Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Green Day

For the past few years, my wife and I have really increased the number of concerts that we attend.  Part of this is related to cancer.  In particular, I'm simply much more focused on experiences than acquiring stuff.  And, I greatly enjoy seeing live music.

This year, we've had a really good year.  Adrian Belew.  Dead and Company.   The Specials.  U2. Echo and the Bunnymen.  The Violent Femmes.  And, last night, Green Day.

To be honest, we've been traveling and driving too much recently.  My wife drove 10 hours on Saturday to take our daughter back to Syracuse and I'd driven almost 4 hours that day to do some trout fishing.  We'd been to Boston three times recently.

I had tried to give these concert tickets away, just to avoid driving 4 hours from our office to the show, and then 3 more hours to get home.  Getting home at 3:00 a.m. when you have to work the next day simply isn't a lot of fun.  But, in retrospect, I'm glad we went.

It was the second time we've seen Green Day.  The previous time was the tour for the 21st Century Breakdown album, and we saw them indoors in Albany that time.  It was a pretty straightforward show, with a focus primarily on playing their music, and playing it well.  Yes, they pulled someone out of the audience to play guitar for a bit, but they've been doing that for years.  Last night, they pulled someone to sing in one song and someone to play guitar in another.  The guy they picked to play guitar was only 15 and was pretty good.

This time, GD's lead singer, Billy Joe, seemed much more interested in audience interaction and getting the audience to respond to him or to sing the lyrics for him.  Maybe it has to do with some of his own personal demons, including a problem that he allegedly had with prescription pills of some sort. I simply don't recall him being this overtly interactive with the audience the last time we saw them.  He came across almost as a diva, demanding to be feted by the crowd.  That was my least favorite part of the show and the biggest change since we last saw them.

I told my wife after the show that 1990 Billy Joe Armstrong would probably hate the 2017 version of himself.  Coming out of the Oakland punk scene of the time, they played a lot of early shows at a place simply known as Gilman.  I think that the club is still there, and if I recall correctly, they had a rule against bands with major record contracts.  So, the early bands that played there - Green Day, Operation Ivy, the Offspring, and others, would no longer be welcome.

But, his desire for adulation from the audience is something that I imagine the old Billie Joe would not have liked at all.

Green Day is a big act these days.  They don't put songs in the Top 40, and they discussed that in a recent interview with Rolling Stone when they played DC on the current tour.  But, they still have quite a following, and I was amazed at an audience of teens to 60-somethings, where every single person seemed to know every single word to every single song.  Their fans are not casual fans.  I haven't purchased their latest album, to be honest, but most people there clearly knew it well.

And musically, they just plain delivered.  The setlist from last night can be found here

They played five songs from their newest album.  They completely skipped the trio of albums before that, a set of related albums called Uno, Dos, and Tré.  The latter one is not a misspelling, but instead the stage name of their drummer - Tré Cool.  I have the first two of those albums and I have to say that they aren't among my favorite Green Day albums.  But, if you read the interview I linked to above, Mike Dirnt of the band talked about how great he thinks they are.

They played 7 songs from their classic concept album American Idiot.  They used the title song to take a good swipe at the current occupant of the White House.

They played 5 songs from their breakout album Dookie.  And, they even went back to 1991 or so, playing a couple songs from Kerplunk.

I have to admit that I wish Billy Joe had sung every word to the songs they played, rather than asking the audience to do it.

But, they played 26 songs, and in many of them, there were new arrangements that greatly lengthened the song.  King for a Day was a perfect example of this and was one of my favorite songs of the show.  American Idiot also fell into this category and was amazing.

It's rare these days to get a 2.5 hour show out of any band that isn't a jam band or Springsteen.

We had purchased lawn seats at this venue.  I hate to use the newer corporate names of these venues, but I'll make an exception here.  The venue, the XFinity Center (which will always be Great Woods to me) was not sold out.  So, every patron who had a general admission ticket to sit on the lawn was upgraded for free to an actual seat.  I'd never had that happen at a show before and it was a nice gesture.

We have tickets for one more show yet this fall - the Psychedelic Furs.  I think it will be my 7th time seeing them, moving them past Bowie to number 2 on my all time list.  Only the Dead in their various incarnations have been seen more.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


Life goes on.

I'm really enjoying the time away from the hospital, although I've still had 5 medical appointments in the past 2 weeks.

One was with a psychiatrist assigned to the cancer unit at UVM Medical Center.  He manages a couple medicines for me - medicines that help me mentally to deal with disease that is trying to kill me.

One was with a therapist who I see regularly. She only sees cancer patients, and her presence in my life is impossible to measure.  There are things you deal with when you have cancer that are too much to even put on a spouse.  Sometimes, I just need to vent.  Sometimes, I need help on how to communicate effectively with someone in my life.  She is always there to listen.  Mostly to listen, but she also offers up great nuggets of wisdom at times.

