Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Triathlon is Considerably More Than Sport, Savor It. A Navy SEAL's Thoughts

Of the 488 blogs that I have written here, this is one of the best ones.  And I didn't write it.  What we get from the sport of triathlon is considerably greater than a finisher's medal.  One day, if we're lucky, we'll come to the realization that, more than just a race, more than just a way to stay in shape, this sport embraces many qualities of life itself.  We have been given opportunity.

Tri will come to an end at one point or another, and how you react to it may be important. For some, there is significant sadness anticipating the lost joy of future races.  For others the thought of no more open water swimming makes them smile!  Hopefully all will see some of the intangibles we take away from the sport on a near daily basis.

A friend of mine is a Navy SEAL.  That's right, SEAL, all caps, the real deal.  He came to the end of his athletic career some years ago taking on the burden of defending the nation.  Defending you and me, "a continuing career of service to the ideals of the nation."

He put this emotion into words and has kindly given us permission to share his thoughts and feelings as our triathlon careers also will come to a close.  It's considerably more introspective than most of the "How to" articles you read but it's terribly well written.  It's a little longer than most, but if you stay still the end, you'll be glad you did.

I thank Captain Roger Herbert, USN for giving me permission to print it. Happy Memorial Day to all those who serve or have served.


Sweep Three Boot and the Transcendental Nature of Sport

In the late autumn of 2000, my wife and I drove from our home in Norfolk, Virginia to Davidson College, my alma mater in the Piedmont of North Carolina.  We were drawn, me eagerly, she obligingly, by Davidson’s final football game of that year and by the prospect of an undefeated season, an achievement without precedent in over 100 years of Wildcat football.

By halftime the Davidson team had made it abundantly clear to their opponents from Georgetown University that they would indeed achieve perfection on that day.  But neither the action on the field, nor my hopeful anticipation of a perfect season for my beloved ‘Cats, commanded my attention as it had during the first half.  Instead, I began to focus on the game clock and its complex relationship with 22 Davidson and 16 Georgetown seniors as it ticked down, for most of these men, their final moments of full-contact football.

A tightness in my stomach from long ago, a full and profound sadness that something was about to pass forever from this world, alerted me that the dynamic between that clock and those seniors had expanded to enfold me into its significance.  I felt an inexpressible bond with these men and a powerful connection to another time, another squad of seniors, and another game clock, too rapidly approaching zero.  I was remembering that Saturday in November 1982 when I played my own final game of college football.  But what I felt had a quality unlike memory.  There was an urgency, an immediacy as images of that day ran so vividly across my mind’s eye that a narration in my “mind’s ear” accompanied the procession.  It was my father’s voice.  “Play this one for the fun and for the memories,” he counseled in a letter that arrived two days before my tenth and final game of my twelfth and final season of organized football.  “Savor every moment of it – the sensations, the sight, the smell and the touch of it – and I promise that you will own a treasure to hold and relish as long as you live.  I truly envy you the opportunity.”

I re-read my father’s letter at least a dozen times before that final game, and his words played in my head as my team took the field for our opening offensive play. Quarterback Keith Martin in the huddle: “Sweep 3 boot, on one, on one.  Ready...break.”  I jogged up to the line of scrimmage, pleased with the call.  From the perspective of an offensive lineman, there was no finer game-opening offensive play in the 1982 Davidson Playbook.  While this simple running play up the middle rarely gains more than a handful of yards, it confers an immediate psychological advantage to the offensive line in its contest with the opponent’s defensive line, one of the more important subplots that determine the outcome of a football game.  A complex blocking scheme that exploits angles, deceit and misdirection introduces persistent uncertainty in the minds of the defensive linemen, causing them to question their basic reads throughout the game.

Successful execution of Sweep 3 Boot relies on a double-team block performed by the left guard, my position, and the center.  It’s the center’s responsibility to engage the opponent’s nose guard, arresting his forward motion, deceiving him regarding the direction of the play and exposing his right hip so that the left guard can administer an authoritative double team.  It’s two against one – not fair, but a part of the game.  As the drama between left guard and center transpires, a second conspiracy brews.  The left offensive tackle takes an outside release that leaves his opponent unblocked.  The intent is to bait an overaggressive defensive tackle, thinking himself the beneficiary of a blown blocking assignment, to over commit, penetrate the line of scrimmage and expose his unprotected flank.  By the time the defender recognizes the deception, the backside guard delivers a sinus-clearing trap block, opening up a hole in the defensive line through which the runner can attack.

