Friday, January 25, 2013

Another week gone by

Luckily, the cold that hit me last week wasn't too severe.  I skipped CrossFit all week and I was able to ski on the weekend.  Conditions were somewhat marginal, given that we've had a major thaw and very little new snow since the first of the year.  We also had tremendous winds throughout the weekend, especially Sunday afternoon.  Things got so windy that trees were being blown over onto ski trails.  That kept the Ski Patrol staff very busy in the afternoon.

On Monday, I was able to get back to CF.  It was my first gym workout in 11 days, so I took it really easy, especially the shoulder work.  Despite the easy effort, I didn't sleep well Monday night due to my shoulder hurting, no matter how many sleeping positions I tried.

Tuesday, I spent the day with my daughter.  She is trying to move from her current public high school, where she is a freshman, to a more rigorous school.  She simply isn't challenged at all at her current school, and many or her classmates make no effort at all, which dumbs things down even more.  Regretfully, she has been focused on very expensive boarding schools, rather than some parochial schools that might address the problem much more cheaply for her parents.

So, on Tuesday, we did a tour and an interview at a private boarding school in southern Vermont.  This school appears to be her first choice and it seems likely that she'll be accepted.  After that, it's up to her mom and dad to come up with the cash for the next three years.

I had a really fun day with my daughter and it was great to see her so excited about the prospect of attending this school.

Wednesday and Thursday, it was back to work and back to CrossFit.  I saw the chiropractor for my shoulder on Wednesday and every visit seems to be helping.  It's just taking a long time, it seems.  And, as long as it hurts, sleeping has been difficult.  I have considered going to see a non-surgical sports medicine doc that I've worked with before.  He could do a cortisone injection, which might help.  But, I don't want to rush into that.  He might also want to try a platelet rich plasma treatment, which can be very expensive.  Or, he might give me pain meds so I can sleep better, but I'd rather try to sleep without drugs.  So, I'm going to stick with the chiropractor for now.  If I haven't made significant progress in the next 6-8 weeks, I'll consider the other doc.

Monday night, we did snatches and clean and jerks at CF.  I had to drop the weight to accommodate the shoulder.  We also did pull-ups, but dead hang pull-ups don't seem to bother the shoulder.  Kipping pull-ups would be an issue though.  Wednesday night, we did snatches and clean and jerks again.  Once again, I had to drop the weight.  We also did single arm dumbbell push presses.  My right arm could have handled a 50 pound DB, but the left was only up for 35#.  Last night, we started with 5x5 bench presses.  In September or October, I set a new PR on the bench press at 190 pounds.  Last night, I never got above 120 pounds for a set, again, due to the shoulder.  And then we added Turkish Get-Ups, a movement I really like.  But, to protect the left shoulder, I again had to drop to a very low weight kettlebell, which you use as part of the movement..

So, I think I'm being smart about what I do.  A complete rest week last night didn't help the shoulder at all, so I'm not sure that rest is the answer.  I limit the amount I lift so that I can complete the lifts without pain.  I am doing lots of mobility work, foam rolling, using a lacrosse ball for massage, and seeing the chiropractor.  But, I wish I could simply sleep through the night right now.  And, I wish I could lift heavier.  But, for now, I think I'm following the best track.  In 6-8 weeks, I may re-evaluate.  If things get worse rather than better, I may re-evaluate sooner.

Today is a rest day.  This weekend is going to be cold with challenging snow conditions.  I want to be as rested as possible for my ski days.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Burning the Candle at Both Ends

I have a cold.  I started to notice that I was under the weather a little bit on Sunday morning.  After teaching skiing all day on Sunday, I fell asleep on the couch just after 8:00 that night.  I've skipped workouts since then, hoping I recover before next weekend, which is a holiday weekend and will be a very busy weekend at Sugarbush.

I looked through my workout logs from the past year, looking to see how much I'd been sick in the past year.  It seems like I've been sick too much in the past year, and my workout log confirms this.

I got a cold on almost the exact same date last year.  I first noticed it while skiing on a Sunday.  I rested for (only?) three days and even 10 days later, I mentioned that I was "simply beat" in my workout log.

In the last week of March, after I was done teaching skiing for the season, I noted that I was ready to get back to working harder at CrossFit.  A day later, I changed my mind because of "fatigue" and took a rest week.

I don't know if that week helped or not, but four weeks later, I got sick again.  This time, I couldn't believe how tired and beat I was and I used some sick time at work.  Usually, when I'm "sick", I simply work from home to cut down on my commute and not spread germs.  I had noticed that I was starting to get sick on a weekend day when I'd planned a hard interval workout.  I did the workout despite how I felt, and hours later, I was really hurting.  I missed nine consecutive workout days before I felt ready to return to the gym.

