There’s no harm in tri-ing.

Done. Complete. Finito. Tough Mudder 2017 is now in past tense. Nearly three months of training funnelled towards a single event. 16 kilometres, over 20 obstacles (barring the one that caught fire. ironically it was the one involving a fire hose) and 10,000 people running up and down the slopes of St Louis Moonstone. It was an assault on the senses, the body and any modicum of cleanliness. How did 2017 rank up there?

Firstly, because this is Canada and we’re overly polite, the weather. In 2015, my first Mudder, it was bright and sunny the whole day. This was nice, as it meant the ground stayed relatively intact. With so many running the course, the difference between finding easy grip and not can be drastic. It also meant that getting overheated and burnt was a real issue. In 2016 it was overcast the whole day, aside from a small patch of rain. Ideal. By the time the rain rolled in, it was refreshing. The sun was still periodically out, but mostly it let us go about our business unimpeded by sunstroke. This year we had it all. It was beautifully sunny to start with, then overcast, then the heavens opened and we were soaked. Sustained rain and some heavy line ups at obstacles left us legit chattering teeth level freezing. Unable to run it off, we just had to suck it up as our muscles cooled down and stiffened. It was rough to say the least, throwing a heavy pall over morale. When things seemed their darkest, the sun came back out and dried us off. It couldn’t have come at a more crucial time, as tensions had risen and struggles were had.

Secondly, the team. We were a small team of three this year. Team Butts Tough, a name I made up several years ago after rambling about butts and stumbling onto a chant. I primarily liked the name because it’d sound to others like we were saying “butt stuff”. I’m mature that way. I had two team mates, neither of whom had been as obsessive as I had about training. Finishing time wasn’t important to any of us, we just wanted to get over that finish line having had a great time. One of our team mates had been having a bit of trouble with her training, as her asthma had been steadily rising over the past month. She’d been putting in work, but would often have to stop in the middle of runs because of it. She was worried that she’d slow us way down. I assured her we’d all get over the line together. Fortunately, her asthma didn’t prove to be an issue on the course. Unfortunately, she injured her hips early in the race and they steadily grew worse. By about midway it was quite severe and we basically had to walk the rest of the course. By the point where she was holding back vomit through pain, I advised her she’d probably be best to opt out and get a ride to home base (it’s one thing to be determined, it’s another to gain a permanent injury). She was determined to cross that line, so we stuck with her. All credit to her dedication, but it was pretty frustrating to take things so slowly. In my third year, I’ve yet to do the course at a decent pace. It wasn’t her fault by any means, but at the same time I did feel cheated on an experience I’d put so much work towards. It’s been the same deal each time so far. Next year I’m gonna have to set a baseline for team fitness. If I’m gonna train hard, I want to give it my all. It’s time I committed.

The obstacles were heaps of fun. The return of Block Ness Monster was a delight. A big pool of water with these long horizontal four sided rotating barriers. There was a technique and steady rhythm to it. I found I’d push up from the bottom while people had latched onto the top. I’d then grab onto the top while people pushed from the bottom. At the apex, I’d rotate 180 degrees and grab onto the top edge to pull it down and help the next row of people. Super fun and totally teamwork based. The Funky Munky was a blast. An upwards inclined monkey bar that transitioned into a bunch of spinning wheels, then onto a single horizontal bar. I absolutely zipped through, all those pull ups having done their work. Most of the upper body stuff was a cinch for me, thankfully. The Stage Five Clinger was pretty tough. There were a series of horizontal bars to move between, before pulling up and over onto a platform. The hard part was how close the bars were to the ceiling. You had only a few centimetres space to get in, which meant you were jamming your hands up and skinning knuckles. It was right after a big muddy obstacle, which meant the bars were unfairly slippery. I fell on my first attempt, then wiped my hands off and focused on the dry parts of each bar. It was hugely demanding, but I got to the end then pulled up no problem. Kong was the final obstacle. I saw basically everyone in front of me plummet and tightened my resolve. The rings looked really far apart, but I knew I had it in me. All I needed to do was get good momentum. I grabbed the first ring and swung to the second. Holding tight to both rings, I realised my body was taught, and that if I released my back hand it’d give me the momentum to swing to the next. So I did. With so few people making it, the last couple of rings were nice and dry, perfect for a solid grip. I moved quickly and swung my way to victory.

Finishing up, I felt like I could do another one a day later. Given how sore my calves are from those endless hills, I think I was optimistic. I thought after I finished I’d be relaxed, sated. Instead I’m fired up. I need another challenge. I wonder if I could do a triathlon…

Can I get a head start if my head’s in the clouds?

