No Magic Pill

Knowledge + effort + time = success


Posted by Ben on Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What’s the first thing that came to mind when you read the title of this post? Probably something less-than-ideal, no? Maybe you took too big a bite at supper one night and experienced the mild panic of having to force yourself to cough and hack, uncontrollably and sometimes painfully, to remove the obstruction while trying to avoid breathing in for fear of making the situation worse. After last night’s marathon All-Star Game, you might be thinking about Dan Uggla’s impersonation (a few times over) of Bill Buckner in the 1986 World Series (no one remembers how good this guy actually was—he was/is defined by one choke). How about Scott Norwood in Super Bowl XXV or Chris Webber in the 1993 NCAA men’s basketball championship game? (Okay, maybe that last one was more of a brain fart than a choke, but c’mon, UNC beating Michigan was akin to the Dodgers beating the Athletics in 1988.) In the context of this blog, the sports references are easy. In competition, the “choke” is always a possibility, the “oops” that costs the game/match/title for someone and/or a team.

However, there’s another, more benign, even beneficial side to choking (easy there, peanut gallery). Little Leaguers are told to choke up on the bat to (a) swing faster, (b) swing under control, and (c) increase the chances of making contact with the ball (I never could—and still can’t—swing effectively with a choked-up grip, which is probably why I never got far in baseball or golf). Two-cycle engines (think lawn mowers, weed eaters, etc) have a choke mechanism that provides a fuel-rich mixture to assist in starting and warming up the engine until a more balanced fuel-air mixture is appropriate for operation. Until recently (and maybe some still do), some cars had choke controls on the dashboard (my father’s 1980s VW Rabbit differed from a Model-T in starting procedures only in that you didn’t have to get out and hand-crank the engine).

At the suggestion of several people, I decided to go for a short ride on my Harley today. More often than not, I wouldn’t need any convincing, but it’s been just over six weeks since I last touched the thing. Ever since I got back from Little Rock, I’ve had no desire to ride—after all, it was a fourteen-hour ride each way, done in one day each. No matter that it was exactly three years ago today that I brought that baby home. No matter that whenever I pass an oncoming motorcycle while driving my truck that my first instinct is to wave (for the record, I wear a helmet religiously, and not because some lawmaker says I have to, but that’s not a soapbox for this blog unless you want to get into a fear-mongering mindset, insurance rates, pothole (dis)repair—sorry, my bad…). At any rate, considering that I decided to take a rare hooky day from working out—I’m still recovering from a rather brutal workout yesterday—I went for a ride today.

I should say here that I promised the girlfriend a ride the next time I went out. However, I was idle while she was doing clinical work for school, so I’ll just call this a safety-check ride for the NEXT next time. That engine hadn’t fired nor had those tired rolled in a month-and-a-half, after all, right? Right? Yeah, shut up and hand me that shovel…

Motorcycles, despite having four-stroke engines, have a choke control similar to the aforementioned lawn equipment. If it doesn’t sit idly while warming up, general warm-weather, underway guidelines are to use full-choke for about five miles, half-choke for another five, and no-choke after that. You have to ease the machine into full working condition one way or another because it’ll be a bumpy, jerky ride if you try to start out on no-choke, if you can get going at all, and even if you could get going, repeat that practice enough times and you’re likely to incur some unnecessary wear and damage. Sound like I’m going somewhere with this?

My route today was simple. Since I live practically in downtown Charlotte, I decided to take a turn around the I-485 almost-loop just to stretch the bike’s legs, so I took I-77 to I-85 to the northern end of the almost-loop and ran it clockwise (with a brief detour down to South Carolina via the southern I-77 interchange for cheaper gas) around to NC16, then decided to run the in-town I-277 mostly-loop counterclockwise back home. Okay, trust me, it was simpler than it sounds, almost 100 miles of riding, which is about my limit of physical comfort (I can go and have gone much farther, but it turns into a grind after that point if I don’t take a break). Something I noticed while I was out was a lot more people driving the speed limit or lower—choking up on the accelerator—most likely due to gas prices, especially the Expedition I was behind for part of the ride, not to mention that I hit traffic at the morning dead time, so I was able to hang back and do at or just under the speed limit for much of the time, a sometimes conscious effort as I tend to zone out (not in a bad way) and speed up a little, so I had to concentrate on choking up at the throttle. Is my point starting to become apparent?

