Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Still on a roll in the gym

I've had a few really good weeks in the gym, although I have to admit that I am really beat up from yesterday's workout.  We've been doing lots of testing the past few weeks and I've been happy with almost every workout.

Let's go back to last Monday, where the first part of the workout was to work to a 1 rep max squat.  I tend to think of myself as having two PRs in the squat.  Last year, I made a very concerted effort to work on mobility and get my squat to an appropriate depth.  Before last year, I'd done a 375 pound squat, but I know my depth was not OK.  Last year, I re-focused on form and I got to a 350 pound squat with good depth.

We've just completed a 16 week cycle in the gym focusing on squats, bench presses and deadlifts.  But, when we started, I was still feeling less than 100% after my January surgery, so I was somewhat cautious, especially with squats and deadlifts, where the total weight I'm lifting is high enough to cause injuries.

Through the cycle, I'd worked up to 315 a couple times, but never higher than that.  Last Monday, I worked up to 305 in my warm-up and then went for my heaviest reps since late November last year - the day I did 350#.  I got 335 fairly easily.  I got 355, but it was a challenge.  After some rest, I put 375 on my back and stepped back from the rack, but I could tell it wasn't there.  I simply re-racked the bar and called it a day.  So, I was better than my 350 in November, but I'm still not back to 375, and I still need to get 375 with good depth someday.

On Wednesday, we did bench presses.  I had done 200 (a PR) two weeks earlier, so my goal was at least 205 this day.  My warm-ups took me up to 165.  Then, I did 185 and it was difficult but not too bad.  I managed 205 as well on my next lift.  And then, I failed at 210.  I think if I'd skipped 205 and gone straight to 210, I might have gotten it.

Friday was deadlift day.  I'd done 405 two weeks prior, and I hoped to get 410 this day.  My all time best is 440, but I simply haven't recovered enough from my surgery to do the training to get back there yet.  The 405 two weeks ago had been a major struggle.

I did warm-up reps through 345.  My first hard rep was 375 and it felt like work.  From there, I went to 410, and I was disappointed to not make the lift.  The bar was still moving when I bailed, but I felt like my back was rounded and my shoulders weren't back enough, and the injury risk seemed too high.  I then tried 395 and failed again.  This was my 5th consecutive day of CrossFit and I was tired, so that might have affected this lift.  But, this is probably my best lift overall and I still need time to return to my previous level.

Yesterday, I was surprised to see that we were testing again - this time for the front squat.  Like the back squat, I consider myself to have two PRs on this lift.  With a cross-grip, I've done 280.  With the correct grip, I've only ever done 250.  About a year ago, I decided to abandon the cross-grip and force myself to work on the proper grip and related mobility to this lift correctly.  I did warm-up sets to 225 and then switched to singles.  I nailed a single at 255 - a 5 pound PR for the proper grip.  From there, I decided to jump to 285, and I got that one as well.  I made one attempt at 295 and failed.  However, if I'd gone straight from 255 to 295, I think I might have made it - still room for improvement.

When I started CrossFit, my best deadlift was 365.  My back squat was 265.  My front squat was 135.  My bench press 175.  My snatch PR didn't even exist.  Those numbers are now 440, 355, 285, 205 and 133, and all but one of those numbers has come in the past two weeks.  Not bad for an old fat guy.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A couple PRs in the gym.

When I last posted, I was getting ready to go after a bench press PR.  But, I also neglected to mention something that I thought was nothing, but became more of an issue.

Two Friday's ago, we did heavy deadlifts and finished the workout with some running.  My left knee (ACL replaced 12 years ago) was sore the next couple days.  I didn't know why my knee was sore, but I had worn brand new shoes, I ran without orthotics, I deadlifted very heavy, and I didn't wear the knee sleeves I usually wear for lifting.

I rested through Monday and then squatted heavy on Tuesday.  No pain at all on Wednesday.  That day, I got my bench press PR at 200 pounds and it was easier than I expected.  I'm sure I can lift 205-210, and I'll get a chance to prove that next week.

