Finishing a Half Ironman Distance Triathlon, August 2012
At one time or another we’ve all dreamed about becoming part of something bigger than us. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had one such dream tucked into the corner of my mind: to complete an Ironman. I can vividly remember when I was a child and stumbling across an hour long special, most likely used to fill slow weekend airtime, of the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. I was instantly mesmerized. Yes, the race itself was intriguing, but the feelings stirred within me from short segments of each athlete’s unique journey to the Ironman inter spliced between action shots highlighting their grueling determination is what really captivated me. Much like the first time you hear a great song, my heart was not won by the technical magnificence, but by the emotional resonance.
I never became a follower or fan of the sport (my childhood home was rather devoid of the Internet) but I carried that fascination with me into my adolescent and adult years. However, it was just a dream. Having the resources, let alone the knowledge and athletic capacity, to become an Ironman was so far off from me even beginning to contemplate it. Fast forward to 2012 when I was introduced to CrossFit. Although the physical aspects of CrossFit were helpful, it was the attitude it instilled within me that pulled my tucked away dreams out of the dark. Those simple Monday motivation messages like “nothing worth achieving is ever simple or easy” nudged me closer to the edge of Ironman. I realized that with lofty goals there was ALWAYS going to be some sort of semi-legitimate excuse and that there NEVER was going to be an optimal time to pursue them. But that is exactly what separates those who dream and those who do; finding a way to traverse that seemingly impossible road instead of finding an excuse to take the safer detour. This blog, and the next 364 days, is all about finding a way.
Somewhere along the way I’ve become loaded down with apps. Much like a guitarist with a Cadillac sized pedal board or a drummer hidden behind a fortress of gongs and roto-toms, my iPad has become inundated with more apps than I know what to do with. Likewise, I’ve encountered the same option overload in my musical pursuits. As I move away from being an artist’s sideman and more towards my own material, I’ve found the freedom to be amazingly constricting. Previously a certain framework, such as a musical style or structure of a song, had provided boundaries for me to work within. For example, I would never play a polka beat on an R&B session; I’d be expected to work within certain musical parameters. The thought of absolute freedom on my own projects had enticed me for years, but oh how the grass is greener on the other side. With nothing to keep my in check, I find myself spinning my wheels on options while staying in park in terms of production.
The Tools Used to Create the Sound
I’ve been trying to establish rules for myself lately, which (for a self-employed musician riddled with ADD) is about as effective as starting a diet at Christmas time. However, the other day I stumbled across a set of boundaries that immediately made me want to explore it’s four walls. During a Labor Day group workout my gym, someone dropped a bar and accidentally broke in half a well-worn 25lb plate. Half-jokingly, I asked if I could take home the remains and attempt to put them to musical use. While permission was granted, I definitely got the vibe that others thought I either was up to my antics or a fool to think I could make music out of such a dull and lifeless looking/sounding piece of rubber. That perceived slight was both the motivation and boundaries I had been desperately seeking!
My visions of serendipitously discovering a new musical holy grail were quickly dashed as played with the weight at home. Usually found objects have some sort of unique tonal characteristic to them. The hollow bong from an empty 2 liter of Coke, the clank of a piece of scrap metal, the bass heavy thump from a large water cooler jug. Yea, this had none of that. No resonance, no shimmer, no nothing. It sounded exactly as lifeless as one would expect a dense scrap of rubber to. Perhaps those doubters at the gym were right.
Screenshot of Werkbench
Undaunted, I stretched for some unconventional solutions. The weight sounded and played very similarly to that of a drum practice pad, so I began my approach from a percussive perspective. Having just downloaded Werkbench, a unique sample-based beat making app, I decided to try learning it on the fly while working on this task. Within the first five minutes I realized two truths: a)this weight sounds nothing short of horrible and b)Werkbench is nothing short of awesome. There had to be something worthwhile existing between the two, right? I began hitting the weight with different types of hand strikes and other objects such as hammers, with slightly less bland results. The sounds began to develop a bit more character once I radically adjusted the eq settings of the microphone that was on the weight. Add some low pass filters and delays within Werkbench and I had a (very) poor man’s dance groove.