As Keith stepped up behind our center Jeff Kane, a terrific athlete who possessed the quickest wit I’ve ever known and a southern twang that thickened as the audiences for his impromptu stand-up routines grew.  We studied the defensive front.  They were in a “5 - 2” defense.  Good.  Sweep 3 Boot is most effective against that defensive front.  “Ready, set...hit!”  Keith set the play in motion.  As I took my first step to the right, I saw that Jeff had done his job well – as usual. His opponent reacted away from the intended direction of the play, and his hip was so wide open that there should have been a bulls-eye painted on it.  I took two more steps and planted my right shoulder pad on that bulls-eye.  Jeff sensed that I had engaged, so he adjusted the vector of his attack to match mine.  We drove the defender down the line until the referee’s whistle signaled for us to disengage.

Jeff did so.  I didn’t.  I couldn’t.  I wasn’t ready.  I hadn’t fully harvested the sight, smell and touch of this play as my father had counseled in his letter.  My skirmish ended in the dirt several seconds after the whistle, a transgression of football etiquette that often results in a penalty.  The justifiably-vexed nose guard slapped me smartly on the ear hole of my helmet and delivered a sharp invective.  I was okay with that.  I was out of line and, frankly, deserved it.  What my opponent did not understand, however, was that this was a spiritual matter for me; it was not personal.

Or at least it was mostly spiritual.  In the interest of honest reporting I should admit to a measure of personal enmity toward my opponent.  I had faced this man before, my sophomore year during a pre-season scrimmage.  He was introduced to me through his school’s media guide as the “Human Eraser”, a nom de guerre that I suspect was self generated.  He was not a likeable person.   After a particularly bad play for him, he relieved his frustration by attempting a field goal…using my head as the football.  During a review of the game film the next morning, our offensive line coach, Bob Estock, mercilessly exercised the dreaded “clicker,” the mechanism that allows a coach to rapidly reverse the action of the reel-to-reel film projectors used in those days, to replay the incident at least a half dozen times to the unabashed delight of my teammates.

Back to the play.  Running back and team captain Leonard Walker had picked up about four yards.  As the indistinct mass of oversized college boys sorted itself out in preparation for the next play, right tackle Stan Klinger, a consummate field commander and a much larger man than I, seized me by the back of my shoulder pads, lifted me off the turf and reprimanded me for my over-enthusiastic play.  “Knock it off, Roger.

Although I remained ever cognizant of its profound ontological significance, I heeded Stan’s counsel and played the rest of the game with less concern for metaphysics and more focus on mechanics.  When the final whistle sounded, I was more or less prepared.  It had been a long and disappointing season for the team and for me personally.  But we had won our final game, and I was reasonably pleased with my final performance.

Although I don’t recall exchanging any pleasant words with the Human Eraser, I shook hands with several of my opponents and retired to the visitors’ locker room.  It was here, as I prepared to downstage from my final college football game, that the magnitude of the moment became explicit.  For me and the other Davidson seniors, it was over.  Each of us, through the tears in our eyes, sought out another senior or a most-beloved coach to embrace and pledge our enduring love.  Having made the rounds, I turned my attention to logistics – taking off my uniform, showering, packing my gear, getting on the bus…getting on with life. This, I discovered, was profoundly difficult.  Never again would I feel the slight discomfort or the potential energy of shoulder pads and a football helmet.  This observation arrested all of my forward momentum.  I slumped back down onto the bench in front of my locker, covered my tear-wet face with filthy hands, and inhaled deeply that amalgam of odors – athletic tape, sweat, mud, grass and blood – that so perfectly conjures the essence and ideal of football.

How long, I thought, could I stay right here?  Had this been a home game, I’m certain I would have remained in shoulder pads and sweat for the better part of the evening.  But there was a long bus ride ahead and the underclassmen would not have understood, appreciated or tolerated an unbathed senior riding home in full pads.  I would have to overcome this inertia, and soon.

