Sunday, September 28, 2014

We Found a Home

At a fork of a lonely road in Carroll County, Mississippi, sits a small, nondescript, white, wood-frame building. Despite its lack of size and grandeur, it has a picture postcard quality nestled as it is against the backdrop of huge oak trees where squirrels eat acorns and deer slip through the shadows unseen. The yard is always freshly manicured without a trace of grass clippings or mower lines or trash. Across the road lies a cemetery on the top of a football shaped hill. Sunday morning past, my wife crossed the road and peered over the chain link fence at the tombstones and yelled back at me, "There's Danny Jackson's grave." She called out several other names of people we had known but had no idea their bodies are entombed here.
Centerville Baptist Church
They, whoever they were, named it Centerville Baptist Church about 115 years ago. We almost never made our initial visit. Earlier, I wrote about how my wife and I, after twenty-three years and two months, closed our little church in Moorhead and found ourselves ecclesiastically homeless. (I posted on this: "Transitions," May 28, 2014.) Someone asked why we didn't just go back to the Greenwood Church of God from which we came when we took the Moorhead Church. There is more than one answer to that question, but the chief one is it's sort of like Momma's house. I like to visit; now I even spend some nights there caring for Mom in her poor health. But 422 West Harding ceased to be home many years ago. Just like Momma's house, our "home church" has ceased to be where we live. We grew up and left the nest long ago. It is just not where we belong now. We feel that; we know it.

So we found ourselves on a quest for a place to worship, a place to feel at home while we rested and recovered from our labors and the pain of being shunned by a denomination we served faithfully for over two decades. I had a couple of criteria when we started our search. I wanted out of the Delta, and since there were no Churches of God close enough to attend, I thought the next best thing was the Baptist.

Since I know a few people who aren't from around here read this blog (thank you), a brief geography lesson might be in order. The Delta, where Greenwood lies and Penny and I live, is a crescent-shaped strip of land that lies west and east of the Mississippi River and borders the Loess Bluffs on its east. It runs from just below Memphis, Tennessee south to the town of Vicksburg, that city lay siege to by Ulysses S. Grant and surrendered to him on July 4th, 1863. As a result, the fourth of July was not celebrated there until the 1970s. The land here is pancake flat, and besides being renowned for its agriculture, the area has been scandalized and immortalized by numerous books, one of which calls it, "The most Southern place on earth" (the actual title of a book by James Cobb, published in 1994).

Besides its geography, it is also historically and culturally unique. The Delta has a strange ability to grow cotton, produce mosquitoes, and be the home of people with a certain mindset. Everyone here is a genius. Really. They, we, know everything and we have known it for a long time. Everyone in the Delta immediately sees the negative side of any issue or idea and anyone who disagrees with us is a dang fool and better get ready to fight or shut up one. And everyone in the Delta is "high class" and better than everyone else. No joke. You have to experience the class consciousness of this place to understand how truly stupid people can be. I didn't want anything more to do with that mindset if I could avoid it. I can't always avoid it, but I don't have to go to church with it.

The hills and Carroll County lie only a few miles from Greenwood and the Delta but is light years from the flat land in terms of people and attitudes. The biggest difference is that people are just people, and I like people, but I don't like everything about people. The pride and pretentiousness of the Delta is surprisingly absent from people who populate Carroll County just a few miles away.

So our search for a church started with the Coila Baptist Church in the little hamlet of the same name. I also wrote of this experience (See "I Liked That," May 29, 2014.)  and was especially impressed with the three-legged dog who hung out at the church. The distance was a little farther than we wanted to drive, but we liked it. Next we went to the tiny New Shiloah Baptist Church which is located on the same road my wife's family and mine own land on. We went once. It was nice, but we wanted to look some more. Mount Olive Baptist was our next visit, and we went there two times. It had a lot to recommend it. The distance was better but still a little far. It had a fair number of people but was not too large. Then we went to Hill View. It was more contemporary in its worship. Unfortunatley the pastor was gone the Sunday we stopped by and when they sent us a form letter that visitors obviously get, it was addressed to someone other than us. What?!

I had one more church on my list, Centerville. My wife didn't really want to go. She said, "You know at a church that small that much in the country, the pastor will be uneducated."

"I know," I answered, "but we are in a place in our lives that we might never be again. Now is a chance for us to look around. I want to at least go one time."

We went the first Sunday in July. Penny was right; the pastor was not highly educated, it was the smallest church we had attended, and it was next to nothing but pine trees and oaks. As we were driving away from that fateful visit, my wife asked, "What do you think?"

I just looked over and saw tears in her eyes. Before I could speak, she said, "I think this is it."

"I think so too," I agreed.

We've been going ever since.

I suppose the main reason we decided to set our bags down here is it just felt right, it seemed like this was home, where God was leading us. There are other things that have served to deepen that conviction as the weeks have passed. One of those is the collection of sounds that surround our experience at Centerville. When we get out of my wife's truck on Sunday morning, the sound of Jay birds, Robins, and others seep softly from God's free radio. Sometimes a crow reminds us we are in the country not town and the sound of wind whistling through the leaves is soothing to say the least. The smells of fresh mowed grass, dust, and pine needles further helps to create a mood of quiet rural serenity.

