Thursday, May 7, 2015

Peaks and Valleys

All through my so-called "athletic career", my fitness has oscillated.  As a runner, it was often tied to my weight, which also oscillated a lot.

I remember running my first and only sub-3 marathon in 1995.  I had trained incredibly hard for 6 months to pull it off.  I'd avoided restaurant meals, many glasses of wine, and many social events to make sure I got enough rest, so I could train properly.  After that race was over, I took a break.  It wasn't deliberate, but in the next year or so, I gained a lot of weight and didn't run very much.

At the 1996 Boston Marathon, I lined up in my corral with a fairly low number.  I think it was 1576, out of 35000 runners.  I was fat and out of shape, and I was also fighting a cold that day.  I remember one runner coming past me early, looking at my race number, and sarcastically asking me who I bought the number from.  I told him that I'd earned it with a 2:57 marathon and he laughed at me.  For a moment, I thought about going after the guy, trying to start a fight, and just giving up on the run.  But, the reality was, I looked nothing like a sub-3 marathon runner.

Even on the day I ran sub-3, as I passed a group of 3 runners in the early miles, 1 of the 3 told me I should slow down.  He told me I was going too fast, too early "for such a big guy".  I weighed 168 pounds that day - about as low as my racing weight ever got.  I told him that I'd trained hard to run sub-3 that day and I intended to do it.  He didn't respond, but he didn't need to respond either. I knew what he was thinking.

I eventually finished 19th of 499 finishers that day (Avenue of the Giants Marathon in northern CA), and the runner who'd made the comment found me after the race and asked how I'd done.  After hearing my result, he graciously apologized for his comment.

As I've gotten older, I've found that any setback gets tougher and tougher to overcome.  Since my prostate surgery 16 months ago, I've managed to set a number of new PRs in the gym.  But, my two heaviest lifts - deadlift and back squat - are not back to where they were.  My best deadlift since that surgery is 415 vs. a best of 440.  My best back squat is 365 vs. a best of 375.  But, other than those 2 lifts, I've improved on a lot of other lifts.  I recently improved my front squat from a best of 275 to 305, and I probably could have done 315 that day if I'd had more time.

But, since that PR, in March of this year, things have gone the other direction.  I've found myself feeling more tired at times.  I was sick in March and I had lingering effects from that illness for 4 weeks.  I'm scaling the CrossFit workouts more than ever.  I'm basically just trying to get through the workouts, not lose any more fitness, and just be consistent.

Last night, one of our coaches, a woman my age, asked me how I was doing.  I responded "old, fat and tired".  She laughed and walked away.  And then, she came back to talk some more.  She reminded me that "at our age", we can't expect to always be at a peak.  If we are smart in our training, we will recognize when we feel up to training hard, and we will also recognize when we need to take it easier.  I'm certainly not capable, at age 53, of re-producing any of my racing times from my younger years.  I'm OK with that.  What I most want is to be healthy and active for a long time.  To do that, I've got to be smarter in my training than I was when I was younger.  I also need to remember that the long-term timeline is going to include some peaks and valleys.

This week is a valley.  The next peak is just over there somewhere.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A little more consistency

Two weeks ago, at the tail end of an illness, I got to CF 4 times in a week.  It was tough and I coughed through a lot of the workouts, but I got through them.  OK, I scaled them quite a bit too, recognizing that I wasn't 100%.

Last week, I did a double red blood cell donation, and that messed with me for a bit.  I didn't even consider doing CrossFit the day I donated blood, but I did the next 2 days.  Again, I scaled the workouts and Thursday, in particular (running, ab work, farmer's walks and bench presses) felt really hard.  My wife and I were planning to ski on Saturday, and we were both sore and tired enough that Friday became a rest day.  So, 3 days of CrossFit last week.

This week has been very difficult - higher volume work.  Monday night include 4x7 front squats and 4x7 back squats, followed by some clean and jerks and some ring rows.  Tuesday was 10x5 deadlifts (for me), with each set followed by 20-30 seconds of jump rope practice.  But, in reality, that was the warmup for this little gem:

As quickly as possible:
25-20-15-10-5 kettlebell swings
5-10-15-20-25 burpees

The way you do this is 25 swings, 5 burpees, 20 swings, 10 burpees, 15 swings, 15 burpees, etc.

