Monday, February 27, 2012
Friday, February 24, 2012
Monday, February 20, 2012
Skiing is certainly a physical endeavor. I am not going to call it a sport, at least not for me, because I do not compete in any way in skiing. Nevertheless, I work hard to be the best skier and best ski instructor that I can be.
Skiing is also a mental sport. So many details go into good skiing. Oftentimes, I’ll be working on one aspect of my own skiing technique, only to realize that I’ve abandoned all sorts of other relevant skills.
I show up early to the mountain on the weekends, not to go skiing by myself, but to go to training clinics with some of the best instructors we have. I often leave the clinics frustrated by the fact that I have not truly grasped the concept or achieved a goal with my skiing. I keep going though, hoping to improve. At age 50, I am still improving as a skier, probably due to the fact that I didn’t really get serious about skiing until age 38. Many of my contemporaries at the mountain have been skiing for 40 years.
After three straight days of CrossFit, I showed up this past Saturday morning feeling good. I didn’t feel as tired as I thought I would feel. After a warm-up run on some easy off-trail terrain, we headed to the summit to go after some tougher terrain. We skied in the trees, on the edge of a steep trail. When we finally came out of the trees and onto the trail, I was feeling warmed up and ready to go. I was moving through the moguls quickly, caught some air, landed, tried to turn my skis, and I twisted right out of one binding. I don’t remember the last time that had happened. But, I was fine, and I retrieved my ski and caught up to my group.
An hour or so later, we were in another tree run, and I caught some air, broke through a crust upon landing, and I twisted out of my ski again. This time, the binding probably did its job, as my ski was planted fairly firmly into the breakable crust. But, twice in one morning? I made a mental note to have my ski bindings checked the next time I got my skis tuned.
After a fun morning and some lunch, we headed back to the trees. On a holiday weekend, I often think that it’s safer to be in the trees, where there are fewer skiers than on the trails. Plus, the trees aren’t moving but skiers on the trails are moving, often very fast.
We started with a moderate tree line after lunch, a run I haven’t done a whole lot of times. I was trying to find some untracked snow and found myself on a slightly different path than I’d skied in the past. I dropped between two trees and quickly realized the pitch was steeper than I thought. I gained speed quickly and I was heading directly towards a large tree. I tried to turn quickly, but didn’t have enough time. Without really thinking, I dropped myself to the ground to arrest my speed. I slid just past the ski and the ski knocked both skis off my feet.
As soon as I realized, I hadn’t hit the tree, I began to take a mental inventory of my physical self. I’d bruised my left leg and my right arm. My left ankle had been jammed a bit, but it wasn’t too bad. I stood up, dusted the snow from my uniform and retrieved my skis. I put them on and caught up to my students.
But, I’d been spooked. By a tree. And it really got inside my head.
We skied another tree run almost immediately. This time, we were very close to a trail, and I didn’t want to be in the trees. I watched my students from the side of the trail and then spotted for them as they skied back onto the trail.
I got through the rest of the day without incident, but I did tell my wife about the tree incident. I had never had a narrow escape like that and it was in my head.
I got to the mountain early the next morning for training. Even though my friend Jay gave us a good clinic, my mind was elsewhere. I managed to ski well for about six or eight turns during the entire clinic and that was it. As we waited for our students to arrive, Jay suggested that we team up and ski together. Some of the more remote and difficult tree lines require two coaches for safety reasons. If one coach gets hurt, it’s important to have a second adult present. Also, with two coaches, one can lead and one can trail the group. This reduces the chances of people becoming separated from the group in tight trees, where visibility is limited. Jay and I have compatible groups. His group is a bit more aggressive, but the ages work and the abilities are close. Jay is a much better skier and instructor than I am, and he has been a mentor for me for the past decade. Because of his better skiing ability, I think it’s usually best to have him lead in the woods. I prefer the slower pace of skiing in the back of the pack.