The sights we see on the way are a treat every time we travel to the church. We see birds of all sorts, deer, young and old, turkeys, squirrels, rabbits. We see the delta cotton and soybeans as we drive a road that part of The Rievers (1969)-- a coming-of-age story based on a Faulkner novel-- was filmed on. We motor past a pasture, also in the movie, where now resides a large herd of sheep, beautiful in their simplicity and innocence. It is impossible see the sheep without thinking of Psalm 23 or of Luke 12:32, "Fear not little flock for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom." We drive out of the delta and rise into the hills where we see the trees swaying in the breeze their limbs raised like human hands praising the Lord. That always makes me think of the verse, "Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord." We see the sky painted differently every time we drive that way faithfully fulfilling the Scripture, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth forth his handywork" (Psalm 19:1).

Brother Gary Moore
At the church we see real people, no fancy clothes, no expensive cars, no display of conspicuous consumption. We see everyday faith, not super spirituality, not people who are so "blessed" they can't admit struggle. We see people like us who enjoy eating and fellowship. But most of all we see Brother Gary Moore the pastor. My wife was right. He is not highly educated. He is not eloquent or polished. He does not dress in fancy suits. But he is real, not a hint of pretension in him. He loves Jesus, his humility is genuine, and he has a passion for souls. My wife loves him. So do I. Sometimes his preaching makes me cry. That's something these TV preachers in their thousand dollar suits can't do. That's why he's my pastor.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Journey of August King

“Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”
I can still hear one of my old professors read that line in class on the first day of a Shakespeare course I took way back in the 1980s. I was sitting in Keithly Building room 200 something at Delta State University, Harvard on the Highway as it is sometimes called.
“What does that mean?” John Ford, a Shakespeare scholar, asked us.
Like all the other stupid students, I thought it meant, ‘Where are you, Romeo?’
“Wherefore” is an archaic word. At least it is on this side of the pond. I don’t know it they still use it over there because I have never seen it on the Facebook page Did You Swim Today? my chief current connection to British English. But to us Americans it is a word from the past, so far in the past that it doesn’t even show up the King James Bible, which I am quite familiar with.
I heard it in an old movie I once watched on TCM. One character told another during a phone conversation that his wife had left him.
“Wherefore?” was all the other character answered in return. I felt smug with my newfound knowledge.
Speaking of movies, I thought of this word, which means “Why?”, when I viewed again The Journey of August King in my film class at MDCC this past Wednesday night. In this quest movie, there is a scene where the runaway slave, Annalees, says, “I never knew a man named after a month before.” She then goes on a spoof-binge, playing with August’s name saying things like, “July King, September King, November King.” Unwittingly she is asking the same question Juliet posed in the famous play: Why are you named that? What is the relationship between names and things? After all, Juliet retorts a few lines later: “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”
Besides being a quest movie, which I am a sucker for, this story, starring Jason Patrick as August King, presents the most fully developed Christ-figure I have ever seen on the big screen. Not only that, but the Christ-figure is actually Christ-like, or at least he becomes so on this quest to achieve personal peace for himself and freedom, salvation, for the runaway played by Thandie Newton. On their journey he loses almost everything: his cow, his pig, his coffee pot, his geese, his horse, his house, most of his furniture, even his reputation as a sane man.
What he gains in return can’t be purchased with money. And what he becomes on the trip is summed up when the two climb the mountain through the clouds and to the start of the trail that leads to the North. Before sending her on her way, August gives her several sentences of advice.
She simply answers, “August King.”
She gets it.
It’s worth getting even as a viewer.
Watch this movie.
Several times.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

More Beetsdown Training

I am late posting the Beetsdown training for last week (9/15-9/21). It was a mixed bag as far as training goes. I ran little and swam a lot but in a strange way. There was not intensity in any of my pool session. I am not sure why it turned out that way. Maybe fatigue had me where I couldn't stomach the idea of busting it up and down the pool so I just swam. I always enjoy a long leisurely swim no matter how tired I am or am not.

John was out of pocket Monday and at Twin Rivers I just got in and started doing laps and did 9,000 meters straight before I tapped out to go to work. After night class, I ran 4.06 miles in the dark. I am still enjoying running in the dark. The streets are deserted, the tree frogs still sing, and occasionally I see a bat swoop down presumably chasing a bug.

Tuesday John was back and he wanted to go four hours. That sounded good to me so once again I just swam laps, no sets.. I went for 11,000 in 3:53 before I tapped out. John, who got in before me, also got out after me and finished with 4:40. I was so fatigued that I didn't even run that night.

Wednesday my right pec was sore. WHAT!?!?!? Remember all  that from last spring? I stopped after only 1,400. I didn't swim or run Thursday but by Friday I was feeling good and I swan 8,200 straight. Pec OK.

Saturday was the Oaks, which I wrote about in my last post. Besides the 10K, I walked back to meet my daughter and ran the final half mile with her. Then I did the kids Fun Run so I wound up with 7.55 miles for the day, but no running between Monday and Saturday. How smart is that?

For the week, I

ran 11.65 miles,
rode my bike to work four times (one half mile each way),
walked 2.88 miles, and
swam 29,600 meters.

All things considered, I am still on track to do some a major Beetsdown on Sir Randy come October 11. One possible issue: I have a new pilot. Forrest can't make the trip, and Justin Nunnery has graciously agreed to help me. I am sure Justin will do a fine job, and I am happy he has hopped on the bandwagon to help take down Randy Beets. Forrest, however, had accumulated some experience, and he really helped me defeat the tall guy last year. In the last race, I was getting worried when Forrest said, "Relax, Dad, you're gaining on him." Later he reported: "I will tell you when he feeds. Then sprint." Not only that, but he has seen me swim so much that he can recognize me in the mass of thrashing water that is the start of the Suck. He finds me fast while some swimmers go miles without their pilot. Justin did watch me swim 17-miles last June, so I hope that translates into early recognition.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

300 Hoax

Saturday, September 20th, was the 33rd running of Greenwood's 300 Oaks road race. The run was a fun event since I had my son, daughter, granddaughter, wife, and sister-in-law there. All of us were involved in some way. My son, daughter, and sister-in-law, and I ran the 10K while my wife and granddaughter did the 5K walk. The weather was nice and as usual the free food afterwards was excellent. A live band played on Front Street while the runners straggled in and found a place to crash and eat. What's not to like?

