After the Juice: 3 Weeks Later

I’m wrapping up my 3rd week post-juice. My plan was to eat vegan, cut out added sugar (no more than 6 tsp/24g per day, the recommendation for women), and kick the diet coke habit.

So far, so good! Jimmy John’s would probably disagree, as I went from eating there 5+ days a week to… none. I miss my daily chill-out sessions at JJ’s, but I’m fairly certain I’m eating healthier at home. I can’t seem to find any data on the added sugars in the #6 (I suspect there’s a bit extra in the bread and/or the avocado spread); it’s not on their nutrition labels. Comparing the lettuce wrap to the sub, and comparing the sub to a typical 8″ Italian sub roll, I’m fairly certain that one JJ’s sub would blow my whole added sugar allotment for the day. And the way my logic works, I enjoy the bread too much to go with a lettuce wrap, so if I can’t have it the way I love it, I won’t have it at all.

I’ve had a few bites of cheese on a couple occasions (when eating out), but kicking the sugar has been surprisingly easy, since I haven’t craved it (thanks to the juice plan). The biggest struggle has been, surprisingly, avoiding diet coke. I’m not explicitly avoiding caffeine, as I am still drinking tea, but I terribly miss the fizzy drink, and no substitutions have solved the cravings. I’m almost obsessed with it, and I’m fairly certain that I’m just going to cave and drink the occasional diet coke.

One unexpected benefit has been reduced food waste. In the past, I would go food shopping and buy produced based on things I thought I should have on hand to be well-stocked and ready-for-anything, but in reality, I threw away a lot of spoiled food. This time around, I’m picking one lunch and one dinner for each week. I shop specifically for those meals (and a few staples that I eat no matter what), and that’s it. I cook those meals on Sunday and then eat the leftovers all week. Every weekend, I go through my recipe stash and cookbooks and pick meals for the following week and do it all over again.

The first week after the juice, I made a walnut-lentil tacos and homemade cashew sour cream, and had tacos all week. They were surprisingly awesome, considering I really don’t like lentils.

The second week, I bought a pasta roller and tried my hand at homemade ravioli. My pasta skills need some work, but it turned out absolutely delicious – pumpkin sage ravioli. It was amazing and I was shocked that I was able to pull it off.

This week, I put together an old favorite (though I did skimp on the veggies and just doubled the spinach, out of laziness) – pesto veggie lasagna. I also burned half of my pine nuts when toasting them, and had to sub in a bunch of raw cashews. But it all turned out just fine and delicious (man I love pesto). I’ve been eating this with Tofurky Artisan Spinach Pesto sausages. They’re a little bit dry on their own (like most faux-meats) but they are very tasty, and the marinara in the lasagna solves the dryness issue.

My other new obsession is a waffle recipe from one of my favorite cookbook authors, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, of Post Punk Kitchen fame. It’s the Sinfully Wholesome waffle recipe from her book Isa Does It, but the recipe is also in her PPK forums – Sinfully Wholesome Waffles. They’re waffle perfection. Hearty without being heavy, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, and just right topped with fruit or maple syrup. One recipe makes 5-6 large waffles, and I’ve been having them for breakfast or lunch. Smoothies fill in the blanks.

I’m also glad to report that the 10 pounds I lost during the juice week was not a fluke. I’ve kept them off, and lost a few more. I’ve also started doing a class at the gym called Body Pump. I’m enjoying it, and so far, my elbow is tolerating it well. I’m going to keep on keeping on with baby steps so I don’t injure the elbow again, and see how it goes.

The only thing I haven’t done is kept up with juicing. I intended to have some juices from the plan a few days a week, but I haven’t done a good job at planning ahead for those to make sure I have the proper produce on hand. Room for improvement!

Now, I think it’s time for a waffle…


Green Smoothie https://flic.kr/p/o1cTXv

Super Juice Me!

Last week, I stumbled foggy-headed into another day of post-travel recovery and back-to-work shell shock. I’d been living on Jimmy John’s, pizza, and egg and cheese mcgriddles for two months or so. (That was literally all I was eating, with a few stops at the ice cream shop thrown in for good measure). I’d gained 15# as a result, at a time when I could already stand to lose 30. Junk food was getting expensive, not only to my budget, but to my waistline. Of course, I wasn’t exercising. (That last C25K post never materialized into anything consistent). My elbow had me out of commission for a lot of activities, so I just did none.

As the new school year started, though, I really wanted to get back into a routine. Sometimes, I do great things when left to my own devices, and sometimes, I self destruct. It’s been a challenging couple of years, and this summer, I came out the other side quite a bit worse for the wear. I needed to quit the junk food, first and foremost.

The thought of getting back to clean eating (read: prepping and cooking meals) was almost nauseating in itself – not the food, but the labor. I just didn’t feel like doing it. At the same time, the thought of another fast food meal was unbearable. I just felt awful all around.

Then, in my Facebook feed, an entry popped up from Jason Vale, the juice master. He had a documentary out called “SuperJuice Me!” I’m a fan of Jason Vale. I’ve done his 7 day juice plan a few times, usually around New Year’s Day when I need to (again) kick the junk food. I watched the documentary.

And I decided to do the SuperJuice Me! plan.

