Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Trampling their fans' hopes

It's hard, as a New England Patriots fan, to express sympathy for Indianapolis Colts fans. After all, we haven't liked each other much over the years.

But after the Colts lost to the New York Jets on Sunday, I could understand the venom being spewed on the various Colts forums, although much of it was over the top, as it often is in such places.

The Colts were looking like they had a very good chance at tying the Patriots' record for an undefeated regular season (16-0) and then going on to win the Super Bowl, which the Patriots were unable to do after their stellar 2007 season.

Instead, on Sunday the Colts chose to pull some of their starters, including quarterback Peyton Manning, with 5:36 left to go in the third quarter, in what was up until then a close game. The Jets ended up winning, 29-15.

The coach's rationale was that he didn't want his key players to get injured before the playoffs in what was essentially a meaningless regular-season game. Try telling the Colts fans who had paid good money to watch a piece of history being made, or at least to watch a shot at history in the making, that the game was meaningless. I don't blame them for being angry. Now they are left to wonder what might have been, had Manning and the others who have made so many improbable comebacks before been left in the game.

At any elite level of sport, games and events should be played to win. Holding back goes against the spirit of sport.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Words to live by

Now that the gifts are opened and the stampede of store returns begins, perhaps it's time to put things in perspective.

I've always loved stories about people who triumph over the most impossible of odds, so the story of Helen Keller was one that always moved me. Sometimes the pressures and commercialism of this season overshadow the things that truly matter, like good health, family, friendships and love.

"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart."

Helen Keller

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's time to drink up!

No, I don't mean alcohol, even though it does seem to be the season for that sort of thing.

It's also the season for a friendly reminder about the importance of staying hydrated during winter activities.

Not surprisingly, it's much easier to keep proper hydration in mind when it's 90 degrees and we're sweating up a storm while playing tennis or going for a run than when we're skiing or snowshoeing in the subfreezing cold.

But body fluids can be lost during exercise in the cold just as easily as in the heat. You know those vaporous exhalations that are a trademark of winter breathing? That's water being lost. Cold weather also makes us urinate more frequently, promoting dehydration.

It's always a good idea to drink plenty of fluids, preferably water, before and during any vigorous cold-weather activity. Remember, if you wait until you feel thirsty to start drinking, it's too late — you're already dehydrated.

Cheers, and have a merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

This snowwoman is not abominable

I know this puts me at odds with most of my friends and acquaintances, but I love snow. So I'm pretty excited that the National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning for southern Rhode Island for late this afternoon and tonight.

Call me overly optimistic, but I'm dreaming of going out tomorrow and playing in the snow like a child again.

Now if I could just round up a few hundred friends, borrow some heavy equipment, and take a few days off from work, I might have a shot at challenging the residents of Bethel, Maine, who in 2008 built the world's tallest snowwoman. Olympia, as she was named, stood 122 feet, 1 inch tall and weighed an estimated 13 million pounds. She melted in July 2008, but her legacy lives on.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A treadmill tip

Now that the weather has turned cold, some of you regular walkers have probably resorted to using a treadmill, either at the gym or in your home.

That's all well and good, and you probably think it's pretty much the same thing as walking outdoors, minus the good scenery, right? But if that's the case, why do I see so many people at my gym grasping the bar at the front while walking on the treadmill?

When you walk naturally, your arms swing freely, right? And that's how it should be on the treadmill as well. Holding onto the bar at the front puts the body in a forward-leaning position that compromises proper body mechanics for walking.

Good posture and spinal alignment are important when walking, whether outdoors or on a treadmill. If you find you do not have the balance to walk on a treadmill without holding onto the bar, you might want to consider another vehicle for your aerobic exercise, such as a stationary bicycle.

As with all activities in the gym, good form is everything.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Words to live by

I'll be the first to admit that I can be a little too competitive for my own good, sometimes even making a contest out of something that has no rightful place in competition. So I had to laugh when I came across this quote from one of my sports idols, tennis great Martina Navratilova.

It's funny because it's so true. Who doesn't want to be a winner?

"Whoever said, 'It's not whether you win or lose that counts,' probably lost."

— Martina Navratilova

Friday, December 11, 2009

My head trumps the heart-rate monitor

I've long wondered about the accuracy of those heart-rate monitors on treadmills, elliptical trainers and stationary bicycles — you know, the kind where you wrap your hands around a metal bar and a few seconds later your heart rate is displayed.

