t consider it a measurable goal, I want 2016 to be the year I live with grace, peace, love, joy, and kindness in all situations, in all ways. This year I will be more Christian, and more specifically more Wesleyan.

John Wesley said that Christianity could be boiled down to three simple rules:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Stay in love with God.

 

Why Practice Abstinence?

I’ve read a bajillion Internet posts about how much better people feel when they give up alcohol and/or caffeine.

You can read here about Gretchen Rubin, the woman who wrote The Happiness Project, a book I read with quite a suspicious eye, and her reasons for quitting drinking. I had quite a difficult time relating to much of what she said, because I kept feeling like anyone could be happy if they had all day to hang out and write and do things to make themselves happy, instead of working 40+ hours a week outside the home, like so many of us do. I mean, I’d be happy if I could just eat, swim, trail run, write, and do art. Any agents out there willing to negotiate a contract for a fat athlete who just wants to athlete and write about it? I promise, I’ll make it a good read.

You can read here about how long it might take for you to return to “normal” after quitting drinking.

You can read here about a year-long fast from alcohol and the effects it had on the writer.

In fact, if you google “a year without alcohol,” you can read a countless number of people’s quests to live a year or more without drinking any form of alcohol. Similarly, if you google “a year without caffeine,” you can find a significant number of stories about how people exist without coffee.

After spending a bit of time googling and skimming other folks’ quests of this nature, I decided to try my own little experiment. Since October 10, I’ve not had any alcohol or caffeine, and I plan to continue this fast or abstinence at least until I go back to Indiana in January, so October 10-January 16, when I will run my favorite night time trail run. What is that? About three months?

After nine days, do I feel better? I wouldn’t say that I notice a significant difference in my body. I don’t feel necessarily peppier, or necessarily groggier. I don’t notice a difference in my habits in the morning, since I replaced coffee with a caffeine-free herbal infusion by Tiesta. In the evening, however, I have to say it’s a bit disconcerting to not have a beer with dinner or to wind down when I come home from work.

I’ve spent some time in the past year shedding some of my bigger addictions, and I feel much better for it. It’s amazing how quickly things that seem innocuous when we initially begin them can become such controlling and overwhelming forces in our lives, how they can begin to color everything we do, and how we eventually let them control how we interact with people and how we think of ourselves.

Though I wouldn’t call alcohol or caffeine, in and of themselves, addictions for me, I will say that I think I rely on them too much, so a few months without will do me well. As of now, I’m looking forward to a life of clean eating, exercise, and an eventual Ironman finish. Today, I can say I am back on track.

Choosing Life and Breathing Love

I’m sitting here in my pajamas at 10:19AM on a Saturday before I work from 1PM-10PM at the Apple Store in the Mall of America. I’m drinking expired Caribou Blend coffee that I earned by working at Caribou one day a week. I’m helping my grandchildren, the twins, put my Riley Hospital address stickers on their shirts. The address stickers are almost as cool as band-aids, probably because they get to have limitless address stickers, and we’ve had to limit them to only one band-aid per visit, ever since that visit where they used two whole boxes of band-aids in about 20 minutes. We’ve already watched Mickey Mouse Road Rally, and eaten breakfast and second breakfast. They’re now taking their Mamo to the park to play, then to the river to throw rocks into the water, then to the post office and grocery store. This is pretty much the perfect start to a day.

I’m taking advantage of an increasingly rare and special mood of my own and writing a bit. I’ve not posted anything here for almost six months, because I was trying to give myself some distance from my writing process and from sharing all the things about me, which I hadn’t (and possibly still haven’t) sorted out. Sometimes writing provides clarity, and sometimes the process just muddies the waters in a way that isn’t the least bit helpful. I also read back through a lot of my blogs, and realized that I was on a wild cyclic path, one I hadn’t been dealing with, and one I wasn’t sure I could deal with. The cyber-trail here indicates a lot of swinging from really good moments to really deep, sad, depressed moments.

And, being more honest than I am comfortable with, some of my darkest times aren’t even recorded here, because I was embarrassed that I had no control over my feelings, because I didn’t want to burden people I love, and because I didn’t want the stigma of being so sad I’d contemplated taking my own life. Many times in my life, I just wanted it all to end. My darkest moments were the 18 to 24 months surrounding my move to Minnesota, from March of 2013 until January of 2015.

I needed to move in order to really see how sad I’d been. I needed to move to get a new lease on life. No one was at fault for these moments, and most of you didn’t even know I was having a hard time. I hid it well.

Some of us, for whatever reason, are just prone to depression, suicidal ideations, sadness, loneliness, or the like. For some of us, this can happen even when it seems as if everything is going amazingly well for us. I’ve struggled with this since I was about 12-13 years old. For me, there are a string of reasons—none of which I am ready to divulge to the general public—for my depression. For me, my depression is coupled with addictions or obsessions of various sorts, loneliness even in crowds of people, feeling misunderstood or not good enough, feeling like no one will ever really understand me, and simply not wanting to walk outside of my house to face the world.

But something keeps me going.

A glimpse of hope?

A bit of grace?

A kind word?

A tattoo that says, “Give me hope in the darkness”?

I’d like to say that I am in a place where I will never have to struggle with any of this again, but I can’t be certain. I can say that I haven’t had a suicidal thought since early last spring, but I can’t say I never will again. I am learning to take each day one day at a time, and I am learning to set reasonable and attainable goals to keep myself focused on the joys of living.