I debated just using the 7 day app of his that I already had, but (spoiler alert) I’m so glad I bought the new app, because he really has mastered some of these recipes. They’re much better in the new program.

But back to the miserable version of me. It was a Sunday. I went to the grocery store and bought 3 days worth of produce. I didn’t want to waste food and money if I didn’t stick it out.

Day 1 was fairly miserable, due to caffeine withdrawal. Headaches suck, and I believe that was the 3rd time I’ve gone through full on caffeine detox (maybe the 4th?) It’s the worst. Every time I go through it, I swear I will never get back on the diet coke bandwagon again. Again, I swear… ugh. Never again.

Day 2 was meh. I didn’t feel good but I didn’t feel bad. I wasn’t hungry but all I could think about was food I used to eat before I went vegetarian! The Mad Max burger from Outback Steakhouse… pepperoni pizza… this crazy cheeseburger at TGI Fridays that was a 3 cheese burger, PLUS a fried provolone patty of cheese… ridiculous things. Gross, really. I also had a bit of a pity-party meltdown in the evening, and watched a sad movie to indulge it.

Day 3 was the best day ever! Day 3 usually is. I felt great. On top of the world. Not hungry. Sleeping great. Feeling alert. No mid-afternoon sloth session. I also went back to the gym on Day 3, and tried my first Body Pump class. (I’m taking it slow so as not to re-injure my elbow). I will go back next week!

Day 4 was fine. Felt good. But I still had no desire to cook food, so the easiest solution was to stay on the juice plan. (Also, sore as hell from Body Pump!)

Day 5 was today. Felt great, slept great – according to my sleep app (which now has almost 3 years of data in it), I never sleep well at home. (Cats). I usually have to be on vacation with no cats around to get sleep quality of 90% or higher. But every single night on the juice plan, I’ve had excellent sleep quality. I used to blame the cats for my awful quality of sleep. Maybe I should have been blaming junk food all along.

Also today… it clicked. I’m ready to start cooking meals, and they’re going to be vegan.

It’s amazing how powerful and addictive sugar and dairy are. I’ve always sort of scoffed at the use of the word “addiction” with sugar or dairy, because it’s not like I ever felt like I was a junkie running around the grocery store begging for a hit of cheese. But the moment I realized that I’ve actually beat them both – it’s so crystal clear. I went through this the first time I went vegan for an extended period of time (about 6 months), and it’s both amazing and saddening. It’s sad because it’s so easy to slip back into eating them, and before you know it, you’re hooked again. In my case, I end up making all of the apologies to the cows and excuses that I need my Greek yogurt for protein. But those are just excuses, and this time around, it seems so obvious that they work in the body like addictive drugs. Maybe there is no such thing as just this one donut.

The amazing part is that it feels so good to be in absolute control of my own health and wellness – and because my body is feeling fully nourished, I’m actually optimistic instead of miserable! The difference is like night and day.

I have enough produce in the fridge to juice through Day 7. I’m going to finish through Day 7, and this weekend, I will meal plan and prep for next week, vegan again.

I really feel like if I can avoid sugar and dairy, I won’t even crave it. If I slip and fall down the cheese rabbit hole, it’s going to be hard to get back on track. Right now, the thought of dairy disgusts me, and the thought of all of the sugar in processed food makes me furious. Did you ever notice that sugar is the one entry on the nutrition label that doesn’t show its corresponding percentage of your daily allowance? Yeah, because half of the time it would be like, “203%” in one silly little serving of whatever frankenfood it is. The more I learned about the USDA and our food regulations (way back in good ol’ 2009 when I started learning about organics), the more I distrusted it all – and now as I look at sugar and processed foods, I’m mad all over again.

The last time I was fully vegan, a few years ago, I felt like I ate like a king. I can’t wait to recapture that feeling and love food again.

Photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/o1cTXv

Vegetables https://flic.kr/p/8DTRNq

C25K Day 1, Again

A few years ago, I used the “Couch to 5K” plan to learn how to run. It worked. I ran regularly for 3 years, finished a couple dozen 5K races, 1 half marathon (13.1mi), and 1 25K race (15.5mi).

Today, I started C25K all over again.

I’ve decided to start from the beginning and do the whole 9 week program, even though I could jog a mile straight through on the struggle bus today. The hills of Virginia stymied my running efforts in 2012. I’d like to keep myself off the struggle bus for as long as possible, in hopes of finding a way to love running again. The hills haven’t changed, so I’ve got to change myself.

The other part of this is that I’ve got to start eating at home more. I’m not a good cook, mostly because I have no idea what I’m doing. I have a massive collection of cookbooks and can follow recipes fairly well, but I have zero knowledge or intuition of what to do when a recipe isn’t working for my tastes. That tends to lead to a lot of waste and discouragement, and then I just throw in the towel and head out for a sandwich.

To help on that front, I’ve signed up for online cooking lessons through a program written by the author of one of my favorite books, Foodist. The “class” is called Foodist Kitchen, and it’s 30 days of daily exercises and lessons on how to cook without recipes. I’m hoping it will help me fill in the blanks and figure out how to make food work for me.

Here’s to getting back at it!