I then recalled some more lines from my father’s letter.  “I have, as you well know, believed that football is the finest character-building sport a young man can embrace.  But football is, of course, a means to an end, not an end unto itself – the end being preparation for the rest of your life.”  Thanks, Dad.  That’s exactly what I needed.  I pulled my shoulder pads over my head for the last time and got on with it.  By “it,” of course, I mean life.

My father’s counsel seemed right.  It was certainly useful.  But like many useful things, it was an oversimplification.  Years later I would realize that both my father and I were guilty of discounting a sacred encounter.  We should have known better.


The two and a half decades of life experience since my graduation from Davidson seemed to validate my father’s characterization of the relative value of sports in the context of a human life: character building to be sure, but of no standalone importance.  I received a commission as a naval officer and, though I had no intentions of dedicating my professional life to the Navy, I began what has become a continuing career of service to the ideals of the nation.  I quickly discovered that even in peacetime the consequences of my actions, or inaction, could be both grave and immediate.  I was introduced to the tragedy of combat, witnessed soldiers and civilians killed in battle and observed first-hand the heroic capacity of ordinary men.  Certainly the block I missed against Furman’s defensive end is less than insignificant by comparison.  Even the day-to-day triumphs and tragedies of our adult lives – the birth of a child, the loss of a loved one, the promotion that rewards years of effort – are infinitely more meaningful than Davidson’s unexpected win over Boston University or that lopsided loss to Lehigh.                             

Today I hold the rank of Captain.  My purview of national threats and opportunities has never been broader.  My accountability for the lives of my troops, and for accomplishment of a mission that becomes more complex every day, has never been more absolute or consequential.  It may seem inconsistent, therefore, that I now find myself questioning, for the first time since I “hung ‘em up,” the validity of that generally accepted tenet: it’s only a game.  

Several years of mental fermentation have matured this reevaluation into something I can now, with difficulty, articulate.  But I trace its inception directly to that same November 2000 victory over Georgetown that gave the school its undefeated season.  This was the first Davidson football game I had attended since graduation.  It was also the first Davidson game I had ever watched as a spectator, the bench-warming days of my freshman year notwithstanding.  When I walked into Richardson Stadium that day, I naturally felt exhilarated to return to this place that contained so many memories, both fond and painful.  But as a grownup with grownup concerns, I had no expectations that the game would offer anything more than an entertaining diversion from life’s more urgent matters.

After a series or two, mundane thoughts evaporated.  I became utterly enthralled with what I perceived to be transpiring on the field.  At first I saw what any sports enthusiast expects from an athletic competition: skill, speed, strength and the joy of sport.  On closer observation, however, I began to discern much more. Somewhere in the subtext of this trivial game, I’m certain that I also witnessed, on both sides of the line of scrimmage, those transcendent human virtues that, on rare and exalted occasions in the course of our lives, render us noble.  I witnessed the indefatigable physical courage of the Davidson offensive linemen who propelled their bodies, play after play, into the much larger and physically more powerful defensive line of their opponents, ultimately prevailing.  I witnessed the pride and Promethean tenacity of a Georgetown defensive back who, despite his team’s unrecoverable fourth-quarter point deficit, chased down a Davidson receiver after a desperate, sixty-yard pursuit, stopping him within feet of the end zone.  After the game ended and the goal posts came down, the team gathered on the 50-yard line, sang, though slightly out of tune, their school’s fight song and reveled in the unrestrained love between teammates who accomplished what no other Davidson team had.  They were brothers in every respect.  Creed and color assumed their appropriate conditions of irrelevance.  At that splendid moment of triumph under the lowering November sky, the only currency of personal merit that concerned these men was character – a thing that could be found in abundance that day.

I understood, then, that these men occupied a sacred space.  They occupied that transitory moment of spiritual unity that some of us are fortunate enough to experience from time to time in our lives.

While driving home to Norfolk on the morning after the game, still under the influence of a vague nostalgic buzz, random thoughts on the sport of football, indeed on athletics in general, occurred to me.  By the time we crossed into Virginia, my thoughts had organized themselves into something approaching insight, perhaps even an incipient philosophy of sport.  That philosophy is simply this: athletic competition is important, and that that importance is self-contained, an end unto itself.