After the bench press work, we did a workout that included clean and jerks and 400 meter repeats.  No knee sleeves, my shoes were still fairly new and I didn't wear orthotics.  On Thursday, my knee was sore again.  I pushed through Thursday and Friday and things were no worse.  All weekend, I was sore though.  By Tuesday, I felt good again.

On Tuesday, our workout was simple.  In 45 minutes, establish a 1 rep max snatch, a 1 rep max clean and jerk, and then after the 45 minutes, run a mile all out.  The running definitely scared me.

I was happy with the Olympic lifting.  My PR for the snatch (due to shoulder mobility I use the power snatch rather than a full depth snatch) has been stuck at 125 pounds for 3+ years, and as recently as six months ago, I said that I may never try to snatch that heavy again.  My shoulder mobility is simply not that good and it's a dangerous lift for my shoulder.  But, my mobility is improving over time and my shoulder seems pretty healthy, and I decided to give it a shot.  I warmed up at 73 and then 93.  Then, I did 2 reps at 103 and 1 at 113.  At that point, I added 15 pounds to the bar, putting it at 128, which would be a PR.  It wasn't pretty, but I got it.  For the first time in a while, I got to ring the "PR bell" at the gym.  The coach who watched me lift 128 said he thought I could do more.  So, I went to 133.  At first, I failed when I didn't get my left arm locked out.  But, it had been close, so I tried again.  And I nailed it.  No shoulder pain at all.

Next, my clean and jerks weren't so good.  My best C&J is 185 and my best clean is 190.  I started at 95, and warmed up through 115 and 135.  Those were weights I knew I could hit.  I made 155 as well, but this is still well off my best.  At 175, I made the clean but failed the jerk badly.  On a second attempt, I missed the clean and I knew it was time to be done.

With the mile coming up, I put on my knee sleeves and put my orthotics in my shoes.  I don't even want to comment on how old and fat and slow I am, but let's say I ran the mile with no pain.

Trying to be cautious, I took Wednesday as a rest day (the workout was 150 medicine ball squats with a throw to a 10' line at the top of the squat).  I came back last night with dumbbell bench presses, 3 point dumbbell rows, kettlebell swings and sled pulls.  Again, no pain in the knee.

Hopefully, it won't happen again, but I'll pay attention.  I've had very few issues with that knee since my surgery and subsequent rehab, and I don't want to start a pattern of long term issues either.

Tonight, we have moderate deadlifts (deloading week), stiff legged deadlifts, shoulder-to-overheads, box jumps and toes-to-bar.  Over the weekend, I'm hoping to fish, I have to mow the lawn, and I'll try to get in a little running.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Some CrossFit stats

We got to CrossFit 5 days last week.  Weekends are a rarity, because the gym is close to our offices, but far from our home.  After commuting all week, we rarely feel like making the drive on a Saturday or Sunday.

So, a 5-workout week is very good, if it doesn't wipe us out so much that we are at risk of injury.  This was my 3rd week this year going 5 days.  In 2013, this only happened once.  In 2012, only once.  In 2011, twice.

If I exclude the time I missed during this past winter due to surgery, my training has been very consistent this year.  Here is a graph of my CrossFit workouts by month since I first started:

Month
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
Total
Jan
0
7
12
10
3
32
Feb
0
1
11
13
8
33
Mar
0
8
6
11
8
33
Apr
0
12
8
16
15
51
May
0
13
13
15
15
56
Jun
0
12
15
11
17
55
Jul
0
9
16
18
17
60
Aug
0
15
14
14
2
45
Sep
0
13
12
10
0
35
Oct
5
9
14
13
0
41
Nov
7
7
14
11
0
39
Dec
6
2
15
12
0
35

18
108
150
154
85
515

It's clear that I get to the gym more often outside of ski season.  And, January through February were low this year due to surgery in early January.  I returned to teaching skiing in early February, and my body wasn't ready for more than a couple CrossFit workouts per week in addition to the skiing for a while.

