Friday, February 26, 2010

Short and intense

Last night was 35 minutes on the treadmill:

5 minute warm-up
(1 minute hard, 1 minute walking, 1 minute easy running) times 10

Nice and simple and hard. My fastest speed was 7:00 mpm. A year ago, I could have done all ten repeats at that speed and considered it a recovery day. But, just like my buddy Jim, I'm at a low point in my fitness level right now, and I feel like I'm just starting to crawl out of the pit. At least I'm back to doing something consistently, for at least six days per week.

After my run last night, my drive home was quite interesting. The town hadn't plowed our road for hours and the road was full of standing water, soaking wet snow, and all kinds of "features". The car pretty much went where it wanted to go and I just hoped it wanted to stay on the road. I managed to get home safely, but it was exciting. I tried to call my wife to warn her about the road, but she's managed to turn her cell phone to vibrate and never got the call.

When she got home about 30 minutes later, she was visibly shaken up by the drive. She wasn't even willing to park in the driveway. She parked by the road so she wouldn't have to fight the wet snow we haven't been able to clear from the main parking area in the driveway.

All in all, it's been a few interesting days. Today, it's windy and warm. After today, I'm going to ski the next three days - two days teaching and then one vacation day with my kids on Monday. My primary goal right now is to only ski where others have already skied. Snow this deep and this heavy is often called "ACL Snow", because it's quite easy to tear an ACL when your knee rotates but your skis won't turn. It's one of the risks of the heavier snow we tend to get on the east coast, so I just need to be careful while teaching this weekend.

But, I probably shouldn't complain that our snow isn't perfect when I have a number of friends who haven't had electricity for 48 or more hours and they have no idea when it will be restored.

Well, back to work. I can't believe how much is going on at such a tiny little company. My "To Do" list reads like a geek novel right now.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Seriously hard impromptu workout

When I left for work yesterday morning, we had nearly a foot of snow. While I was working, nearly that much more snow fell. I asked my son, who had the day off from school, to run the snow blower up and down the driveway. He insisted it wouldn't run properly, so he couldn't do it. However, he found time to use the wet, heavy snow to construct a large throne for himself in the yard. Apparently, he was the king of all he could survey, with the exception of the snow blower.

When my wife and I got home, we barely got the car into the driveway. We immediately changed into appropriate clothes for clearing the snow and got to work. My planned running workout just wasn't going to happen; I couldn't leave all of that work to my wife and son.

So, my wife started using the snow blower to clear out the driveway. I used the snow shovel to work on clearing the porch and deck. My son used a garden rake to help push snow around. After the deck was clear, I got out my roof rake. The roof rake is ridiculously hard to use. Imagine a 30 foot long handle with a blade on the end. You push it as high as you can on the roof and then pull snow off the roof. As soon as I'd cleared as much snow as possible from the roof, we had to re-shovel the deck. The snow that had fallen from the roof was compacted and really not fun at all to shovel. The snow was perfect for making a snowman (or a throne), but not fun to move around.

Eventually, I took control of the snow blower to give my wife a break. She then spent some time trying to dig out the cars, while I cleared a parking area for the cars. Her car was easy; we'd driven it home only 90 minutes earlier. My car was completely buried and it took a lot of work to get it out of its spot. But, about two hours after we'd gotten home, the driveway was mostly clear, the cars were free, the deck was mostly clean, and the roof was raked.

And then, the town plow truck came through, plowing shut the entrance to our driveway. I muttered a few words under my breath and went back to work with the snow blower.

At this point in time, I noticed that a fair amount of snow had fallen while we were working. Some quick measurements showed that we had 24" of new snow at this point in time. In the 11 years we've lived in our house, this is the largest 24 hour snowfall that we've seen.

Sugarbush reported 32"-46" of new snow this morning. We are getting more snow right now, and they'll probably end up with over 5 feet of snow by Saturday morning. We are going to get blasted with wind later as well, so the frequent power outages we've been seeing may become more frequent or more prolonged. The coffee shop where I'm working right now is packed with people who have no power at home.

It's really late, but winter has finally arrived. And, I'm really sore because of it. My 2+ hour workout of clearing snow last night left me feeling pretty beat up. I was soaked from sweat by the time we were done. My wife was also very sore this morning. It was quite a workout and we get to repeat it tonight or tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I'm referring to the snow, of course. For the first time all winter, we got 12" of snow in one storm at my house and it's still going. Plus, we might get another big storm on Friday. It's not fluffy powder, but with the way this ski season has been going, any snow is good snow.

