Thursday, December 18, 2014

Another gym PR

I had a decent night at CrossFit last night.  I have been quite literally stalled on the clean and jerk at CrossFit for years.  I had gotten my clean to 190 pounds in October of 2012.  My clean and jerk was stuck at 180 or 185 for years.

Recently, I got a few new PRs.  I got a new squat clean PR with 195 pounds last week.  I got to 188 pounds on the clean and jerk, using a push jerk rather than split jerk.  Last night, our goal was to get as heavy as possible for the split jerk, which in theory, should be a stronger lift than the push jerk.  My existing PR for this lift is (was) 185 pounds, and it was set about 2 years ago, I think.

I warmed up at 95 and 115 and 135, doing multiple reps at each weight.  At that point, I switched to singles and gradually worked my way up.  Things were easy at 145, 155 and 165.  My lift at 175 went reasonably well, but I struggled, as I always do, with trying to drop quickly under a heavy bar.  But, I made it.

From there, I skipped over my existing PR of 185 and went for the PR at 190.  Just like at 175, I felt like I got under the bar poorly.  However, my push was fairly strong and I managed to get under the bar and catch it.  I was able to stand it up easily.

So, I've not got a squat clean of 195, a power clean of 188, a push jerk of 188 and a split jerk of 190.  Somehow, I need to take this recent progress and keep working, and get myself over 200 pounds for the clean and jerk.  That's not a lofty number by any means.  The world record for my age and weight group is about 330 pounds.  I'm pretty sure that record is safe.

I had stalled at these lifts in a big part due to a shoulder injury that dogged me for most of last year.  Now that my shoulder has been relatively healthy for more than a year, I'm seeing decent progress.

Goal number 1, of course, is to keep the shoulder healthy.  But, I would really like to see my Olympic lifts and my bench press continue to get better.

After the split jerks last night, I did some push presses, followed by some rowing, dumbbell snatches and push-ups.  Tonight will be burpees, pull-up negatives (start at the top and hold on as long as possible), box jumps and deadlifts.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Playing catch-up again

It's once again been a long time since my last update, it seems.  As I look at the past 2 weeks, I have been crazily busy.  Last time, I wrote about getting a new PR in the bench press.  And, I whined about illnesses - cancer, in particular.

Despite my whining about the cancer stuff, I have also seen a silver lining in some of this adversity.  My wife and I have been married for 28 years.  That's a long time for anyone to "put up" with anyone else.  Yet, through all of this, I think it's been clear that our marriage is doing really well.  We are always there for each other, always worried first about our partners.  It's a great feeling to know that after all of these years together, when life gets challenging, our commitment to each other never wavers.

That bond was put to a test again this past weekend, when my wife spent an entire day in the local emergency room with unexplained bleeding that just wouldn't stop.  I think her medical care has been mostly incompetent for the past few days.  I'm not going to go into details, but there has been a terrible lack of communication, poor decision-making, very little empathy, and doctors trying to rush her into major surgery, without giving her any other options.  She is going to see a different provider at a local teaching hospital this Friday, and hopefully, we will get better answers than we've gotten so far.  I just wish that many doctors would be more honest and up front about side effects from treatments and treatment options, even if they don't offer those options.

In  my wife's case, there is a clear advantage to treating her in a more modern and better equipped facility.  But, the doctor didn't bother to tell her that there were better options.  She wanted to do a procedure immediately yesterday.  When my wife refused, she tried to schedule surgery for today, telling my wife that she'd try a simple procedure, but if it didn't go well, she would proceed to a very significant surgery.  Again, my wife declined.  She then suggested Thursday and my wife temporarily agreed.  She has since cancelled that appointment, and will get a second opinion before anyone touches a scalpel.

Around all of this, I've had a crazy couple of weeks.  I trained other ski instructors all weekend two weekends ago.  Then, I had a quick trip out of town.  At CrossFit Shadyside, in Pittsburgh, I had a great workout and got a new squat clean PR of 195 pounds.  This is a lift where just being strong is not enough.  It requires good technique, and that's been limiting my progress.  My new PR was simply a matter of getting better at this particular lift, rather than being stronger.

