Monday, August 13, 2018

AAR: GORUCK Extortion 17 Heavy

Ever since I did the GORUCK Heavy in Detroit, MI back in June 2016, I have wanted another shot at the Heavy and the HTL (Heavy, Tough, and Light). Since then, I was signed up for the Memorial Day events in 2017, the Philly events in June and now the Extortion 17 events in Columbus. I just kept withdrawing and transferring my credit on. I am in the best shape of my life at 45 years old and felt ready to tackle this beast. Plus, the Extortion 17 has a special place in my life. I was deployed to Afghanistan when this Chinook helicopter was shot down and stood on the flight line at Bagram Air Field when the fallen were honored and loaded aboard two C-17s for their flight to Dover Air Base. This event was centered around their story and honoring their ultimate sacrifice to their country.

Prepared

I have rucked quite a bit since the bug bit me nearly 3 years ago. While I don't do a lot of events, I ruck a lot with my wife and have a background in ultra-running which helps when it comes to endurance and foot care. I'm a huge fan of powdered lubricant that I put in my socks just prior to the event after lubing them with BodyGlide. This was a winner again at this event. I wore Inov-8 trail shoes that I've been wearing for the past few months and for the HUGE win, Prana Zion Stretch shorts or pants. I can't rave enough about them. They are nice shorts to go out to dinner in but in an event, are incredible. Both pants and shorts have a pocket on the left leg that has a zipper at top and at side. I always kept my beef jerky here and a few gels. That way, I can eat anytime I want without having to get into my ruck. There are also drain ports in the crotch. Never a bad idea to drain/air out that area, right?! And, they are stretchy and easy to squat in. Lastly, they have a strap built right in to the waistband so when they get wet and sweaty and you need to cinch down, there is no need for a belt. Just give it a tug. This is how they look after a Tough event in Detroit in June and this Heavy event. This is prior to putting them in the wash. Side Note: I have the pants version in beige and gray and wear them to work every day. Bonus: they have a 36 length which is like finding a unicorn in the pants world for me.


Team Weight

There wasn't much activity on the Facebook event pages so I took it upon myself to build our team weight. Required weight: 50lbs. I still had my Army rucksack that I was issued in 2011 when I was deployed so I thought it was appropriate to use that. Then, I gathered up the 30 U.S. servicemembers plus the SEAL dog, Bart, and affixed them to the back of the pack. It all turned out really well and survived the event. Another team member brought the weight that we loaded prior to the start.


Friday, August 10th, 6pm start, Park of Roses, Columbus, OH

The start point was easy to find and the cadre were millin' about prior so there was zero doubt about where to be. We started with 15 at the start and timed perfectly for the 6pm start, the skies opened up and the downpour began. We still opened up our rucks for inspection and got moving on the Heavy's PT test: max situps in 2min and max pushups in 2min. The rest of the PT test is normally a 12-mile timed ruck but we got a curve ball thrown at us with a 6 mile run without our rucks. I was good with it since I was wearing trail shoes and like to run but many were wearing boots. But...the lightning began so that got held up. We instead headed to a shelter and began learning about the timeline of Extortion 17.

Photo Courtesy of Rocky Hogue
After that cleared, we set off on our 6mi run, an individual effort. It was made known that now was the time to see if we could meet the standard to join the team. The route, shown here, was (6) 1-mile loops counter-clockwise, starting at the parking lot. I assumed (wrongly) that this 6 mile run substituted the 12mi timed ruck. When I thought we were going to head out, we found out we were now going to do the 12mi ruck in the opposite direction. It was probably around 9pm at this point as it was dark. (watches/phones are not allowed during the event) At a good clip of 15min per mile that I am used to, I could finish the ruck in 3hrs....30min ahead of the 3hr, 30min time hack. I knew this would be no problem as I do this often. We lost one teammate during the ruck and I never saw him again. Now we're at 14. I finished in 3:02. Check! Now the fun can begin...

Welcome Party

Cadre Cleve (one of our two cadre), a Force Recon Marine, is known to bring his deck of cards to events. Now that the individual tests were complete, it was time for the infamous Welcome Party. They can take any form and totally up to the cadre's discretion. The deck of cards works like this: 52 cards in the deck plus the two jokers. Each ace, in our case, equaled 20 reps, each face card 15 reps and the rest were whatever number appeared. For the suits, he chose overhead squats for the spade, thrusters for the clubs, 4 count flutter kicks with ruck overhead for the diamonds, and 8-count body builders for the hearts. For the two jokers, it was Cadre Mocha Mike's call. Mocha is local to the Columbus area and brought all the "toys" for us to haul around. Mocha chose 38 burpees (with rucks) for the first joker and 38 lunges for the second. That first joker just happened to be the first card called. So there we went for the next hour in the rain in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Two would try to quit the event here but didn't. However, we did lose one after we finished. We are now 13 strong. Also, much thanks goes out to Mocha for identifying the youngest (17 years old) and oldest (ME!) in the class and nick-naming us War Baby and War Daddy. We got to stay in the middle of the circle during the deck of cards. The worst part about that deck? 8-count body builders...no doubt.

Side note: I haven't done many events so I haven't been a part of many Welcome Parties. However, I have experienced the spectrum. From screaming, demoralizing rants from the cadre to soft spoken words to Cleve and Mocha. These guys are class acts. Easy to talk to, approachable, but they hold you to the standard. In other words, they're awesome humans and treat others as they want to be treated. Sound familiar? It's not always the case with these events. Just pull up some YouTube videos and you'll see. I really appreciated this as my tolerance for that venom is low and it's not what I signed up for. So if you're reading this, Mocha or Cleve....THANK YOU.

First Movement North

We offloaded (4) 80lb sandbags, one 120lb sandbag named "Bertha," and two water jugs weighing in at 65lbs a piece from the back of Mocha's Ford. Cleve already told us that the weight would only increase as the night progressed and this is where we were starting. We were given a time hack and of course, we didn't meet it. I'm not sure how far or how many movements we did until we got to Antrim Lake. I do know it had to be around the 5am hour, though, as the first birds were starting to sing. During this trek, we got rained on more and I was getting really chilled so the warm water of Antrim Lake was a welcome addition to the event and cleaned all of the funk off of the team who were all smelling pretty ripe. Lucky me...I got to lead the class in hydro burpees (shown here).


We also knocked out some more 8-count body builders here. Apparently, Cleve loves these as they appeared time and time again. Mocha didn't leave with us after the Welcome Party. It was time for some zzzzz's for him before he'd swap with Cleve later on Saturday. We got some time to eat and clean out our shoes after the water before hitting the trail north again. We started seeing our first runners around now and it multiplied to a scale I have never seen before. Large running group after another passed by us all morning long as we continued north. The Olentangy Trail was extremely busy. There isn't much to share about this journey north except to say that when we didn't meet a time hack, we did more PT...and we missed just about all of them.

Worthington Hills Park + 250lbs

Until I wrote this, I never knew how far north we got during this event. I was really surprised that we got north of I-270! I also didn't realize how close we were to the Rusty Bucket and cold beer...but that's probably a good thing. We arrived here and Mocha was waiting for us.


Out came the two largest ammo cans I have ever seen, a large GORUCK kit bag full of rope, a tarp, straps, etc., and 4 steel poles...and of course, two fresh water jugs filled to the top. Cleve turned over to Mocha and Mocha was all ours. He gave us about 10min to figure out how to carry everything. We still had "Bertha" and the 80lb sandbags but now we had these. We used two poles and the tarp to carry many of the sandbags and suspended the ammo cans using straps with the other two poles. This contraption was called "Pain and Misery" by Mocha and appropriately so. Now if we thought we were moving slow before, slow took on a whole new definition. Not only were we slow, but we could only go so far before we had to put the weight down. The pressure on the shoulders from those steel poles were our limiting factor and would remain so until we rid ourselves of them. We left the park and started our return trip south, stopping often to re-adjust what we made to make it work better.



