Friday, February 26, 2010

Turin Brakes and "Outbursts" - Can't Hold it in Any Longer

I'm going to switch gears from writing about training to talk about one of my other passions - MUSIC. To know me is to know how music is a huge part of my life. And I'm lucky to share my love of music with my husband Jim -- although our sonic tastes sometimes diverge, we have mutual appreciation of similar genres and we can depend on one another for support in road tripping it to concerts whenever possible.

To know me is also to know about my passion for UK musicians Turin Brakes. Calling me a "fan" doesn't even begin to describe it. Thus, I fear that writing a review of their new album, "Outbursts," will come across as just another gushing fanatic doing her thing. But I'm going to do it anyway and include a little history so that maybe one of my readers will consider taking a listen when they're perusing the shelves (or web pages) in a search of new music.

To me, Turin Brakes defies simple classification. Some people call them folk. Some call them pop. Some say rock or alt-rock. I say: stop and listen. Listen to the pain-inducing slide guitar and unique guitar picking. Listen to the spine-tingling harmonies... and that VOICE. Then, tell me this isn't some kind of singular undefinable genre. Oh, there are critics. I'll never forget reading a review of their epic song "Long Distance" in which it was described as sounding like two people arguing in a thunderstorm. It was obvious that the reviewer was grasping at the genius of the song and describing it as a negative thing.

My first contact with Turin Brakes was in 2002 when they supported David Gray in Newcastle, England. My life was forever changed with the first note of opener "Blue Hour." By the end of their set, I was having trouble breathing and could no longer stand from weakness in my knees. Never before had I experienced as strong an emotional or physical reaction to music. And to this day, their album "Ether Song" still has the power to eliminate anxiety for me. It was my constant companion in mid-2003 during endless nights of pain while recovering from being hit by a truck on my bike.

"Outbursts," Turin Brakes' fifth studio album, comes as an indie release on Cooking Vinyl. Many reviews are saying it's a return to what they do best, i.e., what they did on their first album, "The Optimist LP," and what my good friend Andy describes as the "intimacy of two guys playing guitars in a room." Although I "get" what they mean, I don't think Turin Brakes ever lost what made their music so unique and beautiful. As all great bands do, Turin Brakes grew and progressed and explored their sound in each subsequent album. And what I believe they've come 'round to is how to create their own particular brand of intimacy in their music -- I think that's what makes their sound what it is and how people best identify with it.

The first time I heard "Outbursts," I had a singular thought -- every song sounds like a movie soundtrack - not a song "from" a soundtrack, but the actual soundtrack itself. In my mind's eye, I could even see a flickering film reel for each of the 12 little standalone movies. This doesn't surprise me, as I remember reading that the origin of Turin Brakes was with singer Olly Knights, a film school student, enlisting childhood friend and fellow musician, Gale Paridjanian, to collaborate on a film. Perhaps another manifestation of their recent "back to basics" approach?

As I listened to "Outbursts" many more times, I came to realize that this album is a statement of maturity in finding that natural songwriting state -- the one that (probably) accidentally thrust them into the limelight all those years ago. As I already mentioned, with this album, they recreate the intimacy and immediacy of two guys with guitars -- with amazing voices and unique harmonies. Each song has a personality and style all its own, and none of them go in an expected direction. Yet, every song is typical "Turin Brakes" -- it sounds like an oxymoron, but I can't come up with another way to describe it. The first song, "Sea Change," and last, "Outbursts," are like bookends to the TB sound -- the first is a virtuoso musical piece, the other, a light calm-inducing love song. It's a very wide range and yet still "theirs."

I won't bore people with a song-by-song exploration of the album, but I'll give a few observations. "Rocket Song" continues the ever-present theme in their music of the fascination with flight. The song truly "feels" like a rocket launch. There's also that age-old thing about their lyrics -- where "you think you know what he's talking about... but not really." "Outbursts" contains great Turin Brakes lyrics that are just on the edge of comprehendible comfort. I've also noticed that they have embraced sweeping apocalyptic themes on this album, evident in songs "Sea Change" and "Embryos" -- and (obviously) "Apocolips." At the moment, my personal favorite is "Radio Silence" -- I have no explanation as to why, it just is. But, as is noted in "Will Power," "this will change." And with Turin Brakes, THAT is something we can be sure of -- and, to my delight, it will always sound just like Turin Brakes.

For more, please check out Turin Brakes web site. And here are some videos I took at a 2009 Turin Brakes gig in London.

New Single, Sea Change and what I like to call the "claymation evolution video":

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Easy Weeks are a Killer!

One of the hardest concepts for me to grasp is the idea of "easy" weeks. As a runner, it took me several years (and several injuries) to finally "get" the idea of easy days and (God forbid) days OFF. But, easy WEEKS? That can't possibly be a good thing. I can understand a couple days of easy training after a really hard race or weekend. But after a few days, everything feels much better and I can go back out and pound the pavement, right?

Wrong. After weeks and weeks of hard training, the fatigue builds up in your muscles and further gains are impossible until you absorb and benefit from the training that went before. I guess a better term to use is "recovery week." As I get older, I find that my body (and mind) need even more recovery after hard training. So, although I've said it many times before, this year I'm scheduling recovery weeks at least every 4 weeks (as opposed to having them schedule themselves when I'm wiped out).

The biggest problem for me has always been figuring out how easy is "easy" to promote true recovery before the next period of hard training. I rarely stick with it the whole week because I worry that I'm taking it too easy and "losing" all the hard work. From a logic standpoint, I know this isn't the case. From an emotional OCD-runner standpoint, it's a killer. But, my plan this year is to make decisions based on science and not emotion. To finally "figure it out" and not make the same mistakes I've made in the past.

