Sunday, May 29, 2011

Say Yes to the Stress

After a long day at the office—because, you know, I have one of those now—there is no better way to relieve stress than heading to the gym for a little hardcore fitness action.

But I have to say, evening gym-goers are hella-intimidating compared to the mid-morning retiree crowd that I typically ran into back in my days of extended unemployment.

Everyone has just gotten off work, and by the time they make it to the gym, they’re tired, angry, starving and stressed. Their patience is wearing thin, which is why they generally employ a “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” style of working out.

So when you rack the bench press after your final set, they will not tolerate the seconds-long break you take before finally standing up and stripping your weights.

Also, no matter what machine they happen to be on, you can bet they are using it as a substitute stress ball. In my highly professional and scientifically-sound opinion, at least 95% of all user-inflicted damage to gym equipment occurs between the hours of 5 and 9 p.m.

The other day, for instance, I saw some guy throw—not just drop, but actually launch in a forward projectile motion—a 60-pound free weight dumbbell. As it smacked the ground and sent a palpable shockwave through the rubberized flooring, the guilty exerciser—a thirty-something behemoth with a shaved head and a dark, perfectly-manicured goatee—yelled, “Aaaaaaahhhhhhggggggggrrrrruuuuuuhhhhhhhmmmmmm!!!!”

I was the only other person in the room, which made for an instantly awkward situation. I couldn’t just pretend like nothing happened. This guy was obviously under extreme emotional duress.

I thought about casually walking up to him and saying something like, “Rough day at the office, huh?”

Ultimately, I decided that when it comes to stress-ridden ogres with goatees, any form of social interaction could be a real gamble. Instead, I hit him with an emotionally neutral look that said, “If you want to chuck weights around the room, go right ahead. I totally understand where you’re coming from, and I will make no attempt to stop you because you are uncommonly large and brutish.”

The abuse of gym equipment is not limited to weight stations—cardio machines are equally at risk.

On this same occasion, there was a middle-aged woman power-walking on the treadmill directly in front of the elliptical machine I was using. I peered over her shoulder and saw that she was watching an episode of Say Yes to the Dress.

I don’t know if it was a particularly intense episode or if she had other things on her mind, but either way, she was walking the hell out of that poor treadmill. She had the front handle bar in a white-knuckled death grip as she violently swiveled her hips from side to side and stomped her feet against the belt with each hostile step.

At first, I was totally annoyed. I had my iPod turned up as loud as it could go without causing serious hearing impairment, and I could still hear her cross-trainers slapping the platform. Eventually, though, I was able to sync my breathing pattern with the rhythm of her unnecessarily heavy foot strikes.

Our symbiotic exercise relationship lasted over thirty minutes. At the end, we were both more fit and less stressed. As an added bonus, I’m pretty sure Jennifer from New Jersey ended up finding her dream wedding gown.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Just kidding around

This past weekend, I celebrated another milestone of hasbeendom: I attended a fun run as a—gasp—spectator.

Well, I was actually covering the event for the soon-to-be-Pulitzer-winning-publication by which I am currently employed, but still—I woke up early on a Saturday morning to go watch people run when I am, myself, perfectly healthy and capable of completing a 5K.

I even wore jeans. Jeans!

I felt awkwardly insecure in my virgin voyage into the “other” side of the racing experience. It was like stepping into a fitness-themed episode of the Twilight Zone. What was I doing interviewing other people about their races? My world felt terribly off balance.

After the runners took off, I wandered aimlessly around the starting area, unsure of what to do until they got back. Stupidly, I had left my cell phone in the car, so I was unable to engage in my signature uncomfortable-situation-mitigation maneuver—fake texting.

I moseyed over to the post-race snack table, where piles of bananas and granola bars awaited hungry finishers—because come on, wouldn’t you be completely famished after running an WHOLE 5K?

