The Outside Blog

Skiing and Snowboarding : Jan 2013

NYC Bound: A Triathlon in My Apartment

"NYC Bound" is a new biweekly column in which Brooklyn resident Noah Davis—see, he's bound (confined) in New York, but these are also things you can do if you go (bound) to New York, and a lot of these activities involve human beings doing some kind of bounding—examines how one lives the active and adventure lifestyle while also living in the America's biggest, most city-ish city.

Patrick Parish of Circle Pines, Minnesota, broke the hour mark en route to winning the 2010 USA National Sprint Triathlon Championship. He completed the race—a 750m swim, 20k bike ride, and 5k run—in 59:06. I learn this fact halfway through the riding portion of my first-ever triathlon. I wanted to know what a good time was so I googled it on my iPhone. Riding, typing, and reading all at the same time is dangerous, but significantly less so for me than for Parish or the vast majority of other sprint-tri participants.

You see, I was on a stationary bike. I did the entire thing in my apartment building.

New York City residents get exercise in strange ways. Because of the physical limitations of living on a concrete island, traditional outdoor activities get brought inside. New Yorkers race up the Empire State Building. We climb in retrofitted warehouses. And some of us are lucky enough to have lap pools and a gym in our buildings so we can do a full sprint triathlon on a Friday afternoon.

THE POOL PORTION CONSISTED of 46 laps. Flip turns were not going to happen because I tend to inhale water and choke whenever I try one, so the necessity of turning around every 20 seconds negated the speed advantage of pushing off of the wall. (While searching for Parish's time, I discovered that most pool-based sprint tris only require swims of 400 or 500 meters so as to limit the number of laps. This would have been nice to know earlier. I also need a waterproof phone.) Except for the lifeguard, I was alone the entire time. My left calf started to tighten around the 36-lap mark, but I managed to finish fine. The swim took 16 minutes and 30 seconds, hardly a record-breaking pace but not bad for someone whose entire training regimen consisted of completing one set of 30 laps the previous week to prove to himself he could make it through a half-mile. Drowning in a three-and-a-half-foot deep pool would have been so embarrassing.

Also embarrassing: Struggling into skintight Under Armour speedshorts in the locker room. Apartment-building decorum dictated that I couldn't run into the gym located 10 feet from the pool dripping wet, so I changed. Consideration for your fellow city dwellers, however, costs time. Traditional triathletes complete the transition from the swim to the bike in between 60 and 70 seconds. It took me more than three minutes to move from the pool to the locker room to the bike. In my defense, I was carrying a plastic bag of bananas and a sopping towel. The lifeguard, understandably, looked on confused. 

"Hill Plus Level Five" seemed like an appropriately difficult and unnecessarily dramatic setting for the first ever Gold Street Apartment Building Triathlon, so I pressed a couple of buttons and started riding. Then, I realized that I needed to adjust the seat higher if I was going to be sitting on the hilariously uncomfortable not-so-soft rubber for the next 40-plus minutes. I figured I could ride at least 15 miles per hour, finishing the 12 miles in roughly three-quarters of an hour.

I went faster. Hill Plus Level Five consisted of one long, not-very-steep incline. The first mile took three minutes. The second 2:55. I was flying; I was hungry. I looked around for the pair of bananas I’d bought earlier in the day, intending to eat one of them during the ride. The well-traveled fruits were in the bag on the floor. I couldn't reach them. They were, however, significantly closer than the water bottle I conscientiously filled before leaving my apartment and then proceeded to leave on the counter. [See picture.] It’s a complete amateur hour at this point.

With RPMs north of 120, a heart rate pushing 160, and no fuel or hydration, I started to get a little weird. I spent miles seven through 10 weighing the pros and cons of expanding the triathlon into a quadathlon featuring the elliptical. I decided against making such a move, then reached the end of 12 miles in 35:40. 

I had no idea how my legs would feel after nearly an hour of sustained effort. During the transition between the bike and the treadmill, which—somehow—took 80 seconds, I pecked out the following line on my iPhone notepad: "Legs heavy. Knees weak. Moms spaghetti. (Losing it?) lose yourself." I was starting to fade. Three miles remaining. Seven miles per hour. One percent incline. And go.