John Galipault Field

This was our destination after leaving Worthington Hills Park. We barely met the time hack to get there, too, which was a relief to finally do so. I seriously thought reward was coming after that movement in the form of dumping some weight (e.g. emptying some sandbags). We actually did dump 120lbs of sand en route because I think Mocha realized we were never going to get where we needed to unless we made a change to the weight. Prior to that, we were under 700 pounds of combined weight as a team. Dang.


So we got some time to chill out here, refill the water tanks and prepare to move again. What we found out is that this field, shown above, is about a 1/4 mile around and we were going to do the GORUCK-modified version of the Hero WOD "Murph" here as a team. "Now we're talkin' my language!" I thought to myself. Mocha laid it out like this:

  • 1 mile run (4 laps around field as a team)
  • 100 ruck swings (like a kettlebell swing)
  • 100 situps with ruck on chest
  • 100 walking lunges
  • Bear Crawl without ruck about 200m
  • Crab walk forward a little over 200m

I actually enjoyed this! We broke up the movements into 10 sets of 10 which made it far more manageable. Mocha gave us a 55min time hack and we did in 52+ minutes. Afterwards, we talked more about Extortion 17 and Mocha allowed me a moment to share my experience while deployed and being on the flightline that night. After that...time to move out.

Breaking Point

Our next destination was a BP station in order to get some electrolytes. There were a few very pasty-white looking individuals and many were out of electrolytes altogether. This was a very tough movement for me and I'm not proud of how it got to me. The Heavy is a very physical event but it is more-so a mental one. Every person WILL face themselves square on and if you're ugly on the inside, it'll come out. Sleep deprived, beat down, and constantly being pushed will do that. I was struggling a lot during this movement, being assigned to continue under the ammo cans. Many were seriously hurting and the strongest were needed to shoulder, quite literally, "Pain and Misery." The major stressors for me were twofold: the pressure on my shoulders and my right back muscles cramping up. That limited how long I could stay under the weight until it had to go down. Time for a sidebar:

When I see someone struggling, I talk to them, engage them, and ask them how they are doing. If I assess that they simply can't, then change needs to happen. If it's a case of "won't," then that's a different story and motivation is instead needed. Unfortunately, that approach isn't always reciprocated, especially when everyone is in the condition they are. Well, my "cries for help" were ignored which caused me to lose my cool and say some things I regret. We were under pressure to meet a time hack...I get that and believe me, I wanted to make it! However, to make a switch to the other shoulder can be done in 10-15sec. We missed the time hack by 2min, 53sec. You/we have to look out for our team, even when we perceive they are strong, etc. We are all human. So for those around me on my team and heard me, please accept my apologies. I got my head right after that but the sense of "team" was certainly diminished and I felt responsible for that...and still do.

Double-Snickers Bar

Once we reached our destination, I grabbed a Vitamin Water and a fancy double-Snickers bar. Oh my, how good that was! All I really had up until that point was two protein bars, some gels, and a lot of beef jerky. Not many carbs at all so I wanted to get that sugar infusion into my blood stream and oh my, did I feel better after that! Because we missed our time hack getting there, we did some mountain climbers on a grassy area while the traffic whizzed on by. We moved on out after this en route back to Antrim Lake where Cleve would be waiting. Just after we left, though, we came upon a row of telephone poles. Mocha told us that if we could get the pole onto our shoulders as a team, we could dump two 80lb sandbags. We did on the first try. He took a photo of that but I haven't seen it surface just yet.

Back at Antrim Lake, I was hoping we were going back in the water as that sounded so refreshing and the sun was blaring. Based on what Cleve posted online, they were planning to put us in there again but decided against it. We had a break once we arrived and we offloaded all weight except for the team weight I had brought. FINALLY. At this point, it's past 3pm and maybe even 4pm. The end is in sight.

Hit by Snipers

We were given an aggressive time hack and there was no way we'd meet it. Even fresh, you'd have to mix in shuffling or running to meet it and this team was in no condition to do that. Plus, we could only move as fast as our slowest person and we had a few who had feet in terrible condition. Still we lined up two-by-two and headed out at our fastest speed possible. Somewhere about a mile or mile and a half into this movement, our cadre picked off 3 of our team members one at a time and told them to sit alongside the trail and told them to simulate being hit by snipers. Then, our team leader was asked if we still had everyone. No one had been turning around so when we all did, we realized our team was fractured and we had lost a few. This stopped everything and we had to send people back down the trail and carry them back, simulating being killed or badly wounded. Once back, we got some training about watching our 6 and looking out for each other along with a super cool way to build a stretcher using rucks. We actually did it and it worked! Very cool and testament to the high quality and military grade of GORUCK rucksacks. No JanSport would ever survive that!


Endex

We did carry a few team members a very short distance using the rucks but then 3-man-carried our one team member who had the worst feet all the way back to the Park of Roses, over 1 mile away. We learned how to switch out while on the move and never stop and never put him down. Motivated by the knowledge of the end coming soon, we got it done.

Upon arrival back at the park, it was a very different experience as compared to the Detroit Heavy in June 2016. Back then, there were a lot of people waiting for us, a pavilion with food, and lots of photos being taken. There were only a couple of people here and half of them were Mocha's family. We formed up in two ranks and while most might think we were done, we weren't. Mocha called everyone to attention and read each name of the fallen. After each name, we did an 8-count body builder then shouted the name. Once we got through all 31, Mocha had some thoughts and thanks to share with us as did Cleve and then moved through the team, delivering to us the Extortion 17 Heavy patch. It was over. 25hrs, 17min and north of 35 miles covered. A red cooler sat nearby, filled with miniature Gatorades and Budweiser. I'm not a Bud guy and instead a craft beer snob, but that Budweiser sure did taste good. After cheers with the cadre, I headed to the car to contemplate the decision: move on to the Tough or call it.


Back in June 2016, I had this same conversation with myself and I decided then to not try the Tough and Light. I have never regretted that decision. Since then, though, I wanted another shot at it. I called my bride and had a very emotional conversation with her. Emotional for me, that is. I did NOT want to disappoint her and my girls. In order to really get through these events, you have to know your WHY for doing it and decide if it's worth it. I knew my "why" for the Heavy. I honored those heroes, I contributed to my team, and I didn't quit. For the Tough and Light, it felt more inward...more for the right to say "I got my HTL." Almost selfish, in a way. I'm not saying I'm right or wrong, but this was my rationalization at that moment with a very tight time window to make a decision. Given how my feet felt...like walking on needles and the fact that I had a Heavy patch in my hand...and after talking to my bride, I decided to be happy with what I had done and call it. With that, the pursuit of the coveted HTL patch also ended and I won't return to this. Not all things are meant to be. I love to ruck, the GORUCK company, and mentoring new ruckers, but this path has ended for me.

Afterwards, a good friend of mine let me crash on his couch for the night because driving home 2 1/2 hours would be far from wise and strictly forbidden! But first, I pulled up Google Maps and typed in "burgers and beer" and found a place, Pat and Gracie's, only a few miles away. It was the perfect capstone to an epic event.


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

AAR: GORUCK Detroit Tough

About one week before this event on June 29th, I saw that my 3 girls were headed in 3 different directions and since I had a Tough credit on my account, I looked to see if there was an event within striking distance I could attend. Enter Detroit. Back in June 2016, I did my first GORUCK event there, the Detroit Heavy, Class #121. That was my first patch and legitimacy as a GRT. (a term used to describe those who have finished a challenge) A month after that Heavy, I did the July 4th Tough and Light in Cleveland and in 2017, the Rock-n-Roll Light in Cleveland. That's it. I train regularly with my ruck and with sandbags so I didn't go into this event undertrained, I just don't do many events. A big turnoff for me in GORUCK events is the occasional cadre who just spits venom out at everyone. As a 20+ year Navy guy myself, the last thing I need is a special ops cadre doing that. I'm there for the Team...not to get demoralized by someone's ego gone awry. I actually was signed up for a HTL in Philly this same weekend but when I found out that a cadre who has quite the history was leading it, I transferred out. Funny thing is, an awesome cadre ended up taking that event and it seems like it was pretty epic. No regrets, though. Detroit was awesome.

