Pale, and freckled, and sore all over

  • 10/06/2010 11:18 pm in

BLOOMINGTON — For those who are unaware, I rode in the Little 500 for four years in college. We took it pretty seriously — year-round training, races in the summer, suicides up all 11 floors at Ballantine, a curtailing of night-time activities during spring semester. The works, in other words.

And I cannot begin to quantify the amount of incredulity that would flow our way, particularly for that last sacrifice. (Living in a fraternity house and not drinking? To quote Denzel Washington, boy, you must be outside your mind.) But we did it, and we probably were crazy, but not because of that.

As I’ve moved further in my still-short career, though, I’ve often hoped that my Little 500 experience did give me a little bit of an understanding when talking about college athletes’ conditioning. Which is why I jumped at this opportunity. (Well, jumped at scrambling to rearrange my schedule at the last minute. Journalists really only at our best on deadline.)

If you don’t want to click the link, here’s a brief summary: Media got to take part in a 2 1/2-hour-long workout today that simulated some of what the IU basketball team does on a regular basis in conditioning. We were put through some early paces, stretched out, took down some measurables (6-foot-1 wingspan and a 9-foot-4 vertical — I’ll reject your stuff) and then got down to business.

We worked with medicine balls, dead weights and box jumps. We jumped jacks and rope, and even threw in some old-fashioned push-ups and sit-ups. Toss in an obstacle course on the Memorial Stadium field and me carrying Henke Hall of Champions Event Manager Brook Oak (Goooo, Team Power Forwards!) up a flight of stairs on my back, and it was pretty much a day.

To put it simply, it was a blast. I know this sounds some combination of stupid and cocky, but pain has its uses. Some of my favorite workouts during my racing years were the hardest ones, like running suicides up the stairs at Ballantine in the middle of the winter, when the climate past floor six felt tropical and the stairs just seemed to get steeper and steeper.

So when it was time to roll a tractor tire, it was actually almost nostalgiac to step up and give it a try. Thank you, Bobby Capobianco, for the invaluable advice, as well.

On some miserably cold ride in the middle of the miserably cold Indiana winter, a teammate and I took the time to count out the hours we spent each week training, either on our bikes or at the gym or in alternate workouts. The number we came out to was roughly 19-20 hours per week, which is right at the NCAA allowed maximum for varsity sports. I’m not equating what we did to varsity collegiate sports, but it did change the way I approached this afternoon.

At one point, I asked Steve McClain, essentially, if the point of conditioning was to make games seem easy by comparison. He told me that was partially true, but it was also (tortured cliche alert) to give you the strength — not just physically but also mentally — to fight through fatigue, because it’s something that is going to find you late in games.

Not 20 minutes earlier, while we were going through the obstacle course at Memorial Stadium, a couple of us were engaged in a similar conversation with Capobianco, who essentially said that the goal of offseason conditioning, besides the simple obvious of making players stronger, faster, etc., (tortured cliche alert No. 2) was to create physical and mental toughness that was ingrained deeply enough in Indiana’s team identity that the Hoosiers wouldn’t get bullied like they were at times last year.

Bad jokes about tortured cliches aside, something you’re reminded fairly often in this business, if you pay attention, is that cliches are cliches because the principles behind them have been successful so much that they have become simple maxims.

When Bobby Capobianco talks about being tired of being pushed around, it’s easy to see why he’d enthusiastically be tired by pushing a tire. When Steve McClain or Tom Crean talks about going through intense workouts (and we just got a watered-down version) to prepare for the important ones this winter, it registers differently.

I guess what I’m saying is, I walked in the door thinking I could empathize with what these guys do on a pretty regular basis. I left feeling far moreso. And empathy is rarely a bad thing.

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