Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Pinewood Derby: Continuing the Tradition

Back in the early seventy’s when I was in the Cub Scouts; something I always looked forward to was the Pinewood Derby. What is this? Click on the link. The race has been an annual event in scouting since the 1950’s. The scout is given a simple kit which includes a block of wood, four nails, and four plastic wheels. From there it is up to the scout, with the help of his Dad, to construct a car into a fast winning machine.

I can remember back in the day, I cut my block of wood with a jigsaw and did all the body work and paint, while my Dad helped me by melting the lead weights into the body, and lubricating the wheels. Together, we constructed a car that went all the way to win the district championship event in Kansas City. My brother went on to do the same thing. I think it might have been the same car, but I think he painted it. The Chance kids went on to build a tradition in the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby in our troop.

Fast Forward 38 years or so, and I have my own son, Braden, in Cub Scouts. When I heard we were having the Pinewood Derby, I got pretty excited. I knew how to put together a bad ass car, and I couldn’t wait to show Braden how it was done. The Tradition must live on.

I soon discovered things have changed a lot in 38 years. I perused the internet and I couldn’t believe what I found, special tools, manuals, videos, etc. Some folks even had internet businesses developed for selling Pinewood Derby products. The secrets were out. I didn’t bother ordering the manuals. I knew how to make a winning car. The problem was, that now, this information is accessible to everyone.

Braden designed his own aerodynamic shaped car and we discussed the concept. I cut it out on the band saw while he watched. He sanded and painted it. I ordered some of the special tools to work on the wheels and got up to 6000 grit sandpaper so we could polish the (nails) axels to a fine shine. He learned how to use the Dremel tool for this task. I drilled holes in the body and placed some tungsten weights in it to bring its weight, axels and wheels included up to 4.9 oz. (5 oz was the cutoff weight limit).

Once the car was complete, it rolled straight. The wheels rolled on their axels perpetually. I knew this car was going to be fast. We made a box lined with foam padding to keep it from damage, and put it away. Unfortunately, the race was going to happen on the last day of Epic Camp. I was going to be in New Zealand. Darn!! Since my Dad is no longer around, I had my father in law substitute for me. I knew he would get into this.

I got updates on the race during my return from New Zealand. Again, in 38 years the technology has changed for the better. Each car goes down each of the six lanes of the track, because some lanes may be faster or slower than others. A digital time is generated and each run and they are added together for a cumulative time to reveal the overall winner. Braden’s time was 18.25 seconds, 3.04 seconds/ run. Some of his runs were under 3 seconds. His car was beaten in one or two races, but we knew he won first place for the den. It took a month for the final results to be tabulated and found out at the award meeting that he was 3rd overall, just 0.15 seconds behind the winner. That ended up being two hundredths of a second per run behind the winner. I guess next year we have a new goal to shoot for.

While I was searching the internet I came across the movie, Down and Derby. It is a lampoon about overly competitive fathers who leave the kids out of the building process and secretly work on the cars themselves to earn the bragging rights. I have yet to see the movie but it’s on my list now. Being a competitive guy, I wanted to give Braden an opportunity to feel what it is like to win and get a trophy. He did enough of the work that he feels he earned it.

It would be tempting to do all the work myself but, if I did, how could Braden keep up the tradition. During the project, he learned a lot about tools, aerodynamics, friction, and woodworking and I’m sure in a few years he will have all the skills himself that he will be able to do all the work.

This reminded me of a quote that I remembered about taking time out of your life to teach a child something; “ The work can wait while you show a child the rainbow, but the rainbow won’t wait while you do the work” I think Braden got a good glimpse of that rainbow.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mom's Away...It's Time To Play

Ok, its a couple weeks since Epic Camp ended and I am starting to feel a little like a rock star. The top end isn’t there yet so I am keeping the pace down a bit and letting my body continue to soak in the massive training volumes I did. I just got around to looking at the blogs and listening to all the pod casts. It was nice to hear Molina say that if he had to do it over again he would have taken some years off from Ironman and worked on his top end speed. That’s exactly what my body and mind is telling me to do now. Mentally it’s difficult to handle all those long miles for longer than a few years and, currently, my body is craving something different.

After listening to all the campers speak, there was one thing that they had that I didn’t. They had a goal. I was just at the camp for the experience. That makes a big difference in the amount of discomfort that you are willing to accept. Aside from that, I still completed PR training volumes for the week. I haven’t swum that much in 20 years or so. It just left me wondering, What if I was able to build up my tolerance to volume, would I get faster? All these guys obviously do so much more training than I do. My guess is no, because by adding this to my family and job expectations, it would most likely result in burnout and ultimately, sub par performances. It would be a waste of time I otherwise would have and should have had spent with my family.

Another question I had was that some guys got stronger as the camp progressed. My body just shut down. Was it my age and the inability to recover? Was it the lack of deep base? I was a couch potato and have only been back in the sport for 3 years after a very long layoff, whereas some of the other guys have been at it for decades.

I noticed some of the guys wore leg compression garments after the days of training and even slept with them on. The popular model was called “Skins”. So when I got home I ordered a pair from

I put them on one evening after a longish ride and I just went about my household business. Dana, my wife, said “What……….are you wearing?” I proceeded to tell the story about the guys at the camp and was immediately cut off. “TAKE THOSE OFF YOU LOOK LIKE A FREAK!!!!” ….But, but….NOW! I wasn’t wandering outside. I was in the privacy of my own home. I can remember when Molina invited us out for a night on the town in Queenstown, Andrew Chirnside was wearing his black Skins under a pair of shorts and I think he had on a pair of sandals on too. Molina made a deadpan comment “You’re not wearing those out with us are you?” I got a chuckle out of that. They do look kind of silly.