Moving along I wanted something aside from a percussive groove, but how could I do that with a lifeless instrument? Many producers have come across my same conundrum, particularly in working with less-than-stellar vocalists. While neither were even within 30 years of being the first to use the technology, vocoders are often described as the Cher “Believe” or T-Pain effect. Essentially a vocoder modulates the pitch and tone of the signal running through it. It can be used gently to help make a flat singer sound sharp, or more aggressively to create that robotic T-Pain effect. I choose to explore the extreme ends of the Voicesynthvocoder app and after about 20 minutes of experimenting, developed a setting that would make the weight sound more like a bass synth. I hooked up a keyboard controller that allowed me to control the pitch of the vocoder and pounded out some surprisingly interesting synth lines. This actually sounds like it could be used in a musical setting!
I had a few semi-musical nuggets, but how could I piece them together? There was no way one could deduct that these sounds came from a weight plate simply from hearing it; they’d have to see it. I only have a tiny pocket cam and my computer is down, so how could I shoot and edit video, let alone sync all the different pieces? Keeping the formula as simple as possible, I decided to shoot three short examples with the audio out of my Alesis IO Dock going to the audio in of my Zoom Q3HD. I then imported those audio examples into my iPad via the camera connection kit. I used Vjay to glue all of this together, which was no small task given syncing multiple performances on the fly.
After several hours of wrestling with finding ways to create sounds and methods of syncing them, I stepped back to asses the results. Could I find a way to actually create a worthwhile song using just one found object? Perhaps, but would it be worth the time and effort? Probably not. Instead, I decided to view this as an exercise in establishing boundaries and working within them, which I previously had been struggling with. By no means is this exercise profound in any way, but simply a reminder how liberating restrictions can be.
Mondays suck. They ruin my weekend. I know that I have a noon WOD and a 6pm track workout to look forward to, both of which bust my balls. Compounding this misery is my regular 10pm-2am Sunday night gig, which gets me home and in bed no earlier than 3:30am. Every Monday, I feel like I’m battling jet lag while I force my body to train at “normal people” hours. The life of a musician and life of an athlete are in stark contrast to one another, and I always feel like I’m walking a tight rope between the two.
I was awoken (much to my chagrin) by a steady stream of spring sunlight through my window this morning around 10:30am. I consumed my usual breakfast of a banana, four eggs with peppers, and coffee, and headed to the gym for the daily WOD.
5 Rounds for time:
30 Push Ups
30 Ab Mat Sit Ups
On paper this workout seemed very similar to last Monday’s, but in practice was much different. Perhaps it was partially because of my effort, but today didn’t seem like it was the quick intense leg burning burst like last week. Instead, it felt like more of a steady effort. My goal plan was to stay moving forward without flying and dying through the first two rounds. 30 push-ups alone are fine, but doing five sets of them in between running and sit-ups is another. I felt comfortable in my pacing on the sit-ups and runs, which makes me think that I was just a touch too conservative. The push-ups, though, were a slight struggle. The first three sets were fine, but I had to really fight on my last two. I finished with a time of 19:38. Although certainly tired, I wasn’t completely spent after this workout. I’m still not sure how I feel about that; should I be pushing myself to the redline on these short workouts or would that leave me with too little time to recover for my evening track workout?
The evening workout was 200m sprints followed by 2:00 minute recovery on repeat until my form/pace deteriorates. My aim was to get 10 good intervals in. When I arrived at the track, I found myself in a less than stellar mood. I thought I’d shake it off during my warmup, but my body started feeling cranky too. I noticed my hips were tighter than usual and wondered if it was from my first outdoor long ride on my new bike several days earlier, or maybe because I only fit in one yoga session last week (note to self: MORE YOGA THIS WEEK). Wanting to just get it over with, I threw myself into the first 200 and was quickly reminded how much I hate sprinting. The lack of a natural speed I posses is probably why I ended up being a distance runner. The first five intervals I ran were all fairly consistent: 30-32 seconds and a total bitch. Going around the final curve of my sixth interval though, I noticed a sudden loss of power in both my arms and legs. It wasn’t injury or illness, but more like my battery suddenly drained. If my body was a Mac computer, it was like a sudden spinning beach ball hit me. My interval time suddenly slowed to 35 seconds. I took a bit longer to recover mentally and physically and hoped to get back on track through the next few intervals. However, my body just wasn’t having it and I didn’t have the mental fight to force it. I reassessed my game plan and decided to just let the last few intervals be whatever they were going to be. They were all fairly muted times of between 37 and 39 seconds. I’m not happy, but I’m ok with that. Maybe I just was tired today. Maybe the extra cups of coffee with cream and sugar I indulged in this weekend or the pizza I ate last night at my gig had lingering effects. Maybe I just don’t have that sort of gas tank for sprinting. At least I was able to give a strong effort for the first half of the workout.
