One stroke at a time

The doctor’s technical explanation after my colonoscopy was that I had “busted a gut,” which seems to have healed itself and incidentally is something I’ve come to live with on and off since then.  Too many situps, or something like that.  Anyway, no scares since then, although anytime my wife catches me on the toilet since then she asks if everything is alright.  I really need to start locking that door.

Last year, I worked a lot.  Just like the year before, and probably this year as well.  Like most people, I went through a time when I felt like all I was doing was waking up, going to work, coming home to eat, and going to sleep.  I have no objection to putting in whatever time is necessary in a crunch, but when it goes on and on you begin to ask yourself “what’s the point?”  Exercise has always helped me feel like I’d accomplished something other than just working every day, and any time I’d planned on running or swimming after work but ended up not being able to just hammered another nail in the coffin.  I don’t make New Year’s resolutions often, but I finally decided that the only way to beat this was to exercise before work, which was going to be tough.  I can discipline myself to wake up at zero dark thirty with a little practice, but my major concern was that my job was already pretty physical, and I didn’t want to exhaust myself before I’d even showed up in the morning.  So far this year, the experiment has been a huge success.  First advantage:  I avoid totally rush hour traffic to get to work.  The pool is just a couple of blocks away from work, so I travel to my swim before the rest of Austin has hit the roads.  Second perk:  I feel fantastic after my workout, no matter how I felt before.  That lasts most of the day, although I will admit to being pretty exhausted tonight.  It’s that last very high stress hour at my job that knocks me out, but it does that whether I swim or not.  Third advantage:  the pool is pretty often uncrowded at that hour, and everyone who is there is totally motivated.  Today was an excellent example.

I was out the door before the rest of my family awoke (one of my main functions in this household is to wake everyone else up–they are very heavy sleepers–so I had to solve this problem first with a tiny but loud alarm clock).  Went to the Town Lake YMCA this morning, the one near work for me.  When I walked through the door the noise was deafening, and I didn’t know what it was until I realized that the Masters group was training, and it didn’t look like any of them were in need of building up their distance.  A lot of shaved heads and broad, tattooed shoulders.  There were a couple of guys there, too.  They were just blowing through set after set, and once again I found myself forgetting what I was doing as I watched them.  Particularly when they launched into IM drills, it sounded like a jet engine cranking up.  I swam at least an extra 500 yards, because I kept losing track of how much I’d done and just decided to keep going.  Watching them reminded me to focus on my form, stretching myself out as far as I’d stretch, rather than trying to muscle my way through the water.  Good swimmers make it look so effortless, despite moving twice as fast through the water as me.  I’d forgotten this until a friend recently reminded me, but what I shoot for is getting down the pool in a minimum of strokes; the speed will take care of itself.  When I get it just right, I can really feel my body catch the water inside my forearm and–bizarrely–right on my pelvis above my hip.  Those brief flashes of competence, when I catch the water just right, and literally slip through the water without trying, make an hour of pushing myself hard for distance seem a small price to pay.  They make me feel like the rest of the day is going to be ok.

Early bird avoids the worms

Swam this morning early so that I could come back to the pool in the afternoon and make sure my kids swam everything they’d said they would.  Had the pool pretty much to myself in the morning, which was amazing even though it is Saturday; just a spectacularly beautiful day.  The only other swimmer was a fairly large woman in one of those swimsuits with the little fringe all around the waist.  She was awesome!  Slow, but steady, steady, steady.  She had this perfect rhythm no matter what stroke she was doing, like a metronome.  Never stopped or paused; even when she was tired, she kept moving forward by walking a bit at that same unstoppable pace.  I really admire people like that.

The afternoon was different.  Once we’d arrived, there was one swimmer in each lane, which is still “uncrowded” to most swimmers.  But while I was sitting at the head of my son Chris’s lane making sure he kept moving, a gentleman walked up and expressed his amazement that the pool was so crowded.  He sat in the shade and said he’d wait for a lane to open up.  I got to thinking about it, and asked the lifeguard if they often get people who don’t want to split a lane.  Even more disconcerting, what happens if this guy waits for a lane to empty, starts swimming, and then other swimmers arrive and eventually someone wants to split a lane with him?  The lifeguard was pretty sweet about it, and that’s one thing I admire but don’t envy about most of the young people who do that job:  she was not going to even speculate about people’s personal space issues.  I suppose the lifeguard only gets involved when it comes to blows, but by then I suppose it’s a management issue.  Moral of the story:  swim early, and appreciate the heck out of other swimmers who make your workout better by their example.  Ignore the rest.

Don’t take your colonoscopy personally.

