Recovery Rewards, and the Spartan Penalty

“Jeff, you look five years younger,” Skip said to me as I walked onto the mat at Body Specs. “Your vacation must have agreed with you.”

It was my first day back from up north, and while I’d done some running and cycling, I’d also made myself get plenty of rest. Sleep does sometimes get shortchanged at home; there’s so damn much to DO!

Skip’s sentiment was echoed later by someone who visits our office about once a month. “You look good,” he said. “Your color is healthy.”

I knew I’d resumed my training routine too soon after Kettle Moraine, but hadn’t noticed any difference in the mirror. Sort of like watching kids grow up; it’s when you haven’t seen them for a while that you realize how much they’ve changed.

But I have noticed a difference in how I’m feeling. This month my energy and stamina are much improved. It really became evident last Wednesday. I started the day with a 6 a.m. 10K run, followed by a sweaty and reasonably brutal noon workout at Body Specs, then spent the afternoon and evening working Zero Waste at the T-Rex Triathlon. I left the park at 10:00 p.m. And I felt great.

Recycle! Or I'll EAT you!!

Recycle! Or I’ll EAT you!!

Saturday morning I ran 16 miles with PR Fitness. As it was my longest run in two months, I decided to go aerobic, with a target heart rate of 135-140. I should do most long runs this way, but it’s easy to get sucked into a faster group. This time I swallowed my ego and let the pack go on ahead. (It was hard. Really hard.)

Pace too fast 2

All went well until around mile 12, when my heart rate climbed to 145-150 and stubbornly remained there despite slowing my pace. May have been fatigue, dehydration, low blood sugar, or all three. But still a successful run. And man, did my post-race reward (a latte float with chocolate ice cream) taste good.

The energy rebound is coming just in time. For one thing, I’ll be starting Aikido again in September. And this month, I took up the #22 Kill Pushup Challenge, which is 22 pushups a day for 22 days. Any kind of pushups count, so I’ve been varying them. Skip helped me out on Day 1 by assigning me extension pushups. The photo below shows me in the middle of one. Trust me, behind that extended arm is a face full of pain.

Body Specs - extension push-up - cropped

I’ve also done decline pushups, five-finger (fingers extended, tent-style), and hands on wobble board. And yesterday I forgot to do them, so today I assigned myself the Spartan Race failure penalty:

Burpees 2These are called burpees. The penalty for failing an obstacle at a Spartan Race is 30 of them. Every time you fail an obstacle. Ooof.

Am I running Spartan Races, then? Not yet, but I was recently provided with an advance reading copy of Joe De Sena’s new book, Spartan Fit! in exchange for reviewing it and spreading the word about it.

Spartan Fit cover

Review to follow, but I will say you would benefit from this book if you’re interested in improving your ability to face life’s obstacles of any kind. Stay tuned!

Why a Helmet is Worth a Bad Hair Day

THIS COULD HAVE BEEN A MUCH DIFFERENT STORY.

Last week we camped with some good friends in the Empire area. One day we decided to take a group ride along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. The ten miles between Empire and Glen Arbor are pretty and not terribly difficult. But for one friend, it was a milestone. For the last couple of years he’s struggled with knee issues. Thanks to PT and regular workouts he’s much improved, but this was his first ride of any real distance in a long time.

Seven miles in, we stopped for a water break. As my friend dismounted, his foot caught on the bike frame and he went down.

His head smacked the pavement.

Hard.

This-is-not-good

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute reports that of all cycling-related deaths, 74 percent involved a head injury. And 97 percent of the riders who died were not wearing helmets. You might think, therefore, that if a First Rule of Cycling existed, it would be this:

WEAR A F***ING HELMET.

Hitting the trail! (Yes, I know, but he put the helmet on before we started.)

Hitting the trail! (Yes, I know, but he put the helmet on before we started.)