I got up to Detroit Friday afternoon and found a close parking garage to the start point downtown and nestled my car in a corner with plans to "shower" with gallons of water post-event. I got there plenty early so I scoped out the area and made it to the start with plenty of time. I had a few objectives during this event, besides having "fun" and engaging with my Team in a positive way to get the work done.

  1. Test out my Prana Zion Stretch shorts. They came highly recommended for events in the pant form but I picked up the shorts, too.
  2. Test out a new pair of Inov8 trail shoes. Boots don't work for me and I don't need the ankle stability. Trail shoes are best given my running background when it comes to foot care and minimizing blister creation.
  3. Test my fitness. How will I do and how well will I recover?

That's really about it. I packed super light, too. I normally don't eat between 9pm and 9am so why pack a lot of food for this? All I "packed" was a baggie of beef jerky that I kept in my shorts' zipper leg pocket and 2 Hammer Gels, one with caffeine, both also in my pocket. I wanted the minimum IN my ruck if the cadre decided to empty rucks into a community pile. Plus, that keeps the food warm and easy to chew/digest when the time comes. So in my ruck were BodyGlide if chafing became an issue, the requisite $20 and ID, and a nalgene full of Hammer's Fizz electrolyte. I'd sip that when able throughout the warm and humid night. I did glance around during gear inspection and I was amazed at how much stuff people brought and water bladders not full. A bladder holds 3L of water and they shouldn't be floppy at the start. Full and fat.

Some "warmup" PT at the start.
At the start, there were 14 of us and a random guy walks up and asks if this is the GORUCK thing. He's quiet and falls into the ranks we were forming for the event. We all knew that Cadre Pike was leading this event, but he's a ghost on social media and no one had him before. Plus, most cadre put out some extra instructions on the Facebook event prior to the event. Nothing. Well, it turns out that "guy" was Pike, a 24yr retired Recon Marine. Quiet, soft spoken but full of experience he'd soon share with us. The start area was at a public fountain that I expected we'd be in from the start but it was surrounded by a lot of locals who wouldn't stop asking questions of our group as we began some warmup PT and even one person approached Pike asking for money. He got 5 bucks. So instead of the typical GORUCK "Welcome Party," we got the heck out of downtown pretty quick and onto the concrete of Detroit where we'd spend the next 11 hours.

To sum up this event, it is pretty simple and I don't have photos to share. In many GORUCK events, we have "shadows" who follow us and take photos. Shadows are typically local GRTs who aren't in the event but tag along as if they aren't there. We had a few but they quickly disappeared after a few miles. Essentially, if Pike took us past a patch of grass, we stopped and did some "stretching" as he called it. He loves push-ups...a lot. All with our 30lb minimum rucks on (unless you're under 150lbs...then 20lbs), of course. We did our fair share of wall-sits as well. Shortly after midnight, we got into a very sketchy area. It was an area I'd never drive through on my own. We had strict instructions to not talk and move quick. Lots of parked cars in dark areas, abandoned homes, countless dogs barking at us behind chain-linked fences, and not a Detroit cop in sight anywhere. I kept my head on a swivel and took up the rear of the team. I didn't want any stragglers behind me who couldn't keep the pace. Once we reached our destination, a park, we didn't spend much time there, either. We had some verbal training there on buddy carries and then got moving. We eventually made our way out of there and didn't see another area like that again. The PT continued in parking lots, grassy patches, etc. when a "break" was needed from our quick rucking pace. "Rest..." ha!

One of the many locations we spent some time doing wall-sits.

It was about 3am and we found a huge open field under a nearly full moon. Plenty of light for us. Actually, not one headlamp got used the entire event. It was a requirement but given the streetlights and clear sky/moon, our eyes adjusted well and headlamps would've only hurt us. So this open field: Remember how we didn't get a welcome party at the beginning? I'd say this made up for that and often I'd hear Pike say "Remember, you signed up for this!" LOTS of lunging as a team, arms locked...low crawls on the grass while pushing our ruck flat...crab walks...bear crawls...good times! We never did overhead work like holds, overhead squats, etc. Honestly, I didn't mind the PT at all and truth-be-told, had we not got a good thrashing, I would've felt kinda cheated. It IS what I signed up for. Only two gunshots heard in the distance during PT. Winning! :)

After our session in the field, we were off again and luckily came across a drinking fountain. We were all running very low on water so this was perfect to fully restock my 3L bladder. We started moving towards downtown again, as expected since we were now in the 2nd half of the event. One interesting thing Pike did in this event was the use of recon scouts. He didn't bring a bunch of sandbags for us to carry but instead, constantly sent out two people ahead of us to scout the route but their rucks had to be carried by the team. He'd sent them out a mile or so with the expectation to run. We took turns doing this. It was nice to be out from under the weight and run a bit, actually. It was less fun to carry someone else's sweaty ruck but hey, that's what we do! This went on for the majority of the event, except for the final 2 miles.

It was around 6am and we took about a 20min break in a field just outside of downtown and near the Motor City Casino. Pike told us that the next 2 miles towards the Endex (finish) will be the hardest of the event and to get our minds right. We knew from earlier that we'd incur casualties at some point and have to carry others and expected that time was now. After our rest, he briefed us on his expectation, that being that it's broad daylight now, we are carrying Old Glory, so we'd better keep it tight and look good. Like they say, the first rule of Special Forces is to look good. We took off and sure enough, a few blocks in we took our first casualty. Pike didn't choose our one and only female at 115lbs, rather a 215lb man. Then another. We did a few fireman carries but that quickly got old and we transitioned into 3-man carries as we could make it an entire block before switching out. At this point, it was in the low 80s and very humid. I actually don't normally sweat like I was at that point. I could fling it off my arm! With casualties, it's not just carrying them. Their rucks have to be carried by others as well. Plus, we need to move together as a team. This became quite an issue as we cut the distance in half to downtown. The flag was drifting ahead and the casualties as well. Then, we got another casualty. Luckily, he was light enough to be carried by one guy. This disorganization and totally crap communication got Pike the most fired up of the event and he passed on some good "wisdom" to us on that sidewalk. We got our act together and moved ahead. There were a few folks looking pretty bad and beat down but no one quit. When we got to within a few blocks of the Endex, Pike ended the casualties and we formed back into 2 ranks and enjoyed the relief.

We arrived back at the Endex around 8am, 11hrs into the event, covering 15 or so miles...I'm not really sure. We had a little more "stretching" and then got patched. Pike gave us an 8 out of 10 as compared to other classes so I'm happy with that. Plus, our 14 GRTs who started all finished. We didn't get our special July 4th patches but instead the regular patch. The July 4th ones are being mailed to us. After we grabbed our group photo, I headed on back to the car, ready to drive straight home and salvage the weekend with my girls.


I felt awesome. I walked up to the 3rd deck of the park garage with no issues, I had no blisters, no chafing AT ALL, and had more left in the tank. To not have even a hot spot after so much concrete all night or some chafing is pretty awesome. I really felt like I nailed it all.

So for my objectives, I'm impressed! Those shorts were so awesome. One thing you can't see in this photo are the two drain holes in the crotch area. We never got in the water but if we had, those holes would've been nice. But even with sweat, etc, that breathability is a bonus. Plus, the fabric is perfect for all movements, like squatting. Lots of stretch that moves with you. Out of the wash, there isn't so much of a scuff on them. They look brand new. That's after low crawling in the grass and many times on the ground during PT and a disgusting amount of sweating. I also like the strap on the front where you can tighten the shorts. That removes the need for a belt. During events, especially those with lots of sweating, my pants get loose and I need to tighten them. This took a split second to do and I did it often. Huge win. As for the shoes, well I already said I had no blisters and as you can see, the shoes are in perfect condition. I'll admit the tread is aggressive but the reviews I read on them, people specifically said how time on the pavement was good. I would agree! I never felt that tread at all. I do appreciate the tread, though, when I find myself doing PT in the grass, sand, or mud. Another win! As for my fitness, I couldn't be more pleased. I rested on Sunday totally and focused on good food and lots of water. I recovered and recovered fast. I was right back in the garage hitting CrossFit hard come Monday morning with zero issues.

