Tag Archives: Strength Training

This is Not About Pickles


They started years ago when I began regular fitness training, and especially once I started running races. They are what get me out of bed and onto the road on a winter morning, into the gym on a hot afternoon, or on the bike for a “quick 25 miles” at the end of a long day. Anyone into fitness activities can relate, I think.

Yet as beneficial for my body and my mental discipline as these urges are, sometimes they can be a real pain in the ass.

This past weekend I was on my feet a lot, managing the Zero Waste program for two morning races; Running Between the Vines on Saturday, then Swim to the Moon on Sunday. Both days I was at the venue by 5:30 a.m. and in more or less constant motion well into the afternoon checking stations, hauling collected compost and recyclables, and performing emergency sorting on unlabeled bins that well-meaning people had set out without my knowledge. (I’m not bitter about that. Really, I’m not.)

There are some advantages to working events like this!

But I survived, and all went well. This is what I train for, right? Running long races, and working long races. And sometimes both, as with last April when I ran the Trail Marathon and then worked the waste stations.

So what had me feeling oddly guilty on Sunday evening, when the work was done and I could put my feet up for a bit?

I didn’t get a run in.

And that had me feeling inadequate.

I get it, okay? I know it’s silly to feel this way. And it’s not like I slacked off. This morning my body felt just as fatigued as if I’d done a long run the day before. I actually looked forward to today’s afternoon workout, cuz I knew the heat and humidity would get my sore and creaky body warm and loose again.

Oh yeah, that hits the spot!

And so it proved; those thirty minutes of brutality worked out the kinks and soreness, and I’m back to feeling pretty good again. So I’ll plan on getting in a good run tomorrow.

Yet the drive to stick to my regular training schedule, and not miss a run or workout for any reason, is hard to turn off. Perhaps it’s fear that drives it. Not a fear that I’ll lose fitness, but that I’ll lose the desire to remain fit.

And that would suck.

See? Even potatoes can get off the couch!

I know life comes with no guarantees about lifespan or health. But I can give myself the best shot at a long, healthy life by eating right, getting enough sleep, and by staying active and fit. I want to have a high quality of life for as long as possible.

Plus, for whatever reason, I enjoy the activity; the ultramarathons, the long bike rides, and the ability to work all day keeping stuff out of landfills. This, too, contributes to my quality of life. And I have some goals yet to achieve too, like a six-minute mile, a half marathon in under 90 minutes, and plenty of races of all kinds that look intriguing.

And so I’ll put up with the urges.

Because they’re for my own good.


And since you’ve read this far, you deserve this link to one of the classic jokes about urges: The Pickle Factory. Enjoy!

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.

Ultra Recovery: How Not to Cut Back on Training

Today makes exactly one month since Kettle Moraine, where I completed my first 100-mile trail ultra. And with no upcoming goal races in the near future, what have I been doing training-wise since then?

The answer in brief is – not much, and too much.

Not much, because I’ve cut back on training volume. Too much, because it appears that I should have also cut back on training intensity.

Just three months ago, my race calendar looked like this:

Date                                 Race                                                    Goal
April 9                    Martian Marathon                     Qualify for Boston
April 24                    Trail Marathon                         Test readiness for Glacier Ridge
May 14                 Glacier Ridge Trail 50                 Purge 2015 DNF,, prep for Kettle
June 4-5               Kettle Moraine Trail 100         Finish

Runner youarecrazy

I think most runners would agree that was an aggressive schedule. To pull it off I needed a training regimen to match. Last November I told my running coach and strength trainer of my goals, and once they stopped shaking their heads they came up with a program to get me there.

From December through March I underwent the hardest training I’ve ever had. I ran hard. I ran long. I ran hills. Sometimes I did all three at once. And at Body Specs, Skip and company were relentless, giving me tons of squats, core work, pull-ups, and the dreaded weighted jump ropes.

There were ups and downs during that period; times when I felt invincible, and times when I could barely drag myself through the day. But the payoff became visible almost immediately, as I set personal bests at the Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K in January, the Leap Day 4-miler in February, and the No Frills All Thrills trail 8K in early April. But would these short successes carry over to the long goal races?


Finished! Yeah, baby!

All goals accomplished!