This past weekend, while doing a blast of cardio on one of the Expresso bicycles at my gym, the bicycle showed my heart rate to be 181 at one point, as I navigated a rather difficult video course. Now this might have been a cause for concern, seeing as how a heart rate of 181 is 12 beats above what my maximum heart rate should be if I follow the standard formula (220 minus age). But I wasn't concerned at all, because I've gotten into the habit of monitoring my intensity during aerobic activity by using something known as the Borg Scale.

The Borg Scale enables you to rate your level of exercise intensity based on your perception of how hard you're working.

The original Borg scale goes from 6 to 20, with 7 representing "very, very light" intensity, 13 being "somewhat hard," 15 being "hard" and 19 being "very, very hard." A revised Borg Scale with ratings from 1 to 10 was also developed, but I prefer the original because it roughly corresponds to heart rate when multiplied by 10. In other words, a rating of 13 on the original Borg scale would correspond to a heart rate of 130 beats per minute, a rating of 15 would represent a heart rate of about 150, and so on.

For the average person engaging in aerobic activity, a range of 12 to 16 on the original Borg Scale represents an appropriate exercise intensity, according to the American Council on Exercise.

During my aforementioned ride, when the bike put my heart rate at 181, I would have rated my level of exertion on the original Borg scale at 15, which is why I wasn't concerned about the heart-rate information displayed on the bike. Conversely, there have been times when I've been on the treadmill or elliptical trainer and it's displayed a low heart rate, about 115 or so, even though I was sweating and feeling like I was working pretty hard. Given a choice, I'll listen to what my head has to say over the heart-rate monitors on such machines.

Now I'm not recommending that anyone disregard the information displayed by any heart-rate monitor. I'm just saying that it's often helpful to supplement that information with a reality check of your own. Using the Borg Scale is an easy way to do that. And if you're still concerned that your heart rate might be too high, I would recommend simply stopping your activity briefly and checking your heart rate by palpating the pulse at your neck or at your wrist.

The more information you have, the better the decision you will be able to make. That's true of many of life's situations, both inside and outside the gym.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Looking for some weighty advice?

Sorry, but you won't find any here, at least not today. But I did do a little guest blogging over the weekend at projo.com, where I wrote about how fitting resistance training into our lives becomes even more important as we reach midlife and beyond. You can read all about it here.

So what are you waiting for? Please move along folks, there's nothing to see here.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Holding the line against conformity

A game between Florida State University and the University of Florida last week produced one of the more bizarre moments I've even seen in football. Maybe Florida State right tackle Zebrie Sanders has been flagged a few too many times for false starts, or maybe he's catching up on that sleep he missed while studying for exams. In any case, he seems momentarily oblivious to the world around him.

Friday, December 4, 2009

When dreams and reality collide

Back here I promised that I'd someday tell the story of what happened on a ski trip to Lake Louise, in Alberta, Canada. I figured what better time to do it than today, as the resort prepares to host two women's World Cup downhills and a Super G this weekend.

Like other trip-down-memory-lane posts that I've done, I suppose you could say this one has a moral, of sorts. For now let's just file it under the heading of "be careful what you wish for."

For years, Lake Louise had been my dream ski destination, in large part because of its reputation for having the most beautiful lift-served scenery in North America. In those reader polls that ski magazines like to run every year, Lake Louise was rated number one for scenery almost without fail. One reader even went so far as to describe Lake Louise as "burst-into-tears beautiful." I liked that description.

As it would turn out, I did burst into tears during my trip there, but my outburst was triggered not by the rugged beauty of the Canadian Rockies, but rather by an overwhelming sense of fear, failure and disappointment. This is an embarrassing story for me to tell, so maybe it should be cross-referenced under "the ability to laugh at oneself is healthy."

Marge and I traveled to Banff, Alberta, in February 2005 with nearly her entire family — parents, sisters and their husbands, and their children — hard-core skiers all of them. Though I had been skiing for 21 years, I had never skied outside of New England. I was primed for my first taste of powder, above-treeline skiing and wide open spaces.

We stayed at the Banff Springs Hotel, where we would have our choice of three nearby ski areas: Sunshine Village, Lake Louise and Mt. Norquay. I was a little disappointed on that first ski day when almost everyone except me voted to go to Sunshine. I was so close to my dream, but it would have to wait another day.

On Day Two we headed to Louise. I was so excited as the shuttle bus neared the resort and the ski trails came into view. This was it, the place I had dreamed of, the very place where some of my skiing heroes — Picabo Street of the U.S., Pernilla Wiberg of Sweden and Katja Seizinger of Germany — had raced. It was almost as if I could feel their energy.