The evening after this PR, I started to feel sick.  That took me out of action for a few days.  Last Saturday, I was supposed to start teaching my ski students for the season, but I was with my wife at the hospital instead.  The next day, my wife insisted I follow through on some existing plans, telling me that she would simply rest at home for a few days.

So, I taught skiing on Sunday, meeting my students for this season for the first time.  They are amazing.  Only 7 years old, decent skiers (but there's a lot I can teach them) and they like to go, go, go.  But, being only 7, a full day of going non-stop becomes too much.  Late Sunday afternoon, I watched them simply fall apart.  The entire group seemed to run out of energy all at once, and we slowed things down for the rest of the day.  This is going to be a great season.  It will probably be just a month or two before I'm struggling to keep up with them.

Right after skiing, I headed to the airport for a brief trip out west.  I had a great time visiting some friends and I had a great workout at CrossFit Potrero Hill.  By Tuesday night, I was home again and I'm back in my office today.

And now it's almost Christmas.  I haven't done any Christmas shopping yet.  I don't know if my wife has.  We had agreed to keep things simple between the two of us, but we still need to take care of the rest of the family.  Maybe we'll have time to shop for Christmas presents the day after Christmas.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Just after my "coming up short" post

I recently lamented that I had recently been missing some of my lifting PRs in the gyms by small margins.  Most people my age, especially lifelong lifters, are not setting new PRs in the gym at the age of 52 (53 is getting really close).  Most people aren't setting PRs within a year of being treated for cancer either, although I'm sure some do.  And, many people don't work the hours I do, put in the long commute, and still find themselves with the time to even train hard.

At my last doctor's appointment, my doctor was pushing me to see a therapist.  He had some good points.  I've had a lot of stress at my job, I've gone through diagnosis, treatment and recovery for prostate cancer in the past year, I've had some other major stressors that I don't even want to talk about here, and most recently, my wife has been diagnosed with and treated for an advanced and aggressive melanoma.  Earlier this year, her dad was also treated for melanoma.

(For the record, my wife is doing great right now after two surgeries, and with a month of radiation, she should be completely over this bout of melanoma, although she will need to be careful for the rest of her life.)

At this point in time, I am really f*cking sick of cancer.  It's everywhere in one form or another, it seems.

I pushed back with my doctor.  I don't have enough time in my life to talk to a therapist.  While these stresses have been just that - stresses - I think I'm doing reasonably well.  I also think I have a place that helps me in a lot of the ways that a therapist would.  Actually, I have a few of those places.  The ski mountain.  The gym.  The streams during trout season.  Those are the places where I can just relax and enjoy life.  Yeah, sometimes I'm working hard in those environments.  Sometimes, I'm perplexed at why I can't fool a feeble-brained fish with fur and feathers.  But, those places are my therapy.  They are things I look forward to, things I need in my life.

Yesterday, my wife sent me an e-mail at 4:45.  She said it must have been a busy day (and she was right).  We normally mail stuff to each other through the day, but apparently, I didn't send her a single e-mail yesterday.  She noted that I always send her something at work.  Every single day.

Yesterday, I was buried deep in code and a fairly simple technology called XML.  We need to really perfect some XML work we've been doing for a mobile app we are prototyping at the moment.  All of the display information on the phone will be delivered through XML to a business partner and our business partner will then render that information to the users.  So, I was buried deep in that code all day.  It has to be 100% error-free.

When I left here and picked up my wife, I started to think about the gym.  After a warm-up, our first part of the workout was to establish a 1 rep max on the bench press.  After a stressful day, going heavy (relatively) is the perfect way to really let out any frustrations.

Before my intro to CrossFit, I was stuck at 185 on the bench press.  My background is more distance running and skiing and hiking and backpacking - leg dominant sports.  It has taken a long time to build the muscle to get better on the bench press. Plus, our gym really seems to prefer overhead pressing rather than bench pressing, so I don't get to do it very often.