Bottom Line: Pike is a class act. He is a no-bull, straight up American veteran who is there looking to teach, motivate and inspire. He's not grandiose and over the top, yet can dismantle you with a whisper. Much respect for him and his 24 years of service to our country. If you happen to see him show up as Cadre in one of your events, look forward to a great time.

Thanks, Detroit and GORUCK!



Dogfish Head Flesh and Blood to celebrate!




Friday, June 22, 2018

Review: CrossFit Linchpin

First, a 30,000 ft view to bring you full circle about me and my point of view with regards to this review. I'm a 45 year old father of two, husband of 25+ years, Navy sailor for 20+ years, past ultra-runner with 32 ultras and 29 marathon finishes, and current garage CrossFit athlete with my CF-L1. I never thought I could sum myself up in one sentence but I guess I just did! The last part, that being CrossFit, started in November 2014. Between then and now, my wife and I were part of two CrossFit affiliates before opening "Maximum Effort," the name we gave our garage gym in April 2016. Since then, we added a 3rd "car" garage that has never housed a vehicle and instead is our haven every morning at 5:30am. Because I'm an ever-learning student of fitness, I obtained my CrossFit Level 1 Trainer certificate in September 2017.

Since we brought CrossFit home, I have honed my "skills" in how I program our daily grind. I found about 8 to 10 CrossFit gyms that I found interesting with regards to their daily workouts and browsed them daily when I woke up. Then, I rotated through the major lifts weekly. For example, Monday was always front or back squats. Tuesday, we'd go overhead. Wednesday, we'd go below parallel again. Thursday was a rest day and Friday was always Deadlift Friday. Saturday was maybe bench press or perhaps just a long, grueling workout. I am a huge fan of Hero workouts and it wasn't abnormal to see at least one a week. So, based on the lift and the WOD, I designed a warmup that played to those movements to appropriately warm the body up. Fast forward to about 6 week ago when I chose to "subscribe" to one of those 8-10 gyms.

Pat Sherwood, former Navy SEAL, owner of CrossFit Linchpin, is a former CrossFit Games athlete, CrossFit Seminar Trainer and currently on staff at CrossFit HQ in their media department. You'll often see him on the Update Show covering the CrossFit Games. Little did I know until recently, CrossFit Linchpin is his garage affiliate and always has been. He works out with his wife, as I do, and has some friends over from time to time. His workouts have earned, over time, the hashtag #brutallyelegant and he takes the "elegance" seriously. While I've never met Pat, I have come to respect him from afar. Both Navy vets, a few years apart in age, both love our families and hold them high in priority, and don't believe fitness is the KING of all, rather a way to enjoy life to its maximum for as many years as we are given. Pat believes an hour in the garage is plenty to be "fit" and it's important to get out of there as well. Of course, the workout isn't the first step in fitness, it's nutrition, but for me, CrossFit Linchpin has struck a nerve with me and is a great parallel to how I view life, fitness, and things #brutallyelegant.

Pat offers his "private track" for only $10 a month which gives access to his crafted warmup, the workout, and most recently added, accessory work. I have looked at programming "services" before and I must say, $10 a month is nothing as compared to the value received. Bargain is a gross understatement...so THANK YOU, Pat. At right is a screen shot of what I see when I open the Beyond the Whiteboard app. All of Linchpin's programming is found daily here. BTWB also tracks everything so when something is repeated, for example, like 3 set of 10 dumbbell hammer curls as accessory work, it'll show you exactly what you did last time, removing the guesswork of what DB to grab and also a source of motivation to perhaps go heavier and push for a few more reps. There are a lot more tools here, but I haven't dug into them at all. By clicking on "Today's WODs," you can also look in reverse and to the week ahead. I have a "thing" about not looking ahead, though. I never look at "tomorrow" until the evening before. I tend to start thinking about the workout once I know what it is and that's a boundary I set for myself to prevent myself from obsessing over it.

On weaknesses: the one BIG downfall to doing things wholly on my own is the tendency to avoid things I cannot do and/or workouts I don't have to scale. I mean...who doesn't like to write "Rx" next to every finishing result?! Because I'm an all-in kind of person, I am loyal to the workouts Pat writes and don't shy away from anything. I scale, I embrace learning new things, and I face head on things I cannot do. Case in point: yesterday. In those first two CrossFit affiliates, I was never taught how to do handstand push-ups and therefore, never learned them or tried. But, because Pat programmed them, I worked on them and yesterday, I finally got them. Now, it DOES help that I feel stronger than ever and am 20+ pounds lighter than I was on January 1st, but I wouldn't have gotten those had he not programmed them. L-sit pull-ups, tons of DB accessory work, and the list goes on. 

Variety: One of CrossFit tenets is the notion of being "constantly varied." This could not be more true with CrossFit Linchpin. There is absolutely no pattern to the programming from what I can tell. I may be wrong but if I am, I don't want to know! I like that, actually. It's not that certain things are ignored because Pat pays close attention to what's been done and how long it's been. He also doesn't shy away from working on your "engine." As he just recently said in one of his Instastory videos, 

"If you're avoiding conditioning, you're avoiding fitness."  

Sooo true! Just lifting heavy doesn't translate into being "fit." It's a package deal. So, I always find a good dose of running, rowing, or biking on the calendar and moving weight over distance. I love that stuff...especially getting loaded down with weight and moving distance with it.

Overall, I take seriously who/what I support and thought long about signing up with CrossFit Linchpin. The way I see it, Pat was selected to be a SEAL, earned his trident, and served his country honorably. We have that service in common so I feel like hey, this is a guy I can get behind and trust a bit. That training, combined with hundreds of seminars teaching the CrossFit methodology the globe over, making it to the CrossFit Games, soaking in wisdom from interviewing countless Games athletes, and really just years of pursuing fitness is a pretty good resume when it comes to what I seek. Throw in a stance or belief that you don't need to spend hours a day in the gym to be fit and fitness isn't the end all, be all, and there you go. I signed up and have no intention of leaving the CrossFit Linchpin community anytime soon.

Oh yea, before I go, I have to mention again his video commentary. Pat has a "different" kind of sense of humor. "Quick and witty" is how my wife describes him. "Mischievous" comes to mind for me. Either way, we almost always chuckle when we watch together. I do appreciate hearing the "why" behind the workouts, the iterations they went through to get to the final product, scaling suggestions and of course, the time it takes to assemble it all. It really is the cherry on top of my subscription to the private track. For this garage CrossFitter, the total package makes me feel like I am part of the global CrossFit community and the Linchpin community, even though only virtually.

Friday, June 15, 2018

AAR: 2018 Eagle Up 24hr Ultra

Here in Northeast Ohio, the Eagle Up 24hr Ultra endurance event has quickly garnered a loyal following both locally and throughout the Midwest in only 3 years. This year broke all records and was a huge success overall and the feedback coming in has been nothing but positive. My perspective on this event was unique this year so my AAR is a bit event-centric and a little behind-the-scenes. Even if you’re not an “ultra-runner,” read on...you may just find an event here that is within reach that you never considered before.

Full disclosure: I’m the local Team RWB Akron/Canton Chapter Captain, and since this event is our “capstone” event of the year for our Chapter and is on the Team RWB Midwest calendar, it was important to me and our leaders that we do this event very well this year, especially since our Chapter was just “born” at the top of the year as the former Cleveland/Akron Chapter split. A few months back, our social coordinators got together and spear-headed the charge to plan the free pasta dinner and the army of 50+ volunteers it would take to put together a 24hr event and provide the kind of support necessary to not only provide “care and feeding” of 500 participants but medically as well. When we began that planning, I wasn’t signed up to participate and figured I would just volunteer and support my wife would was planning to ruck it again this year. Last year, she did 50 kilometers with her ruck with lofty goals to crush that this year and I did 40 miles with my ruck. That destroyed me physically. About a week prior to the event as our volunteer schedule was set and well over 200 had signed up for the pasta dinner adjacent to the race site, something tugged at my heart and I decided to sign up and ruck it with my wife. Goal? Whatever her goal was. She didn’t tell anyone but me but she wanted 50 miles. LIke I said, her previous distance was 50K or 31.2 miles. Outside of that, she’s done a few trail races at the 25K (15.6mi) distance. Never had she walked, ran or RUCKED under weight past 31.2 miles. “Goals,” right?!

