May 2008

Depth Perception

How long is a swimming pool? Not as long as I originally thought actually.

I could never work out why my swimming is so strong at the N1 City Virgin Active gym and why I suffer so much at Constantia. Tonight I found out that the N1 City pool is only 20 meters long and the much more upmarket Constantia one is 5 meters longer. Isn’t that just typical. It’s one set of pools for the rich and one for the poor.

Obviously my depth perception is terrible which would explain why I am always falling off my mountain bike, but really, who looks at a pool and knows straight away how long it is. If anyone was to ask me I would just say, ‘Dunno, the ends down there mate’. I’ll tell you what though, if they make the IronMan swim only 3.04km I’m fully trained and ready to go.

I am amazed at how fit I am getting. Tonight I did a 1.2km swim in 35 minutes followed immediately by a 50 min run with serious intervals. It really was a cake walk. Because my day was running horribly late I did the run on the treadmill at the gym immediately after the swim. I discovered that those fancy touch screens don’t work if your hands are soft and spotless after half an hour in the pool. I couldn’t get the speed over 6 kph and eventually I had to use one of the older models with proper buttons.

This morning some prat in an Audi TT drove into the back of my car. The damage to my vehicle is minimal (read approx 12k at a guess) and it is still drivable. His Quattro on the other hand is stuffed, with the turbo intercooler and sundry other bits wrapped around his front wheel. That’s what happens when you drive and use a cell phone at the same time.

The inconvenience while my car is being repaired is going to be a major pain in the bum. It’s strange how I immediately looked at it in terms of how it will affect my ability to get to after work group training sessions with only one car in the family.

Chris The Convict

What a very strange weekend. It started out with me feeling as sick as a dog on Friday, I kind of got arrested by the Metro Police on Saturday morning and by Sunday afternoon I was feeling well enough to go for a 12km run. Silly boy.

Of course I should start with the bit about getting arrested. And technically I was. It all revolves around being a proxy for company cars. In other words a company owns some vehicles and the government wants an employee of said company to be responsible for any fines they collect. That was me. Except that I left this company in 1997, a full 9 years before the 6 fines in question were issued and they didn’t tell me I was going to be their proxy in the first place. Anyway, the fact is that there are six warrants of arrest out for me. Ha! Danger is my middle name.

So it seems I have been walking around blissfully unaware of how notorious I am in the criminal underworld. Until that is, there was a knock on my front door on Saturday morning. Standing there on the doorstep were two of the Cities finest. Both of whom were willing to point out the half a dozen errors of my ways. Luckily they were pretty decent about it, and released me on a warning to appear in court. By all accounts I can be grateful I don’t live in Johannesburg where the local constabulary are likely to haul you off to jail without even giving you the opportunity to grab the jumbo tub of Vaseline.

Between now and the court date I have to sort out this sorry mess. I am sure there will be affidavits, swearwords and recriminations aplenty, and the idiot who accepted the fines and didn’t pay them is going to get me firmly in his face first thing tomorrow morning. Nobody messes with Chris ‘Bugsy’ Hitchcock. Capiche?

I had a great run this evening. 12km in 1h10. That’s positively flying by my standards. Tomorrow morning I have a further 6km run scheduled. I am torn about doing it or not. I don’t feel great today, being a bit coldy, but I am terrified that if I miss a session it will be easier to miss the next one, until I am sliding down the rocky road of not finishing IronMan. I know it’s all in my head, and I’m feeling sorry for myself, but apparently that’s common in people who have just been released from incarceration.

Proprio What?

Proprioception, fromthe  Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own” and perception) is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body.  It is the sense that indicates whether the body is moving with required effort, as well as where the various parts of the body are located in relation to each other.

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Well OK then. That is what proprioception is, and I don’t think I was issued with any at birth. I know this because I tried to do tumble turns in the pool this morning. Three times I tried and three times I swam into the bottom of the pool. You’d think it would be easy but it isn’t. I think it may be my scuba training kicking in because I am used to going straight down and not coming around in a loop. It is however, what it is, And that is a disaster. I can’t believe that I got up so early to make this discovery.

Even worse than not being able to tumble turn, is the spectacle I made of myself. The only reason I gave up after three attempts is that the school kids doing their swim squad training in the lane next to me had stopped their drills, and  were starting to point and snigger.

It’s not a big deal though. I mean how many walls will I have to kick off during the IronMan swim. Exactly none I would imagine, and certainly not one every 25 meters. See? I’ve justified my inability. Silver lining, cloud etc. I still swam 1500 meters in 43 minutes though and I’m happy with that.

All that faded into insignificance compared to the rest of my day.

Midmorning I had a major shock when I received a phone call saying my dear old Mum had been in a major car crash with the car written off and her in an ambulance on the way to hospital. No more details. Let your imagination run wild.