Detour by Shannon Kokoska https://flic.kr/p/hx6K6

Things Don’t Always Go As Planned

I’m sad to report that I’m taking a break from Crossfit. I’ve had a nagging elbow injury that hasn’t improved (even after 2 months of rest), so it’s off to the doctors for MRIs and all that good stuff. The early diagnosis looks like probably tendonitis and a little arthritis in both elbows, and a partial tear on the left (the one that hasn’t gotten any better). So, more doctors, and a break from Crossfit.

I have “injured” my elbow twice since starting Crossfit. I didn’t consider either instance severe enough to label them injuries at the time, but apparently, they were. The first was my very first workout – the “try it for free” day, before I signed up. I did 40-some-odd push-ups that day (after not having done that many pushups, well, ever), and for 3 weeks after that, I could not do push-ups due to sharp pains in my elbow and bicep. The pain subsided, and once it did, I went back to including push-ups in my workouts. A couple months later, I had a great workout that included push-ups – one of the first workouts where I really felt strong, and I did great on the push-ups… and the next morning, I woke up to find my elbow had swollen to the size of a melon, and I couldn’t move my arm. That was about 4 months ago, and while the swelling subsided, I’ve had chronic pain in my elbow ever since. I can’t do push-ups, or lift anything heavy with that arm alone, or do any barbell move with a snatch grip, or unplug my hair dryer. I need to get it fixed.

Things don’t always go as planned. I hope to return to Crossfit. I love the barbell and I love the camaraderie. I hate the thought that my body might not be capable of doing all of the things I want to do in my mind.

For now, it’s back to running (and my ongoing struggle with my hatred of hills, which, in Virginia, are actually mountains).


Translating Crossfit’s Fitness

Before I started Crossfit, I did a lot of reading about it. One anecdote that came up over and over was how people would give up running or swimming or biking in favor of Crossfit, and then successfully complete a race in that sport with no specific training. I’ve read several tales of people running half marathons without training for the races – just doing Crossfit. They all seemed like tall tales to me.

I can’t speak to any long-distance efforts, but a couple of recent experiences are leading me to believe that those stories might be true after all.

I started Crossfit 4 months ago, in October. In the 3 months prior, I was a gluttonous lump on a log. And for the year or so before that, I was working out 3 times a week – running and swimming throughout 2013, but tapering to less intense things like long-distance walking by mid-2014 (5-9 mile walks). When I started Crossfit, I was completely out of shape in terms of strength and cardio endurance.

Until last week, I hadn’t done any workouts in the past 4 months outside of Crossfit. I’ve only recently started to feel a bit stronger and able to survive the metcon WODs. When snow buried me in for a few days and closed the gym, I got a bit stir crazy.

So I walked down to my apartment’s gym to go for a run. My plan was to run 1 minute, walk 1 minute, for a mile. I warmed up and then started to run, and much to my surprise, I felt pretty good. I ran the mile straight through. 13:29.

That was Feb 21, 2015. The last time I ran a mile was March 1, 2014. My pace a year ago? 14:07/mi.

I dug back a little deeper, since that March 1 run was a bit of a fluke, tucked into a bunch of weeks of swimming. What was my most recent pace, when I was running regularly?

I had to go back to the summer of 2013, when I was running mostly 2 and 3 milers. They paced like this:

Running pace data from the summer of 2013

Running pace data from the summer of 2013

My current 13:29/mi looked pretty spot on, compared to a year and a half ago when I was running regularly. Even more wild – I weighed 20-30 pounds less that summer than I do now.

Could Crossfit alone have given me back my running legs and lungs? It sure looks like it.

Today, I decided to go for a swim. Work prevented me from getting in my third Crossfit workout this week, and my ankle is a bit sore from a slip on ice in the parking lot a few days ago. I figured swimming would be less stressful on the ankle than running, so I headed to the pool.

My last swim was July 15, 2014 – more than 7 months ago.

I swam 1600 yards breaststroke today. That’s my typical swim distance, and it typically takes me about an hour. My pace today was 3:11/100yds – 56:01.

My pace last July? 3:20/100yds.

Last July, I was on-again, off-again with swimming. I swam 3x/week from November through March, took April off, swam in May, took June off, and swam in July. As I compared today’s pace to July, I got curious. How would today’s pace compare to the months when I was very consistently swimming?

I had to go back to December 2013 to find when I was doing breaststroke regularly, and here’s what it looked like:

Swimming pace data, winter 2013

Swimming pace data, winter 2013

3:08 to 3:30/100 yards. So today’s 3:11 pace over 56:01 looks to be on the fitter end of things!

All from Crossfit?

There’s really no other explanation, because that’s all I’ve been doing the past 4 months.

It feels really good to finally be (slowly) transitioning to the point where I don’t feel like I’m dying in every workout. Near-death, maybe! But my lungs are finally starting to catch up, and that’s opening up more options for me.

I love a lot of things about Crossfit – namely, the community, the barbell work, and overall intensity and efficiency of it. I do think, though, that I will continue to run and swim. I doubt I’ll do any more long-distance running (it’s just not an efficient use of my time as a slow-poke), but I’d like to get back into running 5Ks and 10Ks.

There are 2 things I miss about running and swimming, compared to Crossfit:

1) choosing my own music

2) the long, slow, less intense work that lets me zone out and think

I knew I’d miss the solitude (I really do enjoy working out alone), but I didn’t expect to miss the long slog! I wouldn’t give up Crossfit for either of those things, but I think I’ll find the best version of myself in some combination of them all.

