Monday, August 6, 2018

"Celebrate what you have accomplished but raise the bar a little higher each time you succeed." - Mia Hamm

Ragnar Trail Relay: Vermont Edition

So, for those of you with short attention spans, here's the TL:DR version:
It rained the entire time, rendering trails wet and slippery AF. Ragnar has some amends to make with the Ascutney Trail association for the devastation (due to poor course-flow management), for sure. However, I felt solid, capable and prepared, and despite the insane terrain conditions, made it out without any falls or injuries! My team was fantastic, and I'll definitely give this another try!

Read on for the details...

Going into this event, I was definitely concerned. The elevation promised to be rough, the distance would be long, and due to some early spring injury set backs, I was concerned I wasn't as prepared as I needed to be. I was also having a bit of a anxiety issue about being the super-slowest person on the team, and not really knowing how slow I would be in conditions like this. But I showed up.

The sprawling campsite!
When we arrived on Saturday morning, the main camping area was full up, forcing us out to a grassy area, as far as possible from the festival/transition area. While the distance was frustrating, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise with the weather that we had. Anyone in the main camping area was camping in a dirt/gravel parking lot that quickly turned to mud (causing people to literally have to dig little moats around their campsites), and they were confined to 17'x17' areas, strictly. Getting forced out into the back 40 allowed us to sprawl quite a bit more than that, be camped on GRASS and not have to smell the port-a-potties the whole time. Overall, a win, if an accidental one!

We had just enough of a break in the rain that it allowed us to set up our campsite dry... and that was the last time I would be not-damp for the next 24 hours. (Seriously, you have no idea how much you take being dry for granted, until you're not. And nothing is.)

Our team gathered and trekked (what seemed like) the 40 miles uphill to the transition area to send off our first runner and begin the clock ticking. The day was still just cloudy with intermittent sprinkling, with everyone hoping for it to clear off in a few hours. Our first couple of runners, Yvette and Tom, were of the speedy-gazelle faction of our team, and before I knew it my time up at bat was imminent. I had chosen to run the hardest loop (7.5ish miles with a ton of elevation) first, hoping to get it out of the way and have everything be easier from there.

Leaving the Transition Area, to Begin the Red Loop
Around 2pm on Friday, butterflies in my stomach and some serious "WTF did I get myself into?!" questions in my head, I set out on the Red Loop. The sky was grey and threatening, but off I went.

The course began with 3/4 of a mile of uphill switchbacks, which - although I hated them at the time - allowed me to get really warmed up. I couldn't run them straight through, because there's a lot of me and that's a lot of uphill, but I did my best to run the straights, walk the uphill to the next level, run the straight and so on. I was definitely working (pretty hard), and starting to worry that I was barely into this long trek of a loop and this was feeling HARD. Runners were passing me, but there was one that really stuck out (and I'm convinced was sent by the Running Gods to help me out). He was an older gentleman (maybe 60's?), who passed me by, going slowly, but super consistently. Same pace on the flats, up the hills, just consistent left, right, left, right. He passed me, gave me some kudos then reminded me, 'Never judge a runner by their first mile!" before slowly fading off into the distance. For some reason, that reminder helped. This was only the first mile, I was still warming up, and I knew I had the endurance to just keep going. Who cares how long it took?

The switchbacks transitioned into wooded single-track, where we'd spend the majority of the rest of this loop. Uphill we climbed. And climbed. And climbed. My Garmin is reporting in at 1500 feet of elevation gain, almost exclusively in the first 5K of this course.

To add to the drama, as I was leaving the switchbacks for the quiet of the woods, I heard the announcer in the distance say something about Thunderstorms, and a 2 hour hold....

The wooded area turned out to be quite peaceful, as I was totally alone. From an event production and safety perspective, I was a little concerned that I literally didn't see another human being for 7 miles, and there seemed to be no runners coming behind me, potentially because of the 2 hour hold. However, the aloneness didn't bother me too much, as I was left to just get through those hills however I needed to, without the pressure of another runner behind me, or passing me, etc.

The light drizzle became downpours... the downpours became a raging thunderstorm overhead. There was no way "out" but forward for me, so I just kept moving in the relative safety of the thick trees, while the thunder boomed overhead. (I dubbed this loop the THUNDERLOOP, later...)

Soaked to the bone and pretty convinced the uphill sections would never end, The Wood Elf (is what I'm calling him), ran by me and stopped to chat, "Is there a race going on?" he says. I'm thinking he must be being sarcastic, as why would anyone else be running around this mountain in this weather? As it turns out, he was just out for a jaunty trail run. He left me with some great words of encouragement, a high five and he disappeared over the mountain as quickly as he had appeared. Weird, I tell you, but it was a nice splash of positivity when I definitely needed it. 

Finally, it seemed like I'd topped the mountain. Looking at my Garmin, it was mile 3.5ish - which seemed right to me, based on the elevation map I'd seen before I left. Theoretically, it should literally be all downhill from here...... for 4ish miles. I ate some fuel, drank some more electolytes and had a quick regroup. I did a few standing star-fishes to stretch out my shoulders (apparently I need to look UP more when I trail run), and off I went.

The woods were beautiful, wet and misty. I was lucky enough that since it was the beginning of all the rain, the trails were still in good shape, as long as you were careful on the wet roots and rocks. Amazingly, I found myself more than capable of running at this point - running DOWNHILL on a TRAIL, something I never thought I'd see myself doing. I wasn't afraid of busting an ankle (Thank you RehabGym!), and I felt like I had some trail-running tips (Thanks to Mirna Valerio!), that kept me feeling in control of the momentum. (Lateral movement! Keep your toes pointed forward! Don't lean back!).

So I ran. As I checked the pace, I saw that I was clocking in way behind the time I was anticipating finishing this loop, as I definitely had not accounted for the incredible hill-death. Somehow sensing that my team was a little worried (Yes. They checked the Med Tent.), I resolved to push and pick up the pace as much as I could - barreling through the woods with all the coordination I could muster.

As I took a quick walk break to grab a few sips of electrolytes, a deer and I had a face to face, from about 20 feet away. I wish I could've grabbed a picture, but you'll have to believe me when I say it was super scenic, in the misty washed-green woods.