So, I had returned to the gym on 5/1, and on 5/31, I got hit by some weird eye infection and a fever that knocked me down for a few days.  During that illness, I also got hit by a gout attack - something that had never happened to me before, and was diagnosed after I went to the Emergency Room with a foot that felt like it was on fire.  It was a bizarre week, and the third time I was sick in the first five months of 2012.

Then, my year seemed to turn around.  Through May, I had only been averaging 10 CF workouts per month, partly due to the illnesses and a rest week and a vacation week.  Starting in early June, I was able to increase the volume of workouts and I had almost five great months.  During that time period, I set all kinds of new PRs in the gym and felt great all of the time.  It may be a coincidence, in terms of illness, but this five month period started right when I started taking testosterone injections.  I don't think my gym performance in those five months was a coincidence in any way.

At the end of October, I got sick again.  I was too sick to go along with my daughter when she toured and interviewed at Phillips Academy in MA.  I ended up taking codeine for a cough for almost two weeks, although I got back to the gym after only missing one week of workouts.

So, I'm currently sick for the 5th time in 13 months.  It's easy to think about potential causes:
  • Working 7 days per week, five of them at a stressful job
  • Long commute adding to the length of the work day
  • Working out too much - I've been trying to ski 2x per week and get to CF 3-4 days per week.
  • Less than optimal diet - great at times, terrible at other times
  • I'm old?  This seemed to start right when I turned 50, although I doubt that my immune system is big on numbers.
  • I'm surrounded by children on the weekends, many of whom have been sick themselves recently.
I do think I'm doing lots of things correctly.  I get lots of sleep.  I take rest days when I think I need them, although I might not take enough rest days or enough easy workout days.  CF workouts are rarely, if ever, easy.  I take fish oil and vitamin D and vitamin B12 regularly.  I've been fighting a nagging shoulder problem, but I'm making progress with that with the help of a chiropractor and lots of foam rolling and the use of a lacrosse ball for massage.

But, I doubt that this is some sort of bad luck.  Five times in 13 months is too much, so something needs to change, before I simply burn out and fade away.

I'm not trying to complain here, although it is frustrating.  But, I would love to find a way to avoid illness, even if it means cutting back on things that are important in my life.

Yesterday, on Robb Wolf's latest podcast, he had Eva Twardokens as a guest.  She is well known from her time on the US Ski team and also her very early involvement in CrossFit.  There is even a brutal CF workout named after her.  She talked about connections between gluten and frequent illnesses.  Yet, for the week before I just now got sick, I'd eaten no gluten at all.  But, the previous few months had been far from gluten free.  It might be grasping at straws, but I don't have any concrete answers right this minute.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Olympic Lifts - Two PRs

I've been struggling with sore shoulders for about two months now.  I'm not sure exactly why my shoulders started to bother me, but a month ago, both were incredibly sore, with the AC joint as the primary source of discomfort.  This has made sleeping difficult at times.  And, it's made me question some of the workouts at CrossFit, particularly the Olympic lifts - the snatch and the clean and jerk.

I spent a number of years from 1985 until 1993 or so competing in triathlons.  I swam a lot in those days, so my shoulders got lots of work.  I eventually decided that triathlons were too time consuming, too expensive, and I wasn't really crazy about swimming.

When I had my ACL repaired in 2002, I went back to the pool as part of my rehab.  But, after two months or so of swimming, I was allowed to run again, and the swimming disappeared.  I've done a few short triathlons in the last 12-14 years, but I've always picked races with short swimming distances, where I could survive the swimming without training.

In 2007, I started to lift weights regularly.  But, I haven't spent huge amounts of time doing shoulder-focused lifts - overhead presses, the bench press, pull-ups, push-ups, Olympic lifts, etc.

Late in 2010, when I started CrossFit, I read lots of stories online about how CF destroys shoulders, especially for older athletes new to CF.  I decided to be very careful.  Even after almost 2.5 years of CF, I still don't do kipping pull-ups.  My bench press max remains (barely) under 200 pounds.  My strict press best is 140 pounds, and my Oly lifts have been mediocre, at best.

A lot of why I am careful with these movements is a lack of shoulder mobility.  Outside of my triathlon background, my shoulders really haven't done a whole of movement through a significant range of motion, and even the serious swimming is way in the past.