Of course all sorts of doom and gloom scenarios played out in my head on my way to the hospital. After hundreds of x-rays and many hours of prodding and poking it was finally determined that she will be ok with nothing major broken. It was one hell of a way for her to organise a major family gathering though, and we were all totally shell shocked by the end of the day.

The members of my family were all incredibly lucky today.

Pandas And Polar Bears

These early morning training sessions are taking a bit of getting used to. I read in the latest Go Multi magazine that a habit takes 21 days to form. Let me tell you that the habit of getting up early to train may take even longer than that. Ok, so this morning we only started our group ride at 8:30am and technically that’s not really early, but it is a Saturday for goodness sakes. Pretty soon I’ll have bags under my eyes like an insomniac Panda bear.

Speaking of habits and bears, and this vaguely refers to my swimming stroke, apparently all polar bears are left handed. When stalking prey on the ice, a polar bear draws his right paw across his black nose, hiding his primary dark body part, the better to successfully sneak up on his next meal. (Some polar bears also squeeze their eyes almost closed, for even more complete camouflage.) Then, the bear batters his lunch to death with his stronger, dominant, left paw.

But one unfortunate polar bear did not get with the program. This bear, when stalking prey, would begin to cover his nose with his left paw while raising his right paw for the kill then suddenly become all confused and flustered. He’d begin to switch paws, often whacking himself painfully in the nose with his ready-for-action right paw in the process. By this time, lunch was usually several ice floes away. One observer theorized that this particular bear probably did not survive long, again lending credence to the theory of natural selection.

That’s my swimming style. All smooth and perfect till I have to up the pace and swim faster. It’s back to learning muscle memory and good habits over 21 (or more) days.

We may have a bigger problem though. After this mornings post ride ablutions, I was standing in front of the mirror just reflecting and it struck me that all this exercise is doing me good. I am losing weight, building muscle and looking pretty damn good if you don’t mind me saying so. This could spell trouble.

With my brand new svelte physique and individually clenchable buttocks, it won’t be long before all the girls in the training group are fighting to ride behind me to get a better look.

I’ll have to chat to Claire about organising some sort of roster for them if it gets out of hand.

Bring A Zimmer Frame

Just how crazy was the weather in Cape Town this morning? Horrible is how it was. Howling gales and torrential rain meant that my plan to ride my bike to work was quickly abandoned in favour of staying alive. I am absolutely certain I would not have made it to work without getting knocked off and seriously injured.

That’s two weeks in a row that my Wednesday rides have been scuppered by the weather, so it was a choice between the gym or the indoor trainer. I admit I gave serious consideration to going to the gym. They have recently installed some rather clever new workout machines at the one that I attend. These machines take into account your age and weight and measure your heart rate while you exercise. I’m sure if you are reading this you have some interest in sport and know exactly what I’m talking about.

The problem with these machines is that they are designed by computer nerds and not someone who understands the business of getting and staying fit. The machines have been programmed to accommodate the lowest common denominator and simply don’t take into account the users level of athletic ability or aerobic fitness.

So you tell the device your age and weight, programme in the maximum heart rate that you want it to maintain (what with it being very clever and that) and off you go. On a treadmill I will program it to keep me at 165 bpm heart rate. The machine will accept what I ask it to do without question. But let my heart rate hit 150 bpm and see what happens though. It throws a massive thromby is what it does.

I can almost hear it thinking. “Hang on, this blokes 49 years old, he can’t possibly be able to sustain anything over 150bpm. Lets tell him. In big letters. It then flashes  “WARNING HIGH HEART RATE” on it’s screen, so that everyone behind me in the gym can see what an unfit old bastard I am.  After two minutes of shouting at, and being ignored by me, it then has the almighty cheek to turn itself off and leave me looking like a prize Wally on a dead treadmill. Take it from me, there is no dignified way to extract yourself from that situation.

Well I’m not having that from any machine, let alone one that’s built and designed by Italians with their  slanty little eyes. (Or is that italics? )  Anyway, I’ve found a way to beat the things. I tell them I’m 21.

Apparently as far as the machine is concerned a 21 year old can have a heart rate of 500, but an old fart like me should walk at no faster than 2kph, and please bring a Zimmer frame next time.

That said, they do have this other great new machine at the gym. I only used it for about an hour as I started to feel really sick, but its great! Its got Kit-Kats, Bar-Ones, Simba crisps and everything in it

None of the above is even slightly relevant to today’s workout because I stayed at home and did 90 minutes on the indoor trainer. Again. So it’s a sore arse and very numb wobbly dangly bits for the next few hours. Why doesn’t that happen when I ride on the road?

Answers on a post card to the usual address please.