I admit I had to scale the burpees to 60% of the recommended number and I still really struggled.

I got home from the gym, and I felt like I'd been bludgeoned with a hammer.  Every movement hurt.

Last night started with 7x7 thrusters.  I looked at the workout and simply wanted to bail.  A thruster is a front squat, except at the end of the front squat, you essentially do a push press to get the bar overhead.  The second half of the workout had the bar go overhead 60 times (lighter bar than earlier), plus some 400m repeats.  Despite being a former runner, I was easily the slowest runner in my class last night and I finished nearly last.  If I hadn't gone really light on my push presses, I would have been last.

Last night, I wasn't as sore as the night before, but I am seriously tired.  I am busy tomorrow, so I really want to do the workout tonight.  Tonight is a "work your weakness" workout, so I'm going to focus on the muscles that don't already hurt.  We do 10 rounds, with 4 exercises per round, starting every minute for 40 minutes.  Tonight, I think my 4 exercises will be row 200m, 5 strict push-ups, farmer's walks (heavier than last week), and 3 hang power cleans.

Tomorrow, I get to sleep in, work from home, go to the doctor for my annual physical, and then do some fly fishing.  After that, I plan to sleep all weekend.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Derailed for a few weeks

Just before my teaching part of ski season ended, I started to get sick.  I was in the gym on a Tuesday night, and the workout just felt horrible.  By the time I got home, I knew I was getting sick.  I called in sick the next day, and tried to see a doctor.  My normal doctor doesn't work on Wednesdays, so I got stuck with a guy I didn't like very much.  (Yes, I realize that living in a small town were I can see my regular doctor most days on short notice is a luxury many don't have).

The doctor was running way behind schedule and they tried to re-schedule me.  I felt like death and said I'd wait.  Mostly, I wanted some cough medicine and I wasn't going to get any codeine if I just went home.  After talking, the doctor said he thought I had the flu.  But, I'm guessing because it was so late, he didn't feel like doing a confirmatory flu test, so he could consider giving me Tamiflu.  I probably should have fought harder for this, given how long the illness ended up lasting.  But, instead, I took a script for a very tiny amount of codeine and went to the pharmacy and then home.  I was out sick the next day.  I worked from home the day after that.

And then it was my last weekend of teaching skiing.  I'd done nothing since Tuesday and I felt like crap, but I skied anyway.  It was going to be my last chance to see most of my students and their parents until next winter.  To be honest, it was miserable, but I got through it all.

The next week, I managed to get to the gym twice, but it was not pleasant at all.  On the weekend, my wife and I had planned a nice trip for 2 to Pittsburgh - some nice meals, a couple nice cocktail bars, and a rare chance for us to see the San Jose Sharks play hockey, at the Penguins.  Truth be told, the Sharks only played hockey in the second period.  In the first period, the third, overtime and the shootout, they looked clueless  Ken Burns played well and Thornton played well and everyone else was just in the way.

After a long drive on Monday, we were back home.  I got to CrossFit twice that week, and coughed and coughed the entire way through the workouts.  I skied on Saturday, but had zero energy and I called it a day after 5 runs.

Two more days of coughing at CrossFit happened the next week and then it was off to Middlebury for the opening weekend of trout season.  I was finally starting to feel better and the cough was finally fading away.  Lots of fishing led to no fish at all - pretty standard for opening weekend.

Finally, after that weekend, I got to CrossFit 4 times in a week, although I did take it easy most days.  This week, I hope I'm on my way to 4 days again.

This illness took most of 4 weeks away from me.  Early on, I was sleeping 12-16 hours per day.  I've been tired for weeks.  My fitness has regressed.  The cough is still not 100% gone.  But, I'm a lot better now.

Right this minute, I'm off to do a blood donation - a double red cell donation.  That should knock me down for a few days again.  I like donating the blood.  But, with O+ blood, they want as many red cells as I can spare.  I got a nice note from the Red Cross about how my last donation was used (in vague enough terms to not violate HIPAA privacy laws) and that made me feel good.

Time to go visit the vampire.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Just like that, it's over

I've been a ski instructor for the past 14 years.  I've been teaching in a seasonal program for the past 13 years.  In that program, I ski with the same children for the entire season, and often, for multiple seasons.

