Browsing Tag

Goals

Stronger, Faster, Older

September 16, 2015

IMG_0241I spent 10 days in the desert at Burning Man, in a camp of a 100 people who came together to form a lovely temporary community. The winds and the dust were fierce, but I still danced every day, sometimes for eight to ten hours—for those 10 days, that was my fitness.

And somehow I still managed to injure myself. A member of our camp had been given a portion of Timothy Leary’s ashes by his family, and she thought it would be fitting to recremate them in the “Totem of Confessions” (in a Burning Man ritual, the art and architecture is always burned to the ground during the last days of the Festival). When it came time to pick up the litter on which the reliquary that held the ashes sat, some members of the camp volunteered me. It looked like it was made out of paper mache, so I leaned down and picked it up with all the form that you would use to pick up a Kleenex. It wasn’t paper mache. And like that: tweaked back.

It was a fitting end to my month of rest after the Games. No one disagrees that rest is needed after such intense exertion, but people do vary in the amount they suggest is optimal. Some tell you not to take more than a week off. But I struggled to return to the gym. Unlike someone like Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, the CrossFit world champion in 2014, who has the goal of the next Games and the incentive of her sponsorships to keep her motivated, I did it solely for the challenge of working up to my potential. I don’t plan to compete again.

Plus, I had a road trip already planned, which didn’t lend itself to a lot of gym time. But, me being me, I didn’t totally veg out. I stuck to the running program that genius trainer Chris Hinshaw created (he uses an amazing algorithm that takes all your performance numbers and spits out a personalized set of paced intervals). And I feel the gains: I’m stronger, fleeter, and can go much farther than I’ve ever done before.

IMG_4888That success has pointed me toward my next goal. We’ve all seen what happens with age: we slow down, muscles and joints start to ache, and the training that kept us fit and active for years begins to lose its efficacy. We hit a peak in our early thirties, and it just goes downhill from there, even if we train for general physical preparedness—the CrossFit model of “functional fitness”—which is the best way out there to train.

But does it have to go downhill? My experience with running tells me it doesn’t have to; that a generally fit individual can take steps to counteract the effects of age, and maybe even improve beyond what he or she was capable of doing at the peak of fitness. It won’t always be easy—as with anything in life, the worthiness of a task is often equal to its difficulty—but I believe that I can find ways to continue improving.

Almost two years ago, I set out to reach my fullest genetic potential by training for and competing in the CrossFit Games. The feeling of pushing my body to its limits and beyond was exhilarating. But I’ve had countless people say, “I don’t need to do what you do because I just want to fit into my clothes.” Fine. But if you can’t squat down or bend over to pick up something without thinking about it, if you can’t live in a dynamic way well into your 50s and 60s and 70s (and beyond, I hope), then what is the point of those hours slogging away in the gym or around a track? Instead, think about training as giving yourself a gift: the gift of living a joyful life, where there are no limits.

So one great goal—competing in the CrossFit Games—has come to an end, but a new adventure awaits. Through experimentation, consultation with experts, and, of course, more hours in the gym, I hope to find some answers to the conundrum of staying fit while aging. And when I do, I’ll post them here.

 

 

Think Positive

August 23, 2015

Rosalie Glenn won the 2015 CrossFit Games, Master’s 60+ division. Like all the competitors on the field, her strength and mental stamina were astounding, and it was an honor to be on the field with her. Here she shares part of her story.

—SLH

Asterisk

One day, early this summer, I saw an advertisement for a simple metal bracelet that said “she believed she could so she did.” That phrase really spoke to me, so I bought the bracelet and wore it almost non-stop right up to and throughout the CrossFit Games. In those dark moments during practice when I thought my lungs would burst and even as I stood on that immense stadium field during the Games, I repeated that phrase over and over to myself.

I remember the first time I attempted a CrossFit workout, not because it nearly killed me or because I felt so enlightened or invigorated, but because I approached it in a singular act of desperation at a time in my life when I felt I had exhausted every other option available to lose weight and improve my health.

For many years, I struggled with issues of eating and body image and I assumed that my CrossFit adventure would just be another chapter in that on-going saga. This struggle has not been particularly obvious to most people I’ve known—except for the mean kids that called me “Fatso” during my chubby phase in 3rd grade! Somehow, those little voices have always remained in the back of my mind, even through my years as a normal-weight, athletic teenager and a young professional wife and mother.

