Feb 272013

Friday and Saturday are going to be very difficult days.

I’ve probably built a dozen or so ribbon racks over my career. Many of them have been for some somber occasion or another. It’s a very contemplative process for me. I spend those minutes pondering the upcoming occasion, in this case remembering a friend lost. I also contemplate what each ribbon represents from my career. The deployments, reenlistments, units, experiences and trials that have shaped me so thoroughly over almost twelve years. It’s not often that those two trains of thought are so closely intermingled, but that makes the practice that much more cathartic.

On a side note, I’ve always noticed that, since I build two racks every time, one always turns out so  much better than the other. Weird how that works.

Feb 262013

No fancy write-up this time, but this is another good example of how we plan food around here. This is chicken and rice stew with organic everything, topped with organic whole wheat dumpling thingies. It’s quick and easy, it’s wholesome and balanced, and it divides up into eight perfect little lunch servings. Which means that, most importantly, it keeps us out of the cafeteria/snack bar/drive thru for the week.

A lot of people say they have a hard time eating well because they don’t have a household big enough to cook for. This is our answer. It means eating the same thing for a few days in a row a lot of the time, but if it’s good enough food, you won’t mind.

Feb 252013

After I posted on Sunday afternoon, Katie suggested we head to the ice rink at Riverscape Metropark, as something fun and active to do on our “off” day. Our legs were still smoked from our workouts the day before (I did a 20 mile hill workout on my MTB, she did an absolutely killer leg day in the weight room), but we shrugged and went anyway.

As you can see, I’ll be trying out for the US Olypmic Figure Skating Team for the 2014 games. Look out, Russian judges! I’m about to blow your mind!

Seriously though, I’m downright terrible. I think I’ve been ice skating maybe twice in my life, and the last time was easily 15 years ago. Still, after an hour or so, I got my feet more or less under me, and I ended up having a lot of fun. Then we went to Brixx Ice Company and had some beers while we watched my Buckeyes stun Michigan State. Good date, and a good day!

Feb 242013

Sometimes the best way to forget your own problems is to help someone else out with theirs. These three strangers-turned-friends are Asa, Randall and Shelley, swing dancers from Illinois that were in town for the Dayton Swing Smackdown. My buddy Travis is a swing dancer extraordinaire, and asked us if we’d be willing to host them for the weekend. To be honest, we hesitated at first, because our lives have been so stressful lately, and we have our foster dogs still, and… But whatever. We said yes anyway, because it was the right thing to do.

And I’m so glad we did. These three ended up being some of the nicest house guests we have had, and they helped us, at least for the weekend, stop focusing on all of the things in our lives that are problems, and just help somebody else out, albeit in a small way, with theirs. So thanks, you guys. You’re welcome back any time.

Feb 232013
(One armed kettlebell swings are hard. Releasing and catching at the top is even harder!)

Yesterday’s post (and Facebook discussions) got me thinking. I don’t know if, from the outside, most people realize what goes into doing what I do, or the methodology (if you could call it that) involved. So here’s what I’m doing now, what I’m planning to do over the warmer months, and how I go about doing that.

Since December, I’ve been lifting 4 days a week. I’m doing a program called 5-3-1 by Jim Wendler, and it’s working for me in ways that weightlifting never has before. For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m on my way to being really strong. I love the simplicity of the program, and that it doesn’t entail spending hours at a time in the weight room or leaving completely exhausted.

I just started doing weekly interval running workouts with the 5 Rivers Running Team. It’s a group of absolutely fast runners, led by a coach with national credentials. The team meets twice a week, but for now I’m only managing to be there on Mondays.

When the weather’s good enough (and sometimes when it’s not), I’m also getting out on my mountain bike or my new road bike. I also do a little indoor conditioning, and try to find ways to keep that interesting.

When winter finally decides to loose her grip on our lives, the plan is to lift 3 days a week, run 3 days a week, and be on a bike at least two days a week. Plus a rest day. You may have noticed that that’s more days than there are in a week, which means I’ll be doing 2-a-days at least twice a week. Woo!

But here’s where it gets a little crazy.