Two years or so ago, I got to 195 pounds.  Then, I hurt my shoulder doing some Olympic lifting and that had a lengthy recovery.  I got to 195 pounds twice more, but I couldn't get past that number.  Over this past summer, we did a lot more bench press work, using a Wendler style program, and I gradually got 200 and then 205.  I failed at 210.  Since then (those lifts were  in August), I've done very little bench press work.

Last night, I paired up with a young, strong lifter in our gym for the lifts.  His plan was to get to 250 or so.  I simply wanted 210.  We alternated through the warm-up and working sets.  I did multiple reps at 95, 135 and 155, and then went to singles.  I got the reps fairly easily at 175, 185 and 195.  From there, I decided to jump 15 pounds to 210.  I felt pretty good about the attempt after how 195 had felt.  I pulled the bar down confidently and started to drive up.  And I stalled.  Almost.  The bar was still moving, ever so slightly.  My right hamstring cramped up.  I ignored it.  I kept driving.  After what seemed forever, I got the bar locked out.  A new PR at 210.

Then, 3x5 at 155, followed by 3 rounds of 20 each of push presses, kettlebell swings and box step-ups.

I'm tired today, but not stressed out.  The gym is the best I can do as a therapist right now and it's probably going to have to be good enough.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Coming up just short in the gym

Last night, the strength part of CrossFit was to work to a 1 rep max front squat, with only 3 "working attempts" allowed.  I warmed up, starting at 95 pounds and working up to 205.  My first working rep was 225, and that went pretty easily.  Next, I did 255, and it was work, but not too bad.  The coach said it looked like I had a lot left in my legs.  Next, I jumped to 285, thinking that my PR was 280.

Regretfully, my weight got a bit forward on the descent, and I bailed before I'd even bottomed out.  When I checked my log later, I realized that I'd done 285 and failed at 295 on 8/25 of this year.  So, even if I'd stuck the lift, it wouldn't have been a PR.

The week before, we had half an hour to work to 1 rep maxes on the snatch (I use the power snatch due to mobility reasons) and the clean and jerk.  In mid-August, I'd gotten past a long-term sticking point of 125 on the snatch, and I lifted 128 and 133 in the same workout.  In late October, I'd gotten to 135.5 on the snatch but failed at 138.  On that same day in October, I'd gotten to 185.5 and 188 for 2 new PRs in the clean and jerk.  My PR for just the clean remains at 190, but I rarely test that lift.

On the snatches last week, I worked by 10 pound increments from 63 through 123.  Then, suddenly at 133, I failed twice.  Finally, I got a clean lift at 133. After the 133 went, I tried 138 three times, but I failed on all 3.  So, I've now lifted 133 twice, 135.5 once, and I'm 0-4 at 138.  I think the way to fix this is to do some workouts of high weight singles.  Maybe do something like 10 x 1 at 125# for a few weeks and try again.

On the cleans.  I may have made a tactical mistake here.  I started at 133 and added ten pounds at a time until 173.  At that point, I was feeling a bit tired and I wasn't sure how many more good attempts I had in me.  So, I jumped to 193.  I failed 3x, and only the second was close.  I wonder if I might have had better luck trying 183 and then 193.

In the end, it doesn't really matter.  I am close to my PRs in all of these lifts, but not quite there.  Sometimes it's mental.  Sometimes, it's simply not your day - not enough sleep (definitely a problem lately), poor diet in the previous 24-48 hours, or you are stressed or distracted by other things in your life.

Given the stresses I've had recently, I was pretty happy with my weights in these three lifts.

I've been skiing on the weekends, which is something that no amount of training really gets you ready for.  No matter how fit you are when the ski season starts, you still have to ski yourself the rest of the way into ski shape.  With lots of early snow, I hope to keep working on that every weekend.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

First skiing day in the books

I have to admit up front that Killington is not my favorite ski resort.  If I could ski the mountain on a daily basis without its typical crowds, I would be just fine skiing there; there really is great terrain to be found.  But, the mountain has a reputation for large crowds.  The stereotype says that many of the people that make up those crowds are young snowboarders, who ride at out-of-control speeds, putting themselves and others in danger.

