Have you ever noticed that when many people drink something the taste of which they are not particularly fond, they tend to scrunch up their face, close their eyes, shake their head from side to side and invariably announce, with considerable consternation, that the concoction they have just ingested, “tastes like piss”? Now, being a person capable of reason, you probably correctly think to yourself, “Dude, how do you know? You’ve never actually tasted piss. Just because you have eaten asparagus and washed it down with a double espresso, waited two hours then gone to the bathroom to urinate noticing the unmitigated pungent aroma emanating from the toilet, does not mean you have the foggiest clue what the liquid you have just expelled from your bladder actually tastes like”. It is highly doubtful that anyone has been so confounded by the aroma that they grab the cup used for rinsing their teeth after brushing, that sits largely unused next to the sink, lower it into the pool of urine and water in the toilet bowl, scoop up a few millilitres of fluid, raise it to their lips and give it the whole chug-a-lug. In other words, since they have never actually consumed piss, there is no real way for them to know what the liquid really tastes like.
Unfortunately, I do. Allow me to explain. During the long Quebec winter months, I do a great deal of cycling indoors on my bike mounted on a turbo trainer in my basement, right next to the washer and dryer. It is not a glamourous set-up by any means and is so rustic that I ignore, and secretly, deeply scorn Facebook friends and Instagram followers who post pictures of their own ‘pain caves’ and ‘hurt lockers’ for being so plush and cushy. They have real reasons to ‘love’ their mini gyms because the ones they have resemble a workout facility you would find at the Four Seasons Hotel in Dubai, whereas any affection I have for my own exercise cellar, on the other hand, is due to Stockholm Syndrome. It is a dank, physically and emotionally cold, depressing and lonely area on the margins of what would be considered livable in any modern sense of the word, that reeks of sweat, farts and dirty laundry. It is not generally where anyone would want to spend more than a few minutes at a time, but it is all I have…and I need to train. My bike faces a table on which I have only recently placed a small Smart TV where I can watch YouTube videos to keep my mind occupied for hours at a time. The handlebars are covered in a couple of towels to catch the litres of sweat that pour from my head and hands and which I do not change often enough to actually give them the opportunity to dry out before the next workout. To my left sits another small table with a stack of t-shirts on it that I drench constantly, usually at a rate of three per hour, and a small bucket filled with an array of head bands and buffs also designed to collect sweat at about the same rate as the shirts. My bike has two bottle cages that are always filled to capacity at the beginning of every session, as well as another three or four that I have scattered on the TV table and T-Shirt table, just in case I go longer than normal and need extra fluids. These five or six bottles range in colour from clear to red to blue to black, and contain either an electrolyte concoction or water, and are rotated in and out of the bottle cages on the bike as these get used up. On the floor to the right of my front wheel sits another bottle. This one is green. It is the only green one I own, or have ever owned, and there is a reason for that. The purpose of the green bottle is significantly different than all the others and probably isn’t exactly what the manufacturer intended. Though the green one does involve the temporary storage of an electrolyte-laden liquid, unlike the others which are intended to contain nutrients you want to put into your body, this one provides a provisional storage vessel to contain liquids for which my body no longer has any use. In other words, the one I keep on the floor is the one I use to piss in during my longer sessions. Yes, it is gross…disgusting even…but I hate getting off the bike once I have started. If I dismount, there is little likelihood that I will get back on to finish what I have started, and for that reason, I keep the bottle within reach. I chose green because it is generally accepted that urine is a shade of green, thus increasing the difficulty of making an honest mistake and peeing in something I would otherwise use for drinking. Judging by the title of this post, however, I suspect you now have an idea where I am going with this.