I work a rotating schedule, presently. My job requires 24/7 coverage. What that means is that I’ll spend a month at a time on first, second or third shift. Within that schedule, I work 5 days on, 2 off, 3 on, 4 off. It works out nice because I get every other weekend off, and that weekend is a 4 day weekend. It’s not all that bad, once you get used to it, but it’s hell for what trainers call “programing.”

Most programs have you lift on certain days, cardio on certain days, and rest on certain days. With my particular flavor of chaos, that doesn’t really work. They also recommend that you time your workouts to fit your competitions. For instance, if you’re getting ready for a big race that happens on a Saturday morning, you’re supposed to time your simulation work (i.e. a long run if you’re doing a long running race) accordingly, and do it on a Saturday morning. You might’ve guessed that that doesn’t work out for me all that often, either. And consistent, 8-hour sleep nights, that everybody says you have to have? Never gonna happen. Sometimes my “night” is four hours, between noon and 4pm.

What I’ve had to do, in order to get where I’m trying to go, is improvise. All the time. Sometimes that means I’m in the weight room at 0300. Sometimes it means I push dinner back an hour to get a run in. Sometimes it means I’m out pedaling a bicycle when the windchill is 12°F. Sometimes it means I go to the gym, do as much as I can in 25 minutes, and leave. And sometimes, it means that, as hard as I’m trying, I just can’t get it in that day.

But all of that is okay. It might not be optimal, but neither is life. It might not be a professional regimen, but I am not a professional athlete. And that leads me to my final point.

Nobody reading this blog should ever get discouraged by what I’m doing. I work as hard as I do because I have goals that require a fairly elite level of fitness. If you don’t want those things, that’s totally fine! Wherever you might be on your fitness journey (ugh… I tried so hard to avoid that cliche…), embrace it and do what you can. If it’s more than you were doing before, there will be progress.

All of this started because I was tired of (among other things) being completely smoked after a single track day, so I bought a mountain bike off of Craigslist to help myself train. One thing led to another, and now I’m pushing myself to do more, because I can’t get enough. Whatever your current state, and wherever you’re trying to go, go do that. You’ll never regret it. It won’t be simple, it won’t be easy, and if your life is anything like mine, it won’t at all resemble a routine. But it will be worth it.

Feb 222013

I’ve had a few people ask me, especially since I started this blog, why I’m doing all this. What’s the point to all this time, expense, and effort? Aren’t you just going to die anyway? Wouldn’t you rather just sit and drink beer or whatever?

It’s actually a really good question, and one I had to answer for myself before I got as steadily into this as I am.

The short answer is, of course, to stay healthy, but it’s more practical than ephemeral or abstract, as I’ve found that phrase to sound. When I’m in shape, I sleep better. I think more clearly. I can concentrate harder, for longer periods of time. I can eat more and not feel bad, and I can eat (and drink) more “challenging” things without nearly as much consequence. I’m noticeably happier, have more confidence, and my physical ailments, from allergies to my bad knees/shoulders/back, don’t bother me to nearly the same degree.
When I’ve let myself get back out of shape, all that reverses. And the longer I let myself go, the worse it gets. I had burned out for awhile when I was travelling in 2011, and I was literally falling to pieces, physically and mentally. When I got home, I told myself I wasn’t going to go through that again.
Beyond that, it’s a challenge. I’ve found that physically challenging myself has become equally rewarding as my professional and intellectual challenges. Something that I’ve found along the way is that when I push myself physically, it’s equally a mental effort. Cranking out that last few miles of a half marathon, or another lap in a mountain bike race, or getting those last two reps on a deadlift are every bit as much mental strength as physical.

When I finish a race, or an obstacle course, or put up a new PR on a strength exercise, I have personally excelled in a way that’s quantifiable. I can point to it as a success, be proud of it as progress, and find the support and friendship of others striving for the same goals. Combine that with the happy chemicals your body produces when you’ve put in a hard effort, and it’s absolutely addicting, in a very real way.