Dana really isn’t into me developing the epic camper’s lifestyle. I think she was pretty amused with Molina’s blog when he called me a “gone burger”. “That serves him right for leaving me here alone for 10 days with the kids.” She had a custom Speedo made for me with that name sublimated on the rear. It looks like in the future, I’m going to have to be a bit more stealth when I wear my skins.

So this weekend Dana took a trip to Austin, TX to visit our friend Lynne Smith, the English Channel swimmer, and run the ATT half marathon. I was left with the kids. On tap for the weekend was a gymnastics meet “The Nadia Comanchi Invitational” at the Bart Conner Academy. Nadia was off in Russia for a benefit but Bart was there. It was a big meet. A group was there from Mexico. Next week Payton travels to Padre Island. That would have been a closer event for the Mexicans.

I was well equipped for this meet. I had Nintendo DS’, books, and some Will Ferrell movies for the drive there and back. My son Braden has become the ultimate Will Ferrell fan. He has his Dad’s taste in humor. I ran into some difficulty when the charge ran out of the game device three hours into the meet. That meant I needed to come up with something pretty imaginative to keep Paige and Braden occupied or the kicking and screaming and the numerous pleas to go home would begin and escalate very rapidly.

So, I thought, what keeps the average male in front of the TV all weekend? The love of the sport?….Yes, but they also most likely have some wager running on the games they are watching. So I invented the game “ Fall off the Beam”. Genius!!! This was better than Jai Alai.

Here’s how it worked. We each wagered a nickel for each gymnast as they stood waiting for their beam routine to start. The bet was simply, stay on or eat mat. It was amazing how I got the kids to watch and pay attention to the event. Occasionally, it did get pretty embarrassing when a cheer was let out when one of the girls fell. Some parents turned around. Luckily, there were other events going on at the same time. I would just point to the floor and indicate to the parent how that girl really nailed the jump. Overall, we ended up having a good time. Braden wagered that his sister would fall. Loser!!!!! She was solid!

Next time I think I will bring poker chips. I was also thinking, the same could be done in swim meets. I might be able to come up with some odds system for the kids with the slower seed times. It’s just too easy betting on lanes 4 and 5 all the time. Who knows, there might be a future business in this;)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Epic Camp 2008: Thoughts

I let out a sigh as my plane touched down in Tulsa at 10pm Monday. My epic journey was over. It had been a long trip and I was exhausted. I had lived the dream for eight days on the south island of New Zealand with some extraordinary athletes. Most of those days were in a fog of fatigue but I look back on them fondly. It was a tough camp but I really enjoyed it. I didn’t win the camp but I was far from being last thanks to my swimming skills. Albert Boyce told me during his first epic camp he had the thousand mile stare for most of it. I know what he means now.

I explored my limits and dealt with my failures. I think I gained fitness from it and I gained a mental edge as well. It’s strange, but I feel different. I can’t explain it. It feels like a calm confidence. I like the feeling. I came away with the knowledge of what it takes to bring me up a notch and how much time and effort that’s going to take me. I am happy with my decision to step back and take in the shorter distance races this year. It’s just not a place that I want to go now.

After day two of Epic camp when I shelled myself, I put it into this perspective. “This is my camp and I’m going to do it on my terms to my fatigue level. I’m not going to let myself get shelled by someone else‘s pace. I’m going to enjoy training in New Zealand and not get injured.” After I took this approach, I enjoyed it. If I felt like crap, I didn’t do a task, or I took it easy if I was tired.

I remember in the later days of the camp I was standing next to Gordo while he was tallying up the quantities of training for the day for everyone. It was 6:10 and training was not allowed after 7pm. I had missed my run and I was just going to blow it off. I was holding an unopened bottle of Corona beer in my hand. Gordo said “you still have time to get in your run….or you can have a Corona” You can guess which one I chose.

While I was in the camp I would often think “This is really silly, is all of this really necessary?” I’m just building my base. I would think back to the days when I swam as a kid. Our coach would make us swim twice a day. I didn’t know how much I was swimming. I just did what he said without question. It wasn’t until my dad mentioned “Do you know how much you’re swimming a day?” He added it up and it was over 10 miles a day. It was then I began to question the sanity of it all. Hell, I was just doing a 2 to 5 minute race. Why did I need to swim 10 miles a day?

The same topic has been brought up in the book “Golden Girl” by Michael Silver which describes the new swimming training methods of Natalie Coughlin by her coach Terri McKeever. McKeever questioned the methods of overdistance training for swimmers and instead concentrated on technique, strength, and speed with some extraordinary results. However, most of the swimmers Mckeever trained had large endurance volume bases prior to swimming for her. I have heard some folks respond to volume whereas others respond to intensity. Everyone is different, however I don’t doubt to be successful in Ironman you need a huge aerobic volume base.

The Brett Sutton technique utilizes huge training volumes and frequent racing. All folks can’t handle this method and can’t hang with it or get injured. The analogy “throw a handful of eggs against the wall….keep the one that doesn’t crack.” Some folks can train better than others, do huge volumes, but when the race comes around they’re flat. Others don’t do as much and with a well thought out plan can really execute and nail a key race with just the minimum.

So I came away from Epic Camp with some questions about the training methods but it is still too soon to see if I benefited from the approach. I have always wondered how some hard core athletes train when I am in my own little world here in Tulsa. I heard a lot of stories. Epic was something that I wanted to experiment with this season. Who knows, it just might be the right thing for me. It just is impractical with my time constraints due to family and occupational commitments.

By the way, on my arrival back to the country I was pleased to hear that my son had won 1st Place in the school science fair with a project that we both worked on prior to my trip. He also won the Cub Scout pinewood derby race with our top secret car. He really made me proud. I could have been training during the time that we worked on those projects but I chose to do something that would help build his self esteem instead.