This importance relies on two qualities that are inherent in sports, particularly at the top levels of competition.  The first is collective assent to a fabrication.  There exists in sports a suspension of disbelief among the competitors, an understood contract that stipulates that all participants will place great value in the outcome of a contest that otherwise has no intrinsic value, and that they will apply their best efforts to achieve victory.  When athletes meet at the center of a wrestling mat, on the soccer field, on their starting blocks or on the basketball court, they agree that the contest is fundamentally important.  And for the simple reason that they consent to this artificial condition, it is no longer artificial.  Because they agree that it is important, it is.

The second quality that confers standalone importance to athletic competition is difficulty.  It’s hard.  We create games.  We identify rules, objectives that determine victory and defeat.  In varying measures according to the game, achievement of those objectives is difficult, and, as both Spinoza and Ed Farrell (my Head Coach at Davidson) remind us, “All things noble are as difficult as they are rare.”  Because athletic competition is difficult, it provides the competitors with opportunities to manifest the physical virtues of skill, speed, strength and agility, qualities that our culture holds in considerable esteem if our literary tradition from Homer to Hemingway is a reliable gauge.  But more importantly, athletic competition also provides opportunities for athletes to measure those moral virtues that we unequivocally hold in the highest esteem: valor, intellect, perseverance, commitment, humility and fellowship.  Opportunities to test, to confirm and to display these rare and precious qualities certainly exist outside of sports and in undeniably more substantial contexts.  But those opportunities are infrequent and seldom possess the same immediacy of an athletic competition – a metaphor, constrained within space and time, for that very-human struggle that seeks human excellence.

So after more than twenty years of post-football life experience, I must now reverse my original position.  I must respectfully disagree with my father and pronounce that football, and any uncorrupted athletic competition, is indeed an end unto itself.  The primary value of a sport is not to prepare the athlete for the rest of his or her life, although this is an indisputable effect.  The principal value of sport is immediate, and resides in the heart of every athlete who understands that he or she is a part of a sacred story: the search for truth, beauty, goodness and unity…the search for the better heart of man.  I would never suggest that an outcome of a particular sporting event carries enduring significance.  It does not.  Rather, just as oils and a blank canvas provide the artist with an opportunity for aesthetic experience and expression, sports provide the athlete with an opportunity for the experience of human virtues and the expression of character.  Just as a well-executed painting is an end and not a means, a well-executed Sweep 3 Boot can contain its own rewards.

Today, as my aging body creeps wearily toward 50, I feel duty bound to share the rest of my father’s inspiring message with any serious athlete I meet.  Play your sport for the fun and for the memories.  Savor every moment of every game, of every practice, of every grueling hour of preparation and execution.  Savor the sensations, the sight, the smell and the touch of it, and I promise that you will own a treasure to hold and relish as long as you live.

As my father said so well in 1982, I truly envy you the opportunity.

A bumper sticker in Kona, Hawaii

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Athlete Race Responsibilities - Are You Prepared?

Safety is something that happens between your ears, not 

something you hold in your hands.

                                                           Jeff Cooper

Anyone who's followed this blog over the last few years knows that athletic safety is something I discuss frequently.  As Dr. Larry Creswell shows us on a regular basis in the Athlete's Heart blog, fatalities do occur in this sport but there are things we can do proactively to keep those to a minimum. 

Obviously safety is pretty important to me and in my opinion should be to you also.  In the Spring 2014 issue of USAT Magazine is found the "Athlete's Guide to Multisport Safety.  Because I believe this an issue to get the widest circulation possible I have scanned in two pages I feel all of us should review. It only takes a couple minutes but could be an important couple minutes for some of us.  The full piece can be found on page 28 of the issue.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Concussions, Crashes and You - Yes You!

Time - time is one of your most important commodities. Why waste it on crap work outs? Or on garbage miles just to put a number in a log book?  Every work out should have a purpose, a goal, something specific no matter how small.

 Who among us hasn't been on a group bike ride where there hasn't been a crash of some sort? If you were lucky, it was just a little road rash. If not, a portion of the injury could be a head injury. This is true for helmeted cyclists as well as those without helmets. Not infrequently a concussion will occur with the potential of actually being a more serious injury than previously thought. Three years ago Sports Illustrated had an article on the NHL discussing the head injury to it's "most important star" Sidney Crosby. They are rededicating themselves to player protection, and we should too.