Because I’ve always loved cooking and eating and science, I chose a career in the field of nutrition and thus became sort of “food personified” in my work and personal life. As such, I felt an obligation to eat a perfect diet, feed my family perfect meals, maintain a perfect weight, etc, etc. For many years, I religiously counted calories and toiled away every morning in my family room to whatever exercise video series was popular. I’ve done them all—from Richard Simmons to Body Electric, Denise Austin to Power 90 to Jillian Michaels.

But then, after many years, along came menopause and a high-stress job in management and an increasingly growing fatigue with trying to keep up the appearance of personal and professional perfection. Without ever making a conscious decision, somewhere in my early 50s I became a person who felt too old and too tired to worry about that stuff anymore. Five years later, I found myself staring in the mirror at a 200-pound stranger who suffered from plantar fasciitis, chronic stomach problems, and a feeling that bordered on self-loathing for what I’d let myself become.

Against my own professional judgment, I sought help at a non-traditional weight-loss clinic and even managed to lose almost 30 pounds in 40 days on a regimen of human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone produced during pregnancy (commonly known as HCG). As soon as I went off the drug and resumed my not-so-great diet, however, 20 of those pounds crept their way back. I was so frustrated! I knew better than to let this happen but seemed almost powerless to prevent it. I launched into another round of HCG and watched myself yo-yo back and forth for the better part of another year.

But then something I now consider close to divine intervention happened. The non-traditional physician with whom I’d been working mentioned that he was applying for an affiliate membership to open a gym that promoted a new type of exercise known as CrossFit. I showed up for that first workout and many of the others that followed in desperation. If the gym hadn’t been so new, with such a small and friendly clientele, I probably wouldn’t have persisted. To my utter embarrassment, my once-fit body was now totally unable to perform a single push-up or anything that resembled a proper air squat. I almost quit several times when I found myself unable to perform even the most highly scaled version of a particular movement. I thought, “Who am I kidding? I’ll never be able to do this stuff!”

What brought me back to every workout, however, was the open, accepting, caring concern of the people I came to call my friends there. We sweated and complained together, we whipped ourselves silly practicing double-unders, and bloodied our shins on box jumps. And somewhere along the way, this amazing body of mine began to forgive me for those years of abuse and neglect. My weight and body fat percentages began to fall in line without all of the obsessing I’d done in prior years. In practically imperceptible ways I got stronger, more flexible, and more able.

By 2015, I had entered the Crossfit Open three times, but this year I was amazed to finish in 2nd place in my age division. When I managed to maintain a spot in the top 20 and got my invitation to participate in the Games it really was, again, to my utter amazement!

I realized then that I needed to spend the summer working hard and preparing myself mentally and physically for the Games. I had received some coaching during the Master’s Qualifier from a new trainer who exuded some of the most powerfully positive energy of anyone I’ve ever met, and we worked together again toward the Games. Each session, we worked on strength and endurance, but he also never failed to give me positive reinforcement to help build my confidence. In addition, I spent substantial time doing positive visualization and striving to believe in myself. During these exercises, I would often imagine hearing the announcer say my name or seeing myself on the Jumbotron. When I got to the Games and these things actually happened, the feeling was almost surreal.

The final result of placing first still leaves me in a bit of awe. I sometimes have this funny feeling that I might wake up tomorrow morning and find myself back in Carson, California with the actual workouts yet to be done. But then I see that gold medal hanging from my bedroom mirror—a symbol of how far I’ve come, once I believed I could.

Rosalie Glenn on the Jumbotron, 2015 CrossFit Games.

What’s Done

July 31, 2015
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In the Finals. Photographer Benjamin Brayfield.

Competing in the CrossFit Games was the hardest thing I have ever done (with all due respect to climbing Mt. Everest, and the emotional challenges which followed in its aftermath). Now that I have regained practical use of my hands and arms, I could write a book about my experiences during the last two years, culminating in those three days last week.