My finishing time. That's what's not to like.

I was three minutes slower than last year at 57:08, a 9:13 pace. I can remember when a 9:13 cuased me to blush effusively. Those were the days. As slow as that was, it was good enough for second place in my age group. But I am in a very old group of geezer jocks who still run hard but get there slow. Having outlived and outlasted much of my competition, now I can usually place just by shuffling across the finish line. The three minute slow down, however, has me worried, frustrating, wondering. And to make matters worse, that has been my pattern for a few years in a row now.

The family, minus wife, at the Oaks.
It can't be my age.

It can't be.

That's what I've been telling myself for several years. But slowly I am starting to soften on that position. Maybe it is my age. I'm sure getting older has something to do with it. But I keep coming up with reasons for my decline that have nothing to do with my mounting years. Listen to a few:

  •    I got a stress fracture in December and couldn't run for over two months.

  •    I gained a bunch of weight while I was hobbled on crutches, and some of that adipose tissue still adorns my body.

  •    My real focus for the last few years has been swimming not running.

  •    This year I gained four pounds during race week. WHAT!?!?! Who does that?
Last year after the Oaks, I sat down and wrote out a plan for getting my running back on track. Somewhere along the way, I forgot about the plan and, consequently, I had a slower than expected race. See what I did there? I found a reason for my decline not connected to my birthdays. This year after the Oaks, I once more sat down and wrote out a plan to get my running back where I think it should be, to get me out of second place and into first among the geezers.

Am I hoaxing myself? hoping against hope to regain my lost youthful vigor? Or am I just too divided as an athlete, pulled in too many directions, diluting my energies and progress? I'm not sure I know the answer to that question or if I really want to know. Ignorance is bliss as they say. At least it can be.

Only time will tell if I stick to the plan this go round and at least get some of that performance back. In fact, I think I wrote something like this last year after the Oaks although I did not do a back search through EndangeredSwimmer to find that post. I think I may have said something to the effect that if I failed this year to lower my time I would give up on speed and just fade away into marathons and ultra-marathons.

Now there's an option.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Jay Unver Interviews Justin Nunnery

Interview with Justin Nunnery
By Jay Unver
I arose early to beat the morning’s sun to Greenville, Mississippi last Saturday, September 20, 2014. Fresh back from my trip to London where I interviewed Annabel Lavers, I was on my next assignment from the boss, Dr. Nomann, to have a little chat with Justin Nunnery.
Justin, along with Annabel Lavers, is one of the rising stars in The Association of Sports Swimmers. In fact, Justin competes in the other associations, The Association of Sports Shufflers and the Association of Sports Syclists, and is a full contract athlete with Big ASS Endurance. We sat down at the local Waffle House in Greenville and had a long talk about life in and out of the world's most interesting athletic promotion.
"Justin, you have had some real success lately. You must feel pretty good about your future."
"Yes and no. I am happy and disgruntled in some ways."
I was a little taken back by his statement. "Disgruntled? Tell me about it."
At this point the waiter came and took our order. I asked for a couple of eggs, grits, toast, and coffee. Justin put in for the supreme breakfast: two eggs, grits, toast, waffle, coffee and orange juice.
"Wait, wait," I said. "Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a little about yourself. We can get to the other stuff later."
"First off, I think I’m the best looking athlete Big ASS has. I was born and raised here in Greenville, and was always good-looking. I was a little fat, but better than average on the attractiveness scale. That worked against me for a long time because I saw no need to lose the weight since I was already a chic-magnet. But eventually, I became concerned about my health. You know how that happens as we get older. I met Randy Beets and started swimming at the Y and then doing triathlons."
Our orders came and Justin, after first praying God’s blessing on it, dove in like a starving man. When he started back talking, some runny egg was drooling out of the right corner of his mouth. It eventually ran down his chin, and dripped to the table where he lapped it up with a piece of toast.
"Randy recruited me into the Fasttrack Fatties Athletic Club and when my tri times started dropping, Dr. Nomann offered me a contract with Big ASS. I jumped at the chance. I had long been inspired by the Hodge/Beets rivalry. Beets and I became training partners before he moved to North Carolina. Now we are adversaries."
"I hear you trained with Hodge one day last May."
"I did. We went to a catfish pond and swam in some pretty cool water."
"Cool? In what sense?"
"Temperature. I think it was 68, which for me is cool."
"So besides the water temp how was it? How did you and Hodge get along?"
Justin was finishing his food. He wiped his plate clean with his remaining bite of toast and then picked the empty plate up and licked it. He motioned for the waitress and when she came he ordered, “A waffle with as many sunny-side up eggs as you can put on the top of it. And more coffee and more juice.”
Hodge and Nunnery before
the fighting started.

Then I got him back on track.

