How to Fill 24 hours

[I’ve put a lot of thought into how I can appropriately introduce my friend Brandon Basso. There’s the basic "bio data" (a term used by our Indian friends at Columbia. Apparently their parents did not think our bio data was sufficient for their daughters): 5’11" 145 pounds, blond, blue eyes, grew up on Long Island (and can’t wait to move back east)… None of that really describes him. He’s unique, but then I guess you have to be if you graduated in engineering with a minor in English, worked on the Mars Rover, then went back to school for a PhD in Control Theory (translate that as robotics).

Brandon is the kind of guy you can’t be mad at. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s genuinely an honest and nice person, or if it’s because he speaks with inflections that make every sentence sound like a question (it’s hard to take offense when someone criticizes you through questions: I feel like this would go faster if you were a little less lazy?). Forget it, the Sugar Bowl was a sufficient intro, so I’ll turn it back over to Brandon. -ben]

image I met Ben in undergrad because we both played a sport and were in mechanical engineering—a pretty rare combination. Ben will not agree with this comparison. I was on the crew team for one year and then decided I did not enjoy waking up at 5am every day to splash around on Harlem River. For this I am forever known as a “quitter”. Being labeled as such should be familiar to anyone who knows Ben and once did something that you no longer do.

I’m now in engineering grad school at Berkeley, and am on the club triathlon team. Good thing engineers, as Loren pointed out to me, don’t have social lives. I spend the majority of my free time training and catching up on Lost episodes now that it’s free online. I guess I could have started any sport when I moved out here—I’ve always been into running, I like soccer and a few other team sports, but triathlon caught me. Triathlon – a sport that constantly strives to eat all of your time, money, and social life, while, in return, making you feel mediocre at three sports rather than decent at just one – was probably not the most practical choice. But I was bitten by the bug, the glitz of the sport, cool looking fast bikes, and the deep-seeded human desire to wear lycra for as many hours as possible in a day.

To all of you out there who do this crazy sport while juggling school, work, family, my hat is off to you. We’ve all had to make some significant sacrifices; I’ve been stuck on season 2 of Lost all semester. So to make life work I’ve had to adopt some guerrilla time management skills.

My day really starts the night before. I put a water bottle next to my bed, lest I wake up with a headache and have to walk all the way to the bathroom to get a drink. I’ve also taken to putting a box of granola on my night stand for reasons I will explain. If I can get 6-7 hours of sleep, I’m pretty golden for working out the next day at 7:00. Alarm #1 goes off at around 6:30. This is the alarm next to my bed—a mere warning shot across the nose of my day. I will hit snooze at least 5 times, unless I have alarm #2 (my cell phone) across my room. It goes off around 6:45 and I am forced to get up or listen to all of “Heaven is a Place on Earth”, possibly the most abrasive thing to hear at that hour. Here’s where the box of granola comes in. I invariably will sit, maybe lie back down, but I force myself to start eating so I don’t have to run on an entirely empty stomach. I admit, I have woken up at 10am with granola up my nose, but it’s pretty rare.

So after a little water and granola I’m out the door. The problem with morning runs in Berkley is that they pretty much always involve going uphill. The other problem is the people of Berkeley. They don’t know how to walk, anywhere, anytime. Without fail I will run up behind two or more people completely blockading the sidewalk. I will give a firm “ahem!” and slap my feet a bit harder as I approach. At best, the morning fitness walkers will move from their stable, blockading pattern, to a chaotic one, making it even more difficult to pass; at worst they will continue to sip their Peet’s coffee, remaining oblivious. This kind of frightens me because I feel like it translates to their driving as well—another thing the people here seem to have difficulty mastering.