My first recovery week was this past week. I did one less workout per sport and dropped the total duration of all my workouts. Will it be effective? Hopefully I will know the answer in a few weeks.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ripping my Hair out Over Dietary Supplements

In my quest to get healthier and eliminate as much stress as possible, I seem to have done the opposite. Researching nutrition and dietary supplements has actually added stress to my life. I spent the last two weeks trying to determine if what I'm currently doing is working or if I should change it. It all came about with an announcement by Hammer Nutrition that they are changing the make-up one of their supplements. Yep, like so many discontinued running shoes, it's the one I use and love.

This daily vitamin supplement is Hammer's "Premium Insurance Caps" (PICs). It took me two separate tries to get the dosage right -- I had given them up many years ago because the recommended seven-capsules-a-day made me feel bloated and tired. But when I started training for Ironman again two years ago, I went back to Hammer and found that I could drop the dosage to four a day. I gave it a second chance and voila! it worked much better. I feel great during the day now and my workouts are strong. Last year, I stretched my budget to add Hammer's "Race Caps Supreme" to the regimen based on raving testimonials (from Hammer athletes, of course). I noticed nothing -- I didn't feel better than usual after four hours of cycling -- my energy levels didn't change. But I still swore by PICs and many other products in the Hammer line such as "Recoverite," whey and soy protein, and Hammer Gel.

This year, Hammer announced a change in PICs -- they are removing the ingredients that can be found IN THEIR OTHER PRODUCTS. Oh, GREAT! Just what I need -- they're changing the ONE thing that seems to work and is ridiculously affordable. Now I have to buy more to get the same result. Disappointed, I went looking for a new daily supplement.

If you Google "athlete" and "supplements," you will be bombarded with testimonials about breakthrough products that will make you feel "20 years younger." Many of them claim they will turn back time both in how you feel AND how you look. Now that I'm in my mid-40s, I want this. Desperately. I click through. With hundreds of products out there, how can I tell which ones, if any, actually do what they claim? If you're geeky like me, you search for bad reviews of the products on bulletin boards. And what I've determined is this: either there is nothing really scathing to report about any of these products, or people don't waste their time writing a bad review. I've also confirmed something else in my quest: triathletes, in general, have way more disposable income than I do.

There's only one thing left to do: trial and error. It's not something I'm looking forward to when I have so many other things to figure out this year. But I do believe that supplemental vitamins are necessary for endurance athletes training 12-18 hours a week, and I don't get all the nutrients I need through diet alone.

So here's the first item up for trial: Enerprime by IMPax. It's described as "a synergistic blend of superfoods, adaptogens, antioxidants, phytonutrients, herbs, enzymes, and micronutrients," and claims it does everything from increasing endurance to counteracting stress (so we've come full circle). I still can't find info on whether it's a supplement to be taken in addition to regular multivitamins or actually itself a "multivitamin." It's expensive enough that I can't afford to take much else. I'll start at ground zero, one supplement, and go from there. Enerprime is recommended by top triathlon coach and fitness expert Ben Greenfield (who also recommends several other products in the IMPax line, so I'm already wary of those motives). I figure if it doesn't work, I can look elsewhere or go back to Hammer Nutrition and formulate a plan by talking to one of their experts. Hopefully, I'll know the effects within a few weeks and report back. Any recommendations are welcome.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Veteran runner tips

Several times recently, I have found myself reminiscing about my past life as a marathon runner. One of those times was after a friend took up running and suggested I might give tips from "a pro."

Although I was flattered hearing that, and I've had my moments in the sun, I still rarely even consider myself a veteran runner. I just think: why on earth would anyone want advice from the Disaster Magnet? Then it hit me: who better to give advice? If anyone can help avert disaster, it's me. If nothing else, I can encourage new runners to do the exact opposite of what I did. Afterall, the first four years of my running career were marred by three stress fractures,
a torn quad (during a race), and a severely injured pyriformis that left me unable to stand up straight.

In retrospect, one word sums up my mistakes: overtraining. A contributing factor might have been lack of rehab from injuries, but trying to train "through" pain was the major cause of most of my downtime.

These days I am still the Disaster Magnet, but it no longer has to do with OCD running behavior.

I did some thinking. Now that I finally learned how to stay injury free, what are the most important tips I can give a new runner who is about to catch (or already has caught) the running fever? This is what I came up with:

1. Get the best pair of shoes you can afford and I don't mean mean break the bank for the latest and greatest. Instead, evaluate your footstrike and try several different shoes made for your gait. I have made a career out of finding good running shoes for less than $60. If you do find the perfect pair (after running in them for several weeks), buy as many as you can (because they will inevitably be discontinued).

2. Don't run the same route daily, and run for time, not distance. There's nothing more maddening that will lead to obsessive behavior quicker than timing how long it takes to run the same route and distance every day.

3. Listen to your body, not your brain. Pain, as well as general muscle soreness, should never last more than 3-5 days. If it does, STOP running. Do NOT limp your way through a 20 miler waiting for the endorphins to kick in.

4. Don't run with the flu, a chest cold or an upper-respiratory bacterial infection (unless you enjoy bronchitis or pneumonia) - get antibiotics first. Run with a head cold only if you feel up to it, but go easy and short.

5. Make your easy days EASY. Be wary of mental stress levels and run easy on high stress days.

6. Set goals. And if you decide to race, don't put all your eggs in one basket. Have several goal races so if something goes wrong, like, for instance, the weather, you have other performances to hang your hat on.

7. Constantly remind yourself why you run and if you are no longer enjoying it, stop doing it long enough to "recharge the batteries."

8. Never run someone else's workout (or race).

9. Get a good night's sleep as often as possible (I still have trouble with this one).

10. Find a good doctor who understands runners.

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