For the weeks leading up to Eagle Up, we did a lot of rucking together with increasing distances carrying at least the required weight of 22lbs. I normally carry at least 35 pounds but often carry more. I have a background of ultra-running, the nutrition involved and the legit mental game that reigns supreme in these kinds of challenges so I just followed much of that. What’s very different from rucking this kind of distance vs. doing a GORUCK challenge is that the constant, repetitive nature of it under weight. In an event, we do PT, we carry things, we stop, we start, etc. It’s not the same step one after another from sun-up to sun-down. It’s also very different than running 50K or 50 miles. When you first throw 22 pounds on your back, one may not think much of it but it’s toll doesn’t take long to be realized. It changes your gait, it applies constant pressure on your shoulders and rests at different spots on your back, introducing a whole new geography of chafing spots not normally realized when only running. Chafing can end an event, as can blisters. Blisters...we’ll get back to that.

At the start, 6am Saturday
At Eagle Up, the rules and guidelines are simple. Camp (or not) anywhere near and surrounding the area leading to the start/finish area and start/stop moving as often as you wish as long as you exit/enter the course at the same point...all between 6am Saturday and when the horn sounds at 6am Sunday. Timing is via chip on your ankle and as you cross the start/finish each loop, the TV screen will display your name and number of loops/miles complete. Each loop is flat and in the shape of a rectangle on a groomed, crushed-limestone towpath trail surrounding the Tuscarawas River. Support is INCREDIBLE. I have crossed the finish line of 32 ultra-marathons and 29 marathons and have never seen the quality of food, diversity of options, and consistency in the “staples” we runners/ruckers want and need. From gluten-free options to cups of pickle juice to hot BBQ to hot Dominos Pizza to Peace, Love and Little Donuts...and the volunteers...just NO COMPARISON and for a 24hr event. Further, we had a mid-way mini-aid set up at 2 ½ miles with more fluids and a few snacks. That remained staffed until 11pm. Even more, two drums of water were evenly spaced to provide even more hydration refills. 

We set up our tent and canopy on Friday at noon, picked up our packet, and headed home for the night to give us a good night rest prior to race day. Many camp out the night before, especially those coming from the 30 states represented this year. From one-man tents to full-blown six-figure RVs, you’ll see it in “Tent City” along the race course in Canal Fulton. From all accounts, the free pasta dinner went very well at Canal Boat Lounge, courtesy of Team RWB Midwest. We couldn’t attend but our team and the restaurant pulled it off really well and we plan to bring it back in 2019. Back home, my wife made pizza on the grill and we were in bed early for a 4am wakeup call.

The race kicked off on schedule at 6am amidst a rising sun and sea of Team RWB red shirts, 177 Eagles, to be exact. I made a commitment to myself for this race: NO RUNNING. In 2017, I ran quite a bit and crushed the event but it crushed me. In fact, I laid on the concrete for about an hour after I finished, unable really to get up without passing out. Cramping was out of control, terrible dehydration, and disorientation. My logic in much of 2017 was this: I used to run all the time so running + rucking made “sense.” Wrong. In 2017, I also was having issues with my knees and couldn’t figure out why. It made me withdraw from GORUCK events and pushed me into seeing my doctor to investigate. Nothing was ever found and I never put two-and-two together that my foot pounds of force I was putting on my knees by running with 35+ pounds on my back was destroying them. Instead, I prided myself on how fast I could cover benchmark GORUCK distances like 12 miles in 1:48. Insane. So, I stopped that and guess what, my knees got better.

So off we went, side-by-side, fast-rucking as we always do together with a bit less intensity due to the overall goal. Our normal 5+ miles was to turn into 50 miles. My goal for this event on the hydration side was very proactive. I was determined to not let what happened in 2017 happen to me again. So, I carried a 24oz bottle and a container full of Hammer Fizz tablets. Think Alka-Seltzer meets electrolyte tab. The goal was to finish all 24oz per loop of Fizz and drop another tablet with a water refill at the start/finish. I did this EXACTLY to the tee. Further, our volunteer medical lead and one of my volunteer Eagle Leaders, Jill Smith, strongly recommended pickle juice to ward off dehydration. It’s not normally smart to try new things on race day but my years of endurance running taught me that I have an iron stomach and I would do this. Big chunks of pickle were out at every loop as well as “shots” of pickle juice. Whether I wanted them or not, I ate pickles and drank the juice along with whatever else from the “buffet” that I wanted.
Photo Booth at the start/finish for everyone whenever they wanted to dive it for a shot. Us at Mile 25!
Feet: rule of thumb...never ignore ANYTHING. While a towpath trail is awesome for how well it’s groomed, it’s bad for tiny little pebbles that undoubtedly make their way into your shoes/socks. As a minimum, I’d recommend tall socks to keep them out of your socks, which I did. Ideally, I recommend wearing gaiters. You’ll save lots of sitting down to empty out your shoes/socks. Make sure you do, though. It became ritual nearly every loop to dump out the pebbles. As we finished our 25th mile and 5th loop, we were certainly feeling some hot spots and we both changed shoes a few times and applied more lube.
Jason Lee (Team RWB Midwest Coordinator) and I chattin' up a storm while my bride is ALWAYS camera-ready! Photo Credit: Dave Alverson

So there is this ice cream shop in downtown Canal Fulton that we hit up last year called Oser’s. Oh my. If you love homemade hard ice cream, this is a must-visit. Last year, we finished during daylight hours and celebrated our finish there. This year, they’d sadly be closed at our finish but we were unwilling to give in to defeat that easy. We decided at Mile 35 to shed our shoes and timing chip at our tent, don our flip flops and go endulge. It was sooo good! It was around this time that my bride was hurting both physically and mentally. Feet, legs and the funk was running wild in her head. On the walk back from Oser’s, she said “I think I’m going to lay down for a bit if you want to go swimming.” Oh yea, they set up a swimming pool at the start/finish! I have learned through ultra-running that to slip into comfort mid-event is a death sentence towards finishing. Even with the flexibility of a 24hr event, I stressed to her this would be a grave mistake. “We have to get comfortable with uncomfortable and forge ahead. We can’t stop. We’ll never start back up again. We have to go.” I prepped her socks with the lube powder I swear by and got us back on the trail. We had 3 loops to go. One more before sunset. Still, alone for the whole event together and not splitting up anytime soon.

There was lots of time where it was total silence, times of generic chatter and times of attempted comedy thrown in. In the end, we just kept encouraging each other through our highs and lows (always happening opposite each other) and was careful on the pace to ensure we stayed together and kept moving ahead smartly and efficiently. As we crossed 40 miles, we grabbed our headlamps and warnings about a storm heading in. We actually saw the radar on a volunteer’s phone at 42.5 miles and the storm was all around us and creating a hole right over Canal Fulton. I wouldn’t have believed it unless I saw it! It was crazy and clearly a God-send. It never did rain before our finish but poured overnight. At this point, our feet were both wrecked. Hers had blisters all over them and me taking my socks off for ice cream was a mistake. I had zero issues prior to that and after, I all-of-a-sudden had hot spots on the outside of my feet near my heels on BOTH feet. So strange and never felt before in my years of endurance running. I lubed them up the best I could and put on my old CrossFit shoes as they are soooo comfy. “Get comfortable with uncomfortable.” Remember that.

