December 27, 2006

My Favorite Wikipedia Entry...

...and you thought our government was crazy. Check out Sweden.

December 23, 2006

It's A Pain To Be Good

There's good pain and there's bad pain...

The tightness in your legs the day after a fast and fun 15 mile training run = good pain
Stubbing your toe on the bed frame in the middle of the night as you shuffle to the bathroom for a much needed pee = bad pain

The lifeless feeling in your arms as you finish a quality, super-heavy set of bench presses = good pain
Smashing your finger with a hammer while you pretend to be Mr. Macho Builder Guy = bad pain

The searing pain in your quads as you pound the pedals up the steep 7 mile climb = good pain
Washing your face at the bathroom sink and then standing up and slamming the back of your head into the open medicine cabinet door = bad pain

I went to a yoga class yesterday. I'm not a very flexible person. Today, I hurt. Back, hamstrings, quads, arms... basically everythings. It's painful. In a bad way.

But I suppose that's a good thing.

December 22, 2006

Ironman Mount Everest

I have no quads. I mean, I physically have quads - I suppose it would be tough to have a complete set of legs without having quadriceps in there somewhere - it's just that my quads are so gosh darn weak they might as well not be there in the first place.

(Side Note: The word Quadriceps sounds like one heck of a mean dinosaur doesn't it? I never realized that. All of the sudden I feel like I'm in Jurassic Park. Watch out, Johnny! The Quadriceps are going to eat your face!)

What with this weak quad situation, you can imagine the difficulty I have in climbing the Santa Monica steps. Have I told you about the Santa Monica steps? I don't think I have. Maybe we should start there...

The Santa Monica steps are, as you can probably imagine, a set of steps. In Santa Monica. There are about 189 of these so-called steps, give or take none. In the mornings and early evenings you will find a steady flow of people all quietly aligned in single file, hugging the right side of the wall and attentively climbing up and down this unrelentingly steep staircase. The thing is, probably less than 5 of them are actually using the stairs to get somewhere. No, no, these aren't really considered functional stairs that will get you, say, from point A to point B. They are not commuter stairs; they don't lead you anywhere important that you can't get to via a much easier route. They are more the walk-up-and-down type of exercise stairs that pretty much get you from Point A back to Point A. And they do it as painfully as possible.

Sounds silly, doesn't it, these meaningless stair walking shenanigans? I agree. Of course, that doesn't mean I don't participate in the activity. Yes, I am sometimes one of those silly stair walking people, carefully winding my way down the steep concrete descent only to turn around at the bottom for the leg-burning, lung busting climb back up. And once I get to the top, huffing and puffing and coughing out lungs I no longer have, I lift up my eyes to look around and realize that I am in the same exact place from whence I started.

So silly.

Anyway, this morning was one of those stair climbing mornings for me.

There's not a lot to think about while you are climbing the stairs. Your eyes are solidly set on your feet to make sure you don't take a sudden misstep, fall and require an emergency trip to the face repair doctor. Consequently, you don't really make much eye-to-eye contact with the people heading in the opposite direction. It's more like eye-to-toe contact. If you've got a foot fetish, this might be your heaven.

However, what with all of the pain you are experiencing during the climb, it helps to keep your mind occupied on other non-essential matters than the passers-by's feet. This morning, for instance, I was thinking about the show Everest.

(Wait a minute, did I just say "passers-by's feet"?!)

Have you seen Everest? It's an amazing 6-episode show on the Discovery Channel. Actually, the sixth and final episode aired this week, so its over. You lose. Actually, I recommend you TiVo it (I believe they are replaying all episodes over the next week or two) or, better yet, don't be such a cheapskate and get the DVD when it comes out. It is a highly addictive, brilliant insight into what happens on the horrendously difficult climb up the world's tallest mountain.

The show follows a group of climbers in 2005 (the second most deadly year on the mountain, for the record) and documents all the physical and emotional crap they go through. Little did they know when they set out on this expedition that there would be quite a buttload of physical and emotional crap occurring on the mountain that year, not to mention the controversial actions that involve such intriguing cocktail party chatter as climbers freezing to death.

So as I was saying, while I was climbing up these stairs with my legs all a-burning, I started thinking about what these alpiners had to go through to get up Everest. I mean, they've got the fear of death hanging over their heads pretty constantly. They've got enormous strain on their body with even the slightest move. And don't even get me started on the destruction of rational thinking and trying to live on extremely little oxygen. It's crazy stuff for crazy people.