I am happy about my last 4 months.  With 64 workouts, this was my best 4-month total ever.

I'm still recovering some strength I lost due to the surgery.

Last summer, I did a single rep deadlift at 440 pounds.  Last Friday, I did 3 reps at 375.  I can probably do a single rep at 405 or so right now, but definitely not 440.

My legitimate back squat best is 350 pounds.  I once did 375 pounds, but my depth wasn't legal.  Last night, I did one rep at 315, my best since my surgery.

My bench press has always been terrible.  Years of participating in leg-dominant sports has left my upper body playing catch-up since I started lifting regularly in 2007.  Two years ago, I hit 195 for a bench press.  Last year, I tied that number in June.  Tonight, I will take my first crack at 200 ever.

So, my strength is improving, although I'm still playing catch-up to last year.  Regretfully, my bodyweight work still leaves a lot to be desired.  Last night, we had 8 minutes to do as many reps as possible, cycling 8 pull-ups, 8 box jumps and 8 burpees.  These might be my three weakest bodyweight movements (that I can actually do), and my score was terrible.

So, while I enjoy pushing in the gym, perhaps more of my efforts should be spent controlling what I'm eating when I'm not in the gym.

For now, I'm healthy and I'm improving again.  That's good enough.  And, if I can average about 15 CF workouts per month for the rest of the year, I'll exceed last year's total despite the tough start I had this year.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Back at it - whatever "it" is

What do I even call the stuff I do to stay active?  Is it training?  I'm not really planning to compete at anything, so I'm not training for an event.  Is it working out (an odd phrase, if you ask me)?  Just exercise?  Playtime?

I guess it doesn't really matter.  I prefer to use the word training, even though it might be the most inappropriate of the word choices.  Maybe I'll just say that I'm training for "life in general".

When our work at the Vermont 100 was over, my wife and I spent most of Sunday napping and recovering.  On Monday, she went back to work, but I'd taken an extra day of vacation just to catch up on things that had gone undone over the weekend.  But, I also had an ulterior motive.  I got up early Monday and headed out fly fishing.  I had a good morning on a small local stream.

After fishing, I worked on laundry, mowed the lawn, took care of some business in town, and then got ready to go for a run.  But, to be honest, it was hot and humid and I simply didn't want to run.  I eventually waited until about 6:00, when the worst heat of the day had passed and ran for about 45 minutes.

The next day, I was back at work and back at CrossFit, and I made it to class Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  I managed one day of heavy squatting, one day of heavy (for me) bench presses, and one day of heavy deadlifts.  On top of that, we had the normal variety of exercises - power cleans, burpees, pull-ups, push-ups, box jumps, Turkish get-ups, sprinting, rope jumping, mountain climbers, rowing, good mornings, toes-to-bar, etc.

By the end of Friday, I was beat.  On Saturday, I went to the farmers market with my wife and did some other errands.  We went out for breakfast.  And then I took a nap in the afternoon - for about 3 hours.  This is really unusual for me, but my body seemed to be telling me it was tired.  After my nap, I spent a couple hours exploring a nearby stream with my fly rod.

Monday, I was back at work and it started all over again.  Heavy squats on Monday, followed by barbell lunges, power cleans and pull-ups.  Tuesday it was power snatches, clean and jerks (both of these were the heaviest since my shoulder injury last year) followed by toes-to-bar and wall balls.  Last night was bench presses to start and I did 2 reps within 10 pounds of my best ever.  I'm finally going to get to 200 pounds in the next week or two.  Then, dumbbell strict presses, running and lots and lots of kettlebell swings.  I thought my forearms were simply going to fall off during the swings.

I'll go again tonight and tomorrow night before a much more relaxing weekend.  Saturday is my (our) 28th wedding anniversary.  I'll probably sneak out for some early fishing and maybe my wife will come along.  After that, we don't have any formal plans, but I'm guessing there will at least be some Champagne involved.

I'll mow the lawn and do some cooking, and it will soon be next Monday.  And it will start all over again.

