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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Unexpected Consequences

I recently began classes intended to train me to be a Stephen Minister.  To oversimplify what that means, think christian counselor at its most basic level intended to help people in our church or community who are struggling with grief, depression, unemployment and a host of other potential issues.  For your safety, I will not be allowed to perform weddings or funerals.

In our second week, I learned that this was going to be quite different than I had envisioned.  I wrongly assumed it would be a lot of instruction through video and church leaders.  It would be a consumer relationship.  They give the information while I take notes, process and retain for future use.  Do this weekly until around Easter and BAM, Stephen Minister.

About the only thing I got correct was that church leaders trained in this area would take us through the material.  Yet, this is far from two or so hours of consumption each Sunday afternoon.  We actually have to participate in a very hands on and sometimes uncomfortable way.  There is a high level of interaction.  With a class of only three students, you can’t hide or skip a turn.  It can be a little like coming up to bat in the 9th inning with two outs and you haven’t had a hit in months.  At this point you can only hope for a rain delay I suppose.

Moreso than the interaction, it can be uncomfortable because we dig into our own lives during various exercises.  In the class focused on Feelings, we didn’t get to simply read a clinical definition of anger, frustration, sadness, etc.  We had to offer answers to things like:  Tell us about a time when you felt ________.  How did that experience shape you?  Tell us about a situation when you should have taken action or said something and didn’t?  How did your inaction impact others?  How do you think things would be different had you done something different in this situation?

I don’t know about you, but I bury some things so deep in the closet that they are likely to never be found.  This may not always be intentional, but that is exactly where I like them.  I signed up to fix other people, not open wounds or relive emotions of times gone by in my own life.  

Yet, I learned very quickly that emotions simply can’t be learned or adequately recalled through a textbook.  We need to be reminded what many of them really feel like in order to understand their depth and weight.  

Further, it has been a clear demonstration of how people mask emotions.  If we don’t have any luck burying something out of plain sight, we cover over it with a smile and an unconvincing “I’m fine, doing well.”  We have (ok, I have anyway) decided that it is better not to share our feelings than to burden others with them.  The internal dialogue invariably walks us through the steps necessary to reach that conclusion.  The worst part is the more you do that, the more you do that (that is an awesome sentence…kind of like Yogi Berra).

I suppose we just don’t want to be seen as weak or whiny.  Again, when I say “we” I should probably be saying “I” if I’m being honest.  I, like many, have become really good at transferring things I do to a broader audience so as not to draw attention to myself or be asked questions.  I’m not suggesting we lay our soul on the cashier at the cleaners, but in intimate relationships transparency of feelings is a healthy policy.

So as I’m learning to recognize these traits in others, I continue to recognize them in me.  Sometimes self improvement comes at a cost.  Unearthing old junk or exposing my roots should help me lead others through the same process.  It’s either that or the nut farm…I guess we’ll see.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Friday, November 15, 2013

Achieving Burnout

Well it finally happened.  I sort of flamed out this morning on the training front.  Something didn’t feel right two days ago when I forced myself out the door at 5:00 AM for a routine 3 miler as a “wintery blast” arrived.  Afterwards I had the usual shot of adrenaline that comes from pushing through to overcome the desire to simply stay in bed.

That feeling wore off as the day moved along and only the opportunity for me to test out a new bike computer on the indoor trainer kept me off the couch watching TV after work.  Again, after getting started I ended up putting in a solid hour ride and had made it through “one of those days” without surrendering.

Yesterday morning the wintery blast proved real as 28°F was in front of me for a recovery workout.  I could have skipped it and recovered in bed, but I once again forced myself out the door.  Last night I had a swim on the calendar.  The prospect of driving to the pool in the cold, swimming and returning home shivering was extremely unappealing.  But again, I forced myself to do it thinking that it would help me snap out of the funk.

As the opening sentence indicates, this morning I simply gave in to the temptation to quit.  My alarm got goofed up and I woke up on my own at just past 5:00 AM.  Still plenty of time to fit in some speed work, but I could not force myself to obey this time.  I simply had run out of whatever mojo existed inside me that has had me going the past three months.

At first I assumed that I lacked motivation, but with three half marathons during the month of December on the calendar I have plenty of reasons to keep up the the hard work.  No, this is just straight burnout.  My body just said “NO, I’ve had enough.”  Actually, I should have seen this coming after getting my workout summary from DailyMile.

