Friday, November 28, 2014

Performance in music and sports -- learning to react and accept whatever happens

As I prepared to participate in my fist triathlon last year I got a lot of advice from friends as well as on-line sources about preparation. Mental and physical preparation. Everything from making checklists to how to handle your nerves. Apparently too many newbies focus all their attention on training, then show up on race day without the right gear at the right place and time, and frazzled to a crisp by self doubt.

Being a typical newbie I thought checklists were a bit much, but thankfully I was old enough to know my aging brain tends to forget things. As it turned out those checklists contributed significantly to my success and my peace of mind.

I have also run quite a few races, including the Honolulu Marathon. In spite of the relative simplicity of running, careful preparation still plays an important roll. I have one checklist for packing and one for getting ready that morning. As simple as it may seem, leaving out a step — like applying Body Glide to feet before putting on socks — could spell disaster before the day is done.

For most of my life I have been a performing musician. Recently Pattie and I participated in a Javanese Dance performance — as members of the University of Hawaii Gamelan — and with those first two triathlons fresh in my memory I saw some significant similarities, but even more so some interesting differences.

These was a time when I would get nervous before a concert. Not anymore. Even when I have a hard lick or two that I know I may not get right, that simply does not bother me anymore. The key is to acknowledge that you have done all that you could to prepare, and that you are ready.

This last concert was different than recent concerts in that we had a group of guest artists from Indonesia. This had an interesting effect on me. During the night before the concert I kept waking up to thoughts about the music. Not anything hard; quite the opposite. We all have had the experience of having a song stuck in our head. You can force yourself to stop playing the tune in your head, but the moment you turn away, it sneaks back. It was like that. I would just be falling asleep and there was that tune again. Was it worry, or just a very repetitive melody?

My triathlon training prepared me for this. My solution was to accept it, and not worry about it. I really did not need to sleep at that moment. This was my brain playing tricks on me, and it was okay. Before long I was fast asleep.

One of the more interesting was gamelan is different from western classical music is the degree of uncertainty. Only the true aficionado will know that during a performance there are multiple layers of variable probabilities unfolding like a quantum field collapse. Moment by moment the possibilities are resolved by sound queues. A signal can come from the drum, the rebab, the bonang, or the singer. When accompanying dance the gamelan must react to them; the process uses a woodblock called keprak (say it and you will know why), played by someone knowledgeable of the dance. The drummer reacts to the keprak, and the rest of the ensemble reacts to the drum.

The really interesting part of this is that the signaling instruments play a lot, yet much of what they play is devoid of signal. The drum may be making a lot of noise, but it is all about accompanying the action. The ensemble must not react to those drum strokes. The moment they hear a patten that contains a signal, then they must react.

What this means is that we never know exactly what is going to happen. The event unfolds as we go along. In rehearsal we practice our possible outcomes and learn to react. We do not set a specific course of action; it just does not work that way.

Success at triathlon requires a similar skill. When a swimmer practices for a fifty meter sprint, every stroke is known ahead of time. Same thing for runners, they know exactly how many strides they need to take to win a fifty meter sprint. In triathlon we must plan for many possible contingencies, then pay close attention to incoming signals and react quickly and effectivly when necessary, while at the same time not allowing ourselves to be be distracted by the chaos all around us.

Learn to enjoy those surprises, those moments when you say to yourself “Gee I never thought that would happen.” To react with “Oh crap …” will only slow you down.

Friday, November 21, 2014

At the peak and life gets in the way but no excuses

Last weekend marked the peak of my marathon training. I do my long runs on Saturday, after a rest day on Friday, and my long bike rides on Sunday. Last weekend I was scheduled for a 10 mi. run and a 60 mi. bike. The run was not your typical long run, either. It started out nice and easy, but the second half was to be a lot harder, more almost a tempo run. Training Peals called for a race pace but I wanted to get a little more out of it, so my last few miles were well above marathon pace, closer to 10k pace.

Everything went well. My body was happy and I felt energetic, signs that my training plan was not too harsh. A couple weeks ago I had been bothered by my bad old left leg, but a conference with my trainer Sonya Weiser Souza and my strength and cycling coach Dorian Cuccia concluded that the weirdness was due to a significant correction Sonya had made to my left hip flexor and gluteus medius. I just needed to be patient and let my muscles learn how to cooperate in their new setting. They were right. After about five days all was normal, and I was running even better that before.

As it turned out, my run was on Sunday and my bike ride on Monday. Why? Because I am a member of the University of Hawaii Gamelan Ensemble and we have a troupe of musicians and dancers from Indonesia with whom we are putting on a performance this weekend (Nov 22). Rehearsals for that had been rather intense, twice a week instead of once and lots of new material to learn. Good old stress, no kidding. Saturday was our first time meeting together, and for that the group planned a lunch party. Even so I was ready to run, but I had to start early to be rested and ready for a long afternoon. Guess what? I woke up to pouring rain.

Fatigue. Stress. Time constraints. Bad weather. Any one or two of these would not be enough to change my plan, but the sum total was more the sufficient to cause me to shut off my alarm, roll over, and, much to Pattie's consternation, go back to sleep. She, bless her heart, got up and ran anyway, and happily reported that the rain stopped as soon as she went out the door. But I had an ace up my sleeve. I was off Monday.

Pushing these two long days back a day has made of mess of my nice weekly plan. This week is a short week. I am supposed to do just 7:00 hours of work. It is only Friday and I have logged 8:20. That's what happens when you move a long bike ride from Sunday -- last day of last week -- to Monday.  Last week's plan was 12:00 and I only logged just shy of 8:00. That's the missing bike ride. Which means this week should be 11:30. But if I do all of that I will not get the benefit of s short week.

Yesterday I was supposed to do a swim in the morning and an hour on the bike after work, to make up for the hour lost because we had to cancel spin class due to extra rehearsal. Those plans were made long before I scheduled my vacation, and as it worked out I had yesterday off. Today, too. So I changed my plan; put my bike stuff in the Outback, drive to the Oahu Club for a morning swim, then ride from there all around Hawaii-Kai. Good plan. Except with a rehearsal every night and a long hard day at work Wednesday, made that much harder because I have been off a few days, I felt much too tired to do anything. So Thursday morphed into my rest day.

Today I woke up feeling great. Tons of energy, no pains. I decided to do the bike workout. Just an hour, but with some hard intervals in the middle, just like Dorian does spin class. As it turned out, my turn around was at the Oahu Club. Right after I started back Pattie texted my saying that lunch with the visiting artists had been moved back, from 10:30 to 12:30. Hmm. Just enough time for that swim. Rode back to Kahala, showered, put on my swim suit and headed back to the club with my lunch clothes in my tri bag. It was a short swim, but a good one. Ended with some really good work on early head return.

After lunch I thought about doing the run, a 0:40 strides workout. Then I realized that I had already gone hard this morning, and I have a long day tomorrow moving the gamelan, giving a major performance, and moving back. Better to save my legs. Playing music may seem like an easy activity, but the moving part is anything but, and the stress is real.

The next thing to juggle is Sunday's workout, another time trial. To be useful it needs to be done with rested legs. I have been doing these first thing Saturday mornings, again after a Friday rest day. Saturday will be anything but a rest day. If I feel lousy Sunday morning I'll just have to do it Monday, even though I have to go into the office afterward. The whole thing takes just a tad less than an hour, so that is doable.

Finding balance between what you think you need to do to prepare for a race and everything else life throws at you is never easy. The solution is rarely as simple as pushing stuff forward, because that stuff piles up on the stuff already planned for those days. A good solution requires blending. And just because you have a few hours free does not mean your body is ready to make use of the time.