The longest field
Just when I thought the trail wouldn't ever end, it opened out into a huge field, overlooking the mountains, with the storm rolling over them. The picture doesn't do it justice (also, photo credit, not mine - I apparently didn't take any pictures.), but the sigh of relief I had upon seeing that field was immense. I (wrongly) thought that this must be close to the end, if we'd come out of the woods... right?

The good news is, although I was tired, it's not terribly difficult to run downhill on a mowed path through a field. So I ran some more. And ran, and ran through the field that never ended.

The signs pointed me back into the woods (!!!!), where I came upon a road-crossing volunteer who told me I was a half mile out (YESSSS), and quarter-mile out timing mat.

I was almost there. Tired. Drained.... but still moving forward and able to run (slowly), which I hadn't thought would be possible after close to 8 miles.

Finally, I could see it in the distance - the Ragnar village, the transition tent.... I could do this. I even heard my team screaming my name in the distance - which, for me, was an incredible pick me up. Although I had done just under 8 miles of demon-fighting all alone in the woods, I knew I was running back to the support of my team. So I ran with whatever I had left..... which was of course UPHILL to the finish/transition area. UPHILL. These Ragnar people sure have a sense of humor.

Uphill Finish of the Red loop - looking alive!
BUT... I did not die, I crossed the line - finishing out the longest trail run I've ever done, and the longest run I've done in quite some time, in a slow, but proud 3 hours and 20 minutes. I was still able to run at the end, my ankles were solid, my lungs hadn't exploded (contrary to my belief somewhere in that uphill section), and oddly, I think I could've kept going. WIN all around.

Although, upon the glorious moment of stopping, thank god for my hubs, who was waiting there with a banana and some plain water (Nuun Melon is not my flavor of choice, especially for 8 miles... blehhh...).

After that, it was back to camp for some dinner and COFFEE.

For real awesome perspective though, check out this 3D replay of the run from the Relive App:

Relive 'Ragnar Trail Red Loop (the ThunderLoop)'

After "eating the frog" and getting the hard one out of the way, I was feeling pretty good about my ability to complete the rest, but the rain just wasn't stopping. People started coming off the mountain muddier and muddier, reporting tougher trails, as the rain made them slick and soupy. Nonetheless, Team Herd of Nerds persevered, heading out on loop after loop well into the evening.

At 1:30am I was up again, feeling good (still wet...) and ready to head out to my Yellow Loop, promising to be "only" 4.5 miles or so. I'm definitely a night owl, and was anticipating a good loop, as my body functions pretty well in the wee hours of the night. Armed with an extra headlamp and a hand flashlight (just in case!), I left the transition area..... and the difficulty of what was going to happen became abundantly clear.

The yellow loop headed up the switchbacks, just like the red loop had.... only this time, after 8 more hours of steady rain and who knows how many more footsteps, the single track switch back had turned into a muddy slip and slide, with widening sides as racers tried to evade the mud by stepping on the grass. I (carefully) plodded forward, resolving that I'd exercise caution and run when I could, but not take too many risks in the dark and muddy conditions. I hoped that maybe the trail was just extra beat up on these switchbacks, as they were the start funnel for two of the loops.

Sadly... that was not the case. The entire yellow loop was either the consistency of shin-deep chocolate pudding-sludge, or a thin, deceptive slip and slide. Treacherous is the only word that comes to mind. I was sporting my favorite Inov-8's for just this purpose, but there's not a lot you can do, when the rain has made the trails into tiny rivers of water, with mud slides, down branches and a myriad of other hazards. Further, headlamps were near useless, as the constant rain/fog in the woods just reflected the light and didn't allow you to see anything. It was....tough.

20 minutes into this slog, my light attracted a moth, which I prompted (accidentally...) inhaled, resulting in me coughing and heaving on the side of the trail for a good 5 minutes. I had to reassure several people that it was just a bug, and the fat kid was not dying on the side of the trail!

Carefully pressing forward, I was passed by several 20-somethings, still in their "invincible" stage, slip sliding and falling through the mud, oblivious to the potential for injury.

In retrospect, I think this yellow loop might've been fun under different circumstances (I'm looking forward to going back in the fall and running it dry!), as it shared some of the neat woodsy paths from the red loop, without quite so much elevation, and broke out into the same mile long field (which allowed you to finally stretch your legs!).

Although trekking in the dark was a bit unnerving, I was more worried about my footing so that I forgot to be worried about the darkness! Before I knew it, I was back through the timing mat, and running to the finish, to pass off to the next victim.

For funzies, here's the Yellow Loop in 3D:

Relive 'Ragnar Trail Yellow Loop (The mud hike)'

As our next few runners went on course and day broke over Ragnar camp, word had spread that all teams (even the fast ones), were adding hours to their times, due to the conditions. Many teams had no hope of finishing before their cut offs, when even the 5K loop was taking 50+ minutes for a fast runner. Ragnar announced that teams could start doubling/tripling up their runners - instead of sending them out one at a time, several runners could be out on course at once, if needed. Huge waves of runners headed out on course, contributing to the declining trail conditions.

Our team finished out two full loops each, and early on Saturday morning decided to withdraw from the race - electing not to go out on the rapidly degrading trails in the (still) pouring rain and risk injuries that we had escaped thus far, or contribute to the irreparable damage that the mountain was taking from the muddy foot traffic.

Ragnar did the right thing here, allowing teams to withdraw, but receive their medals for continuous effort given the conditions. In my opinion, Ragnar should've been the ones to make the tough call and stop ALL the teams on Saturday morning, given the state of the trail damage and injury risk, but (based on the current results published) it looks like more than half the teams made the good decision and pulled themselves without finishing, regardless.

It was frustrating to have to make that decision, but the team as a whole felt that it was the right call. The constant wetness had dampened (haha!) the fun a bit, preventing us from enjoying the festival, feeling comfortable and dry at any point, or feeling safe on the trails. At the end of the day, this was for FUN.... so, why continue on, if it was not fun?

Further, I'm happy to report that every single member of our team felt that they absolutely could've finished their remaining third loop, if given the opportunity. As for me, I only had the 3ish mile green loop to go, and amazingly, my legs felt pretty good even though my sleep total amounted to about 20 minutes!