Claire 1 – Chris 1

I really should have paid more attention to my training plan. Yesterday I was feeling lazy and only went for my long run very late in the day,. I stupidly assumed that today’s schedule would be the same as last Mondays. Cue shock and horror when I saw that Monday actually started with a 40 min run in the early morning (6:00am) only 10 hours after my Sunday run ended. I think Claire did that on purpose to see if I was concentrating or even cheating. So it’s Claire 1, Chris 0.

Anyway, getting to the point of this drivel..tonight was the dreaded group swim class. It kicked off, like a dead lepers head, with a quick 20 length warm-up. That’s right, 20 lengths for a warm-up? What is it with these coaches, haven’t they worked out that clients are easier to train if they aren’t dead. They’re probably easier to get money out of as well.

Normally by the time someone I am swimming with has finished 20 lengths, I have done my 10 and am already showered and at the local Unlucky Fried Kitten stuffing calories and bad cholesterol into my deprived face. Not any more though. It was 20 lengths warm up, kick board drills and, 200 meter time trial. Luck and poor swimming ability were on my side here because I got overtaken by the other three swimmers in my group, and only did 150 meters. So that’s Claire1, Chris1. The points are level and it’s all to play for next week.

I did find this weeks group swim to be a lot easier than last week. I admit that this morning I contemplated not going and rather just spending 45 minutes in my local swimming pool, but that would be defeatist. How can I gauge my improvement if I only swim against myself as opposed to the clock and other swimmers. Even if I did cheat by 50 meters.

One thing I did notice is one of the amazing similarities between swimming in the pool and scuba diving. Both seem to involve an amazing amount of snot. I  mean it’s everywhere you look. At one stage I suspected people were bringing it from home in jars and applying it when my back was turned. Now, I don’t know about you, but I am one of those people who will tell you when you have a 10cm snail trail from your nostril to your chin. It’s not that I care about your pride, it’s just that I don’t want to look at it for longer than I have to.

The trouble, and this is where swimming differs from scuba diving in the sea, is that both of us know that any sinus entrails you may wipe from your face into the pool, stay in the pool. Think about that when next you swim. That and the fact that there is a big difference between peeing into the pool and peeing in the pool.

It’s good to bond with my fellow athletes.


What a difference a day makes. Well two days actually, because that’s how long it’s been since I publicly said my swimming goal  was to be able to swim 100 meters in 2 minutes 30 seconds by the end of June. Well clearly I didn’t give myself enough credit because today I managed to do it in 2 minutes and 5 seconds. You can imagine how chuffed I am about that. Chuffed but under no illusions about how far I still have to go, still it was a definite ‘click’ moment for me.

The difference in speed is that I have worked out where I was going wrong. In a steady rhythm swimming stroke your head is out of the water for a finite amount of time, in my case probably no more than 1.5 seconds. In that time you have to suck in as much air as possible to sustain you during the next series of strokes. You can’t suck in air if you are still breathing it out. My mistake was that I was holding my breath during the entire time my head was under water which meant that I had to get rid of the old air, as well as get fresh air in, all during a 1.5 second gap. It’s not possible, so by the end of each lap I had to stop to recover.

What I do now is so obvious. I breath out during the swim stroke and use the whole 1.5 seconds to get a good deep lungful of beautiful fresh air. How easy is that. And I worked it out myself.

My other revelation today was that I discovered my running is getting stronger. Near my house is a section of road that has soft sand and grass on one side of it and a tar sidewalk on the other. It is about 2.5 km long and pretty flat with probably no more than 60 meters elevation gain on the whole section. Tonight I ran all the way up the soft side while keeping up with an obviously fit runner who was using the hard sidewalk across the road.

By this time of the week I assumed I would be running out of puff. Tomorrow is a rest day.  Rest days are the days when I can sooth my legs and catch a total breather with no training of any kind allowed. Coach Claire will kill me if I even jump to a conclusion.

Pavement Triathlon

I don’t know which is harder. The training, or finding something interesting to add to the blog. Most of my ramblings aren’t fit for human consumption at the best of times, so they must stay locked away in my cranium, for fear of attracting new restraining orders. Occasionally some of it leaks out into my current thought process and makes me laugh at the most inappropriate of times, like when I am swimming. (No really. Try swimming and laughing at the same time. Let me know how that works out for you.)

I once had a laughing fit 30 meters under water on a wreck in False Bay. That was a riot of bubbles, big staring eyes and oxygen presure needles going rapidly anti clockwise, I can tell you. But mostly what I find funny is considered by most to be seriously inappropriate, so it has to stay internalised. Don’t for example take me to a funeral. Suffice to say, read the dress code instructions on funeral invitations very carefully. Somber, whilst being only 2 letters away from sombrero, is a world apart in tone.

All of the above preamble, means of course that I am only able to share with you the censored part of my conscious day. So here goes with today’s entry, and I warn you it’s a doozy.