2020 has been a difficult year for every single person in the world, and we all deserve a bit of a pass for our minds not always being as sharp as would otherwise be expected; at least that is my excuse for what I am about to relay to you, and I’m sticking to it. One morning, in the dead of winter when every single day seemed to be exactly the same as the previous one in a pathetic, depressing, Groundhog Day kind of way, I was doing the very same turbo trainer, indoor cycling workout I seemed to do every single time I hopped on it ad nauseum, when the synapses in my brain ceased firing for about five minutes, leaving me incapable of both rational thought and regular sensory perception of the everyday, mundane things around me. As with every workout on the bike, I had my various water bottles spread out around me, all within easy reach for immediate and efficient access, and I was going through them at the regular rate. At some point my throat began to get that slightly scratchy, dryish feeling indicating to me that it was time to reach down between my legs to grab one of the bidons attached to my bike so that I could sufficiently slake my building thirst, just as I had done thousands of times before in an autonomic, Pavlovian fashion. The amount of time that passes between feeling thirst, reaching for a bottle, bringing it to my mouth and, finally, drinking, is no more than six seconds which is not very much time for something major to go wrong. On this morning, however, something did indeed go haywire. For some strange reason, I did not make the patterned movement towards a bidon on the bike but, instead, ventured past both of them to get a firm grip on the green one resting on the floor next to my front wheel. The strange thing is that, though I had never done this before in response to thirst, and though, having emptied my bladder a couple of times already, I did not feel even the remotest need to urinate, my actions felt entirely routine. I grabbed the bottle, sat up straight in the saddle, tilted my head back slightly to give gravity a chance to work unencumbered, and took a deep swig simultaneously squeezing the bottle for maximal liquid extraction. The second the fluid touched my tongue, my brain knew something just wasn’t right, but it did not have the capacity to assess the anomaly and permitted me to swallow two large mouthfuls. Once the concoction made it into my esophagus, it was clear that something major just was not right, but my grey-matter still couldn’t put two and two together and told my body that it needed more information to solve the problem making me lift the bottle to my lips again. This time, the moment the nipple of the container touched my tongue, the olfactory senses kicked it and desperately tried to tell my mouth not to suck and my hand not to squeeze, but they simply were having none of it and another several millilitres were emptied into my gaping facial cavity. At this point the metallic, pungent, vile-tasting solution revealed its identity and I had a quick decision to make: 1. Forcefully expel the liquid from my mouth and risk destroying the new television set, 2. Swallow the contents…again, and 3. Get off the bike with a full mouth and sprint to the bathroom and spit dentist chair-style down the toilet. I chose #3, but #2 beat me to the bathroom.
Now, I am quite certain that if you are still reading this, you are definitely wondering why I would be telling it to you. The reason is simple and twofold: firstly, I just want you to know that if we are ever together and I utter the words, “this tastes like piss”, rest assured that it does. Second, it kind of reminds me of the reaction you get as an endurance athlete, and a triathlete in particular, when you are asked about your sport. By this I mean that there are, generally speaking, two common reactions, much like the piss example above: 1. The person pretends to know what you are talking about because they have done a 3k park-run-turkey trot and believe, innocently, that the event is similar to a full Ironman, or 2. The distances you describe to them are so much greater than they can remotely fathom being done without the aid of a motor-vehicle, they allow their eyes to glaze over in the hope that you will just shut up. In the second case, they shut down because the information they are receiving is incomprehensible to them due to the fact that they have absolutely no similar frame of reference from which to draw upon for cognitive support. They have never heard of a person riding a bike for 180 kilometres and then run another 42. In fact, they are not even certain they actually know how far that is. In addition, the jargon we slightly pretentious triathletes like to throw around contains words that sound as though they are being spoken in a different language and thus force the brain of a non-athlete to close off the section reserved for comprehension and redirects all blood flow to the part that controls simple nodding. This is much like when I bring my car in for servicing and the mechanic proceeds to tell me all the things that need to be worked on or replaced. I nod my head in the affirmative and rub my chin as though I get what he is saying. Secretly, however, I am terrified he will test me on the information later and silently say something like, “Look, Dude, I don’t know what the fuck a valve lash is. For all I know, you just made that up. Just fix my car so I can go for a fartlek interval workout”. The people in this category not only do not know what piss tastes like, they have probably never been inside a porta-potty.
In the first example, the interlocuter has an idea what you are talking about because they have raced before, albeit at a much shorter distance. As a result of this, they have actually been tired from having done exercise, but have no clue what true physical exhaustion is like. It is not their fault that they do not know…how could they? These people usually acknowledge that what they have done isn’t the same as an Ironman, but they often say stuff like, “You should meet my cousin Albert. You’d like him, he jogs a lot too”. Though this sometimes makes you want to gouge out their eyeballs, you always come to your senses because it is obvious that they are just being nice and are actually quite in awe of what you have done. To compare these people to the initial story, they know what piss smells like, but they have never put it in their mouth.
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