And over the course of several posts (to come), I will recount some of them here. But for now, a status report:

The day after (Friday), I slept until 2:00 PM. When I finally woke up, I was spatially disoriented (most noticeable when walking down the flight of stairs in my house—I clung to the railing—and driving), and I felt challenged to recall familiar words and names. My balance was off; my right ear ached inexplicably, and radiated shooting pain down the right side of my neck (an issue which persists, but seems to be diminishing). I had a big-time headache for four days. I broke out in hives on my lower back, upper arms, and neck. People have postulated heat stroke, PTSD, central nervous system breakdown, adrenal failure. I don’t know, and no symptoms have been so acute that I have been motivated to see a doctor. Besides, the “cure” for all of those conditions, as far as I know, is time and rest. So my instincts tell me to maintain the eating and sleeping routines I have practiced for the last 18 months, to stay home and putter, to coddle myself a little, and to reflect.

Everything hurt, a lot at first. The 80 deadlifts in “The Sandwich” (Event 6) on Thursday morning took a toll on my lower back muscles, and triggered a sympathetic reaction in my lower and upper body. The webs between my thumb and index fingers were ripped open, which happened during the 40 push presses before the deadlifts, and was exacerbated by subsequent events and shaking hands with so many people after the finals. But the pain has ebbed, hands healed, and today I woke up feeling nearly myself again.

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Crossing the line for a 2nd place finish in this event. Photographer Martina Paradiso.

And gratitude:

To Greg Glassman for his genius “invention,” the sport of CrossFit, and to Dave Castro for bringing authentic functional fitness into focus by organizing the CrossFit Games. And to the many volunteers who made this colossal production possible.

For the chance to meet and compete with some truly badass women: Rosalie Glenn, Bernadette Elliott, Mary Schwing (who respectively took 1st, 2nd and 3rd place), and the 16 other competitors in my division. Congratulations to you all.

For my coaches: Maddy Curley, Logan Gelbrach, Chris Hinshaw, Dusty Hyland, James McCoy, and Sean Waxman.

To my medical and nutritional consultants: Dr. Chris Renna and Chris Talley.

For my training partner, Games Coach, and friend Jessica Suver. We were together 5-6 days a week for the last three months, from morning until night, during which time we shared in many successes and breakthroughs, not to mention many laughs. She opened up her heart and mind to me during times when we were stuck in traffic between workouts, and we connected over our many other shared interests, including English Literature, our pets, fashion. The bonds we formed are sure to be the biggest and most enduring prize of this whole project.

My home gym: Paradiso CrossFit Venice, and the community of supportive, encouraging, enlightening, and inspiring members, too numerous to count, but you know who you are.

Two special friends in the gym: Matthew Walrath and Patrick Madaj, for all they did to support me through the Open and the Qualifiers rounds.

Asterisk

My participation in the CrossFit Games was the result of many months of hard work and sacrifices. It was my goal to qualify for the CrossFit Games and coming in fourth place in my rookie year was a bonus. Once I qualified, it became my goal to place in the top five in every event. Four out of seven isn’t bad; I missed the podium by two points out of a possible 700.

Weaknesses: knowing how to compete, barbell cycling, consistently linked pull ups—both chin over bar and chest over bar.

My big dream move: one elegant muscle up. Stay tuned to learn my progress toward achieving it.

Strengths: endurance—always has been and always will be.

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Photographer Martina paradiso

What I know now: to be good at CrossFit, like anything where nothing less than excellence is the goal, you need to push yourself to uncomfortable places when you train. I cannot honestly say that I did that as often as I could have. This was due in part to the fact that I was busy learning essential skills that I did not possess just two years ago, like pull ups, weightlifting, and inversion work. But, in some measure, it was because I figured I could pull it out in competition (see “endurance” above) and didn’t need to go to that hurting place often in training.

The Games are more than just another workout. Take the last event, “Amanda,” which I did not finish in the allotted time. It consists of two moves, ring dips and #65 squat snatches, alternating in diminishing numbers over three rounds for a total of 9 dips and 21 snatches. In training, I do these numbers, if not more, at least twice a week. In the final round of competition, however, I could not link two dips, and that barbell felt like it weighed twice that. It is one thing to perform them in your old familiar gym with no one watching and quite another to be on center court with a judge at your side, and an announcer calling out your name (if you are ahead) or the names of others (if you are not) to a noisy crowd in a vast stadium.

Regrets: that the competitors did not have more time to meet and converse with other athletes. Not only the 19 other women in my division, but any one of the 340 other world class athletes who competed in the CrossFit Games this year. I will make it a point to reach out to some of them in the coming months and, if they allow it, will share some of their stories here (including other members of the 2015 Fourth Fittest Club, Samantha Briggs and Dan Bailey).

