Tuesday, July 21, 2009

From Cheeseburgers to Triathlons

“I acknowledge that a triathlon is an extreme test of a person’s physical and mental limits and carries with it potential for death, serious injury, and property loss.”

- Insurance waiver form
(Milton Triathlon – Subaru Triathlon Series)

Nine months ago I lost my mind; that is to say I made the impulsive decision to try the impossible and compete in the first athletic event since university (and that was a long fucking time ago, believe me!). And when I say “athletic” I mean something besides participating in frat house drinking games of Herculean scope. Since then just about every waking moment of my week and weekends have been about training for this goal.

At last, I decided I was going to try and make the last great leap from cheeseburgers to triathlons. And as of today, I have completed that summer’s goal of competing in (and surviving) three Sprint-length triathlons. The fact that I am only writing about it now three weeks later while reclining in a lawn chair at a bluegrass festival in a field somewhere in Oak hill, NY is testament that it has literally taken me this long to regain the basic use of my body. Hell, up until yesterday I had placed myself in voluntary traction on my couch waiting for the pain and aching to subside in my legs.

It has been since October of last year that I adopted the masochistic routine of someone on a serious mission to kill himself. Look at what this all means: “Tri” – meaning “three” – and “athlon” meaning, “prepare to have your sorry ass annihilated”. Before now, the only important things that I ever did in threes were toasted BLT’s and the number of daily trips to MacDonald’s. Never mind the whole swim, bike, and run thing.

Needless to say, I was to multi-sport what belt sanders are to nipples. Had somebody told me then that I would be up at the crack of dawn to swim laps at the local pool or start forgoing late Friday nights in front of the boob tube so that I could get up for an early 80k bike ride the next morning I would have responded in much the same manner as someone who has been confronted with a man riding an ostrich. And the chances of running into such a spectacle seemed much more probable then my ever-surviving one of these events.

Since then it’s been all about living the life of a crazed fitness junkie; I’ve spent the equivalent of the Gross National Income of a small developing country on sports socks; came home smelling of stinky rotting organic canal matter; purchased stocks in Bodyglide (you don’t wanna know); indulged in vegetarianism; shaved questionable body parts; and learned new and exciting ways to torture myself that would have the guards at Abu Ghraib prison green with envy. Most importantly, I adjusted to a lifestyle spent largely in a state of ever moistness.

Was it fun you ask?

Shit, no!

In fact it outright sucked. It was a total cul-de-sac of misery actually. At times, it was as if God himself were giving me the finger. But it was exciting. My feet were sore, my legs ached, my lungs burned and it made my heart beat faster than a Spider monkey jacked up on Mountain Dew. Any more excitement and I would have been a literal ‘spewnami’ of triathlete guts all over the pavement. My race stats would have been a smear at the 7.6k mark.

Yes, I have turned myself into quite a triathlete wannabe and have developed all the traits of someone totally blinded by their obsession. How else would you describe somebody who willingly volunteers for something known as “Fartlek” training? You just know this crazy bastard has got some fucking wires crossed somewhere. A year ago when I started had somebody asked me if I wanted to participate in anything with the word ‘fart’ in it they would have been immediately greeted with a judo chop to the throat!

I know now that Fartlek training doesn’t involve anything to do with bowel movements at all and, instead, is a mere reference for a form of aerobic training devised in the 1930s by Swedish coach Gosta Holmer as a means of enhancing an athlete’s continuous performance. It was originally developed for the Swedish Olympic cross-country team who had then been getting mightily pissed off at having been thrashed by the Finns throughout the 1920’s. The shame of which, simply goes without saying

Godless Sodomites.

At this point I have subscribed to all the popular Triathlete magazines and kept myself abreast of all the new lines of equipment that I would never be able to afford without taking up robbing banks. Seriously, these magazines are similar to porn in that I don’t always know what they’re talking about but I sure know I wants me some.

For example, I submit to you Exhibit A:

“Hyper-organized Type A triathlete will love the Zoot Tri Bag – this unit has more pockets than any other bag in review.”

So is it a bag or is it a unit? A hyper-whatsitnow? What the hell is a Type A triathlete exactly? I’m confused but I’m aroused. And, oh boy…pockets!

But seriously, big fucking deal.

Forget the pockets. For $89.00 how about a working defibrillator?

