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!!!"


Monday, August 1, 2016

M-Cubed for 8.1.2016

M-Cubed (Monday Morning Musings) for August First, Two-Thousand Sixteen...a random smattering of thoughts that end up here on Monday morning.

- August. The county fair, some kids return to school, most flowers are dead or hanging on for dear life that once thrived in the Spring, and the month without a holiday. Also the month when reality hits that summer is nearing an end and if there is something you want to get done, you best get on it before Fall and 'ol man winter rolls in. Regardless, Happy August 1st!

- This past Saturday, I had the chance to compete in my 2nd ever CrossFit competition at Advanced Performance CrossFit (APC) in Wadsworth, OH. Since I've been working out in my garage since April 1st, I was really looking forward to the competitive juices flowing as I got the opportunity to compete side-by-side with like-minded athletes.  From 9am until just prior to 4pm, I participated in 3 events and ended up 5th out of 12 men in the scaled division. Scaled = reduced weight and some reduced complexity in a few movements. I chose scaled due to the fact there were a few things in the "Rx" division that I just can't do efficiently yet or at all. I definitely made the right call. Over all, I gave maximum effort throughout the day and had a blast. Big kudos to Ashleigh who was the only person I knew there and was a member at my last gym with me. It was her first CrossFit competition and she crushed it! Here are just a few photos from the day:
I did everything in the blue. Event #1 ended up being the last event of the day. They also added carrying a 20lb slam ball on that 800m run.


Lateral Burpees

Deadlifts

Event 2 "Double Trouble" ... amazingly, I did those 75 wall-balls (14lbs) UNBROKEN!

Crazy 8... one of the 64 overhead squats (75lbs)

Crazy 8 ... returning from the 800m run with 20lb slam ball
- Hard to believe it's been 5 years already at the rank of lieutenant. Today, the silver bars are shed and a gold oak leaf added. It has seemed like the day would never arrive but finally, it has! Looking forward to seeing friends and family I haven't seen in awhile and having my girls do the honor of removing one rank while adding the new one.

- Good 'ol GORUCK closed out their Christmas in July sales event with a carrot too big to pass up. Back in June, I went to Detroit and participated in my first-ever event, the 25hr GORUCK Heavy and finished...but didn't finish the intended goal of the two following events, the Tough and Light. All 3 make up the "HTL" that isn't an event in itself, more like a crazy, insane goal. Well, there is a GORUCK HTL "opportunity" coming to Columbus, OH over Memorial Day weekend in 2017 so I caved and signed up for all 3. So far, there is already a nice compliment of Detroit Heavy participants heading down for either one or all 3 events. It's a long time away but I'm looking forward to the chance to get my HTL patch once again.

- Netflix and binge...haven't done much of that but I did last Monday-Wednesday. Heard of "Stranger Things?" Think Goonies meet X-Files meet E.T. ... in 1983, complete with cheesy synthesizer music and bad hairstyles. It's an awesome 8 episode series that just got confirmed for a 2nd season or sequel to the first. It's done so well that it's now passed up "Orange is the New Black" in popularity and viewership.

- Things in the home gym/box have been going AWESOME. I have really found my groove and honestly, I feel stronger than on April 1st when our last gym went out of business and we built out our garage. I have definitely found myself gravitating towards those high intensity workouts that suck more than others but keep focusing on many fundamentals to keep myself safe and strong. My goal is not to participate in a lot of competitions. It's more to stay fit and healthy...plus, I enjoy taking myself to that dark mental place where I WANT to quit but refuse. It's made more awesome, too, that I share this journey with my wife. It's going great!

A little app fun on my phone during a workout last week that involved carrying this 45lb plate through several 400m runs along with lots of burpee box jumps. The plate carry wasn't part of the original workout. I added that to increase the "suck factor." It worked!
- So who for President? Gag. Still waiting for the mysterious 3rd candidate who is hopefully going to appear and save us all from either a President Trump or Clinton! (not holding my breath)

- This look. "Dad, seriously? You know I love my Bow Wow Sundae." She did get hers a few minutes later but her look is priceless. Bow Wow Sundae? >> Vanilla ice cream topped with a dog treat. :)

- Care to follow my daily shenanigans in the box and that thing called "rucking" as well? Hit me up on Instagram under "RTRSBM" ... post daily on there.

- Now go!!! Go take Monday and do great things! Have a great week, everyone!


Friday, July 15, 2016

Finding Awesome Through Balance

Where to begin...how about here...


I went back to the very beginning of my blogging days in early 2008, nearly 700 posts ago, and found this gem on the right where I ran the Athens Marathon near Ohio University. That was in the Spring of 2008. I ran a 3:28 or 3:26 that day, failing to qualify for the Boston Marathon which was my goal that day. (I still have yet to qualify for Beantown.) The left photo was on March 31st of this year, the last day we had a CrossFit gym to call home. Since then, we've called our actual home our CrossFit home...aka: garage box/gym. Like a "fine wine," I like to say we get better with age and not only physically but also in our marriage of "almost" 24 years. We've had our ups and downs, had periods where we were more like roommates instead of being fully committed to each other, and have grown in just about every area of life. Today, we find ourselves closer to each other than ever before. We like to find new craft beer bars together, "beast" it in the gym together, laugh hard together AND at each other, fumble through raising two girls together and laugh very hard along that path and ultimately, be completely vulnerable and an open book to one another, bar nothing. Basically, we're proving it's still possible to be in love, even after all this time and "life" happening.

