Monday, April 23, 2012

30 Minutes

Let me preface this post by saying that track and field is my "other" discipline. As my family lined the streets of Manhattan to watch my uncle run the NYC Marathon when I was an eighth grader, I felt nothing but admiration for all those passionate people plodding along in their running gear. I signed up for the track team tryouts the next year and barely survived the first day. We only had to run two miles on the road and I was the absolute last person to make it back to the school. I didn't stop, but I do remember the person I ran with WALKING beside me - and keeping up. It might have taken me forever, but I somehow managed to keep going.

That ended up being a very good thing. I started high jumping after I made the team (turns out they didn't cut anyone that year) and fell in love with the sport. Thanks to a lot of hard work and a few very good coaches and camps, my jumping improved and track and field ended up paying for my college education. Success in NCAA Championships, Penn Relays and a US Olympic Trial followed.  I went through a lot of running shoes in those 20+ years, but believe it or not, I never really liked to run. I did it because 90% of the high jump is running. Never one to just lace up my trainers for a leisurely jog, I ran road races and competed on my school's cross country team to get stronger for the high jump. Today, I run so I can do what I need to do on the mat. To me, running was and still is sort of a necessary evil.

My honey is a nationally ranked track coach. He and his teams have won nine national titles and are known for all of the top athletes - including a national record holder and an Olympian -  that do very well in high school and go on to collegiate and post-collegiate success, due in large part to his tough workouts and high expectations. He and I actually met on the track while going through our respective divorces; he had just begun training at the field house where I was also training for another Olympic Trial run 12 years ago. So, of course when I mentioned that I wanted to tweak myself cardiovascularly before my upcoming nidan grading, he was all over it. "I could coach you," he told me yesterday. But my schedule is so crazy that I can't really squeeze in any additional training sessions. "All I'll need is 30 minutes a few times a week," he said.

This morning when we met in the gym, it took me all of 15 seconds to realize he was completely serious - and all about business. First - just to add to the fun - he had me lift weights before we got started which is totally opposite of my normal routine. He started me off with a 10 minute run on the treadmill at a moderate speed but a slight incline. Not only did he run on the treadmill next to me, he COACHED me the whole way, telling me how it was better to hurt now than after five of the 10 or so fights I'll probably have on grading day. After six minutes or so, my entire body went numb. I gently asked if we could go eight minutes instead of 10. He actually laughed and reference my track days of old. "You've been here before," he said oh-so-sweetly. I thought about giving him a back fist to the head but I swear, I couldn't lift my arms.

That treadmill was relentless. It was difficult. It was grueling. Plus my arms were screaming from the weights I'd just lifted. Then, he actually had the nerve to toss his shirt over the timer so I couldn't see how much time had elapsed. In my head, I called him a bunch of names, but I didn't have the strength to utter any of them out loud. My "Zen place" had totally left the building. Suffice to say it was not one of my better moments.

As the last few seconds elapsed, he told me I'd only have a three minute rest before staring 30-second intervals. On the treadmill. With the same incline. Only much faster. And the rest period was almost non-existant. The goal was four at a ridiculous pace but I couldn't complain or negotiate because it was time to get to work.

I truly love this man, but I was soooo hating him each time my meager rest period was almost up. He had transformed into the Gestapo right before my eyes. I wanted to kick his stop watch across the gym.

But I didn't. I kept running knowing that the pain would eventually end. And it almost did - except each interval was at a faster pace than the one before it. But before I knew it, the workout was over. He let me catch my breath before announcing that I still had a five minute cool-down to go. Yep, he's that tough.

When I was finally allowed off the treadmill, I looked at my watch. Exactly 30 minutes had passed since I'd started running. I'd survived but I still wasn't sure if I wanted to kiss him or kick him in the shins.

He hugged me and told me that Wednesday would be a little tougher as all the intervals would be a mile faster than the speed I'd run for my last one today.

So I kissed him. That was the only thing that saved his shins.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Well, I'm officially a nidan candidate. Got the word Thursday from Sensei after class. And yes, I'm terrified.

I had seen quite a few black belt tests by the time I was preparing for my own shodan grading, so I kinda knew what to expect three years ago. But as I've only seen two other nidan gradings ever - including training partner Ed's test last July (where he hobbled out with a broken finger and a broken toe) - I have much less of a visual reference to go on. Plus, Ed's test was during the grading of about 25 of my under belts and my duties for the day included getting them situated for their tests, which means I only saw his exam in bits and pieces. I don't even know the order of events, sadly.

Three years ago, I also had Ed and my son, Squirrel, to drill and train with because they were prepping to grade, too. This time, it looks like I will be on my own, which truly bites.

The area I need the most work in, I think, is "think on the fly" self-defense - you know the "What would you do if an attacker did THIS?"-type stuff. I dread that with a passion because the scenarios that work so well in my head don't seem to translate very effectively in real time. Really, I'd just rather run the heck away, but I don't think that will be an acceptable solution on grading day. Ed - who is shorter but has bigger hands and rarely gives me anything - offered to drill scenarios with me, which I am grateful for. But then he told me he has been instructed to forget we are friends and "put it on me" during grading kumite, meaning he and the others I'll have to fight - at least six other guys who are all fourth dan and above - will be trying to rip my head off. Just. Great.

I asked my Sensei if there was anything I should be focusing on to prep for the grading. He told me the test would be hard but to "just keep moving forward." What to do with such vague info is a good question.

But move forward, I must. Here goes nothing...