Or how about Exhibit B:

“The new SH-WRT51 is Shimano’s newest breakthrough in triathlon apparel. It delivers exceptional performance and consists of a rigid lightweight carbon fiber composite sole for efficient energy transfer. On this platform, Shimano adds a ventilation synthetic upper for warm weather riding and a wide single strap closure for easy entry and fast transitions. The SH-WRT51 has a seamless interior increase comfort during long races, while the attractive mint green color scheme looks good with this season’s latest tri fashions.”

Mint green? And at the modest cost of $390 – you better give me two.

What in the fuck are they even talking about?

These magazines will print page after page of full spread pictorials of “aerodynamic gel enhanced” bicycle seats that resemble splayed vaginas. Honestly, I didn’t know if I was supposed to sit on them or fuck them. The same goes for the endless editorials and in-depth exposes on running shoes, wetsuits, aero bars, hydration systems - you fucking name it - triathletes are the Batman of the athletic world. And all these articles managed to evoke a feeling in my loins not unlike the one I experienced on Prom night when I found my date passed out under the bleachers with her dress pulled up around her head.

Through this experience I have learned a lot about myself a lot about the sport. It has been a whirlwind of activity and emotion since this whole crazy train left the station. I’ve learned that Ibuprofen could be considered a vital food group. I’ve learned that pissing yourself isn’t something that triathletes necessarily frown upon. I’ve learned that there is life before 6:00am. I’ve learned that “pacing” isn’t something that just pertains to ‘All You Can Eat’ buffets. I’ve learned that Electrolytes aren’t citizens of Electrolia. I’ve learned that “carbo-loading” doesn’t have anything to do with loading cars or moving furniture. I’ve learned that “transitioning” is not some new Internet porn fetish. It's been a long strange journey indeed.

When I thought about getting into the sport I certainly wasn’t 100 per cent prepared, or even aware of the physical demand that the training would take on my mind and body. The truth is, I based my decision almost entirely after a drunken afternoon of watching these lanky skinny-assed aerodynamic Neoprene-clad motherfuckers cross the finish line at the Beijing Olympics*. They looked so slick and poised as they pistoned their way across the finish line to glory.

Shit, I could do that! How hard could it be anyway?

What I wasn’t particularly aware of then was the 10-11 months of running my sweaty gluttonous ass off on a treadmill during the winter, or sawing my bollocks back and forth on a stationary bicycle for hours at a time. There have definitely been much more glamorous moments in my life where I didn’t have snot and sweat dripping down my face and a tortured expression resembling that of a constipated orangutan. But it was all means to an end…and hopefully, not my end. It’s a very arduous (and moist) journey to the medal podium indeed!

So, dressed in an old ripped polyester track suit and equipped with a copy of the ‘Triathlon for Dummies’ book I began to plan out my next big athletic endeavor. I mean, my first athletic endeavor. However you want to look at it.

After consulting the ‘Triathlon for Dummies’ training bible I learned that it was going to be a little more difficult that jumping in the deep end and splashing out a few hundred lengths of the pool like an arthritic sea cow. The bible hinted that I would have to work on my stroking technique.

Hey, no problem there! I’ve been masturbating for years now. When it comes to stroking I am a natural athlete. If stroking were an Olympic sport I’d already be a world champion.

This was going to be easy - too easy.

Or so I thought…

Instead, it meant hours in the pool at the beckon call of my war lord swim coach early on Sunday mornings learning how to keep my head down, tuck my chin, raise my hips, bend at the elbow, loosen my wrists, extend my arm, “find the catch”, breath out of the side of my mouth, and, wait, what the fuck was I doing again?

Oh yeah, drowning.

There was a point during the winter where I thought I might be developing webbed feet given the amount of time I was spending in the pool doing laps. Don’t even get me going about the ever-present chapped lips! You couldn’t guess how hard it is to get a date with lips that looked like they belonged to a Chernobyl survivor. Yet, twice a week, I found myself enduring just these kinds of punishing drills and timed sets in some sort of self-initiated water torture. There were mornings I can remember where even Aquaman could have thrown in the towel!

In hindsight though, if I could train all over again I might consider doing things a bit differently.

