Betty Ford Can’t Help Us

DC drivers are crap.  They can’t drive when faced with snowbanks and slush and shouldn’t be allowed to.  People who haven’t shoveled their sidewalks by this point should be fined or, preferably, shot.  Both my dogs are stupid and annoying.  I’m sick of the Olympics.  Who the hell does Shaun White think he is anyway?  A repeat gold medallist or something?

This, my friends, is what happens when you can’t exercise.  Or, more exactly, when you can’t exercise at the volume and intensity you are used to.  The advent and aftermath of the twin hits of Snowpocalypse and Snowmaggedon (which now merge together in my mind under the all-encompassing “I’m Snow over It”) have really taken their toll on me over the last couple of weeks.  And to judge from recent conversations, I’m not the only one.  Team workouts have been disrupted at the very least or in many cases canceled.   Exercising solo has been difficult due to pool and track closures, with unplowed streets making it difficult or in some cases impossible to get to even those venues that were open.  Even running around the neighbourhood has been a dicey proposition.

I’ve coped the best I could.  I managed to coordinate a small group bike spin last weekend in our home to keep us all honest.  I ran a 16 miler the next day–and although I took it very easy, because I hadn’t done any running for the entire previous week I felt like complete arse the next day.  Christ knows what the 20 miler on Sunday is going to feel like.  (Trying not to think about that).  I’ve made as many swim practices as I can (and, despite a horrific swim on Sunday where I felt as if I was drowning the whole time and was back in Week 1, there is some progress there to report: Tuesday saw my longest ever interval of 500 yards, and then yesterday I managed a seemingly impossible 800 yards.  I’m sure I looked like crap the whole time, but I’m encouraged).  All of this culminated yesterday in my attempt to get to spin class.  After I’d sat on Washington Boulevard for half an hour to go less than a mile, I turned around and went home.  In that kind of situation there are no good outcomes.  I could go home and feel like a quitter.  Or I could persevere and arrive half an hour late (at least) for spin and, assuming I could find a park (difficult even when there isn’t snow) I would have driven over an hour for a half hour session where I would spend the whole time feeling mightily pissed.  I chose to be a quitter.

We’re a long way out from the Ironman (although disturbingly close to the Rumpass races) so I’m not actually stressing about the missed workouts.  Sure, it will probably create problems for the Shamrock Marathon, but I’m not that invested in the race, so it’s fine.

If we lived in a climate where this kind of winter weather was the norm rather than a bizarre imposition, and where people had the equipment and mindset to cope, then Flygirl and I would probably have some other kind of winter training activities to which we could resort.  We both fell in love with cross-country skiing when we tried it last year.  And we would both love to give biathlon a go.  However, at the moment, the last thing you want to do is give me a gun.

See, the real problem, is my mood.  I’m incredibly grumpy.  Ok, more than usual, and often irrationally so.  I’m pissed off at anything and everything, ready to snap at the slightest provocation, and feeling like the entire world is out to get me.  Surprisingly, the one person I haven’t been waspish with (well, as I say, not any more than usual) is my Flygirl, but that may simply be because she’s sick at the moment and unusually pathetic; it would be like kicking a puppy.  My students have a major assignment due at the moment and I’m fighting a sense of impatience with some of them even though I know they are all doing their best with the very difficult task I’ve inflicted upon them.  I’m trying to channel the rage by attempting to conquer the world as the British in Empire: Total War but even that isn’t going well.  I’ve got the French and Spanish on a hiding to nowhere, but this upstart United States is giving me a lot of grief.  I’m working on a plan that involves opening a can of naval whup ass and reducing their entire merchant fleet to kindling and fleshy chunks but that is going to take time to come to fruition.  And maybe not in time to save the upper Mississippi.

The problem, I am forced to acknowledge, is that I’m a drug addict.  All multisport athletes are.  Like most addicts, you don’t realize what addiction really entails until your supply is withdrawn.  This isn’t over-dramatized hype: it is basic physiology.  Training several sports means that you are working out several times a week.  For an Ironman you are often working out two (or, God help me, three) times a day.  Your body is constantly saturated in endorphins and adrenaline.  The usual result of that is that while your body may be in a constant state of ache and pain, and may not infrequently feel as if some of your organs are about to fall out, you are suffused with a general feeling of psychological wellbeing.  (Of course, if you are already a Type A personality it seems to have the opposite effect.  It is like the Pax gas in the film Serenity: most of the population are rendered quiescent unto death, but a small percentage are turned into homicidal maniacs.  I’ve known a few triathletes who would have made excellent Reavers).  We multisport athletes are among the very best self-medicators out there.

But when that regular endorphin cascade is abruptly withdrawn, then life is, quite suddenly, shit.

Several veteran triathletes warned Flygirl about the the post-Ironman depression, the let-down that comes in part from having devoted yourself single-mindedly to an objective for the better part of a year, and then abruptly having the center of your life evacuated.  However the effect is also in part physiological; suddenly you are no longer doing all that heavy training and the endorphin spigot is turned off.  On the upside, therefore, the last couple of weeks have actually been an interesting taste of that and it has got me thinking about strategies to deal with that when the time comes.  Haven’t come up with anything yet, but when I do I’ll let you know.

However, there’s another reason for the black mood, another kind of addiction that is at play here.  As multisport athletes we’re physiologically addicted to the endorphin rush, but we’re psychologically dependent on routine.  Particularly for longer distance events, effective training is impossible without getting into a routine.  But the importance of routine for us is also that it gives us the illusion of freedom.  Unlike the routines we are forced to endure (serving our particular variant of the corporate overlord, subsuming our individuality for the sake of our families) the routines to which we submit as athletes give us the illusion of being self-selected.  We are all suddenly noble ascetics devoted to a higher calling.

When the routine is taken away, we’re suddenly, awfully, trapped in a room with ourselves.

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