It’s late at night, the kids are in bed, so it seems like a good time to continue talking about my colonoscopy!  Pop some popcorn if you’d like.  So, I’d left the family doctor with a more intimate relationship established following my prostate exam, and he hooked me up for a second date with a urologist to arrange for a colonoscopy.  As much as I think any normal man would want to avoid a colonoscopy, once you’re in a position where you can’t really avoid one (bad choice of words, perhaps), you might as well have a good time with it.  First, you might not want to become too aware of everything that could go wrong, such as perforating your colon while they’re in there looking at it, rupturing a bowel, etc.  I mean, once you’ve decided that you really need one, what’s the point in worrying about it?  Step one, the doctor writes you a prescription for a big gallon bottle of some truly disgusting stuff you have to drink a glass of every hour or so to clean out your guts so they can get a good look/see inside.  You begin around 5 p.m. the night before, and the first glass or two don’t have that much effect, other than making you gag.  But, boy howdie, around that third hour, the product begins to do its job, and I must say it is cleansing.  The doc said I only needed to drink about 2/3 of the bottle, but by the time I got to that point it was already past midnight, so I figured “in for a dime, in for a dollar,” and stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it off.  I was pretty proud of my accomplishment the next morning when I showed up for the procedure, but I guess it takes more than that to impress nurses nowadays.

Step two, once the doctor finished his early morning golf round and finally showed up, was to put me to sleep.  This was a revelation to me, solved all the problems I think most men have with submitting to a colonoscopy.  If I was going to be asleep and totally unaware of what was going on and who was watching it, it was sort of like it never really happened.  Voila, problem solved, nothing to be foolishly embarrassed about!  In fact, once I did come to, I could find no evidence that anything at all had been done to me medically to explain the large amount of cash that had just disappeared from my checking account.  From what I was told, I am absolutely hilarious when I am coming out of general anesthesia, and I am positive I was charming the nurses because I distinctly remember them laughing and shaking their heads, despite the fact that I wore a robe that had no backside.  My doctor, not so charmed:  I couldn’t get much info out of him (perhaps I said something untoward while still under the influence, and he took offense?  Sounds like me).  All I remembered was he said I was a-ok, you don’t have blood shooting out your ass anymore, so go home now.

And that is all there is to a colonoscopy.  I wasn’t exactly dancing the next day, but then I’ve never been much of a dancer anyway.  The whole process, from prostate exam through colonoscopy, was simple, relatively quick, painless, and not particularly embarrassing.  It’s not actually something I would recommend doing just because you’ve got some time to kill on a Tuesday, but on the other hand it is also not the kind of thing you need to avoid when needed out of embarrassment or fear.

Doing laps with Flipper

Finished my second day of working up to more pool yardage.  Much easier than I anticipated.  Had the lane to myself until something flashed by me in the water that reminded me of those old WWII movies where the torpedo leaves the tube of the submarine and jets through the water toward its target.  Who was that goggled man?  This dude was incredible, as the occasional good swimmer I cross always is.  Just warming up doing 500’s, he was swimming much faster than my 50’s.  Later, after I was already sufficiently awestruck to stop paying attention to my own form so that I could concentrate on his, he started doing dolphin kicks, on his back, no kick-board, also faster than my 50’s free style.  He did that for 500 yards and then moved on to something else more personally challenging.  His performance did motivate me to do an extra 50 and an extra 100, but afterward I tried to slip out of the water unnoticed so that it didn’t look like I was leaving in shame.

Training is better with a buddy

Just getting ready to head out the door to the pool with my 19-year old son, Chris, when the phone rings.  It’s my 13-year old son Kevin’s school, informing me that I need to come pick him up because he’s being suspended for a day for slugging a classmate.  Kevin has Aspergers, and little things bother him that you and I might not even notice.  He thought someone was making noises to bother him, things escalated, and by the time I got to school he was completely distraught because he knew he was supposed to be in class, but here he was sitting in the principal’s office getting ready to be sent home.  Aspergers like to stick to the program.  So we took Kevin with us to the pool, and although he didn’t initially want to swim laps, once he got in it took about three minutes to see he was losing himself in the weightlessness, the repetition, the security of stroking with the right arm, followed by the left, followed by the right, lap after lap.  It was liberating for me as well, to be able to think that today, I don’t have to swim my entire workout as planned, that I can cut some stuff out so that I can spend some time with Kevin.  He came out of the water relaxed, ready to talk about what had happened and what he needed to do to avoid a repetition.

Chris teaching Kevin to swim, a long time ago.

My prostate gets wet

Day 1 of Swims With My Prostate.  I’m already in pretty good shape, and swim 1000-1200 yards pretty hard several times a week.  But the main goal in my preparations to not totally humiliate myself in the Cap2K is to build up a lot more distance during my pool sessions.  I hate swimming uninterrupted lap after lap in the pool, so I’ve taken a page out of my run training book and broken it down into shorter intervals swum at a faster pace than normal.  Up until today, after warming up with 3 X 250 of kick and stroke work, I’ve just been swimming 8-10 50’s on a minute split, which has become pretty easy now.  But the thought of swimming more is intimidating, especially after I saw the local Masters group’s workout up on the whiteboard at the Y:  32 X 25, 16 X 50, 8 X 100, 4 X 200, 2 X 400, and 1 X 800, for a total of 4,800 yards.  Ok, so, maybe I have some work to do.  But I like the structure of halving the reps and doubling the distances, so that’s where I’ll start.  Did my 8 X 50’s, then added on 4 X 100’s, and it was pretty mild.  Went to the outdoor pool at the Oakhill YMCA, which is pretty cool because this is the end of February and the weather was great, combined with having the pool exclusively to myself.