Starting something—anything, whether it’s physical, mental, emotional, or even spiritual—needs some priming, some choking, some holding back at first to get your bearings and ease into it. Granted, on rare occasions, it’s best to just jump in with both feet (like ripping off a band-aid), and some people do respond well to sudden changes in direction, but these are exceptions, not the norm. More often than not, gradual progress is the key to success. Most of the best training programs I’ve seen involve a break-in period of a week or four. Most of the best nutrition programs I’ve seen include a similar break-in period. When someone asks me how to go about changing X or Y or reaching some goal, I usually suggest several options but emphasize only one or two things. For example, the single thing I recommend most when someone asks me about diet is to change or drop the soda consumption, even if there are other calorie-laden drinks involved. If the person can handle a bigger shift of dropping all those drinks, more power to him or her, but the soda thing is usually a good, achievable first goal. How about the first steps of physical fitness (assuming diet is in order)? Start using a dynamic warm-up that includes some mobility and anatomical balance work.

Of course, this doesn’t mean to keep the proverbial choke engaged forever. If I did that with my Harley, just like using no-choke, there would be little or no short-term impact, at least not anything noticable, but the long-term effects would be just as damaging (albeit in different parts of the engine). As I’ve talked about before, don’t be afraid of risk, but make sure you’re doing so with some reserve and some conviction. Test the waters, expect some discomfort at the start of anything new (like carbohydrate withdrawals, which I’ll address below), and don’t be afraid to experiment. Just don’t expect results from Seven-Minute Abs:

Stuff from recently before:
—I mentioned before how local students may be walking farther to catch the bus (apologies for the broken link in that other post; it seems likes to change their article URLs randomly, so this may happen with others as well—please let me know if it does so I can track down working URLs). It sort of naturally follows that all that walking, combined with global warming, may just cure obesity as long as more prevalent kidney stones don’t incapacitate us first. (Question: If exhaust drops because of lower fuel consumption because of rising prices, will global warming continue as the Chicken Littles proclaim?)
—Speaking of education, teachers may soon need CPR/AED/First Aid certifications at this rate.
—It looks like doctors will continue to receive full Medicare payments. For now.
—Exercise may slow (and possibly halt) brain shrinkage associated with Alzheimer’s.

Stuff from not recently before:
—A recent study highlights the benefits of a low-carb diet compared to low-fat and Mediterranean diets. It also suggests the overall difficulty of losing weight. However, the study is flawed—note the caloric limitations that Mark points out—and therefore scientifically inconclusive (remember to scrutinize not only your sources—including me—but also the “studies” on which they base their information). If you’re going low-carb, avoid low energy levels, but let’s face it: eating is just plain fun.
—As slippery a slope as this could become (if it hasn’t already), I can’t argue with (temporary) state-funded efforts working to shrink/eliminate food deserts.
—This just in: kids get less active as they get older.
—More possibilities on how we’ve gone overboard on antibiotics.
—Big Tobacco gets more big blame for targeting teens (and younger). Question: Where are/were the parents?
—Pre-geek out: happy birthday to the atomic bomb! Beauty can be deadly.
—Geek out: Totally Looks Like, digitally-fabricated houses, Woody Allen interviews Billy Graham, maybe there really was/is water on Mars, fourteen songs that should never play in a bar (I could add a few more to the list), Do Not Call registry (I’ve suddenly been getting HAMMERED by telemarketers over the past two weeks), a motorcycle with 410-cubic-inches of displacement!

Stuff from inside:
—A truly fit body requires a fit mind as well.
—I’ve mentioned it before, but here’s more support for knowing WHY you’re doing what you’re doing.
—Are you now where you thought you’d be ten years ago? What you think about ten years from now? Is a change—or multiple changes—in order?


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