The day got dicey after that, as the parking field had become impassable, causing Ragnar to have to have gravel trucked in and basically rebuild a road/driveway for cars to get out. Even with that, cars had to get towed out of lower portions of the field. We sat in our car for over an hour, waiting to be released from the parking area... and from what I understand, we had one of the more pleasant experiences.

While waiting in the car, Hans tells me I kept falling asleep (...passing out...) for about three seconds at a time, before jerking back awake. Why was I jerking awake? Because in my mind, my feet were slipping out from under me in the mud....... Oh. Man. #traumatized

So, all things considered, I think I was ready for this race - despite what my anxious brain wanted me to believe. I felt strong up the hills and had the endurance to truck on through the hard sections and longer loops. I'm not fast, but I need to have something to work on, right? My nutrition felt good - fuel up every hour while moving, and keep that Nuun flowing in the backpack! - and I showed no signs of bonking. It's almost as if regular training is a good plan....!! Huge thanks to Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching for the run coaching, and Hendrik @ the RehabGym for programming the strength training. Never could've done it without the expert guidance I've had!

I have to give a shout out to my SLOW AF Trail Retreat ladies that I met a few weeks ago. Without that jolt of confidence, and learning to run on trails with all of you, I'm not sure that I could've been as successful here as I was. At a few low points, where I was getting on myself about being fat and slow, I kept thinking about all you #SLOWAF ladies out there running half marathons, triathlons and everything in between, regardless of your size or speed. It kept me moving and in a much more positive frame of mind. I'm a FGR, and SLOW AF... but I'm also STRONG AF and DETERMINED AF.

And... in true crazy-people fashion... it was less than 6 hours after we'd all parted ways, when the comments from the team started trickling in... "When's the next one....?"


Friday, March 23, 2018

"The habit of persistence is the habit of victory." - Herbert Kaufman

Blogland, I would like it to be known that this week was a solid week, and I'm proud of myself! (I'm working on this whole self-affirmation thing, rather than the negative inner voice.)

Here's what happened. This week was a little hectic. Where I'd usually do my run training in the evenings, we had plans a few evenings. I had choices..... a) I could move my run up and prioritize it during the day, or b) I could skip it.
I know I still have a long road to go before I'm ready for #RagnarTrailVT in August, so I knew the right answer there was to prioritize the training. I also know myself.... one skipped run, leads to two skipped runs.... which leads to blowing a whole schedule. There was no reason I couldn't make my runs happen, so I did.  AND I'M PROUD OF MYSELF. Huzzah!

Monday's run was some hill repeats. Since Winter seems to be reluctant to ever leave Vermont, I did this one on the treadmill. I have to say, while I always kind of enjoy hills (I know, right?), running them on the treadmill makes you feel like a superhero. So, I was just doing some 30 second intervals (30 sec run up hill, then some rest... then 30 sec run up hill, etc.).... which is pretty doable. Then, the treadmill tilts at this impossible angle (especially when you crank that incline to 6), and you just charge up that thing. LOVE IT. Plus, you can do anything for 30 seconds, which means you don't ever get into that stupid "I'm tired and dying" thought spiral. It's just like 30 seconds of Superhero... a little break... 30 more seconds of Superhero..... What's not to love?

Wednesday, I had to rearrange my schedule to prioritize another run earlier in the day, and it also went pretty well. Just some 1:1 interval ratios for 30 minutes, and dare I say, it felt pretty good? I am not speedy at the moment, by any means, but I feel better and more solid (?). Like I run along and do my intervals, and they're not fast, but I'm running more supported - I don't feel like my core is collapsing from being tired, I'm not running with hunched shoulders, etc. All in all, "solid" is the only word I can find here, for this? Maybe it's better form? Maybe it's muscles that have finally gotten on board? I just generally feel stronger in my runs, through the end - rather than barely eeking out those end minutes. While I can't say running on the treadmill is my favorite thing, I tried some new tunes to help me along. I discovered Spotify has running playlists that are geared toward certain beats per min (BPM), which - when correlated with your relative running speed - can help really propel you along. Oddly enough, I definitely would not have chosen the music on that particular playlist (it was a lot of electronica/house type music), but it kept me rolling! It was certainly better than no music at all. UGH... that's death on the Treadmill, if don't have a buddy to chat to!

Tuesday and Thursday, I got in my usual strength/circuit classes. Tuesday is dead lift day, and Thursdays, we squat! Tuesday went by, feeling pretty good, but Thursday was a rough one. Our fearless leader decided to push us a bit, and the workout - while strength based - ended up being heavy on the cardio.  For example, although Thrusters are a strength exercise with the squat and dumb bell components, I don't think anyone would argue that they get you huffing and puffing in no time. We coupled that with a few more evil things, like Battle Ropes (hellooooo Cardio), and some straight legged dead lifts, and off we went for a couple rounds.
I'm proud to say,  no one died (haha!), but we were a sweaty mess at the end.

Interestingly, though, Thursday's workout did expose a weakness that I was waiting to see if it ever popped up. For those of you who don't know, about a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with De Quervain's tenosynovitis, as the result of an improper work set up, ergonomically.  What this meant was that I wasn't able to grip ANYTHING in my left hand for quite some time, had to do a LOT of PT, get a cortisone shot, and generally have a really bad time for about a year, until my fearless PT got it fixed (no surgery!).  It was a momentous day when I could hold a coffee cup in my left hand, again.

I have progressed a lot since then, to the point where I'm finally using my Leftie normally. However, as we start to challenge my grip strength more and more, Leftie is showing his lingering weakness, compared to Rightie. For example, our circuit was relatively grip-heavy on Thursday (which you don't realize unless your grip is not awesome), by doing things like thick warrior ropes, lat pull downs, thrusters (yep, you have to hold DBs!), etc. By the time I got to my last exercise, which was stiff legged dead lifts, I was struggling to hold onto that bar for 40 seconds. By "struggling" I mean, Leftie was struggling with the lack of grip endurance that I haven't built back up sufficiently, I guess.

For a person who used to power lift regularly, and pull 360# Dead lifts, it is a humbling experience to put that 115# bar down after 30 seconds, because your stupid Leftie is tired. (At least Leftie is no longer in pain!)