At Eagle Up, the major distances you see participants do is 50K, 50 miles, 100K, the 50/50 (50 miles plus 50K), and 100 miles...or most miles possible of your choice. There were also 4 and 8 person relay team options. We always knew when a relay runner blazed past us on the trail. For us, though, our target was 50 miles. At 12:18am, we crossed the finish line, hand in hand. It took us 18hrs, 18min, 27sec to complete 50 miles. We were very happy to be sub-20hrs, too. We’ve been kicking around doing the new GORUCK Star Course and it has a requirement to finish 50 miles in sub-20 hours to earn the patch. Given how many “shoe dumps” we took, the trip to Oser’s, and chatting it up with Eagles at the Start/Finish, we felt REALLY good about our time. She was the top female amongst ruckers and I was 2nd overall. I was/am so proud of her. I kept telling her that there is so much to learn here over just crossing a finish line. She said more than once this was much harder than giving birth and only 2nd to the GORUCK Light event she did with Cadre Geoff Reeves in July 2016. (I think her elbows are still bleeding from that event…) After we shook Eric’s hand (race director), I made a bee-line for the freezing pool and she hit the sleeping bag. The rain did come but only after we were laying horizontal, shoes off for the night.
Finished!
Joey (first ruck and 50K) and Jeromi
Photo Credit: Dave Alverson
There was a lot of awesome stories this year at Eagle Up, not just ours. One fellow CrossFitter had never gone the 26.2 mile marathon distance in her life yet she finished the 50 miler. (YOU ROCK, SARAH!!!!) Then another brand new Team RWB member and fellow Navy veteran just got his brand new ruck the week of the event and had never rucked before. He finished the 50K with the requisite weight and had a flock of Eagles to support him. That’s what it’s all about! There are many more stories out there so if you want to join us in 2019, the date is already set! June 8/9, 2019!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

What Defines You?

I was listening to one of many podcasts this week and ran across, quite accidentally, this one by Rich Froning, 4-time CrossFit Games champ. He has a series dubbed "Froning and Friends" that is both a podcast but also on YouTube. This one was titled "What Defines You?" so I gave it a watch and listen. (Check it out here) Rich is crazy strong and talented but he also has a strong faith...one that I share with him. Through the discussion, they posed this question about defining yourself and stating what it is you stand for. They talked about his business, CrossFit Mayhem, as well as how they conduct themselves professionally and personally. This really got me thinking ever since I listened. I've been struggling ever since with the words that sum ME up. This actually got me thinking about a 3rd tattoo and integrating them into it, somehow. That thought will have to continue to simmer for now.

The first few were easy. Faith. Family. In that order. I have got to keep my "vertical" relationship in check before I can possibly think of taking care of and serving my family. Never by my own strength can I do it all. Family, though, is easily the 2nd "pillar" of my purpose here on this earth. My bride and my kids have to get the lion's share. So what's next? It was easy, actually. Integrity. While it's truth and trust in my marriage, or while in uniform as a Naval Officer, or self-talk about everything. To be truthful, to live a life of integrity has GOT to be foundational. It spills into and either solidifies everything or a lack of it poisoning it.

The last one really stumped me. I had thoughts like "intensity" or "maximum effort" or something along those lines. Obviously, I was thinking about my daily grind in the garage there but since I give so much time and effort into it, it belongs in here somewhere. That led me into my "why" I CrossFit, why I continuously push myself...WHY do I do it? Pushing that aside, why did I hire a nutrition coach last week? Shouldn't I be happy with my perceived "healthy lifestyle" and just keep cruising on? Here's where the word "Duty" comes into play and why I chose it:

DUTY to:
  • My God to take care of myself physically and mentally. To do my best at maximizing my potential with what He gave me.
  • My family. To protect them, to love them, and to serve them without expecting anything in return.
  • My country. To honor the oath I have repeatedly taken and outside the uniform, to never lose sight with the freedom this country has provided.
  • Those who I have volunteered to serve. My extracurriculars have led me to a leadership position within Team Red, White and Blue as well as the marriage ministry at our church with my wife. I raised my hand to serve so for as long as I am in that seat, I have a duty to do it with excellence and integrity. Things will come and go in this area all life long but I always need to remember why I raised my hand and when that "why" goes away, so should I.

"Duty" pulls it all together, in my opinion. As I journey through this new nutrition journey that is filled with macros, scanning barcodes and weighing everything I eat, I do it not for narcissistic reasons...not to gain that six-pack...but to compliment the level of dedication that I have given to fitness and taking care of myself. The "missing piece of the puzzle," you might say. I have a duty to care for myself and this is but one tool I'm trying out to try and do better and be better at it.

So what do you stand for? What defines you? The journey is a worthwhile endeavor and will help ground you in your decisions and look squarely in the eye of why you do what you do and if necessary, adjust course to do better, be better, and live fully the life you've been given.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Why Do I "Fitness?"

It's been an interesting path. I was mostly sedentary as a kid. I joined the Navy at 18 and that didn't really make me "fit" but it did force me to stay within some kind of standard in order not to get kicked out. Ironically, when I was on limited duty in the late 90s due to being diagnosed with vasovagal syncope (still have it today), I ran my first marathon in 1997. That set me on a trajectory of distance running via marathons and ultras that would span 17+ years and even a short season as a triathlete just before our first daughter was born. I left the Navy at that point after 10 years of active service and fell off the wagon, you might say. It wasn't until 2006 when I wanted the Navy to take me back that I was forced to get my act together and lose the 50lbs I had gained. Back to running I went and that is where I found the trails and eventually a push past the marathon to the 100 miler. That happened 3 times in 2009. Fast forward through a crazy running resume to November 2014 when it all changed. I had racked up 60+ finishes of a marathon or more and the weight of those going to ultra-finishes. I was starting to feel the wear-n-tear on my body as I was peaking at 200+ miles a month PLUS I didn't want to spend anymore time alone on the roads. Nearly all of my miles had turned to solo and family had my focus on it like it never had before, even though I married at the ripe age of 19. Enter our friends who invited us to CrossFit class #1. That day was November 4, 2014. It sticks with me for some reason. I have a wall of finisher medals and felt like I was in pretty good shape but in about 5min flat, I was sitting in a puddle of my sweat that morning, feeling like I was gonna die. I liked it.

There is something about being pushed and being dealt a piece of humble pie nearly every day. Over the last 4 years, I have often tried to compare distance running to CrossFit and it's not entirely easy. "Constantly varied, functional movement performed at a high intensity" is really the antithesis of running. Plus, the runner has complete control over the throttle while running. Sure, you have that throttle in CrossFit but at "3-2-1...GO," it's game on and "high intensity" does not equal throttling it back. So in 3 years, I have learned SO much. My path has gone from one gym and then to another which was a brand new start-up. That gym closed after one year and I ended up in my garage. Fortunately for my wife and I, we had received some great coaching along the way and YouTube is chock-full of training videos no matter what the movement is. Combine that with my attention-to-detail mentality and "undiagnosed" OCD, I have been a sponge for learning. I even went and got my CrossFit Level 1 Trainer this past September. Technically, I could turn my garage into a CrossFit affiliate...but I have no intention of doing that. :) For now, I'll just use my training to coach myself and coach my wife.

I did have a fear bringing the "fitness" home into the garage. With a CrossFit gym, a community exists that is a big part of what CrossFit is all about. It's not just the heart-thumping workouts but also the high-fives after and the relationships that ensue.  "What would get me out there in the dark of morning with ZERO accountability?" Actually, that is the first comment that people make when they hear of my routine. "I would never get there." "How do you do it? How do you motivate yourself?" Well, it's not an easy answer. I don't really have a solid explanation, either. It's like a magnet, truth be told. I can't wait to get out there everyday and when I'm supposed to rest, I really have to hold my self accountable to THAT! Kinda backwards, isn't it?!

So here is my routine and maybe it's the constantly-varied nature of it that keeps it interesting. Not too sure. It works, though. I feel in the best condition of my life. I have FOR SURE never been stronger, either. Plus, I'm home for all of it and don't sacrifice any family time. In fact, my bride of 25+ years is almost always right there with me and while that doesn't work for many, it totally works for us.

  • 4:15am - Awake .. brew the espresso, misc tasks around house and browse several boxes to see what their workouts are for the day.
  • 5:30am to about 7am - in the garage: Each day "normally" has a warmup, a strength component, and a WOD. I try to hit the major lifts each week like squats, deadlift, overhead (shoulder press/push press) and rotate them. One day we squat then overhead the next day. Sometimes, in place of that, it'll be a plethora of bodyweight work. I am a BIG believer in being able to move YOUR body in the space you've been given. That means pull-ups, push-ups, dips, dips on rings and somedays, strapping weight on to make it harder. No cheating, no kipping, just moving and growing stronger. I also love to simply move heavy things. We have a few sandbags and one big 150lb strongman sandbag that I love to carry and throw over my shoulder. OK...maybe "throw" is a bit too generous of a description. :) We also have a few slamballs, kettlebells, a rower and my beloved Airdyne....aka: Satan's tricycle. 