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. He was wearing a helmet, and it absorbed the impact instead of his skull. He was dizzy for a few minutes, but after some rest he was able to continue, and we completed the ride. He suffered a bruise to his ego, but his body is intact to ride another day.

Our group wears helmets on every ride, and when our kids were growing up, we insisted they wear them too. To me, it’s a no-brainer, so to speak. And yet there are those out there who argue against their use. Among the claims this article makes are:

  • the accident rate goes up when people wear helmets
  • when cars pass cyclists, they give helmeted riders less room than non-helmeted ones
  • requiring helmets discourages more people from riding bikes at all.

And CNET reports here that a brain surgeon says if you’re hit hard enough by a car to kill you, a helmet won’t do you much good. Perhaps so – but last week’s situation didn’t involve a speeding car, or any speed at all. He fell from a standing position. Without a helmet, we have no doubt he’d have been in the emergency room, with potential long-term consequences.

Every year I see many helmetless riders on the Heritage Trail, or the Betsie Valley Trailway, including entire families with small children. I can guess at their mindset. They’re on vacation, released from stress, riding slowly on a smooth, flat trail with no motor vehicles allowed. What could happen? Well, one young guy panicked and slid right off the trail when I announced my presence behind him. He was okay, fortunately, but elsewhere on the trail he could have struck a fallen log and taken a nasty spill.

And people fall off bikes for less reason than that. I’ve fallen many times, usually when I can’t get my foot out of the clips during a stop. I’ve managed to avoid banging my head (thanks, Aikido) but I have that foam and plastic insurance policy up there just in case.

And if you want to participate in one of our local triathlons? Experienced riders and no drafting allowed. What could be safer? Yet you’re not leaving the transition area to start the bike portion without a fastened helmet.

Yep, we check!

Yep, we check!

Yes, one reason is liability, but if a helmet is so useless, what’s the point? Other than all the evidence (like here) that wearing a helmet reduces the severity of injuries. Guess I forgot.

Yes, I know I shouldn’t tell you what to do. And I can’t make you wear the f***ing helmet. Why should I even care what you do?

Because if you’re reading this post, you’re one of my readers, which makes you special to me. And I want you to stay alive and healthy so you can keep reading my posts.

So go out for that ride, and wear the f***ing helmet, okay?

Those Four Little Words

Being a man can be tough.

Now this is not some chauvinist rant about how women under-appreciate all that men do, or get mad when we don’t share our innermost feelings, or fail to understand our need for fire, football, and grilling dead animals. While all that may be true, this is more a case about what we men do to ourselves.

Last week I was at Body Specs for a regular workout. As part of my warmup exercises, I was assigned reverse incline crunches. This involved lying on my back on an inclined ramp, knees higher than the head, then raising the upper body to about a 45 degree angle, while holding a medicine ball. I then spiked the ball to one side, retrieved it, and laid back down. Repeated for three sets of 10 crunches each.

The proper starting position for the crunches.

The proper position for holding the ball during the raise.

I’ve done these before with a ten-pound weighted ball. But this time it was twenty pounds. After just a couple of crunches I knew it was going to be a struggle. But I found that if I began the crunch by pushing the ball outward a bit, I could gain some momentum and ease the load on my abs. I asked my trainer if it was all right to do this. Her reply was deadly.

“If you have to,” she said. “But it’s best if you keep the ball tight the whole time.”

Oh, the damage those four little words can do to a man’s ego.

If. You. Have. To.

She wasn’t going to stop me from doing it the easier way. But I wouldn’t be following the proper form. And I would be admitting to her – and myself – that I wasn’t capable of doing it the correct way. Well, we all know what that translates into for a typical guy:

Female bullfighter

So I gutted through the three sets of ten crunches, doing them the correct way. Then it was off to the “real work” of the session.

My abs yelled at me the rest of the week.

This is the kind of situation men face every day. You’re given a challenge, and if you turn it down, you feel less than a man. Doesn’t matter if the situation is risky, even reckless. Alcohol only amplifies this, which is why so many “famous last words” stories begin with, “Hold my beer and watch this!”

