Monday, February 27, 2012

Finally, An Amazing Skiing Weekend

A week ago, the weather forecast for the week was depressing. What had originally been a possible snow storm seemed to be moving to the north, which would allow warm air to infiltrate the area. The temperatures for late in the week were supposed to approach 50F and the precipitation would fall as rain. We haven't had a decent snow storm at the mountain in a long time, it seems. Yes, every trail was open, but the moguls were firm, there was lots of ice, and it was a struggle to find nice snow.

But, as the week progressed, the forecast started to change. And, starting mid-week, the mountain started to get snow. A significant storm on Friday delivered about 9" of snow, on top of a few inches in the prior days. And Saturday was a lot of fun, despite two falls that I took. Early in the morning, I was waiting for my students to finish a moderate tree run when I failed to notice some bamboo wands in the snow. The wands are used to mark a skiing hazard. I skied into a 4 foot deep ditch and my upper body slammed onto the snow on the other side of the ditch. I hit my right shoulder pretty hard and it's still sore today. And, later in the day, I actually skied right into a tree on a very easy tree run. It happened so quickly that I'm not sure how it happened. I am a little sore from that as well, but not injured. I was moving slowly when it happened.

And this weekend, I arrived at the mountain rested and feeling strong. Because of this, my confidence was a lot better than the previous weekend. I still felt confident after my run-in with the tree.

Sunday was a complete surprise. When I left Sugarbush on Saturday, it was still snowing, but the forecast showed the snow would end shortly. Instead, we got orographic or "upslope" snow all night long, and we had another foot of super-light fluffy powder on the mountain. I managed to take two runs with some friends before work and the new snow was amazing. As soon as I had my group, we headed for the trees and we did some really fun runs. In the afternoon, I joined up with my friend Jay and we headed for some more remote and difficult trees. We started with a run called Bear Claw that I usually only ski a couple times a year, when conditions are great. We weren't disappointed and we had an amazing run through steep trees. After one more moderate tree run, it was clear that my students were tired. I wanted them to take a hot chocolate break and call it a day. However, there seems to be some sort of chemistry between my group of all girls and two of the boys in the other group. I had one student who was completely exhausted, so I took her inside while Jay took 11 students out for one more tree run. That's a lot of students to watch over, but Jay knows what he's doing and they had a great final run.

I'm tired today and a little beat up from some incidents on the mountain this weekend. However, after waiting all season for snow like this, I really have no complaints at all. Yesterday was the kind of day that skiers dream about and then remember forever.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Two Good Workouts and Knowing When to Say "Enough"

My goal is to get to CrossFit three times per week during ski season. My preference is to take Monday and Friday as rest days, and then do CF on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. After really working hard last weekend, the rest day on Monday was nice. I went to CF on Tuesday, and got through the workout OK. But, afterwards, in my hotel room, I felt a bit light-headed and I didn't sleep too well.

I went again on Wednesday, and had a good workout. We did back squats for strength, and I set a new 3-rep max at 295#. Then, the main workout suited me well with squat clean thrusters and some running. I had a decent time for the workout and really enjoyed it.

Later that night, I was feeling beat and I didn't sleep well. After work yesterday, I went to CF, but during the warm-up, I could tell I was beat. We were doing some basic rope jumping and I was completely out of breath. I decided it was best to skip the workout and recover for the weekend of skiing.

Right now, it's snowing lightly and we have a winter storm warning for 6"-10" of new snow. If we even get the lower amount, it will be the best snowstorm here since before Thanksgiving. It would certainly be nice to be skiing powder in the trees this weekend. And, with two rest days before the weekend, I should be feeling much stronger than last weekend when I'm out there.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Spooked by a tree

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

Back to heavy weights

Wednesday was all about body-weight movements in the gym. Well, we used a pull-up bar and we used rowers, but we didn't lift anything other than our own weight. Thursday's workout should have been called "Revenge of the Barbells".

After our warm-up, we did 5 sets of 10 deadlifts, with a goal of setting a 10 rep max PR. I hadn't done sets of 10 on deadlifts for so long that I am pretty sure every set was my best ever. After a warm-up, I did one set at 225 pounds, then 245, 265, 275 and 275. After the fourth set, I knew that it wouldn't be in my best interest to add any weight for the last set.