Almost 7 hours of workouts with just under sixty miles in a week is a lot for me.  Especially since I did a 12 mile long run on Saturday to make 24 of the 60 miles running.  Prior weeks came close in miles, but had a much larger percentage of miles on a seat rather than my feet.  A huge difference from marathon training which I clearly didn’t adjust for very well.

I should have taken some time off after the triathlon.  The races I had entered for December are the same ones I’ve done for years so I was already committed.  Once I got past the TRI, I sort of panicked because I had let my long runs lapse in that training except for the 20K a month or so earlier.  Had I run that race more comfortably, I probably would have backed off a bit.

Where I go from here is the tough part.  Since I have surrendered to the fatigue, I need to make sure I get properly rested and rejuvenated before jumping right back in the fire.  I have a pretty hard weekend planned.  Doing this without the proper re-rack could simply lead to another burnout in no time at all.  Yet, I don’t want to get lazy.

With each passing day I know I will get antsy to get back on the road.  It has become part of me.  What I do to stay sane.  I can’t image my life without it.  I pray often asking God to keep me healthy in my workouts and races largely because I don’t know what I would do with myself if I were sidelined for an extended period of time.  I’d drive myself and my family crazy.  I know this is a fine line that I’m walking and crossing too far over that mysterious line will result in injury or burnout beyond return.

So I’ll regroup and see how things go on Saturday morning.  See you on the rebound.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Friday, November 8, 2013


You are reading the words of someone who has survived a triathlon!

On Sunday, October 27, 2013, I completed the Keller Monster Triathlon.  I’ve tried to write about it for more than a week now, but each time I do I get so bogged down in the details that even an audience of one (me) can’t read it in one sitting.  I kept backing up a few paragraphs and internally shouting “get to the point.”  While I’ve written many detailed race reports in the past, I’ll keep the extended version in my training log journal and just share what I think are the highlights.  I still wouldn’t anticipate brevity.

It was a “sprint” triathlon.  Like the name implies, it is a short event.  300 meter pool swim, 12 mile bike ride and 5k run.  A standard for sprint distances has not been established, but this is pretty typical and just enough for the first timer and beyond.

This was simply a great experience.  Without anything to compare it to, I can only say it seemed very well organized.  From the moment I unloaded my bike on the drizzly dark morning, things could not have gone any smoother.  Clear directions from the volunteers had me looking like an old pro.

I’m not exactly sure why, but one of the most anticipated moments for me was body marking.  A young lady took a Sharpie and wrote #479 on my shoulders and left calf.  My age (45) hit my right calf.  My only regret was her incredibly poor penmanship.  I was hoping for something photo worthy, but I would just have been disappointed had I taken one.

It is no surprise that my biggest fear was the swim.  I’ve written it in these pages before and everyone I talk to has the same phobia regardless of swimming ability.  Until you’ve done it, the unknown is Everest-like.

My swim went great.  I was nervous about it for weeks ahead of time, but by race day I had a peace about it.  It was in a pool for gosh sakes.  My plan was to get in the water and try to stay in open water, slow down, breath and slow down some more.  Now, it wasn’t without its out of control chaotic moments, but if I get started describing it we will be here all day.

With 600 athletes (the term used extremely loosely), getting in the pool takes forever.  I was slotted to start 479th, but the coolest part about that is you can go take a leak when #400 is getting ready to start.  They start you every 5-7 seconds, so a last minute bathroom break is awesome to get rid of the sensation you have to pee caused by nerves.  I had also assumed that by the time I started that I would be swimming through 400+ urine samples.  This meant I only swam through 200 or so.  Victory!

The other thing to note is that (a) people lie about their swim times and (b) there are a lot of out of shape people entering triathlons.  #1 is supposed to be the fastest swimmer.  Yet, I know I saw people scattered from front to back that simply could not swim a lick.  Breaststroke, backstroke, sidestroke, dog paddle, you name it.  The out of shape people needed to take a break at the end of every 50 meters so they clung like crabs to the end wall leaving little room for the rest of us to touch up and make the turn.  The look on their faces as they gaze at you is indescribable.  Like zombified statues with fear, distress or flesh in their eyes.  As you might guess, this creates a log jam effect which I calmly navigated to the exit ladder and out of the building.