What I’ve learned most of all, over the past several years of getting myself back to where I should be physically, is that it’s a lifestyle change. And just like quitting smoking, or any other hard habit, it has to be something you want to do, either by internal or external motivation. What worked for me was finding things I enjoy doing, and then daring myself to do them in competition, which makes me want to do them harder/faster/longer. And then to do them harder/faster/longer, I end up doing more side work (i.e. hitting the weights) to improve my abilities.
For sure, there is opportunity cost and financial cost. I can’t spend the time and money I have spent on working out on everything else. But what I’ve found is that, because of the benefits that being back in shape has given me, all the time and money I do spend on the rest of my life is better spent, because I am able to enjoy it more, get more out of it, and participate more fully. Why do I do what I do? Because to not do it is to limit how I can enjoy life, both now and in the future, and that’s not a life I want to live.
Feb 212013
Time for me to brag on my awesome wife again! Last summer, I finally nagged her enough to get back into Taekwondo, a sport in which she excelled in high school, and has missed dearly since. A good friend of mine is a third-dan black belt, and his parents run a local Taekwondo school. He very kindly offered to privately tutor Katie for a few months to get her back up to speed, and she started formally with the school in October. In no time at all, she tested and was awarded with her first promotion, her yellow belt.

This past Thursday, she tested with a large group of students for her next promotion, orange belt! It worked out that I could attend, and I am so, so glad I did. Have I mentioned that my wife is completely awesome?

The test was extensive. First there was a long quiz, consisting of Korean terminology, definitions and general knowledge about the art of TKD.

Then each student had to demonstrate a number of forms, which are carefully memorized and practiced sequences of moves. The longest one Katie had to do was 52 steps! Watching her do forms is as mesmerizing as it is impressive.

Then she had to demonstrate a number of self defense techniques, which served to further reinforce my belief that I should never, ever cross my wife. She will kick me. In many painful ways.

This was followed by board breaking, which was so cool that I managed to get exactly zero good pictures of it. But here she is about to fire off a spinning back kick, which is her second favorite to roundhouse kicks. Honestly, her back kick is so fast, I’m way more scared of it. Seriously, don’t blink or you’ll be missing a kidney.

That was the end of the test. The instructor gave them feedback, told them that they passed, and what they could expect in future promotion tests. 

Then on Tuesday, they had the promotion ceremony. This is a very nervous Katie, lined up and waiting for instruction before they began.

The lead instructor had everyone sit around a semicircle of candles and addressed them.

Then they killed the lights, cued some music, and the ceremony began. They promoted each student individually, in a short ritual that was equally simple and moving.

Finally it was Katie’s turn. The whole process was somber and quiet, but inside I was jumping and clapping and cheering! After each level was promoted (white to yellow, yellow to orange, etc), the students would demonstrate a form to the assembled parents and spouses, which was really impressive. More internal clapping and cheering, but the light was far too low to get any pictures. Most impressive was my friend Jac’s form, which he demonstrated on receiving his third dan.

The whole experience was utterly impressive. I can’t wait to watch her test for her next belt, and (quietly) cheer her on as she progresses!
Feb 202013

Well hello, gorgeous! I found something to do with those pedals! Meet the new fat burning machine. This is my brand new 2012 Trek 2.3, the first brand new bike I’ve bought since my big blue Huffy “Ironman” when I was 15. She’s also my very first road bike! So, so excited…

Special thanks to Chris at Village Cyclery for a sweet deal on a fantastic bike, and his typically superb service. We even had a celebratory beer!

Feb 192013

The lengths of embarrassment I’ll go to for my hobbies addictions. I’m dying to pedal, and spring isn’t cooperating with my urgent requests for an early return. Enter these Pearl Izumi cycling tights, on sale at Performance Bike last weekend. So long as I’m willing to suspend all semblance of self respect, they’ll keep my legs from freezing off on my next icy/cold/windy winter ride.

Feb 182013

When I went snow biking a few weeks back, I had a slight problem with losing the feeling in my toes. And the rest of my feet. For hours. I had switched out my clipless pedals for flats, and was wearing my usual shoes, which, well, aren’t made with trudging through snow in mind. One of the other guys I was riding with had these sweet shoe covers, and said his feet were warm, dry ‘n’ toasty. So as I contemplated what life would be like after the amputation of all my toes, I vowed that I would get a pair of those booties (shoe covers… whatever). Can’t wait to try them out!