A pool of one's own

What is wrong with people?  My major complaint with swimming is the whole dynamic of fighting for a lane, which is so unlike running.  Most people are pretty nice, but a week doesn’t go by that I don’t run into some old guy (or woman) who feels they need the entire lane to themselves, or a couple that swims a 100 and then stands there talking in the pool for five minutes.  But that wasn’t the issue today, and the lifeguard was so bored that he took the time to coach me a little, and encouraged me to shorten my rests between splits.  I felt great after my 100’s, but I’m in this for the long haul, and am going to build up slowly and methodically.

I didn’t finish my story about my formal introduction to my prostate.  So we returned home from the vacation, and I let my wife in on my little secret.  I needed no encouragement to get a doctor’s appointment, and quickly began researching the issue on the internet while I awaited my visit.  The most encouraging news was that all the bad stuff that can happen down there is going to result in really dark blood, and mine was very bright red.  Plus, I have no family history of prostate problems, so in the few days leading up to my appointment I began to worry much less.  But every morning, there was still a lot of blood.  I went to my family doctor, who I honestly don’t see very often.  When I first moved to Austin and initially went in for a general checkup about ten years ago, he looked at me and said “why the heck are you here?”  I’m pretty healthy looking.  But he didn’t say anything like that once I told him about the blood shooting out my butt, and being aware that I am over fifty, we both understood that it was time to whip out the rubber gloves and drop my drawers.  I have to give the guy credit:  his skills were amazing.  The procedure was done and over in the blink of an eye, almost a magician’s trick leaving me in doubt that he had really done what he appeared to be doing.  He said that he didn’t find anything unusual, and we both had that shy hesitancy to look each other in the eye afterward that reminded me of teenagers at the end of a first date.  But the blood was of enough concern to bring out the big guns and schedule me for a colonoscopy, which is a whole other kettle of fish.  More on this in my next posts.

Swimming with my prostate

I will be swimming the Cap2K open water swim race on May 5 this year.  I put that out there now, because between now and then I will have multiple opportunities to back out:  I don’t have time to train, I haven’t put in enough yardage, I’m not that great a swimmer, I don’t want to die, blah, blah, blah.  But even right now, I know I could at least complete the race without further training (there is a one hour time limit), so all those excuses are irrelevant.  If I say publicly I’m going to do it often enough, the chances are pretty good that I will carry through.  I am a silly, proud man.

The Cap2K is a pledge swim in support of prostate cancer research, as well as being an open water swim down Town Lake.  I know a little about swimming, and a little about prostates, so this blog will be a celebration of both.

I learned to swim very young in Dallas, Texas, but was never particularly gifted.  In college, my enjoyment of running eventually morphed into the sickness of triathlons, and that was my first exposure to competitive open water races.  Happily, triathlons being composed of three events, my poor showing in the swim was always more than compensated for by my cycling and running performances.  It was the event I had to get through so that I could begin to really race once I got out of the water.

By a strange series of events, I spent 16 years working as a scuba instructor, making over 5000 ocean dives and spending most of my day in the water.  Scuba diving is not swimming, but you do acquire a very intimate relationship with water.  Being a fairly skinny dude, I sink like a rock, but I am very comfortable in the water.

On the other hand, I never had much reason to develop a relationship with my prostate.  I was aware that as I approached 50, it was recommended that I receive an annual prostate exam.  But like most men, I’m sure, I had some kind of ridiculous reluctance to have a total stranger stick his finger up my butt, medical degree or no.  That reluctance immediately disappeared the morning after arriving with my family at a vacation cabin on the Guadalupe River.  It was a several hours long drive, but the next morning I felt fine.  I like to start my free days slowly, so I was happy to quietly get up before everyone else, tip-toe into the bathroom, and take a seat.  I was immediately surprised to hear and feel an enormous rush of liquid shooting out my backside.  I felt fine, so diarrhea was unexpected.  But the real surprise was standing up to take a look, and finding the toilet full of my beautiful, bright red blood, and nothing else.  It doesn’t take much knowledge to understand that there is never a good reason to have blood shooting out your ass.

Not wanting to ruin the vacation by informing my wife, who foolishly loves me without limits and would immediately send me to the emergency room, I kept the blood as my little secret for the five days we were on the river.  But the day we returned, I had ample opportunity to learn all about my prostate.