This post has a bit of a negative tone, but ultimately I’m an extremely happy camper. Why? Because I get to do what I love every day. It’s not easy and the stress from very limited income is frightening, but I’m working/struggling towards my goals. I’ll take this life any day over working for a big corporation at a job that means nothing to me personally. I’m fortunate enough to wake up and be able to train twice a day in efforts to reach a life long goal of becoming an Ironman. In between those physically tortuous sessions, I’m able to focus on my first love: music. Although the success I aim for in both endeavors has eluded me thus far, I’m extremely grateful to have those two things that I’m willing to fight for.
Mondays are the worst. Not just because it’s Monday, but because it’s the hardest day of the week in my training schedule. It usually ruins my weekend because I dread the pain I surely will encounter Monday. I have a regular Sunday night gig that is rather lengthy, and doesn’t return me home until around 3am. When I wake up after about six hours of sleep, I know that I have a tough noon WOD to look forward to, followed by a tough 6pm interval workout on the track.
When I woke up this morning I saw that the WOD was five rounds for time of a 400 meter run and 50 air squats. Normally, I would love this workout, but the thought of it made me sick today. It wasn’t so much about the effort it would require, it was more about how the effort would affect me later. During the last few rounds of the noon WOD all I could think about was the certain misery that awaited me at the track in a few hours. My concentration wasn’t in the present, but in how I imagined the future would feel. Thankfully, it was a short WOD that kept me moving and I finished in 12:28.
Like an alarm clock that goes off after an abbreviated night of sleep, 6pm came far too soon. Me and my sore legs hoped on my bike and road a few miles to the track to meet some other Rowfit athletes for a workout. Today we were doing a three ladders of 200m, 400m, 600m, 800m (recovery is equivalent to work time). During warmups, I slipped and tweaked my right side a bit. For a brief moment, I thought that could be my ticket out of the workout. But being honest with myself, it was fine enough to run on, so I just shot it down.
Part of being an Ironman is an iron will. The motivation. The mental toughness. These ball buster consecutive two-a-day workouts are just as much about getting my head in tune as it is my mind. Lately, when my body tells me during a workout that it is tired, I remind myself that I’m also training my mind to pilot a fatigued ship. It’s about seeing how much I can withstand.
Last week when I was doing a three mile timed run on the track I kept thinking about how many more laps I had to do and how stupid doing the run was. Although I was working hard, I was nowhere near my max effort, yet I wanted to quit. So instead of thinking about how much further I had to run, I started making mini-deals with myself. “Just finish this lap on time, and then we’ll see what happens”,
This week, I didn’t think about the cumulative workout, but focused on one interval at a time. Sometimes I focused on even less! There were other athletes doing the workout with me, so I decided to start off easy and just pace with them. I would tell myself to just run easy with them for the first portion and didn’t even think much further than that. I gave myself permission not to grind through every interval. While not purposefully, I found myself drifting ahead of the other athletes. It felt effortless. In my head I was holding back and pacing with them, but in reality I was hitting much faster splits than I had been running all season. I was shocked at how easy they came and how great I felt! Some of the other guys running commented on how tough the workout was, but I encouraged them to just focus on one piece at a time.
Instead of focusing on the finish of the Ironman, or all the training, or tomorrow’s workout, or the next interval, I’ll just be attempting to focus on (and enjoy) each small step and each goal along the way.
Using a previous miserable experience that literally left my upper body incapacitated for days, I warned an athlete new to crossfit to drink tons of fluids after a the hero WOD at Rowfit on Friday night. I did not realize it at the the time, but my past experience was nothing compared to what I would experience in the coming days.
Saturday morning saw me waking up sore, but I certainly was still able to move around with relative ease. I opted to work out the soreness by going to yoga instead of swimming. It was during this noon yoga class that I first noticed that my muscle soreness was a touch more intense than usual. I took it easy throughout the class, and headed home for a bit of rest. After I woke up from my nap, I started to load gear into my car for a gig I had later in the evening. This is when the soreness began to turn into discomfort. At this point, I began to pound as much fluid as humanly possible, but I knew I was in for a world of trouble.
By the time I rolled up to my gig on Saturday evening, I had begun my transformation into Frankenstein. It took a noticeably awkward effort for me to lower and raise my arms. This can be a problem when one plays drums for a living. Somehow I managed to muscle through a marathon three hour set. When I arrived back home at 3:30am, I contemplated leaving about $3,000 worth of musical equipment in a car on a dark Chicago street for the night just so my muscles wouldn’t have to go through the agony of unloading. Ultimately, I chose the agony. I’m still not sure it was worth it.