"He was OK. Hodge. I mean, we didn’t fight. Not then. I had heard he is pretty easy to get along with two times per year. One is when he does his Chicot Challenge, and the other is whenever he goes to a catfish pond."
"Boy, that opens up a lot of questions for me. Let’s start with the time y’all did fight and then move to the Challenge."
"He tried to sucker punch me after I kicked his butt at the Heart O’ Dixie Triathlon," Justin said with a sneer. "So I whipped him. Plain and simple."
"You defeated him there for the Big ASS World Triathlon Championship. But he says he whipped you after the race," I added. 
"I won the race and the fight," Justin said with anger.
"OK. You two, along with Randy Beets, were a team at the Chicot Challenge. How did that work out?"
"It was fine. Like I said earlier, he’s easy to get along with at a catfish pond or at the Challenge. If you beat him in a triathlon, though, he comes unglued."
Justin’s next order of food arrived and he attacked it like he was mad at it or something.
"I enjoyed the Challenge," Justin started back. He had food falling out of his mouth when he talked. "I mostly drove the pontoon boat. I did some swimming with him late in the day when he was tiring. Randy swam with him some and finished with him. It was all for a good cause and it was inspiring to watch someone swim that far."
"What about next year. You two have fought since then. Will you work the 2015 Chicot Challenge?"

Nunnery, commentating for the Big ASS TV Network.
"I plan to. I think we can put our hostilities aside for one day."
"You mention earlier that you are partly disgruntled. Would you elaborate on that?"
"What pisses me is Hodge being allowed by Big ASS to be pretty selective in the events he competes in. He outright ducked me and Beets at Pensacola. Nomann ought to make him do that event. I think Beets could take him there."
"You know, that comes pretty close to the Chicot Challenge," I added.
"He’s ducking us. He told me himself, that day we trained at the pond, that he told me himself that he didn’t want to face Beets at that distance that early in the year."
"Still, you know he sinks a lot of money into the Chicot Challenge. Even with Big ASS paying his entrance fee, that is a lot of extra expense he can’t afford."
"Are you taking up for him?" Justin asked, galring at me with jelly on his face.
"No. I'm jjust sayin'."
Justin finished his second order of food and waived the waitress over. "How about a plate of hash browns, grits, and a couple of more eggs on top."
"Coming right up," she said with a smile.
"I just think a real champion should take on all challengers," Justin started back after slurping down the rest of his orange juice and burping loudly. "Randy and I both called him out at Pensacola and he didn’t answer the challenge. I have a problem with that."
"Maybe you can get him down there next year."
I ain't holding my breath."
"Shifting gears. You just did very well in an open water swim in Louisiana. Tell us about that."
"I went down there with rage towards Hodge and kicked butt. One day I’ll get him in an open water race, and I will whip him just like I did at the Heart O’ Dixie."

"I hear you are going to pilot him at Swim the Suck? True?"

"Yes. Strange but true. It will be an oportunity for me to be involved in defeating Randy Beets."

"So you won't try to sabatage him?" I asked in all sincerety.

"Oh, no. Beating Beets' butt will be great even if I am not the one doing the swimming."
"Speaking of beating butt, have you given any thought to the new MMA league?" I asked.
"A little. You think they’d let me fight Hodge?"
"I don’t know. There has been some talk of you and Annabel Lavers facing off."
"Really? I thought the plan was to match her with Beets."
"It was. But when his mother heard about it, we were contacted by her lawyer. Again."
"Gee. I don’t know if I want to fight a woman. Bel looks pretty strong. What if I lose?"
"Then we would match you with a smaller woman."
"Robin Bond," I answered.
"Robin Bond? Wow. Me fight Robin Bond. You have the contract?"

Friday, September 19, 2014

Off the Cliff

Friday mornings are made for coffee drinking and blogging. That's why my sister had me pick up Ollie this morning. Life is tough.

This week's training has been like a yo-yo. That's not accurate. It has been more like a cliff. I scaled the walls then fell off the rock face. Monday started with me getting in alone and just swimming. John was out of pocket and I didn't feel up to my Beetsdown set with him gone. It really does help to have him there when I swim hard. He usually watches when I am putting the hammer down and that gives me that little extra humph I need to pull off tough sets.

So I just swam, up and down, down and up. I figured I would come up with a practice while I warmed up. After 2,000 meters I was still working on a workout scheme so I just kept swimming. Then I realized I could get more distance in if I just swam and didn’t have the down time between sets so I just kept swimming.

After 3,000 I was doing the math and realized that if the kids came in at 4:00 I would be very close to my biggest swim of last week which was 7,200. So after 4,000 I just kept swimming.
For some reason, when I do a straight swim in the pool, everything seems to speed up after 4,000 so I just kept swimming. When I hit 5,000 I was still doing mental math and was hoping the kids would be a little late. Maybe they wouldn’t come at all, so I just kept swimming. When I hit 6,000 I tried to pick the pace up so I could break 7,000 before 4:00 but that didn’t work so I just kept swimming.
I hit 7,000 right around 4:00 with no kids in sight. I decided on 7,500 but when I got there I just kept swimming. Then I decided on 8,000 but when I got there, I just kept swimming. I was sure by then that the kids weren’t coming and neither was John, so I just kept swimming.
At 9,000 meters I did not just keep swimming but got out and went home. The swim was nice. The swim was long. The swim was nice and long. The kids were gone. Thank you God.
Comp I that night was very pleasant. Normally night classes are better than day classes. The students who sign up for night classes usually have jobs and families and are not there to play around. We are writing our second paper on diabetes. I rode my bike to school, further Beetsdown training. When I got home I went out for a Beetsdown run. Poor Randy, he can’t catch a break.
Tuesday John was back with a vengeance and said I had to beat yesterday. That's what he told me on the phone. When I got to the pool, he had already been in for thirty-minutes. I swam three hours and fifty-three minutes straight without nutrition or water. When I got out with 11,000 meters. John piddled around and got another ten minutes in. After I got home, we had to make a trip to the hospital in Grenada, so I didn't get to run.
Wednesday Johna and I met up at the pool and my right pec was pretty sore. I stopped after only 1,400 and after work I just couldn't make myself go out for a run.
Thursday I was headed out the door for the pool when my phone went off. I had to attend to some business and when I finally was able to make it to Twin Rivers, the sky had filled with dark clouds and lightning threatened to kill unwary swimmers. Disgusted, I went home and ate four Nutty Buddies, and three Oatmeal Cream Pies. Then I warmed up some sloppy joe mix and ate it like soup. All of that wasn't enough so I ate a sandwich and a loaded potato. Then I found the cookies my wife had hidden and I murdered a handful of them. Jeez Louise, I was grossing myself out, but not enough, so I ate some pecans and crackers and mayonnaise. I ran out of mayonnaise so I licked the spoon clean and finished off the crackers with half a jar of peanut butter. I hate myself. Did I mention all the candy I ate at work? Like I said earlier, I fell off the cliff. John and I are supposed to train today if I can waddle my fat butt out the door.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Beetsdown Mania