Unfortunately, the day got off to a bad start when a member of our party (who shall remain nameless to avoid embarrassment) had an accident involving a chairlift. Things didn't improve much as the morning wore on, for reasons that I needn't go into here. In any case, I was enjoying the scenery, which was every bit as beautiful as the magazines had promised.

After lunch Marge and I split off from the rest of the group. Lake Louise is pretty vast, and late in the afternoon we found ourselves somewhere that we couldn't locate on the trail map. We were, in a word, lost. We're both good skiers, so we weren't too worried, and we soon found a trail that looked promising. But what started out as a wide, groomed trail soon became wild and narrow and dropped us into a steep gladed area from which there was no escape.

Up until this point, because the Canadian Rockies had been experiencing a lean snow year, the conditions had been about what we would have expected back home — hard and icy. But deep among the trees, protected from the wind, it's a different story, as I found out the hard way.

Having found myself in a situation that I wasn't at all comfortable skiing in, I made the ill-fated decision to take my skis off and try walking a bit. I took my right ski off first, and my right leg immediately plunged through the top crust and into the snow, which was quite deep. I was now twisted around in an awkward position, and the ski I had just removed slid away from my reach. I felt helpless and afraid, and the panic set in much earlier than I'd like to admit.

Marge had had the good sense to stick it out with her skis on, and she was now pretty far ahead of me. I yelled down to her. She tried to coax me into getting up and putting my other ski back on, but every time I tried to stand up, I slid a little more toward a steep drop-off into a tight grouping of trees. I was in full-blown panic mode now, envisioning myself in a free fall, bouncing off trees like a pinball.

Marge patiently sidestepped her way back up to where I was, helped me get back into my ski, and then we continued on our way, slowly and sloppily picking our way down through the trees. By the time we made it out of the trees and onto a tamer part of the mountain, I was exhausted and my feet were in pain. We made our way over to a mid-mountain lodge that wasn't even open and sat on a picnic table to regroup. It was there that the tears started flowing, first a trickle, then a river. I was upset with myself for having been so afraid, upset with myself for not having had more confidence in myself, and most of all, upset that my dream had turned into a nightmare.

That's sometimes the problem with dreams — reality gets in the way.

On the last day of our ski week, Marge told me I could pick the area that we would go to. It would be just the two of us, because once again everyone else wanted to go back to Sunshine. She was certain, knowing how stubborn I can be at times, that I would pick Louise, if for no other reason than to try to salvage my dream. She was shocked when I whispered in her ear "Norquay," the area everyone else had derided as too small and too easy, the area that I had never even heard of before our trip.

Maybe another cross-referencing is in order here: "bigger is not necessarily better." Marge and I ended up having a glorious day at Norquay. It was sunny and mild there — while the others reported clouds and chill at Sunshine — and, perhaps because so many other skiers were chasing their big-time dreams, we had the mountain to ourselves:

It was the best ski day of my life.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Midweek odds and ends

Who's afraid of the big, bad gym?

Well you've weighed in on another poll question — five of you did, anyway — and here's the news: three out of the five said they feel comfortable in a gym.

Not that it's a good sample on which to base any kind of conclusion, but I'm glad to hear that more of you felt comfortable than not. People already manage to come up with enough reasons to skip exercise, and feeling intimidated or alienated at a gym should not be among them. There are plenty of gyms out there. If you're thinking about joining one, see if you can get a week's trial before signing any papers. Talk to other members. If you don't like what you see or feel, move on.

Thanksgiving update

My better half wasn't especially pleased with what I wrote here. It was my first post that she hasn't liked. Marge likes holidays a little better than I do, and she also thought I was being unfair to those who work hard to make a nice dinner for everyone else. That certainly wasn't my intention.

So, I just wanted to say thanks to my wonderful sister-in-law Mary. I really do appreciate all that you do. Your home is lovely and welcoming, and I'm thankful that there's a place for me at your table.

I had a good time this year, and for once I left the table feeling satisfied, but not stuffed.

The things women do

Another model has joined the long and sad list of casualties of the pursuit of physical "perfection." Solange Magnano, 38, a former Miss Argentina, died Sunday from complications experienced while she was undergoing elective cosmetic surgery to make her buttocks firmer. She leaves behind 7-year-old twins.

"A woman who had everything lost her life to have a slightly firmer behind," a friend, Roberto Piazza, told the Associated Press.

How sad indeed.