 But haven't we always had the culture of endurance over safety? Haven't we seen the films of the last 800m of IM Hawaii where Paula Newby-Fraser, the Queen of Kona, is weaving down Hualalai Street like some kind of drunk when Karen Smyers sprints by? Or Chris Legh, or Wendy Ingraham and Sian Welch, as they weave uncontrollably toward the finish line? Maybe they've crossed a line of a different sort! In the mid 2000's, I had the slowest bike time of all 1700 competitors in Hawaii when I stopped to help a biker on the down hill from Hawi whose front wheel had hit one of the plastic highway road reflectors at just the wrong angle. POW! Instantaneous crash, broken helmet, closed head injury.  You can guess the rest as we waited for rescue help together. In short, once a concussion is recognized, that athlete's day is done - they should not be allowed to resume their sport, triathlon included.

 Research is showing that healing of injured brain tissue requires sufficient nutrients and rest. If this isn't allowed to occur, then the potential for increased injury, and recurrent injury, increases. Previously, injury severity scales left a great deal of interpretation to the examiner when deciding how serious the concussion really was. Now, especially in NCAA sports, if a player suffers a concussion of any magnitude, he or she is out of the game. No questions asked.

 So, as an athlete, how do you determine if your bike mate's had a concussion after that crash? Well, you're probably not a neurologist, but starting with an "index of suspicion," at least considering that it's possible helps. Was there a loss of consciousness, confusion, head or neck ache, blurred vision or anxiety? In an athletic contest like football, the athlete would be asked, "Who scored last?" or "where are we playing today?" Finally if the suspicion continues, the player would be checked for balance and coordination. Now, I'm not saying that every time somebody in your bike group goes down that you start this cascade. But what I am saying is, that as a friend of somebody who's had an accident and my not realize that they've suffered a head injury - and are not making the best of decisions - you need to take charge. Nice the injured rider into calling it a day, just because, and give them a ride home. I would gladly call a halt to a training ride to wait with a friend out in the country for someone to come pick him (us) up.  And so would you. Occasionally, a trip to the local ER is in order just to be on the safe side.  Then, maybe after all that, it's Miller Time.

Who knows, the next one to crash might be you?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

How To Be the Most Confident Open Water Swimmer

I Love Open Water Swimming, I Really Do

51 DEGREES, that'll do nicely!
John Shrum, MD

So started one of our early spring lake workouts before Dr. Shrum and I went to England to swim the Channel in 1998. You intentionally find the coldest water around. We stayed in about an hour that day and would have gone longer but were rousted out by the park ranger.

When the swim portion of a triathlon starts with wind and waves, or cold water, or some type of challenge, I'm ready. So many in our sport would be nervous or afraid, I know this, and can't wait for the starters gun. Why? For the same reason you look forward to the run. Because you've practiced and trained for it in all types of weather and conditions as you've been doing it for many years. Like the NY Postal Service saying,"Neither snow nor rain not heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds," you've been there before. So why not make it the same with open water swimming?

If you're going to use a wet suit, why not practice in it at the local swimming hole at least every other week. If the water temp is warm, be aware of over heating and keep the swim to a reasonable length. Many consider wet suit swimming mandatory. They think they'll fail with out it.

I propose that it's simply a state of mind and unless you're vying for a podium spot, try the race without it. Our local swim water temp was 74 degrees, and after 100 yards in no wet suit, it was delightful. Many folks make the should I/shouldn't I decision on wet suit use weeks before their event when the water is still 60! Why not postpone that one?

In a previous blog, I recommended that if your race begins with an open water/ocean swim you try to get there the day before and go play in the water. In your wet suit if you plan on using one. Practice your swim starts. And, if on race day you're still nervous, when your wave starts, simply wait 10-15 seconds for the mayhem to clear and then go. Practice, practice, practice. Then you'll be the confident one on race day looking forward to conditions that might slow others and give you an advantage.

In short, more time spent in the type of swimming environment in which you plan to race will make you a safer and more confident triathlete.  All you have to do is try it. But it doesn't need to be 51 degrees!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Pull Buoys Make You Better

"Well you're a real tough cookie with a long history of braking little hearts like the one in me."
                                                                                                       Pat Benatar

Want to be a tough cookie in the water?  This may be one way to get that wish.