THAT said... there's always something to work on. Granted, I have a few things on my list, but that's fine. Who doesn't like a project? I have dragged out my grip putty, squeezy grip trainers, and heavy KB (for farmers walks). Dear Leftie, it's on. Prepare for strengthening!

Finally, according to my weekly weigh-in, no loss this week. However, I'm okay with that. We had a few special deviations from meal prep this week (for good reason) and such, so no major derailments. Also, I have come to terms with the fact that not every week am I going to lose weight. I didn't gain weight (that's a plus) and that's just fine.

MORE importantly - I stuck to my training plan, despite the Universe's attempts to tempt me into skipping a day, I stuck to my eating plan 90% of the week, and I kept putting one foot in front of the other.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

"It's not the speed that you go, rather the fact that you went."

Pardon the recent absence BlogLand, it's been quite a crazy few weeks.

First, I ran off to Vegas and eloped with Hans - and it was everything we wanted it to be: Fast, fun, easy and cheap. We spent all our money on Vegas shows, and crazy dinners. Wonderful. I admit, there was zero training for several days, during that trip. :-)

However, it seems that the extended time in the sardine-can plane exposed me to the Travel Crud, and I was down for the count for 3-4 days, after returning home. You know that kind of crud, where you're curled up on the couch under 40 blankets, still cold, don't want to eat, can't move and you're pretty sure you're dying? Yeah. That.

The good news is, I was back at it this week! I got in two solid strength classes at the gym and almost a full week of programmed runs (Monday was still a sick day.).

Tuesday and Thursday brought deadlifts and squats respectively, still much lighter than I know I can handle, but a good exercise in practicing form and muscle memory. We also did our usual strength circuits, and I feel that Hendrik, our fearless leader has begun an unconscious assault on my arms/shoulders/back. (Either that, or my weak link is showing... lol).  We can do squats and lunges and leg stuff all day, but the only time I've been sore is from doing pull downs and strict presses, etc. My t-rex arms are still only decorative!

However, my biggest victory this week was jumping back on the running bandwagon, after several weeks of rowing/elliptical to take care of the ankle (which is all good now, btw). On Wednesday, my assignment was a 2 mile tempo run. Effectively, I was assigned to take this one SLOW, so I could run 2 miles, straight through, no breaks. It feels sort of dumb to say that was an accomplishment, like ooo... 2 miles.... but it was! Straight through, 2 miles, no breaks and I didn't die. I ran really slowly, but I felt pretty good doing it, and it wasn't horrible. I've definitely made some progress since my initial return to running, because I know that 3-4 months ago, I couldn't run 2 miles straight through.

Today was 40 minutes of intervals to start our Saturday morning. Today, although I felt a bit tired going into it, went by smoothly and without struggle - when was the last time I said that about a run on the treadmill?! Granted, I elected to keep the pace pretty slow (like Wednesday's run), but this lead to me being able to easily get through my intervals without jacking up my heart rate through the roof. I felt much more "able" on this run, if that makes sense? Like I was able to run "strong", keeping good form, without hanging onto the treadmill for dear life (we've all been there, c'mon), and just run along. Part of me was dying inside looking at the pace I had to go at to be in that state.... but, I was still running - which is more than I can say about a lot of people, and more than I can say about myself, even 6 months ago. SO.... we'll call this a progress win!

In other news, Hans and I have finally got the diet stuff on track. Hans has been spearheading (taking complete ownership!) of our meal-prep initiative, prepping meals for the week every Sunday. As such, we've been able to take a TON of stress out of the evening quandry ("What do we have for dinner?!"), which always resulted in some sort of debate, and (usually Hans) feeling obligated to pull something together for us, which takes time and effort that sometimes - after work, after gym, you just don't have. SO... Meal prep has been a great solution. It's also keeping tabs on our portion control, which is a huge one for me. I just eat what we've portioned out.....and the last 2 weeks, I've been down 2+ pounds each week at weigh in time, so I guess it's working.

All in all, back on track, eating well, and getting sweaty.

I did have a minor freak out this week, as we officially paid for our Ragnar Trail team entry.... so, the Big Goal is FOR REAL now. No backing out. *gulp*  I'm trying to just wooo-saaah and believe in the process. Put the work in, follow the directions of my experienced coaches, and just keep moving forward. One step at a time....

Saturday, February 24, 2018

"Discipline is just choosing between what you want NOW and what you want MOST."

Dear Blogland,

Today, I rowed 5,796 meters.

Not only that, but it was Saturday morning, I dragged myself out of a very comfy bed (even dragged the Man with me), and hit the gym. Today, I'm proud of myself for that.

Sadly, after my ankle-roll a couple weeks ago, I've been taking it easy on the ankle to make sure that thing heals the way it needs to. However, that doesn't mean we can let the rest of my fitness go down the drain, so I've been in "alternative workout hell".  I say "hell," because Trainer Geoff seems to take some amusement out of programming particularly unpleasant workouts around rowers or ellipticals, that pretty much always make me feel like I'm dying.  (I am 100% convinced that ellipticals are the death machine.)

THAT said, today's workout - in place of my usual "long run" Saturday - was a steady pace on the rower for two 15 min sets (with a small break in between), where I was supposed to "just cruise." Geoff has clearly never seen me on the rower. :-)  I am not sure "cruisin'" is the adjective anyone would use to describe the faces I was making!

But, it was on the schedule and needed to get done, so get done, it did. I won't lie, I was doing that amazing gym math, that makes things more bearable. For example, 15 minutes of rowing is really just 5 minutes, 3 times.... and 5 minutes, is really just 22 strokes, 5 times! SURELY I could take this 22 rower strokes at a time, right? It definitely would've been better with some good music to listen to, but the gym was playing some sort of soft rock stuff, at a volume that only bats could hear (and definitely not over the rower fan), and my very expensive headphones have decided, for some reason, to bite the dust and not charge. Thus, I found myself rowing with my thoughts. Thankfully, on a Saturday morning, before coffee, there aren't many thoughts.