Immediate Plans: I am going camping this weekend. Nothing strenuous—just an hour outside of Los Angeles to a small lake with a group of friends and acquaintances. Looking forward to reconnecting with them and to making new friends after many months of abstention from a social life and communion with nature.

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After Event 7. Photographer Benjamin Brayfield.

Taking it in Stride

June 16, 2015
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Hilary Swank, Norman Jean Roy, 2005

Like a lot of people, I’ve seen my running times slow over the years. (My PRs for a mile and a 400 meter sprint are from 2013 and 2012, respectively.) My number of strides per minute, though, (right + left) has remained the same: 184. I suspected that my stride length had diminished, though it didn’t seem any different to me.

A few weeks ago, I met with Chris Hinshaw, an expert running coach who works with CrossFit athletes on endurance. He confirmed my suspicions, and noted that studies have shown that while stride rate often remains the same after 40, stride length decreases by 40 percent. Trying to compensate for a decrease in stride length by increasing stride rate is usually ineffective.

While the factors that go into this slowing are complex, the big culprit (according to a study of masters athletes) seems to be a loss in muscle mass, which causes the contact time between the foot and ground to increase, and the lift-off to be less explosive. Less air, less speed.

Ritts-JJK_pointdume_1987_ecf4600c115ffc2bdfc7239ef7fb9297

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Point Dume, Herb Ritts, 1984

The good news? There’s a way to improve. Chris prescribed a workout progression, a combination of sled pull and push sprints, flat sprints, and hill sprints, all done at 95 to 100% effort. These, he wrote me, “will help to improve ground force, reduce ground contact time, increase power output, fast twitch muscle fiber recruitment, [central nervous system] efficiency, and range of motion.”

I’ve completed three of the workouts, and I can feel the effort from my glutes down through my Achilles. As I run, I envision my stride opening up, gobbling up the yards. These workouts hold the potential to not only make me faster for the Games, but keep me running strong for years to come.

 

God is in the Detail*

May 26, 2015
Dennis.  Robert Mapplethorpe, 1978.

Dennis. Robert Mapplethorpe, 1978.

During the last few weeks, Jessica and I have spent about half of our daily training time focused on strengthening the little muscles that often get missed or “worked around” during the faster pace of a timed workout.

At least three days a week for the last month, we have started our day with a shoulder warm-up routine, called Crossover Symmetry. Several of the specialized coaches we consult suggested the routine as a way to improve shoulder mobility and stability. It takes five minutes to perform eight easy movements. Among other things, it addresses the inherent weakness of rotator cuffs and makes them stronger, less prone to injury. I already have found that I can use my shoulders more freely and with greater confidence—which is key to improving the gymnastics and weightlifting moves I do every day, and most noticeable when I am working with my arms overhead, practicing handstand walking and snatches.

Today, after that warm-up, and before we performed our “regular” Invictus assignment, we spent about an hour performing five rounds of just four little moves, five reps in every round: First, holding the top of a chest-to-bar for three seconds and then lowering in five counts. Second, another slow lowering into a ring dip. Third, maintaining the bottom of a dip on parallel bars for one minute (accumulated time, if necessary—and it was). Finally, slowly lowering into a deficit headstand position with a quick push up into a handstand (assisted by one another, accompanied by many laughs). Every rep was so strenuous that we couldn’t do more than 1-2 reps at a time, and we required at least 30 seconds of rest before we could get another. The work was slow, but the point is to focus on the hardest part of the pull up, the dip, and the push up, and to dig deep, even to squirm around, in order to find the position where dormant muscle power might be teased into action and new muscle memory might be formed.

Then, after completing our actual workout (multiple timed sprints on the rowers: more shoulder work) and lunch, we went to Waxman’s gym to weightlift. It seems that Sean is thinking about these little movement segments, too. I spent the better part of an hour jumping in place with a weighted bar in hand. The point of this exercise was to force me to focus on the precise pattern where ankles, knees, and hips were optimally angled while holding shoulders and chest high and taut, to achieve the highest jump, moving the bar off the floor no more than a few feet. I was finally allowed to perform a complete snatch, for which this movement is just a teeny (but critical) part, when I could consistently perform sets of perfect—as judged by Sean—jumps.