I started off with 4 and 5 year old students that first season in the seasonal program, and skied with them as they got older.  One boy from that first year skied with me for 7 seasons.  Another girl skied with me for 6 years.  Over time, as my students got older, and I became a better skier, I found myself skiing in much more advanced terrain on a regular basis.  The past four years, I had been teaching 12-14 year-olds and most of my teaching was based on tactics - how to ski advanced terrain given the conditions at hand.  I spent way less time teaching the basic movements of skiing.  And, to be honest, I found that my teaching was getting stale.  I wasn't getting better, and in some ways, I was regressing because I wasn't spending the majority of my time teaching the very core movements of the American Teaching System.

Last summer, I made a request to my boss.  I explained what I wrote above, and asked if I could move back to teaching younger students - preferably in the age 6-7 range.  She was very happy to honor my request.  She had 2 main points as she said yes.  First, she said that any time an instructor wanted a change because that change was important in allowing the person to become a better instructor, she had to honor the request.  The mere fact that I thought a change would improve my teaching was reason enough.  Secondly, she felt that we might have too many of our most experienced instructors teaching at the top levels, and they might be more effective if they could teach younger students, getting them moving correctly at a younger age.

(As an aside - this is an old issue in the ski industry.  Many long-time instructors do not want to teach adult beginner lessons.  This usually has to do with compensation.  Private lessons typically pay more than group lessons.  And, the tips from private lessons can be quite nice.  When I taught adult beginner lessons as a rookie, I rarely got a tip.  Long-time instructors want to work where they can make the most money.  I understand that.  At the same time, if we are going to create life-long skiers, shouldn't the best instructors be with the least skilled students, so those instructors can help create successful lessons, and create passion for the sport with early successes for the students?  Terry Barbour, the ski school director at Mad River Glen, wrote a great article on this subject in the national PSIA magazine a few years ago.  Regretfully, I can't find the article online, but I thought it was one of the best articles I'd ever read on the needs of the beginner ski student.)

In the end, my boss moved me to a group of 7 6-7 year old boys.  We have about 50 coaches in the program where I work, and only 2 of them are certified at PSIA level 3 (the top certification level).  She moved both of them to younger groups as well.  I think we have 4 or 5 level 2 coaches, and I'm one of them.  So, in terms of certification, she moved 3 of her most experienced coaches "down the ladder" to work with younger skiers.

For me, the change was everything I hoped it would be.  I did way more teaching this season than in previous years.  I had a very clear set of goals in my head for the class.  There were things I knew I had to get done, and a few things that I knew I probably wouldn't get to this season.  I will admit that I didn't have an average group of 7 year old skiers.  These boys can fly.  They like to jump off anything big.  They think trails - even steep trails - are boring, and the real fun is in the trees, in deep bumps, and in the air.  But, despite their fearlessness and ability to get down anything, they still needed to learn how to truly ski.

This past Saturday, I was working on two different lessons related to racing.  One of the boys in the group asked me if we could just ski, and skip the teaching, given that it was the last weekend of the season.  I reminded them that we had a team race on Sunday morning, and this would help us all to do better in the race.  So yes, I needed to teach.  I wanted to teach.

As I handed out evaluations to the parents yesterday, I went into detail about what we had accomplished this year and how it related to my plans.  I talked about a couple areas where the students still needed more work, and that my teaching this year had set them up to move on to those next topics when the snow flies next winter.  Every parent thanked me, and remarked about how much their son had learned this year.  I told them all that I'd suggested to my boss that we keep the group together for next year, and that I'd like to remain their coach.  I got nothing but enthusiastic responses to this.

It really feels like one of my most successful years ever, although I am certainly a bit biased.

I do know a couple things had become true the previous few seasons.  First, I dealt with some significant health issues last year.  That made the year very challenging for me, and I felt like I let a group of teen girls take control of the group from me.  That was disappointing to me, but it also reminded me that the younger students seem to want to learn, while the teens often truly don't want to be explicitly taught anything.  Last year, I found myself frequently counting down the number of work days until the season would be over.  If my "hobby job" gets to the point where I can't wait for it to end, maybe I shouldn't be there.  And, in the previous 3-4 seasons, I'd felt that way every year, at least to some extent.