There was a time when pull buoys were looked upon as sissy toys in the tri world.  Real triathletes use 'em? Not a chance.  Sure, the varsity swimmers on the University team where I swim use them, coupled with the economy sized hand paddles.  And the result?  A stroke count considerably lower than mine.  Maybe pull buoys can help you as well.

In actuality, any swim product if used correctly may help you.  But others may not benefit you at all, or worse, make you slower. At my USAT Coaching Certification Course some number of years ago, the swim section was taught by a gent who felt that the "old bike inner tube around the ankles" technique should be used more widely. So since most of us have no shortage previously used tubes lying around the garage, I was more than ready to load up my swim work outs once I got back home.

First, a little background.  I swim pretty well for an old triathlete.  I can't remember the last time I wasn't first out of the water in my age group in a triathlon.  But I had a hard time with the inner tube technique and had to resort to "cheating" by adding my pull buoy.  Some months later I spotted a swimmer two lanes over, inner tube around his ankles, struggling mightily to make forward progress.  The fact that his feet were 36" or more below the surface of the water in what might not be viewed as ideal body position had something to do with it.  When I commented that he might be better off using a more accepted technique and putting the inner tube back in his locker, he adamantly refused and noted, "This is helping me."  I refrained from asking him, "Helping you do what."

Pull buoys when used as designed, with or without ankle immobilization, and with or without paddles can be of training benefit.  If you have a history of shoulder problems, leave the paddles home.  First off, by swimming with a pull buoy, you can concentrate on technique, initially not being too concerned about the clock.  Make it, say 25% of your warm up while thinking torso rotation (but not too much rotation) as you count your long, smooth, easy strokes.  Without the propulsion of a kick, your stroke count will normally rise a bit.  Practice it every work out until it becomes second nature.

When added to your main set, the first order of business is to not allow the rest of your stoke break down. Some brands of pull buoys give you so much flotation that they artificially raise your hips.  If you select one like this, put it back and choose another.  Because swimming with a pull buoy is a little more challenging than simple freestyle, it's one road to increasing you swimming power and ultimately speed.

So let's create a pull set that works for you. This will be only 25% of the main set at first although as you improve you can go to 50%.  In my mind, the boredom factor creeps in if it's any more than that:

Beginner: (Swims 100 yds in 1:45 - 2:00 or more during the swim part of 100 yd interval repeats)

                     Pull set: 250, 200 at 70% effort, 150, 100 at 80% effort, 50 yds at 90% effort, EZ 100 free.
                     Total: 850 yds

Intermediate: (Swims 100 yds in 1:30 - 1:45 during the swim part of 100 yd interval repeats)

                    Pull set: 250,200 at 75% effort, repeat, 150, 100 at 80% effort, 50 yds at 90% effort, EZ 100                                  free.
                    Total:  1300 yds

Advanced: (Swims 100 yds under 1:30 during swim part of 100 yd interval repeats)
                    Pull set: Alternate 200 75% effort, 100 at 85-90% effort times 5, EZ 100 free
                    Total:  1600 yds

Once in the water, you can totally modify these pull set numbers as your needs suit.  But if you can regularly use the pull buoy, your core coordination and strength will improve.  You'll see that when you carry this skill out doors you'll feel more at home in the aquatic environment and your confidence will make you a faster swimmer.  Yep, you'll be one tough cookie on the swim leg of your next triathlon.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ironman Sports Medicine Institute, IM Texas and Balancing Fluids on a Hot Day

"Men make better mall Santa's.  Men have bigger bellies.  Men are used to sitting for long periods of time, and men have lots of experience making promises they have no intention of keeping."
                                                                                                     Jay Leno

I recently toured the Memorial Hermann Ironman Sport Medicine Institute in The Woodlands, Texas, just north of Houston.  This is the home of Ironman Texas scheduled for May 17 and a portion of the race is actually competed on their property. I just checked weather.com and they're predicting a high of 86 degrees with 0% chance of rain on race day.  Less than ideal circumstances for certain.

Alysia Robichau, MD is the Medical Director for the event and has plenty of experience dealing with these types of conditions. But my guess is that not all of the athletes have.  Although we in the east frequently travel to Spring/early Summer race destinations where the temps are a good bit warmer than we're used to, hopefully many of the IM Texas entrants live not too far away and are already both warm weather acclimatized and have their fluid plans dialed in for spending 8, 9, 10 or more hours in the heat.