My training schedule had me doing a long ride on the computrainer Sunday morning. When my alarm went off at 10am, I literally could not push my body up and had to roll out of bed. Just getting a shirt over my head was an arduous task. The soreness had morphed from discomfort into pain. Getting my blood pumping on a long ride didn’t help matters at all. Neither did drinking massive amounts of water. After finishing my workout, I spent a good 30 minutes in a hot shower just attempting (unsuccessfully) to lift my arms over my head. I took it easy the rest of the day and did my best to ride out the storm and recover. By the time I had to play a gig in the evening though, I couldn’t even reach the rack toms on my drumset. That gig was even more uncomfortable than the last.
Monday had me scheduled to do a noon WOD and an evening track workout. During warmups for my noon gym workout we had to do bear crawls and crab walks. I could barely move at all. Other athletes were able to traverse the length of the gym and back in the time it took me to travel 10 feet. I was in trouble. After a painful warmup, we did the following:
Then 5 Rounds
DB Snatch (35/25) 1/1 x 10
EMOM 12′ – Alternate each minute between 12 Wall Balls and 12 Russian KB Swings
I felt like I was moving through molasses during the row, which was nothing compared to the snatches and burpees. Those two movements required me to use sorest spots of my upper body non-stop. Going through that was excruciating. Not because of the effort involved, but because every motion made me feel like my arms were going to rip off. I’m not sure what my time was, but I know that I finished last at a workout that I normally would fly through. After seeing this, coach Luke (who typically pushes me) suggested that I sit out of the wall balls and kettle bells. I was in too much pain to argue with that decision or be embarrassed.
After stumbling through the noon WOD I initially felt it best not to do the evening track workout. However, my body slowly came back around at 5:30pm, just in time for a 6pm workout. Even though I was still sore and tired, I was able to get in 5x800m at 6:00/mile pace with 2′ recovery in between. By the end of the workout I felt like I was finally getting back to normal.
Is there a moral or point to this story? Probably, but I haven’t figured it out. I guess this is just more of me documenting my experiences as training ramps up.
After a few nights of good sleep, less stress from my job, and recovery, I’m feeling well enough to workout again. Usually, I get my workouts in during the afternoon, but my body didn’t come around until the evening. I signed up for a Friday evening WOD, which happened to be a “Hero” WOD.
Today we were doing the SSG Joshua Hager Hero WOD:
21 Overhead squat, 95/65
15 Overhead squat
9 Overhead squat
It had been a while since I’ve attempted overhead squats, which happen to be one of my many weakness in the CrossFit lifting movements. I recall doing WODs last fall that included even fewer overhead squats and having to scale to just the weight of the bar in order to be able to complete the workout. There was no way I’d be able to do the rx weight of 95lbs. Just doing a few 65lbs overhead squats this winter was an accomplishment for me. Even though there is no shame in it, my pride tonight did not want me to have to scale to women’s weight, so I went with 75lbs.
Surprisingly, I was able to do the weight and even managed to do the first 21 overhead squats unbroken. The shock and amazement I felt from doing so helped carry me throughout the workout, even as I ripped open lifting callouses on my hand halfway through. I think my time was around the 10:30 range, which is another cue that I need to write down my results immediately afterwards.
Tonight was a good reminder to me about the value of persistence and patience. Often times when I cannot do a movement or weight successfully, I get visibly angry and try to muscle my way through it right then. That frustration used to boil over and mix with shame every time I attempted overhead squats in workouts. What usually followed was a promise to myself to work on flexibility and start going to yoga. One day it occurred to me that these promises were hollow, just like the ones I would make to myself about quitting drinking and smoking when I had to stop and walk up a hill during a run. I’d use that promise as a pass to alleviate the physical and mental discomfort of the moment, but then forget about it immediately after I finished the workout.
Realizing years were wasted on those empty promises motivated me to follow through and go to yoga. Initially I was disappointed and frustrated that I didn’t see any results after a few classes, but I kept going. Weeks passed and I still did not see results, but I kept going. I would tell encourage myself to keep going and think that I was only a yoga class or two away from “fixing” my flexibility issues. Eventually, I stopped looking for the results and just went. Instead of being something I had to do, yoga became something I just did.
Although I’m lifting heavier weight with ease now, the major breakthrough I experienced tonight was not physical; it was all about mindset. I’ll always have certain issues with flexibility, but I’ve stopped analyzing it as an area to “fix”. No longer am I frantically chasing a solution. Instead, I’m allowing evolvement.