Bad Day

Some days as an endurance athlete, you feel amazing. You dance up inclines like someone half your weight. You add on an extra few miles because your legs just feel so damn fresh. You feel like someone should be filming you because you’re crushing it as much as anybody in those outdoor adventure videos on Youtube. You are pretty sure that you missed your calling as an Olympian (if only mom and dad had seen your potential instead of pushing you into whatever team sport you spent your high school and college years playing).

Yesterday was not one of those days.

Maybe I should have seen it coming. After all, an 18-mile run after work was always going to be dicey. Hell, an 18-mile run at any time of day is dicey. But I naively thought, I’ll be fine. It would be just like riding two hours after work. I do that all the time.

Things got off to a bad start when, walking home from the office, my stomach wouldn’t shut up. Not just hungry moans. Uncomfortable, GI tract-is-dealing-with- something protestations. An orchestra of gurgling. Given the fact that running triggers the worst of my GI issues, I made what I thought was a brilliant decision: instead of 18, I’d run the 13 I’m supposed to do this weekend. Then I’d do 18 this weekend. Perfect! Problem solved.

Except it wasn’t. A bathroom trip once I got home didn’t provide much relief. I ate an ear of corn and some peanut butter because I was hungry. Probably not a great idea either. By now, I was sensing that this wouldn’t be an easy jog, and I delayed for a few minutes, further crunching my window of light.

Finally I left the apartment, wearing a long-sleeve cotton shirt, thinking it was chilly. It wasn’t. Damn. I rolled up my sleeves as I jogged north on Front Street through clouds of midges swarming in the slanting sunlight. I looked at my watch. 7:45 pace. Okay, not terrible.

As the miles ticked by, I fell further behind. 7:55, 8:00, 8:10, 8:35. I wasn’t going uphill, or into a headwind. I was just going slow. I could feel my colon bouncing around, could hear the food sloshing in my stomach. I was breathing hard and my legs felt like they were burdened by ankle weights. I stopped at an overgrown baseball field, behind a dumpster, in a bathroom at Wildwood Park. Nothing helped. Something deep inside my body, between my stomach and my spine, kept jangling with each step.

Somewhere around mile five my goal became just to finish. Around mile nine, my goal became just to get home before dark. The sun had disappeared over the horizon in the west and the remaining light in the sky was rapidly fading. I abandoned my planned 13-mile route and took the shortest route home along Cameron Street, wishing I could speed up and knowing I couldn’t. Birds flitted and perched on telephone wires, settling down for the night. I slogged on, now with kneecaps that hurt more than they’ve ever hurt after less than 10 miles.

Finally, mercifully, it was finished. I ambled into the parking lot and turned off my Garmin, sweaty and defeated. Total distance: barely 11 miles. Time: fucking slow. I crawled into bed and resisted the temptation to doubt myself, doubt my ability to complete this marathon in a respectable time, doubt my overall fitness. Am I getting worse? Am I getting slower? Have I been training too much, or not enough?

But enough of those thoughts. Who knows what it was. Probably some combination of tiredness, poor timing, and a GI flare up. And maybe, as frustrating as it may be, sometimes you just don’t have it.


Strava’s New Video

Perhaps you’ve seen Strava’s new video.

Basically, it presents the platform as the anti-Facebook/Twitter, a social media site that runs against the prevailing trends in social media. The logic goes like this. On those other sites, you don’t show people who you actually are. You display a filtered image of yourself, a carefully cultivated personal brand that makes you and your life look incredible. But on Strava, there is no filter. No image. No cultivation. It’s just you, at your sweatiest.

Leaving aside the meta implications of the fact that Strava spends a lot of money to cultivate this image and build its brand, it’s a noble idea. Data from athletics is just that–data. It isn’t personal. It can’t be manipulated. With GPS devices, you can’t lie about where you were or what you did. In that sense, a person’s Strava profile is more honest and revealing than their Facebook page. If you do epic rides, they show up. If you sit on the couch for a week, that shows up too.

But Strava isn’t just routes and wattage outputs. It is profile photos, “kudos,” KOMs, comments, and a constantly refreshing feed showing what your friends (and pro athletes, if you follow them) are up to. The model is basically a copycat of Facebook, with statuses replaced by activity uploads. It follows that Strava users will behave in similar ways to Facebook users. Can they do this without feeling the same desire to self-brand, to cultivate a seemingly incredible life, to seek approval and attention?

I don’t think so.

Yes, you can’t “lie” about your activities. But you can manipulate them and their presentation. I know of people who turn off their Garmins while warming up and cooling down so their average speed doesn’t drop. I’m not joking. I see people uploading walks around the neighborhood; since this isn’t part of any training program I’m aware of, I can only assume they want to let the world know they are healthy and active. I’ve seen people repeat a segment mere hours after losing a KOM, hell-bent on reclaiming their title and whatever real or imagined status boost it gives them.