I have to say – I’m still quite shocked by the numbers. I’m performing just as well at two cardio-centric sports with zero recent sport-specific training as I was when training them regularly, at a much lighter weight.

I’ve got Rocktown Crossfit to thank for that!


Peanut butter protein brownie

Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Brownie of the Gods

What do you get when you cross a five pound tub of protein powder with an impending 36-hour house arrest due to black ice and subzero temperatures?

A chocolate peanut butter protein brownie of the gods.

BOOMsauce!™ Rob

When I started Crossfit, I switched to whey protein powder (from my usual hemp). I wanted to cut back on the large quantities of fruit I was putting into my morning smoothies, and whey has always been my favorite tasting powder. (I try to avoid dairy/casein because I love my cow friends and hate the factory farming that brings dairy to my door, but it’s doggone hard to get enough protein without it unless I’m dedicated to cooking at home – which right now, I don’t have time for). I ordered a 5# tub of chocolate whey protein powder, and yowza! That’s a big tub of protein powder.

After eating too much cheesecake last weekend (and in the cheesecake-hangover week that followed), I’ve had cake-like things on my mind. So at lunch today, I found myself googling around for protein brownie recipes. Somebody has got to have figured this out by now, right? Well, unsurprisingly, there are quite a few recipes out there in the wild – but none of them looked quite like the brownie of my dreams. Most looked a bit dry.

So I took it upon myself to mash up a few different recipes. I also used this opportunity to try something I’ve wanted to test out for some time now – black beans in baked goods. (So, no, this recipe isn’t Paleo-friendly if you’re avoiding beans. It could be gluten free if you use gluten free oat flour or make your own oat flour from gluten free oats).

I am definitely not a natural in the kitchen, so I was fully prepared for this recipe to flop. Imagine my surprise when I took this gooey, peanut buttery, chocolatey amazingness out of the oven. It smelled so good and tasted amazing! It is truly not far off from the insane, sugary dessert of your dreams – minus most of the sugar. The macro profile is, dare I say, fantastic for a brownie, and it rivals my typical breakfast protein smoothie.

Some details on my version:

  • I used Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard protein powder in Chocolate.
  • I used homemade almond milk, unstrained. (For a full batch: 1 cup raw almonds, 4 cups water, 2 minutes in the Vitamix on high. Enjoy!) You could swap any dairy or non-dairy milk. My version is a little more caloric than commercial almond milk, but has 5x the protein and all of the nutrition of the whole nuts, with no chemicals or other junk.
  • I used a whole cup of peanut butter chips, because I am obsessed with peanut butter. A normal person would probably use 1/4 to 1/2 cup.
  • I used 2 tbsp agave, because the batter after 1 tbsp was just a little too bitter from the cocoa. These are not super-sweet – just a little sweet. You could opt to sweeten them with honey or stevia or whatever else you like – just be sure to adjust the amounts. (Stevia, for example, is a bit sweeter than agave, so you’d want to use less).
  • 1 cup of black beans is about 2/3 of a standard can (about 200g). I was tempted to use the whole can for convenience’s sake, but I was winging it as it was, so I didn’t want to get too frisky.
  • The coconut oil can probably be eliminated, but I wanted it in there, because – coconut oil. Don’t hate.
  • Most people could probably cut the pan into 12-15 smaller brownies, but I am not most people. Big honkin brownie get in mah belleh! I cut the pan into 9 good-sized brownies – big enough to be a quick breakfast or lunch (as opposed to snack-sized). (Besides, cutting an uneven balance of rows and columns into a square pan would not sit well with my obsessive-compulsive tendencies).
  • The can of black beans I used that expired 3 months ago tasted fine and hasn’t killed me yet.

Here are the nutrition facts, based on my version described above:

  • 20g protein, 29g carb (14g sugar, 4g fiber),  13g fat

Peanut butter protein brownie nutrition


Most similar recipes recommended storing these in the fridge, so I’ve put mine into an airtight container in the refrigerator – but they were definitely tasty warm and fresh from the oven.

The aftermath:

Empty plate

He gone!

Without further adieu, here’s the recipe. Enjoy!


Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Brownies

by Shelly Hokanson

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients (Serves 9-12)

    Dry Ingredients

    • 1 tbsp baking powder
    • 1/4 cup oat flour
    • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1 cup whey protein powder (chocolate or vanilla)
    • 1 cup peanut butter chips (or less, if you’re less obsessed with pb)

    Wet Ingredients

    • 1 cup black beans (cooked and drained)
    • 1/3 cup almond milk (or other dairy or non-dairy milk)
    • 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
    • 1 egg (or 2 egg whites)
    • 2 tbsp agave nectar (or other sweetener, to taste)
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 2 tbsp coconut oil


    1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spray an 8×8 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
    2. Whisk together all dry ingredients except for the peanut butter chips. Set aside.
    3. Melt coconut oil (about 30 seconds in the microwave).
    4. In a food processor or blender, mix the wet ingredients (including the melted coconut oil) until smooth, about 1 minute.
    5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry.
    6. Stir until well combined.
    7. Fold in peanut butter chips.
    8. Pour batter into baking pan.
    9. Bake for 22-26 minutes, or until top has set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
    10. Cool completely, then cut into 9-12 squares.


    Store covered in the refrigerator.

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    Goldfish photo by Benson Kua https://flic.kr/p/5QFKuU

    Clowns, Competitions, and Cheesecake

    Are you afraid of Ronald McDonald? I didn’t think I was, until I encountered this:

    Creepy Ronald at Superfit Games 2015

    All your gainz are belong to us.

    Creepy, right? I know. I shouldn’t have even brought it up. Let’s move on.

    This weekend, I took a road trip to Richmond, VA with my friend Sabrena for the SuperFit Games 2015 East Coast Championship.

    We rolled up to the most adorable house in Carytown – our home for the weekend. Sabrena secured it via AirBnB and it was as good as we could have imagined, if not better… except for ol’ Ronald McDonald in the kitchen. Did I mention how creepy that painting was? We covered it up immediately (well, after snapping a few pictures to use to terrify friends with).

    We weren’t competing in the SuperFit games; we were there to cheer on the nearly FIFTY Rocktown Crossfit athletes that were competing. #likearock It was an awesome spectator experience, and we got to see some of our Crossfit family podium and rock the house.

    I had never been to a Crossfit competition, but had watched the Crossfit Games on TV. The SuperFit Games were what I expected: loud, adrenalized, and awe-inspiring, to name a few attributes.What made it different from watching the official games on TV was that a majority of these people were everyday humans that could be working out next to me at the gym on any given day – but still so much more than everyday humans. There’s a certain level of commitment and fortitude required to compete in a series of grueling events like this, and a measure of selflessness, particularly in the team events. It’s impressive to watch, especially in such a large collective. I can appreciate these things watching a dozen fellow Crossfitters at my gym, but to see a convention floor full of like-minded people putting forth their best efforts in the name of functional fitness – it was pretty mind-blowing.

    The most popular question posed to me over the weekend was: “Are you going to sign up next year?!”

    Goldfish photo by Benson Kua https://flic.kr/p/5QFKuU

    Gosh. I don’t know! In my dreams, I’m fit enough and strong enough a year from now to compete and see where I stack up against my peers. But I’m so far from that now that I can’t really envision the reality of it. By age, I’d be in the Masters division (40+), but based on this year’s Masters RX workout, I can’t imagine any way that I’d be ready for that in a year. I’d be lucky to meet the qualifications for the scaled workouts, which don’t have a separate Masters option… and even if I can accomplish the minimum scaled requirements, there’s no way I’d compare favorably to all of the 20-somethings and 30-somethings crushing those workouts. So, I don’t really look at competitions as my realistic Crossfit future. I like competing in general, and would love to someday be in a position to be able to compete casually in Crossfit, but it’s not likely anytime soon, and may never happen. And that’s fine with me. It’ll be a bonus, if it ever happens.

    We rounded out the weekend by initiating a couple people to Cards Against Humanity while indulging in Oreo cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory. One of the many things I appreciate about Rocktown Crossfit is that most members are not 24/7 Paleo tyrants. They can enjoy a slice of cheesecake every now and again.

    While you won’t see me on the competition floor anytime soon, you’ll see me back at Rocktown on Tuesday…. gotta work off that cheesecake.


    Goldfish photo by Benson Kua.


    Nothing Gold Can Stay by Thomas Hawk https://flic.kr/p/pLkVZM

    Nothing Gold Can Stay

    Nature’s first green is gold,
    Her hardest hue to hold.
    Her early leaf’s a flower;
    But only so an hour.
    Then leaf subsides to leaf,
    So Eden sank to grief,
    So dawn goes down to day
    Nothing gold can stay.

    Robert Frost

    Nine days after my 40th birthday, I attended my first Crossfit class.

    Eleven weeks and a day later, here I am, writing this post.

    My body is a special kind of tired. My calves are still sore from jumping rope on Tuesday. My left wrist feels creaky. I smell like menthol from the icy-hot patch on my back (though that has nothing to do with Crossfit… I sneezed funny this morning and tweaked a muscle in my back that gives me trouble a few times a year. I wish I was kidding).

    Some people might consider these to be reasons why I should quit Crossfit. On the contrary, these are the reasons why I absolutely must continue down this path.

    Eleven weeks and a day ago, I was motivated to join Crossfit for the same reasons I was motivated to start running half marathons in 2009. It was the same motivation that has gotten me up off the couch countless times in my adult life: fear of all of the negative health issues my body might succumb to if I continued to neglect my health and fitness. I have this vision of sitting in a doctor’s office receiving some sort of irreversible bad news that could have been prevented by eating clean and getting off the couch. What an awful reason to suffer a life-altering consequence – because I was too lazy to properly take care of myself.

    But as life ebbs and flows, so does my focus on health and fitness, and each time I came to find myself in a valley, that fear of the point of no return spurred me back into action.

    Crossfit has entered my life at a time when the calendar is slapping me in the face with truths that I’m not quite ready to embrace. I don’t have any issues with my health, but my spending on anti-aging serums and peels has grown exponentially in the past few years, and the snail’s pace at which I’m regaining previous fitness has been humbling, at best. I can still get away with dying my hair funky colors to avoid looking my age, but even my trusty Doc Martens are betraying the golden era of my youth. (As one of my undergrad students put it, “They’re like platform shoes from the 90’s!” Yes, dear. Yes they are).

    My first Crossfit workout destroyed my body but ignited my spirit. Subsequent workouts early on challenged me physically and made me face several fears head-on. The physical struggle was so fierce that it drowned out any and all voices in my head. In the past couple weeks, I’ve finally started to feel like I can do this. The downside of my body starting to catch up, though, is that it leaves me room to think.

    It’s not that thinking is bad. I’m definitely a natural born thinker. I love to absorb information, sort it out in my head, and analyze the heck out of it. I like to store bits and pieces of things just in case I ever need to know them. I enjoy diving into a topic that interests me and studying it from all different angles. I love data and statistics and trends. The act of learning Crossfit movements and philosophies plays very well into my affinities for thinking and learning.

    The conflict arises when the facts point to truths that can be a tough pill to swallow. I came upon an article last week that laid out plans for the next Crossfit Open competition. I am too far down the scaling totem pole to consider competing, but I was interested in learning the lay of the land for future reference. That’s when I learned that I would be in what’s called the “Masters Division” – the over-40 crowd. So, that’s it? Year #40 draws a line in the sand between youth and those still fighting to hang on. My first thought was, “How can that be me? I’m just getting started!”

    Well, I’m getting started at age 40. That’s the reality of the matter. Tough luck, kiddo.

    I read an interview with rocker Pat Benatar once. She was talking about her book, and how she didn’t want a perfect face, because her laugh lines and scars were badges to display proudly. I respect that, and more so marvel at it, because I’m just not there. I’m not ready to wear the life that I’ve lived, because I feel like I’m just getting started.

    It’s ironic to me that just as I reach a point in my life where I feel comfortable with who I am and confident in my work, my body becomes a traitor. Think about it. We finally gain the life skills and earn the wisdom of experience to tackle most days with grace and hard work – and in most cases, succeed – but that same grace and hard work applied in the gym will at some point forever offer diminishing returns. We all know this to be true even in our twenties, but I suppose some of us just think it will never happen to us.

    I know it is happening to me, against my will and much to my chagrin. I woke up this morning with no idea how I would make it through today’s workout. This week felt brutal, but I also felt like I had to show up and put in the work and let the chips fall where they may. So I went to the gym and set up for the workout:

    Every Minute on the Minute for 20 mins:

    3 power cleans
    3 front squats
    3 jerks

    My 1 rep max clean right now is 65#, and I’ve only done a few reps of jerks at 55# in strength training, but never in a workout. So I started this WOD with 40#, knowing that I’d probably end up stripping off the extra 5# and using just the bar. The first 5 or 6 rounds went well, and surprisingly, I was keeping pace with the rest of the class, finishing each round in about 30 seconds, and resting for 30 seconds. As the next 5 rounds progressed, I was getting slower at the reps, taking 35-40 seconds to complete them, and that wasn’t leaving me enough time to catch my breath before the next round started. In round 11, I was having trouble getting the bar overhead for the jerks, and after round 12, I knew I had to strip down to the bar (35#). That helped, but I still couldn’t get my heart rate under control.

    Rounds 14 and 15, I started 10 seconds into the minute because I couldn’t breathe, so the rest of the class was finishing all 3 sets while I was still in the middle of doing squats. I felt the workout getting away from me. I couldn’t keep up. I grunted my way through the jerks in round 15 and then set the bar down and looked at the clock. It was already time for round 16. This just wasn’t going to work.

    Coach Lauren told us up front that because this workout was scored by rounds missed, if we didn’t think we could get through all of the reps in a round, to just skip the round and take the breather, because either way, it would count against us. A month ago, I would have accepted at face value that the breather would very likely be part of my strategy. Today, though, as I’ve started to feel stronger approaching these workouts, I viewed it as a last resort – and damn, did it make me mad that I found myself in last-resort territory.

    I sat out round 16 and fought back tears. I was angry at my body. I just kept thinking, I show up. I work hard. I study. I practice. I’m doing everything I’m supposed to be doing, and I still can’t get through this workout. It stung. I really thought that I would get my lungs and stamina back much faster. Last year and the year before, I was swimming miles and running half marathons. Just a couple months before starting Crossfit, I was doing 7, 8, 9 milers on the weekends with a combination of walking and running. 3 hours out on the trails – how could I not finish a 20 minute workout that let me rest half of the time?

    But that’s the reality of 40. Fitness is harder to gain and harder to hold on to than it was even a few years ago. I’ve never been a natural athlete, but it still hurts the ego.

    The clock marched on to round 17, and almost miraculously, that one minute of rest turned me into a whole new human. The remaining 4 rounds were hard, but I was able to knock them out on pace. I finished the workout with a score of 1, meltdown avoided.

    I know that the only way I’m going to succeed in this area of my life is to embrace my age and look at Masters status as a gift. Be glad that I wake up every day able to do these incredible things. Trust that I have the wisdom and the intimate familiarity with my body to avoid injury in the process. Know that I will, as a result, become stronger and more fit than at any other point in my life. I cannot let fear of disease be my primary motivation, as then I’m forever running away. Instead, I will embrace the pursuit of strength as my motivation, and continue to march headlong toward it.

    Nothing gold can stay, but there’s always another crack at dawn tomorrow.





    Photo by Thomas Hawk.

    I'm the King of the World

    I’m the King of the World

    If there’s one thing that Crossfit is not, it is not predictable. Not only do the workouts vary wildly from one day to the next – your body’s ability to conquer them grows and changes as well. The repeated exposure to new challenges and unknowns taps into reserves of courage I didn’t realize I had. This truth was quite evident to me this week as I stared down the barrel of a 12-minute row.

    Three weeks ago, I survived a WOD that duplicated the 2014 Crossfit Open workout, 14.4:

    60-calorie row
    50 toes-to-bars
    40 wall-ball shots
    30 cleans
    20 muscle-ups

    Well, I survived some of it; we were scored by reps completed, and I made it 17 reps into the wall balls for a score of 127. (I also replaced the toes-to-bars with med ball situps, as I’m still working on hanging from the bar).

    That 60 calorie row was brutal. It took me at least 7 minutes. I was the last one off the rower (as per usual), and I could barely stand when I was done.

    A lot of Crossfitters seem to hate rowing, but I don’t mind it. I might actually like it someday, if I can ever get better at it. I lack two crucial elements at this point: power and lung capacity. The rower is the second fastest way (after running) to cash out my lungs and throw my heart rate through the roof. Long before my legs or arms tire, I hit the wall of “I… can’t… breathe…”

    When I checked out the WOD a few nights ago and saw a 12 minute row, I immediately flashed back to the 14.4 workout. Oh, how awful that row felt! It reminded me how out of shape I’d let myself get and made me suck wind like never before. If I could barely survive 7 minutes, how would I ever survive 12? I went to bed that night with a dark cloud over me, sad that I was heading into a workout that had a real chance of beating me.


    Pooh: Have you ever had one of those days when you just can’t win, Eeyore?
    Eeyore: Yup, I know how that feels.

    I woke up the next morning and tried to look at the bright side: at least I didn’t have to count! The rowers have performance monitors that track all of the numbers for us. I headed to the gym and tried to formulate a game plan that involved not dying on the rower. The only thing I could come up with was: row slow.

    Before I knew it, the timer counted down 3… 2… 1… go! And we were off. I tried to keep a slow and steady pace, but by 3:00, as usual, my lungs were on fire and I was breathing like a maniac. A couple minutes later, Coach Lauren cued me to put more power in my legs. “Push through the heels… strong pull!” The calories/hour rate on the performance monitor jumped significantly, but I was having trouble balancing my power output and my need for sweet, sweet oxygen.

    I’ve watched a lot of videos on rowing. They all say to have a fast, powerful pull, and a slow, smooth recovery. That sounds great in theory, but somehow, my recovery was never slow enough to catch my breath. In a state of near-hyperventilation, it’s pretty hard to turn around and give a fast, powerful pull. Some videos address breathing, but only to state that you should get into a rhythm, with no suggestions on how to do that.

    As the halfway point of that 12 minute row approached, I knew I had to find some way to catch my breath, or I would be toast.

    At 6:00, my monitor showed 55 calories. Coach Lauren wanted to see us maintain our first half pace in the second half. I had to do something different. How could I slow down that recovery phase so I could catch my breath and push off consistently stronger on the next stroke? It wasn’t pretty, but as I slid forward into each catch, I took the slightest of pauses – just long enough to get one big inhale. Then, I pushed off again.

    I was taking fewer strokes per minute, but I started to catch my breath, and my power output stayed consistent and was slightly higher than a few minutes prior. It didn’t feel at all smooth and graceful, but I felt much better and started to get into a rhythm of breathing, too.

    The remaining 6 minutes were hard – but they weren’t worse than hard. I expect most of what I do in Crossfit to be hard. I want it to be hard. Worse than hard sucks (I do not at all believe you have to hack up a lung or puke your guts out to have an intense and acceptably hard workout), but hard is a challenge I’m up for. Those last 6 minutes felt good and hard.

    As Coach Lauren called time, the rower reported 112 calories. I was 25 calories lower than the next lowest athlete, and a good 50 calories or more below most of the class (100 calories below the 9am top score). I only compare myself to the class to marvel at how fit my gym mates are, and note where I stand for future progress checks. The bright spot in my result was that I rowed 57 calories in the second half (compared to 55 calories in the first half). Not only did I maintain my pace, but bettered it by 2 calories, despite the onset of some pretty serious fatigue as the clock wound down.

    And, I rowed for 12 minutes. Not only did not die, but pulled out what I feel was a strong improvement over 3 weeks ago. I still have a lot to learn about rowing, and a long way to go in rebuilding my fitness, but this day was a win.

    It sure felt good to kick that rain cloud aside and take some comfort in the fact that I stared down yet another scary thing, faced it with courage, and emerged victorious. You won’t get me today, rower. I’m the king of the world.

    Booty shorts squat

    Skip the Booty Shorts

    I was scrolling through Facebook today and came across an article called “Training Tips for Beginners.” I click on most of these links; I’m a beginner and can use all the tips I can get. Maybe I’ve been reading too many of these articles, because before I even got to the content, I devised Tip #1 in my head. It went:

    Skip the booty shorts. You have to squat to earn those booty shorts.