Suddenly feeling a bit parched, I reached out for a Gatorade but instantly retracted my hand as I realized that this was the first road race I’d ever attended where I was not entitled to partake in the complimentary food and beverages.

Just as I was beginning to think there was nothing worthwhile about this race—at least as far as I was concerned—the kids started trickling in.

Only they didn’t really trickle—they full-on sprinted. Every last one of them. Some had probably walked the other 4.95 kilometers, but damn it if they weren’t going to have their 30 seconds of fame over the last 50 yards.

I chuckled as I thought about how awesome it would be if it were acceptable for adults to employ the same racing strategy. I bet I would enter a lot more races if I jogged everything but the homestretch.

In fact, when—scratch that—if I finally attempt my first-ever 10K this summer, I’m going to keep this plan, which I have named the Imbalanced Pacing Strategy, in mind as a go-to alternative if things start to go sour.

I consider it an exaggerated form of negative-split racing, which in my book makes it completely legit.

And hey, maybe I’ll finally have a race finish photo where I look cute and happy.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Toe woe

We’ve cracked 60 degrees for, like, the third time this month, which pretty much means it’s official: spring has sprung.

In most respects of my daily life, this is a good thing. I don’t have to warm up my car in the morning, which shrinks my carbon footprint. I can run in shorts and t-shirts, so I—and by I, I mean my mom—don’t have as much laundry to do. My arms and legs are finally seeing the light of day again, which means I can start making up for eight months’ worth of vitamin D deficiency.

But as I was heading out the door the other day in my—and by my, I mean my mom’s—usual pair of Dansko clogs, I noticed a long-dormant phenomenon occurring in and around my lower extremities.

My feet were hot. And sweaty.

I felt a sharp twinge in my stomach as I came to a sudden, uncomfortable realization. It was that time of year again—the one I start dreading from the moment I see the first absurd-yet-catchy Old Navy flip-flop ad of the spring: sandal season.

Most people dread warm weather because it means they can no longer hide their beer guts and love handles beneath multiple layers of bulky coats and Dr. Huxtable sweaters. Panicked, they go on a total gym binge in a last-ditch effort to look semi-presentable in a pair of swim trunks.

Most runners do not have this problem. While other, more normal Americans have spent the winter months sipping Irish coffees and hot buttered rums by the fire (OK, OK—we’ve done our fair share of that too), we’ve been running our butts off on the treadmill/risking our lives jogging on snow-and-ice covered roads.

So while our non-running friends and family members cower in the corner at the mere thought of swimsuit shopping, we fret over thongs of a different kind—at least I do.

You see, I have ugl—er, aesthetically challenged feet. Much of the problem—calluses, black toenails and the like—is the direct result of my running habit. But some of it—like the unsightly bone deformity—is genetic. (Thanks, Dad.)

For most of the year, I am able to safely hide my “condition” beneath layers of thick socks, shoes, and/or Ugg boots (which are like Dr. Huxtable sweaters for feet).

But since I’m neither Pamela Anderson nor Miley Cyrus (thank God), I can’t really pull off the whole Uggs-with-shorts look. A cute pair of shorts demands a cute pair of sandals.

For me, adding sandals to any warm-weather ensemble yields a result similar to Bud Light Lime (i.e. taking a perfectly good product and ruining it by adding something totally disgusting).

“Why don’t you just get a pedicure?” my friends ask me.

Yeah…I did that once. Before removing my socks, I desperately tried to explain to the Vietnamese pedicurist that I was a competitive runner, because I didn’t want her to think my feet were that repulsive on their own. She smiled and nodded, which made me feel a little less self-conscious.

Then she turned to another pedicurist and said something in Vietnamese, after which both women began laughing hysterically. I was 99.9 percent certain they were making fun of my feet. Not cool.

So for the time being, I’ve resorted to shopping for styles that provide partial coverage to the most noticeably irregular region of my feet—my oddly angled big toe and the jutting bone beneath it.