Training for whatever...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Vermont 100 Weekend

I have not run the Vermont 100 since 2007, and my wife and I have been increasing our volunteering time each year since then.  We've been helping out one way or another most years since 2002, but the past few years, we've worked a lot more on race weekend.

This year, my wife and I were asked to increase our volunteer roles a bit, taking over the Camp 10 Bear aid station as station captains.  Last year, we had essentially run the station all day, so this was not really a big change for us.

I went to the race site on Friday, to help with the medical check-in, but mostly to say hi to all of my ultra-running friends, many of whom I rarely see any more, because I'm not running ultras these days.  I helped, mostly with pre-race weigh-ins, until the pre-race meeting started.  I saw a few more friends at the meeting.  After the meeting, I didn't stick around for the pre-race dinner, opting instead for dinner at home and an early bedtime in my own bed.

My wife and I were up very early on Saturday, packing the items we needed to bring to the aid station.  This included some high quality knives, a cutting board, some cast iron pans for cooking grilled cheese sandwiches, and a collection of stuffed (toy) bears to decorate Camp 10 Bear a bit.  Regretfully, it was so crowded that I don't think anyone even noticed the bears.

We arrived at the aid station a little bit later than we wanted, due to some street paving going on in downtown Woodstock early on a Saturday morning.  I was amazed that a tourist town like Woodstock would allow street paving on a weekend.

We knew we had a lot of early volunteers, and when we arrived at the aid station, we were astonished.  The early crew had already set up all of the food and beverages.    They were truly amazing volunteers - great attitude, glad to be there, willing to help however they could.  Everything was ready to go, with one exception.  We had no ice.  Normally, the medical team brings the ice to this station, but there was a new medical team this year.  They didn't bring the ice, probably because they didn't know it was their job.  The race management didn't remember this detail either.  Luckily, the person who takes care of all the logistics for the aid station - parking, tent set-up, generators, wiring, audio system, etc. - was all set up and he ran out to get ice for us.

By a little after 10:00, our first runners started to arrive.  They were in the 100 kilometer race and they'd only run 9 miles or so by this point.  Luckily it was cool and no one asked for ice early.  But, by 11:00, the first 100 mile runner arrived, and we started to get requests for ice.  All we could do was promise that there was ice 11.5 miles ahead and we would have ice when the runners returned.  Luckily, no one really complained, and the ice arrived before 11:30.

I had recruited a couple friends to help us during the busiest times for the station - from 2:00 until 8:00 or so.  The first two arrived around 11:00 and stayed until 9:30, which was a huge amount of help.  Another friend arrived later but stayed late as well.

Thanks to some rule changes this year, the station was a bit calmer than in previous years.  Normally, we have large crews there for their runners for hours at a time, and those crews frequently feed themselves from the aid station.  We put up a sign this year indicating that the aid station food was for runners and pacers only, but this was still frequently ignored.

I would prefer to set this station up the way that Western States does their aid stations, where only runners and pacers would even be allowed to get into the station, and no one else could get to the runners' food and drinks.  Someday maybe.

The temperatures were moderate for this year's race and the humidity was not an issue.  Due to that, we had no issues with running out of ice or water or energy/electrolyte drinks.  We did run out of watermelon for a while, but a re-supply truck gave us a cooler full of fruit and we were set for the rest of the race.

We did request two extra volunteers for the late shift, especially with timing the runners, which we also owned.  But, race HQ was able to find some volunteers for that task, and we had no issues.

By 9:00 or so, things started to really slow down.  Typically, there are many runners coming in after this time, but that just wasn't the case this year.  I haven't looked at the results to see if the cooler weather allowed a lot more sub-24 hour finishes than usual.  By 11:30 or so, only one runner was still on the course behind our aid station.  But, that particular runner, while not fast, is very steady and finishes almost every race he enters, often in the final minutes.  I heard someone say that he has 9 finishes at the Massanutten 100, and has never finished with more than 16 minutes remaining on the clock.

He got to the station around midnight, and we took care of him and sent him on his way.  We spent the next hour or so tearing down the aid station.  My wife and I got back to the start/finish area at about 1:30 a.m.