As the day progressed, some very disturbing patterns emerged in my skiing. If I’m completely honest with myself, I didn’t want to be in the trees. This is very unusual for me, but I simply felt uncomfortable. I was skiing defensively, which is perhaps the worst way to ski. Skiing defensively takes more energy, is less fun, and is more dangerous than skiing with the appropriate stance and making appropriate movements. I was falling a lot. I was also falling behind the group at times.
Right after lunch, we were in some tight trees in really nice untracked snow. I’d skied there before, but not very often. I fell behind the group again (it’s amazing what lightweight kids with super short skis can do in the trees), and then I took a tumble and fell headfirst down the hill. My skis were stuck in some brush uphill from me. It took me at least five minutes (it seemed like hours) to get out of this mess. If there had been a lot of light, fluffy snow this could have been a very dangerous situation. By the time I was upright, Jay was calling my cell phone to find out where I was. I caught up quickly, but my confidence dropped even more.
Jay said he could see this happening in my skiing. I was scared, I got tired because of the effort it took to ski so badly, and I seemed caught in a downward spiral. But, I was also the instructor, and I’m not allowed to have an off day. I was frustrated and somewhat embarrassed by my skiing. My students gave me a lot of well-deserved grief for my slow speeds and frequent falls.
Luckily, the day ended with my body intact, even though any pride or ego was long gone. The good thing is that I have five days away from the mountain. I’m getting my skis tuned and having my bindings checked. I won’t work out this coming Friday, so I’ll be more rested this coming Saturday. I fully expect that I’ll be ready to head straight to the trees this coming weekend.
In a way, I believe my reaction was some sort of survival instinct. Fear reminds us of our mortality and helps to keep us alive. Hopefully, despite the way I skied on Sunday, I’ll end up being a better skier and instructor the next time I hit the slopes. But, I’ll also remember that I prefer to be skiing the spaces between the trees, and not skiing directly towards the trees.
Friday, February 17, 2012
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Anyway, after two rest days, I made it back to CrossFit last night. After the warm-up, we worked on pull-ups for 15 minutes. This surprised me, as I thought we'd be doing back squats yesterday, but the coach mixed up the weekly schedule this week. I still use assistance bands for pull-ups most of the time, so I started the fifteen minutes by doing 2 strict pull-ups (without bands) every minute on the minute for seven minutes. After that, I did negatives - I'd start at the chin-over-bar position and basically lower myself as slowly as possible. Well, it's not really lowering myself; it's more like a slow motion muscular failing. I hold on as long as I can, but my strength fails bit by bit. I did 5 or 6 negatives with about 45 seconds rest before the 15 minutes was done.
Then, we had a really fun 25 minutes, doing mostly bodyweight work in Tabata style intervals. Basically, the Tabata protocol is 8 rounds, where you go all out for 20 seconds and rest for 10. It's easy to find out more about the protocol through Google, if you want. We did 5 different exercises, Tabata style, with a one minute break between each movement:
Monday, February 13, 2012
It's obvious how this played out. At 9:30 on Saturday morning, only my fastest skier had showed up. I kind of felt bad for her. What 14 year old girl wants to spend an entire day hanging out solo with her 50 year old ski coach? I offered to let her ski with a different group or coach for the day. She suggested that we ski together for the morning and then meet up with another group for the afternoon. This seemed reasonable to me, and we were off. I had already done 3 runs with other instructors for some training, so I was warmed up and ready to go. We did one more easy run and then it was time to ski. The conditions weren't great - somewhat fast and firm - but we found a lot of enjoyable snow. In about 2 hours, we skied about 8 runs of single or double black diamond terrain, most of it moguls, although one double black had been groomed and was fairly easy. It was easily the toughest morning of skiing I'd done all year - tough but fun. We did every run non-stop - no taking a rest partway down.
