Friday, March 14, 2014

Caesar's Head

I listen to the submarine bubbling noise my snorkel makes as I stand, upside-down, on the bottom of the sailboat in Lake Michigan.  It's a smaller spartan barque - a J/24 - and that means racing.  When I was twelve my dad bought the 1979 hulk in lackluster condition from a retired sailor in Racine, Wisconsin, going straight to work on it with the same can of elbow grease he used on our house and cars as I grew up.  This boat is a classic, he says.  It'll be the envy of the sail yard one day, if we can keep the water out of the hull.

We're anchored in sixteen feet of water a quarter mile off Atwater beach in Milwaukee last summer above the wreck of the Appomattox, a steamer that stranded here during a storm in 1905.  The crew gave up on her after two weeks of wallowing on the rocks.  I push off our own hull,  diving straight down until my ears pop and the water is chilly.  I can make out one side of the 319 foot steamer looming through the blue-green, slightly opaque water, imagining what it looked like in 1905.

View of Caesar's Head climb from Zap
Fitness' private jet
The Appomattox floats into my head because my ears are popping again during a hard run up to Caesar's Head State Park in upstate South Carolina on Friday.  I've flown dozens of times in the past few years without pain in my ears, yet climbing 2100 vertical feet up 7.4 miles on highway 276 is making them ring, probably because I don't have the luxury of yawning at this breathing and heart rate.  I'm too busy maintaining the tightly spinning feedback loop in my mind that I've set up to stay focused: "this hurts." "shut up." "it hurts." "feet under you." "f*** this is hard." ""shut up... knee drive."  The focus is incredibly easy to break out of as we grind up switchback after switchback through deciduous forest interrupted occasionally by Walhalla Sheet rock outcroppings to the top.  I try to keep Kevin's blue shirt within sight up ahead.

A staple in Zap Fitness' repertoire, the long sustained hill climb is a very aerobic, strength based session done at low speed that erases the pounding of a similar effort on flat ground.  My time of 47:59 on Caesar's head comes out to 6:29 minutes/mile.  On flat ground, I'd need to run almost two minutes per mile faster to achieve the same aerobic effect, but would be hurting much more the next day.  Our other reason for climbing big hills is form improvement.  Pete tells me it will help reduce extraneous lateral motion in my stride and keep everything moving forward.  Even so, we don't want to end the day with the memory of just 6:30 pace in our legs.  At the top we run 8 x 200 meter strides, getting faster on each as a group.  The first few felt sluggish coming off the climb, but we were rolling well by the end.

Being a rookie on the team, Friday's Caesar Head is only my second climb and I'm still getting the hang of them.  At the top I'll admit I threw a bit of a temper tantrum, partly because I got my ass handed to me by Kevin and Cole.  Thinking about it though, this is why I joined Zap Fitness.  My future improvement depends on the continued development of my strength and efficiency.  Sure, I could go out and rip intervals on the track all season long and maybe retire a 13:20's-low guy in few years.  But real, deep-down improvement begins with things like a little pride check from super strong half marathoners and 10k guys during a session a little outside my comfort zone on Friday.  Besides, I can always get back at them on fast stuff like the 200s.  It's a nice dynamic.

The crew at the top of the Caesar's Head climb.  This is purportedly the last known photograph of Chris' beard before he shaved it.  Left to right Kevin Schwab, Cameron Bean, Chri$ Moen, Joe Stilin, Cole Atkins

* * * * *
We have another two weeks of training camp down here in Greenville before many of us open up at the Raleigh Relays (pronounced rolly, not ra-lay, apparantly) and we return home to Zap in North Carolina.  Besides training I've been filling my time with several side projects.  I'm working with a friend on an entry to a worldwide sustainable engineering competition.  We're designing a wind energy system that uses a kite to generate power in disaster relief areas, places not accessible by large trucks, ocean buoys, and mountainsides.  In the interest of eventually being able to label myself as a halfway decent writer, I have three short stories in the works.  Two of them are collaborations with team mates Cole and George.  We each write about a paragraph and switch off.  The other is based in Austin, Texas.  And of course, I've been reading a lot.

You might be waiting for the tie-back to the Appomattox.  Well... aren't we all searching for something in a world that's slightly opaque at times, might feel chilly, and for which we may have to feel some pain in our ears to find?

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