I don’t know why I ever set an alarm on Tough Mudder day. It’s like the night before a flight. The chances of actually getting a full night’s sleep are zero. Of course I’m gonna wake up hours beforehand too excited to rest. I hate resting on the best of days, let alone a day when I’m gonna run up and down a mountain and climb things. I was in bed at 9:11pm (never forget), but as soon as the clock struck 2am I bolted upright and that was it. I tried getting back to sleep for the next hour or so, but it was painfully apparent that I was too awake.

What was on my mind? EVERYTHING. The cosmos seemed to explode behind my eyelids and Ariel Pink’s “Round and Round” played on repeat. I’ve never been great at falling asleep, but this was Sisyphean. I tried to block out all thought, to think of nothing but black. This worked for a second before I just started thinking of different things that were black. My mind started questioning whether I needed to think of pitch black or if other shades were alright too. What about charcoal? I tried blocking things out with the mental image of a white void. Then my brain complained that black was more fitting, given it was the middle of the night, fundamentally a darker time. NO BUENO.

A friend told me that she gets to sleep by imagining a mundane task and going through it in detail. Dishwashing is her favourite. I tried, I really did. In my mind’s eye I put the plug into the sink, turned the tap to hot and squiggled a little detergent in. I put a plug into the second sink and waited. It was taking a while to fill. Isn’t this all in my head? I thought. Can’t I make it go faster? It sped up. That’s not the point, brain. It’s not meant to be objective focused, it’s meant to be dreary and boring. The sped up water flow stopped and went in reverse, back to the level it was at before the speed increase. I tapped my finger on the counter. I looked at the dishes stacked up. I don’t remember pre-rinsing these. Shouldn’t I do that before putting the soapy water in? But then I’ll have to run the water again and that’s a waste of detergent. Wait, this detergent doesn’t actually exist. These dishes don’t actually exist. Let’s just pretend that they’re already pre-rinsed. But that’s disingenuous, I never did that. STOP BEING SO FUCKING LITERAL. I got bored of arguing with myself and went back to filling the sink, but at least let myself speed it up this time. Then I figured since I was making this up I could just somehow run the tap in both sinks simultaneously. I started washing plates, holding them up to the light and checking for any residue. I saw a spot or two glinting. Should’ve pre-rinsed. FUCK YOU BRAIN.

I opened my eyes. 2:10am. Fuck.

I tried re-tracing my lunchtime jogging path. I ran all the way there and all the way back. The other joggers/cyclists/dog walkers in my brain still refused to wave and smile back.

2:30am.

I jumped back into my memory and drew on a long journey I used to take. Back when I lived in small town New Zealand, I’d drive to and from Rotorua each week to visit friends in Auckland. I sped through the route in accelerated time, seeing how much was still entrenched in my head. It was amazing how vivid my recall was, all these years later.

2:50am.

I felt hungry and maybe like I needed to poop. Why were my knees sore? One was digging into the other while stacked on top of it. How did I usually arrange my knees while I slept? Wasn’t it normally like this? What about the rest of my posture? Did I want my arms folded? Or did I want my hand under my head? Should the blanket be pulled this far up to my neck? Was I sweating? Did my girlfriend just sleep-laugh? Why was my phone blinking? Was that a message from a team mate saying that they were injured and couldn’t go? Had my ride fallen through? Well there’s no point in looking at the phone now. The blue light would prevent me from getting back to sleep. Would I be able to sleep in any case? Should I get up and start stretching? Had I overstretched already? What was the weather gonna be like? Would today bring injury? Was my meal plan solid? Or had I eaten too much roughage? Should I have carbo loaded? If I don’t sleep, am I gonna be too tired on the course? Or would I be wired regardless? Could an unsafe level of pre-workout solve all of my fatigue issues? When was I gonna find time to write today? I could just get up and take care of it before my day started.

3am.

Turn on computer. Pour a bowl of cereal. Poop. Load up “Round and Round” to get it out of my head. Start writing.

Today’s gonna be a good day.

That’s one way to put a bounce in your step.

