Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What I Learned Tonight

In my last post, I mentioned my current challenge of sticking with something for the sake of physical fitness.  Well, through the misery, the dry heaves, the asthma attack, the new bouts of hyperventilation, and learning to run... I have stuck with it.  Rugby is kicking my ass, but in a good way.  I found an iPhone app called "From couch to 5k" that I've started working with that alternates periods of running with walking.  I find that running is doable in digestible chunks.  I find that at practice, I can now jog halfway around the pitch without feeling I need to slow down.

Oddly, the thing I enjoy the most about the conditioning part of rugby practice is the stretching.  It hurts, but in a good way.  When I first started at the end of July, I could barely grab my ankle, but now I can get a couple of fingers on the toe of my sneakers.  I've learned a lot about stretching which is useful to me, and I'm grateful to Gary for showing me what he knows.  Even at the gym, the stretches we do, especially for the legs, are very useful.

I've received a lot of support from the team that I didn't anticipate.  I still find it embarrassing to be cheered on as I straggle behind everyone else to finish a drill.  I'd much rather have someone there with me, urging me on to the finish...then bring the cheer when I do :-)  That's just my sense of embarrassment at needing to be prodded, but it's good for me.  I do need to be prodded, encouraged to push just a little farther without going overboard.  It's an odd balance, but several guys on the team seem to have a gift for it, at least where it comes to me.

The one asthma attack I had was due to the fact I had forgotten to take my inhaler prior to practice.  Not a smart move.  When I take the inhaler prior to practice, I'm fine.  I've found in the last week or so that I have a different problem; in trying to take slow, deep breaths, I lose control of my breathing and start to hyperventilate.  It still scares me when it happens, but I've learned I can beat it by intensely focusing on an object and really putting my mind to seizing control of my breathing once more.

Tonight was an especially interesting practice for me.  We started out with the usual stuff:  a job around the pitch, squats, stretches, high knee jog back and forth.  But then we started with this exercise that Gary promised was going to prove once and for all that we definitely have thigh and butt muscles.  He warned us we'd feel it tomorrow and curse his name.  I'll admit, I kinda wished at that moment that I could just go home.

I didn't, though.  The drill went like this:  we start at the end of the field (blanking on the name of the line right now), do 20 squats, then we do deep lunges to the 25 yard line, pulling up the opposite arm of the leg that is at a 90 degree angle from the squat.  At the 25 yard line, we sprint to the 50 yard line.  Gary strongly suggested that we really high knee the sprint in order to pump blood into thighs that will be screaming by that time.  At the 50 yard line, we do another 20 squats.  Then the lunges again to the 75 yard line.  Then high knee sprint to the 100 yard line.  Turn around, rinse, and repeat all the way back down the pitch to where we started.

I kid about the rinse part, but what was no joke was how my legs felt.  I've been practicing squats on my own at the gym, so the first 20 were OK.  The lunges started to hurt halfway to the 25 yard line.  But I did it.   Most of the other guys were in a bit of a race, so I was WAY behind.  Coach Zach came up beside me to show me proper form and to do the lunges with me so I'd get it.  He stayed with me all the way down the pitch and back again, encouraging me to take it one piece at a time.  The 2nd half of the pitch, I thought my thighs were going to give out.  It's a weird sensation to feel the strength in your legs just give out like that, but I stuck with it, and they did not give out.  They hated me, screamed bloody murder at me, but they kept working.  I was not able to run, but I did high step it through the sprint portions.  And in that last bit where I was lunging to the finish line, Coach Zach said, "In front of all these guys, you're going to finish this.  You can do it."   That's when I got a round of encouragement for me to finish that I found embarrassing, but I plugged ahead and  I did finish.  I didn't finish pretty, but I finished.

Honesty time.  Before that experience with Coach Zach, he really frightened me.  He reminded me of my 7th grade basketball coach who was gruff, liked to yell a lot, and thought nothing of ridiculing you.  I have lived in a bit of fear that Coach Zach would turn his ire on me.   Whenever he talked about the need to build stamina because without it, you are useless to the team, I figured he was talking about me directly.  When he came up to me while I was lunging, I expected to be yelled at for doing it wrong.  Instead, he simply showed me how and had me mimic him, and then stuck by me to make sure I kept up my form.  He didn't yell at me or ridicule me for being slow.  Him sticking with me made me not want to give up.  Getting that kind of personal attention told me that he had some faith me, and I wanted to honor that faith and not let him down.  If he guessed that's how to motivate me, he guessed correctly.

We moved on to defensive drills and tackling.  This is where I learned something tonight that I had not known before:  I LIKE TO HIT!  And by hit, I mean tackle.  It turns out that I have some raw ability to do it too, which is even better.  In the last practice, we were told to imagine we were tackling behind the player, which fits into how I was once taught to punch.  You don't punch for the face; you punch for BEHIND the person's head.  That way you fool your brain into hitting with full force.  If you aim for what you are hitting, your brain will subconsciously pull back in anticipation.

I was paired with some of the more aggressive members of the team, which did worry me.  Coach Zach said we had to not approach a tackle with fear because that would end in injury.  So I only focused on the legs and I went to tackle, and I held on for dear life once I grabbed hold until the guy came down.  It was fun!  I liked to hit and take people down.

I wasn't as good at being the person tackled.  I did what I could to avoid the tackler, which Coach Zach says I need to stop doing.  "Forwards go forward, not sideways."  The point, I believe, is to plow through a guy trying to tackle you like he's nothing.  That I need to work on.  I think the notion of making myself a kind of big bowling ball when I have the ball and am being approached will be helpful in this endeavor.  Coach Zach even said that I could be pretty good once I learn to plow straight ahead.  Gotta admit, that was the highlight of my night.

We then started more real-game type of drills.  I found this disorienting and I ended up making a lot of mistakes.  I tackled a couple of guys way too high and ended up putting a kink in my neck.  But that's why they tell us to go low, and put our shoulders into the belly of the guy we're tackling.  It makes perfect sense.  I need to get comfortable with the chaos of a real game situation though.  Otherwise, I'm going to be worse than useless on the pitch in those situations playing defense.  The game of rugby moves FAST, and I gotta learn to move with it.   I'm not as worried about that because my brain can process something and with practice, I'll be fine.  I just need to find whatever it is that will make it click with me when we're doing the whole post-A-B-C stuff.

I already know that I'm going to be in MAJOR pain tomorrow.  I feel it a little already, but the feeling I had when I was able to successfully tackle tonight is something I want to capture again.  It makes the pain I"m going to feel tomorrow worthwhile.  It's amazing to know that there's something physical that I could be good at!   That is one reason why I'm writing this tonight instead of tomorrow:  the pain is going to make me curse rugby at least a little bit.  But that's why God invented naproxen  and cold compresses.

The challenge continues...