Monday, December 29, 2014

Sugarbush Report - 12/27 and 12/28

To be perfectly honest, I was not expecting to have a lot of fun at the mountain this weekend.  We had rain mid-week and no new snow of any significance.  I was expecting the natural snow trails to be thin and very firm.  I expected everything to be frozen fairly solid.  And being a holiday week, I expected huge crowds.  In reality, the snow was fun, the weather was comfortable (a bit of rain, but not a big deal), and crowds were moderate.  It was a really fun weekend.

While training Saturday morning, we did discover a few "seams" left behind by the groomers the night before, so we all noted them as obstacles for guests later in the day.  Patrol was working with shovels to smooth out the worst of these seams.

We also heard that Ripcord, a double black diamond run, had been groomed.  I had a small group on Saturday, and after a warm-up and a few teaching drills, we headed to Ripcord.  The Heaven's Gate chair rides over Ripcord, so we had a chance to watch others skiing the trail.  I thought it seemed fairly soft and with edge-able snow, but the boys in my group really didn't want to ski it.  After teaching students aged 12-14 the past few years, I've been working hard to re-orient myself to teaching 7 year old children this year.  The truth is that a ski run that scares a child that age can have a negative impact that can take weeks or months to overcome.  One of my students is also still working on some stance issues, and I simply decided that it might not be ideal to ski the steep run.

So, we skied Jester, and one of my students had an epic crash there, with his equipment spread all over the place.  He was fine and we got him up and moving again.  The cause of his fall was groomed snow that had a texture similar to sand.  Technically, it's called "granular", but the grains were fairly fine and dense, and it required us to really pay attention while turning, so we could slice through the "sand" rather than get tossed around by it.

Gradually, the temperature started to warm up and we had some spring conditions for the afternoon.  We took advantage of that to ski the soft bumps on the open natural snow trails, mostly focusing on intermediate terrain like Moonshine, Sleeper and Birch Run.

Sunday morning, I felt a bit tired from working hard in the dense snow the day before.  We started the day with mostly groomed trails, while dealing with above-freezing temperatures, and some mixed rain and sleet.  Ripcord had been groomed again, and this time I took all 4 boys there, after a lesson that was specific to making turns on that steep terrain.  On the way up the chair, 3 of the 4 decided they would prefer an easier way down, but I held firm this time.  By the time each boy had made 6 or so turns, each had realized the snow was soft and forgiving and they turned on the rockets.  I had to fight to keep up with them on the descent.

Most of the natural snow trails were closed on Sunday, to help protect the snow that remains on those trails.  Today, even though I'm not at the mountain, I noticed that the lower temps allowed them to re-open most of those trails.

Snow got progressively softer as the yesterday moved along, and we enjoyed some nice spring conditions bumps all afternoon.  I did a brief lesson in the morning to prep us for Ripcord, and then a second in the afternoon to try to get the boys to turn on easy terrain with minimal rotary movements.  Next week, I will put a strong emphasis into rotary movements, and I hope they will remember this past weekend and feel the difference between the two

It's supposed to be cold this week and the snow guns are going again.  Regretfully, there aren't any major snow storms in the forecast right now.

We did get some light snow this morning that caused the interstate to ice up fairly severely at commute time.  My wife and I were late getting to work, but we did much better than the drivers whose cars were off the road after sliding on ice.

If I'm lucky, I'll get out to ski on Thursday, but it will depend a bit on the weather and how my wife is feeling.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes, well, he eats you

I got to CrossFit last night, knowing we had a really tough workout.  The previous time we'd done the 22 minute main workout that we were going to do, we'd done no strength training beforehand.

Last night, we had a group warm-up, to be followed by clean and jerks, clean pulls, and clean deadlifts.  That was to be followed by 22 minutes of snatches, back squats, and pull-ups.

I was feeling really beat as I started my 7th straight day doing either CrossFit or skiing.  I'm also on the back end of a head cold, I'm out of cough medicine and I was coughing during the warm-up.  It's obvious where this is going, isn't it?