Now I typically spend the first half of the run thinking about nothing in particular, but if there is anything they’ve learned how to do well, it’s multitasking. I’m not saying I’m like the people at the gym who study on the exercise bike, or pretend to study while checking people out. I just like to keep the momentum going once I get back home, so I think about what I need to pack – will I be working out later? If so, should I make an extra PB&J (remember, I have no money)? Do I have any early meetings? Will I need to wear more than jeans and a t-shirt? Will there be any free food on campus (remember, I am cheap)? There is nothing that kills my spirit more than packing a lunch and eating it, only to find there was a career fair or town hall meeting with free pizza.

As soon as I get back home, I will make coffee, start undressing, and put toast in the toaster for my sandwich at the same time. Shower, shave, back to sandwich making/eating breakfast/listening to NPR/having a semi coherent conversation with Deena and Zoe, my roommates. It’s a good thing all these activities require different portions of my brain, but sometimes I overload myself and give Deena my toast when she asks me when I’m coming home, or for some reason, put a banana where I keep my razor and put my razor in the fruit bowl.

image Like other readers of this blog, I bike commute every day. I tell people this is to offset my (or their) carbon footprint—major bonus points in Berkeley. I really do it because I don’t have a car. My bike is a 1980’s Cannondale black lightning. It actually says black lightning on one of the chain stays, I kid you not. This was about 75% of my reason for buying it, as well as my intolerance for wasting precious time walking to campus, or even worse, waiting for the AC Transit bus, which has neither a schedule nor a notion of the very foundation of public transit—moving lots of people from A to B. For this reason, riding to campus is one of my favorite parts of the day; it makes me feel as if I’ve stolen back time that Berkeley has tried hard to waste for me. While some fellow bike commuters may be preoccupied with defeating other commuters, I’ve moved on to beating busses. This is actually not that hard because they stop every other block, but I still derive immense satisfaction from beating the very system put in place to make commuting more efficient for people. Take that Berkeley.

In addition to putting to shame the poor excuse for a transit system, I also get in a bit of bike practice. I’ll cut turns like I’m in the break of a big-deal crit. I get into my drops and sprint to make lights. I do track stands, and quite well. This is also a great time to get in some drill work—stomps, high cadence, one leg, etc. It’s a good thing that a lot of people in Berkeley walk around talking to themselves or playing imaginary instruments, otherwise pedaling with one foot might seem odd. I think I just about fit in.

So when I get to my office, I’m usually pretty sweaty. My lab-mates are use to this, and don’t ask questions anymore, they just judge quietly. Before they even get a chance to say good morning, imageI’m out the door again, probably late, with both pant legs still rolled up. I have actually gone entire days, 9-5, without taking the precious few seconds to roll my pant legs down and avoid looking like a fixed-gear riding, chrome messenger bag wearing hipster.

One very vital part of my day, and anyone’s day, is eating. Anyone working out more than once in 24 hours knows how important it is to eat well, and at the right times. People who vales their friends and R&R will take time for a proper sit-down lunch and dinner—I don’t. Some days I will do 100% of my eating while walking to and from class. On less busy days I’ll eat in my happy little cubicle. I even once had an entire meal of GU (I was desperate and short on digestion time). Rubbermaid should sponsor me; I probably have 90% of my meals out of Tupperware. But that’s ok; I don’t miss relaxing meals too much. The satisfaction gained from knowing that I saved a half hour by shoveling-down cold leftover pasta and a bag of tuna far outweighs the cost. By the way, did you know it comes in bags now?—a lot easier to open than a can.

image So clearly my life is being held together by Tupperware and coffee. It’s also being held together by two remote bases of operation: my desk and my gym locker. My desk has enough supplies to sustain me for 10 days. Granola bars, water, extra clothes, it’s all there. I also have one of those stretch cords which I take out every now and again to get in some swim strength work. I think all of this stuff sometimes makes my lab-mates wonder—“Brandon, why do you have a pair of boxers, a granola bar, and surgical tubing in your desk drawer?” –It makes a lot of sense once I explain it all. My gym locker is pretty much the same story, just with shampoo and deodorant. Both of these locations are extremely important, because there is nothing worse than forgetting something and having to bike all the way back home and all the way back.