I have a chemo port and it needs to be flushed periodically.  That was last Friday.  This is just done to prevent clots from forming around the lines from the port.

I had to see my primary care provider, who takes care of most of my medications, including pain meds.  A new VT law requires that I see her every 90 days now, instead of the six month schedule we had been using.  So, that appointment was required by law if I want to continue using pain meds.

And, my physical therapist, who is coming back from two knee injuries, saw me yesterday.  She is just starting to ease back into work, and I was her first patient on her path back.  I mostly wanted to talk and not put too much stress on her after all that she has been through.  She is a top level athlete in her own right, and this major knee injury has been a terrible thing for her.  Having had an ACL replaced (her injury was much more extensive than mine), I've been trying to be a supportive friend.  But, it was also nice to know that she's on the comeback trail and is up to seeing patients again.  I am sore today from the work she put me through yesterday, so I'm sure she hit the right spots.

I'm sure I'm a complicated case for her.  There just aren't many people walking around who have lost most of a core stabilizing muscle, so there are not really any fixed protocols for making this better.  She's making up a lot as we go along, based on how my work in the gym is going and how I perceive the work she gives me to be helping.

But, she's a Ph.D Physical Therapist, a smart lady, and an athlete herself.  I couldn't have a better PT.

On another note, my all time record for most CF workouts in a month is 18.  This month has 31 days and only 8 weekend days.  I rarely do CF on the weekends, so months with 5 weekends usually see me with a lower number of CF days.

So far this month, even though I've really just returned to CF, I've done 13 CF workouts already.  Today is a rest day, but I'll get number 14 on Friday.

Then, I would need four more in the last 6 days of the month to tie my all time record.  Regretfully, I have a concert next Monday and plans next Thursday, so even if I go this coming Saturday morning, a rarity for me, it looks like I'll only get to 17 days.  Still, 16 or 17 days in August, after major abdominal surgery in June, makes me pretty happy.

My goal, as I returned, was to use a 50%, 60%, 70%, ..., 100% rule.  My first week, I tried to use 50% of the prescribe weight and in some cases, 50% of the prescribed reps.  Each week, I'm trying to do a few more reps and a higher weight.  I'm currently in the 90% week, but last night, I didn't really do 90%.  It was a really tough workout:

In 10 minutes:
Run 800 meters
50 wall balls
short rest
5 heavy push presses

In 10 minutes:
Run 800 meters
50 kettlebell swings
short rest
5 heavy push presses

In 10 minutes:
Run 800 meters
50 box jump overs
short rest
5 heavy push presses

In 10 minutes:
Run 800 meters
50 push-ups
short rest
5 heavy push presses

Our Wednesday workouts have been really tough recently, and this one was no exception.  Running has been especially difficult for me on two fronts.  First, I have a lot of pain when running, even though I'm wearing compression shirts to "hold everything together".  I have some problems bringing my legs through, and catching my feet on the ground.  I'm always afraid I'm going to trip if I don't .  This is all tied to losing so much of psoas muscle, and I have to be very aware of every single step when running so I don't trip over my own feet.  This is such a change from the days when I could mindlessly crank out a 30 mile training run, and feel fine for the rest of the day.

Also, during chemo in the spring, I was anemic, and my ability to do aerobic work suffered.  Then, I had two months off after surgery.  So, over a period of six months, my aerobic capacity dropped to perhaps its lowest point in the past 35 years.  It's getting better slowly, but I'm in woefully bad shape at the moment.  My strength work is a struggle, but nothing like the struggle I face as my heart rate gets pushed up.

Each week is getting better though.  A few weeks ago, on a set of 3x400 meters, with some other work mixed in, I had to walk part of every single 400.  Last night, I opted for 600s rather than 800s.  Not 90%, but it turned out to be a good choice.  On the first three, I ran (slowly) every step of the way.  On the fourth, I walked the last 50 meters.  On that rep, every person running 800 meters finished before I could finish 600.  But, it's getting better, so I'll take that.

On the second movement in each round, I opted for 40 reps instead of 50.  Again, not 90%, but this was the correct scaling.  On the push presses, I picked a weight that I knew would be challenging on the first set, and really difficult by the last set.

The sets progressed as I expected.  I was glad to do wall balls first.  They were the toughest of the four high-rep movements.  I finished all the work in the first round in about 7:30 and I got to rest for the remaining time.

In the second round, my 600m run was about the same time, the kettlebell swings were faster than wall balls, and I got about 3:00 of rest.