The photo above is "snowblower-enhanced", but this is my car about an hour ago.

I got in a good weight workout last night, followed by some intervals on the stair climber. Then, I played my guitar for a while, cooked dinner, and watched the Olympics for a while. After a couple really tough work days (yesterday started at 4:30 a.m.), it was nice to relax for an evening.

Tonight, I'll do a treadmill run and then spend some more time trying to clear snow from the driveway and the deck. I may even have to use the roof rake because the snow is so heavy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bit by bit

I was tired from the weekend, but I got in a nice easy 45 minute run last night. My running is far from where it was a year ago or even six months ago, but my hamstring seems to be cooperating, I seem to be mostly healthy again, and it's time to start working harder on getting back into shape.

The hardest part will be losing the weight I've gained since last July. I definitely don't like how my clothes fit right now or what I see in the mirror. But, I feel like I've turned a corner and I'm going in the right direction.

It just looks like it's going to be a long journey to get back into decent shape right now. I'm entered in a tough 50K in April, but I doubt very much that I'm even going to show up that day. If I'm lucky, I'll be up to ten mile runs by then, but I don't see much purpose in risking injury by trying to finish a race when I'm not in good enough shape to do it safely.

It's snowing right now and we have a winter storm watch for tonight and tomorrow. If all goes well, this storm will give us 8"-12" of new snow. Plus, a bigger storm is expected on Friday. The days are getting longer, the high temps are nudging above freezing, but I'm still not giving up on ski season.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hit and Run

Not much to say:

Weights on Friday night.

Sore on Saturday and Sunday for skiing.

Skied mostly off-trail, in the trees this weekend - snow not bad despite our lack of snow.

Running outside this afternoon.

Snow in the forecast for this week.

That's it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Going "Furthur"

Furthur is the latest re-incarnation (pun intended) of the Grateful Dead. This version of the band takes their name from a bus. I know I don't have to explain this to Deadheads, but for others, it might almost be interesting.

In 1964, Ken Kesey bought a 1939 International Harvester bus for use by him and his "associates" known as the Merry Pranksters. For more on those days and Ken and the Merry Pranksters, Tom Wolfe's (barely) fictional book "The Electric Acid Kool Aid Test" is classic reading.

Anyway, the Dead and Kesey and the Pranksters were constant companions back in the early days. And, the name fits the current band in another way. Phil and Bobby have been playing together for about 45 years now - a lot "Furthur" down the road than they probably ever imagined.

Jerry, Bobby and Billy even referenced Furthur in the song "That's It For the Other One":

Escapin' through the lily fields
I came across an empty space
It trembled and exploded
Left a bus stop in its place
The bus came by and I got on
That's when it all began
There was cowboy Neal
At the wheel
Of a bus to never-ever land

The "bus" is a reference to Furthur. "Cowboy Neal" was a reference to Neal Cassady, a friend of Jack Kerouac's (Dean Moriarty in "On The Road" is Neal) and a frequent driver of Furthur.

King Crimson even wrote a song in tribute to Neal with "Neal and Jack and Me".

Allen Ginsburg referred to Neal as "N.C." in his immortal poem "Howl".

No matter how much I've read Kerouac or Wolfe, I wish I could have been there to at least see the craziness of those days. It's undoubtedly romanticized these days, but at the very least, it had to have been interesting.

But, back to the show...

Phil and Bobby have added some younger blood in this version of the band, including the leader of a Dead cover band that I've seen many times - Dark Star Orchestra. They added the "Jerry" from that band and he was a fine addition to their band last night.

The first set was pretty mellow until a rocking Sugaree to finish up. The second set started out great, slowed down a bit in the middle and then finished exceptionally strong. They closed with a common encore song for them - a cover of The Band's "The Weight". Here is the set list:

I: Feel Like a Stranger, Loose Lucy, It Must Have Been the Roses, Deep Elem Blues, Just a Little Light, Money for Gasoline, Loser, Sugaree
II: Jam > Truckin > Deal, Viola Lee Blues, Nobody Girl > Bird Song > Born Cross-Eyed > Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain, Sugar Magnolia
E: The Weight

They are playing smaller venues these days, and last night's show was set up in half of small indoor arena - probably no more than 5000 or so people. But, I would have to say that the faithful were not disappointed.