Early on with CF, I had a shoulder injury from using a weight that was too heavy for kettlebell snatches.  With some help from a chiropractor, and some very painful Graston and ART treatments, things got better.  Then, I injured the other shoulder in a skiing fall.  Again, the chiropractor and careful training and time allowed the shoulder to heal.  In August or September, I set new PRs for the bench press and the strict press with no pain at all.

And then, both shoulders started to feel sore.  All the time.  My sleep has been dramatically affected by pain at night.  So, I've been seeing the chiropractor again.  He gave me a number of mobility exercises to work on and the right shoulder improved quickly.  The left has responded somewhat, but certainly more slowly.  I saw the chiropractor yesterday, and he found an adhesion on the infraspinatus of the rotator cuff.  He worked on that for most of the session yesterday.  After that session, my shoulder felt the best it's felt in a long time.  Despite that, I swore I wouldn't go all out in a two-part strength session last night.  I was apparently lying to myself.

After our warm-up, we had 15 minutes to hit a maximal weight on the power snatch.  In the actual Olympic lifting world, no one uses the power snatch in competition.  No one uses the power clean as part of the clean and jerk either.  To get as much weight as possible up in the air and eventually overhead, everyone performs a squat while snatching or cleaning and then rises out of the squat.  We were using the "power" position last night, which is basically a quarter-squat.  The power versions of these lifts work better for my shoulders, especially with the snatch.  My overhead squat and squat snatch are seriously limited by mobility issues, so the power snatch is my variation of choice.

My PR for that lift has been 125 pounds for about the last six months.  Last night, I warmed up up to 115#, and then loaded 130# on the bar.  On my first attempt, I got the weight overhead, but my arms were not locked out as I received (caught) the bar.  This does not count as a legal rep, so I didn't count it.  On my second attempt, I got it overhead again, and my lockout was closer, but just not there.  Finally, on the third attempt, I got it right.  New PR.

Next was 15 minutes for the clean and jerk.  We were supposed to do a power clean (I can do a squat clean reasonably well) followed by a split jerk.  My previous PR, I believe, was 165 pounds.  I had gotten 175 overhead at one point in time, but again, the arm lockout wasn't there.  This time, I warmed up to 165 and found the 165 difficult.  Nonetheless, I tried 175 and found it no worse than the 165.  The clean went easily (My power clean PR is 190), and the jerk was just OK, but good enough.  I decided to take one more try at 180 pounds, and that one went as well.

Two PRs in the first half of the workout.

I struggled through the rest of the workout, to be honest.  But, my shoulders still feel OK and I slept reasonably well last night.

I will continue to work with the chiropractor in the coming months.  And, I will also keep my reps low on some of the Oly lifts, particularly the snatch and overhead squats.  But, it was nice to see some real progress yesterday after being sore and somewhat limited for a couple months.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

One week gone by

In a previous post, I listed some of my goals for the coming year.  It's been a week now, which is really nothing when compared to an entire year.  So far, I'm off to a good start in some ways, but trips to CF have been more difficult than imagined.

On 1/1, CrossFit was closed and I chose to rest.

On 1/2, I made it to CF - something I wasn't sure I'd pull off on my birthday.  I got my butt kicked that night.

On 1/3, I did nothing at all.  Well, I did something, but I didn't train.  We are dealing with some issues with an aging dog, and poor Nikki needed to go to the vet.  I worked from home and then took Nikki to the vet at the end of the day.  Nikki turns 9 this month, and the typical lifespan of a Rhodesian Ridgeback is 10-12 years.  Regretfully, Nikki has been going after our younger dog very aggressively at times, and we wanted to have her checked out to see if there was an underlying cause.  It appears that she has a cataract in her left eye and her vision isn't clear in that eye.  She also seems to have some arthritis.  Plus, she has had chronic ear infections that can make her very irritable.  So, after spending a couple hundred dollars, the diagnosis is that she's getting old, and let's try some anti-inflammatory medications to see if that helps.  After the trip to the vet, I might have gone to the local gym.  However, when my wife changed jobs last year, we lost subsidized membership to that gym, and working out close to home is more difficult than in the past.

On 1/4, I did some voluntary ski instruction at Suicide Six, a small local mountain.  They have a Friday afternoon school program and all of their instructors are volunteers.  Many of them are neophyte skiers and only 20% have any real teaching experience.  A friend of mine and I spent the afternoon working with their instructors to give them a little bit of training.

On the weekend, I did my normal ski instruction.  With great snow conditions in Vermont right now, we skied some really difficult terrain on Saturday (off trail), and Sunday was a combination of racing and easier off-trail terrain.