In the third round, my running began to slow.  Suddenly, I was last of the entire class.  In the first two rounds, I had been slightly ahead of a couple people, but not many.  For the box jump-overs, I did step-overs - stepping on the box and then over it.  The pain in my stomach is really limiting 4 standard CF movements - running, rope jumping, box jumps, and burpees.  I noticed this week that rope jumping has improved, so that one is now less of an issue.  Running is getting better.  Burpees and box jumps are lagging.  Box jumps are the only movement that I was doing previously that I'm not yet doing at all.

In the final round, the wheels kind of fell off.  On the run, I was absurdly slow.  I walked the last 50 meters.  Compared to two weeks ago, the running was a major victory.  Including the warm-up and my scaling, I had 2600 meters of running last night, and I ran (slowly, but it was running) all but 50 meters.  Two weeks ago, going 400 meters without walking was nearly impossible.  So, even though the wheels were falling off, it's still an improvement.

The push-ups were brutal.  I think I started with 8.  Then 5.  Then 4.  After that, I did mini-sets of 2-4 with rest in between.  I got to 35 before I was forced to go to singles.  The last 5 were all done as single reps with rest.  At that point, I had used 8:50 of my 10:00.  I decided that my best chance of finishing the push presses under the 10:00 mark was to wait until I had 30 seconds left, and try to complete them all in that time frame.  I made it with about 5 seconds to spare.

I had gone into the workout sore and tired from Monday and Tuesday.  I felt some fatigue from my PT session as well - just some isolated muscle fatigue that affected a few things, running included.  I think I scaled it perfectly.  I was really hard, but it was manageable.

CrossFit truly is infinitely scalable.

After Friday, I will be done with my 5th week of my comeback.  In some ways, I'm disappointed.  I don't think I realized how much fitness I had lost during chemo.  In my first chemo, I was hospitalized for a four day infusion.  Then, I could only walk for the next 5 days or so.  But, after that, I had 10-11 days where I could train hard.  I didn't lose much fitness during the four rounds of that chemo.

The chemo this spring was six rounds.  The acute symptoms right around the infusion were less severe than the previous chemo.  But, the cumulative fatigue was far worse, and I lost more fitness than I realized during the three months of that chemo and the time period after chemo when I was still recovering.

Even now, almost 4 months after the chemo ended, I am still dealing with some side effects.  I'm convinced that the chemo made my recovery from surgery more difficult.

But, in the immortal words of Jim Valvano, "Never quit, never surrender".  That's my attitude.

And, my friends at the gym have been great.  I've been frustrated a lot.  When you have a back squat PR of 375 (done since I turned 50), and you are squatting 95 pounds, it feels pretty pathetic.  When you have a lifetime PR of 2:21 for 800 meters and you can't even run that far unbroken right now, it feels kind of depressing.  But, my friends at the gym remind me that I'm out there and I'm working hard.  They remind me that I've been through a lot.  My body has been through a lot.  I'm a cancer patient and I have a serious disease.  They remind me that most people in my situation wouldn't be out there at all, and that every single workout I do is a victory.

At times, it is frustrating.  But, I am lucky to have some great friends on my side.  Where I see "pathetic", they see "heroic".  I don't think either word is really correct, but I'm glad to still be out there.  And, I'm especially glad for my friends and my wife, who encourage me on a daily basis.  There are a lot of things I can't control right now.  I don't like that at all, to be honest.  But, I can choose to go to the gym and give the best effort I've got in me.  As a lifelong athlete, that's good enough for now.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Improving Week by Week

OK, first the obligatory whining.  It's always something.  I have noticed in my workouts the past couple weeks that running is somewhat painful.  It seems to be in the area where my psoas muscle was removed.  Wearing high quality compression gear doesn't seem to help like it did before my latest surgery.

Monday night's workout had 3 x 400m runs as part of the workout, and by the third 400, I was reduced to walking part of it due to pain.  I told my wife that I'm really glad right now that I don't consider myself to be an ultrarunner any more.  If so, this pain would be a lot more worrisome.

Also, I'm still less than 10 weeks removed from major abdominal surgery.  I'm still healing.

And, my favorite physical therapist is on the DL, after two knee surgeries.  She helped me with rehab after the first surgery that removed some of the psoas.  I'm sure she could help me this time, but she's not working right now.  Hopefully, she will be back at work fairly soon.

But, other than that issue, things are going well.

My first week at CrossFit, I accidentally trashed my legs so badly that I could barely walk for a week.  The next week, I had to change the workout on Monday to avoid squats, but I made it to the gym 4 times that week.  My plan was no more than 3x per week until at least September.

Last week, I made it 4 times again.  I've been doing Olympic lifting twice per week, which is huge for me.  For a while, I'd sort of backed off on Oly lifting.  Mobility issues were limiting my progress, and I injured my shoulder doing snatches a few years ago.  Fear of re-injuring the shoulder led to me limiting what I did, rather than adapting by changing the amount of weight on the bar.