My left leg started cramping, but I shuffled along, images of those struggling triathletes at the end of an Ironman filling my brain. I wasn't them, not anywhere close, but this was a battle in a different way. For the biking and running portions of my own personal event, it was me and my reflection in the mirrors. That tableau gets old, quick. Running on a treadmill, a machine that limits speed and cannot be quickly re-calibrated, presents its own challenges. It forces you to set the pace at the lowest common denominator in order to avoid potential disaster. So I continued trotting along at seven-miles-per-hour even after working out the cramps, concerned that a faster pace would send me tumbling off the back of the machine if and when my leg seized up again.

A little more than 25 minutes and 400 calories later, I neared the finish line. Instead of doing the full 5k, I decided to stop after three miles, grab my stuff, run from the gym to the stairwell, then sprint up 15 flights to the roof. At least that was the intention. My right quad gave way on the landing of the ninth floor. (How do the Empire State Building racers do it?) I limped the rest of the way, still carrying the plastic bag that contained my towel, flip flops, wet boxers, goggles, two uneaten bananas, and no water bottle. I burst through the rooftop door in 1:22:55.6 and was greeted by a beautiful early-winter night. Office lights lit up lower Manhattan. Headlights illuminated the traffic-snarled BQE.

I FELT GOOD. PRESUMABLY, I was the record-holder of the Gold Street Apartment Building Triathlon Series, and possibly even the greatest Apartment Triathlete in all of Brooklyn (although not the NYC indoor record holder). I finished well behind Parish's time, but in front of the hypothetical 90-minute goal I set before I started based upon my lack of swimming experience, my lack of distance riding, and the fact that it's difficult to run faster than 7:30 miles on a treadmill. Although, I wish I could have convinced a friend to tag along. It would have been fun to try to chase someone down on a stationary bike.

I started plotting for the next tri. Pat Parish's time didn't seem that far away. A couple minutes here, a few minutes there, an actual training swim or two. I’d even eat a banana and remember to bring some water. Breaking the hour mark might be impossible indoors, but the 70-minute barrier doesn't seem unreasonable. If nothing else, I know I can make up some time in the transitions.

Noah Davis (@noahedavis) is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.

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Dog Recall, Part II: The Old, the Habituated, and the Just Plain Stubborn

Getting a reliable recall in older dogs without previous training or breeds commonly known to be less biddable and more independent (hounds, pointers, and such) will require commitment and effort. First, you’ve got to train out the old problem and then train in the new, desirable behavior. Here’s how we’ll do it.

1. Teach the command “come” or “here.”

2. Consistency: The reinforcement and the command must be presented the same way each time. Introduce a reward your dog likes for a correct response.

3. Condition with distraction. You want your dog to come to you despite any distractions out in the world.

4. Gradually extend distance of your recall.

It’s easy to teach the “here” behavior. Just walk along with the dog at heel on lead (leash). Then stop and quickly walk backward, showing your positive reinforcer, like a treat, and use your recall command. Use a bridge like “good dog,” “yes,” or a clicker, and mark the behavior as the dog starts toward you. Deliver your reward as the dog comes in. I call this exercise a reverse heel. Next, leave the dog at sit. Attach a long cord for safety. Walk out, give the command, “here,” and show the treat. No compliance? Use the cord for encouragement. Keep distances short to teach the command and introduce the reinforcer.

Use a trill on a whistle to signal the recall as well. I prefer high-pitched ACME dog whistles because they don’t draw a lot of attention from people, but the dog can hear it just fine over long distances.

Now here’s the key: Just because your dog is coming to you doesn’t mean he’s necessarily trained for recall. You’ve got to get a 100-percent response rate in five different locations (yard, field, park, etc.) to call it a trained behavior. On average, getting to that point will take about 1,000 repetitions with increasing levels of distraction. No, it’s not quick, but it’s worth it.

Some positive reinforcers: A treat, food, or perhaps a toy; or, for some dogs, a retrieve of a ball or training dummy; and there’s always the big one, lavish affection. The goal: Convince your dog that you are the best thing going. A big, fun reward is waiting for an immediate recall. If it’s more interesting to be with you than on an independent frolic, training the recall shouldn’t be hard at all.

A tough rule: You cannot maintain the integrity or value of a primary reinforcer if it is inappropriately or indiscriminately given out. If you’re giving out treats or lavishing affection any old time, you’ll diminish the effectiveness of the reward as a motivator.