My shoulders were so thrashed by the end of the day that it was a struggle to drive my car home from the gym. But I am beginning to understand that mastery of movement is about breaking it into smaller parts, and isolating and improving the weak link, instead of skimming over the details and hoping for the best.

Lisa Lyon.  Robert Mapplethorpe, 1981.

Lisa Lyon. Robert Mapplethorpe, 1981.

* “God is in the detail” is a phrase most commonly attributed to the great modern architect Mies van der Rohe. But who said it first is a subject of dispute among linguists as is the question of who is in the details: God or the Devil. I prefer the former, which seems more positive.

Time Again

May 17, 2015
The Alarm Clock.  Fernand Leger, 1918.

The Alarm Clock. Fernand Leger, 1918.

Time is on my mind. Measuring my performance by reps per minute, pacing my lifts so they start slow and finish fast, all in a matter of two elapsed seconds, noting the skills that need to be mastered before competition—is there enough time for me to master this? Time expands—when I’m working at my best, the ten seconds from setup to lockout in the deadlift feel like an hour—and contracts. Only three months until the Games.

In the gym, I’m constantly surrounded by time. The analogue clock on the wall, the countdown timer, my wristwatch, my timer app, a stopwatch: I use them all, sometimes simultaneously. I break hours into minutes, minutes into ten second intervals, those intervals into second-long movements. I turn my body into a metronome. The sound of my own breath keeps pace.

Whenever I lose myself in the physicality of time, I’m pulled back into the awareness that time equals achievement. Can I fit more pull-ups into a minute than I did last week? Can I shave time off my mile run before the Games? Even as time suspends during an intense workout, the countdown clock is ticking away in my mind.

L'horloge (The Clock).  Fernand Leger, 1918

L’horloge (The Clock). Fernand Leger, 1918

Claudia Hammond, in “Time Warped,” talks about the many ways in which we perceive time: “We construct the experience of time in our minds, so it follows that we are able to change the elements we find troubling — whether it’s trying to stop the years racing past, or speeding up time when we’re stuck in a queue, trying to live more in the present, or working out how long ago we last saw our old friends. Time can be a friend, but it can also be an enemy.”

The constraint to be the very best I can be on July 21—the day the 2015 CrossFit Games begin—could seem hostile and looming, but I actually find it exhilarating. Urgency makes every moment feel vital, which makes the days feel slower, more meaningful. I feel, as Joseph Campbell put it, “the rapture of being alive.”

 

Seeing Stars

April 28, 2015

Events 1-4

I am not sure if it is from spending eight minutes upside down yesterday doing forty-five handstand pushups or from the champagne I drank after my results for the 2015 Master’s Qualifier were posted on the Games website, but I got out of bed this morning seeing stars.

I finished the Master’s Qualifier in the top ten—#8 to be exact— which means I will be in the first heat of my division at the CrossFit Games in Carson, California this July.

I’d started the MQ on Friday morning at Waxman’s Gym with the one rep max snatch. Because Waxman’s is an Olympic standards gym, he only has weight plates in kilos. Jessica Suver, my training partner extraordinaire, gathered 100 pounds worth of weight plates (evidently feeling optimistic about my prospects, since I had never snatched more than 82 pounds). Coals to Newcastle: Waxman proclaimed it the first time anyone ever brought their own weights into his gym. After performing my warmup with an empty bar, Sean and Jess started loading on plates. I lost track of how much weight was on the bar. Jess just told me not to worry about it and to just keep lifting. My final score was 93 pounds, but when I did it I had no idea I was lifting eleven pounds over my previous personal record.

After that, we headed back to Paradiso’s Gym to perform Event #1, dips and cleans. I’ve been working on ring dips for 2 ½ years, but I had finally learned to do them only five days before; I was elated to show off my latest trick. At the signal, I leapt onto the rings and performed the first five dips unbroken in 13 seconds. I finished the clean weight (10 reps at #75) by the time the clock read 00:48. As I transitioned back to the rings, I thought to myself, “I can get five rounds. I am a dip star. Yes!”

I jumped up, expecting my arms to hold out for another five. But they gave out after just one. It took a full minute and a half to get just four more.

At 3:30, I was finished with the second round of cleans, giving me a full minute and a half to perform…just three dips. Lesson learned: coming out blazing isn’t the best way to win a gunfight.