For strength, I stick to a 5rep max plan. So no matter what I'm doing, be it 3 round or 10 rounds of a movement, I find a weight where I can do 6 or 7 fresh and then do five of them many times. Other days, it's 3 reps at a higher weight. For example, yesterday was 5 rounds of 3 reps each back squat. I warm up to that and cool down off of it, too. I believe that lifting heavy, focusing on form/breathing/complete movements is key to staying healthy, enjoying it, and getting stronger. The only time you'll find me doing high reps is during a workout or warming up with only a barbell. No, I don't subscribe to any "plan." I simply make sure I rotate often and keep it interesting.

As for the warmups and WODs, there are many days I have no idea what the plan is until I walk out there, look around and get "inspired." Actually, there are many days where I'll be on the airdyne for 25 or 50 calories to warm up and I'll come up with the whole whiteboard for the morning right then and there. I normally compliment the warmup to the workout. So if it's a heavy squatting day, you can be sure we'll be doing air squats during the warmup. I love to program it all together so it makes "sense" physically.

Lastly, I love to throw in things that just suck. To compare to marathon or ultra-running, there is a distinct mental component to it. In the marathon, it's often referred to as "the wall" around mile 20 or so. I "love" workouts or creations I make that push me mentally. For example, my workout this morning was fully complete. However, I wanted to "embrace the suck," as they say for a bit more....maybe doing something a little crazy. The heater had been trying to heat up the garage all morning against the 7 degree air outside so why not GO outside to finish the day. So, I decided to put on my foul-weather jacket I have from the 90s where I served on a few aircraft carriers, a pair of very warm gloves, some running pants and my favorite winter hat. It was time for the Iron Mile. The last two times I did this, I did it in the dark so no neighbors saw me. This time, it was broad daylight and LOTS saw me, one guy even walked out his front door to question my sanity, and a few semi's honked at me along a busy state route outside my subdivision. It's simple, really: put a barbell on your back (choose the weight wisely), and walk. The one strict rule is you must go out 1/2 mile and not partition it. No looping back home as that'll give you an out too quick. This workout turns mental pretty quick. So out I went with a 75lb barbell on back...7 degrees and sunny. Fun, right? Well yea!

The "why": We were made to move. We were not made to sit on a couch all day and eat Christmas leftovers and get fat...or fatter. Our bodies are MACHINES that are AMAZING! There are so many things that have to be perfect just to walk across the room. The brain communicating with every muscle and telling it what to do, the heart responding to deliver oxygen to those muscles...so many miracles happening all in unison to make us WORK...to make us tick. There are too many people at my age (44) that call themselves "old" and use every excuse in the book to do nothing. The key for me is to enjoy what I do get pushed. I don't do it for vanity...to see something "popping" when I look in the mirror. I do it because I literally ENJOY it. Could I get "shredded" or whatever Instagram is calling it today? Sure I could. I could count my macros, weigh everything I eat, etc. No problem doing that and my wife has KILLED it by doing that very thing. For me, I take no supplements, have no secrets, I simply get out there and work hard, safe, and enjoy it. It's really THAT simple. Be creative, share your journey (you just might inspire someone else), be real with yourself and others, and always give the work your body gives you MAXIMUM EFFORT...then go live life and love others. Simple as that.

With Type 2 diabetes on a snowball roll in the country, stores littered with GARBAGE on the shelves, and a society that as a whole, is crazy unhealthy and is looking for the next magic pill to take or fitness DVD to watch...I choose to "fitness" my own way. I make sensible choices, I occasionally indulge (craft beer snob!), never touch high fructose corn syrup, and I work hard in the gym where the only machine is me. I choose NOT to be a statistic and LIVE while living. To do anything else would be to sacrifice the gift I've been given.

Follow my daily grind here: https://www.instagram.com/garageboxnick/

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Defining My "Why"

Since attending the Team RWB Eagle Leader Academy in Detroit a few months ago, I have been processing, thinking, and trying to define my "why." Why do I volunteer with Team RWB? Why do I CrossFit religiously in my garage gym nearly every day? Why did I sign up with Team Rubicon TODAY? Why even bother with so many external things that I don't have to do and why not just focus on myself? All valid questions.

Allow me to get the CrossFit thing out of the way first: unlike running, CrossFit has the uncanny ability to humble me into a puddle of sweat quite often and without warning. Heck, I think it chuckles at me when I look at a workout and think: "oh, that doesn't look too bad" and then I get crushed. CrossFit is a routine of mine that pushes me. It's not the community of CrossFit, mind you. I'm alone in my garage. It's the difficult and very challenging workouts and since I don't know anything other than giving all I have, it is brutal and challenges me daily...and I love that. If it were easy, then I'd be done with it. The fringe benefits are: 1) best physical condition of my life and 2) more time with my wife than ever before...running robbed that of me for nearly 20 years. OK...so now that CrossFit is out of the way, let's move on to my "why."

Today, we participated in the national Run as One event with Team RWB.  Afterwards, about 10 of us enjoyed some java at Starbucks where some shared why they volunteer with the organization. I didn't speak up but the wheels were turning as they have been since February. On the way home, I think I finally framed it up and told my wife my "why." Let me put it into words...finally.

I have always considered myself selfless and giving. I was raised in a Christian home, joined the Navy at the ripe age of 18, got married at 19 and now as I approach my 44 year point in the very near future, I still consider myself to be pretty selfless and giving...to a certain extent, of course. Through the end of 2011 and 19 years of marriage, I felt pretty good about where I got in life, my home life, accomplishments, etc. Then, through a series of circumstances and humility, my entire focus changed. Intangible vs. tangible. Qualitative vs. quantitative. Relationships vs. accomplishments. Obituary vs. my legacy. Yea, I pondered that last one. Who would show up at my funeral and what would they say? Who would give my eulogy and what is it that I would be remembered for? Would it be for my service to my country? My 60+ marathon/ultra-marathon finishes? How I loved my family? My kids? My wife? Or, would I be remembered as a narcissistic, arrogant, angry man? Or person, for that matter. This inward analysis isn't one of chest-thumping but more a gut check of this question:

What legacy do I want to leave?

As someone who is very Type A, needs a schedule, is a perfectionist at heart, and wears his heart on his sleeve, you'll find the following ironic: I LOVE the unknown of what new and unknown relationships will bring into my life via volunteerism. With Team Red, White and Blue, I meet someone new at almost every new event I plan or attend. To refresh you...Team RWB's mission is to enrich the lives of veterans through social and physical activities. That "enriching" has many forms and often, it can be as simple as listening or putting muscle into action to physically DO something. Couple volunteerism with doing it with my wife and hopefully my kids at some point and not only am I helping to enrich the lives of those to my left and right but those under the roof in which I live. My "why?" That's it. It's been said that no one ever sees a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer behind it. Things are just that...things. Experiences, though, and the interactions we have with others can not only help others but set off a ripple effect that does way more good than we'll ever know. So when I think about what kind of legacy do I want to leave, it's one that most won't be able to just describe in a sentence or a paragraph. I want it to be felt in their gut, in their heart, and I want my wife and kids to feel the same thing in their own way.

Hands and Feet: I mentioned before that I was raised in a Christian home. My faith isn't something I brag about, plaster across billboards or my social media timeline, nor bring up in casual conversation. I truly want people to see something different about me and if that makes them curious and perhaps even ask a probing question about my faith, then so be it. When I think about volunteerism and more specifically relationship building and enriching the lives of others around me, I so often come back to the idea of being the "hands and feet" of "something." As a Christ-follower, I do believe that while we're here on earth, we ARE to be the hands and feet of Christ. Serve and love others, disciple them and be His representation while here. I believe it with all my heart. What's super cool about serving others is that no matter what label you slap on it, serving is ultimately selfless and can fit so many molds. I heard it today around the table at Run as One as friends talked about why they were there! In my gut, I want to make an impact. Sure, it feels good but it's just as spiritual or perhaps even more so. Everyone has their own reason why or why they don't serve others. It often "looks" the same on the outside but understanding the "why" on the inside can really help fuel forward movement and become even more enriching both on the receiving end and personally.