Remember, in most instances, the no longer recommended adage of drink, drink, drink right up until the gun for the swim has fallen from favor due to the concerns for hyponatremia (dilution of serum sodium which has lead to sickness and even death in some athletes. Recent studies have, however, shown that 10% or more of the field at many endurance contests were hyponatremic with sodium levels below an acceptable level.  Don't forget this.)  In an event like Ironman Texas, however, being slightly ahead on fluids without "water logging" yourself may be of benefit.  Other generally seen risk factors for hyponatremia are the athlete who is over zealous with his/her fluid replacement and those either not losing or even gaining weight during the race. Studies have shown that those replacement fluids containing carbohydrate were not protective.

With an ambient temp on race day north of 85 degrees and not much shade, although anything's possible (sound familiar?), the potential for dehydration far exceeds that of over hydration and hyponatremia so this might be one of those circumstances that athletes would want to be partially tanked up early.  Debate still exists among those experts who preach drink only to thirst and those who feel differently. It's also been pointed out that as we age our sense of thirst diminishes.

So where does this leave the athlete toeing the line in a week on a day where the temp is supposed to peak out at 86 degrees?  Well for starters you're never supposed to do anything, I repeat anything, new on race day.  Your fluid and food intake should have been worked out on many a training ride and run.  I would anticipate that many an athlete can complete this distance without peeing so that might not be the best gauge of fluid status unless peeing frequently.  Then hold the fluids for sure.  One tri coach I know lost 14 lbs in a race so you don't want to be him either.  So I'd suggest you drink to thirst with the caveat that you honestly evaluate your thirstiness and if you find yourself far behind as another athlete with whom I'm acquainted says, "there's no penalty for stopping, actually stopping at one of the aid stations for a while. I was dehydrated enough that if I didn't sit down, I was going to fall down."

  If you do stop, sit down, ask if there are any medical personnel there and identify yourself to the volunteer and what your plan is.  You have 17 hours to finish this thing so 15 or 20 minutes spent normalizing will give you what you need to get the line.

Lastly I know lots of athletes who finish the race and head for the med tent for their trophy IV, or as Dr. Robichau calls it, their "badge of honor."  Don't be one of them.  And don't even expect the med folks to give you intravenous rehydration if you can hold down fluids without wearing them.  Drink your way back to your pre-race levels.  And believe me, a post race beer is way closer to the nectar of the gods than IV saline.  And a second post race beer..............

Friday, May 2, 2014

Cinco de Mayo - Back Arthritis - Athletes Who Donate Blood

The Athlete's Guide to Donating Blood

A recent piece I wrote for Ironman.com, http://bit.ly/SgOGR1


Every once in a while I think it's important to pause and have something light.  I don't know the source of this but with Cinco de Mayo this week thought we could all use a smile. 

Texas Chili Cook Off 

Notes from an inexperienced Chili taster named Frank, who was visiting Texas from the East Coast: 

Recently I was honored to be selected as an outstanding famous celebrity in Texas, to be a judge at a Chili cook-off, because no one else wanted to do it. Also the original person called in sick at the last moment, and I happened to be standing there at the judge's table asking for directions to the beer wagon when the call came. I was assured by the other two judges (Native Texans) that the chili wouldn't be all that spicy, and besides, they told me that I could have free beer during the tasting. So I accepted. 

Here are the scorecards from the event: 


JUDGE ONE: A little to heavy on tomato. Amusing kick. 

JUDGE TWO: Nice, smooth tomato flavor. Very mild. 

FRANK: Holy S***, what the hell is this stuff? You could remove dried paint from your driveway with this stuff. I needed two beers to put the flames out. Hope that's the worst one. Those Texans are crazy. 


JUDGE ONE: Smokey, with a hint of pork. Slight Jalapeno tang. 

JUDGE TWO: Exciting BBQ flavor. Needs more peppers to be taken seriously. 

FRANK: Keep this out of reach of children! I'm not sure what I am supposed to taste besides pain. I had to wave of two people who wanted to give me the Heimlich maneuver. They had to walkie-talkie in three extra beers when they saw the look on my face. 


JUDGE ONE: Excellent firehouse chili! Great kick. Needs more beans. 

