Pataphysical Training

MPC-prescup-2010The first thing Julie told me was that “we all get in ruts in our training–and it is necessary to continue to challenge and adapt.” Exactly on target. Those ruts get deeper with time. Imagine that, as a man enters his seventieth year, he can change his mind and change his body.  I decided to train seriously.

My short-term goal was specifically to improve my cross-country ski racing. I have never been very fast, but as I thought, I had no reason not to go faster. I was training to be an endurance athlete, but I have the body of a sprinter. I know this from tests I have taken, but really, anyone who looks at me can see ample evidence. But the longer-term goal had to do with that rut.

I decided to call this program of challenge and adaptation, “pataphysical athletic training.” Pataphysics is said to be the science of particular laws governing exceptions. It is, to be precise, the science of imaginary solutions. Anyone who starts serious training at my age must surely consider himself an exception, and it is reasonable to suppose that he is seeking an imaginary solution. Yet this is no joke.

In this experiment with Julie, I wished to discover what I did not know about my body. I found myself also needing to empty my mind. The experiment continues. Further progress may follow—in one direction or another. Or else, beyond this training lies nothing.

However, it is one thing to engage a coach like Julie, and another to follow her instructions. At the very beginning, her “hip activation” and “trunk stability” exercises seemed nearly impossible to do because they violated the physics of my body as I have come to understand them.

Of course, I misunderstood these physics and misunderstood my body. These difficult exercises were, as I began to think about them, damned interesting, and I slowly began to see how they work. The “trunk stability” series focuses on what is called core strength, especially around the hips and butt: glute and abductor and adductor strength. As she put it, I should focus on good movements that built “a neutral pillar-like posture” and “to hold this posture with integrity thru duration of endurance activities.” The focus is on “strong, stable, balanced moves.” Well, you get the idea.

There is no substitute for a lot of hours and a lot of effort. I had not thought about my hips and butt so much before, and after only a couple weeks I became constantly aware of them. I also began to feel that I might be even be growing taller. My posture changed. I became more upright. I found my trunk more a part of my movement. I realized that I was, in fact, changing my body.

Julie provided more than a program. She engaged with me on a constant basis.  During this, the most demanding and the most intense training I have done in a long time, she expected me to report how I felt, what I could or could not do, and she responded with solutions, with personal experience, and with encouragement.

The shape of our communication had many important conventions. She wanted to know certain things—some she acquired with a questionnaire, and some came up on a day-to-day or weekly basis. Though she was attentive to my perceptions, I needed to decide how I responded to my training. I am sure there are many things she does not want to know about me. But she did what I could not do, follow my day-to-day work and plan for my future, working toward the goals I hoped to achieve, especially performing well at certain races.

I sometimes wondered whether I was on an edge. Indeed, what I learned is that training is about finding that edge and holding it, and then pushing it. (It is not like I never knew this before: I had misspent my youth in the 1960s as a rock climber.) Still, I began to wonder whether this project might change me more than I had imagined.  Though I was often tired in the afternoon, I recovered by the next day. It seemed a miracle that in four months of intense training I became neither sick nor injured.

Nevertheless, what I did on a daily basis is no fiction: training is real work that tests mental acuity as much as physical abilities.  Given my personal situation—or anyone’s—training must combine creation and discovery. I must create a different way to think of my body, or create a different body, or perhaps recover something I have lost. Every change should make me better, and reveal my self to me. But also, training is, by definition, an inductive process, that reveals strengths and limitations of any athlete, by attempting to alter them.

Ah fatigue. For an English Professor like me, sometimes Western civilization seems like a long history of ennui. To speak of fatigue and ennui, annoyance, lassitude, boredom. The secret to pataphysical training is to prevent the athlete from becoming comfortably bored. Whenever he seems to be “getting it,” Julie changes it, by adding new exercises, or activities, increasing resistance, the length or intensity of intervals, and/or the number of repetitions. Always, the insistent focus on form.

Which comes first, technique or strength? If only it were so simple. The first rule for technical proficiency is to pay attention. Watch your shadow, she says. Video analysis, she suggests. But mostly it is a matter of paying attention.

Unfortunately, attention wanes with physical exhaustion. So the path to technique leads through strength. We all know this, though scarcely admit it, or do anything to remedy the problem. What people imagine as “balance,” turns out to be the direct result of physical strength.

In the same way that balance turns upon muscular strength, so too, technique depends upon resources too many to name. Apparently, training calls for rethinking and remaking, examining many aspects of the way to use a body, mental and physical, and learning new (or forgotten) habits, mental and physical.

Call it agility training. Call it anything you want. It starts with static exercises and then moves on to dynamic exercises. It is an amazing experience.

Makeover at the Movies

There’s been a pregnant pause since I’ve updated this picaresque series of posts intended to depict my athletic rebirth: shhhhh…can you hear it?

Remember, I had fallen into disrepair. I was sitting too much and moving too little. I’d fallen down on the job of staying fit, and I’d vowed to turn my life around…but I’ve failed to provide the promised bi-monthly reportage of the journey.

C’mon, Brad! What’s the dealio?

The dealio is that I’ve been thinking of you, dear reader. Seriously, there’s an art to writing these comeback kid narratives, and I struggle to post when there’s little to report. I’m sparing you from the kind of drivel that would have you dropping me like a fedora-wearing hipster riding his fixie up the Eastern Sierra’s Onion Valley Road:

“I came, I ran and I crushed. I did everything my coach asked me to do this week. Feeling great! More of the same next week. Thinking about buying a pair of not-so-minimalist running shoes. Can’t wait to fill you in next Friday.”