 

I was thinking about this game Ricochet today. Despite the title of this clip, it was a piece of shit and I loved it in a weird way. A Half-Life mod, two friends and I tried it out to see how bad it could be. It was terrible. Bouncing from pod to pod in outer space, aiming to knock one another off balance. The controls were clunky and awkward. The gameplay was repetitive and stilted. It probably took longer to program than the entire time players spent in game. It’s questionable how gaming powerhouse Valve could’ve thought it had the potential to catch on, but life’s about taking chances. I remember this one afternoon where the three of us had nothing much to do. I mean, we were teenagers. There’s jerking off, video games, angst and little else. Anime, probably. So we spent this particular afternoon racing to try and be the first to 100 kills. We all had our particular gaming skills, and while I was likely the least competent FPS player, this was new territory. None of us had spent time on this game, because we were too busy doing things like trying to beat Final Fantasy 7 in a weekend. Y’know, trendy shit. We didn’t give a freak.

So we played this game. I don’t know how long it took. Hours, I’m guessing. We were learning as we went. At first we’d get killed rapidly. We’d catch each other unawares and knock one another off with these silly discs. Then power ups started to come into play. If you hit someone, instead of knocking them off, you’d decapitate them. Points had an ebb and flow. Someone would streak ahead, then the others would catch up and overtake. Kills were racked up. Then muscle memory kicked in. We’d learn how to anticipate attacks, read opponents strategies. Lives began to last longer. The slog from 70-100 was probably longer than 0-70. Because it wasn’t a well designed game, I don’t know if any of us were even enjoying it. Why would that matter though? We were in for the points. For bragging rights on something with no real stakes. The whole time we were yelling to each other “why are we doing this?” “Does anyone even care?” “Is anyone having fun?” Our cries were in vain. We didn’t stop.

I didn’t win, but I also didn’t take umbrage with that. In the end it was within 10 points. While it wasn’t that enjoyable, for some reason it created a kind of bond. Every once in a while we’d mention “hey, you guys wanna go for a Ricochet rematch so I can finally get my title?” The answer was a resounding “no” every time. Still, we talked about it far more often than you’d expect. From time to time the game still pops into my head and I wonder if anyone still plays it. Was there ever a Ricochet community? Is there some dude all lonely waiting out there in space in the hopes that someone will play with him? Did Ricochet actually mean a great deal to anyone, and if so, why? I’m not often 100% sincere, but I really hope there’s love for the game out there. Not everything has to be a success and Ricochet obviously wasn’t. At the end of the day though, it left me with a mostly positive memory that ties me to these two specific friends. I hope I’m not the only one.

I wonder if anyone’s done a 4K port…

I for one am looking forward to talking about something else. Like, did you know they’re doing a live action Jetsons? Why?

Like every other year, the last week before Tough Mudder absorbs all other thought. I’ve become a broken record. Talking about much else would be disingenuous, because I’m not thinking about an array of topics. I’ve got tunnel vision that’s concentrated on how I’m gonna get up those hills.

I’m thinking about what to eat and when to eat what. While common knowledge says that carbo loading is the way to go, I’m borderline petrified of getting constipated and having to navigate the course with a food baby as the monkey on my back. It’s a trap for sure. If your body isn’t used to certain types of food, why vary things up before the race in the hopes of getting a slight boost? I know that I’ll have shit all chances of sleeping the night before, so adding any kind of indigestion is a fool’s errand. Keep it simple, proteins, fibre and small amounts of complex carbs. Then fill in the gaps before the race with excessive pre-workout. I’ll practically fly up St Louis Moonstone.

I’ve kind of divided life into PM and AM (Pre Mudder and After Mudder respectively) and for the most part I’ve pushed everything after the race out of my head. One nagging issue though is footwear. There’s no way my shoes will be operable post race. My beloved Saucony Excursion TR8 GTXs. I bought a pair a few years back and found them to be the most comfortable running shoes I’d ever owned. So of course I got another pair once they were done. It took work and Google-Fu. I searched across the world and found a pair close to home in Edmonton. Paid way too much, but it was worth it not to mess with what my feet were used to. I’m no stranger to foot pain, which has a habit of becoming knee pain all too easily. So the path of least resistance was best paved with becoming a creature of habit. This year, the shoes are nowhere to be found. I’ve looked. I’ll have to figure out what about them worked and seek the next best thing. That’s a job for my Sunday hangover.

