10/01/2009

10-01-09 - Memory

I was swimming at the Bellevue pool today and feeling semi-miserable and started thinking about a summer I spent in Austin. Just going to the pool and swimming for exercise for a while is really awful. One summer in college I stayed in Austin and did nothing. I basically had no friends or girlfriends all throughout college, and nobody was in town anyway, so I was all alone. It was glorious, I often think of that summer as one of the happiest times of my life.

I had a house in Travis Heights. It's a lovely residential neighborhood right near downtown with older single-story craftsman style houses; it reminds me a lot of Pasadena. The neighborhood also has a very friendly village feel, people have stickers about "Love 78741" or whatever. I got half a duplex for $500/month which was a pretty good deal at the time but just seems insane now. The other half of the duplex was occupied by this weird old sour hippie lady who always looked like she just came out of a wind storm and would shoot me dirty looks all the time because I liked to have my windows open to the sun and the air and I'd play music and sit on the porch. The house was right on the park that runs through the middle of the 78741, and I'd go run around the park for laughs. I'd ride my bike over to Barton Springs and swim there.

Mostly I'd go to the little pool right in my park. Austin has a great old city public pool system from back in the glory days of America when our government built beautiful structures for us all to share and to improve our cities. I would go up to the pool and just lounge around. Swimming a session just for exercise is awful, but having a dip every so often in the heat is divine. I would swim 20 laps or so, then lay out in the sun a bit, then swim some more, then lay out. I hadn't yet exhausted the Nabokov body of work, so I would read one of his books and exult in the joyous beauty of his sentences. The pool was amazingly free of kids (maybe I went at adult lap swim times?) and generally nicely empty, but there were usually a handful of soccer mom housewives who would oggle me in my speedo. I also did weird stuff back then, like I would swim my laps, then get out and do some pushups and situps on the side of the pool to try to make it a more balanced workout. I feel very conflicted about things like that. I wasn't doing it to be a spectacle, it's what I would do if noone was around (in fact if noone was around I would do even weirder stuff, like swim in circles underwater), but I am aware that it makes a spectacle which I don't like.

I used to bike up to Mount Bonnell. That's actually an incredibly short easy ride, I now know, but at the time I thought it was a decent workout because I was a terrible cyclist and had no concept how far behind a real biker I was (and my bike was really slow and heavy, I now know). I think that's also the summer that I passed out from heat stroke biking up a hill in west Austin. I think it was Redbud Trail, which is a decently hard hill, but it was over 100 and I wasn't being careful about keeping myself cool. I was biking along the side of the road and started seeing black dots in my vision. Then all of a sudden I woke up and I was lying in the shoulder and I don't know how I got there and I had an intense head ache (from dehydration not from impact). (I was to have a similar but much scarier incident many years later on Hwy 46 near Cambria, going down hill very fast - it's a long steep hill, about 3000 feet in elevation change, going probably 40 mph I was riding along and feeling really bonked and started dozing and did that thing where your head nods off and suddenly you wake up and didn't realize you'd been asleep).

That summer in Austin was the first time I started doing hard functional workouts. I went to "Big Steve's Gym" which was the most awesome gym I've ever seen (I hear it's been renovated or changed owner's and is no longer the same). It was this run down old power lifting gym. It had no cardio machines at all, just a ton of old dirty weights, chalk buckets everywhere and chalk spilled on everything, and there was a boxing ring on the first floor that noone ever used. I would go in and squat 100 and watch guys squat 700+. Big Steve used to be a bench press champion, and he was training up this midget while I was there. The midget was going for the world record in bench press ratio - that's the ratio of what you bench to your bodyweight. Competitive bench press is a weird thing because it's defined relative to your body geometry, not some abstract distance. You need to push from your chest to your arms being locked out. That means that if you can get a big enough chest and short enough arms, you barely need to move the weight at all. All top end benchers have huge rib cages and short arms, but this midget was the most extreme case I've ever seen. He was literally built like a barrel, he had a huge rib cage, like an Andre the Giant huge rib cage, and then short stubby legs and arms. He only had to press a few inches to do a legal bench. I think he was going for a 3.5 ratio or something, I don't know what came of it, I was definitely the weird kid outsider at that gym and all the big old powerlifters just tolerated me as a necessary evil to pay the rent.

I did weird workouts in the park. I watched GI Jane around that time and decided I would replicate some of that training, so I would do stuff like hang upside down from the monkeybars and do situps. I also did this funny thing for legs. I lived on a bit of a slope, maybe 5%. I would put my car in neutral and then get behind it and push it up the hill as far as I could get, then let it roll back down and do it again. I also read a book on plyometrics so I would do weird plyometric training stuff like clap pushups and fast high jumps and hammer throws in the park.

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