Then, the main workout was as follows:

5 rounds, as quickly as possible:
10 barbell thrusters
10 sumo deadlift high pulls

The prescribed weight was 135 pounds, but that was not even an option for me. The level 1 weight was 95 pounds, and before we started the deadlifts, I decided I'd go with that. But, after the deadlifts, I wasn't so sure. I started the workout with 95 pounds, but after one set of thrusters, I knew I had to drop the weight, and I went down to 75 pounds. At that weight, the workout was still a challenge, and I finished in 11:36.

We had been told before we started that at an appropriately heavy weight, the workout should take 10-12 minutes. So, dropping to 75 was a good idea.

I'm planning to go to CF again tonight, and I hope that I don't regret that decision tomorrow while skiing. I'll definitely scale the workout to an easier level tonight. And, after the workout, I'll be going to the state championships for junior high gymnastics, where my daughter is competing on the balance beam.

As soon as I get home, I'm sure I'll go straight to sleep. This will be a very busy and very crowded weekend at the mountain. Regretfully, I think the mountain has had a net loss of snow since last weekend, but we will have warmer temperatures for skiing, for Saturday at least.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tabata This

Once again, I seem to be fighting a cold. The symptoms aren't too bad, but I think my insane winter schedule is just not letting me recover. I took Monday and Tuesday as rest days. My wife and I are both so tired from life in general that our Valentine's Day consisted of us eating pizza for dinner and falling asleep on the couch while watching TV. This was our 29th Valentine's Day as a couple, so I guess we're "tired" of each other. Or just tired.

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:

Pull-ups (band assisted)
Abmat sit-ups
Air squats

Our score for the workout was total reps for the first four movements, plus calories burned for the rowing. With the pull-ups, I started out with 8 for my first round and gradually dropped to 5 by the last round, for a total of 47. For push-ups, I started with 10, but eventually, I was only doing 5 or 6, and I did some as knee push-ups. My score was 62 here, with about 2/3 of them as strict push-ups and the rest as knee push-ups. For sit-ups, I was fairly consistent and did 66. I was amazed by my friend Tanya, who was working out right beside me as she hit 99. We use mini whiteboards to track our workout scores sometimes, and thanks to a shortage of the dry erase pens, I kept score for both of us. So, Tanya was calling out her scores to me every five minutes. (We are short of dry erase pens, because our gym mascot, Hawks the dog, likes to eat them.)

Next was air squats, and I started slowly with 13 in the first round. I eventually pushed this as high as 16 and did a total of 117. Lastly, I accumulated 51 calories during the rowing, for a score of 343. Tanya had a very impressive 371.

At lunchtime, someone had posted a score over 500. I guess being the old guy in the gym (they're going to start calling me Grandpa one of these days) means I'll never post the top scores. But, I'm there to improve myself, not "win" anything, and it was a good workout. I'll be back at CF as soon as the workday is done.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Strange skiing weekend - fickle winter weather

As I'd planned, I took a rest day on Friday before skiing for the weekend. And, that turned out to be a very good decision. A week before, I'd joked to my ski group that if our fastest skier was ever the only person to show up, I'd be in trouble. My fastest skier is a talented 14-year old girl and she likes to ski fast. With a forecast for very cold temperatures and no new snow, and a holiday week coming up a week from now, many families stayed home for the weekend. Plus, one of my students is skiing in Utah and a couple of them were sick.

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

Some skiing, some workouts, some random thoughts

In the past 8 days, I've PR'd at the deadlift, the overhead squat and the strict press. If I had any shoulder mobility at all, my overhead squat, and consequently, my snatch, would be much better. But, three lifting PRs in a week at age 50 is the kind of progress that keeps me going.

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

Another deadlift PR and some thoughts about CrossFit

After a rest day Monday, and a moderately tough CF workout on Tuesday night (snatch complexes, and 100 reps each of pull-ups and box jumps), I woke up feeling tired this morning. Because of an obligation after work today, I either had to work out this morning or not at all. So, I drank a cup of really poor quality hotel coffee and headed to CrossFit.

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...