I planned to do Event 3—row/thrusters/pullups—on Saturday morning and Event 4—deadlifts, box jumps and handstand pushups—later in the afternoon, in spite of the intelligence coming out of Invictus suggesting just the opposite. My reasoning was that the moves in Event 3 are all strengths of mine, and therefore would not sufficiently weaken me before tackling so many handstand pushups, which I thought would take me at least twenty minutes to perform. (Last year, the same number took me 35:24.) And, as I suspected, I finished Event 3 in fine time (21:49), a number I did not think I could improve without linking many more pullups into larger sets than my hands can tolerate. I did not, however, anticipate finishing it with my energy so completely spent. Even after a long healthy lunch and a catnap on the floor of the gym, there was no way I could find the power in my limbs to make a good score on Event 4 on Saturday afternoon.

I spent Saturday night in a Korean spa in downtown Los Angeles. These bathhouses are a dime-a-dozen in Koreatown, and a unique and inexpensive luxury. First I baked in a hot mineral salt room, then reaped the metabolic benefits of the Yellow Ochre room. Next, I simmered in a pool of warm water, before being called to the scrub deck by my aesthetician/masseuse. For 90 minutes, she scrubbed, massaged, and oiled new life into my tired body. I left with skin glowing, but otherwise more drowsy than ever from the narcotic effect of sustained exposure to heat.

Sunday had always been planned as a rest day. Despite the fact that I had only two scores I was happy with, and it was tempting to hit the gym on Sunday so I didn’t have work right up until the deadline for scores submission on Monday at 5;00 PM, I honored my commitment (and the admonitions of coaches and fellow athletes) and rested. I started a new book, Natural Born Heroes, by Christopher McDougall. His previous book, Born to Run, changed contemporary thinking about running technique. This one is an exploration into lost fitness arts and human strength capacity. I am only about ¼ of the way through it, and already, my copy is filled with notations about new ideas to take up with my coaches. (I will share those adventures in upcoming blog posts)

I tackled Event 4 first thing on Monday morning in a gym filled with people doing their regular workout. The countdown clock signaled the familiar beeps: 3-2-1…go. I lifted the #105 bar and it seemed light as a feather. 21 unbroken reps in the deadlift. I did the same number of box jumps, stepping up, not jumping (which is allowed, and takes just about the same time, but uses far less energy). I wasn’t winded when I finished and moved to the wall for the handstands. I performed them in seven sets of three, and went up and down each time feeling graceful and confident, just like Maddy has taught me to. Before I knew it, my judge counted 21. I finished the whole event in slightly more than half the time I’d expected, at 9:42. There were high fives and hugs all around.

I came home for lunch and a short session on my e-stim machine for my triceps before returning to perform Event 1, the dips and cleans, for the second time. It was 4:30 p.m.. The deadline for scores submission was 5:00 p.m, but the event would only take five minutes to complete. Jessica timed me on the seconds between each dip, and I resisted the urge to string two together. But I followed my plan (and her cadence) precisely, and, with five seconds to go, I had executed the 45 repetitions I wanted. I ran back to the rings in the hope of getting just one more in, but time was up.

Jessica typed my scores into the Games website, as I was still too shaky to do so myself. Then we went for champagne, even though the results of the MQ would not be made official until Tuesday morning.

 

Asterisk

It was very hard to ignore the news coming from Nepal over the weekend, especially since I have so many Sherpa friends who live there and climbing friends making attempts on Everest and other mountains in the region this year. I spent as much time as I needed to find out that everyone I know is alive and safe (although two dear friends were trapped, but unharmed, in the Western Cwm on Everest after the route through the Khumbu Icefall collapsed).

Everest at Night, Jimmy Chin

Everest at Night. Photographer, Jimmy Chin

Beyond the still-horrifying news and with body counts still mounting, thoughtful commentary is beginning to emerge. And none I have read is more eloquent than this one, written by Steve Casimiro, in the fine publication which he founded, Adventure Journal.

If you don’t have time to click through and read it in its entirety, I will quote just two paragraphs here:

“Adventure challenges us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It forces us to confront our greatest fears, it teaches us to draw upon our greatest strengths. It makes us suffer, it makes us doubt. It holds up a mirror that shows us our truest selves. And if we stay with adventure, if we set ourselves on a course of life is that is refreshed throughout our years with the joys of uncertainty and risk, these wonderful hallmarks of true adventure, then we become stronger, better, more flexible and more able.