To better prepare myself for the actual sensation of racing dozens (if not, hundreds) of combatants into the water to complete a kilometer or more swim I’d definitely spend less time in the pool at the YMCA. Instead, I’d just wrap myself in a rolled carpet and harness myself to an outboard motorboat and then have it drag me around while I try to swim in the opposite direction and friends are continuously punching and kicking me in the face and stomach for a half hour or so. This would be more representative of the early stages of the first triathlon leg. For added realism I could have one of those friends pour the occasion pint of canal water into my mouth through a funnel.

Enter the bicycle.

If the experience of swimming with flailing aqua warriors (not to mention the run to the bike afterwards) isn’t too much for you to handle, you will then need to immediately move on to completing a 30-55k bike ride.

Now, I had a bicycle growing up. What kid didn’t? Mine was a shiny metallic- orange Schwinn Stingray. You know the one with a 20-inch banana seat and ape hanger handlebars. And let’s not forget about those rad electrified spokes!

Yep, this sweet ride was the original Huggy Bear of pimped out bicycles. I remember going for joyrides around the block and risking life and limb to pop wheelies off the curb or jump my neighbors rose bush. I loved that ugly orange piece of chrome shit. But those childhood ambles around the ‘ol neighborhood couldn’t have been more removed from the bicycle rides that I was about to begin taking on early weekend mornings once spring arrived.

I was really looking forward to bicycle riding again. I had prepared all winter by sitting in weekly spin classes and even survived a weekly Brick workout that involved both indoor spinning and running together. Basically, it was just another way my coach was able to creatively take out all his pent up frustration in life on us hapless triathlete wannabe’s. I swear he must have lain awake at night trying to conjure up the perfect torture to unleash on our sorry asses - you could just see it in his eyes. His classes were absolutely diabolical in Machiavellian scope. Yet, endure them I did…willingly even.

There was no stopping this crazy train now!

But by the time the weather was finally nice enough that I could start cycling outside I only just then realized: I haven’t been on a bike since that Schwinn Stingray and that was nearly 25 years ago! So it was with extreme trepidation that I pedaled my way out to Starbucks at 7:00am to join a group of experienced riders on the first group ride of the season.

What the fuck had I gotten myself into?

I worked on learning to shift my gears effectively; how to keep a cadence; how to get low and aero over the bars; how to pull up on my pedals as well as pushing down; how to spin in circular motions, how to relax my shoulders and release my “death grip” on the handlebars; how to corner safely, and, ah fuck it…I learned how to go fast.

Who could have known? After all, to look at this body one would immediately assume it was originally designed with comfort in mind – not speed.

But it turns out that my new spinning legs were quite adept at making my road bicycle rocket down the tarmac at light speeds. After months of sitting on a stationary bike at the gym it was like passing through Dr. Who’s time tunnel. I enjoyed the whole process of pouring myself into my cycling shorts, clipping into my pedals and plugging into my headset before heading out for a three-hour bike ride across town.

I’ve also realized also that one can really get into their own self when they are out bicycling on their own. I’ve often been asked what goes through my mind when I’m out cycling. Am I thinking about tasks I have to complete at the office tomorrow or do I work out my grocery bill for the week? Truthfully, I don’t think much at all**. I have, however, learned that the only thing that ever goes through my head while I’m cycling is the lyrics to ZZ Top’s ‘Just Got Paid’. I don’t know why really - it’s my ‘Eye of the Tiger’ I guess. I suppose the bitchin’ melt-your-face guitar choruses just keep my legs a-goin’.

And, just for the record, my list of other favorite notable cycling tunes would also include:

· It’s a Long Way to the Top If You Want To Rock n Roll – AC/DC
· One Way Out – Allman Brothers
· Who Do You Love? – George Thurogood
· Yin & Yang and the Flower Pot Man – Love & Rockets
· Right Place, Wrong Time – Dr. John
· Move On Up – Curtis Mayfield
· Light Up Or Leave Me Alone – Traffic
· Born to Be Wild – Steppenwolf
· 30 Days In the Hole – Humble Pie
· Breaking Into Heaven – The Stone Roses

Of course, it wasn’t as if the coach was going to allow us much time to enjoy the sensation of making ourselves move smoothly and just appreciate the sunshine on our shoulders as the countryside whizzing by at 30kph as the wind passes through our helmets making that distinct sound of rushing air, no sir! Before you could whistle the first few bars of ‘Daisy, Daisy’ we were all pumping down rolling country roads and pedaling up hills with degrees of incline similar to those on the Pyramids at Giza. There were hills where I had expected to see men in tight lederhosen trumpeting on enormous flugelhorns to signal my arrival at the summit.