For the first time in years, neither of us was pacing, and we didn't have any reason to stay up all night.  We slept in the car for a few hours, and then watched the last 90 minutes of the race at the finish line.  Regretfully, two good friends failed to finish, which was disappointing for them and us.  The highlight of the morning was seeing that last place runner from the aid station cross the finish line with about 3.5 minutes to spare.

Next year, there will be a new race director for this race.  I have talked to her by e-mail and in person this past weekend.  I told her that my wife and I will be happy to help out however we can.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Tweaking my training a bit

Sometimes I have a hard time calling my workouts "training".  It's not like I'm preparing for a race or any event at all.  I'm just trying to keep myself in decent general shape, so that on any given day, I am strong/fit enough to go for a run or a hike or spend 12 hours wading in a river in search of trout, or just about anything else I might want to do.  I want to be fit enough every fall so that my first day on the mountain in my ski boots, I can ski right to the end of the day and feel good all day.  Those first couple days on snow are always interesting.  I am skiing with other instructors, and many of them are better technical skiers than I am.  But, by the end of the day, when I'm still feeling strong and those who didn't train all summer are exhausted, I feel pretty good about the work I do in the off-season.

A few weeks ago,  I was complaining here that I was really struggling with my training, especially CrossFit workouts.  I decided I needed to change some things around.  But, instead of taking more rest days, I'm actually taking fewer rest days right now.  But, I've changed my approach to CrossFit workouts.  I've decided to let go of the whole competitive/ego side of the workouts, and just do a workout that makes sense for me.

That has meant that on Monday squat days, I might lift less weight than specified by the coach.  On our auxiliary squat work (a second exercise to help with squatting), I might do 2 sets rather than 3.  Or, if a particular workout is going to hit a weakness really hard, I change the rep schemes.  When I do that, I don't write a score on the board at the gym, because I haven't done the specified work.  But, I feel like I'm doing the work that is appropriate for me.

Recently, we've been doing lots of burpees in workouts, and a lot of them have been burpee lateral bar hops.  For this movement, you do a burpee beside a loaded  barbell.  After the burpee you do a 2-footed lateral jump over the barbell and do the next burpee on the other side of the bar.  I'm really slow at this movement.  I'm slow on box jumps as well.  So, when it makes sense, I simply modify the workout.

On Thursdays, when we have the first half of the workout to practice movements that cause us trouble, I always include 50 burpees.  Over the last two weeks, things have gotten gradually better at the gym as I have implemented these changes.  I've been doing some sort of training 6 days per week instead of 5, but feeling better overall.

For instance, two Tuesdays ago, we had burpee lateral bar hops in a rep scheme of 5 rounds (alternated with other movements) of 9 reps per round.  I chose to do 6 reps per round instead.  Last Monday, I did back squats lighter than prescribed, and only did 2 sets of barbell box step-ups instead of 3.  On a day off work (to go fishing), I got out for a couple miles of walking with my daughter and the dogs, and then spent 9 hours in my waders in some challenging terrain.  Was it a workout?  No.  But, it wasn't sitting on my butt all day either.

Another night included high box jumps - higher than I typically use.  Instead of going with the easier lower box, I chose the higher box, but I decreased the reps.

One recent night, we had ring rows in the workout.  This movement can be adjusted for difficulty simply by your body angle.  The more horizontal you are, the tougher they are.  The more vertical you are, the easier they are.  I opted for a more vertical position.  Gradually, these changes have been leaving me feeling better from one day to the next.