I didn't work out yesterday because of the show, but I'm going to lift after work tonight and then ski all weekend.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Back to the gym

After running on Monday night, last night's workout was in the gym. The workouts I'm following right now are deliberately broken into multiple phases, where you start with pure strength work and end up huffing and puffing from bodyweight exercises done at a fast pace.

There are four segments to each workout (note that the segment "names" are not mine; they come from the workout program):

Pure strength: 3 sets of 4 reps of two different lifts, 90 seconds between sets
Transition: 3 sets of 10 reps of the same lifts, only 60 seconds rest
Burn: 3 sets of 4 different lifts, rest for 60 seconds after every other set. At least one exercise hits the same muscles hit hard in the first two phases.
Metabolic: Bodyweight stuff like burpees, air squats, rope jumping, mountain climbers, etc.

Last night, the first two sets were snatch-grip (wide grip) deadlifts and bench presses. I hadn't done snatch-grip deads for quite a while and my shoulders are complaining today. I had forgotten how grip intensive the wide-grip is as well, and my grip was the limiting factor in how much weight I lifted.

The "burn" phase included explosive push-ups, which hit the same muscles as the bench presses. Three of the four lifts in this set last night were upper-body dominant. I thought I was going to throw up halfway through round 3 last night.

Today is supposed to be fairly warm and we didn't get any real snow yesterday, so I'm going to run outside after work - a short fartlek workout before my guitar lesson.

It might be tough to get in a workout tomorrow because I'm leaving work early to see Furthur (one of the many post-Jerry forms of the Dead that have toured) in concert.

But, it's nice to be working hard and feeling healthy again.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What an unusual feeling

All day yesterday, I was itching to do my workout. I haven't been excited to do a workout in quite a while. During the weekend, I was feeling exhausted, but a lot of that was probably stress related to the crowds at Sugarbush. When the mountain is crowded, I have to be extremely vigilant to make sure my students are safe and that they don't get lost. It's interesting how I get into a zone on days like this, focusing just on my group, and being almost oblivious to the rest of my surroundings. I only notice if the mountain is crowded when we hit the lift lines.

Anyway, given how I felt by the end of Sunday, I wasn't sure I'd even want to work out yesterday. But, all day I was anxious to run. Given our recent lack of snow, I was hoping to run outside. But, I had a few things to do around town after work, and by the time I got home, it was too late to run outside. So, I went to the gym and used the treadmill.

I did a short run, just like last week, with some 1-minute repeats at hard effort. Last week, I started at an 8:00mpm pace and gradually dropped to 7:30 pace. This week, I took a longer rest between each repeat, but I started at 7:30 pace and dropped to 7:00 pace by the end. Not too many miles, but it was a good workout.

Tonight I'll lift and tomorrow, I'll run outside after work and before my guitar lesson. However, if we get enough snow today, running outside might not be safe tomorrow. I'm just happy to feel healthy enough again that I'm looking forward to my workouts.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Still moving

After my one lifting day and one running day last week, I was sore for days. My left hamstring, the same one I injured last spring, has really bothered me since last Tuesday. So, I rested on Thursday and Friday, and then skied this weekend. Yesterday, as I was skiing in the trees with my group, I suddenly realized that I'd been skiing very statically and tentatively all weekend. We were skiing a line that I normally attack, because it's a moderate tree run and I know every root, rock and other obstacle in the run. But, I was sitting back and skiing stiffly.

Just that realization made me change the way I was skiing, and I moved much better for the rest of the day. It's very easy to get lazy when skiing and I try to not do that. I want to keep improving as a skier and my biggest weakness is that I'm not a dynamic, acrobatic type of skier. I think that years and years of running have robbed me of a lot of my flexibility and that really affects my skiing.

I was even working with a couple of my students on loosening up and relaxing their upper bodies while skiing this weekend, and then I suddenly realized that I was providing a poor visual example.

The mountain was incredibly crowded this weekend, so it was challenging keeping the group of girls safe. On Saturday, we skied in trees all day and we managed to avoid the crowds. But, on Sunday, the crowds were crazy, so we took it a bit easier - playing more and skiing a bit less than normal. I think the girls are more likely to have sore abs today from all the laughing we did yesterday, rather than sore legs from skiing hard.