Tonight is all about stretching and foam rolling. In other words, a torture session. It’ll hurt like fuck now, but anything I do beforehand will only ease pressure on the day. Why is it that myofascial release is so goddamn painful? Somehow pressing dense foam into my muscles feels like a stabbing. The foam roller will deal with my IT bands, thighs, calves, groin, glutes and rotator cuffs, while a lacrosse ball can get into those hard to reach spots on the upper body. Is this boring you? Good, it’s gonna be even worse for me. I have no idea how real athletes deal with this stuff on a regular basis. Those fucking Supple Leopards. Staying limber seems to be a full-time commitment. I can’t imagine how much time you’d have to devote to keeping the machine running well if your body was the tool of your trade. Last year it was so easy. I had benefits that covered regular athletic therapy. I just offset the work and knowledge onto those who knew best. Maybe I can convince myself that doing it on my own makes it worth more or something. Am I that gullible?

Two sleeps, then it’s here. I’ll be able to remember what my life was like when it had nuance. Maybe I’ll learn from walking a mile in some different shoes.

I’ll let you in on a secret. You could still buy the coffees anyway. That’s capitalism!

I’ve been ranting a lot of doom and gloom lately, so my goal is to push further towards positivity today. Is that too much to ask? Very likely. Let’s engage with some sunnier things!

I guess you could blame an overweight childhood if you must, but I’ve had body issues for some time. Go figure. I’ve also been in heavy (misnomer) training for Tough Mudder lately, working really hard to tone up. It’s been repeatedly gruelling. In recent years I’ve had help, whether in a group fitness situation or personal training. This year I’ve run off nothing but my own grit. Knowing what I’m capable of and making a point of not cutting myself much slack. So yeah, it’s been challenging, but also rewarding to see results. At this stage it’s become an annual summer tradition, which sucks only because cutting alcohol is a shit and a half when the sun is shining out there. Toronto lives for its patios and they don’t quite have the same glory when your beer goggles are instead filled with vodka-less cranberry juice. In an attempt to get the kind of gratification that only external validation from an echo chamber can provide, this morning I posted a shirtless selfie on Facebook. The “likes” and positive comments have flooded in. It was a cheap ploy for a temporary boost to self-worth and it’s worked. I’m chalking that up as a victory.

I saw one of my musician friends, Nick Teehan, perform on Saturday night and it’s reminded me how much I love his music. He’s a tremendous live performer with an enthralling vitality on stage. Between his vibrant energy and witty quips, he puts together an engaging show that pulls you right in. Not only is he a fantastic performer, but he’s a truly gifted songwriter. His lyrics are evocative and rich, drawing on personal experience, local sights and touching storybook imagery. “Mom Song” is an ode to the intrinsic link drawn between mother and son, a relationship unbound by temporal circumstance. “Boxing Day” nods its head to the disconnect of growing out of youth and the trappings of small town life. If you like what you’ve heard, you can get his album There is Not a Snake on Bandcamp for a mere $7 CAD (or more if that’s what you want to pay). That’s like skipping one and a half coffees to support a talented local artist. You’re practically losing money by not doing it.

All my favourite good television (that isn’t already on air, that is) is coming back. All hail the Fall television slate! You’re the Worst, BoJack Horseman, Better Things, The Good Place, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and everyone’s favourite 2016 hit, Stranger Things (which sadly is in no way affiliated with Better Things. I’d love to see Pamela Adlon taking down a Demogorgon). Not only that, but along with Fall television, it’s gonna be Fall! Sweaters and light jackets, pretty coloured leaves, pumpkins to carve, Halloween, Thanksgiving feasts, seasonal beer (/the return of all my Belgian style favourites). A season full of unmitigated joy before the Winter depression kicks in.

See, I’m practically walking on sunshine.

It’s hard to tread water when Hell has an undertow.

I’ve got nothing to write about right now. It’s not that there’s nothing to write about. I’ve hardly exhausted the world’s supply of topics in four and a half years. I probably exhausted my supply of topics several years back, but I guess I learned a thing or two from WaterWise in Standard Three and Four about treading water. It’s not that nothing’s happening around the globe, because there’s always something going on. The problem is that I know what’s going on and I don’t have the wherewithal to elucidate anything poignant on the subject (wait, that’s what this project is about???? -ed).

I just watched the Vice News Tonight Charlottesville special and it’s sapped at me. It’s horrifying, brutal and as one speaker so adroitly calls it, appalling. To think that this rhetoric has resurfaced in 2017 when we should instead all have robot butlers and makerbots. Watching the linked video filled me with an unfamiliar feeling. Pure rage. I’m not an angry person. My default negative emotion is sadness and the concept of directing hostility towards other people feels bizarre when I could just beat up on myself instead. Seeing these white supremacy scum grossly disregarding the rights and freedoms of others filled me with a white hot fury. Hearing them spout ignorant hate made me tremble with blinding emotion. All kinds of violent fantasies ran through my head in an instant. A desire to cause pain, draw blood, to see them suffer. I’m the opposite of a violent person. That part of my brain is usually reserved for obscure facts about early 90s animation. These people are cartoon villains flushed into reality. Humans are complex, nuanced creatures and they all seem like two dimensional caricatures. My inability to do anything tangible makes me feel helpless. A surge of energy and emotion put to waste. No number of rants could do anything but blow off steam. Others are doing it better.