On Monday, 1/7, we started a 60 day Paleo challenge at the gym.  This challenge focuses on body composition, adherence to a Paleo lifestyle (not just diet), and improvement in some benchmark workouts.  We started with some easy Olympic lifts, and then did two benchmark workouts.  The first was max pull-ups.  The second was made up of squat cleans, toes to bar reps, and burpees - as many reps as possible in 10 minutes.

The lifestyle adherence part of these challenges is always the worst.  We can accumulate up to 17 points in a day.  Ten of those come from adhering to the Paleo diet - essentially living on meat, veggies, eggs, quality fats, limited nuts and seeds and fruit, and that's about it.  No grains, no dairy, no alcohol, no sugar, limited coffee.  We get up to two more points per day for training.  One point for post-workout nutrition.  One for drinking lots of water.  One for taking fish oil supplements.  One for doing at least 20 minutes of mobility work per day.  And, one for sleeping at least 8 hours per night.  A good day for me is usually about 15 points.  I rarely meet the parameters for the post-workout nutrition and I don't feel like my performance suffers if it takes me 90 minutes to get some calories in after the workout.  I also rarely work out twice in a day (almost never these days), so that's another point gone.  The water requirements are tough, but possible.  Fish oil is easy.  Sleep is hit or miss.  I got 9.5 hours last night, but if I wasn't working at home today, I would have been up two hours earlier and missed the 8 hour minimum.  I know my wife missed that mark yesterday.  I get the mobility work done on the days I go to CF, but rarely on other days.  Due to the problems I'm having with my shoulders, I really should do this every day, but there simply isn't enough time some days.

This would all be so much easier if we didn't have to work for a living.  I remember reading Bill McKibben's book "Long Distance: Testing the Limits of Body and Spirit in a Year of Living Strenuously", and wondering what I would be able to accomplish if I had a sabbatical year that allowed me to maximize my fitness over a single year. He did that in his late 30s.  Now, at age 51, if I had all the time and resources and I wanted to give that a try, I'd probably just train myself into the ground, and I'd emerge as an older gimpier version of my current self.  Or, I'd squander the year fly fishing.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Starting the New Year

OK, I have to admit that I did nothing at all on New Year's Day.  I will not have a day off work right now until the end of March.  I'm not asking for sympathy.  I love teaching skiing on the weekends and I've been making it work for years.  But, knowing that I have 12 more weekends of ski instruction this year, my wife and I chose to do nothing at all on Tuesday.

Wednesday was a busy day.  I had a visit with the chiropractor who is helping me with my shoulders.  With only one visit and a couple weeks of foam rolling and lacrosse ball massage work, the right shoulder feels much better already.  So, the doc spent time on the left yesterday and he left me feeling really sore and beat up.  He is amazed at some of the tight spots he's been finding and working on, and I'm amazed by how much it all hurts.  But, after an injury two years ago, this same doc was instrumental in getting me healthy again and I trust him completely.

Then, I had a really busy day at work.  I've been dealing with a "death spiral" trying to solve a problem with some reports from our software.  First, a product that was supposed to export to PDF format had a bug.  This software is produced by one of the largest software companies in the world, and I feel like a real sap for getting stuck with it.  Anyway, when that product exports to PDF format, the fonts get messed up.  Exports to RTF format look pretty good.  So, if I could simply find a product to do batch conversion from RTF to PDF, my problem is solved.  There are two such products for the Linux operating system, but I couldn't get one of them to install (something known as "rpm hell" in Linux - one piece of software depends on another which depends on another, and you can never get to the bottom of the problem) and I couldn't get the other one to work at all.  Luckily, I found a windows option.  So, I purchased that software and set up some scripts to move files from Linux to Windows, convert the files, and move them back.  And, I then discovered that this product only work properly when there is a Windows User Interface for using MS Office available. Meaning, it works if I'm logged in, but not otherwise.  So, I tried to re-write my scripts to re-do seven days worth of reports every single day.  This would allow processing to catch up if I wasn't logged on due the weekend, a vacation, etc.  But apparently, you can't easily get the date string in windows scripts for yesterday, the day before yesterday, the day before that, etc.  So, I wrote a Java program to calculate and write the string to a file on Windows, and then my script could read the file.  This worked great, but I then realized it is messing up timestamps on my files.  At this point in time, I'm not sure I even remember the original problem.