I’ve written about the races in previous posts (except for the upcoming account of Kettle), so I’ll just say here that all the training was worth it. Those two months went by so fast it’s still a bit hard for me to believe it’s over. 100 miles done. DNF purged. And Boston, I’ll see you in 2017!

So what’s my training been like in the month since I finished Kettle? Naturally, I planned in recovery time, then to gradually resume active training. My success with this approach has been mixed.

KM100 - My FootWith running, there was no choice but to cut back. My beat-up feet took over a week just to heal enough to walk normally. But on June 14, I went out with PR Fitness for the Tuesday evening six-miler, and I’ve been averaging one run per week, with distances between five and eleven miles with no issues. Good news there!

Body Specs has been a different story. Just four days after Kettle I felt good enough to resume strength training, so I asked them to go easy for a bit. And so they did – for one session. The following week, it was pretty much back to normal. I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t running much and felt good enough to complete the sessions.

Why is this man smiling? Because training is SO much fun!

Why is this man smiling? Because training is SO much fun!

This week, however, it caught up with me. I began to feel fatigued throughout the day – a classic sign of overtraining. I had no energy to run, and my performance at the gym got worse during the week instead of remaining steady or improving. Time for an enforced break.

Fortunately, this long weekend was just the ticket. With enforced rest, sleep, and lots of eating, my energy is returning. It hasn’t been easy. I feel like a lazy slug for sitting around, and worrying about gaining weight. As if putting on a couple of pounds during recovery is a bad thing. Just goes to show, you can always find something to worry about if you try hard enough.

It’s not all sloth and gluttony, however. I have gotten in an (easy) bike ride and a (somewhat easy) run. Can’t take the edge off completely, can I?

Happy Independence Day to all!

Flag fireworks

The Body Specs Cure


I woke up yesterday morning feeling kind of iffy. Sniffles, lower energy, a little achy all over. Just part of winter? Maybe. I’d also had a vigorous Monday session at Body Specs followed by a tempo run on Tuesday, so feeling a bit run down wasn’t surprising. Still, I worried I might be coming down with something.

I debated about my noon workout, finally deciding to go. If I really wasn’t up for it, I could end the session early. But I thought it would be appropriate to give my trainers a heads-up.

I got there, changed, and began loosening up. One of the trainers nodded at me as I worked with the body blade. “Hi, Jeff, how are you?” she said. But before I could reply, she turned away to watch someone else. I should have taken this as a sign; I was just fine, of course. What other answer was there?

It's tougher than it looks.

It’s tougher than it looks.

I went over to the high bars to stretch out my arms and shoulders. As my upper body was still a bit stiff, I did a pull-up just to check things out. It went well, so I knocked out a few more. I admit at this point I was feeling rather pleased with myself.

Unfortunately, Skip, the head trainer, was watching. “You might want to save yourself,” he said. “I’ve got something special planned for you today.”


“Well,” I replied, “I’m only feeling about 75 to 80 percent.”

“That’s all right,” he said enthusiastically, “because I’m feeling 120 to 125 percent!”

Great, he had energy to spare. Notably, however, he did not offer to do 25 percent of my workout.

This is one of the conundrums (conumdrae?) of this gym. They want to know if you’re injured or sick, but wimpiness will earn you no sympathy whatever. If you’re there, you’re ready to go at it! So at it I went. While it wasn’t as brutal as some sessions I’ve had, it was an energetic one. And as promised, Skip gave me something special.

“Since you can do pull-ups,” he said, “you can do the advanced version.” This meant alternating grip (one hand under, one hand over), and switching hands at the top of the pull-up. “Quickly. You’ll drop fast.” He demonstrated. Naturally, he made it look pretty easy. Let’s just say I wasn’t as graceful. Add to that some deadlifts and rows, medicine ball tosses, abs work, weighted rope jumping, and more. Rinse and repeat.

I think this was officially number 41.

I think this was officially number 41.

Somehow I got through it all, and as I did my cooldown routine I noticed I was feeling pretty good. My Aikido instructor once joked (I think) that the cure for everything that ailed you was breakfalls. I think you can add Body Specs to the list.

“Well,” I said to Skip as I was leaving, “whatever bug I had this morning is dead.”

Skip smiled. “We killed it,” he said.