You must get eye contact. Total attention is needed if you intend to become the leader. Practice holding your dog’s attention for increasing lengths of time with direct eye contact. You cannot do so wearing sunglasses. Treats work well: Say the dog’s name and give a treat after a few seconds of eye contact. Gradually lengthen the time required to earn a treat. Then add distraction. If you walk in a circle, will the dog follow you with his eyes? If you raise your arms, will he maintain eye contact?

Once you have a basic recall down, start to add distractions. Throw a ball over your dog’s head as he’s coming in. Have a friend bike or jog by. Have a child playing elsewhere in the yard. Start adding distractions in an enclosed area—a garage, fenced yard, using a check cord. You want to control the situation so that your dog is successful almost all the time. Failure weighs heavily on most dogs and quickly leads to confusion and disengagement. Timing is crucial. Wait until there’s a pretty good chance your dog will look up from whatever he’s doing before you give the recall command. Every time you try and fail, you’re reinforcing the dog’s tendency to ignore you.

Once you get five recalls in five places with minor distractions, move to big distractions: Water, other dogs, interesting smells, people, and wild animals. The only way to desensitize your dog to the effect of these is to repeatedly expose him to all in a controlled environment. First, at short distances, then gradually extend the distance of compliance.

Dogs are pleasure seekers. Make coming to you more rewarding than whatever else is going on and reinforce it time after time and you’re on your way to a reliable behavior—a habit.

1. Never chase the dog.

2. Never call your dog to punish, confine, or provide any negative experience. If your dog doesn’t like being put outside, never call him to you to put him outside.

3. Don’t dilute the value of the positive reinforces with indiscriminate application. The dog needs to work for everything.

4. Time the marker reward for the best behaviors, exactly when they occur. No delay. Timing is crucial.

This article originally appeared on Outside K9, the former dog blog of Outside magazine, on March 31, 2009.

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Platypus Introduces Streamlined Hydration Packs


Hydration packs aren’t always the most exciting subject. They have a reservoir to hold your drink, they stash your tools and food and your gear. They often have straps that, sure, can draw your load in toward your body, but they sometimes flap and snap and sting when you’re maching downhill.

Platypus’ new cross-country cycling hydration packs are a different breed. Ultralight storage for minimalist MTB rides, these sport-specific packs have superior ventilation, fit, and good gear organization. And they’re cleaner than other packs—bullet shaped with nothing to flap or snap.

PLATYPUS TOKUL X.C. 3.0 is the smallest and most minimalist pack in the line, just the ticket for riders who’d rather not carry a pack. If all you need is hydration, fuel, and tools for basic trail-side triage, this is the bag for you. It comes with one liter of gear storage, a liter reservoir, an external tool pocket, and an internal pump sleeve. Available in five-liter and eight-liter versions, January 2013, $70-$90.

If ultralight XC isn’t your gig, not to worry. The XC packs are just one piece of Platypus’ new hydration pack line, which also include all-mountain, biking, and hiking packs.

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Going Analog and Other Adventure Resolutions

Falcon2Camping cure-all. Photo: Katie Arnold

Happy new year! The exclamation point feels a little forced this morning as I saddle up to my computer with a mix of dread and anticipation. Something tells me I’m not the only one. For 10 days, the whole country has been in the space between: real life, suspended. No school, work, deadlines, meetings, professional obligations. My husband, two daughters, and I spent Christmas in Connecticut with my parents and siblings and their eight kids. I left my computer in Santa Fe and, with all the free time I wasn’t wasting on Facebook, we walked to the beach with the kids, set up my niece and nephew’s new slackline, played paddle tennis, and shucked and ate eight dozen Bluepoint oysters. I even managed to read a whole book.

I craved the uninterrupted family time, but by the end, I was antsy. I missed my writing, our family’s normal routine. Structure. This is the conundrum of 21st-century family life, played out on a national level during the holidays: How to strike the balance between too much to do and too little? Me-time and we-time? If you don’t plan, things don’t happen, but if you plan too much, you run yourselves ragged. We wrestle with this all the time in our house, but it’s especially pronounced this week as I look back on all the fun we had in the last 12 months—river running, camping, a month in bare feet, Thanksgiving in the canyons, etc.—and start scheming a new year of adventure resolutions. Here's our bucket list. What's on yours?

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