I don't know about the rest of you, but I really enjoyed Jay Unver's interview of Annabel Lavers. She is an interesting woman with a strong resume. Presently, Bel is the Association's only international athlete, but Dr Nomann assures me that will change soon. I saw Jay the other day when I went into a convenience store to buy some Oatmeal Cream Pies, and he told me he is attempting to contact Justin Nunnery. Future interviews of Big ASS athletes are forthcoming. Yeehaa.

The week of 9/8 - 9/14 was one of my best ever Beetsdown training cycles. I bet Randy Beets felt that rear-kicking all the way to North Carolina. Usually I do the day-to-day report with a total at the end. For this post, I am going to put the summary up front, in case that's all you want, and then add the daily details.

For the week, I

ran 31.59 miles,
lifted weights one time,
walked 5.56 miles,
swam 28,121 meters, and
biked four miles.

I don't care who you are, that's good training. The week consisted not only ample volume, but real quality as well. Monday I started with the idea of busting it in the water. I met John at the pool and swam

30 X 100 @ 1:57 (first nine @ 1:56)
14 X 50 @ 1:30 breathing every five
400 small paddles
total: 6,600 meters.

That filled my afternoon and Comp I filled my early night. After work I went out for a run. The air was cool, and I felt really good so I did 8.75 with a straight 2.37 miles of tempo. After that I added some more pickups. I am running on a different level than I was just a week ago. Running is like that. You train and train and you stay the same and then BOOM! everything is different. I noticed last Saturday that even though I had run eight miles the day before, I still felt like running and I ran a bit quicker. Monday night was confirmation. My tempo pace was a full minute per mile faster than it was Friday. It was cooler and that makes a difference but not that much.

Tuesday was another Beetsdown day. John  was out of town, so I went to the pond. The plan was to swim and run until I couldn't do it anymore. However, I was in a state of general fatigue from Monday and could only muster 2.81 miles in D6 (it has been re-pumped) and 2.55 miles of running.

John was still out of pocket Wednesday, and I was a little late getting into the water. I warmed up with 1,300 and then decided to see how long I could go @ 1:55. After nine reps, I tapped out. Then I was invaded by kids. WHAT!?!?! Starting last week, John and I have had the pool to ourselves with the lifeguards being laid off for the year. Not Tuesday. So I finished with only 2,200, but at least there was some quality in those 2,200. That evening I ran an easy 4.14 miles.

John and I were swimming by 1:30 Thursday. I did

2,500 countdown set
7 X 100 @ 2:30
total: 6,700

The kids invaded again. I hate that. Whoever heard of kids swimming. Don't they have some computer games to play or some cookies to eat? Why can't they leave me alone?

Friday morning I ran an easy 4.36 and met John at Twin Rivers a little after 1:00 pm. I made up my practice as I went along and what I did was

1,000 easy
6 X 100 @ 1:54
1,000 easy
7 X 100 @ 1:55
1,000 easy
2 X 100 @ 1:56
1,000 easy
10 X 50 @ 1:15
1,200 small paddles
total: 7,200 meters.

Saturday was the most pleasant day, weather wise, we have had here since last autumn. I toyed with the idea of going to the pond. I also thought about going to the pool and staying close to home. I settled on the idea of not swimming at all since I already had 28,000 in. Running, weightlifting, and college football seemed like a good plan. The cats liked that, and when I left them to go outside and run, it was so pleasant out that I ran nine miles instead of my planned two. Later that afternoon, I did a monster upper body lifting session. I was spent by the time I did my last rep, and the cats love me to be tired because I nap a lot and don't move much. Cats aren't very tolerant of moving humans. They want people to be as still as statues. When I exercise to the extreme, I can give them what they want.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Jay Unver Interviews Annabel Lavers

Lavers Interview
By Jay Unver
Annabel Lavers
"I must say I’m flattered you would cross the ocean just to have a chat with me," Annabel Lavers said as we entered the Riverside CafĂ© where we seated
ourselves and ordered tea and cake. She had picked me up at the airport in London and accompanied me to her favorite “greasy spoon” as she called it.

“All the way from Lehrton, Mississippi, USA. Dr. Nomann sent me himself. He wanted it, demanded it,” I answered. “Besides Zane Hodge, you have risen up the ranks of Big ASS Endurance faster than any other athlete we’ve ever had. Certainly faster than Randy Beets ever did.”