My first 15 minutes went by pretty smoothly. I paid attention to my rowing form, like my awesome CrossFit coaches of days past had taught me. None of that letting your core collapse when you got tired! Good posture, Leg Drive, Hip open, arm pull. Leg-hip-arm, leg-hip-arm, over and over... and over... and over. I was thinking about how glad I was to have had such a varied active-life, and had the opportunity to have so many knowledgeable professionals cross my path. As I was rowing along and trying to settle into "cruise" mode, I was recalling a rowing workshop I'd taken at Crossfit Waterbury, where I got some great pointers on pacing. It's not all about pulling as fast as you can, if you're just going to gas yourself in 5 minutes. I learned about pacing the pull out, and then similarly pacing the recoil to allow a couple seconds of recovery and set up for that next pull. While thinking about this and checking in on my from, suddenly I found myself cruising to the end of my 15 minute segment, with a spot "moderate" heart rate, controlled breathing and generally doing okay!

A quick 3 minute break later (mostly spent standing up to stretch out my legs!), and I was back at it for my final 15 minutes. This time, I got in the Zone a lot easier and my time went by a little faster. This was not anywhere near as miserable as I'd imagined. For me, Rowing is definitely better than that Elliptical death machine. LOL.  I'm not sure my rear delts (?) would agree with that tomorrow, but we shall see.

All in all, a good day! 30 sweaty minutes, staying on track with the Goals!

Friday, February 23, 2018

"You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call 'failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down." ~ Mary Pickford

Dear Blogland, 

It's been almost two years since my last appearance in the Blog-o-sphere... a rough 2 years at that... but I'm here now! On the motivation from a class I'm taking at my gym (more on that later), I've chosen my extra project to be "setting stakes," by telling the world what I'm doing and what my goals are. So, YOU, dear readers, are officially now my accountability-buddies! Let's do this.

Status Check:
- I am currently carrying around a lot of extra weight that I picked up over the last few year's stresses, so I'm working hard at getting rid of it, because it's making some of my goals infinitely more difficult. (I'll say it. I ain't scared. 299 pounds is a lot of weight to run with!)
- I am actively working to maintain a good/healthy work/life balance, and have figured out how to reduce a lot of the general life stresses, which were preventing me from making better choices. 
- I have chosen some specific goals to work towards, and have enlisted expert help in getting me there
- In short, I'm on the right track, I just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. YAY!

What am I doing?

Thankfully, a lot of great resources and coaches have been made available to me in the last 6 months or so. 

For 12 week sessions, since Mid-July 2017, I've been taking an awesome class at The Rehab Gym. The "Use it to Lose it" (UITLI) class is designed as a small group (like 5-7 people) circuit class, with additional education and accountability around nutrition and wellness. So, we weigh in once a week, actively all work at eating on "plan," and then crush some circuit workouts 2x/week. In addition to that, we either back squat or dead lift, and generally have a great time getting sweaty together. I've been lucky that not only do we have an awesome, form-focused trainer (Hey Hendrik!), but in recent sessions the class has been mostly filled with my favorite people - My Man is taking it with me, Holly's on board, my running buddy Stacey and her husband are at it - so it makes for a great support group, all pushing each other to be a little better. 
I'm proud to say that since July 2017, I've lost 25 pounds, to date (and a crap-ton of inches. YAY!). 

In addition, I've decided on my next BIG GOAL. Big goals help keep me on track and motivated, and this one particularly so. ..... *drumroll*
I've decided I'm running the Ragnar Trail Relay in Vermont, on August 3-4.
(Countdown: 5 months, 10 days...). 

So, first this started out as wishful thinking - gee, I've always wanted to do one of the Ragnar Trails... Wow, they're bringing one to Vermont....  And then I thought.... WHY NOT?  When I decided on this, I had something like 8 months to train... surely anything can be accomplished in 8 months? I was starting from like, below ground zero... but ..... it could be done, right? 

Enter Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching. Heather and Geoff  have begun an awesome venture, training all manner of clients - even Virtually! - to hit their goals. I tentatively reached out to Heather about my situation and was brutally honest about my current condition (Slow. Fat. Round?) and asked if my aspirations for a Ragnar Trail in August were nuts. I was met with an enthusiastic "totally doable" and we were off and running.... quite literally.  Once a week, Heather and Geoff send me the running training plan for the week, which currently involves 3x/week of some sort of running adventure. I'm up to about 10-11 miles per week and really starting to see improvements. (Annoyingly, I rolled my ankle about a two weeks ago, so I'm on "alternate exercise" for a little bit).
Heather and Geoff have not only been fun to work with (Does YOUR trainer assign you workouts entitled "Rowing Ladder of Suckiness"?), but really positive, despite my feels of this-is-impossible, sometimes. 

And here I am! I feel a lot more like my "old self" now. I'm running (... well... "wogging"...) 3x a week, I'm in the gym lifting and doing strength training a couple times a week, and I'm feeling much more healthy, relaxed and in control of my goals. 

So, Blog, here's the plan. I'll be checking in - at least - once a week to update you on the goings on and progress toward my goal. In turn, I'll know you're out their reading this, and it's going to be mighty embarrassing if I just go back to eating cupcakes and sitting on my butt. Right?

Friday, April 8, 2016

"I don't care about the weight on the scale - what's the weight on the bar?!"

So, as promised Blogland, this week I got to work with some new stuff - despite being a little sick.
I apparently got this annoying sort of head cold thing that hit me hard for like 24 hours, but was just a nagging stuffy sinus and such for a few days before and after. Happy to report I feel pretty much 100% again, going into this weekend (YAY!).

After spending Sunday recuperating from the powerlifting meet and trying to ward off the pending sickness with a lot of hot tea and good food, Monday meant I was back at it!

We officially started the Couch to 5K program. WOO! For me, I should probably put an (again) at the end of that sentence, but really just semantics, right?

Holly (who's fault this round of C25K is), Stacey and I got together and prepared for battle. Day 1 always seems like the hardest to me, as you're filled with "the unknown"... like, you don't know what it's going to be like, if you can do it, etc. etc.etc.... just question marks. But, I told myself that I should STFU, as at least I'd done this before and more or less knew what to expect (and knew I could do it), whereas Holly was on her first round of this program EVER. She was the only one who got to be nervous on Day 1.

Despite "waiting until Spring" to start our C25K, April 4th graced us with 32 degree temperatures, snow in the air, and ice on the ground. This is not the ideal way I'd introduce a budding runner to running... but, at least it'd all be better from there?

