Friday, September 28, 2012

I Think that Monkey's Trying to Tell Me Something

Recently, I was involved in an instant message exchange that went something like this:

Yeah, pretty good.

Now I'm no expert in communication. I botch things up a lot too. However, while others may leave stuff out, my verbose flag defaults to "on". I say too much.  So in the above case, I may have responded to Shim's similar question with: "Yes, I think so, but I'm in a meeting right now in conference room 1401 and I am unsure when it will be adjourned. Also, I brought my mountain bike. You may want to go ahead without me since you'll be on a road bike. Have fun, be safe."

Shim's probably right. My response might be overkill.

All forms of communication involves abstract thinking. It's amazing that the sounds that come from squeezing air through the larynx is understood as expressed thought. And it's so effortless. We do it without even trying.

Written communication is even more abstract.  It's mind boggling to think that the letters we clob together express our thoughts. Words are very powerful. One must be very careful in choosing the words that come out of their mouth. Otherwise, you may end up with a mouthful of teeth.

Lately, the trend has been moving even further away from whole words to simple scripting. For example, everyone knows what lol means. Our phones carry emoticons (smiley faces) on them. Apple's iPhone even has a full keyboard dedicated toward them called emoji.
Here's one such string of emoji recently sent from Leah to Lucas. See if you can figure it out before reading the solution:

Apparently, that string of emoji translates to "come join us at the Crescent Moon for Octoberfest beers after work."

Wow, that's right-brained!

When I asked Leah how Lucas responded, she showed me something like this:

Oh boy, that's TMI, Lucas. Translating that may be unsafe for work.

So basically, it's come to this:

The Rise and Fall of Communication 
by Wholesome Steel-Cut Goodness

It all started with squawking noises. Think Kubrick's 2001 A Space Oddessy:

Over time, the apes refined their nonverbal communication skills. Body language and simple gesturing evolved from the squawking. Language and the oral tradition followed. Next came the cave drawings, the pictographs and hieroglyphics. These eventually morphed into abstract letters and words. Finally, after eons, the Kings James Bible was expressed, marking the high-point of human culture.

But since then, it's been a downward spiral. I'm sorry to say it, but humanity's heading toward a second dark ages. See for yourself: the language used to express the great works of literature has been eroding. In place of William Shakespeare's Hamlet is a 140 character Twitter block. For Tolstoy or Fitzgerald? How about Facebook's "like" symbol?

Soon it will all be over but the shouting.

Until then, I'll be brushing up on my emoji. Here's one for my buddy Shim:


Friday, September 21, 2012

1200 Repeats YPG

"You got this one, Brady?"


The past three minutes of active recovery have barely managed to bring my heart rate under control. I approach the line, glancing down at my watch to ensure it's been reset from the previous interval. My thumb drifts over the stop/start button as I look over my shoulder to see if the others are ready.

It's go time. I flick the start button with a few quick kicks to launch off the line.

The legs feel great. There's snap in them as they turn over quickly, almost effortlessly. Arms tucked in and pumping. Chest up, shoulders back, head in alignment. There's a little bit of headwind as we round the first corner. Stride lengthens imperceptibly into the straight away.

We breeze through the 200m mark. I check the watch: 39 seconds. A good start.

Tail wind on the second half of the first of three turns around the track. Heart rate trending upward.

The second checkpoint comes at 400 meters: 78 seconds. Right on the mark.  One lap down, two to go.

The middle 400 meters of 1200m repeats requires the most courage. With a rate of perceived exertion already 17 of 20, and two laps remaining, I'll need that courage.

The distance ahead burdens the mind. My inner voice speaks up: fortitude.

The 600m checkpoint comes and goes.  1 minute 57 seconds. Solid.

Breathing has become shallow and rapid. Heart rate still rising, and likely near 185 bpm. RPE definitely 18. The springy feeling has left the legs, but the form hasn't.

It's taken about two months to get to this point.

The last time I did any sort of racing was at the Masters Swimming Long Course National Championships in early July. Before that was the state cycling road race in June. With local road racing over, I started running again.

Since that time, I still swam and biked. But from July 10th until this past Tuesday, I also averaged 1.5 runs per week. Tuesday nights at Westside's track with Team Nebraska Triathletes were my mainstay. The other times I ran were 6 to 8 mile pace runs every other weekend.

At the 800m checkpoint, the chronograph shows 2:37.  My heavy foot falls and labored breathing are syncopated against those behind me.

Running is a unique blend of mental and physical pain. It hurts in different ways than cycling. Running pain is more intense than cycling. But when you blow up in running, you're done. In cycling, when you blow up, you may be able to sit-in and recover, allowing you to push and blow up again. Repeat, etc... In general, bike pain is less intense, but more frequent.  Pick your poison.

At 1000m checkpoint, I deny a look to the watch. Only a half of a lap to go. Though the quads are burning and I'm gasping for breath, it's Gump time.

It's this exact moment why running is exhilarating. Somehow, at this point, the mind and body agree on a common goal to get me across that finish line as quickly as possible. A metamorphosis ensues. My legs are refreshed with springy new life. Pain dissipates from the body.  Euphoria passes over me like the first cool breeze after a long hot summer. It feels like taking flight.

