Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Past the Point of No Return

There comes a point in many workouts beyond which the brain stops functioning but the mouth keeps going. Many people, in the throes of an anaerobic delirium, will start jibber-jabbering about all kinds of things.

Mr. Coach has one athlete right now who has earned himself the nickname of "Blackberry Pie." That’s because when his lactic-acid-to-blood ratio soars, he starts babbling about blackberry pie he once had on a trip to Arizona.

A lot of people talk about food when they reach this point in a workout. As a result, you can figure out which way they swing when it comes to food vices – sugar or salt. You don’t hear a lot about booze, though, thank goodness. The idea of alcohol just doesn’t appeal at that point.

Other people will veer in the direction of pop culture. They’ll hallucinate about hot actors, actresses, models and rock stars with whom they don’t have relationships but now imagine they do. Or they’ll start singing songs, usually badly. Random snippets of comedy routines or movie dialogue will pop out. My personal favorite is the Bill Cosby "Tonsils" routine which ends with the young protagonist gasping out, "Ice cream, we’re gonna eat ice cream," after surviving his tonsillectomy. To me, at this point, it makes perfect sense.

But, unfortunately, the direction that most "Point of No Return" babbling goes is straight into the intestines. It’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in reverse: Once you’ve eliminated (as it were) higher-order thinking, all you’ve got left are basic body functions. Mr. Coach, when he was training a few times for marathons, delighted in coming home after a 20-miler and telling me about all the stupid poop jokes that he and his tenured-professor buddies had come up with. As soon as the extra oxygen left his system, he had to admit the jokes really weren’t that funny but after Mile 15, he insisted, they had been.

College athletes, trapped in a pool, aren’t much better. The stuff that passes (as it were) for humor at this point in a workout wouldn’t even make the grade on the worst possible Funny or Die video.

Some coaches, of course, will insist on silent focus and commitment to workout purpose. Their athletes, of course, just shift to nonverbal language – the crossed-eyes, the tongue-hanging-out and the head-cocked-to-one-side expressions of exaggerated exhaustion and, of course, the soundlessly eloquent obscene gesture under the water’s surface.

Once released from their coach’s clutches, they’ll uncork the babbling in the locker room where it continues all the way to the dinner table. And with a few thousand calories back in the system after dinner they’ll regain control of their minds and mouths – until the next day when they start the journey all over again.

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