I think the highlight of the weekend for the group happened in a steep section of trees we skied on Saturday. One of the girls in the group approached a particular turn very tenuously. It was steep, the obvious line had a tree root sticking up, waiting to trip an unaware skier, and there just wasn't an obvious clean line. So, my student asked me for advice on how to ski the line. Due to other skiers going that same direction, there was a banked turn option that had set up in the snow. I told Sarah to ski high on the bank, above the root, and then, just as she cleared the bank, she'd turn to her right to regain speed control. She didn't understand exactly what I meant, so she asked me to demonstrate.

I gladly agreed and skied the line I'd suggested. Regretfully, though, I skied too high on the banked snow and the bank gave way. I went down in a heap in the trees just outside the turn. Sarah and the other girls who were close enough to see this found it hysterical. I looked uphill at Sarah and told her "Do it just like that, only don't fall." She was laughing so hard that it took her a minute to compose herself before she executed the turn flawlessly.

In the past two weeks, I've taken an unusual number of falls while skiing. Part of it has been due to conditions, but that's not a good excuse. I'm clearly not being careful enough at times. The one good thing about falling is that the girls love watching the coach make an obvious mistake.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I ran! Sort of.

I had to take my son to the doctor yesterday afternoon. The doctor thinks he has pertussis (whooping cough). After my recent diagnosis of pneumonia, the CEO of the company where I work (an MD) said he thought my illness sounded more like pertussis than pneumonia. Now, with my son's diagnosis, it's more likely that I also had/have pertussis, assuming my son's diagnosis is accurate.

My son was almost happy with the diagnosis. He can't go to school today or tomorrow and he can't go to work this weekend. On the weekends, he teaches skiing in an area of the mountain that houses over 100 children. He would have the opportunity to infect many children if they weren't current on their vaccines. So, he gets five days to play video games right now.

By the time I took my son to the doctor and got him his prescription, it was nearly dark. So, I opted to run on the treadmill. I was sore from lifting on Tuesday and I hadn't run in 36 days. So, I set the treadmill for a total workout distance of 3 miles. After a 1 mile warm-up, I started doing one minute (somewhat) hard and then one minute easy. I did this nine times, starting at 8:00 mpm pace and doing the last 4 repeats at 7:30 mpm, with the other repeats between those two paces. After not running for more than a month, that was plenty.

I'm even more sore today than I was yesterday. But, I feel like I'm starting my comeback finally.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Finally, a workout report

After nearly 3 weeks away from the gym, I worked out last night. My workout was as follows:

Superset 1:
Squats - 2x6
Cable Rows - 2x6
90 seconds rest between each set

Superset 2:
Squats - 3x12
Cable Rows - 3x12
60 seconds rest between each set

Superset 3:
Static Lunges - 3x12 (no rest)
Lat pulldowns - 3x12 (60 seconds rest)
Dumbbell squats - 3x12 (no rest)
Barbell push press - 3x12 (60 seconds rest)

In the last superset, my quads really started to complain. I felt like I was going to cramp up and this was after taking it easy, weight-wise, in all of the sets. My heaviest squats where 205 and I didn't push the weight on any of the lifts.

After the lifting, I was supposed to do some metabolic work - rope jumping, burpees, mountain climbers, bodyweight squats, etc., in rapid order with no rest, but I was already shot, so I quit after lifting.

Tonight, I'm planning to do a running workout. I was going to run outside, but it sounds like we'll have just enough snow to make the roads slipper for cars and humans, so I might use the treadmill. The warmer air in the gym will be kinder to my lungs anyway. My last run was on 1/5 - 36 days ago. My lungs have been less than 100% most of the time since that last run.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Two weeks and counting

It's been two weeks since my last formal workout. It's been almost a month since I last ran. I did ski two weekends ago, but that's not really a workout when I'm teaching.

I'm still not going to work out today. I'm taking codeine just so I can make it through the day without hacking up a lung. This is really getting old.

It's not uncommon for me to catch a cold during the winter. My winters are usually pretty intense - ski instruction on the weekends, early morning treadmill runs during the week, lifting after work, my job, my family, etc. But, this winter has not been as stressful. I will admit that work has been stressful, but my workouts have been limited to one per day, no really early mornings, plenty of sleep, etc. I did have one week where I skied 7 of 9 days, and 3 of those days were fairly intense skiing where I was the student rather than the teacher. But, overall, it's been a lower stress winter than most.