Here are some of my long-term goals: to be alcohol abstinent for a while, to run three times a week and swim three times a week, to go hiking once a week, to find the joy in small things, to not allow the bad things in the world overtake me, to write more, to remain vegetarian, to find a therapist and work through some of this, and to tell someone if I start to feel sad, overwhelmed, or otherwise not right.

I know deep down that living can be a joyful and beautiful thing.

At my best moments, I love life. I love to have fun. I love feeling on top of the world. I love running, hiking, swimming, biking, disc golf, and the simplicity of a walk. I love the fine arts. I love rivers, lakes, and the ocean. I love crunching fall leaves under my feet. I love humanitarianism. I love sacred beauty. I love secular beauty. I love my family. I love my friends. I love a nice blue sky. I love people and their idiosyncratic behaviors. I love watching life be beautiful.

I love all of this.

When I can.

As hard as I can.

Because, in those moments, I recognize the joy, the hope, the grace, the beauty, the love.

Writing and Art; Cranes; 70.3; Eating Vegetables

I spent this past weekend with my friend Sarah A. Chavez while she was up here in the Cities for AWP 2015, and I sort of hung around the conference wishing I’d have spent the money for admission to it. I was thankful I was able to attend so many offsite events, since the readings are really the best part anyway. Sarah and I met and had breakfast with our friend Ahyicodae (Ico), who lives up here, and with whom I get the pleasure to have writing and workshop days now that we’ve made that connection. For me, these connections are the writing equivalent of my artistic connections with Lyn and Tish.

I get all fired up and excited about writing and art when I am around other people who are passionate about being creative, so once again the creative fire is lit under my smoldering and lackadaisical behind. I’m not making excuses, but it’s easy for me to become complacent about art and writing (they are a lot of work!) when I am not making art, not talking about art, and not feeling inspired. I am blessed to have many, many creative friends, both writers and artists. I am blessed to continually meet folks (like Nell, who was one of the first non-work people I met up here) who make the world more beautiful through their creativity.

I know I am flash-in-the-pan and have almost zero stick-to-it-ive-ness (what a word!), but I wrote a rough draft of a poem today and I started a short creative nonfiction piece this morning as well. I have the ideas for some artwork, and I know I just need to do it. The theme I am currently stuck on, and I blame the liturgical calendar and where I am in my life, is resurrection, rebirth, and reconciliation. I feel like I’ve died and come back to life, like a cliche little phoenix.

*

Here’s part of the CNF piece I started this morning: “Whenever I wash the dishes, I always look out the window toward the Mississippi River, which is about two blocks west of our house. Sometimes if I strain, I can hear the barges pushing their freight, and sometimes if I pay close attention, I can see interesting water fowl low in flight as they land or take off from the water, even though I can’t really see the river. Today I was standing by the back window in front of the sink washing the dishes from last night’s culinary success while thinking about everything I wanted to accomplish today. I noticed a hawk and a couple of other birds flying in an odd pattern over the neighbor’s house. I wondered why the birds were behaving so sporadically and scoured the ground for the neighbor’s dog, which sometimes runs along the street in front of their house. No dog. I traced the flight pattern up into the sky and was humbled by what was making the local birds behave so strangely. The sky was marked with the unmistakable giant white bodies and long, black-tipped wings of the whooping crane, a cast of about 50 of them in fact. My day became glorious in that minute of awe, and I continue to thank God that I am still here and that I am so blessed.

*

The thing I am struggling with the most in my life right now is the desire and energy to train for this half-marathon in June and the 70.3 in July. Neither race is going to be pretty. In fact, I think they are going to be very, very ugly. More factually, I think I’ll be lucky to finish them both. I am having a difficult time with running. I have the desire. I can remember what it felt like to be able to run 9 miles at a stretch with virtually no difficulty and no soreness the next day. I can remember what it was like to run 15 miles on a Saturday, being sore the next day, but not dying from it. My body wants to be there again, but with everything is so psychological. My mind says, “Remember how bad your legs and feet hurt after work and standing for 8 hours at a time. You can’t run after that. You need to go home and put your feet up and watch 97 hours of Murder, She Wrote. You don’t need to write or do art or run or swim or do anything but be a slug. You’ve earned it by working so hard.” I’m trying to focus my meditation and prayer, now that Lent is over, on positive self-talk in regards to triathlon-related and creativity-related pursuits. Today, I am going for a three-mile walk. Tomorrow, I am going for a swim and run. My goal is to never turn on the TV or open a book until I’ve accomplished my goals for the day. That sort of relaxing is my reward. I don’t read for a living anymore.

*

I’ve been vegetarian again for two weeks now. Psychologically, I feel 100% better. I always forget how clear my mind becomes when my life isn’t held in a balance based on killing creatures for sustenance. Physically, I feel about the same. My body is still store from work, and I still think I need to just lay about (see above). I think it’s worth being a kind-hearted eater to not have dreams about dying animals, and I think it’s worth it to be adventurous in the kitchen again. We’d gotten in the rut of eating the same five or six meals over and over again, but we’re shaking it up a bit these past few days. Yesterday, I made my first batch of saag paneer, and it was delightful and filling. And, I am mostly past a point in my life where I am willing to do pretty much anything to lose weight. I’m not. I’m more interested in living a consistent ethic of life, and a life lived well and not on the backs of innocents.

*

Now I am off to buy a cheap table to use for my printmaking lair upstairs in the attic.