Posted On November 1, 2009 By In The Phast Lapp And 576 Views


It’s the way you comb your hair, answer the phone to say “Hello,” and write your name. It’s the way McDonald’s wraps a burger, Exxon lays out their gas stations, and Master Card formats a billing statement. It’s attitude, shade, and flair, or lack of it.

Nuance is what makes the world go round.

How I drive my car, eat my lunch, or sit on the couch, determines my day, and what I get out of it. Nuance evens says a little about who I am.

Ever see a heavy machine operator use the pedals and levers with almost the touch of an artist, to extract a tree without damage, or place a load without spilling a drop? How are those wood or ice carvings done with chain saws? It’s the reason why a hundred pianists can be asked to strike the same note and it can come out 100 different ways. Totally nuance, which is not to be confused with details.

For swimmers, bikers, and runners it is the nuances that will dictate how our races end. The nuances the athlete can make, and affect, will help him in his events, to a personal best or worst, especially in an endurance event. How the swimmer slips his hand in the water with a light feathering touch and pulls it back sculling the water; how the cyclist can spin his pedals with as little effort as possible; how the runner can move the toes inside his shoes to affect his landing and push off, are all nuances an athlete should learn to assist him to the finish line with as little wasted effort as possible.

Some people learn this instinctively. They are the natural athletes and are relatively few among the regular population. The great many of us have to learn the nuances of the water, wind, and road.

Point: No one will care how fast the athlete can run a 1500 meter event if he’s struggling at Mile 20 of a marathon. Same goes for the cyclist, and the swimmer. Hats off to you, congratulations, if you are genetically blessed to have that raw, explosive speed where a sprint can be done so with little or no nuance.

But in an endurance event such as the marathon, a century bike ride, or an Ironman triathlon, explosive speed will mean nothing. It is of no help, at all. In fact, most of the athletes I know would gladly exchange their speed (or, to be technical, fast twitch muscle fiber) for a slower pace, just to know they will make it to the finish line.

So, it is our job then to learn and incorporate all the nuances we can on our job writing a report, at home (how do YOU take out the garbage?), and in our sport of choice. Some examples include extending the arm while swimming, turning over on our side and reaching as far as we can and pausing just a tad, before beginning the pull phase of the stroke that will go past the hips; keeping our torso low on the bike to reduce air resistance, but allowing our legs to easily move in circles, with only a light resistance – no mashing of the gears; during the run, allowing our arms to move freely while not allowing our torso to move at all as our feet pass by our knees and keep a steady light beat. Over a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run, these things can make a significant difference.

And yet I see people pound the water, and their bike pedals, and the ground they’re running on. The guy at the pool who beats the tar out of the water only makes it 25 meters to the wall and is exhausted, before turning around and doing it all again. And, again. And, again. For an hour! Then there’s the cyclist who goes full speed on the start of a training ride, pushing the pace that the rest of us, looking at each other, know he can’t sustain. He aggressively slams his gears into the biggest, most resistant gears, and throws his bike from side to side while standing up grinding his knees into sawdust, and his quadriceps into mash potato. And then the runner, with hands made into fists powering through the first lap of the track or mile at the lake, spitting as he breathes and grunts. We just assume he’s attempting the world record.

I figure these people must be working out their frustrations. But every day? Every work out? It would be so simple to tell them to use finesse, a light touch, to glide a bit more in all three disciplines, to have energy for the rest of their workout today, and have something left to come back with tomorrow. I would like to tell them to look at what they’re doing. “Is there an easier way to accomplish your workout?” Sure there is. Relax, for one. Two, look around at the others around you. Do you see anyone else doing what you’re doing or looking like you, especially those beating you? Probably not. Probably not…

Swimming. What are you trying to accomplish? Swimming, for those who don’t know, is the equivalent of running while holding your breath. It has many similarities to golf because it is entirely about technique (nuance), much more than the other two sports of a triathlon. Swimming is trying to remain level while moving through the water as efficiently as possible. Nuance. The less strokes you take without creating turbulence (nuance), the more energy you save for those strokes you do take. Easy. It is “the interaction between the body and the hand,” says Dr. Nicholas Romanov author of “The Pose Method of Triathlon Training.”

Cycling. It’s all about aero dynamics, baby. Otherwise known as air, except this air isn’t yours to breathe, but get through. You want to push as little air as possible, while keeping a smooth cadence (nuance) in light gears. Hitting 25 mph shouldn’t be a problem,…once you have the nuances down pat.

Running. What is it and what’s it all about? It’s putting one foot in front of the other in quick succession while keeping breathing relaxed and under control. Nuance. It’s controlled falling. (Nuance) That’s it in a nut shell. Period. Anyone can do it. Everyone should do it. Few do it well.

A three year old child has mastered his gross motor skills. Unfortunately, many adults never go beyond that point, and develop their fine motor skills, small muscle movements. Is it time you learned the nuances and stopped pounding?

Nuances in the way I write a sentence, do a work out, or coach a work can inspire or bore. If I do things I’m passionate about, I will be more excited to do these things with excitement and panache. The nuances will almost take care of themselves. Almost.

Chris Phelan has written, laid out, photographed, and published The Phast Times News since 2001. He’s crisscrossed Texas on his bike three times, swam 5 miles across Lake Ray Hubbard three times, completed three Ironman triathlons, and has represented the US in completion three times, and run with the Olympic Torch. He maintained All-American status for five years and has also biked across the country, 3600 miles in 30 days. The running/triathlon coach has PR’s of 2:27 marathon, 15:40 5K, 3:55 at the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred, and 10:00:52 Ironman. Chris is the only person to have won overall and Master’s at Dallas’ Crosson Dannis road racing series, DRC road racing series, and the USAT/SMW duathlon series. In 1988 he began Dallas’ oldest track workout, 1998 started north Texas’ first treadmill class, and 2003 he founded the world-wide Ride Of Silence. He’s been twice nominated Master’s Road Runner of the Year, highlighted in a variety of magazines and is frequently asked to speak at camps and organizations about fitness. Outside of swimming, biking, and running, Chris has summited several mountains including Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro.