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Whiskey-tango-foxtrot? It occurs to me that spelling improves my athleticism.


I’m not sure how this happened, but over the past few years, the NATO phonetic alphabet has solidified itself as an integral component of my workouts.

On steady state rows, I spell things out with it, one phonetic letter per stroke. I spell out the names of everybody in my former boat lineups. I spell out the names of all the boats I’ve rowed in. I erged the morning of a World Cup game and spelled out the full names of every player I could think of. Fun names. Bastian Schweinsteiger. Siphiwe Tshabalala. Carlos Bocanegra. Power strokes during the names, a few strokes of easier paddling in between. The meters melted away.


During hill repeats and shorter track work, I spell mini-mantras out in cadence with my footsteps, one phonetic letter per four steps. Quebec-Uniform-India-Charlie-Kilo! KAYbec-Uniform-India-Charlie-KEELo!

During body circuits, I just go through the whole thing one rep per letter, Alpha to Zulu, trying to bang as out many letters/reps as I can before my minute is up and I’m on to the next exercise. Twenty-six reps if I make it all the way to Zulu. Pushups start to hurt pretty bad right around Tango and by Zulu I’m cursing under my breath and trying to sneak glances at my watch and it’s impossible that only :51 has elapsed and I can squeeze in another Alpha-Bravo-Charlie if I decide not to slack.

I mostly spell out names. Mine. My friends’. People with long names are best because I have to focus more. I love names.

Long words are good, too.

Antidisestablishmentarianism. Almost impossible to spell that out in one try while focusing on my form and attempting to ignore how much my legs burn. But I make myself start over if I mess up, because it takes up more time.

How did I fall into this bizarre inclination?

Okay, think back to The Sound of Music.


Remember Captain von Trapp, the retired Austrian naval officer, whistling his kids around? Yeah. My dad is an updated version of that guy. 15% of family communication occurs in acronym form. My wrist watch has been in military time for as long as I can remember. I write dates 31 JUL 10 and get momentarily confused by 7-31-10. Even in his military retirement, my dad manages to inspire the high school students he now teaches into blasting out an honest set of pushups if they act a fool. I’m telling you. Captain von Trapp.

At least, I thought so.

In about ninth grade at the dinner table one evening, he instructed that I was to learn the military alphabet and report back the next night. It was in jest, but I studied up in trepidation. The test never came. Uncharacteristically, he forgot about the assignment until recently, when the phonetic alphabet resurfaced during another family dinner table discussion. Off-handedly, not remembering the challenge of years before, he asked me if I knew it. After it had tugged me through hundreds of rows, hill repeats, and reps, I recited it with ease.

It’s worth mentioning that my dad (a multiple-marathon runner), has been the primary inspiration, instigator, and mentor of my running ever since I started back in eighth grade. Funny that a random dinner table challenge from years ago could combine with my affinity for words to enhance almost every workout I do.

Tango-Hotel-Alpha-November-Kilo-Sierra, Pops!


Quasi-training log excerpts:

Yesterday’s workout:

AM: 30 x (2’ erg-1’ body circuit 10-exercise rotation), 90’ total. Notes: Why are triceps dips hard all the sudden? Probably because I stopped doing them for three months.

PM: 15 KM erg, feet-out. 2:13.3/500m average. ~66 minutes.  Notes: Listened to Bruce’s “Thunder Road” three times in a row. Got really out of breath trying to sing along. Dog thinks I’m crazy.

Today’s workout:

AM: 9 miles. 8:25 pace, even in this perfect weather. Guh. Notes: I’ve been wondering why I’ve slowed on these mid-distance runs for a while, in spite of my heart rate being where it should be and my breathing being fine, and it hit me today that there is officially a hitch in my giddy-up. Looking back through my training log, it’s been obvious. Over a month of “sore right hammy” and “ham feels tight” and “right hamstring is hitching up.” Today I acknowledged that I feel it on every step. It doesn’t hurt yet, but it’s squeezing the brakes on my turnover and putting a catch in my step. I was headed for 11 miles, but cut it short and finished on the bike. I’m astounded I’ve ignored this for so long. Time to be a little more conservative.



Do you have any weird habits that get you through workouts? I can’t be the only one who recites the phonetic alphabet over and over again during 200 meter repeats. Or wait, maybe I can.

How have your family members influenced your running/athletic habits? I have an active family. If they aren’t running or biking or playing, they’re coaching or reffing. The family value for this lifestyle has undoubtedly shaped my current hobbies.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 07/31/2010 12:09

    bhahaha did you know that when i’m in my “i’m trying not to swear” moments (trust me they are very rare) that i actually do say “whiskey tango foxtrot” ?! funny! i’ve never actually used the military alphabet while running though. interesting.

    i do, however, do math problems in my head and aloud. wow. just typing that out made me feel like a major nerd haha

    • 07/31/2010 16:23

      That’s excellent. I wish I had the capacity to do math problems more complex than those that involve counting on my fingers to estimate my pace… haha.

  2. 08/03/2010 22:07

    so random. i am impressed that you can spell out those long names/words on the erg though. or well, period. in military-speak anyway. obviously i do know how to spell in regular-alphabet i promise.

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