And so that got me to thinking about how people called Catherine and I crazy for wanting to do an Ironman. Us crazy?! Bitch pleeeease! Naturally, I started wondering who is more fit: Ironman athletes or Everest climbers.

I put a full 378 steps of thought into this one and here's what I came up with...

First, I think we need to split "fitness" into two different categories: physical and mental. As we know, both activities, Ironman racing and Everest climbing, rely on a combination of physical and mental strength.

The Physical
The average Ironman athlete trains for about eight months prior to their big race. That is eight months of solid, virtually non-stop daily training. Ironman racing creates some pretty heavy pounding on the body. Physical fitness is the barrier to entry. By the time we triathletes hit that starting line, we're pretty damn physically fit. One can say that we're most likely the fittest we've ever been in our lives.

Alpinists, on the other hand, train for about two years in preparation for climbing Everest. When I first started pondering this I thought, Holy shit, two years?! They must be in wicked good shape. However, I then realized that this two years of alpine training isn't necessarily all focused on the physical. It's not like Ironman training where it's non-stop physical activity. The Everest climbers aren't out there lifting weights and going on hikes every day of the week for two years. Sure, they're training their bodies to walk the distance, but a lot of the training is preparing their bodies for high altitude activity and learning to walk with 50 pounds on your back.

I'm not saying Everest climbers are fat, I'm just saying that when it comes right down to it, Ironman racers are better conditioned. Sooo, on the physical front I'm going to have to give the award to Ironman athletes.

Ironman: 1
Everest: O

The Mental
As many of us know (and many others assume), mental training is a key ingredient in completing an Ironman. Ironman racing is tough. Actually, the last 10-15 miles of Ironman racing is tough. If you don't have the mental strength (on top of the physical fitness we've already established above), you're not going to make it. To paraphrase an Adidas ad from many moons ago, It's exercise for the first 15 miles, after that it's just some sort of sick compulsion fueled by God knows what.

All that said, the mental training required for Ironman racing is but an unpopped kernel in the super-sized bucket of mental popcorn required for successfully climbing Everest. There is so little oxygen up there at the top of the world, the body literally eats itself to survive. It's not pretty. Every step, every thought and every miniscule movement is a struggle when you're up there on the top of the world.

Picture it this way. On your worst day at the world's toughest Ironman, it may take you 30 minutes to stumble through one mile. While on Everest, on the best day, with optimum conditions of 20 below zero, it takes the most proficient climber about two hours to complete one mile. Two hours!?!!!

Imagine that. Imagine what excruciating pain you must go through, what patience and will-power you must have, for it to take two hours to hike one mile. Yeah, Ironman is tough. But it ain't no Everest.

In Ironman, if you get tired or hurt, you walk, you lay down or you stop. Get hurt in Everest? You've got two options: somehow, someway carry your sorry ass down the mountain through the painful 18 hour day.... or die. And dying isn't a good option. It's pretty simple.

So when it comes to mental capacity, I'd have to say the Everest climbers smoke us. We're crazy. They're crazier.

Ironman: 1
Everest: 1

So who is more fit? I don't know.... you tell me.

December 13, 2006

I'm Back. Call The Doctor.

It was the Italian sub last night. And the potato chips. No, I take that back... it was the M&M McFlurry. That's what put me over the edge. Come to think of it, I was already dangling on the edge before my spoon even dipped into the sweet McWonder of the McFlurry. Yeah, it must've been the Italian sub.

As you probably know by now, I haven't exercised much in the past three or four weeks. Thanks to the sickness that doesn't want to let go, I've been feeling very run down and not overly excited to strain my immunity system with some over-exertion.

Throughout the past week I tried a couple of visits to the gym. On both visits I did about 20 minutes of incredibly light pedaling on the stationary bike at which point I felt so feverish that I decided to just do a little stretching and call it quits.

My immunity system and I have an understanding: it doesn't want to kill me, and I don't want to die.

It would be a lie to say that I've been eating healthily lately. A big fat juicy lie, with mayo, mustard, pickles, a big hefty dollop of cheese and a side of well-done steak fries. Oh, and ketchup for the fries.

Truth be told, the salad and soup I've been having for lunch is quickly negated by, say, the large pizza I have for dinner. And though I try to convince myself that I am healthy, there's a point where consuming a pound of grapes, a bag of Sun Chips, a Clif bar and a few handfuls of granola all within the few hours between lunch and dinner just ain't healthy anymore. Especially when there is no exercise involved.

Here's the kicker to all of this. I have, by the mere luck of the draw, been born with a very high metabolism. I don't really get fat. Yes, it's true. It would probably take more food than my stomach can handle for me to get fat. I know, I know... you don't like me now, do you?