I did the main group warm-up.  From there, we were about to do some warm-ups specific to the strength part of the workout.  Instead, I took my barbell and put it back in the rack.  I walked off the floor, took off my lifting shoes, and told my wife I was done.

I napped as she drove home.  As soon as we got home, I changed into pajamas and I just fell onto the couch and covered up with a big blanket.  A while later, I had some dinner.  And then, I went to bed early.

Today, even without a workout yesterday, I'm amazingly sore, mostly from heavy front squats on Monday.

So, maybe I'll still do better this year than last year, in terms of training days or CrossFit sessions.  Maybe I'll tie last year's numbers.  Maybe I'll do worse.  But, I'm not going to injure myself for a number in a logbook.

One thing I've learned as I've gotten older is that I need to just listen to my body at times.  Twenty years ago, I would have been able to just force my way through last night's workout, with minimal risk.  These days, discretion wins when I'm tired.

I am planning to go to the gym for the workout at noon today.  It looks like another hard one, but I'll give it a shot.  Unless I decide I'm still too tired.  I guess the one good thing about getting old is that I've developed the patience over the years to just roll with it when things aren't going perfectly.  I have no real need to prove that I'm tough (aka stupid) by pushing through a workout when I should be resting instead.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Training numbers

I first started running "for real" on Apil 1 in 1985.  For that year, I kept track of my running mileage on a calendar, which I still have in a box at home somewhere. The next year, I switched to using paper logbooks to track my training, and I still have a lot of those at home.  Eventually, I switched to using Excel to track my training.

I've got way too many numbers stored on paper and in Excel files.  To the best of my knowledge, I've run 42,206 miles since April 1, 1985.  I spent a few years focusing on triathlons and I then returned to that sport intermittently in the early 2000s.  Somewhere, I have totals for bicycling miles and swimming meters as well.  But mostly, I ran.  I have race results for over 600 races, although it's been quite a while since my last race right now.

I guess it's just how I'm wired.  I have a math degree and was interested in studying areas of mathematics where the only career path is research and teaching this same math to other aspiring mathematicians.

For the past 30 years, if you gave me a date, I could find out what I weighed on that date (within a pound or 2), what training I did that day, what race I was training for, and how I felt about my workout on that day.  I'm sure there are many others who do the same, but people at my CrossFit box make fun of me for being so obsessive.

Earlier this year, I noticed that I was coming up on my 500th lifetime CrossFit work.  I mentioned it to someone at the gym, who mentioned it to the coach, who then announced this before our workout.  I was embarrassed to be exposed as such a geek, and I've gotten a lot of comments about being obsessive since that day.

I've been doing CrossFit for about 4 years now, and after a slow start, I now average just over 150 CF workouts per year.  My typical goal for a year these days, is to get 150-160 CrossFit workouts, 50 days of skiing, another 30 or so summertime days of hiking or running or cycling, and I try to fly fish another 50 days each season, although that is certainly not a workout, at least most of the time.

Last year (2013) was a tough year in some ways.  The second half of the year was particularly tough, as my mom died about the same time that I found out I might have prostate cancer.  That latter concern then turned into a cancer diagnosis, followed by lots and lots of doctor visits to determine how to treat the cancer.  When the year was done, I'd done 154 CrossFit workouts, and 206 total training days.  I think I got about 40 skiing days, rather than 50.  I ran less than normal, hiked less than normal, cycled less than normal, and I got out rock climbing exactly once.  And that day, I didn't even climb; I just belayed.

This year started out pretty slowly.  I had surgery for the cancer in early January.  I missed a month of skiing.  I couldn't do CrossFit at all for a while, and when I did return, I was very limited for a while.  It took about 10-11 weeks after the surgery until I felt fairly normal and I could again push hard in a workout.

A month ago, I was looking to see how this year would compare to last year.  Given how my year started, if I could be even with last year, I think I'd be pretty happy.  I have done some traveling and I've had two head colds late this year, so that cost me some training days.  But, my final numbers are actually starting to look pretty good.  If I can make it to CrossFit Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week and next, I'll end up with 155 CrossFit days for the year - one more than last year and my best ever.  If I make those 6 CF workouts and teach skiing next weekend (which I will do),  will end up with 207 total training/skiing days this year - one more than last year.

