Thursday, July 05, 2007

On shibboleths

I had a funny minor adventure earlier this evening, it put me in kind of a good mood--I finally made it up to swim at the Olympic-size pool at Riverbank State Park.

My main observation is that it is very, very strange up there! Photographs would do it more justice than words, but let's just say that aside from the already disconcerting aspect of finding oneself basically out almost over the Hudson looking up east at the bluffs of upper Riverside Drive, there's a distinctly retro vibe--talk about artificial manmade landscape (the website says it's the only facility of its kind in the Western hemisphere, a 28-acre park on top of a sewage treatment facility...)--not to mention it's very weird being at a state park in Manhattan--made me think of my childhood in the 1970s and early 1980s. (It's not so much that the facility's from that era, I guess, as that you go to these places a lot more often when you're a kid? Made me think how glad I am not to be a child any more, I wasn't really a big fan of childhood at the time either!)

I swam a mile again, there's no doubt it's easily attainable now, also mentally much better to swim 30 lengths of a 50m pool rather than 60-some of a 25-yard one or, worse, a huge number of a 20-yarder (esp. given continuing lack of flip turns). Did 300m of kicking drills with board and fins before the pool closed. Though the website says it's $2/swim, I actually had to pay $20 for a one-month membership--even if I go only four times this month it's still probably worth it (well, plus subway fare--or the bus takes you right down into the park, which is just as well because it's a slightly weird walk otherwise), esp. compared to something loathsome like the (I'm not kidding) unbelievable $60 fee they charge at Chelsea Piers for one-day pool and fitness access. If I go to Monday-night post-Doug Stern swimming at John Jay, do one drill-oriented swim at Teachers College, one long swim at Riverbank and (if there's time) a fourth swim during some not horrendously crowded moment at the main Columbia one, I am well covered; and probably at this point I could back down to three rather than four weekly sessions if necessary.

Then afterwards I suddenly realized that actually once you're up to this distance it's not really hard to go quite a lot longer--here for instance is an eminently sensible description of how you build up over six months from one mile to the Ironman distance swim of 2.4 miles. Exciting!

(Don't worry--this is for my mother!--I know I can't do one of those for a long time still, but I like the idea that I'm making progress. In fact a large part of the appeal of this whole triathlon business is the notion of nibbling away at different parts of the job--better start nibbling a lot faster on the bike stuff, though! Strange to say I now feel in quite respectable shape for running and swimming--I need quite a bit of open-water practice, of course--I'm going to get my wetsuit later this week so that I have it to practice in for the open-water swim clinic next weekend--and I will need to keep racing 10Ks and half-marathons so that I can improve speed and start feeling really comfortable with those distances. But now the biking is the main obstacle to doing an actual race, and once I get to work on that I should be ready to go for late next spring or early summer.)

I've been obsessively reading loosely triathlon-related material in my spare time. Paula Radcliffe's autobiography is very good--read it if you're trying to get over an injury, she's injured all the time! Funny thoughts on various training manuals: I do like Joe Friel's Triathlete's Training Bible, which everyone recommends (i.e. the title does not oversell for once), but on the other hand it embodies a tendency that I absolutely disapprove of in my real-life work and don't think is really a good thing for triathletes either--which is to say an almost cult-like or esoteric adherence to terminology which rather than inviting outsiders in serves as a kind of shibboleth. I love reading triathlon-related blogs, they're very good fun, but it's sort of over the top the way people assume a shared vocabulary--for instance, the "A," "B" and "C" race--of course I understand that we all write and speak in various sorts of shorthand for convenience, but just like in literary criticism it seems to me worth trying to explain it afresh each time, in a non-jargon-related language, for the sake of augmenting one's own understanding of the purpose of these various activities.

Exemplary in this regard is a quite wonderful book called Daniels' Running Formula which I read the other night in the grip of compulsion--it's exactly what Friel's books are not--a manifesto for the need to understand why training should happen in a certain way rather than a call for the obsessive following of instructions that may in fact not apply. Great book--it's really about coaching rather than running, very apt.

I also read the famous but not-at-all-apropos-yet-in-my-life Pfitzinger Advanced Marathoning--very interesting, very alluring. I'm pretty sorry I'm not going to be doing some primitive and rudimentary marathoning this fall myself, but it's definitely the right thing not to, I've got to shake lingering post-stress-fracture muscle tightness before it will be a sensible thing to undertake. (Also, though professional discretion bids me write this in a fairly sardonic mode, had better first get tenure and/or another job!)


  1. I've got Joe Friel's Cyclist's Training Bible and agree that the title's not overstated -- I'm quite a believer and practically have the thing memorized ... but, oh boy, are those instructions complicated! There's no way I could follow his regimine exactly. I agree with your point about the importance of explaining terms -- I try to do that on my blog when I write about cycling, even if it feels repetitive.

  2. When I was 10 or so, I was pretty much completely obsessed with doing a triathalon in the Olympics (I don't think it even became an Olympic sport until 2000, when I was 17, but whatever). I was really into Chris Crutcher's novels Ironman and Stotan. I think he has one called Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, too, which is good. And then there was In Lane Three, Alex Archer, which was by someone else, but also very inspirational to my younger self! They're definitely all novels for Young People, but I still pull them off my shelf for a quick re-read, and I think you'd really like them. I'll send you a box when I'm back in AZ!

  3. Lynn, those books sound perfect! But are you not persuadable to do a triathlon with me sometime in the next couple years?!? We must do it!

  4. I feel quite exhausted after reading this post. Sorry to add a note of flippancy to such an admirable lifetsyle. Truly, I am lost in admiration.
    And yes, that 60 bucks a day is crazy!

  5. I'm a member at Chelsea Piers. Say you're my guest and it's $25-- or better yet, come with!

  6. I like the rhythm of long course swimming. That looks like a fascinating facility.

  7. One-of-a-kind things are often that way because folks find out that one is enough - or even too much! Really great that the place works for you.

    There's something almost self-defeating in writing: "esoteric adherence to terminology which rather than inviting outsiders in serves as a kind of shibboleth." Heck, you've just excluded a heap of folks who aren't up to that vocabulary level! ;-)

    Good references all.