It all came together last Friday in the gym.  On the 4th of July, we always do a difficult "Hero" workout, named after a soldier or first responder who was a CrossFit member and who died in the line of duty.  Last Friday was Glen:

30 clean and jerks
Run 1 mile
10 rope climbs
Run 1 mile
100 burpees

The prescribed weight for the Clean and Jerks was 135 pounds - too much for me.  I opted for 85 pounds.  For the rope climbs, I substituted 50 band-assisted pull-ups.  And, as the workout started, I decided I would see how I felt when it came to burpees.  I had done 50 burpees the day before in a "work your weakness" workout, and I wasn't sure if 100 would be a good idea.  I paced things well through the workout, but I was still near the back of the pack.  I did start in a second heat, about 5 minutes behind the first group.  But, some people were completely done with the workout before I finished my second run.  I didn't worry about that, and I started the burpees.  They were a struggle from the very first one.  I decided I wanted to cap the workout at about 50 minutes, which gave me 12 minutes to do the burpees.  I can do 100 burpees that fast as a standalone workout, but not after everything else we'd done.  I got to 80, and I was beat.  So, I stopped there.

Again, I wrote no time on the board.  I hadn't really done the prescribed number of reps.  Others in the class who clearly hadn't done the reps not only wrote times on the board, but even bragged about the workout on Facebook later, talking as if they'd done ever single rep.  Yeah, that's still a pet peeve of mine.  I don't care what workout people do, but they should be honest in reporting what they did.

I was tired from this workout, but not destroyed.  I got out for a road bike ride the next day, riding for just over an hour.  Yesterday, I finally took a rest day, only my second rest day in the last 15 days.  Today, I'm working from home, so I'll take the dogs for a run after I'm done working.

The change over the past few weeks has been great.  Less intensity.  Less ego demanding that I follow the workout on the board to the max of my ability.  Plenty of sleep.  And, I'm more active on a daily basis.  Good changes all around!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

An "anniversary" trip to Mt. Abraham

Of the 5 peaks in Vermont that exceed 4000 vertical feet, Mt. Abraham (aka Mt. Abe) is the lowest at 4006 feet.  But, unlike Mt. Ellen, its peak is not covered by trees, so there are great views in all directions - Killington and Ascutney to the south, the mountains of the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, Mt Ellen, Mt. Stark and Camel's Hump to the north, and to the west, Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks.

In 1984, my wife (we were a couple then, but not yet married, or even engaged) and I had a week off between our finals after our last semester of college and our graduation.  We decided to visit her family in Vermont.  One day, being somewhat bored, we pulled out a hiking guide and looked for a good hike for the day.  We settled on Mt. Abe and summited the peak in late May of that year.

We've climbed it many times since then, but it's been a few years now.  To be honest, since giving up training for ultras, I am spending a lot less time on the trails here in VT.  It was not uncommon for me to hit 25-30 summits in a season while training for tough ultras, but that seems to be in the past.  I've done stuff like climbing Mt. Mansfield three times in a row and doing an out and back double summit of Mansfield.  I've even climbed all 5 of the 4000 foot peaks in one day.  But recently, I've been doing more CrossFit and easy runs around the neighborhood at home.

With the rivers too warm for fishing, a hike was the perfect thing for a Sunday afternoon.  While thinking about where to hike, I realized it had been just over 30 years since our first Mt. Abe hike.  And, of the 4000 foot peaks, to be honest, that's the easiest hike, at only 5.2 miles round trip and maybe 1600' of climbing.

We got a somewhat late start on the trail, at about 1:30.  I figured it would be just over a 3 hour hike for us.  One of the reasons we decided to hike was to hopefully get into some cooler air at elevation.  But, for most of the hike, the humidity and temperatures remained stifling.  About 1:45 after we started, we got to the summit and found a decent crowd and some light breezes at the top.  At the top, we rested for about 15 minutes.  My wife had some food while I took some pictures, and I had her snap one of me as well.



I have no idea why I looked so grumpy in the photo.  I was honestly having fun, so maybe my wife snapped it when I wasn't paying attention.  My face gives the impression that I'm absolutely miserable.

While we had been hiking up the mountain, I had suggested that we were in the neighborhood to make a stop at Prohibition Pig in Waterbury, a high quality watering hole that we don't get to visit very often.  I think that gave us both an incentive to move well on the way down, and it took just under 90 minutes to get back to the car and head for Waterbury.

I would love to be able to repeat this hike with my wife again in 30 more years.