JUDGE TWO: A bean-less chili. A bit salty. Good use of red peppers. 

FRANK: Call the EPA, I've located a uranium spill. My nose feels like I have been snorting Drano. Everyone knows the routine by now. Barmaid pounded me on the back; now my backbone is in the front part of my chest. I'm getting big time drunk. 


JUDGE ONE: Black Bean chili with almost no spice. Disappointing. 

JUDGE TWO: Hint of lime in the black beans. Good side dish for fish or other mild foods. Not much of a chili. 

FRANK: I felt something scraping across my tongue, but was unable to taste it. Sally, the barmaid, was standing behind me with fresh refills; that 300 lb. broad is starting to look HOT, just like this nuclear-waste I'm eating. 


JUDGE ONE: Meaty, strong chili. Cayenne peppers freshly ground, adding considerable kick. Very impressive. 

JUDGE TWO: Chili using shredded beef; could use more tomato. Must admit the cayenne peppers make a strong statement. 

FRANK: My ears are ringing, and I can no linger focus my eyes. I farted and four people behind me needed paramedics. The contestant seemed offended when I told her that her chili had given me brain damage. Sally saved my tongue from bleeding by pouring beer directly from a pitcher onto it. It really pisses me off that the other judges asked me to stop screaming. Freakin' Rednecks! ! ! 


JUDGE ONE: Thin yet bold vegetarian variety chili. Good balance of spice and peppers. 

JUDGE TWO: The best yet. Aggressive use of peppers, onions and garlic. 

FRANK: My intestines are now a straight pipe filled with gaseous, sulfuric flames. No one seems inclined to stand behind me except that sexy Sally. I need to wipe my butt with a snow cone! 


JUDGE ONE: A mediocre chili with too much reliance on canned peppers. 

JUDGE TWO: Ho Hum. Tastes as if the chef literally threw in a can of chili peppers at the last moment. I should note that I am worried about Judge # 3. 

FRANK: You could put a #)$^@#*&! Grenade in my mouth, pull the #)$^@#*&! pin, and I wouldn't feel a damn thing. I've lost the sight in one eye, and the world sounds like it is made of rushing water. My shirt is covered with chili, which slid unnoticed out of my X*$(@#^&$ mouth. My pants are full of lava-like poop, to match my X*$(@#^&$ shirt. At least the during the autopsy they'll know what killed me. I've decided to stop breathing, it's too painful. I'm not getting any oxygen anyway. If I need air, I'll just suck it in through the four inch hole in my stomach. 


JUDGE ONE: A perfect ending. This is a nice blend chili, safe for all; not too bold, but spicy enough to declare its existence. 

JUDGE TWO: This final entry is a good balanced chili, neither mild now hot. Sorry to see that most of it was lost when Judge # 3 passed out, fell and pulled the chili pot on top of himself. Not sure if he's going to make it. Poor Yank. 

FRANK: - - - - - Mama?- - - (Editor's Note: Judge # 3 was unable to report).

Arthritis of the Spine

We've had a couple of good discussions about arthritis and osteoporosis recently.  I got a very nice note from a not so old triathlete, veteran of 6 IM's, with an x-ray noting some arthritis of his spine - but no symptoms - and this was the response:

Bryan - Hi. I'm John Post, MD, Medical Director of Training Bible and Joe Friel's asked me to see I can help out here. I see where you've told Joe about being 42 with mild arthritis of your back. If you were in my office right now looking at those x-rays, I'd probably tell you to put them behind you and get back to training. You could get 100 people from your high school class, none with any back complaints, x-ray them, and a good percentage would look exactly like yours. They'd be lawyers, plumbers, stay at home moms, everything and their lives would not be compromised by an x-ray. It's also pretty hard to credit one's performance to these films.

Lastly, a lot of folks would say that 6 IMs might be enough for some folks, more than enough with regard to bodily wear and tear, and that if you stepped back to sprints and olympics - and the reduced training commitment, think of all the time you'd have left over to go to your daughters soccer games, poker games on Friday night or do things around the house to be nice to your wife. After all, there's only 11 days till Mother's Day. Just a thought. Good luck.


The take home message here is that occasionally we can have a test result that, while abnormal, isn't relevant to the symptoms one might be experiencing.