“Speaking of Randy Beets,” she added. “How is the big fella? I hear he’s been sick.”

He says he’s been sick, but Dr. Nomann hasn’t seen a doctor’s report. There is at least some thought that he is really suffering from nerves having been thrashed so thoroughly by Hodge at every turn. We think he is afraid that if he loses again he might get a pay cut that he might have to forfeit another can of potted meat. You know he lost a can with his last suspension. He was most unmanly about it and wept like a little girl.”

“That would be a shame,” Annabel threw in. “We don’t make that much as it


Yes, that’s true, but let’s not talk about him. Let’s talk about you, Annabel.”

“Call me Bel, please.”

“OK, Bel. Why not tell your American fans a bit about yourself.”

"I'm 46 years old, a 6ft Amazon with a roar and the heart of a lioness but
am as soft and soppy as a kitten. I work in London as a project manager for

"Really? I can hurt him?"
a City law firm."

“Wait. Six feet tall. Are you interested in MMA? We are starting a new fight league, the Association of Sports Strikers. It's for endurance athletes who have no previous combat sports experience. There will be a website where the athletes will post their profiles, sort of like Facebook. Instead of sending a friend request, you will sent a fight request. Once several requests are pending, the Association will start working on setting up a fight card. We need some female fighters."

"I don’t know. I’m really not much of a fighter."

"At your height, you might be a good match for an inter-gender bout with Randy Beets."

"Randy Beets? I thought you guys were going to match him with Zane Hodge."

"That was the plan, But his mother, Betty Ryan Beets, is threatening legal action if we do. She's trying to protect her son. We think we could win in court, but Dr. Nomann doesn't want to spend the money or time to clear all the legal hurdles she could throw at us."

"Fight Randy Beets," Bel said lowly, her eyes beginning to gleam. "Yes, I think I would like that. Sign me up. I’ll make an exception in his case ... give him a flipping hiding he won't forget in a hurry.”

"Great. Dr. Nomann will be thrilled. OK. Let's turn the conversation back to you.”

"My family consists of mum, dad, sister, Jane, brother-in-law, Paul, niece,
Mollie, and nephews, Dillon and Sullivan. My best friends are Olivia Gerbi
and Shelley Mitchell both of whom are rare creatures ... my Unicorns. I
am lucky enough to have lots of other wonderful friends too (who I don't
manage to see half as often as I would like because of training). I love my
new swimmie friends and the whole swimming community I have been
introduced to and become part of over the last two years on Facebook. I've
made a point of meeting as many of them as I can and I have to say they're
all as wonderful offline as they are on. I’m really interested in meeting
Randy Beets and Zane Hodge."

"What do you think those meetings, if they were to come to pass, would go

"I’m afraid it might go badly for Beet’s. His arrogance is so annoying I would
most likely knock his block off. As for Mr. Hodge, I can see us taking a long
training swim in a catfish pond. That’s if I go there. If he comes here there
are a number of choice watery venues I would introduce him to like Dover Harbor and some of London's choice lidos."

"Those meetings certainly could happen, especially if you sign with the
Association of Sports Strikers. But enough of that. Back to you."

"When I'm not spending time getting wet, I like to read books, walk in the
forest, sing (I'm a bit of a diva with a microphone), watch TV, learn stuff and
generally relax and lounge about in my PJs and make witty and insightful
comments on Facebook. That’s the kind of stuff I normally do. That and
daydreaming about knocking the crap out of Beets. When do you think we
can have the fight? Can I really hurt the bugger, I mean REALLY hurt him?"
Bel's eyes lit up with glee.

"You can hurt him. First, however, we have to establish the league and get
everything in order. But let’s talk about your swimming. I hear you are going
to swim the Channel. What inspired you to take that on?"

"I decided in July 2013. I had just read about Zane Hodge’s second epic
Chicot Challenge and I was so inspired that I didn’t sleep for a couple days.
I contemplated going to the States and making a similar swim, but then
I thought, ‘I have the Channel right here.’ Besides, if I made a trip to the
America, I might run into Randy Beets and fisticuffs before my swim could
ruin everything."

"I know what you mean. It costs Big ASS Endurance a fortune to provide
security when Hodge and Beets compete against each other. We could give
all our athletes a raise if those two just got along."

"Does Randy Beets get along with anybody?"

"Well, now that I think about it, no. He gets along with no one. Anyway, tell
us about your training. What does a typical training week look like for you?"

"I do a lot of Beetsdown training both in the pool and the sea. Plus some dryland"

She then preceeded to jot down her schedule on a napkin:

  Monday = rest day (supposedly)

  Tuesday = pool swimming (1.5hrs)

  Wednesday = ride The Beast

  Thursday = Masters (1hr)

  Friday = ride The Beast

  Saturday = Summer is sea swimming at Dover, Winter lake and/or

  pool swimming

  Sunday = Summer is sea swimming, Winter is lake and/or pool


She handed me the napkin and then rusumed talking.

"I also walk on a Sunday in the winter and keep aiming to get up
early in the morning a couple of times a week to go out before I leave for
work . . . but it's still an aim to be honest as I really, really, REALLY, am not
a morning person! But I can get up early if I think about going out to bash
the living daylights out of Randy Beets. That gets my heart rate up, and I
become quite purposeful. I also do a few squats, lunges, planks, push-ups
and other lively things throughout the week."