I finally got out of work and my wife and I went to CrossFit.  It was a good workout - front squats, back squats, followed by some Tabata intervals - 8 rounds each of pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups and air squats - a very efficient and difficult workout.

Yesterday was my birthday, so I'd planned to cook a nice dinner (lamb chops with a wild mushroom and garlic cream sauce, a potato gratin, and a Caesar salad) to enjoy with the family.  But, my son decided to go to a concert instead.  And, my wife and I were exhausted.  And my daughter was swamped with homework.  So, we cooked a simple dinner instead, my wife and I shared a nice bottle of Champagne, and by 9:30, we couldn't keep our eyes open any more.

I guess this is how life goes at age 51 (and beyond).

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Some end-of-the-year numbers

On New Year's Eve, I went to CrossFit.  Not really a surprise there, but it was my 150th CF workout of the year.  In 2011, my first full calendar year of CF, I made it to CF a total of 108 times, or just more than twice per week.  I decided that my goal for 2012 would be to get to CF 150 times in 2012.  And I did exactly that, with 148 workouts at my normal gym, one workout at CrossFit Boston, and one at CrossFit Hell's Kitchen.  That wasn't all that I did for the year, but CF was definitely my primary workout focus.

I ran just over 100 miles in 2012 and ran zero races.  Almost all of those 100 or so miles were run hard - sprint work or interval work.  This was my first calendar year with no races at all since 1984.  It was my second year in that time span with no marathons or ultras completed.

After averaging close to 1800 miles per year for 24 years, my yearly mileages for the last three years are 235-255-103.  I do hope to run a few more miles this year than I did last year, but I doubt that I'll ever do even 500 miles in a year again as a runner.  Maybe I will hike that many miles one of these years.

I didn't ride my bike as much in 2012 as I did in 2011.  In 2011, I did some commuting on my bike and this past year, I rode purely for pleasure.

My total skiing days decreased from 2011 to 2012, primarily due to a terrible snow season in the winter of 2011-2012.  I still skied about 40 days in 2012, but I ski closer to 50 days most winters.

At the end of the year, I see that I did something "athletic" 225 out of 366 days in 2012.  In 2011, I was 227/365 - nearly identical the past two years.

So, while my cycling and running and skiing were lower than normal, I spent a lot more time at CF - an increase of almost 40% in the number of workouts.  And, I have a lot to show for that.  I established new lifetime PRs in just about every significant lift this year.  Although, as I've written about before, my use of exogenous testosterone to offset clinically low levels of endogenous testosterone production certainly contributed to the better numbers in the gym.

At the end of 2012, I weighed about 20 pounds more than at the end of 2011, and I'm currently just a few pounds below my highest weight ever.  Yet, I'm still wearing the same pants size I wore a year ago.  I'm wearing larger shirts these days, but that's because my upper body is way more muscular than it has ever been in my life.

So, what's ahead for 2013?  Realistically, I have to say that I don't honestly know.  I know some things I'd like to achieve, but life has a funny way of interrupting plans at times.  Here are a few goals that I have for this year:

Decrease my body fat percentage, preferably by losing some body fat rather than adding more muscle mass.

Go to CF about 175 times this year.

Compete in a power-lifting meet.

Get better at the gymnastics types of movements at CF - double-unders, ring dips, handstand push-ups, muscle-ups, etc.  I am terrible at these movements right now.  Even my burpees and box jumps need some improvement.

Run a few more miles and hike more miles than I did in 2012.  I spent very little time moving outside in nature this past year.  I did a lot of fly fishing, but no peak bagging or trail running.  That needs to change.

However, I also intend to continue with the re-kindled love of fly fishing and I'm looking forward to catching some nice trout this year, hopefully with my son as my fishing partner.

I'll let the bike riding happen however the mood strikes.  I enjoy riding the road bike, but I have no real goals there.

Continue to work on my flexibility and mobility, get my shoulders a bit more healthy, and be a more versatile athlete.

I want to pass at least one certification exam related to ski instruction.

And lastly, at the end of 2013, I'd like to be able to say that I'm a better all around athlete than I am today.  Right now, I think I've improved from a year ago in a number of areas, but my increased weight has been a hindrance in other areas.  It's probably a net gain, although I am not really comfortable at my current weight. I feel the weight the most when I run or when I'm skiing.

I'm very much looking forward to going to the gym with my wife this year.  Now that we are both going to CF, the workouts are even more fun than they were before.

And hopefully, the little company I work for will continue to stay in business.   I have a fun job and my decisions have a huge impact on how the company is perceived by our customers.  I'd like to see us finally get over the hump and become profitable.