At lunch, we met up with another group and headed to Sugarbush's "other" peak - Mt. Ellen. We immediately headed for a tree run beside a double black diamond run. This trail sits at the edge of the resort boundary, so we had to be careful not to push too far away from the trail, in case the snow in the trees wasn't in very good condition. We did one run fairly close to the trail and it was a blast. Then, we did a second run in the same area, but we pushed farther away from the trail. The snow was still solid, so we did a third, pushing even farther away from the trail. Again, the snow was solid, although we did encounter one section where we needed to take off our skis to get past an ugly drop-off. After a fourth tree run in a different location, we headed back to the main mountain, arriving just in time to meet parents at 3:00. It had been a great but tiring day - close to 30,000 vertical feet of skiing for me from 8:00 until 3:00. Before I became an instructor, 30K vertical feet was sort of my benchmark for a good day of skiing. Teaching children, I rarely get above 22K or so in a day. Saturday, doing almost 30K in tough terrain made for really fun day.
On the way home, I knew that Sunday would not be as kind to us. The temperature had started to plunge late Saturday afternoon, and the Sunday forecast was for single digit temperatures at the base lodge, colder up high, and lots of wind. Two of my students showed up on Sunday, and we spent most of our time focusing on staying warm. We would ski one or two runs and then head inside to warm up. We tried one natural snow bump run and found it to be rock hard ice, for the most part. At one point, I planted my pole and it simply bounced off the ice rather than grabbing the surface.
By lunchtime, the father of one student called it a day and he and his daughter headed home. Suddenly, the same student I'd had the day before was stuck with me again.
We had an interesting conversation about running at lunchtime. I'm not sure how the topic came up, but she found out that I've run a handful of 100 mile trail races in the past. She said that was a stupid thing to do. Then she asked how long it took me to complete the races. When I gave her the numbers (26 to 45+ hours), she said it was even more stupid. She demanded an explanation - why would I do something like that? I didn't have an answer that satisfied her, cementing the opinion that I'm simply stupid. I had a good laugh about it though.
After lunch, we hooked up with the same group as the day before and skied some easier tree runs for the afternoon. At about 1:50 or so, my remaining student had had enough, and asked for permission to head for her nearby condo. I have permission to release her on her own, so I let her go. She'd been stuck with me and none of her friends for too much of the weekend.
So, Saturday was a great ski day. Sunday was one of the worst ski days of the year. Considering how little snow we've had this year, a day like Saturday is a gift. And, we actually have a chance of a storm late this week, just before the holiday weekend.
Today is a rest day, and then it's back to CrossFit the next three days.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
After my deadlift PR last week, I woke up sore on Thursday. I took two rest days before skiing over the weekend. And, I felt pretty good while skiing. Overall, it was a fun weekend with my students, but it was marred by the death of a skier at Sugarbush. I know that skiing can be a dangerous sport, but when someone that you know dies on a fairly easy trail, it hits home a lot harder. On Sunday, I was extra cautious with the children that I teach, paying attention for out of control skiers or riders, rough conditions, etc. It turned out to be a fairly relaxed day compared to many recent days. It seems that everyone who skis at Sugarbush is a Patriots or Giants fan, and the mountain was fairly empty by late morning, as people headed home to watch the Super Bowl.
On Sunday, I got an invitation to the Pinterest web site. I'd requested it a week or so earlier. And, I've been playing with it some this week. But so far, I have to admit that I'm not really sure what it is. Whose stuff am I seeing? What I am supposed to put on my pinboards? What's the point? I used my Facebook login to set up my account, so I have lots of friends and followers, but I remain a bit confused. Maybe I'll take a picture of all the stuff "pinned" to my refrigerator door and post that.
It's been really busy at work, with a new product in its final days of testing, and we are preparing to release the product within a week or so. I've been glad that I've been able to still get to the gym this week, despite the craziness at work. I'm guessing it will be April or so before things really calm down, and I'll probably need to log on to our systems on Saturday and Sunday evenings after skiing for a month or more. But, it's what pays the bills.