This year, I couldn't wait to get to the mountain and teach the boys something new.  We had a lot of cold days and a lot of good snow.  I feel like we got a lot done.  I have so much more to teach them,  But, all of a sudden, it's over for the year.

Skiing isn't over for the season, just teaching.  I'm looking forward to skiing with my wife and friends over the remainder of the ski season.  But, even if it ended tomorrow, I'd consider it to be a successful season.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Rest, Train, Train, Train, Rest, Ski, Ski

This is how every week seems to be going for me recently.

I take a rest day on Monday.  I do CrossFit Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  This week included (in rough order) running, heavy front squats, ring rows, sit-ups, box jumps, push-ups, ring dips, heavy bench presses, rowing, kettlebell swings, more box jumps, more ring rows, burpees (a lot of them), hanging knee raises, barbell strict presses, and heavy power cleans.

Plus, there was a whole bunch of mobility work in there, plus warm-ups.

Which leads to today - my next rest day.  I am sore today and I will be teaching skiing all weekend.  So, today is a rest day.  Then, ski, ski and start all over again.

I have only 2 weekends of teaching left in my ski season.  That won't mark the end of skiing, but I probably won't ski hard both Saturday and Sunday after the 22nd.

And, trout season is getting closer all the time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

50 States of CrossFit

Marathon runners do it.  There are many marathon runners who try to run a marathon in all 50 states.  I've run a lot of marathons, but not in anywhere close to all 50 states.  I've probably run close to 50 marathons in CA alone.  I've also run them in AK, PA, MA, ME, VT, NY, and possibly a few other states.  If you count ultras, you can add CO, UT, CT, Ontario (not a state), MD, NH, AZ, VA, and NV to the list.  But, these days I do very little running and a lot more CrossFit.

Yesterday, I had a great workout at CrossFit 13 Stars in Morristown, NJ.  I started the day with 2 PRs, both in the same lift.  After a warm-up and progression, I did a front squat at 295 (vs. a previous best of 285) and I followed that up with a 305.  I probably could have done 315 or maybe 325, if I'd had the time.

I was thinking later about the place were I've done CrossFit - nowhere close to 50 states:

VT - My home gym is Champlain Valley CrossFit
NY - CrossFit Hell's Kitchen
NH - CrossFit Upper Valley Underground
CA - CrossFit Potrero Hill
NC - Raleigh CrossFit
PA - CrossFit Hanover and CrossFit Shadyside
MA - Crossfit Boston and CrossFit Fenway
NJ - CrossFit 13 Stars

That's only 8 states and 10 boxes.

A quick search of the web reveals that a number of people have done CrossFit in all 50 states.

It sounds like I have a lot of work to do.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Getting back to the "old" normal?

Lots of little things are going on these days.  These are the kinds of things that I don't necessarily think about all the time.  They are also the kinds of things that get preempted when your life gets turned upside-down.

Last night, I was home by myself.  I skipped the day in the gym so my wife could go to her monthly "girls night out" night, after missing it for the previous 4 months, due to health reasons.  She had a lot of fun.  I sat at home and listened to music and tied flies.

Today, I spent an hour in the DMV getting the new Real ID license.  This had been a mess as the DMV lied to me a couple weeks ago, sent me to the social security office, who then pointed out that the DMV was wrong.  My license is fixed.  In the past 18 months, I've had no time in my life to get mad at the DMV.  Next, I take my battle back to the social security office.  And then a new passport.

I gave blood yesterday.  I was banned from giving blood for a year after my last cancer treatment.  My hematocrit levels were high enough that they suggested a double red cell donation next time.

My wife is done with radiation.  Her face still looks badly sunburned, but it's recovering bit by bit.  She is hoping to get to CrossFit and Sugarbush this week.

We are planning a trip to Pittsburgh later this spring, partly to see a hockey game and partly to just get away by ourselves for a while.

The super-cold temperatures have disappeared for at least a little bit, although it was very cold this morning.  Skiing this weekend should include more new snow and tolerable temperatures.

Trout season is just over 7 weeks away.  I tied some flies yesterday and ordered some more online.  I have 5 more weekends of ski instruction, and then March and April will be mixed weekends of fishing and skiing.

Now, if only my company could get a couple new contracts...