Friday, January 29, 2010

Nice buns

I don't often compare myself to a thoracic surgeon who reads David Sedaris and has sex with underwear models, but that's what I'm doing today.

I, too, have a job where a bad day is disastrous and hobbies where a bad day is still pretty good.

I tell funny stories for a living, and I race triathlons and bake artisanal bread for fun. True, nobody ever died from joke failure (not literally, anyway). Then again, you don't hear a lot of stories about a levain batard smacking anyone around with his own golf club. (No handy allegory involving racing and Sedaris, but I needed him to make the numbers add up.)

Yesterday I tried combining my two hobbies. One came out perfectly and the other didn't, meaning both came out perfectly. I love bread and racing math.

Forgive me if I've mentioned this already (no … just deal with it if I repeat myself, because that's kind of what I do); I'm fortunate enough to be swimming under the guidance of Iian Mull, who went to the Atlanta Olympics with Team USA among other staggering palmares, and the very best of coaches according to his father, Rich Mull, who until Iian was the very best coach I'd ever worked with.

So for yesterday Iian scheduled our class's first 500-yard time trial. Hey! Perfect! I have a score to settle with the 500, and I know I've mentioned that before. I want to close it out in 7:30. That's still a tall order for me, so I figured I could use a little help. Maybe I could goose my odds by racing head-to-head with my friend Brian, who is of similar ability and trains in a different section of Iian's class. I formed a plan:

Brian likes my bread. So I threw down the gauntlet. If Brian would shift his Wednesday time trial to race it against me on Thursday, I'd have a loaf of bread waiting. He beat me, he'd get the bread. I beat him, Iian would get the bread.

Brian couldn't make the shift to Thursday. But it got even better. Jessie got wind of it and volunteered to pace me. I met Jessie during my class with Rich. In addition to being instantly likeable and ridiculously fast and graceful in the water (she's a former collegiate swimmer), she's also very generous with her time and talent. She offered to come and pace me.

The only downside - that Iian no longer had a prayer of a chance at the bread now - was easily rectified by making more bread.

Jessie did her part perfectly, but I touched the wall in 7:48, still equal to my best but a long 18 seconds short of what I wanted. Failure? Hardly. I learned a lot about exactly where things fall apart for me (a little too fast in the first 100 followed by a little too slow in the second 100, which is the crucial interval that sets the pattern for the remaining 300). I learned that the difference between my flip-turns and Jessie's flip turns can amount to as much as a body length or two, which can quickly add up in terms of distance or oxygen consumption from sprinting to catch up. A "failed" time trial that yields this kind of education can only be deemed a success, like a loaf that collapses in the oven into something that looks like a horse turd but still tastes like sourdough rosemary-olive oil bread.

Which is exactly how Jessie's and Iian's bread tasted - but didn't look. That one, that time, I nailed it.

Now it's back to more training and more baking. Because neither the 7:48 nor those two loaves of rosemary-olive oil are going to last long.


Jim Smith II said...

That's awesome Jef. Any test that we learn from is a success, regardless of the score.,,

gwiz123456 said...

You had me at 'nice buns.' Good blog!

Steve said...

The word to add to your list is "callipygia" or "Callipygian"...which is a reference perhaps to your swimming partner rather than your bread.

Purplestate said...

And you know what you can say about flip turns? "No walls in my races!"


Anonymous said...

Yeah for Jessie! Gotta love those devoted swimming friends. Were else can you get cheered for on a daily basis?!

Liz said...

How do you do your sourdough? I'm still trying to get the hang of it.

La Professora said...

I've been trolling the archive... much is explained by the <a href=">7/12/08 strip</a> in relation to the photo here.