Tonight, I'll do CrossFit for the third day in a row and I'll probably take a rest day tomorrow before the weekend. I've definitely been feeling a bit run down and under the weather recently, but I've been doing well in the gym.
As we approach the mid-point of February, it would be nice to get some real snow this winter. This has been one of the poorest snow years in quite a while. Right now, we have 9 days until the start of the final holiday weekend/week of the ski season, and if it wasn't for man-made snow, we'd have fairly limited terrain. There is one potential storm about a week away, but some shifts in the Arctic Oscillation are putting us at risk for rain rather than snow in that storm.
There certainly won't be any rain this coming weekend. It's probably going to be the coldest weekend of the winter so far, which means hard, fast, mid-winter east coast skiing.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
After our warm-up, which cruelly contained more pull-ups, the strength work today was deadlifts. I was expecting deadlifts next Wednesday and strict presses today, so this caught me a bit off guard. I was hoping to structure my training a bit to go for a deadlift PR next week. Our rep pattern this morning was 5-5-3-3-1-max, starting at about 65% of our one rep max. This is not an ideal rep pattern to get a PR and I felt tired from last night, so I decided to just concentrate on the lifts as programmed.
Here are my first four rounds:
3x305# (math error - should have been 295)
At this point, I felt pretty good, so rather than finishing at 335 and 355, I decided to jump up a bit. I did one rep at 365# and I struggled a bit. But, I was now committed to at least taking a shot at my PR, which stood at 385#. I'd failed at 405# a few weeks ago, so I opted for an attempt at 395# this morning. I took about four minutes rest after my 365 rep, and I also removed my shoes - a trick that allows you to pull the bar a little bit less distance.
With the gym owner/coach cheering me on, I nailed the lift, and I'm sure I could have done 405# today.
From there, we did a main workout of power cleans and hand-stand push-ups (I do an easier variation on these), but my deadlift PR had me thinking about something I'd read recently on a web forum devoted to lifting as much weight as possible.
First, to be honest, a deadlift of 395 is barely entry level for a serious male lifter, especially the guys who focus purely on power. But, for a 50 year old male who has been lifting about 5 years, it's a respectable lift.
On the forums I was reading, I found an anti-CrossFit thread. Basically, the summary of the thread was as follows:
CrossFit makes women lean, strong and really good looking
CrossFit makes men skinny and they never get strong
CrossFit injures everyone over the age of 35 who tries it
I won't disagree with the first point at all.
I don't even want to discuss the last point.
It's the second point that is interesting to me.
First of all, after a year-plus of CF, I am not skinny (the people on that forum consider skinny to be an insult - a crime against the gigantic muscles that lifters want to have). But, it's the strong part that surprises me.
Before I started CrossFit, I was doing lots of strength-focused work on the primary power-lifts - squats, deadlifts, and bench presses.
I started lifting regularly early in 2007. Late in 2009, I got my deadlift to 355. And, 10 months later, when I started CrossFit, I'd actually regressed somewhat in the deadlift. My squat was stuck at 275#. My bench press was stuck at 185#. It took a while to re-gain my strength, but here is how my deadlift has progressed since I started CF:
10/2010 - Started CF, deadlift max below 355 and 335 was tough
5/2011 - 365#
6/2011 - Repeated 365#
8/2011 - 375#
9/2011 - 385#
1/2012 - new 3-rep max of 355#, missed 405#
2/2012 - new PR of 395# and 405# is imminent
Since joining CF, my squat has gone to 320# from 275#. We don't do bench presses very often, so I have no idea where I am on that list. In just over a year of CF, my deadlift has increased 40 pounds - over 11%. During the 50th (and now 51st) of my years on this planet.
So, while I'm not going to be winning any power-lifting meets, I have definitely gotten stronger while doing CF. Now, if only I could get skinnier...