Don't hate the player, hate the game.

I don't think it is possible for members of my immediate family to grow a beer gut. I used to joke about growing a stomach that would also act as a resting place for my drink but, alas, my stomach just isn't made to be any type of furniture - neither a table nor a washboard.

Don't get me wrong, though, it does get a bit squishy down there. In the same way I can't grow a good ole fashioned gut, the term "washboard stomach" will never be applied to me, unless of course you're talking about the rinse and jiggle cycle. I have abs - I must - it's just that I've never seen them.

So with all this eating I'm doing, my belly is getting increasingly more squishy. And my stomach is getting increasingly more full. And there comes a point where I just can't possibly squeeze in another piece of food, no matter how healthy I believe it to be. I literally fill up. Like a gas tank that will eventually just overflow, I can fit no more food in my over-expanded stomach.

Once I reach this point of saturation, I will lose my desire to eat for days on end. Logically I recognize that I must know, to stay alive. It's just that I don't want to eat. So when a sliver of hunger creeps from the confines of my brain, I snack on wee bits of salad, soup, fruit or other similarly healthy morsels.

But that is not enough during these moments of fullitude. I need exercise. I am compelled to exercise. I MUST exercise.

That point of complete and utter food saturation occurred last night at the Clippers basketball game, just as I was biting into the Italian sub. By the time I finished that and somehow crammed most of a McFlurry into my face, I had had enough food for one year. I'm done. Enough. I'm out.

So this morning I decided to make a change. I went for a run. Even if I just did a couple of miles, I told myself, at least it will make me feel better.

The moment I woke up, I eagerly threw on my shorts, strapped on my running shoes and headed out the door for a slow, easy jog. And guess what? It felt great. I was gloing slowly, but I was smiling. The air was crisp, the leaves a flurry of red and orange - it almost felt like autumn. I love running in autumn. Even though the closest thing to autumn in Los Angeles is winter. Still, its the thought of autumn that gets me going.

After I got about a half mile into the run, my lack of exercise over the past month started kicking in. And that Italian sub from last night started fighting back. Don't even get me started on the McFlurry.

I began huffing a little and puffing some more. But I still relished in the fact that I was out here running. Finally, I was exercising. I was burning off some of this damn food.

Then as I passed the mile mark and took a right turn onto the back side of this 3 mile loop, it all went to hell. In one step I got a piercing, brilliantly painful spasm in my back. I stopped immediately. I stretched the back a little, took a couple of breaths to relax. Then I started running again.

Three steps later and the spasm pierced even harder. SHIT, I yelled aloud, not realizing the amount of bejeesus I scared out of the little old lady and her mangy little dog.

This wasn't going to work, I thought in utter frustration. Damn. Damn. Damn.

I stopped on the sidewalk and stood still for awhile as I waited for the pain to dissipate. When the piercing subsided to a slight twinge, I began the long slow walk back home. After about one block of walking, the pain in my back reappeared with a vengence. Within seconds it shot down my leg, streaming a vine of agony through the hip, down the hamstring, into the IT and towards the knee.

Yeah, I thought, this sucks. Maybe I ate so much it threw out my back. Maybe that McFlurry is pushing too hard on my McSpine.

I stopped and rested again. When the grimace left my face, I had a long, slow hobble all the way back home.
And that was my run.

Now, I suppose, I need to call the chiropractor. Welcome to training season 2007.

December 12, 2006

What Would Spudgy Do?

This being sick nonsense has got me feeling so run down. Just like Spudgy, but perhaps not nearly as cute.

Thanks to Catherine and the folks at Cute Overload for sharing Spudgy with us.
Spudgy makes me happy.

December 09, 2006

Total Drowning vs Total Immersion, Part Deux: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Swimmer

I'm becoming more efficient as I get older. Believe it or not, I have actually started sending out birthday cards to people before their birthdays occur. This is a new thing for me. I even plan out holiday present purchases weeks before Christmas even arrives. I know, I can barely believe it myself.

But perhaps the greatest sign of my new-found efficiency is that I am no longer getting the flu in the middle of my triathlon training. No, no, I've upgraded my attitude. Now I am getting the flu in early December, during the off-season. Let me tell you, it makes life so much easier. Had I known this before, I would've spent the past decade of Decembers with the flu rather than procrastinating the whole thing until February or March like I've done in the past. I guess one learns the important things in life as one ages.