This time, I'm keeping the weights light, and treating it as a cross between mobility work and strength work.  I'm doing the Oly lifts fairly lightly, but it's heavy enough to create some stimulus.  And, when it comes time to do full depth snatches, overhead squats, or split jerks, I'm not backing down.  I'm doing the movements as written by the coach.

Currently, I've done 11 CrossFit workouts in the past 23 days, which is about average for me when I'm healthy.  I try to average 3-4 days per week.  I usually end up averaging 3 days per week for the entire year, but I have plenty of weeks where I'm there 4 times.

I am going to miss 2 days this week due to a day off work tomorrow and a trip out of town.  But, everything is moving in the right direction.  I'm sore and I'm tired, and I have some pain, but I'm not hurt.

Each week seems better than the last.

It is a bit frustrating to finish last in every single workout.  That's just where I am right now.  I'm older than most people in the gym.  I missed almost two entire months after surgery.  I had cut back on workout intensity for a few months before surgery due to side effects from chemo.  So, I'm older than most, I'm a cancer patient, my workouts have been limited, and I'm finishing last in the workouts.

People in the gym aren't having any of my whining.  They think I'm a hero just for being there after all I've been through.  They see me working hard, and that's good enough for them.  I have to let it be good enough for me as well.

The same attitude that carried me through so many marathons and ultras is now carrying me through this.  I'm just not ready to quit yet.  I still have so many things I'd like to accomplish, and my training in the gym is essential to most everything else I want to do with my life.

Monday, August 7, 2017

How did that happen?

Last week was week #2 in my return to CrossFit.  My plan was to go on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and to go at about 60% effort.

On Monday, because of a squat workout the previous Monday, my hamstrings were very tender.  I thought I was at risk of pulling a hamstring if I squatted, so I did bench presses instead.  Then, there were burpees in the main workout, and I'm not quite ready for them either.  So, I improvised and did 3 rounds of run 400 meters followed by 10 push-ups.  I have run very little since my surgery and it's still uncomfortable, but I need to just do it.  I bought some new compression shirts last week, and I'm hoping they will help with running, and make box jumps and burpees possible again.

I was going to skip Tuesday, but somehow, I ended up at the gym and decided to do the workout.  We started out with a 21 minute "every minute on the minute" snatch and overhead squat work.  We did three different complexes, each one 7 times.  I kept the weight light and got through it OK.  Then we did 10 minutes of air squats, knee-ups, and dumbells from the shoulder to overhead.

Wednesday, I was back again.  It was our wedding anniversary and we had a dinner reservation, so we went to the earlier class than normal, and it was hot.  We were working out in some of the worst heat of the day.

This workout, despite the fact that I scaled it quite a bit, was simply one of the toughest workouts I've ever done at CrossFit.  Every five minutes, I ran 200 meters, did 3 pull-ups, 6 push-ups, 9 air squats and 5 barbell push presses.  I then got to rest for the remainder of the 5 minutes.  In the first round, the work took me 3 minutes and I rested for 2.  But, I got slower each round and it took me 4 minutes to do the work in the last round.

But, we weren't done there.  At the 30 minute mark, we started an up ladder of kettlebell swings and box jumps (I did box step-ups).  It was 3 reps of each the first round, then 6, 9, etc.  I was so exhausted from the first 30 minutes that I simply could not go straight through.  I saw some really strong athletes resting during this part of the workout, so I didn't feel too bad.  But, it took a lot out of me.

On Thursday, thankfully, we took a rest day.

On Friday, we did clean and jerk complexes, similar to Tuesday, in an EMOTM style.  Then, 8 minutes of rope jumping and wall balls.  By the time we finished, the fatigue from the week was pretty intense.

On Saturday, my wife and I got to the farmer's market early.  We shopped there, hit the supermarket, and once we got home, I spent the entire day cooking a nice meal as a belated anniversary dinner.  We had gone out for dinner on our anniversary, but the meal was disappointing.  So, I wanted to make up for that.

I had some really nice wines planned for dinner, but the entire week kind of caught up with me by the time I was done cooking.  I had been trying to stay away from pain medicine, not wanting to mix pain meds and alcohol, but eventually, the effort of the day was too much, and I needed some pain meds.  I had a little bit of wine, and my wife enjoyed some, but we never got around to opening the bottle I really wanted to drink - an Hermitage La Chapelle from 1990.  So, we saved that one for another day.

I was much happier before this cancer stuff, when I took no pain meds and I could have a drink without having to worry about the two interacting.  I simply need to be more careful these days, and I need to accept that my body can't do right now what it could do 3 years ago.  If I'm lucky with my next few scans and I keep working hard in the gym, maybe I can reverse some of this.