I'll write an end of year post with some other numbers.  But, despite a rough start to the year, I am pretty pleased with how things have gone.  I can always wish things were a bit different.  I wish I weighed a bit less, I wish I had better mobility/flexibility, I wish I was stronger, I wish I was younger, etc.  But, I think I'm doing reasonably well for a guy who turns 53 in a couple weeks.  I set a number of new PRs in the gym this year, my skiing continues to improve year after year, and I'm having fun with what I do.  It's really hard to complain about a "wish list", when so many other things have gone so well.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Another gym PR

I had a decent night at CrossFit last night.  I have been quite literally stalled on the clean and jerk at CrossFit for years.  I had gotten my clean to 190 pounds in October of 2012.  My clean and jerk was stuck at 180 or 185 for years.

Recently, I got a few new PRs.  I got a new squat clean PR with 195 pounds last week.  I got to 188 pounds on the clean and jerk, using a push jerk rather than split jerk.  Last night, our goal was to get as heavy as possible for the split jerk, which in theory, should be a stronger lift than the push jerk.  My existing PR for this lift is (was) 185 pounds, and it was set about 2 years ago, I think.

I warmed up at 95 and 115 and 135, doing multiple reps at each weight.  At that point, I switched to singles and gradually worked my way up.  Things were easy at 145, 155 and 165.  My lift at 175 went reasonably well, but I struggled, as I always do, with trying to drop quickly under a heavy bar.  But, I made it.

From there, I skipped over my existing PR of 185 and went for the PR at 190.  Just like at 175, I felt like I got under the bar poorly.  However, my push was fairly strong and I managed to get under the bar and catch it.  I was able to stand it up easily.

So, I've not got a squat clean of 195, a power clean of 188, a push jerk of 188 and a split jerk of 190.  Somehow, I need to take this recent progress and keep working, and get myself over 200 pounds for the clean and jerk.  That's not a lofty number by any means.  The world record for my age and weight group is about 330 pounds.  I'm pretty sure that record is safe.

I had stalled at these lifts in a big part due to a shoulder injury that dogged me for most of last year.  Now that my shoulder has been relatively healthy for more than a year, I'm seeing decent progress.

Goal number 1, of course, is to keep the shoulder healthy.  But, I would really like to see my Olympic lifts and my bench press continue to get better.

After the split jerks last night, I did some push presses, followed by some rowing, dumbbell snatches and push-ups.  Tonight will be burpees, pull-up negatives (start at the top and hold on as long as possible), box jumps and deadlifts.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Playing catch-up again

It's once again been a long time since my last update, it seems.  As I look at the past 2 weeks, I have been crazily busy.  Last time, I wrote about getting a new PR in the bench press.  And, I whined about illnesses - cancer, in particular.

Despite my whining about the cancer stuff, I have also seen a silver lining in some of this adversity.  My wife and I have been married for 28 years.  That's a long time for anyone to "put up" with anyone else.  Yet, through all of this, I think it's been clear that our marriage is doing really well.  We are always there for each other, always worried first about our partners.  It's a great feeling to know that after all of these years together, when life gets challenging, our commitment to each other never wavers.

That bond was put to a test again this past weekend, when my wife spent an entire day in the local emergency room with unexplained bleeding that just wouldn't stop.  I think her medical care has been mostly incompetent for the past few days.  I'm not going to go into details, but there has been a terrible lack of communication, poor decision-making, very little empathy, and doctors trying to rush her into major surgery, without giving her any other options.  She is going to see a different provider at a local teaching hospital this Friday, and hopefully, we will get better answers than we've gotten so far.  I just wish that many doctors would be more honest and up front about side effects from treatments and treatment options, even if they don't offer those options.

In  my wife's case, there is a clear advantage to treating her in a more modern and better equipped facility.  But, the doctor didn't bother to tell her that there were better options.  She wanted to do a procedure immediately yesterday.  When my wife refused, she tried to schedule surgery for today, telling my wife that she'd try a simple procedure, but if it didn't go well, she would proceed to a very significant surgery.  Again, my wife declined.  She then suggested Thursday and my wife temporarily agreed.  She has since cancelled that appointment, and will get a second opinion before anyone touches a scalpel.