Right now I'm finishing up week two of sickness - or, rather, what's left of it. I had the flu and its sniffle-inducing, cough-laden remnants for a little over one week. Since that time, it's just been lingering around and taunting me in a Bart Simpson kind of way. Ouch. Quit it. Ouch. Quit it.

But you know what? It's December so, really, what do I care.

I have barely done any form of exercise in at least twelve days, not counting the multi-treks to the bathroom every evening to periodically rid my body of the over-stock of Vitamin C. Oh, and about echinacea? I'm over the hype. It doesn't work. I'll take Tylenol Cold and Flu, thank you very much. Bring on the chemicals.

As far as swimming, well, it's been over two weeks since I've even dipped my toe in the pool. Of course, earlier this week was the last session of the swim clinic that Catherine and I had been taking. You know, the Total Immersion event I mentioned awhile back. Remember?

If it were just a regular session, we probably wouldn't hesitate to skip it and wallow in our sniffling, runny nose, stuffy head, feverishness. But, alas, this swim session included another round of video taping so we could see the difference in our stroke from the first clinic until now. At least that was the goal.

So, needless to say, Catherine and I squished ourselves into our swimsuits and ventured out into the cold air and chilling water of the pool. We struggled through the workout, battling shivers and coughs and aching bones. We got ourselves video taped and then rushed off to the comfort of a warm shower.

Before I tell you the results of it all, let me remind you that when the clinic started I had promised to you that I would go in with an open mind. I had committed to six weeks of trying Total Immersion to see if it worked out. When all was said and done, I would assess the situation and give you my honest feedback. Well, it's done so I will say.

All in all, there is very little difference between my "before" and "after" videos. Sure my head is a little more submerged in the water. And yes my thumb isn't dragging as much. But is that worth the money and the six weeks? I doubt it.

Here's the thing, though. I think I understand what they were trying to teach me. I think I get it. And after having watched the video, I can see how Total Immersion could possibly make somebody a better swimmer. I suppose it just seems really difficult to make that much of an impression in only six lessons.

Honestly, at this point I feel like my form is worse than it was before I started. I'm flailing in the water. I am trying so hard to keep track of the million little pieces that they've told me to focus on, that I can't keep track of anything at all. Head down, arms out, hands straight, butt up, chest out, hand bent, elbow up.... for god sakes, I just want to swim!!

Before I took these lessons, swimming was somewhat mindless. I got in the water and it either felt like it was working or it didn't. Now, however, swimming has become more like golf - the more you know, the harder it becomes.

In fact, I kinda feel a bit like Tiger Woods, but not quite as talented. A couple of years ago, despite the fact that Tiger had been playing very well, he decided to change his stroke. Everybody thought he was crazy. In fact, for a year or two while he was changing the stroke, his playing was not nearly as good as it had been before. It was like he screwed everything up. It seemed to be a classic case of "if it ain't broke, why you trying to fix it, you buffoon." But he kept his faith, that Tiger, and he kept tweaking the stroke. Lo and behold, we get to this year and he's playing better than he ever has.

My swimming was just fine before I took this clinic. I was consistently finishing in the top 20-30% overall in the swim leg of the races. Right now, however, after taking six weeks of Total Immersion, my stroke has dropped to such a level of complete crap that I feel like I'm swimming worse than I was before.

But you know what? I'm keeping my faith. Cause I think I get it. And I have a funny feeling that this Total Immersion technique is actually going to help me. I'm not sure how, but I think it will. And I've got a little birdie on my shoulder who is telling me that if I keep working on the drills and practicing this form that somewhere down the road I will actually be a better swimmer than I have ever been. Somehow, someway, I will become more efficient in the pool.

As I said before, I am getting more efficient as I get older. Eventually it's gotta rub off on my swimming. So right now, I'm going to be a Tiger.

December 06, 2006

What The Ho?!

OK, let's play a quick game of word association. I'll say a word and you blurt out the first thing that comes to mind... ready? Here we go...

Santa Claus

If you said "anarchy", have I got an organization for you. Every holiday season brings birth to the crazy mischief makers that define themselves by Santarchy. Here's the jist of it all: hundreds of people in different cities dress up in Santa Claus outfits on specific days, meet at pre-determined locations, then go out on the town and commit a bit of Santa mischief.

I suppose it's a holiday time release for all those people who miss the days of yore when they could safely stalk the streets of Halloween with cartons of eggs and rolls of toilet paper. Or perhaps it's just a society of Trans-Santa-ites, those sexually peculiar souls who get their jollies out of dressing up like fat old men. Either way, they've got a pretty good slogan, it being: No force on earth can stop one hundred Santas.