If you factor in limited early season terrain, and lots of discounted lift tickets, the risks seem even higher.  But, my wife and I had some of those discount tickets, the mountain had gone from 5 open trails to 16 trails in the previous 2 days, and it was a chance to ski with some friends before the lifts are spinning at Sugarbush.  By this coming Sunday, I'll be doing some "work" at Sugarbush.  I don't get to ski on my own just for fun very often, and I don't get to ski with my wife very much either.  So, this was a perfect opportunity for that.

We were at the mountain by 8:30 or so on Sunday morning and we got a decent parking space.  We were on the gondola a little after 9:00, heading for the summit.  It was cold at the summit and a number of trails were slick already, but not too bad.  We did a number of laps off a triple chair just below the summit, making sure we hit all the open terrain except for the terrain park.

The trip down to the base area was a little bit hairy, with tight trails and ubiquitous snowboarders moving at high speeds.  There were also a number of racers from other mountains at Killington, so there were some skiers moving very fast as well.

From there, we headed down to meet a friend who was arriving later than the rest of us.  We skied off the Snowdon Triple for about 90 minutes, and then headed back to the summit.  Someone suggested a bathroom break and that led us to the new summit lodge at Killington.  The inside of the lodge is very nice and the views in every direction were stunning.  The only things more stunning than the views were the prices for food.  But, the lodge wasn't very crowded and we were hungry, so we decided to eat.  I had some sort of artisan free range limited edition burger, topped with bacon made from pigs that were hand fed grapes by Italian virgins, or something like that.  The burger needed salt.  After all the flowery prose defining what I was going to eat, would it have been too much to put a little salt on the ground beef?  My wife and I each had a burger and a soda.  My wife had $47 cash in her pocket, but that wasn't quite enough to pay for lunch.  Ouch!

After lunch, we did a few more runs off the higher triple chair, but conditions were now very slick.  We headed back down to the Snowdon Triple area.  On the way down, I was thinking about the fast moving snowboarders and how you never know when one is going to hit you.  Within seconds, it happened to me.  Luckily, she was small and I stayed on my feet during and after the collision.  Without so much as an apology or even an acknowledgement, she simply sped away down the hill.  I may have yelled something not-very-polite in her direction as she continued down the hill.

Down low, we found that a number of guns were blowing very sticky snow.  One of our group went down hard when the sticky man-made snow simply stopped his skis, but he kept moving forward.  After that fall, I think we did one more run, and decided it was time for a post-skiing beverage.

We quit relatively early - about 2:30 or so.  But, it was the first day of many to come.  It was nice to ski with my wife, and nice to free ski with some of my friends/co-workers from Sugarbush.  We get to ski together during the season, but frequently, we are in training sessions, rather than simply skiing for fun.  And, fun is why all of us do it.  We enjoy the teaching aspect as well, but sometimes, it's nice to just be out there doing your own thing, with no responsibilities for students.  That part of the season will come soon enough.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Almost time to ski!

Killington has been open for more than a week.  As of today, they have 5 open trails.

My new ski helmet and gloves arrived in the mail in the past week or so.  I ordered some new ski socks today.  My skis and boots are in the shop at Sugarbush for a safety check.

This Saturday, I will have 6 pairs of old skis and 1 pair of boots for sale in a local ski swap.  The goal is to get enough money to buy my wife a new pair of skis for this season.

And then, on Sunday, we are heading to Killington to ski for the day.

The following weekend, if the weather cooperates, I will ski at Sugarbush.  My first day on snow at Sugarbush will be a working day, something we call "train the trainers".  Basically, we do our training of other instructors a bit differently every year, so we try to get all of the staff trainers on snow early, so we can start to get comfortable on snow again, and so we can talk about the training plans for the season.

After that, I'll be training other instructors starting on Thanksgiving weekend.  I will start skiing with paying customers on the 13th of December.

My fly rods are still not put away for the winter.  I'm still hoping to get out fishing this coming weekend.  But, winter is just about here.

Other than that, it's all about CrossFit, I suppose.  Tonight involves a lot of overhead barbell work.  My shoulders are going to be tired tomorrow.