"Tell your fans in America about your recent racing experiences and

"Let's see. I did an English Channel Relay 2012 (sea), 10k Jubilee 2013 (river), Big Cornwall Swims 2013 (1 & 3 miles, sea), Coniston End to End 2013 (5.25 miles, lake), Big Chill Championships 2014 (lake), Henley Bridge to Bridge (14.1k, river) 2014, Cork Distance Week (65k for the week, river, lake, sea) 2014, BLDSA Champion of Champions 2013 (9 miles, although they got the
course wrong and we did 10, sea), RPC House Cup Sports Day - Reynolds
Women's Rowing Team (Gold 2012, 2013, 2014), Egg & Spoon (Silver
2012), Arm Wrestling (Bronze 2012). I also learnt unarmed combat and how
to parachute roll at the age of six ... my thumb is a deadly weapon." *waves
thumb about menacingly*.


"Certainly better than that eejit Randy Beets."

"Heck yeah. Beets can never live long enough to come anywhere near that level of success. How did you get into marathon swimming?"

"I got a new boss who was into it and asked about if anyone fancied swimming a relay across the Channel, and I thought to myself, I can swim a bit, I love the sea, why not! Had some lessons in January 2012 to learn to swim front crawl properly and bob's your uncle! I was into it! I started training more and more inspired by Zane Hodge and dreaming of racing Randy Beets."

"Tell us about your Big ASS experience. How have you liked life in the

"So far it's treated me well ... I'm feeling at home and holding my own I
think ... in fact I seem to be doing quite a few ButtBeets sessions. I was
somewhat irked that Nunnery was crowned "World Champion" sea swimmer
at an event that wasn't open to the rest of the world and was also such a
piddly distance ... but I'm over it now ... *%$^&@@*&^ ASS! Still there's
precedence in America for this type of thing isn't there ... I mean baseball
World Series ... with only American teams???? Honestly!!" *rolls eyes*

"Nunnery? Actually, Randy Beets won that title."

"Randy Beets?! Oh, *%$^&@@*&^ 3>^!## @## *#>< @$!!!"

"Sorry, I thought you knew."

At this point, Bel sighed deeply and stopped eating her cake. She shook her
head in disgust.

"Beets ... fricking Beets at every turn ... he's gonna suffer I tell you, if it’s the last thing I do. I could chop him down to size, smash his overgrown, no good, butt from here to kingdom come."

Bel grew quiet again. Then, to try to get her talking again, I said, “You know if you swim the Channel, you will be the first and most likely the only Big ASS swimmer ever to do so."

She didn’t respond but gazed fiercely into her coffee cup.

"Hodge has already gone on record," I added, "that he has no interest in the

"Why is that?" Bel asked but her eyes sill betrayed that her mind was far away.

"Cold water. He is just not a cold water swimmer."

Then Bel spoke and when she did her words gave me the location of her mind.

"Beets," she said firmly. "Beets is going down."

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Home Stretch

We are in the home stretch of Swim the Suck training, and I'm starting to get nervous determined. Randy posted that chart again that shows the trajectory of our past swim times extrapolated onto this year's race. The chart has me finishing way behind the tall guy and that rattles angers me. So back to the pool.

Last week was a light one, swim wise, but it's OK even desirable to have a drop down cycle periodically. The week started, Monday, with Twin Rivers being closed for Labor Day. I did some yard work, lifted weights for the first time in two weeks, and ran 4.21 easy miles. Tuesday was only a little better for swimming. I ran 4.06 miles but John and I were run out of the pool by lightning after I only had 1,900 meters.

Wednesday I was finally able to put it into high gear. John and I got into the  pool at 1:45. I warmed up with 2,300 straight and then did my Beetsdown set which in this form was 28 X 100 @ 1:57, the first eight @ 1:56. A 200 meter cool down finished me off and left me with 5,300 for the day.

Thursday was another big day at the pool. I swam

2,100 countdown set
20 X 50 @ 1:30
total: 6,500.

Friday I ran 8.51 miles and then met John at Twin Rivers. I was done from the run and the previous two days of swimming. I did a sloppy 2,200 before we packed it in.

Saturday was anothe nonswimming day. I went to Jackson with John to help him pick up a car. When I got back, I watched SEC football, then went outside and worked in the yard and lifted weights. I also took a short 2.31 mile shuffle.

For the week, I

rode my bike to work four times,
ran 23.19 miles,
swam 15,900 meters,
walked 5.85 miles, and
lifted weights two times.

Overall it was not a bad week, but I need to pound big yardage for the next few training cycles. I am doing more quality work than a year ago, but I need some long swims. They will come. The life guards are off for the year at Twin Rivers, so John and I no longer have to get out at 4:00 pm. Now we can swim as long as we want on Tuesday and Thursday.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Another Week of Beetsdown Training

To my UK and Australian readers, pardon my past indiscretions. They were the result of ignorance. Really, I am not that crude. In America that word simply means "hitting the wall." Having now been more perfectly informed, however, I vow to think better, do better, write better. Not only that, but in my quest once more to defeat Randy Beets, I even vow to train better.

I know Randy has been ill and, consequently, he has sought to lower expectations. However, we are not world-class pool swimmers where things like starts, flip turns, reaches for the wall make the difference between victory and eight place. Furthermore, our races are not decided by hundreths of a second that are won by years of training. In short, Randy is a young man who has been improving at leaps and bounds. If he trains smart, not just hard, he can still be in very good, if not top form by early October. I, therefore, am not coasting to a presumed victory. I am training diligently for what I think will be an epic struggle.