Transition between the different segments requires some planning and skill.  Neither of which I possessed on race day.  I was just happy not to get penalized or disqualified for jumping on my bike before officially crossing the Bike Exit line.

It was still a little misty and overcast, but I wanted my sunglasses on so I could look cool.
Unfortunately, I left them sitting on the ground in my transition slot.  I guess I’m just lucky I didn’t still have the swim goggles about not cool.  It was at this time that I realized that my new fancy watch had dropped the signal to my bike’s speed/cadence sensor and was going wacko.  They say never try new gear for the first time in a race.  It was a watch for Pete’s sake, what could go wrong?  Duly noted.

I knew the two loop bike course was going to be tough.  The hills in the area are much steeper than normal for this part of Texas and my bike engine has only been a few hundred miles since childhood.  My arrogant assumption that the bike would be easy for a seasoned distance runner like me was just plain stupid.  This was a race, however, so I pushed hard while trying to save enough steam to get through the hills at the end of Loop #2.

If I had to summarize the one thing I learned that will influence me in the future it is this: the lighter you are the faster you are on the bike.  I roared by a group on the first major downhill only to discover that I was simply being carried along faster because I was the heaviest guy in the immediate area.  It wasn’t the bike or my hidden power finally showing up on race day.  This was glaringly clear after a few hills when the young women and scrawny dudes effortlessly rode by me on the inclines while I was setting fire to my legs trying to get over the top.

Actually, only during the bike was I ever passed by anyone.  I went by many on the swim and several on the run, but I definitely gave back some ground on the bike.  I still picked off the people on tricycles, a guy in a banana costume and some old ladies, but generally I was just hanging on hoping the run would come soon.

T2 (Transition #2) went smoother than T1 simply because I wore my running shoes during the bike since I don’t have those fancy pedals and special shoes.  I basically racked my bike and thankfully remembered to take off my helmet.  On with the sunglasses to look cool and I was off.  Another poor assumption was that I could leisurely go through T1 & T2 and allow my heart rate to drop considerably so the next segment would start out in a controlled manner.  Only after the race did I read somewhere that transition really ramps people up and one needed to be careful not to overcook yourself in the frantic move from one part to the other.  Needless to say, my rate was well above what I had planned and I was feeling it.

Another thing that must be experienced is the unique feeling you have switching from cycling to running.  The legs send you messages like “what is this thing we are doing right now?” and “I think we should not be moving in the violent manner.”  Yes, you feel like you’ve never run before as the
muscles move through a rather slow process of switching gears.  Like a car going from forward to reverse, bike to run requires a sudden change in muscle mechanics.  Within a mile or so, things feel normal again.  This really stinks when the run portion is only 3.1 miles since 1/3 of the darn thing is just trying to get things back under control.

I did a brick workout (cycling followed by a short run) early in my training and realized that I needed some practice at this before race day.  Actually, I enjoyed these workouts because it really felt like a hard effort.  I think my longest brick was an 18 mile ride followed immediately by a 5 mile run.  This really helped take some of the mystery out of the event and I highly recommend it.

The run was uneventful generally.  I mentioned a banana costume earlier.  Weird, but not so weird if the event is Halloween themed.  Batman, superman, ghosts, witches and oh so many more.  Obviously, I did not dress up.  It is just not my thing and as a first timer I had no business attempting anything but a straightforward effort.

I slowed during the second mile so that I could finish strong and in my right mind.  With the final
mile a minute fast at 8:35, I scooted through the finish with one of the biggest smiles of my life.  It was a feeling of complete joy and satisfaction.  Something that I had secretly wanted to try, but was too afraid to attempt had now been accomplished.

When I got home, my family seemed proud enough and didn’t bother to ask if I would do another triathlon.  I guess they know that I always have more.

Sure enough, the three month journey left me wanting more.  A friend of mine told me to only attempt triathlon if I was prepared to be hooked.  I’m not sure that I’m hooked, but I get it.  Something inside me is different.  It wasn’t so much the event itself, but the training.  I truly enjoyed the extra training.  That may sound crazy to most, but quitting triathlon would leave a vacancy in my newfound routine that I would miss immensely.  Plus, I have over $1,000 in new toys that are just begging to be played with.  So, you will find me on the road or in the pool for the foreseeable future.  I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace