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).

running_lifting_shoes

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

    Instructions

    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.

    Enjoy!

    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.

    Eeyore

    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?

    Learning to Snatch

    Learning to Snatch

    Last night, after surviving my first day at home post-holiday-travel, I checked the Rocktown Crossfit web site to see what today’s WOD would be. I took the holiday week off from workouts (unless you count lugging two 50-pound suitcases around O’Hare airport while carrying a 23-pound backpack of camera and computer gear on your back) and after a good night’s sleep was ready to get back to it. The virtual whiteboard looked like:

    Strength:
    10 min to work up to a heavy snatch
    Then, 2×2 @90%

    Workout:
    As many rounds as possible in 10 minutes:
    200m run
    10 pullups
    5 power snatches (135/95)

    My first thought was, “Thank goodness it’s only a 200m run at a time.” Running still crushes my lungs.

    My second thought was, “Pullups, good. I need more of those.” I’m still doing them from the floor with the rings, as I still don’t have the grip or arm strength to even hang from the bar, but I like them because I feel like they’re making me stronger.

    My third thought was, “I doubt I’m going to do snatches. They’ll probably get subbed with something else… but I’d better watch some videos just in case!” We did not cover snatches in the intro on-ramp PEAK training program, and as a n00b, I don’t really have any feel for what I’m ready for. I have to trust my coaches on that. My upper body strength is the most significant of my weaknesses, so I wasn’t sure I’d be considered ready to attempt a technical overhead move.

    After watching some videos, I thought that if I had to do a squat snatch, it would be iffy, as my squat mechanics are still a work in progress. If it was all power snatches, I might be in luck. As it so happens, my snatch googling led me to finally understand that things labeled “power” are the high-catch versions of the lift. So far, I like those the best (probably due to aforementioned squat weaknesses).

    I headed to the gym for the 9am class – my usual class, but not on my usual day – and found a zillion people there ready to get their WOD on. I’m exaggerating, but the class was packed. I didn’t recognize many faces, but as usual, everyone was super friendly and welcoming and encouraging. Rocktown Crossfit has the best people, hands down. #likearock

    Needless to say, I was beyond excited when Coach Lauren proposed that during the strength session, we work on snatch technique. Yes, please! I started out using the training bar (25#). I expected to have trouble keeping the bar vertical in front of me. I thought I would want to swing it out and up, but surprisingly, that wasn’t a problem. My biggest problems were:

    1. Jumping my feet too far out on the catch (well past squat width), and

    2. Pulling with my arms instead of shrugging and pushing with my hips.

    Both of these things got better with practice, but it definitely took a heck of a lot of brain power to make my body do what I wanted it to do. If I stopped thinking about my feet, they forgot to stay in close. If I stopped thinking about my drive, I reverted to arm-pulling the bar. There were 2 reps in particular that felt different and totally right, and I was glad that Coach Lauren caught one of them and said, “Yes! Nailed it – best one today!” – so I know that what that felt like was indeed what it should feel like. I couldn’t repeat the perfect mix of ingredients with much consistency, but I got it right a few times, and I will build from there.

    For the workout, I used the empty women’s bar (35#). Doing snatches after pullups left my arms whimpering, so I’m glad I didn’t try to add any weight. I’ll save that for next time. In my second set of snatches during the workout, as my arms got fatigued, I was having a harder time catching with my arms locked out.

    The verdict: I like snatches – power snatches, anyway.

    Working with the barbell is my favorite part of Crossfit. I would like to start doing some strength training during open gym maybe once or twice a week, but I will have to talk to the coaches and figure out what that looks like. It’s on my list of things to do in 2015.

    Here’s the video that I found most helpful in familiarizing myself with snatch technique:

    And because I crack myself up:

    Learning to Snatch

    Here’s to a happy and safe New Year’s Eve to all. I’ll catch you on the flipside!

    Living stone succulent flower Bill Glacey https://flic.kr/p/e5CLvg

    Live, Learn, and Love

    Live, learn and love… I don’t mean to conjure up any bad Alanis Morissette flashbacks, but she might have been on to something:

    You live, you learn.
    You love, you learn.
    You cry, you learn.
    You lose, you learn.
    You bleed, you learn.
    You scream, you learn.

    I’ve always heard those lyrics in my head as implying suffering of some kind, with a resulting lesson learned. I don’t think that has to be the case. Crossfit has yet to make me cry or bleed, but my last couple workouts have made me appreciate the learning process in all of its forms.

    Last Friday, my friend Sabrena kindly joined me for open gym to work on deadlifts. They don’t come up often in workouts, and I was curious how much I could lift. I suspected it might be one of my stronger lifts, maybe from all the running I’ve done the last few years. And, since the strength component of Crossfit seems to be my favorite part, I wanted to do more of it.

    Those coming to Crossfit with absolutely no prior weightlifting experience (like me) have a lot to learn not only in terminology and proper form for the various moves, but in the capacity of their own bodies. I had no idea how much weight to put on the bar to start with, because I had absolutely no clue what I might be able to lift. The process became, for me:

    Add weights. Pick it up. Put it down. Still OK? Repeat.

    I surprised myself that day, with a final deadlift of 170#. I didn’t lift to the point of failure, as we ran out of time before the main workout, but I doubt I’d have been able to lift much more. Google tells me that as an untrained newbie, at my weight a woman should be able to deadlift 110#, so… go me! The “novice” level is listed as 195#, but I’m not going to lie. I can see 200# in my sights, and I would love to hit that milestone. I’ll try again in a few weeks, maybe around the new year.

    My first real deadlift. 170#

    This is me, definitely living and loving and learning.

    Another thing I’ve realized through Crossfit is that “losing” isn’t always a bad thing. When I joined Crossfit, I very consciously accepted the fact that I was going to finish last at every workout for a long time. Most people equate finishing last to losing, but – at least in Crossfit – you gain a whole lot by finishing last. She who finishes last has the biggest cheering section – quite literally! Sure, I look forward to being the one cheering on my mates, but in the meantime, yes, please! Count for me! Tell me I got this! Hell yeah, I got this!

    The last bit Alanis crooned about was screaming. One more thing I’ve learned about myself through Crossfit is that, while not a screamer per se, I’ve been known to occasionally growl at the barbell. It’s nothing compared to the grunting and groaning going on around me, and it blends right in with the booming music and the laughter and the cheers. Besides, nobody is listening to me, anyway – and if they are, they don’t care what it sounds like, as long as I don’t quit.

    I came across an article the other day called “What Lifting Weights Taught Me About Being a Woman.” (I think it was another gem from Sabrena – good stuff). Fourth on the list of lessons learned is:

    “Treating exercise as a means to be more, as opposed to viewing it as a never-ending struggle to be less, is absolutely a game changer.”

    This is one of the most amazing lessons I’m learning through Crossfit. Yes, one of my goals is to lose weight. But Crossfit has redefined how I frame workouts, because my attendance at each class is not with the goal of losing weight. It is with the goals of completing the workout and increasing my strength. I want to be more – more able, more fit, stronger. Losing weight really becomes secondary or even lower down the line, because when I look at the things I am doing with my body in order to become stronger and more fit, it would be impossible not to lose weight.

    My focus on numbers has also shifted. I used to weigh myself daily, hoping to see another .2 or .4 pounds lost. I’ve been doing Crossfit for 6 weeks now, and the scale hasn’t changed much. I lost 5 pounds right away, but gained them back. However, I’ve lost over an inch in my waist, and I can’t wear my usual jeans without a belt – so my body is definitely changing. I don’t mind if the scale gets a bit dusty with no use. I’m gaining a whole side of my closet!

    There’s a lot to learn when you go from the couch to Crossfit, but so far, the lessons have been inspiring and empowering and life affirming.

    You live, you learn.

    Living stone succulent flower photo credit: Bill Glacey