One would think that with such efficiency, I would be entitled to some serious downtime. This is not the case. I just find more and more places to cut the fat out of my day. It’s a vicious vicious cycle. And let me tell you, once you have your first GU dinner, ingesting 400 calories in mere seconds, its a slippery slope to similar activities: eating entire meals on the bike, stretching while in meetings, composing entire stories in your head while on a run, and writing them down with sweat dripping all over the keyboard, while simultaneously replying to emails from the person expecting those stories – who is exactly the type of person who should empathize with the author of the aforementioned hypothetical stories – but who can’t understand that I’m busy sometimes.

Published by Ben

Ben Collins Professional Triathlete

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  1. Beautiful Brandon. Ben, it’s a shame you didn’t split this into 3 posts (my new tactic). He’d fit right in at my office where I often don’t change out of my fully-logo’d bike kit until 10 or 11am (from my 8am arrival via bike) and my often surprised response ‘clients are in today?’ as I look down to see shorts, a t-shirt and on my head a GU beanie. Nice job.

  2. OH my god! Hi Ben, you don’t know me but I’ve read your blog once or twice before — So loren (and soda) are always talking about you and he says I should look at your website. So I come over here and you have Brandon guest starring!!!

    I was on Cal tri before i graduated and Brandon is awesome. I say hi to him too!

  3. Oh. My. God.

    That was one of the BEST…er…um…stories on time management and DETAILS ON LIVING IN BERKELEY I have ever read. Wow. It could not be more spot-on than that.

    I mean…as a Cal alum and also Berkeley resident for nearly 4 years afterward…I just kept going “TOTALLY!” “YEAH, DON’T YOU HATE THAT?!”

    The part about every run inevitably featuring hills (STEEP ones)…the part about people NEVER watching where they’re going (and yes it applies to the drivers too…if there’s anything I don’t miss about Berkeley it’s the drivers)…the part about the very dysfunctional AC Transit (oh how many times did I wait for the 51 to come and just ended up walking 2 miles)…

    Then just the whole aspect of being a triathlete who isn’t a pro and actually has to do something outside of training and the time management of it all…awesome.

    Thanks for sharing, Ben (and Brandon)!!

  4. awesome post, but I’m a little scared now. I’m kinda planning on going back to school in a year or two for an engineering degree but my time managing skills have (apparently)degraded in the five years I’ve been out of school. It will probably be a bit of a rude awakening. Definitely no Berkeley for me, although Cal’s a great school for engineering.

  5. Wow you sound like my mom…. she has been known to crawl around on the floor of her sail loft (yes for those who don’t know she is a sail maker for Hood Sails) stapling, un-stitching sails while chomping down on a sandwich and stretching the phone cord as far as possible so she can simultaneously chat about all the soccer and baseball and sailing things she organizes and heads… oh and did I mention the head phones around her neck tuned to KNBR (sports talk). Yea it is a sight and she isn’t even a triathlete!!

    Brandon are you going to Collegiate Nationals??

  6. I can imagine your office Loren–everyone in workout clothes and whizzing around on razor scooters and segways while sipping on fair trade, organic, shade-grown coffee, discussing where to go on the afternoon office ride–very SF (you do work in SF, right?) If only I had a shower at my office I would probably be caught here more often in workout clothes. As it stands, we have a sink labeled “non potable” and poor ventilation, so I try to come here showered.

    Hey Kelly! Small world. I have a response to your amazing Bearathlon VI race report that I’ll post soon. Maybe Ben will link to them if news gets slow.

  7. don’t you guys get saddle sores with all that sedentary shammy time?

    and greg: what time management skills?!?!?!? jk

    um, whatelse. i like this post. it’s funny. esp the part about mediocrity in 3 sports. classic. one of my cycling teammates last year (who incidentally went to berkeley for undergrad) was like “well, for people of mediocre talents like you and me, blah blah blah”

    ben when are you going to start blogging again? can we have more brandon guest posts? are you the hypothetical friend at the end?

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