Thursday, August 04, 2011

Who Are You?

I recognize it's been a while since my last post but now that I'm knee-deep in nursing classes and clinical rotations, I feel that I have something interesting to write about again. That said, I'll warn you that this isn't the most cheery entry.

I'm not exactly sure what HIPAA permits me to write about and what it doesn't, so I'll try to keep everything about actual people as vague as possible.

For most of July I spent a day each week in an Alzheimer's facility (as a nursing student, not as a temporary resident; my cognitive processes aren't that far gone yet). Throughout my time there I alternated between being really interested and really depressed. The interested came from talking with residents, learning about their lives and seeing the effects of the disease (from an impersonal perspective). The depressed came from seeing the effects of the disease from a personal perspective.

There's been a lot written about declining mental status and quality of life, and I don't really want to dig into all that. At the very least, my experiences in the facility reinforced my opinions about treating others with respect and allowing them to live their lives with as much dignity as possible.

There's been something particular weighing on my mind though.

On my last visit I encountered two residents who were very affectionate with each other (holding hands, cuddling, kissing, etc.). At first I thought they were a married couple who lived at the facility. When I was informed that they weren't, my reaction was, "Oh, that's nice, these two individuals found comfort in each other." Of course, because things are never that simple, the next thing I learned was that one of the residents was still married to a non-resident and the spouse was frequently upset upon visiting to see those overt signs of affection with someone else.

No one is really to blame or at fault. Obviously this situation is awkward, but I hesitate to say it's unfortunate. It's certainly unfortunate that anyone has Alzheimer's, but I don't think it's unfortunate that people nearing the end of their lives with a tragically debilitating disease are able to enjoy a small sense of comfort and happiness.

What's been weighing on my mind is the concept of self. I've always thought that a person's actions reveal that person's soul. If actions are what define a person, does that mean that completely "abnormal" actions from the way someone has lived most of his or her life mean that someone is actually a "different" person? Is the "soul" different?

Another thing this experience taught me is that the blood is easy, the brains are hard. I expected the strong emotional response from going into nursing as a new career. I didn't expect the internal metaphysical debate.

Aren't you glad I started blogging again?

EDIT: I showed this to Hannah before posting and her response was that presumably (and it is a presumption), the couple in the facility were always affectionate people so the big picture of how they act hasn't changed, therefor they still have the same "soul" -- at least as far as my definition of soul. They may not remember who they "were," but who they actually are hasn't changed; it's just that the people involved are different due to circumstance.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Train Smart, Race Fun

Bear with me while I set this up:

  • A few weeks out from the Austin half marathon, I swam a 400IM on a whim during our group swim practice.
  • I also happened to be re-reading Gold in the Water as I typically do about once a year. The book mostly focuses on an elite swimmer trying to make the 2000 Olympic team in the 400IM (that might have been the impetus to give swim it at practice, I can't quite remember).
  • Around the same time, I found out short course Masters Zones would be in San Antonio in the beginning of April.
  • Also around the same time, I tweaked my Achilles training for the Austin run. That shot my mood way into the dumps. I still wanted to race, but my enthusiasm for it was lacking.
  • Right when all this was happening, over on Endurance Corner, team member Mike Coughlin wrote an article on "keeping it fun" during winter training.(I also interviewed Mike for an upcoming athlete profile -- keep an eye out for it).
  • All this got me thinking about a fun challenge. I've never raced the 400IM in a meet. I don't even think I ever did a 400 off the blocks in a practice as an age group swimmer. In fact, I don't remember ever doing a 400IM at all in practice without having to fall back on some one-arm fly.

You can probably see where this is going:

I've decided to take up scrapbooking. I'm very artistic.

I also decided to sign up for the 400IM at Masters Zones. It's a fun challenge for because it's such an unknown; the distance and strokes aren't a mystery, but it's the question of "how fast can I go?"

Gordo has me on a plan to get ready for the event without totally falling off my run and bike work.

At some point, I'll probably pick some other events to swim at the meet. Driving more than three hours for a 400 yard race isn't quite worth it. Tack on another couple hundred yards of events? Totally worth it.

Zeros Update
I mentioned in January that one of my goals for 2011 is to have less zeros than in 2010 (a "zero" being a day without some kind of exercise).

So far, I'm not off to a stellar start, but I've got 10 more months to go.

January 2010: 11 zeros
February 2010: 6 zeros

January 2011: 13 zeros
February 2011: 7 zeros

So I'm three zeros in the hole already. I've been righting the ship the last few weeks though.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Train Smart, Race Dumb

The Austin Half Marathon was kind of a bust for me. For a little while I was trying to rationalize my not-so-good result as the course being tougher than last year. However, that wouldn't explain why I wasn't able to manage my effort to finish strongly -- I essentially slogged my way through the last two miles.