In well-lit social situations, I avoid wearing thong flip-flops or thin-strapped sandals, opting instead for peep-toe pumps or wedges. I stay away from bright colors that might draw the eye downward. Also, the sole must be wide enough to prevent lateral big-toe spillover.

With such particular criteria, my choices are limited, to say the least. I have yet to come up with a better solution, but I’m definitely open to suggestions. And no, becoming a hobbit is not a viable option.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The graph is always greener

It’s funny how life works. One day, you’re unemployed and drawing Excel graphs about your comically lame existence. Next thing you know, you have a job and you’re so pressed for time that you find yourself actually reading those Runner’s World articles about how to squeeze a quality workout into your half-hour lunch break.

(By the way, those articles are total crap. The people who write them are obviously unfamiliar with the concept of personal hygiene. Am I supposed to work the remainder of the afternoon smelling like stale tater tots and looking like Britney Spears while she was still dating Kevin Federline? I mean, hello, I’m going to need a little more than 30 minutes if I’m going to change clothes, work out, go home, shower, get dressed and get back to the office. Moist towelettes and Febreeze just don’t cut it for me, especially in the summer time.)

Anyway, now that I’m a functional member of society instead of a deadbeat burden to my family and my country, I’ve found that my newfound obligations as a semi-responsible employee have seriously encroached on my fitness activities—not to mention my reality TV habit and my nightly wine-tasting routine.

I felt it would be both timely and appropriate for me to provide you all with a graphical update that better reflects my new status as a gainfully employed adult. So here you go:

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Almost doesn't count

I would like to share with you all an actual race ad from my local newspaper:

There are a lot of active people in Montana, and most road races attract a decent field of runners. I suspect the organizers of this particular event, however, might experience some trouble in getting a good turnout.

If you can’t figure out why, I will demonstrate using the following hypothetical conversation:

Runner Guy 1: Hey dude, want to run a race next weekend?

Runner Guy 2: Maybe. What kind of race?

Runner Guy 1: An almost-12K.

Runner Guy 2: A what?

Runner Guy 1: An almost-12K. You know, like 12,000 meters, minus a few.

Runner Guy 2: Ummmmm…how am I supposed to target my training for a made-up race distance?

Runner Guy 1: Well…

Runner Guy 2: Also, how would I post that kind of PR to my profile? I would get totally called out.

Runner Guy 1: Good point. I guess we should probably hold out for a race with a more legit distance.

Runner Guy 2: My thoughts exactly.

In my estimation, such feelings of reluctance would not be limited to veteran racers. Even running newbies would likely hesitate to venture into uncharted waters of road racing. Consider, for example, the following scenario:

Newbie 1: Hey, do you want to run a race next weekend? It’s a school fundraiser, so it should be fairly low-key.

Newbie 2: Sounds like it could be fun. How far is it?

Newbie 1: Almost 12K.

Newbie 2: Huh?

Newbie 1: You’ve never heard of that distance before?

Newbie 2: No, have you?

Newbie 1: No, I just assumed it was a normal distance since it was printed that way in the race ad.

Newbie 2: I don’t know…I’ve only been getting Runner’s World for a few months, but I don’t recall seeing a “How to train for your first almost-12K” article. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable racing a new distance without a step-by-step guide.

Newbie 1: Good call. Let’s wait for that 10K in June.

For the record (mom), it is neither “fun” nor “cute” to use inexact distances for organized racing events. I don’t care that it is a family fun-run. I don’t care that it is a small-scale event. I don’t care that it is a fundraiser for an elementary school. What kind of example are we setting for those grade-school kids? Next thing you know, they’re going to be filling in answers like “almost 17” on their multiplication table tests for problems that read “4 x 4” or “2 x 8”.