Day 1: 32 degrees and icy! DONE!
I was set up to be the "pacer" for this running expedition, who'd note the walk and jog segments. That's a big responsibility people. Try not to run to fast, don't run too slow, geesh. Since it was Day 1, I went at a real easy 13ish minute pace, so everyone could figure out where we were at. I'm happy to report that (despite dodging ice puddles), I was easily able to complete the minute intervals of running that Day 1 required. Perhaps all my worrying about being so huge and running were unfounded?

Stacey, our entertainment for the run, kept us all laughing and amused, while we got through the work. Holly - our newbie - completed D1 like a boss, with no complaints, no real struggles, and all smiles at the end (maybe I didn't run fast enough!?). Mission accomplished!


I took it easy on CrossFit this week, as my body/breathing just weren't up to speed, but Holly and I then caught at Zumba class on Wednesday.

I admit... I phoned that one in HARD. I thought I felt okay going into it, but as soon as we started moving, my body was like EFFFF this. I had no ooomph, definitely no jumpy-jumpy's, and zero sass. I gave it all I had at that moment... which was probably like 50% of normal. I still got the blood moving a little bit for like 55 minutes, broke a little bit of a sweat... but man, that was rough. Sometimes, Blogland, it's just about showing up and going through the motions.
I definitely went home, hydrated a lot, and then went to bed super early. Always listen to your body!!!


I woke up Thursday morning feeling 100% better. Nothing like a good sleep (and a lot of tea with honey) to get you fixed up.

Holly modeling "monsoon wear"
Still took it easy and skipped bootcamp and such, but Thursday was slated for Day 2 of C25k, so I dutifully spandexed up for an easy romp through the cool weather. It was only drizzling on and off when we started, so all seemed well. I generally find it pleasant running in the rain, as did Holly and Stacy, so it seemed like it was going to be a good day.

D2 is the same workout as D1, so there were a lot less nerves going into this one. We'd all done day 1, we just needed to do it again! Inadvertently, I set a bit of a faster pace (around a 12 min/mile) this time, driven on by the rain I think. Nonetheless, my partners in crime kept right up and we completed our session without incidents or complaints, under a slightly rainy and grey sky.

Where we run is about 1/4 mile walk away from Holly's house. We had literally reached the end of our path, could see her house a 1/4 mile in the distance.... and the sky opened up.
This is my, "shit, it's sleeting!" face
Wk 1, Day 2: DONE! (with the pelting rain in the back...)
The rain (now cold) was driving down and blowing nearly sideways, soaking us through, in a matter of seconds. As we rushed for cover (Holly said, "I think I've got one more run interval in me!!"), it began to solidify and pelt us with sleet? hail? That was... not comfortable.  Seriously, at risk of sounding cliche, it was coming down in BUCKETS. The jacket that was "water resistant" enough to keep out the light rain we'd be running through, suddenly took on water like the Titanic, soaking me to the skin.
Thankfully, Holly's mom pulled up in her car to rescue us! YAY!
We were definitely wet, and getting cold... but Wk 1, Day 2 - DONE!

 Tomorrow, we take on Day 3 to finish out our first week and I couldn't be happier. It feels really good to be out running again (Dare I say, I missed it?). It is also nowhere near as awful feeling as I thought it was going to be at this weight. Just goes to show you people, you can run/get fit/workout at whatever weight you want, as long as you pick the right plan. So far, C25K has been really accessible and the intervals gradually get longer, so you have plenty of time to adjust. Assuming I stay on plan, we should finish up around mid-June and start prepping for a 5K race milestone! (MORE MEDALS!!!!!! AND T-SHIRTS!!!!)


After a mild week, with just a little C25K, today it was back at it, with a training session with Robyn.
First off, let's talk about the important things. I got to me the newest addition to the gym - Spealler - a 7 wk old lab puppy.


Sparing you most of the gushy details, I definitely smushed his face, rubbed his belly and laughed at his silly puppy run. This little goober will definitely not be short of adoring fans, as I'm pretty sure I saw every person there stop to pet him. #GymDogs are the best. Instant mood-boost for the day!

Continuing on our quest to wreck my shoulders (and maybe make me less t-rex-y), Robyn started us out with some ascending weight complexes.... Push Press, Push Jerk, Split Jerk. Worked up to a solid 130-ish, I believe (limited by the push press), but it was not without stupid moments. I swear, my brain was on short circuit today. Definitely had to concentrate hard to clean up my Split Jerk, which is not an intuitive movement for me. Dear Right Foot, I really need to step BACK with you, before good 'ol Left Foot jumps the gun and steps to center first. Geesh.
Nonetheless, it felt good to be pushing around some weight again (even if it was overhead...). My shoulders and back muscles definitely feel as though we did something....

Never one to leave me without a healthy dose of Cardio for the day, Robyn threw in a 14 min AMRAP:
Wall Balls (14#)
Sit Ups
Jump rope

So, what that means is Round 1 was 30 WB, 30 Sit ups, 90 Jump rope... then 20 WB, 20 sit ups, 60 jump rope, etc.

This was..... unpleasant.

I should clarify. Wall Balls SUCK for me. Not because they are hard from a muscle standpoint (my legs are perfectly capable of squatting 14# and exploding up to toss it)... but DAMN if I am completely unable to breathe doing them.

I started out with an optimistic set of 15 out of 30, took a few deep breaths - still feelin' good! - and closed out those wall balls with another solid set of 15. Yeah. Nailed it.

You know what I found is really hard to do, when you can't breathe? Sit Ups. Followed by Jump ropes (although, I only tripped once, and did all of my sets as I planned to!).

As we entered the second round of wall balls ("Only" 20, right?!), I began to feel as though this is how I was going to die. I had set out to attack two sets of 10, when that quickly became a pipe dream. By 2 sets of 10, I clearly meant hope for 4 sets of 5 and Try Not To Die. When  jump rope is going to be your "rest time" you know it's going to be a rough one.

Round 3, I did a little celebration! Only 10-10-30 and then I would be done!! That breathed a little more life into my efforts.... only to realize that the clock was still going, and I definitely had a few minutes left. *long string of expletives*

Somehow, my mind had managed to deal with this workout by thinking that we'd just be DONE after we did 30-20-10..... but suddenly, here we were... back around at 30.