And yet, I'm sick again. I imagine that having asthma, even mild asthma, may predispose me to lung problems. My son has a history of prolonged illnesses in the winter and his doctor has suggested that it might be related to us using wood to heat our house in the winter. The wood stove puts some fine particulate matter in the air, the house is locked up tightly in the winter, and the air in the house is very dry.

I don't know what the deal is, but I want to get back to working out. I want to run. I want to lift. I want to go snowshoeing. I want to go skiing. But, I'm afraid that if I jump right back into all of those things, I'm going to be sick for the rest of the winter.

The only good thing about being sick is it gives fodder for whining on my blog...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mini Book Review: The Vegetarian Myth

I recently finished reading "The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability" by Lierre Keith. It was a book recommended on a blog that I read regularly. I've read many books over the years that strongly advocate a vegan or vegetarian diet for humans, for many reasons. One of the primary reasons is that modern methods for growing and processing meat are horribly inhumane and produce a product that is not healthy for us, especially in large quantities.

This book did not argue in support of factory farms. In particular, the author is just as adamantly against our current methods of meat "production" as the authors of books in favor of vegetarianism.

To open the book, the author took on the concept of vegetarianism from three perspectives: moral, political and nutrition.

In each chapter, she goes after reasons for people being vegetarian or vegan from the chapter's "title" perspective. In the "moral" chapter, she decries modern meat production and suggests that we should eat meat, but in a manner differently than most people eat meat.

In 2005, I spent a year as a vegetarian for many of the reasons listed in the "moral" chapter and some from the "nutrition" chapter. But, my athletic performance suffered badly that year, and after a year, I returned to eating meat. Because of the books I'd read while being a vegetarian, I returned to meat eating with a different attitude towards my food. I started to buy local grass-fed beef and refused to buy corporate meats. Most of the animals we eat were not meant to eat a diet of grains, and the grains make them sick. Their lives are miserable.

I now eat local beef that lives in a pasture for its entire life. No confined feeding operations, no grains, and no corporate slaughterhouse. My chicken is local and organic, but I'm pretty sure the chickens are fed some grains. Pork is local and not grain fed. I try to eat only wild-caught and sustainable fish and shellfish, such as Alaskan salmon and halibut. I feel that most of the animal flesh I eat lives more humanely than most corporate meat. The animals mostly get to eat the foods they evolved to eat. And, I think that food raised properly results in healthier meat. I also go out of my way to use every single part of every animal that comes my way. In this way, I feel that there is no waste from the death of the animal. For example, on Saturday night, I made duck for dinner. I made four different courses from two ducks, using the livers for a pate, the skin and fat to make cracklings, and I used the carcasses to make stock. The leftover fat will be used for cooking in the future - no waste at all.

So, I found myself agreeing a lot with what the author wrote in the first three chapters. She is really adamant that oil-based fertilizer is unsustainable and that mono-culture crops are destroying top-soil. The rotation of crops and animals on land is necessary for the creation of fertile nitrogen-rich topsoil. She uses the same example that Pollan used in "The Omnivore's Dilemma" - Polyface Farms in VA - as the ideal farm scenario.

I think it would be an interesting and challenging book for anyone interested in long term food sustainability to read. It will certainly challenge vegetarians and vegans, who will likely find many things to argue against. In the end, her solutions to long term sustainability are fairly extreme, but they may be the correct and necessary steps to save humanity and the planet: don't have children, don't own or use a car, and grow as much of your own food as you can. I can't imagine that many people could pull that off in today's world, but it's an intriguing goal.

My biggest problem with the book was how the author injected her feminist politics into the book in places where her politics seemed to be a complete non-sequitur. I don't object to her politics and I know that being a feminist activist is her primary professional role. But, I found some of her points completely out of place and out of context, and some of them seemed to be just plain mean. Yes, I understand and agree that men have treated and continue to treat women badly in our world today. But, the book, in places, seems to be full of outright hatred for men, which to me, seems unlikely to result in people thinking differently. It may be that fighting fire with fire is the only solution because others haven't worked. But in the end, I think that many men will be offended by some of the comments in the book. I'm not saying the comments are undeserved, but they will offend.

I'm almost afraid to hit the publish button with that last paragraph in there. But, I guess it will be a good way to find out if anyone who cares about the modern feminist movement ever reads my blog.