And if we do this with other people, if we watch as they fail, get up, and succeed, if we support them and they support us and we get through our darkest nights and longest days, we make a connection that never truly dies. Bonds are only created through shared experience, and the more intimate the experience the greater the bond. The more you’re laid bare by the cold vagaries of the mountains or the seas or the desert, the more that intimacy can flow. And while anyone can be friends in good times, it’s in those crucibles of doubt and pain and survival that the deepest, strongest, most sustaining relationships are formed.”

As a climber, I recognize the relationships he describes; but I also recognize them as a competitor in the CrossFit Games. These are useless pursuits, earning nothing and contributing nothing to the practical pursuit of survival; yet they can help us feel connected. Not just connected to each other—though they do that, too—but connected to our best selves. It’s these connections that make enduring sorrow possible.

I’m glad to be heading into a week of rest, rejuvenation, and reflection. On coaches’ orders, I’m relinquishing the gym until next Monday. Besides hiking a little and taking some ocean swims, I will belatedly celebrate my 60th birthday this weekend. Starting next week, I’ll be focusing my all on the Games. And in each rep I’ll find gratitude for these muscles, these sinews, and this sweat.

 

 

 

The Morning Routine

March 6, 2015

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I woke up this morning feeling exceptionally calm. Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that I have done this before: it was the second workout in the Open in 2014 as well. Every three minutes, athletes are tasked with completing two rounds of a set of overhead squats and pull-ups: the first set of ten each, the second of twelve, and so on, until you fail to complete both rounds. Last year, I got a score of 122, which means I got about ¾ of the way through the round of 14’s.

Over my morning coffee (an Americano, with two shots and frothed apricot kernel milk—recipe below), I calculated the number of reps I want to aim for today. I believe I can make it through the 14’s now, since I am stronger, and at least halfway through the 16’s. So 175 seems to be a reasonable goal.

As I scrambled my eggs, I looked at the Games’ leaderboard and noticed that a few women in the 60+ Division reached nearly 200 last year. Tough to beat. I try and put their scores out of my head, and to focus on what I think I can do.

With breakfast on a plate in one hand—oatmeal, the eggs, and a quarter-pound of prosciutto—and half a cup of the coffee in the other, I crawled back into bed like I usually do, to eat and read newspapers on my iPad. Then, I listened to one of the guided visualizations Invictus has tailored to each of the workouts in the Open.

Hunger satisfied, caffeine kicking in, sated with news, and mentally clear, I got dressed—in compression tights and a tank—and found myself flummoxed over footwear. The overhead squats will be easier in lifting shoes—they help me keep weight on my heels and to maintain a tight midline, which will be critical as fatigue sets in during the later sets. But since the chest-to-bars are jumping for Masters 55+, maybe my regular sneaks—Inov-8 F-Lites—are better, since they are lightweight and springy. I looked in my notes from last year, and found that I had not written anything down about which shoes I wore. I decided to take both.

Asterisk

Apricot Kernel Milk (makes one quart)

You will need:

  • A quart-size wide mouth canning jar and lid
  • Pure filtered water
  • Several cups of organically grown apricot kernels—I order mine in bulk online, from Sun Organics
  • 5-6 dates, pitted
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon Madagascar vanilla
  • A nut milk bag

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Using a wide mouth quart-sized canning jar, fill ¾ of it with apricot kernels. Then fill the jar with pure filtered water, almost to the top. Place the water and apricot kernels in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, adding more water so the kernels remain covered as they soak and swell. When you are ready to make the milk, discard any water that remains in the jar. Pour the apricot kernels into a VitaMix blender along with two quarts of pure fresh water and blend at high speed for at least 30 seconds. Add the 5-6 pitted dates and blend for another 30 seconds.

Pour the blended mixture through the nut milk bag into a bowl, and squeeze as much of the liquid out of the solids as you can. Discard the solids (and if anyone has a suggestion for ways to use this besides as compost, please share in the comments). Transfer the milk into the original jar. Add salt and the vanilla, put the lid on the jar and shake hard to dissolve salt. Store the Apricot Kernel Milk in the refrigerator (it will keep for about three days). Use it in coffee, just like you would regular whole milk. I have found that it froths equally well using either a milk steamer or a battery operated whisk, just don’t let it get too hot, or it will get clumpy.