SURE my lungs were about to explode, I stepped up to do 30 more wall balls. They were not pretty, folks. Or fast. Or coordinated. BUT... they got done.
Miraculously, I even manged to get 12 deep into my next round of sit ups.

Thankfully, the clock saved me and I starfished HARD after this one.

My quads would like to keep reminding me that we did 90 wall balls today, and they're not happy about it. Meanwhile, my shoulder and back muscles feel like chiming in their two cents as well. Oh boy. Tomorrow might be reallll rough.

Tomorrow though, is wk 1, day THREE of our running program. The last run, before we can say we successfully completed Wk 1. WOO.

Sunday, it's back to Hatching out my Squats. It's definitely going to get interesting this time around with some bigger weight on the bar.... but, Hatch says I can, so I will.

With that, I'm off to find some food and perhaps a bit of foam rolling.... (I'm coming for you, Quads!)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

"...The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. " Henry Rollins

Louis Cyr - Strongman
So this, Blogland, is my great great grandfather, Louis Cyr.
Louis Cyr was a French Canadian strongman, (still) holding the title of "The Strongest Man in Recorded History."
He did had a long and interesting career, with feats like lifting a fully grown horse off the ground, or lifting a 220# barbell with one hand, or lifting 1,075kg (that's literally like a ton) on his back. He even became a circus performer with his wife!
(Other pretty awesome notes, here...)

In my family, we've always joked that we've got some weird mutant muscle genes, as my mother's whole side of the family had some weird predispositions to being strong. My grandmother - at 94 years old - was still picking up her chair (a sturdy reclining wingback) and moving it around the room. At 93, we finally convinced her to stop trying to flip her mattress by herself... Although, who knows, maybe it's just scrappy french-canadian farm family genes. Women gotta get shit done, weight/strength be damned?

In any case, I always found this to be an amusing part of my lineage (I mean, geesh, he's got multiple statues of himself erected in Quebec!).  Yesterday, though, I finally really "connected" with my heritage a bit and competed in my FIRST Power lifting Competition.

The lead-up to it was pretty awful. I mean, obsessing about how much like a sausage you're going to look like in your singlet, plus the concept of having a ton of people stare at you (in your singlet)... plus the phobia of missing a lift or something like that.... It is all very abstract and terrifying if you've never done it before, so I was decidedly nervous. Thankfully, not only was I going to have a buddy - my stellar nutritionist and gym-buddy Charity was also competing - but it sounded like we'd have a cheering section from the gym, too! My Man was coming to spectate and support, as well, so I figured that no matter what happened, I'd be in good company to deal with it.

We arrived at Burlington CrossFit just after 11am, to a room full of people. I was shocked at how many people came out for a power lifting meeting. Not just competitors, but spectators! Apparently, watching people lift things up and put them down is interesting stuff.

As I was getting checked in, I was suddenly asked a ton of questions - what were my opening weights, in kilograms? Oh lord. Thank you for the handy conversion chart on the table. I stuck with the plan - Opening Squat Weight at 286# and Opening Deadlift Weight at 320#. Then, off to find my squat-rack height. Funny enough, the resident heavy-lifter and squat rack master was a dude that I went to school with. He'd also be the squat spotter for the day (more about that later..), but just funny to see a "familiar" face. I've been a spectator at highland games and MMA fights where he's competed, so it was interesting to run into him in yet another burly sort of sport.

Warming up - 225#
All checked in and ready to go, the day was going to start with squats, so Charity and I got around to warming up a bit. I'd been called to Boston for work for the previous two days and was a little worried my legs would be unhappy from sitting in the car so much, but the warm up went well and everything felt like it was working as planned.

When lifting began, the energy became really electric. All the women would go first, as there was only maybe 8 or 9 of us. (C'mon ladies! Where are the rest of you?!)

The squat rack was in the center front of the room, with competitors and spectators forming a ring around the edges. We were announced 3 at a time, so you'd have plenty of time to take deep breaths and get ready to go. The announcer struggled with my name ALL DAY (story of my life), but was a pretty cool guy that really made everyone feel welcome.

When there's only like 8 women ahead of you, it becomes your turn really quickly. Suddenly, it was my turn (ohshitohshitohshitohshit).

New Squat PR: 314.6 pounds! 
I got called up to the rack ("bar is loaded!") and tried to zone out and just take my time to set myself up, just like any other day in the gym.  You certainly do not feel "alone" during this process, because outside of the head judge/announcer staring at you, and the ring of spectators, you also have two burly dudes to either side of you, ready to help catch the bar if you need help, and the rear spotter, all up in your business behind you - just in case. Oddly, it does feel pretty safe, because you never have to worry about getting out of the way or anything, if you can't make it/need to dump it. With a few deep breaths and good thoughts to calm my nerves (I needed to remind myself that you can't lift heavy if your knees are shaking......), I stood it up out of the rack and got the SQUAT! command. Dowwwnnnnnnn..... and Up! No problem. Back in the rack.  Goal Achieved! My major goal coming into this was to just show up and get some numbers on the board. Even if I missed the rest of my lifts, I was going to be okay.  Another couple of rounds and I successfully hit my second lift (303 pounds) and went up to the table to declare what my last lift would be..... oh man. What to do!? I was in totally uncharted territory at this point. 305 was the heaviest I'd ever successfully managed in the gym, although I *almost* stood up 315 the other day... so, what the hell?, I thought. I put my last lift in for 314.6 (kilogram conversions are annoyingly often not round numbers, I found.).

Two lifts on the board, solid lift at just over three hundred pounds, and I was happy, no matter how this last lift went. Although.... being a hugely competitive sort, I wanted to get it. It would mean a new personal record for me, and put me at decidedly the highest women's squat of the day by solidly 40 pounds, I think. Granted, it's probably more impressive when a 125# lady squats 250#, as it's like 2x her body weight... but, still moving 315 up and down would be a pretty solid performance.
AND... awesomely, it worked. And it wasn't bad! I didn't have to fight to get it up. I was working, for sure, but I never got stuck. SUCCESSSSsssss! (Could I have done more? Ooo. Next time.)