So for future reference, if you are designing a racecourse and your measuring wheel comes up a bit short, don’t slap an “almost” in front of your intended distance and call it good. Push back the start and/or finish line. Add a second lap around the playground. Make the park loop a bit wider. I don’t care how you do it, but this “almost” business is unacceptable, and if left unchecked could quickly get out of control. Before you know it, the entire road race system will be compromised and you’ll start seeing ads for “almost-marathons.”

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sound track

Back in my high school track days, there were two voices I could always hear above the noise of the crowd during a race: my coach’s and my mom’s.

In honor of Mother’s Day, I would like to share a story with all of you. It involves my mom, a camcorder and the 800 meters.

Now, my mom is a football coach’s wife, which means she’s had plenty of practice in the art of obnoxious cheering. Over the years, she has developed a superb yelling voice that carries for miles and can be heard above even the most rambunctious of football crowds.

In general, track and field fans aren’t pegged as a particularly rowdy bunch, but my mom always wanted to make sure I could hear her shouting my name over the masses. Especially when I was right on the heels of a distance stud who had a national title to her name and had never lost a race on Montana soil.

It was a nail-biter that came down to the last fifty meters. With 200 to go, I surged ahead, thinking I was about to hand a freaking Montana running legend her first loss inside state boundaries—on her home track, no less.

I heard my mom screaming for me all the way down the homestretch, but in the end my premature move came back to bite me in the tukkis. My competitor lurched ahead of me just before the finish line, and my dreams of statewide running glory were dashed against the rocks.

Still, it was my most exciting race to date, and I couldn’t wait to go home and watch it on film.

My mom was always good about filming my big races despite the fact that she suffers from an acute lack of cinematic photography skills. When she really put her focus into it, she usually did a decent job. But sometimes she got so wrapped up in the action that she completely forgot that the camera was, in fact, rolling. This was one of those times.

Here’s a short synopsis of her footage from this particular race:

Starting gunshot to 200 meters (video): Grainy and shaky, head and body appear in frame sporadically.

Starting gunshot to 200 meters (audio): “Let’s go Brooooookkkkeee!” [Loud but controlled, with the occasional “That’s it!” added in for good measure.]

200 meters to 400 meters (video): Bits and pieces of my moving legs are occasionally visible between infield spectators.

200 meters to 400 meters (audio): “Stay with her Brrroooooooooookkkkeee! Looking goooooooooooodddd!” [Voice growing increasingly shrill, with lots of high-pitched “woooooooooos” added in.]

400 meters to 650 meters (video): Quick, repeated aerial motion shots of grass in sync with arm-pumping as camera handler sprints across infield to better view race action.

400 meters to 650 meters (audio): “Ahhhh! Brooke, you’re right theeeeerrrrreeee! Go get heeerrrrrrrr! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” [Pitch approaching hearing range beyond human capability.]

650 meters to 800 meters (video): More grass and shoe shots with brief finish line shot from behind.

650 meters to 800 meters (audio): Cheering devolves into indiscernible, unintelligible words such as, “Goooooaaaawwwwwhhhiigggggeerrissssiieeeeeee!!!!!”

Back then, it was somewhat disappointing to see my extremely out-of-focus head moving across the bottom tenth of the frame as the camera dialed in on the stadium lights across the track. Now I wouldn’t trade it for all the YouTube sensations in the world.

I mean, I know how the race went—I did run it after all. But while I was running, I only got to hear little snippets of my mom’s earsplitting two-minute-and-seventeen-second shriek-fest. (Yep, I even remember what my time was. Sick, right?)

Now that her vociferous cheerleading performance has been permanently captured for all of posterity, I can go back anytime I want and reminisce about how truly awesome she was (and is).

Happy Mother’s Day, mom. And thanks for cheering.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Yeah, that haPenned

Last weekend, while the rest of the nation’s cable stations were totally consumed by royal wedding recap, ESPN2 cashed in on a prime opportunity to televise a track and field meet without anyone noticing.

But since I couldn’t have cared less about whether Princess Eugenie’s headpiece indeed qualified as a hat, I was tuned into coverage of the Penn Relays.