Outside of that, I don’t know what to talk about. I mentioned WaterWise earlier. WaterWise was pretty great. We were in Standard Three and Four (so around nine to ten years of age). We’d all pack into a bus and travel up to the Birkenhead Wharf to learn about water safety. They’d divide us up by knowledge levels and teach us accordingly. We learned all about sailing conditions, how to react to the sea when it was choppy, safe. We’d do bombs off the jetty. We learned about kayaks and how to kayak safely. We’d get into kayaks and paddle around the marina. They taught us all manner of knots and how to use each of them. We learned sailing in these little Optimist dinghies. First technique, then practical. We’d move the keel, keep the sail taught. We were shown how to duck underneath the boom (and those who didn’t listen suffered the consequences on their own).

Living in New Zealand, water safety was imperative. It’s a small country surrounded on all sides (and in the middle of the two islands) by water. Beaches and lakes are everywhere. My home city is an isthmus (a word that I get no end of joy typing). Summers were spent on the sand, aside creeks or lakes. While it wasn’t common for all families to own boats (definitely a class thing), what kid didn’t boogie board at least? The education system had realised the importance of a safety initiative and had folded it into the curriculum accordingly.

While I hope Charlotteville is the end of it, I’m not that naive. People will continue to hate, to push their desires over the needs and rights of others. I’d thought that history had made a point of openly condemning the Nazi regime, but apparently the message didn’t stick for all. If we’re looking to move forward as a species, we’re gonna need to move forward together. I’m sure humanity is fucked for good, but on the off chance that we’ll survive our own arrogance, we can’t get there by climbing bodies.

If we can though, I sure hope they’re the Nazi ones.

Does it have to be arrogance if I’m Onan it?

It’s that time of year again. Tough Mudder is a mere five days away. I’m on the last leg of prep and those legs are predictably sore. For several months now I’ve been training hard. I’ve sworn off alcohol and bread (not through any anti-yeast sentiment, I’m just aware of how I love to overindulge in those two delectable consumables). I’ve been training hard at the gym, working through dedicated upper and lower body split days. Three times a week I’ve gone for lunchtime runs along the waterfront. It’s been sweaty and taxing, but I’ve seen tangible results.

Was all of this necessary to complete the course? Not in the least. Some of my team members last year crossed the finish line with zero training under their belts. All the hard tack I’ve been devoting each week could easily be seen as overkill. Without putting in the extra yards I could likely still zip through the event without dying halfway through. In previous years however, I’ve been thankful for the extra grit in the tank. Instead of slogging up and down the mountain, I’ve bounced through with the gusto of the Energizer Bunny on coke. It’s turned an endurance race into a celebration of my body’s capabilities. Instead of thanking the fates for my survival, I can thank my limbs, muscles, heart and mind for pulling me through each day with aplomb.

The event has become less of an annual task, and more emblematic of how I tie my own self-worth to discipline. Seeing my body change, feeling renewed energy and acknowledging the strength of my resolve brings me pride. Amongst the multitude of challenges that’re out of my control, I’m emboldened to rediscover each year that not all of them are. As someone who’s struggled with issues of body image and associated feelings of inadequacy, this provides me with fuel to see the best in myself.

At this point, five days away, it’s more important than ever to practice self-love. Masturbatory as this entry is, I mean compassion, rather than anything titillating. I’m not gonna be hitting any new peaks over the next couple of days. The benefits of pushing hard are by far outweighed by the risk of injury. For the rest of the week, I’m focusing on tapering down. Any workouts will be focused more on keeping myself limber. Maybe a short run on Wednesday. Mobility and stretching will be a priority. I’m gonna be eating well and aiming for eight hours of sleep per night. Cutting down the caffeine and quaffing down my greens. With the end in sight, it’s so important that I get there safely with respect for my body.

Feeling present in my skin has given me a vitality I treasure. I’m content when I look in the mirror and give thanks rather than seeking flaws. I feel confidence resonating through my core and that in itself is worth all of the effort. Tough Mudder may still be a few days away, but I’m happy to linger in this for as long as it lasts.