Hans and Franz meme

The Body Specs incident was my own fault, of course. I asked about the right form and was quite properly corrected. And I was there of my own free will; heck, I pay these people to do this to me. I want to keep a high level of fitness, to continue the activities I enjoy and for overall quality of life. And improvement, by definition, involves pushing beyond what one is currently capable of. In other words, no pain, no gain.

But is it really “a man thing”? Probably not. Based on who else I see at the gym, and the people I see out running and cycling, women are just as interested in becoming and remaining physically fit. And yet, I think men more then women suffer from being perceived as less than up to the task. Admit to needing a lighter weight? Nope, not here!

Take that! I laugh at your puny twenty pounds!

Take that! I laugh at your puny twenty pounds!

The story has a happy ending. The head trainer came up to me at the end of the session.

“Good work, Jeff,” he said. “You brought it today. But you always bring it.” It made me feel, well, manly. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

It Changed My Life! Or Did It?

On a recent Saturday run I caught up to someone I hadn’t met before, and to pass the time I struck  up a conversation. Turned out she’d run the Western States 100 just two weeks prior. “I messed up my leg less than two miles into the race,” she told me, “and it bothered me the rest of the way.”

“But you finished?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “Eight minutes before the cutoff.”

She said this in a casual tone, as though it were no big deal. But I knew she wasn’t downplaying what she’d done. Among ultrarunners, understatement is the preferred method for discussing races. So I then asked if she believed finishing that race was a true life-changing event for her. “Yes, definitely,” she said.

I asked her that question because I’d begun to feel the same way after finishing my own hundred-miler last month. Not that I’ve become a totally different person, but I’ve acquired a definite “before Kettle” and “after Kettle” perspective; a new reference point from which to compare life’s challenges.

This is going to stay on my fridge door for a long time, I think.

This is going to stay on my fridge door for a long time, I think.

For example, in the last few weeks I’ve been stuck in several long traffic jams, made worse because the air conditioning in my car is faulty. The most recent occurrence was heading up north on a two-lane highway, where a “seven-minute delay” (per cell phone app) stretched into nearly an hour. As I sat there steaming (figuratively and literally), the thought came unbidden:

You’ve run a hundred miles at a time. You can get through this, too.

This thought did not magically cure my impatience, as my wife can tell you. And yet, it did help. When one has steadily pushed through over 24 hours of continuous motion, a measly one-hour inconvenience seems rather silly to get upset about. Perhaps it even worked too well in my return from Toronto, where I endured two hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic before I got off the freeway to find an alternate route.

There are running jams, too, but the energy is much more positive. (2011 Chicago Marathon)

There are running jams, too, but the energy is much more positive. (2011 Chicago Marathon)

In reality, though, it wasn’t the race itself that changed my life. Running it was the culmination of all the training that went into preparation for it. Crossing the finish line was just the evidence that I could accomplish something I couldn’t have done before. Champion ultrarunner and coach David Roche puts it best: By the time you get to the start line, the work is done.

This is one of the appeals of ultrarunning that many others have written about; that in the end, the training is more about becoming a better person. Whether the goal is increased physical fitness, self-discipline, or even dealing with and overcoming addiction, the steady, consistent effort is what makes the end result possible.

So I suppose that means even if I hadn’t finished Kettle for some reason, I’d still be more patient and determined than I was five years ago when I began ultra training. Saying you’ve done X is just shorthand. Still, it feels really good to actually have done it.

But it hasn’t been just inner dialog. A couple weeks ago I was at Body Specs working through a particularly tough segment on a hot, humid afternoon. As I struggled to my feet I caught the eye of one of the trainers. She smiled.

“Bet you’d rather be running a hundred miles right now, huh, Jeff?” she asked.

Well, not really. But the thought was tempting.

On second thought - where's the starting line?

On second thought – where’s the starting line?