I’m sure most of you were much too wrapped up in the debate over Pippa’s bronzy glow—was it real or was it fake?!?—to have caught the broadcast of this historic institution of track and field. Here’s the rundown of important things you missed.

My observations from the Penn Relays:

1.) You know that TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? It’s the one you’ve probably heard of lots of times but never actually watched. Well, I was shocked to see that, in stark contrast to the hailstorm going on outside my living room window, it really was sunny in Philadelphia. A spring track meet with pleasant weather? Hah! Imagine that!

2.) There were a lot of dudes in spandex unitards. I’m talking long sleeves and long tights combined into a single, full-body fashion fail. These skin-tight stretch suits appeared especially frightening in solid Texas Longhorn orange.

3.) Several track event winners, especially the professionals, raised their arms in victory upon crossing the finish line. Admittedly, I’m no elite athlete, but come on—who has that kind of energy after winning a highly competitive race at such a prestigious meet? I think lifting one’s arms at the end of any race longer than 200 meters should be grounds for automatic drug testing.

4.) This actually has nothing to do with the meet, but during a commercial break I saw some ESPN ad about how John Heisman was such an innovator of football because he invented the forward pass. So I got to thinking, if all you have to do to be considered an “innovator” of your sport is make up a new rule, I should really quit wasting my time blogging about running and instead start innovating. Here are a few ideas I came up with during a preliminary brainstorming session: combining “track” with “field” (i.e. the 3,000-meter hammer-throw, in which contestants would repeatedly throw and chase their implements over a total distance of 3,000 meters); spicing up less-interesting events (i.e. the 5K and 10K) with contact elements like slide tackles and jousting; adding a diving board at the end of the long jump runway and replacing the sand pit with a miniature swimming pool or Jacuzzi.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On your mark, get sweat, go

If you’re one of the five people who have been reading this blog regularly for the past few months—or one of the countless exercisers who have had the misfortune of using the treadmill next to mine—you know that I have a severe sweating problem.

I’ve been unavoidably flecking my excess perspiration on fellow gym-goers for years—ever since I came to the conclusion, following extensive cost-benefit analysis, that running on a treadmill is a better winter exercise option than the outdoor alternative. Running on the icy roads of rural Montana simply isn’t worth the risk of broken bones and/or frostbite.

I was unaware, however, that there was an actual term for this phenomenon. That is, until I came across an interesting link on one of my new favorite blog sites,

After reading this article, I realized that my current protocol for dealing with my overactive sweat glands is all wrong. My mantra of “absorb, absorb, absorb” should be replaced by “deflect, deflect, deflect.” I should forgo sweat towels, portable fans and SweatWow products; instead, I should use my natural talent for sweat production to my advantage. In short, I should adopt the highly effective gym tactic known as “defensive sweating.”

Over the years, I have inadvertently tested the effectiveness of this maneuver on several occasions. My conclusion? It works.

I have found it to be particularly effective when combined with an Accessory Sweat-Flecking Mechanism, or ASFM. Examples include loose jewelry, ponytails, headphone cords or mullets.

Using the force of kinetic energy transferred from the motion of the runner, such mechanisms propel sweat droplets much farther than they would travel on their own.

For example, in an incident that took place at my local athletic club approximately six weeks ago, I unknowingly utilized the tactic of defensive sweating to force another exerciser off of the treadmill adjacent to mine. I knew he had probably vacated the area to avoid being sprinkled with my perspiration, which was flying off my iPod cord faster than nonsensical words fly out of Charlie Sheen’s mouth. At the time, I was left feeling more embarrassed than triumphant.

After reading the article, though, I’ve begun to see defensive sweating as an outlet for competitive urges I can no longer satisfy with weekly competition. It really is the perfect contest for me—no one beats me at sweating. No one.

Plus, leaving the gym feeling like a sweaty winner rather than a sweaty freak has done wonders for my self-esteem.