As I cross the finish line, I flick the stop button on the watch and gulp in mouthfuls of sweet air.

3 minutes, 52 seconds. Not bad for a 1200 meter repeat.

Yeah, pretty good.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Yeah, Pretty Good

Takashi was from Japan. He lived in the dorm room next to my brother Matt at the University of Missouri. Takashi was studying organic chemistry or molecular biology or something scientificy like that. He was a whiz in maths and sciences.

Having a grasp of the English language was another thing altogether. For starters, Takashi had never studied English before coming to USA. Another issue was the trouble of pronunciation. Particularly troublesome is the letter "L", which ends up sounding like an "R". eg, "See you in the lobby' could come out as "See you in the robby."

Initially, Matt was unaware of the language gap. Takashi was simply a good faker. When spoken to, Takashi would nod his head in agreement. When called upon, he'd answer smartly with his go-to phrase,"yeah, pretty good."

Takashi must have practiced pronouncing that phrase -- yeah, pretty good -- over and over until he had it locked down. His diction was neat, but not too precise. He had good tone and inflection. He even used a slight pause to emphasize the interjection, "yeah."

Some of their early exchanges went like this.

"Hey Takashi, that was a hard organic chemistry test today. How it go?"

"Yeah, pretty good."

Another exchange might have gone:

"You see that football game? That was HUGE!"

"Yeah, pretty good."

But it was only a matter of time before Matt starting suspecting something else was up.  Like, after a particularly difficult exam in which the top score on the bell curve was an appalling 61%, Matt asked how Takashi did.

"Yeah, pretty good."

Or, after seeing Takashi choke down an awful Salisbury Steak at the dorm's cafeteria...

"Yeah, pretty good."

Of course. Those three words. Whether good news or bad, Takashi would go with that mantra. In fact, Takashi repeated it so often that Matt began to second guess if he was using it as a language crutch, or as a maxim of life.  Like, no matter what was dished at him, Takashi was going to take it all in stride and say life was still pretty good.

Ultimately, Matt decided that Takashi was using as the maxim. It was like that special place of retreat: Takashi's own blossoming cherry tree on Mt Fuji.

Could you live on those three words?  Let's try:

The Huskers are 1-1 in Pelini's 5th season? Yeah, pretty good.

The roof needs repairing and the house painting? Yeah, pretty good.

Dissertation marked up as exemplary? Yeah, pretty good.

Stuck in a crappy job? Yeah, pretty good.

Downsized in this economy? Yeah, pretty good.

Broken collarbone needing surgery? Yeah, pretty good.

Wellness assessment came back spotless? Yeah, pretty good.

And so forth...

I dunno Takashi, I'm on the fence.

Yeah, pretty good.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Sound of the Season

Ah, the cooler weather can only mean one thing. No, it's not the return of Husker football. Nor is it the return of Glee for that matter. Wow, that actually hurt my brain typing that word, "Glee." Ah! There it is again,  sharp pain!

No, the return of cooler weather means that all those people who hate working out during the heat of summer -- the same ones who also hate working out during the cold of winter  -- the same that hate damp and chilly springs, and windy falls -- those people have approximately the next 3.5 weeks to go on a diet and start exercising again.

How do I know all of this?

Well yesterday, I was in the locker room when I heard an unmistakable sound of the season. From the space just around the lockers, from beyond the row of commercial faucets and sink bowls laid neatly in a slab of formica, and past the shower curtains, and wall mounted urinals, there emanated a deep guttural sound. One that begins to resonate in the infrasonic range well below human perception, and builds slowly, like a freight train rumbling towards you at 100 MPH from ten miles out, building gradually and louder until the last moment, erupting forcibly into a high frequency-piercing screech.

wrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeettcchhh!!! Ack THPPPT!!

There, in the semi-privacy of a toilet stall, a man standing in brand new sneakers pointing towards the commode is puking his brains out after pushing it too hard on that first 5K run in months. And he's making no effort to conceal his production. No, he's in there like a fire breathing dragon, roaring, hacking and spewing the technicolor contents of his guts into the porcelain bowl until there's nothing left but bitter yellow bile and the inevitable dry-heaves.

Make no mistake about it. EVERYONE in and outside the locker room pauses to take it all in.

Now I don't know about you, but when I hear such things, I don't feel pity. Nor am I overcome with arrogance for my own level of fitness.

No, when I heard that kind of puking, I feel energized.  Why is that?

Because that guy went for it. He gave it all and was paying the price as the puking man.

Puking man reminds of the many times I too pushed it beyond what I could take: wind sprints at the end of soccer practice, the first day of circuit training, or a 5K race that ends in fountain of Gatorade erupting from my stomach. Indeed, I owe it to puking man and that wretched sound of the season for a surge in personal motivation. I'm ready to push it again.To flee and to fight. It's go time. That's my kind of rhetoric.

I hoped to be inspired by the sound of the season many times during the next few weeks.  But like the Macinaw peaches that are ripe for a short window, this season will also soon pass.

Here's to the sound of the season! Let's make the best of it.