Friday, October 31, 2014

It was 33 years ago today...

It all started with a copy of the Village Voice.

I was 19 years old.  A sophomore at Bucknell University.  A brother at Theta Chi.  My fellow brothers had re-shaped my musical world my freshman year.  After years of AC/DC, Judas Priest, and the Scorpions, plus a little bit of Pink Floyd and Zeppelin, I had been turned on to David Bowie and then Elvis Costello and Talking Heads, plus some new bands like U2 and the Psychedelic Furs.

In high school, I'd seen Devo do Whip It! on SNL.  Didn't we all watch SNL then?

But, until college, they were nothing more than weird guys with flowerpots on their heads.  But, listening to entire albums at school, I became a huge fan.  When they released New Tradionalists, it was on the turntable pretty much non-stop.

So, in September or maybe early October of 1981, through the Village Voice, we heard that Devo was going to play Radio City Music Hall on Halloween.  I forget how we got tickets, but it certainly didn't involve the internet.  Somehow, we got tickets to the second of 2 shows that night, and we were in very last row of Radio City Music Hall.

We had a party at the fraternity on a Saturday night, right after we'd scored the tickets.  Three of us were so excited about the show that we spent the entire night at the party bothering people.  We would walk up to a group of people, with our backs facing them.  Then, we'd spin in tandem and say the words "October 31st.  Radio City Music Hall.  Devo.  Be There!".  And we'd walk away.  I'm sure we were really annoying, but we were so excited about the show.

The Friday before the show, I headed to NJ with my buddy Jeff.  We went to his house and then headed across the NY state line, where the drinking age was 18.  Of course, we went to a bar.  I have to assume we were drinking Schaefer beer.  I do remember that it cost us 35 cents per glass.  I'm sure I had too many.

On Saturday, we headed to NYC.  Four of us met at a bar called The Blarney Stone.  There were a few places in NYC by that name, and I assume they were connected.  I think we were in the Hell's Kitchen area, on West 47th, which would have put us close to RCMH.

I was then (and still am today) a big college football fan.  My team, Penn State, was ranked number 1 that day and playing at Miami, who was not yet a national power.  Penn State's Curt Warner, who was averaging 168 yards per game, had been injured and missed the previous week's win against West Virginia.  He started against Miami, but re-injured his hamstring, and Miami went on to upset Penn State 17-14.  I remember so vividly watching the game at the Blarney Stone, and seeing Warner carrying the ball, and then, mid-play, he reached back and grabbed his hamstring.  That win for Miami propelled them to a new level and they've been a national power ever since.

After the game, we wandered around town for a while.  I remember we stopped at one bar that charged us $8 for a pitcher of nasty beer.  Their tap lines were filthy, the beer was expensive and undrinkable, and they refused to give us a refund.  One of our group, a guy named Eric, was still yelling at them as we left the place.

At some point, we were in Times Square, which was a much different place in those days.  And about 11:00 or so, we headed to Radio City Music Hall for Devo's second show of the night.  It was a fantastic show, a mix of their older songs and the new material from New Traditionalists, plus their cover of Working in a Coal Mine, which was part of the soundtrack to the movie Heavy Metal.  Here is the set list:

http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/devo/1981/radio-city-music-hall-new-york-ny-4bd2534a.html

To be honest, there is only one set list online, and there were 2 shows.  I don't know if they played identical sets or not, so this might not be exactly what we saw.  At the very least, it is close.

That was my first visit ever to NYC, and despite our college-age appetites for beer, it's a day I still remember very well.

I haven't seen Devo since that night.

My next trip to NYC was on another holiday - St. Patrick's day in 1982.  That night, we went to the Ritz, which is now long gone (the original venue has returned to its old name of Webster Hall), with pretty much the same group of guys, and we saw a young band from Ireland who had just released their second album, October.  Even though October remains perhaps U2's least known and least successful album, I've always been a fan of that release.  Years later, when I saw U2 in a stadium with over 50,000 people, I remembered fondly seeing them in a venue that held only 1400 or so.

October 31st.  Radio City Music Hall.  Devo.  Be There!