Now, with like 2 flights of 10 men (or something like that) to go, then bench presses for men and women, there would be plenty of time for me to rest up, stretch and get ready again before dead lift time. I took the opportunity to eat a protein bar and drink a bunch of water, while watching all the other competitors (note to self: Powerlifting meets are a LONG DAY. Bring more snacks.).
I watched Charity kill her bench presses (my arms were crying, just watching that...) and sat in awe while some of these dudes benched 300 pounds. NUTS I tell you.
That said, I definitely need to get practicing my bench, so that in November I can do a full powerlift (Bench, squat and deadlift).

Finally, the day wore on, and it was dead lift time! Dead lifts may be my favorite (although they're close with squats... just depends on the day..), so I was ready to go for this one. I'd worked through the jitters that morning, and felt a lot more comfortable in the gym.

My opener was a successful and easy 320 pounds. It seems that what Charity told me is true - the dead lifts feel just a little lighter at the meet. Maybe it's the bar (it's more bendy?), maybe it's the grippiness... maybe just the adrenaline you have... but it went up pretty easily.  So, I was right on track with the plan: my second lift would be my former max lift - 340 (although in kilograms, I ended up at like 342 or something like that). That one stood up also pretty smoothly.... uh oh. NOW WHAT? Again, uncharted territory... I didn't want to pick a number I was going to fail, but legitimately had no idea what my capability might be. As I was agonizing over the conversion chart, Charity came running up to me, telling me that was way too easy and I needed to add at least 20 pounds to the bar. Uhm WHAT? my brain said.... but, again... What the hell? right?

I set my third lift to be 358.2 pounds (the closest conversion I could see to 360), and then I went back to my place in the crowd to quietly freak out and watch the other ladies lift, until it was my turn again.

"Bar is loaded!" sounded the announcer, and I stepped up to the bar. Lifting crowds become oddly similar to golf crowds, as they go -completely silent- until you start lifting. I was a little worried about this one, but was feeling strong, so I took a few deep breaths, sat back into my hamstrings and just let it rip.

358.2 pounds for a new PR Deadlift!
This one fought me a little bit - I believe the lingo is that it was a little "hitch-y" - but nonetheless, I got that bad boy stood the eff up. Knees locked, shoulders behind bar, good form. Commence a jersey fist pump celebration. WOO.
I was definitely proud of that one. That is a new PR by 18.2 pounds. YEAAHHH buddy.

I couldn't be happier on finishing that last dead lift. Seriously.

My first meet, I survived the singlet-wearing AND got two new personal records (by significant amounts - 10 pound PR on my back squat and 18. 2 on the deadlift!). You really can't ask for more than that.

I thought I was going to have pulled the heaviest squat and deadlift (for women) for the day, then this woman - Kim - walked out of the crowd. Kim hadn't squatted as heavy as I had, and her opening dead lifts were lighter than mine, so I assumed (very wrongly) that I would out dead-lift her.

Well. Kim walked up to that bar and pulled 385.6 pounds, like it was nothing.

Hot. Damn. You go, girl!

I got the chance to congratulate Kim after, to hear that her goal is to come back in November with a 400 pound dead lift. YIKES.  Looks like I've got a new goal to chase! ;-)

Dead lifts (because of the sheer amount of weight) seem to be the fan-favorite. The men's dead lifts got ridiculously heavy. I got to watch a 17 year old absolutely CRUSH at 600 pound dead lift, to set a new state or national (not sure) record for his age group. Let me tell you - the crowd gets pretty psyched up to see lifts like that happen. I know all the fellow lifters were "lifting" along with him, chanting "up up up!!!" as we watched it sloowly come to height.

As the day wrapped up, I gotta give it to the organizers. Awards were ready and lifts tallied, less than 5 minutes after the last lift of the day.

Charity grabbed a trophy for an age-group first place (Happy Birthday!), and *drumroll* I ALSO got a first-in-my-age-group trophy!
... now, I will say, I'm pretty sure there was no one else in my age group... but. Screw it. LOL.
I'm choosing to use this trophy to commemorate:
1) conquering my fear of the singlet
2) crushing all my lifts that day and
3) Putting up the biggest women's squat for the day. BOOM.
April 2, 2016: Vermont Powerlifting, Age Group Champion 30-34

So, BlogLand, what have we learned here?

Well, it was a good chance to again remind myself to keep taking risks and pushing limits. I feel like I'm doing pretty good so far this year, and it's only April! YEAH.

I have to say though, I found this to be a pretty cool experience. This was legitimately the first time in my life that I've been involved with some sort of "athletic" competition and didn't feel huge and out of place. I've competed in a lot of things - horseback riding, running, obstacle racing, crossfit, etc. - and no matter how well I may do in the scheme of things, I always feel like the biggest chick in the room, or wildly "robust" among long, lean people. I'm just not made that way. Even at my fittest a few years back, running half marathons, I'd be running along side 120 pound chicks that had legs as big around as my arm. I'm telling you BlogLand, it gives you a little bit of complex.

But yesterday, at the power lifting comp, I never felt that way, ever. There were a lot of big people - and I mean big in a variety of ways, tall, muscular, athletic, chunky, etc. - but they were all moving some big weight. If you were there, making an effort, they were right behind you and supportive. After standing up my 314.6 back squat, I got applause and a hearty round of congratulatory "nice lift!" that I never expected. This is a "skill" that comes somewhat easily to me, but it was really cool to be in a room full of people who didn't diminish that skill, or underestimate me, just because I was squishy around the middle. I like these people. :-)

After a pretty intense few months - finishing up my Hatch squat program, completing all the WODS for The Open and gearing up for this competition, it's nice to be returning to my regularly scheduled programming, so to speak.

Tomorrow, I start Week 1, Day 1 of the Couch to 5K program with Holly. This week, I'll get back into the "routine" - restarting Hatch with some bigger weights, getting back to bootcamp a couple times a week and personal training with Robyn (where I fear she's going to go on a mission to wreck my arms.). No particular "big" things on the horizon, other than long term goal of revisiting this Powerlifting comp in November.

Now, I simply wait for/enjoy the arrival of Spring (Dear VT Weather, WHY did you snow today? WTF.), get back to training, and see what happens next!