Around all of this, I've had a crazy couple of weeks.  I trained other ski instructors all weekend two weekends ago.  Then, I had a quick trip out of town.  At CrossFit Shadyside, in Pittsburgh, I had a great workout and got a new squat clean PR of 195 pounds.  This is a lift where just being strong is not enough.  It requires good technique, and that's been limiting my progress.  My new PR was simply a matter of getting better at this particular lift, rather than being stronger.

The evening after this PR, I started to feel sick.  That took me out of action for a few days.  Last Saturday, I was supposed to start teaching my ski students for the season, but I was with my wife at the hospital instead.  The next day, my wife insisted I follow through on some existing plans, telling me that she would simply rest at home for a few days.

So, I taught skiing on Sunday, meeting my students for this season for the first time.  They are amazing.  Only 7 years old, decent skiers (but there's a lot I can teach them) and they like to go, go, go.  But, being only 7, a full day of going non-stop becomes too much.  Late Sunday afternoon, I watched them simply fall apart.  The entire group seemed to run out of energy all at once, and we slowed things down for the rest of the day.  This is going to be a great season.  It will probably be just a month or two before I'm struggling to keep up with them.

Right after skiing, I headed to the airport for a brief trip out west.  I had a great time visiting some friends and I had a great workout at CrossFit Potrero Hill.  By Tuesday night, I was home again and I'm back in my office today.

And now it's almost Christmas.  I haven't done any Christmas shopping yet.  I don't know if my wife has.  We had agreed to keep things simple between the two of us, but we still need to take care of the rest of the family.  Maybe we'll have time to shop for Christmas presents the day after Christmas.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Just after my "coming up short" post

I recently lamented that I had recently been missing some of my lifting PRs in the gyms by small margins.  Most people my age, especially lifelong lifters, are not setting new PRs in the gym at the age of 52 (53 is getting really close).  Most people aren't setting PRs within a year of being treated for cancer either, although I'm sure some do.  And, many people don't work the hours I do, put in the long commute, and still find themselves with the time to even train hard.

At my last doctor's appointment, my doctor was pushing me to see a therapist.  He had some good points.  I've had a lot of stress at my job, I've gone through diagnosis, treatment and recovery for prostate cancer in the past year, I've had some other major stressors that I don't even want to talk about here, and most recently, my wife has been diagnosed with and treated for an advanced and aggressive melanoma.  Earlier this year, her dad was also treated for melanoma.

(For the record, my wife is doing great right now after two surgeries, and with a month of radiation, she should be completely over this bout of melanoma, although she will need to be careful for the rest of her life.)

At this point in time, I am really f*cking sick of cancer.  It's everywhere in one form or another, it seems.

I pushed back with my doctor.  I don't have enough time in my life to talk to a therapist.  While these stresses have been just that - stresses - I think I'm doing reasonably well.  I also think I have a place that helps me in a lot of the ways that a therapist would.  Actually, I have a few of those places.  The ski mountain.  The gym.  The streams during trout season.  Those are the places where I can just relax and enjoy life.  Yeah, sometimes I'm working hard in those environments.  Sometimes, I'm perplexed at why I can't fool a feeble-brained fish with fur and feathers.  But, those places are my therapy.  They are things I look forward to, things I need in my life.

Yesterday, my wife sent me an e-mail at 4:45.  She said it must have been a busy day (and she was right).  We normally mail stuff to each other through the day, but apparently, I didn't send her a single e-mail yesterday.  She noted that I always send her something at work.  Every single day.

Yesterday, I was buried deep in code and a fairly simple technology called XML.  We need to really perfect some XML work we've been doing for a mobile app we are prototyping at the moment.  All of the display information on the phone will be delivered through XML to a business partner and our business partner will then render that information to the users.  So, I was buried deep in that code all day.  It has to be 100% error-free.

When I left here and picked up my wife, I started to think about the gym.  After a warm-up, our first part of the workout was to establish a 1 rep max on the bench press.  After a stressful day, going heavy (relatively) is the perfect way to really let out any frustrations.