Yawn, gap and stretch. And if I didn’t care so much about my readers’ user experience, that’s the kind of narrative I’d deliver, even if it were perfectly true (which it isn’t). So I’m attempting to shape these posts into an arc, a yarn, a tale, a chronicle, a missive that’s neither too tall nor too small. Namely, a story that’s compelling enough to keep you reading when you really should be getting back to that report your boss has asked you to deliver by the end of the day, or that dear yelping child pulling on the hem of your running shorts, or that Pinarello Dogma 65.1 you’ve got tucked under the sheets on the barren side of your California king.

Double-Indemnity1-e1395088479189Question: what do The Wizard of OzStar WarsRepo Man and Son of Flubber have in common? Why, the hero’s journey, of course. To wit: An everyperson falls into an accidental adventure that morphs into a redemptive quest to capture the boon and to bring it back to share with the world. (Almost as heroic as Fred MacMurray’s career arc, which took him from the film noir classic Double Indemnity (1944) to The Absent-Minded Professor(1961) and its sequel,Flubber (1963). What was poor Fred’s boon? I’ll get back to you on that one.)

My point is that everyone appreciates a well-told everyman’s tale, as long as the highs aren’t too high and the lows aren’t too low. At the same time, who wants to read about the Übermensch who’s just killing it every week, and has gone from doughboy to heart-lung machine in a month’s time, outpeddling guys who ride 7,500 miles a year? Incipient admiration would morph into envy, which would funnel into hatred.

Even my alter ego would quit reading this blog.

On the same token, who would willingly consume the chronicles of a total loser – say, the story of a guy who reports each week that he’s failed to perform the Pilates program his brilliant coach, Julie Young of O2 Fitness, designed for him well over a month ago. Ahem.

Finally, there’s little demand for a colloquy without a crisis, and thus far, that’s precisely what this “story” is, because we’ve yet to nail the stakes to any kind of adventure that might prove the story’s climax. Or anti-climax. Or something from which a denouement might flow.

Enough. I’ll come out with the truth: I totally fell down on the job last week. I missed four workouts. I consumed two cans of Pringles and swilled a bottle of Squirt. I was stressed, spent and dealing with the kind of stuff that made working out seem trivial.

Can you relate, mate?

Here’s my learning: One day’s break: fine. Two consecutive days? Well, all right, take them if you must. Three consecutive days of inactivity? Not recommended when you’ve spent most of the past two years practicing slouchdom. Four days of sitting around? Well, you might as well go back to start, because here come the butter-toffee macadamia nuts and Cherry Coke.

The good news is that I pulled myself out of the sewer – again! – and put in 4.5 hours of training on the weekend – just what Julie slated on our Training Peaks package. Despite the Pringles and old-fashioned chocolate donuts (forgot to mention those), I’ve lost five pounds. My pudge pockets are not quite as evident when I’m riding in the drops of my road bike, and my chest doesn’t jiggle (as much) when I run. I undoubtedly have more strength and endurance than I did a month ago. And after jumping back on the horse this weekend, I actually feel better than I have in a long while.

Now – for that grand ordeal. What should it be?

Run? Hike? Climb? Peddle? Paddle? It has to be an endurothon, it should take place in a wilderness-ish setting (big mountain road bike riding is fair game, too). I’d like to stay in the Sierra Nevada or beyond. It can last more than a day. Should take place in August or September. No formal races.

Email me at brad (at) sustainableplay (dot) com with your thoughts.

Your fantasy adventure might well become my own. If I select your idea, you’ll become the feature of a blog post. Imagine that!

Team City Junior Skills and Race Clinic

I was bowled over by the enthusiastic, outstanding participation for the first Team City Skills and Race Clinic – a series that will progress from basic to more advanced handling skills and race tactics. The kick-off clinic was dominated by the Team City Juniors, ranging in age from 8-16years, with 20-strong.  The juniors sharpened their skills in preparation for their first race this Saturday at the Landpark crit. They are certified primed and ready for race action!

As a 12-year US National A-team and professional cyclist, I realized successful racing is the result of physical prowess, intelligent training, mental calm and composure,  skilled bike handling and intuitive tactics. It is a pleasure to share my 12-years of knowledge and successful race teamcityjunior

We called it a day once talk of pizza and ice cream eclipsed focus on tactics and cornering technique. Keep it concise, fun and let them leave wanting more!

Below is an outline of the day’s clinic…

Off-bike chalk talk discussion

  • Bike fit
    • Saddle width
    • Height; fore/aft
    • Joint health – locked position, extended periods, repetitive
    • Power production – muscle recruitment around pedal stroke
    • Weight distribution – majority saddle, light on bars
    • Posture
      • Saddle support
      • Trunk main point of stability
        • Sound base/leverage to generate to extremities


  • Light in elbows/arms/hands
    • Steering thru the saddle
    • Relaxed elbows – more nimble response, less over-reaction/stiff response
    • Overview of on-bike session
      • Cornering – translates to descending
      • Basic skills – individual critique
        • On-bike posture
        • Good line – use momentum vs kill it
          • Smooth, round apex
      • Calm,  composed, relaxed
      • Scan corner to determine – camber, road surface debris
        • Commit and trust
      • Speed, apex, camber – determine inside pedal down, or pedal thru it
      • Look where you want to go – surface and exit
  • More advanced
    • Depending on speed and apex
      • Counter steering
        • Body weight out over the wheels, weighting
  • Group up in twos  then transition to groups of four
    • Enter cornering together
      • Handle bar first controls corner
      • Take turns leading out in to corners
        • Faux finish line
        • Corner Transition in to uphill
          • Gearing
  • Pack Riding
    • Position – where to be, when to be
    • Maneuvering within group
    • Wrap-up/Q and A