Thursday, July 30, 2015

Just Like a Fingerprint

When I first started running, I noticed pretty quickly that every runner seems to have their own particular stride. In fact, most are so distinctive that I can usually spot the runner I'm looking for when they are still a pretty small spot on the horizon. Perhaps it's the way they bounce when they run. Or the fact that they don't bounce at all. Or the way their arms swing, or don't swing. It's most likely a combination of a bunch of tiny things that each runner does but the end result is a running stride as unique as a fingerprint and it has helped me scout for runners in all sorts of races.

Swimming is apparently like that too. I have spent a lot of time swimming but I haven't spent a lot of time watching swimmers. Especially swimmers I know. I've never watched Doug compete in a triathlon from a position where I could see the swim portion. So I have no idea if I could spot his arms among all the other wetsuit-clad arms out there. He has assured me that I was pretty noticeable in races that he has watched so I guess it must be true.

Cycling, well, I haven't noticed too many different kinds of cycling techniques. At least not to the point where I can recognize someone from afar by their spinning legs. Usually I am watching for helmet, bike and shirt colour combinations. White helmet, grey bike and red shirt typically means I've spotted Doug. Long lanky legs usually help confirm this but are the last thing I notice, not the first.

I'm saying all this because yesterday after work I squeezed in a 15-minute golf lesson. During the lesson, I had to hit balls at a Trackman which is basically a large screen with all sorts of funky sensors. When my ball hits the screen, it analyses the angle, the speed, etc etc and it spits out all kinds of data that can help explain why I do things like hit beautiful long drives that always fly way off to the right.

Turns out I have a 'weak grip'. My initial reaction when I heard that was 'what!?! I have a strong grip! You should see when I shake hands'' but I quickly realized that weak had nothing to do with grip strength and everything to do with the angle with which I held the club. A weak grip = balls flying off to the right. A too strong grip, I quickly discovered, sends them careening off to the left. I finally found a sweet spot and the balls starting going where they should.

The trick now will be to remember that feeling and be able to repeat it. Over and over again.

On the way home afterwards, I mentioned to Doug that it must be hard for golf instructors not to burst out laughing sometimes when they see the way some people swing the golf club.

"Go to a driving range and watch people" he replied. "It's crazy how different everyone swings. It's pretty darn funny to watch too."

Sounds like golf is a lot like running. You can spot your favourite golfer a mile away once you figure out how they move.

PS. during my Trackman session, the following two things happened as soon as we switched my grip:

1. I swung the club, whacked the tee cleanly out from under it and the ball plopped down to where the tee had been and just sat there.

2. On the second try, I swung the club and the ball shot straight up in the air, hit the ceiling, dropped back down onto one of the narrow metal beams holding up the Trackman system and had to be pushed back down to earth with a golf club.

Neither feats had ever been seen in that room and, odds are, neither will again.

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