Despite practicing my efforts for the first three miles a bunch in training, I still went out too hard. While I recognized the mistake around the half way point, it wasn't until I reviewed my HR/pace splits that I saw how bad and how early things went screwy.

I don't remember going temporarily insanse in mile 2 of the race, but I suspect short term amnesia is associated with temporary insanity. Once I saw the numbers and realized where things went off track, I began kicking myself.

"I never race dumb, why would I do it all of a sudden in this race?" I wondered.

Then I started going over some of my other race results and notes from the last few years. Interestingly, I almost always go out too hard in running races. Other events (particularly triathlon and swimming) were paced much better, probably because I have a deeper background in swimming. Since tris start with swims, I do okay -- by the time the run comes along I'm usually in a groove to raise effort towards the end.

In most running races I've been able to fudge my effort management errors because I typically only participate in shorter stand-alone running events: 5k-15k. Last year's half marathon was the anomaly regarding pacing -- probably because I could see the first climbs on the course from the start (fear can be an effective governor).

So, it looks like I have two choices: stop competing in running events or learn how to control myself in the early miles of a race. I was leaning to the "no running" option because I'm naturally lazy and that's the pace of least resistance, but with 90% of the local events all beginning with a run (or, in the case of 5k and 10ks, also including a middle and end portion comprised of a run), I think I'll be better off adapting my racing strategy, otherwise I'll spend most of time sitting on the couch.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


I had set a goal to break 1:30 in the Austin half marathon. In hindsight, that goal was completely arbitrary -- a nice, clean number, but not much else. I've done no testing to determine if the pace required is manageable, let along realistic (the workouts were on the calendar, I just didn't do them). That 1:30 reflects a six-minute improvement over my time from last year on a slightly different course. To run a 1:30, I essentially have to run the race in the same time it took me to run 12 miles last year.

A further challenge to my ability to hit the arbitrary goal is that I tweaked my left achilles two Sundays ago. Yesterday was the first time I ran in eight days.

I guess you could argue that I'm just making excuses. But I've been involved with Endurance Corner long enough to learn that you don't magically race faster than your fitness level just because you want to. My training paces aren't screaming sub-1:30. They're not even mumbling sub-1:30.

I'm not saying I don't have a chance at 1:30; I'm saying I don't know if I have the fitness to do it.

I still plan to PR. I'm still going to try for that 1:30. I'll know if I have a chance around the halfway mark as that comes after three miles of downhill. If I'm below 45 minutes, I'll have a shot. If not, I'll just race to beat last year's time. If my legs blow up on me... well... that's my own fault for going out too hard.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

My best season ever

Over on Endurance Corner, January's theme is "Your Best Season Ever." So far this month there has been a ton of great content about figuring out what you did in the past and what you are doing now to set yourself up for success. It's focused on sport, and triathlon specifically, but there's a lot of good stuff in there that's applicable to life in general.

I'm fortunate that in my editorial role for the site I get to see all the content early and mull it over in advance of posting. So if you wonder why I'm fast 10 days earlier than you, there's your answer...

The main objective of the theme is to help readers have their best season ever in 2011 (in case you couldn't figure that out by yourself). It's very Men's Healthish, I know. Some of the other contenders for the month theme were "Lose Your Gut" or "Fight Flab and Win!" but those don't apply to EC's general audience.

In reading through all the content, I began reflecting on my 2010. I've said before (but probably not on this blog, since I've been a little irregular with the updates) that I feel 2010 was a breakthrough year for me. I set a personal best in every event in which I competed -- ironman, half ironman, olympic distance, half marathon... even what I felt was an out of shape 5k in November was still almost half a minute faster than ever before.

To be sure, having a coach has helped tremendously. So has being permanently based in Texas. I suppose one could argue that returning to school allowed me more time to train, but as I noted before IMCdA, I did less volume this year than in 2009 preparing for Lake Placid. And honestly, I think I'm more stressed with academic life than professional life (I have another blog post rattling around in my head about that -- I dislike academia...).

So what made the difference? In my mind I was inconsistent in my training throughout 2010. But on paper (reason No. 1 for keeping a journal!), it turns out I was the most consistent I've been since I was training for Rowing Nationals and Canadian Henley in 2002. To be fair, my "remembered" inconsistencies weren't completely made up -- I did have a bunch of holes throughout 2010, but they were relatively small holes.

Many triathletes remember their huge, epic days as their "average" output. I have a tendency to get sucked into recalling what I didn't do and creating this mental image of myself as wildly inconsistent, which doesn't do much for my motivation.

My main athletic goal for 2011 is less zeros. I'm not going overboard and saying "no zeros" -- I know myself well enough to recognize that's a bit of a reach for me. Sure, I have some specific race objectives, but with the nursing program and other things going on, I'm going to keep it simple this year ("simple, not easy" -- I love that quote). If all goes to plan, I'll be able to create a multi-year block of "my best seasonS ever."

Monday, November 22, 2010

We made beer

That title isn't some strange euphemism for getting drunk; we genuinely made our own beer.

Our neighbor is an experienced home brewer and after hanging out with him enough, it's hard not to get the urge to try it yourself. Luckily (for me), our neighbor is also used to helping people out, so he walked me and some other folks through the steps a few weeks ago (Hannah was away on "Teach a Friend to Brew" Day -- apparently a real thing).

We ended up with just shy of two cases of Scottish 70 Shilling Ale. I should clarify that I was attempting to make Scottish 70 Shilling, the end result wasn't just some fortuitous byproduct of "well, let's throw this stuff together and see what happens." We were short a couple bottles worth because my physics were off and I didn't have the primary and secondary fermentation carboys at appropriate heights. Ah well, live and learn. Our neighbor was nice enough to let us use his carbonation system to bottle everything, which let us cut about two weeks out of the conditioning process. Basically, we had drinkable beer eight days after starting.
Since San Angelo stopped recycling glass about five months ago, this let us put some of the bottles we've been stockpiling since the summer to good use.

The beer was/is pretty good. I'm not just saying that because it was homemade. Well, I am saying that because it's homemade, but other people have been polite enough to not spit it back in my face or get sick when they try it, so I'll take that as a compliment.

This past weekend, Hannah got to be more directly involved and basically made the whole thing herself -- an oatmeal stout. It's doing it's thing in the garage right now. "It's thing" means making a huge mess during the fermentation process. Last time I wasn't prepared for the bubble-over so I had to spend a good chunk of time scrubbing the floor. This time I put the fermenter in a plastic tub to make the clean up easier. My sister-in-law was concerned that the brewing process was similar to making meth. Luckily for my house, that's not the case, as I assuredly would have blown everything up by now.

Since the first round, I've also straightened up the garage to keep things better organized. There wasn't much risk of contamination of any kind since nothing can get in the fermenters, but sticky, oozy things and bike parts don't necessarily go great together. Or, more accurately, they do go great together, but I prefer to keep them apart.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thoughts from Austin 70.3

I should clarify that title: these are my thoughts about the race; the race itself did not have any thoughts (that it shared with me anyway).

I'm not really going to go into the boring details of my heart rate, watts and pace for the race, as they're not that compelling for the majority of folks who read this blog (all .5 of you).

Here's a quick recap though:
  • I swam with the front group in my wave and hung with them despite a few surges on the leader's part. This is the first time I ever tried to go with the fast guys in a big race and not just start out steady and build into the race. Things only fell apart when we rolled into the wave ahead of us and our pack disintegrated. I swam the rest solid, finishing fairly high in the overall.
  • Just past five miles into the bike there's a sharp right turn that immediately goes into a steep little hill. I hadn't previewed the course the day before, so I had no idea about the hill. Needless to say, I dropped my chain and had to get off my bike to fix it (and to avoid falling over). When I tried to get going again, I couldn't clip my right foot in. It turned out that I had broken my cleat when I stepped off the bike. So, I rode the next 49+ miles at a lower effort to keep my foot on the pedal. Still PRed the distance though.
  • I had gotten over my grumpiness from the bike early enough by focusing on having a good run. It sure wasn't a land speed record, but it was the fastest I've ever run in a half ironman. I came within 10 seconds of even-splitting the two loops, mostly with a very uncomfortable back half. I moved myself up a good ways in my age group with that effort.
  • Mishaps or not, I still went the fastest I've ever gone over a half ironman; with my previous best time on a pancake-flat course in south Jersey in the early spring. Austin was hot and hilly, not a pancake-flat course in south Jersey.

So what did I learn?
  • I can swim with the big dogs -- at least those in the AG ranks -- without detonating myself.
  • I should always take the time to preview the course if I want to do well. No more "surprise" hills.
  • I can still race well relative to myself despite setbacks. I knew I was never really in the hunt for a real AG placing -- my bike and run aren't anywhere near the leaders. But, there is some potential there; I just need to find the race that the real fast guys all skip.

What's up next?
Not much actually. I've got a couple local running races between now and the end of the year. Then it's a matter of picking a race for early spring: big event and attempt to PR or smaller event to race for placing (I was only half kidding about avoiding the fast guys, my fragile ego can only handle so much whupping).