We were out on the 5 mile Run as One course this morning in the beautiful Cuyahoga Valley National Park and I looked to my bride and said "you know...we Run as One." She asked, because we were alone at the back of the back where the others had already finished ahead of us, "should we be with the rest of the group?" You see...we were wearing our 20 and 30lb rucks today for the run and we opted for the 5mi vs. the 3mi course so we were lagging behind. I replied: "No, Babe...WE...we run as ONE. We are one." That's what it's all about. It's not about us. It's not about you. It's about the "we" and how we can serve one another but that always starts with the one you took a vow to (if you have). Love hard, serve others, and give life everything you've got without regret...but know your "why."


Thursday, March 9, 2017

AAR: Team RWB Eagle Leader Academy, Detroit MI

This past weekend, I had the awesome fortune of heading 3 hours to my northwest to Detroit, MI for what was known as an Eagle Leader Academy. It is the first step in a 3-part leadership training curriculum with Team Red, White and Blue, one of the most awesome and influential non-profits in our country. If you've done a road race in the past 5 or 6 years, you have most likely seen other runners with red shirts on with an eagle on the front. That's Team RWB. Team RWB's mission is:

To enrich the lives of America's veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.


When Team RWB first began, it focused on wounded veterans but in today's "2.0" version, it's really about relationships, sharing life with each other through social and physical activity, and being a rich and powerful community that takes care of one another. Many have thought that you have to be a veteran to be a part of Team RWB. Absolutely not! I didn't take a poll this past weekend, but a large number were simply civilians with no prior military, family of veterans or active military, spouses of veterans or veterans...current and prior serving. Anyone, quite literally, can be a part of Team RWB and "Wear the Eagle!"

So Team RWB really has two functions: develop leaders and the events part. There are chapters all over the country and most likely in your backyard. If you happen to be local to me and northeast Ohio, we have a large/active chapter right here that spans from Cleveland down to Canton. You can find a chapter easily by clicking here. To join, it's free. Yea...FREE. 2nd step...get involved. So much happens via Facebook now so for now, that's where you'll find Facebook groups where all of the information is put out and often, an e-mail newsletter as well. From coffee socials to yoga to running events/training runs to rucking. There is literally something for everyone. For those in the shadows, it's often hard to step out that first time but I promise you, you won't regret it.

Back to the weekend: The Eagle Leader Academy (ELA) was developed in-house by Team RWB, based out of Tampa, FL Instead of "death by PowerPoint" kind of weekend, it has practical "rich" content that spans some classroom type of training, team-building, planned "white space" to connect with others, and some physical activity as well. It NEVER got boring and if I'm being honest, I didn't want it to end. It began at a restaurant in Detroit where the groundwork was set as far as purpose and mission of Team RWB and the goal of the weekend, we had dinner, then for the next 1-2 hours, people told their "story," their "why" for what brought them to Team RWB. Little did I know going into this weekend, but telling your story is a big part of what it means to connect with others and how Team RWB does it.

But why? Why tell your story? When you are vulnerable and have the courage to tell your story, others can and will relate with you and perhaps, realize they aren't alone. It's a two-way street. Where it's good to flesh out your story and actually know what it is, others can empathize with you, come alongside you, support you...that's the connection point. That human element is so gone in today's society. There is a reason I steer clear of mainstream news. There is so much finger-pointing, complaining, hate, "more for me" attitude (aka: selfishness) where as human beings, we are not meant for that! Sure, we are born selfish out of the womb but it's a choice to remain that way. Our brains are wired in such a way that compassion and love flow freely should we DECIDE to let them. When you consider all of the division in our country and world, for so many strangers to come together in Detroit and become able to connect in such a rich way across gender lines, color lines, age across decades, and a plethora of religious beliefs...well, it gives hope. It's proof that together, through community, life CAN be awesome if we "simply" take care of each other.

As for my chance to tell my story, I stumbled through it. I need to work on it better. That's a work in progress and maybe one day, I'll type it down and share it. For now, I'll continue to craft it and bring some fluency to it. I did have the honor of hearing many others' stories, though. Time and time again, I was thankful to hear it, was impacted by it, and often could relate. The simple sharing of our "why" drew us closer together.

Day 2 brought us back to the "classroom" for more along with a fun team-building exercise. We had the chance to work together as teams, got thrown challenges in communication, and even got a little bit cozy at one point under some cardboard. It was a great time! One thing that really stood out to me was a discussion on: Empathy vs. Sympathy. First, watch the video below.

Powerful stuff, eh?! I "dumb" it down to this: Sympathy is one way. It's your reaction to someone and your effort to throw a bandaid on it, aka: silver lining, and move on. It doesn't really help the other person in any way. Empathy: requires heart. It's letting the other person's story (whatever that may be) touch you and allow yourself to "feel." Another way: sympathy is just "matter of fact" and empathy stops and absorbs. Sympathy fixes....empathy listens. I continue to chew on this and am hoping it impacts my roles as a husband, father, and leader in every role I hold in life. Put down the phone, look them in the eye...and just listen.

The Eagles from Ohio
This discussion on empathy spilled into just about every facet of the remaining weekend and honestly, it continues today as our class continues to communicate amongst ourselves privately. I have led marriage retreats and small group Bible studies before. One of my chief complaints about those is not the content. I always strive to deliver quality content but it's the follow-through afterwards. As a leader, it's extremely deflating to lead 20-30 couples over a marriage retreat weekend, deliver awesome life-changing content, but then have no vehicle to continue the discussion forward. It's so easy to get home, throw the handbook on the bookshelf and return to status quo. Because of how the ELA was crafted, it sent those in attendance away with real "meat" to chew on and apply immediately in their lives but also the means to continue the conversation with other "Eagles." It did what most training events do not.

Day 2 semi-wrapped up with a few games of bowling at a local bowling alley. It was not just fun with each other but also time to engage with region leadership one-on-one outside of the classroom's formal setting. Again...planned "white space" that encourages relationship-building, connecting, and a whole lot of laughter/smiles mixed in. I say semi-wrapped up because the night was still young and many commandeered the majority of the hotel's lobby furniture for more conversation into the night. For me, it was time to mentally unplug and crash. It was a very mentally-stimulating weekend! The early call to bed was awesome and needed.

The final day brought it all full circle and allowed some time for the state-specific chapters to collect together and put some action points down on paper and talk. It also allowed a chance for anyone to give shout-outs, praises, etc. to others publicly in our group. Again...so foreign to a "corporate" training event but sooooo good! Finally, we joined together in a Yoga Nidra session. I'm very, very new to yoga and still have my reservations about it but I continue to tip my toe into it. Nidra is unlike so many other yoga practices. Heck, you don't even move, open your eyes...nothing. It is fully led by the instructor and some DO and WILL fall asleep!

After a great Panera lunch, we said our goodbyes and headed in all directions back to where we came from. Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and even Kansas. On the way back, I listened to Joe Quinn as a guest on the awesome Eagle Nation podcast. He is the former Regional Director in NY but now the Director of Leadership Development for Team RWB. The podcast was recorded back in December 2016 before the new Eagle Leadership Academy was rolled out. It was refreshing to hear his and Team RWB's vision after being a part of the first ELA. They totally nailed it! If you don't listen to the Eagle Nation podcast, there is a new one every Monday morning. I can't recommend it enough! (listen to Joe's podcast here)


To the leaders at Team RWB, our local leadership here in the Midwest and my fellow Eagles at ELA Detroit 2017, THANK YOU! I look forward to many more experiences and bringing the "Eagle Fire" to my local chapter and communities. Remember be real...be AUTHENTIC! "EAGLE UP!!!"