    Ahh, the post-holiday hangover! I don’t even know where that came from, as everyone at Rocktown (particularly those wearing booty shorts) appears fit as fiddles to me. (And for the record, I am not personally considering wearing booty shorts). But that’s what the post-holiday hangover does to my brain.

    This new year, I’m focusing on behavior-based goals instead of outcome-based goals. This shift in my approach coincided nicely with a recent episode of Barbell Shrugged. They had some great tips for goal and resolution setting. I wanted to focus on things I can control, and I can control my behavior. I can’t necessarily control the outcomes. For example, I can control how many times I set foot in the gym per week. I can’t control whether or not I lose a set number of pounds by setting foot in said gym.

    One of my goals is to up my workouts from 3 times per week to 4. The extra workout will most likely be Crossfit, though I would still like to get back into swimming and wouldn’t mind if one workout was swimming.

    Another goal is to get off the extreme-calorie-deficit dieting bandwagon. To do that, I’ve joined a 2-month challenge at Eat to Perform. (Late registration ends Jan 15, 2015, if you’re interested in joining). There are essentially 2 parts to the approach to eating a la ETP:

    1. You have to fuel your workouts. No cutting calories on workout days. You eat all of the calories your body needs that day.

    2. Instead of counting calories, you count macronutrients (or “macros”) – protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

    The intended result is muscle gain and fat loss… slow, steady fat loss. You create your calorie deficit (and thus weight loss) by cutting calories from carbs on rest days, and for those with a lot of fat to lose, they recommend 3 to 4 rest days per week. By keeping your protein up, your body has the amino acids it needs to perform muscle repair during those rest days. Like they say – you don’t build muscle when you’re lifting. You build it when you’re recovering from lifting.

    Squirrel Rest Day

    The Eat to Perform calculator (with some tweaking from the coaches) recommends that I shoot for:

    Workout days: 150g protein, 250g carbs, 90g fat (2,410 calories)

    Rest days: 150g protein, 125g carbs, 90g fat (1,910 calories)

    For someone that has lived under the assumption that weight loss requires a 1,200 calorie per day diet, even rest days are a whole lot of food! ETP throws quite a few of the typical calorie-deficit-dieting “rules” out the window. No foods are off limits, though clean eating is encouraged. The whole “no snacks after dinner” concept is moot, to the point that ETP even recommends a pre-bed snack – not just any snack, but protein and slow-digesting carbs. I was so shocked to be encouraged to eat before bed that I did some googling around, and sure enough, there are many reputable sources citing muscle recovery benefits and decreased inflammation due to well chosen bedtime snacks. I don’t know if this particular source is reputable, but it summarizes what I’ve found elsewhere quite nicely: The Truth About Eating Before Bed.

    We’re six days into the new year, and I’m doing pretty good at hitting my macros every day. I could be eating a whole lot cleaner, but I’m taking this all one step at a time. I could overhaul everything in a day and crash and burn in 3 weeks like most of my “resolutions,” or I can try a slow, steady approach and see if I can make some of these changes permanent.

    The hardest part for me is getting variety in my diet – because I really don’t mind eating the same things day after day. I’ve had a smoothie for breakfast nearly every day for the last decade. It’s just easy and I’m too sleepy to cook in the morning. My stomach doesn’t really like food first thing in the a.m. but I’m almost always hungry first thing, so a smoothie does the trick. For a while I was in a great habit of having salads for lunch, but I fell out of that habit and am now fighting to get it back. But I’ve gone years on end eating PB&J for lunch, every day, day in and day out. For the past couple years, my go-to lunch or dinner has been a Jimmy John’s #6, no tomato, add sauce. It’s so extreme that the crew at my local JJ’s has my sandwich ready to go before I even make it through the door from the parking lot. I could eat that sandwich every day for the rest of my life and probably never get sick of it.

    It would definitely be healthier for me to introduce more variety into my daily diet, but for now, I’m focusing on hitting my macros and ditching all of the junk except the Jimmy John’s. I’m allowing myself the option to have JJ’s on workout days, because it fits into my macros. It’s not the best choice, but considering that’s really my only major vice, it’s not the worst thing I could be doing.

    To hit my protein, my lazy eating (let’s call it, habitual one-track-minded eating) results in a lot of protein shakes – which I actually like (see previous smoothie comments). It’s also probably not the most healthy way to be getting my protein, but at least I’m mixing up different kinds of protein powders – some whey for post-workout shakes, some plant-based for mealtime shakes. I spent as much money this week diversifying my protein powder collection as I did shopping for produce and groceries. At least the protein powders will last longer!

    Why, oh why, can’t I thrive on green smoothies, protein shakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, PB&J, and Jimmy John’s? Oh how I wish.

    But, baby steps. And with my baby-steps approach, so far, so good. I don’t feel deprived (and actually have trouble eating enough food on rest days). Workouts for the new year have been good. I added 10# to my back squat and 20# to my front squat maxes. Today was the first time I did consecutive days of Crossfit workouts that included strength segments, and while I was sore heading in today (and was sore heading out!), I feel pretty good. (I can’t lie, though – I’m glad tomorrow is a rest day!)

    So that’s how I’m kicking off 2015… sans booty shorts. How about you?