Granted, it's no Hash House Harriers slogan ("A drinking club with a running problem"), but it'll do. In the meantime, if you are walking down a dark alleyway one of these days and suddenly see a mass of Santa Clauses coming at you, you're not hallucinating. Put down the drink and rump-a-bum-bum yourself out of there as quickly as you can go before you find yourself getting slammed with a surprising bit of Noel in your Jingle Bells.

December 04, 2006

Be Careful Where You Breathe

I'm sitting here typing on the computer, minding my own business.
The little flea is flying around, minding it's own business.
We have our own businesses, and we do not need to bother each other.

But the little flea is curious.
The little flea flies towards me and starts getting up in my business.
It comes toward my face.
I swoosh my hand and scare him away.

But the little flea has heart. He does not give up so easily.
He comes towards me again. Gets up in my face. Gets in front of my mouth. Below my nose.
I startle. I sniffle.
The little flea is suddenly sucked up into my nose.

I react. I'm freaked. I don't like insects in my nose.
I don't think, I just react. I sniff harder.
Bad move.
I can feel the little flea leave my nose and drop in my throat.

I swallow.
And now there is one less little flea in this world.
And one disgusted computer typing person.

December 01, 2006

Going Postal: The Joys Of Christmas Shopping

There are 23 shopping days until Christmas, 24 shopping days until Kwanzaa, and, for our Jewish friends, a stunningly short 15 shopping days until Chanukah.

Last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, was apparently the busiest shopping day of the year so, arguably, it should be all downhill from here on in, right? Yeah... sure.

The fact of the matter is that December is the single worst time of the year to go shopping unless, of course, you get your giggles out of stupid drivers, slow traffic, over-crowded stores and rude people bumping into you at every move. All of the sudden I'm starting to really admire the porcupine. Yet despite the many hours of Animal Planet Catherine and I have watched over the past weeks, I have yet to grow quills so, instead, I'm thinking of just becoming enochlophobic.

I dread having to go out shopping in Los Angeles during the holiday season. As if the traffic isn't bad enough during the rest of the year, it morphs into a non-stop Road Rage Revue during December. I'm angry before I even park the car at the damn mall.

Fortunately, over the years I've managed to develop methods to slightly avoid the holiday shopping anxiety. The first is catalog shopping. As a very tactile person, I'm not a huge catalog shopping fan, but I make the effort during the holiday season. Mysteriously, I seem to have found myself on many a catalog mailing list. As a result, it is not uncommon for me to pick up the mail on any given day in December and have ten to fifteen catalogs waiting for me.

Though I usually throw the catalogs directly in the trash throughout the year, during December I pile them all up in a corner until it is a mound teetering on collapse. At that point, I grab a pen, sit on the couch and over a period of days scroll through each of the catalogs, circling items and ripping out pages that might make meaningful gifts. What I'm left with are about fifty torn pages of gifts I can easily buy online.

My second means of avoiding Holiday Homicide is the gift closet. I thought this was a brilliant idea when I started it. You see, I kind of do my holiday shopping throughout the entire year. If I see a gift that might be good for somebody, I buy it and toss it into the gift closet. Right now I must have a good 40 or 50 gifts in there - some earmarked for certain individuals, others generic go-to gifts.

So why am I complaining? Because inevitably I will not have the right gift for each person. I'll flip through all the random catalog pages time and again, then stand staring into my gift closet like the empty refrigerator, continuing to open it over and over, desperately hoping the food I want will mysteriously appear. Those magical gifts never appear though. Just like the fact that I have 200 channels on my television, but never anything to watch. Want me to do another comparison? OK, how about this... Looking in my gift closet is like going to the Cheesecake Factory, the menu is so crowded with everything one could ever want to eat that I can't find anything I'm hungry for.

So what happens? I go to the stores. And I cruise the aisles. And I finally settle on some stupid, somewhat meaningless gift. And as I wait in the absurdly long line to pay for it, staring at the person on the cell phone in front of me who is ignoring the fact that it's her turn to pay, I try to keep my cool. Maybe I even sing Jingle Bells to myself. Or hum a few ba-rump-ba-bum-bums. I love that song. And maybe between the frustrations, I can sneak out a smile, wish a couple of "Merry Christmases" and squeak a little holiday cheer out of the event without wanting to choke too many people. And if all goes right, perhaps when I look in my gift closet next year, it will have all the perfect presents waiting for my loved ones.

Excuse me now, I need to grab my semi-automatic and get to some serious holiday shopping.