But still, it was infinitely more fun than reeking of chlorine and dealing with pruny skin.

If I was to ever - in any way –enhance my bike training at this point in preparation for Race Day I would set up a stationary bike in a closed garage and hook it up to a gas powered engine and crank it up. Next, I would place huge industrial fans on all sides (or perhaps just in front an engine for a Boeing 747) and power them babies up. Then I’d just pull the pin on the stationary bike’s back wheel and see how long I could remain vertical.

Enter the run. Oh hellacious misery.

Of all the triathlon disciplines running is my least favorite. There is little I would prefer running over. I’d rather pour hot lava down my shorts. I’d rather stick my dick into an angry beehive some days than drag my sorry carcass all over God’s creation in an exercise of complete sadomasochism. For me, the last running leg is the Bataan Death March before you get to cross the finish line. There is little to be enjoyed about the experience. The bible however, would have you believe that running is a “fun and pleasurable pastime that can be enjoyed by everyone”.

Get fucked.

Here’s where the ‘Triathlon Training for Dummies’ book and I part ways. Where the bible argues that there is an incredible “runners high” to be had from participating in running, I would say that you need to be loaded to the tits and high already before you could experience anything remotely enjoyable while running. The bible even goes on to say: “If you can get past that first mile and learn how to let your body relax and run naturally, you can experience the confidence, happiness, and feeling as if you can run forever.”

Are you fucking kidding me?

Whoever said that must clearly take me for a much larger dummy than this book’s intended market. Trying to explain to me how the task of running is “fun and pleasurable” would be like explaining String Theory to a mackerel. After already having accomplished a kilometer swim and a 30k bike ride running is akin to trying to pole vault with your penis - its nearly as impossible and you’re definitely sure to injure something.

You know what I enjoy about running? Stopping. And I have to still endure 5-10k of it before the end, or, I end up as a sticky puddle of prostatic secretion somewhere along the route. I’m not what you would call “graceful” when it comes to running. On the other two disciplines I can feign something as capable, but when I run I must look like John Merrick chasing after loose change.

If I were going to try and prepare any better I would set up a treadmill in the gym sauna and run for an entire week. Then I would strap a grenade to my chest, pull the pin and see how long I could carry on before it exploded.

Oh wait, that’s what it feels like already!

And lets not forget the all-important “fourth discipline” of triathlon – the transition.

The “transition” is the brief stage between the different individual legs where you move from your swim onto the bike and from your bike into the run. It’s the triathletes’ closet area so to speak. This doesn’t sound like much effort of course, until you’ve actually tried to wriggle out of a wetsuit and get into a pair of cycling shoes with unfiltered brain leakage coming out your ears moments after emerging from icy water.

Let me inform you: I can barely remember my name much less in what order to put on my helmet, gloves and sun glasses before launching into a hard 60-plus-minute cycle ride.

The transition area is cool though because it’s like window-shopping as you browse over all the thousands of dollars worth of tri equipment that belongs to everyone else. I’ve seen bicycles worth more than my student loans!

There’s computers, GPS systems, aero bars, tri shoes, wetsuits, hydration systems, power bars, power gels and other assorted goos, energy drinks, swim goggles, cycle helmets, tri bags, ad infinitum, ad absurdum, ad nauseum. Triathletes are almost bacchanalian in nature when it comes to their fancy equipment. And all of it is inevitably spread out and proudly displayed over a torn and stained hand towel laid out on the ground beside their NASA designed and custom-built tri-bike.


Personally, I think it’s all as useless as a bucket of armpits. Sure it’s fun and look, like, really fucking cool, but the true piece of equipment is the triathletes’ body. Without it, all the rest of that tri shit isn’t worth the bubble wrap it came in. Shit, my bicycle is so old that it remembers when Antonio Ricci delivered flyers on foot***. But it allows me to get from point A to point B relatively quickly and it does that marvelously. And there is nothing so rewarding in triathlon I have found than passing somebody who has the equivalent of Fort Knox in equipment on their person.

* I had also been watching the last 10 minutes of Ultimate Fighter so I was more than a little amped and ready to kick some ass.

** No real surprise there, eh?

*** Most obscure reference EVER!