In fact, just being on Strava in the first place (or at the very least, making your profile public) reflects our conscious or unconscious desire to present our athletic accomplishments to the world. By creating a public profile, we are choosing to highlight and publicize a part of our lives (and ourselves) that we want people to see. We want to be recognized as fit, healthy, strong, fast, dedicated. Ultimately, we want to be valued. We want to be considered successful. Is this really any different than only posting smiling photos in beautiful vacation spots on Facebook?

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just a different medium that allows us to show off different parts of ourselves. We are still deciding to show, and in the act of showing, there is inevitably some form of presentation. We want to be seen in certain ways.

Of course, user activity exists on a spectrum. For every guy getting shots of dopamine as he watches the kudos roll in after posting an epic ride, there is someone like my mom who just sets her Garmin to automatically synch and never actually logs on, let alone posts photos or searches for KOM segments to hunt. Personally, I use the site mostly for its route-mapping capabilities and as a training log. Don’t get me wrong–it’s a powerful, helpful, and fun tool that is a welcome addition to my life and the broader endurance sport world. But still, I could reap the benefits of those features without having my profile be public, or I could use other tools like Google Maps and and old-fashioned training notebook. I’m on Strava for a reason, whether I consciously realize it or not.

Strava’s narrative sounds nice, and is in some ways true. But I don’t totally buy it.

What do you think?

So It Begins…

September is here. Yeah, it might still technically be summer, but it’s starting to feel like fall. Winter looms only a few short months away. Rain, snow, cold, suffocating darkness.

And worst of all, indoor riding.

A stretch of rainy days forced me onto the trainer this year for the first time since spring, and I remembered just how un-fun stationary riding is. It’s boring and sweaty and awful. It involves literally none of the things I love about riding: beautiful scenery, climbing, descending, camaraderie, tailwinds. Just as Taylor Swift’s music is only music in the sense that it is a collection of sounds, indoor riding is only really cycling in the sense that you are sitting on a bike, turning the pedals over. (And over, and over, and over.)

Not me, not this winter.

Seconds feel like minutes, minutes feel like hours, hours feel like…well, nobody knows, because they don’t stay on the trainer for multiple hours. At least I don’t.

Last winter, I was training for my first full season of racing, and that motivated me to grind out interval sessions on my Cycleops, going nowhere as the snow piled up outside. But now that I’m on an indefinite hiatus from racing, why should I lock the bike into that cursed machine at all? Why not just run on paved sidewalks in layers of warm clothing? It burns more calories in less time, and is far more enjoyable than riding in shitty weather.

At this point, if I’m being honest, my only reason is to not have a massive three-month dead zone on my Strava profile. With nothing to train for, and a perfectly viable alternative workout option, that’s really the only motivating factor. I think that says good things about Strava and bad things about indoor riding and interesting things about me.

Seeing More

“How’s your marathon training going?” asked nobody.

“It’s good, thank you.”

The mileage totals haven’t been difficult so far. I’m doing around twenty a week now, with a ride or two fewer than I was before. I’m doubling up when I can, but the riding has definitely diminished because on Sundays the long run makes a long ride less appealing. This weekend it’s 11 miles, and will ramp up from there to 20 in a few weeks.

Cardio-wise, I’m fine, as I suspected. But my body still needs to adapt to running, and I can never predict how I’ll feel. Yesterday, my legs were heavy and three miles at 9:00/mile was an awful slog; today, seven-plus at 7:45 pace was pretty easy, expect for a weird cramp thing above between my left lung and shoulder that sprung up for a few miles and then vanished. It’s a mystery, why I feel the way I do. Where the pain and discomfort show up. On the bike, those things are predictable. On runs, I have no idea what will hurt or when. And my bladder/gastrointestinal issues are so variable that sometimes I can’t go a mile without a bathroom stop, while other times I can run five without stopping at all. Food, distance, time of day, heat, protein, iron: I’m sure they all play a role, but it’s impossible to puzzle out how they all fit together. Correlation, causation, blah blah blah.

I enjoy the ease of running. I don’t have to set out a kit the night before or fill water bottles or pump up tires. I can just wake up and go. And an hour of running burns more calories than an hour of biking (generally). Sure, when running you can’t travel as far as you can on a bike, and as a result you see less of the world, in one sense. But I’ve been exploring places on foot that I can’t on the bike, nooks and crannies of the city, sidewalks and dead ends and paths in the woods. So while seeing less, I also see more.