Before my intro to CrossFit, I was stuck at 185 on the bench press.  My background is more distance running and skiing and hiking and backpacking - leg dominant sports.  It has taken a long time to build the muscle to get better on the bench press. Plus, our gym really seems to prefer overhead pressing rather than bench pressing, so I don't get to do it very often.

Two years or so ago, I got to 195 pounds.  Then, I hurt my shoulder doing some Olympic lifting and that had a lengthy recovery.  I got to 195 pounds twice more, but I couldn't get past that number.  Over this past summer, we did a lot more bench press work, using a Wendler style program, and I gradually got 200 and then 205.  I failed at 210.  Since then (those lifts were  in August), I've done very little bench press work.

Last night, I paired up with a young, strong lifter in our gym for the lifts.  His plan was to get to 250 or so.  I simply wanted 210.  We alternated through the warm-up and working sets.  I did multiple reps at 95, 135 and 155, and then went to singles.  I got the reps fairly easily at 175, 185 and 195.  From there, I decided to jump 15 pounds to 210.  I felt pretty good about the attempt after how 195 had felt.  I pulled the bar down confidently and started to drive up.  And I stalled.  Almost.  The bar was still moving, ever so slightly.  My right hamstring cramped up.  I ignored it.  I kept driving.  After what seemed forever, I got the bar locked out.  A new PR at 210.

Then, 3x5 at 155, followed by 3 rounds of 20 each of push presses, kettlebell swings and box step-ups.

I'm tired today, but not stressed out.  The gym is the best I can do as a therapist right now and it's probably going to have to be good enough.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Coming up just short in the gym

Last night, the strength part of CrossFit was to work to a 1 rep max front squat, with only 3 "working attempts" allowed.  I warmed up, starting at 95 pounds and working up to 205.  My first working rep was 225, and that went pretty easily.  Next, I did 255, and it was work, but not too bad.  The coach said it looked like I had a lot left in my legs.  Next, I jumped to 285, thinking that my PR was 280.

Regretfully, my weight got a bit forward on the descent, and I bailed before I'd even bottomed out.  When I checked my log later, I realized that I'd done 285 and failed at 295 on 8/25 of this year.  So, even if I'd stuck the lift, it wouldn't have been a PR.

The week before, we had half an hour to work to 1 rep maxes on the snatch (I use the power snatch due to mobility reasons) and the clean and jerk.  In mid-August, I'd gotten past a long-term sticking point of 125 on the snatch, and I lifted 128 and 133 in the same workout.  In late October, I'd gotten to 135.5 on the snatch but failed at 138.  On that same day in October, I'd gotten to 185.5 and 188 for 2 new PRs in the clean and jerk.  My PR for just the clean remains at 190, but I rarely test that lift.

On the snatches last week, I worked by 10 pound increments from 63 through 123.  Then, suddenly at 133, I failed twice.  Finally, I got a clean lift at 133. After the 133 went, I tried 138 three times, but I failed on all 3.  So, I've now lifted 133 twice, 135.5 once, and I'm 0-4 at 138.  I think the way to fix this is to do some workouts of high weight singles.  Maybe do something like 10 x 1 at 125# for a few weeks and try again.

On the cleans.  I may have made a tactical mistake here.  I started at 133 and added ten pounds at a time until 173.  At that point, I was feeling a bit tired and I wasn't sure how many more good attempts I had in me.  So, I jumped to 193.  I failed 3x, and only the second was close.  I wonder if I might have had better luck trying 183 and then 193.

In the end, it doesn't really matter.  I am close to my PRs in all of these lifts, but not quite there.  Sometimes it's mental.  Sometimes, it's simply not your day - not enough sleep (definitely a problem lately), poor diet in the previous 24-48 hours, or you are stressed or distracted by other things in your life.

Given the stresses I've had recently, I was pretty happy with my weights in these three lifts.

I've been skiing on the weekends, which is something that no amount of training really gets you ready for.  No matter how fit you are when the ski season starts, you still have to ski yourself the rest of the way into ski shape.  With lots of early snow, I hope to keep working on that every weekend.