I do have something that was almost spectacular to report today. I saw a new sport, Pavement Triathlon. I mean, did you ever? Well that’s what I first thought it was.

Anyway, I was walking down Main Road in Claremont this afternoon, and the wind was pumping like a petrol jockey an hour before a price increase. Walking towards me and leaning into the wind was a guy in classic triathlon biking pose. His arms were held together and thrust out in front of him as though resting on his aero bars, his head was down and he was peering forward from under his mop of hair like a man possessed. He was coming at me like there was no tomorrow, and I have to admit that I was impressed not only by his lack of embarrassment with the way he obviously looked like a prize tit, but also by his total buy-in to the Triathlon lifestyle and training regime.

Here’s a guy who never misses a chance to improve his aero technique I thought, so let me look closely and see what I can learn from him. Well I’ll tell you what I learnt.

If you are walking into a howling wind and want to send a Whatsapp at the same time, you have to assume a Time Trial biking pose because that keeps the phone in your line of sight while you simultaneously walk, type and miss the lamp posts. I felt so cheated I very nearly muttered under my breath at him.


Trial By Trail

This evenings torture was the first official run of my program. We assembled at Tokai Forest in very cold, wet and blustery conditions for a ‘trail’ run, IE the group would run and I would trail behind them. There were five of us plus Coach Claire’s cute little Jack Russell.

Claire probably weighs 40 kg after consuming a 10-course meal and no doubt runs up hills using the thermals to gently waft her way to the top in record time. The others all looked ready to take on the world and give it a good whipping. It was no surprise then when they started talking about a 5 minute per kilometer pace. At this point, it is probably worth mentioning that all these people have just finished IronMan while I, on the other hand, have only run 4 times this year and weigh 85 kilograms. I have come upon their kind before though and have found it is better to humour the antagonists and set my sights on smaller game. My revised target was to beat the dog. How hard could it be, its legs are only about 4 inches long and it wears a  little girly coat.

I assumed, as we were starting at the Chrysalis Academy that we would head off across the flat forests below the sports field to warm up. Silly me, I have a lot to learn about these strange IronMan people. We went upwards, 220 meters of altitude gain in 3.5 km worth of upwards. While the others took off like homesick angels, I waddled along like a ton of lard in their wake with my heart rate at 95% and yesterdays lunch threatening to make a dramatic reappearance. At one point the group disappeared into a bit of forest that I was not familiar with and I ended up tracking their footprints on the contour paths ’till we emerged once again onto the jeep track.

Once back on the forest roads I caught a view of the others in the far distance, the little doggie gallivanting around their feet then dashing into the bushes to investigate stuff and generally thumbing it’s wet, cold and disgustingly fit little nose at me.

The run only lasted 50 minutes yet I only started to feel human again some 2 hours later. I may be able to run, but I’m not yet a runner. IronMan? Perhaps only Aluminium Man at the moment.

This mornings swim was good though.

I Have Swum

I have swum, or is it swam?  Either way, I was in the pool for the first time this afternoon and it was a surprisingly positive experience.

Let me put my problem with swimming into perspective. More than a year ago, when I first dreamt that I could do IronMan, I realised that like most people I have a weakness when it comes to swimming . To solve this problem I went on a Total Immersion swimming course. On this course, they video you underwater at both the start and also the end of the 2 days of training. The idea is to show you how you have improved. I got worse.

In all fairness to Total Immersion I discovered today that some of the techniques and methodologies they teach have stuck in my brain and if I had kept at it and trained properly I may by now have been a reasonable swimmer.

Be that as it may, this afternoon I got into the pool for the first time since breaking my arm a year ago. It was still very stiff and creaky and the ball and socket joint made the most alarming popping sounds every time I rotated my shoulder to stroke.  10 Minutes of stretching solved that and I was off.

My brain repeated the mantras of TI swimming.  Head down and still. Look at the bottom of the pool. Rotate Hips. Draw arm up the side and let hand enter water next to your ear. Don’t kick to stay afloat. My body meanwhile ignored the teachings from the brain and went off down the pool in an uncoordinated orgy of arm and leg thrashing liberally interspersed with my lungs shipping copious amounts of water.

I had to stop if for no other reason than it was getting embarrassing.  Instead, I did a few laps of breaststroke to get my bearings while I regrouped.  The solution?  Use one of those floatation devices that you grip between your thighs to keep your aft end buoyant while you beat the water into submission with your arms. Here was progress. After over rotating a couple of times and ending up facing the roof,  I got into a good rhythm and was soon going up and down like a pro.  After 8 laps I ditched the buoyancy thingy and headed off on my own.  I did in the region of 16 laps like this (but wasn’t really counting being more concentrated on staying alive) and although I am nowhere near where I need to be in a years time, I feel l I have made a major psychological breakthrough.

Tomorrow morning is pool session 2. I am keen.