For each of the last three years, the margin of victory between us has closed. When we both did this event our first time in 2011, I smashed Mr. Beats by nearly an hour. In 2012, the gap had closed to around twenty minutes. Last year, Randy took the lead and held it for four miles before I caught him. We then swam side by side for approximately a half mile, fighting each other like a couple of well-trained pit bulldogs. It was grand fun. When I finished and climbed out of the water, Randy Beets was only minutes behind. Yes, I am feeling some pressure, and yes, I am hoping for a full recovery and good training for my rival and nemesis.

Monday, I went to the pool. I had Randy Beets in mind the whole time I swam up and down the lane. My buddy, John Misterfeld, and I met up at Twin Rivers and started our workout about 2:00 o'clock. I warmed up with 2,200 meters straight and then drank some Gatorade, set my watches, and got my mind right for my Beetsdown set. I started with the set of 100 meter repeats at 1:56 for the first seven and then they slowed to 1:57. This set makes me swim at my CSS (critical swim speed, which is about 1:40-1:45 per hundred.) I find that pace a bit difficult. But after having done this set, in various forms, for several weeks now, it is getting easier, much easier. Not only that, but my endurance at that speed is growing by leaps and bounds like Randy Beets' ego.

During class Monday night, I walked outside and it was still so hot is felt like the air hugged me. It was sort of like jumping into a pool of hot water. I felt it everywhere, not just my face: my arms, back, legs, all of me was wrapped up in heat. I like that. Really I do. I was born in June back in the day when most people, my folks included, didn't have air conditioners. I enjoy the heat and have missed it this year. We have had the coolest summer on record, but it has turned hot just in time, I hope, to get the water in Chattanooga up where it needs to be.

After class, it had cooled off a bit and I felt like taking a run. I went out with no plan having abandoned the idea of my vVo2 workout because of the darkness. I could do it, but I can't see my watch as clearly as I like so I just ran. This was my first time running in the dark since last winter, and I enjoyed it. There is something about the quietness, the low traffic, and the anonymity of the dark that makes running at night a different animal. I had forgotten how much I like it. Also, for the first time in a long while, I felt really good, like I could run forever. My pace, although still embarrassingly slow, was better than it has been without doing intervals, since my stress fracture. Finally I felt like I am coming back.

All in all, it was a really good food day. My weight on Monday morning was a surprising and disappointing 167.2. Huh?!?!? I did the 5,500 in the pool then had a protein shake and a peach. After class, I ran 4.13 miles and had another protein shake and half an apple. Weight Tuesday morning? 165.2. Huh?!?!?! Better but I am getting a little discouraged by the length of time it is taking to shed  this extra adipose tissue. I can't throw in the towel, however, because I know where that leads. I suppose at my age that weight will forever be a battle for me now until I die.

Tuesday, I rode my mountain bike to work and then met John at the pool in the early afternoon. I just started swimming and stopped my warmup after 3,200 meters. I drank some water and then went into my countdown set only this time I expanded it to 1,800 meters with small paddles. Now, the 25s don't feel hard at all and they aren't long enough to get my respiration going strong. The 50s did make me breathe a bit, however. One of the changes I made this time was to take the sprints all the way up to 125. That had me sucking air like a turbo-charged diesel engine. I swam it with small paddles, and when I finished it was time to get out and I had 5,000 meters done.

Wednesday, I rode my bike to work twice and John and I met up at the pool early, a bit after 1:00, and I swam

8 X 100 @ 1:55 (Ouch!)
5 X 400 @ 8:15 with small paddles
total: 6,100 meters.

After work I ran 4.04 miles. My late Monday run interfered with my sleep. After teaching in the morning, swimming in the afternoon, teaching a night class, and running after 9:00 pm, I slept very well, thank you.

Thursday, John and I were back at it. I started with another long warmup:

2,000 countdown
12 X 50 @ 1:30
total: 5,000 meters.

Friday morning I went out for a long (always a relative term) but multi-paced run. I did an out-and-back 8.35 miler on Money Road. While out there, I received a $100 donation for the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi. That was unexpected and it gave me a real boost. Later I met John at the  pool and I was so tired from the run and the accumulated fatigue of the week that I really couldn't train properly. I barely swam a warmup 1,000 and then stood at the end of my lane and wondered how I could last until 3:00 pm (John's goal). I set my watch for a 20 X 100 set @ 2:30. Remember, I have been swimming these at 1:57 and this week even down to 1:55. I was barely making the wall in 2:00 and felt so bad that about half the time I would stop the watch to catch some more rest. Eventually I finished the set, did 2 X 50, and crawled out. Sometimes your body simply says, "Enough." Mine didn't say it, it screamed it.

Saturday was cool and rainy but with no lightning in sight, a rarity in Mississippi. I lounged long in the morning and spent some time with my wife. She had a chore to do with her siblings in the afternoon, so I headed out for the pond alone. I am always alone at the pond now, and although I do miss my training with Randy Beets, I cherish the solitude I get on the fish farm. I think all endurance athletes like "me time" and the company of their own thoughts. I do have some company there. Birds of dozens of species always paint the landscape with their colors, their sounds, their movement.

With my pool crash only a day old, I had no expectations and decided to just swim and let my body dictate how far and how fast. The water was cool with no hot spots and I felt good as I just settled into an easy rhythm. I did three swims for 3.72 miles, my longest open water effort since the Chicot Challenge. Since I love swimming in the rain, this was one of my most enjoyable and memorable swims. The rain just kept coming down. The sky was dark but not dangerous-looking and the water, though cool, was warmer than the chilly air making climbing back in after a nutrition break a joy rather than a chore.

For the week, I

swam 30,685 meters,
ran 20.62 miles,
lifted weights one time, and
rode my bike to work four times.

That, my friend, is Beetsdown training.