Last night, she joined me to take photos and watch a "ruck" workout at a local CrossFit gym. She did her first official GORUCK event a few weeks ago but since she's still licking her wounds from that one, she decided to just observe last night take over 500 photos of all the fun. As we were leaving last night, I made the comment/observation about where we are right now and how we choose to walk the walk. There was once a day where I couldn't get enough time running alone. I would run 200+ miles a month, I'd devote half of Saturdays to being on the trails and in the meat of 100-mile race training, Friday as well. I'm not knockin' running at all. I love to run. Looking back, though, it owned me and robbed family time from me but honestly, I would've told you back then it didn't. She had her passions...I had mine. We were all good. "Today, we're balanced in our own way," I told her. "I love to work out and find the suckiest workouts I can. I want to be strong and be the best I can be. I love to ruck, too, and all the friends I have met. There is no one thing I'm gung ho on. That doesn't mean I don't give maximum effort, it just means it doesn't own me nor define me." Some weekends, for sure...it's crazy and I'm "all in" on a particular activity but it's all about balance. Taking the time to talk, listen, put the devices away, watch a movie on the couch, sleep in, take a rest day, get away for a few hours on a date, and yea, sometimes just go and be alone. Someone recently made a comment to me and eluded to how all of my physical activities are all I do and ARE me. Ha! It's ok to be passionate about things, ya know?! I mean...if you're not, then why even bother doing them, right? Do them with maximum effort or don't even bother. Yea, I think I heard a few GORUCK cadre say those exact words a few times recently. By the way, your age is just a number...or an excuse. Don't let it define your ability or put any restriction on what you can or cannot do. YOU can do anything you want! Now how about some photos from last night's fun?!

Situps...not the traditional kind.

Creating a scene at the local rec center. Always a kid at heart!

Buddy Bear Crawls...Joe wasn't allowed to use his feet at all. Just be a dead weight, essentially. An awesome workout...you should try it!

Ever heard of the Turkish Get-Up? It's normally used with a dumbbell or kettlebell. Same movement but using a 60lb sandbag. Another first for me. We got 98 reps in a 10min timeframe. This was our warmup for the evening. :)

Our evening ended around 9pm with these overhead presses. Position 1 here, then to the shoulders, then locked out overhead.
Last but not least, a few local friends dropped a little present off at our house today. I haven't yet seen this, but my bride was kind enough to test it out and send me this video. Fun times ahead!


~ Chris CT, Old Glory Armory and GORUCK Cadre
Have a great weekend, friends!

Friday, July 8, 2016

AAR: GORUCK Light, Class #1217

This is Part 2 of 3 of a 3-part blog series covering the GORUCK Tough/Light/Scavenger July 4th weekend in Cleveland. Read them here >> AAR: Tough, AAR: Scavenger

Reflecting back to my first After Action Report covering this past weekend, that being of the 13+ hour Tough event, I eluded to my wife and her reaction to Friday night's Welcome Party at the Tough which is a perfect place to start this report. No one in my family had been to anything "GORUCK" and since this past weekend's events were all local and the starting point for that event was only 30min from home, I invited her, my two young daughters and my parents to stand in the shadows and watch. Well, that kinda, sorta, DEFINITELY back-fired. The beginning of GORUCK events, dubbed the "Welcome Party" can get pretty intense and with the last minute add of Cadre Geoff Reeves, a Navy SEAL, it was ramped up a few notches. Heavy PT, yelling, choice words that could make some sensitive ears bleed...yea, that wasn't the best thing for my bride to see the day before her first event. Yea, I tossed an invite to her a week prior never thinking she'd say "yes" to but she did. I was thrilled, honestly. We CrossFit together and do so much training side-by-side, I thought this was perfect...to do the "Light" together and embrace the suck as one. After all, the website for the Light says: "If you can do a 5K, you can earn the GORUCK Light patch." (hehe) Well, as I walked in the house from the Tough with less than an hour to shower, eat, and get back on the road to Cleveland for the Light on Saturday, I found out that she has been trying to figure out how to tell me she was NOT doing the Light and "why would you pay for THAT?!" "That doesn't look fun at all!" My response..."but it's a Light." Her: "But Geoff can do whatever he wants." She had a point, there. Feeling in the dog house before even leaving for Cleveland, I did my best to encourage her and not let her quit before she began. The site also touts a 100% completion rate. Fast forward to the end: not on this day in Cleveland!

We arrived in Cleveland an hour later and once we found our parking spot, we made our way to the starting point at the Fountain of Eternal Life, adjacent to the Key Bank building. It's a wide-open space with the fountain in the center of it all and lots of green space just north of it. We milled around with friends and swapped memories from the Tough event with those who were doing both events, waiting for 2pm to roll around. As it did, we formed up into ranks. 41 brave souls.


From the beginning, it was definitely a different flavor of GORUCK as compared to the Heavy and Tough. Smiling cadre and a laid back roll call were evidence of that. Soon though, we had "rucks on front" (see photo above) and we were off crab walking across the pebble surface that without gloves, shred some hands within the first 5min of the event. (my wife's being one of them....NOT GOOD for my sleeping arrangements come that evening!) Crab walks can be a real pain, especially if you don't loosen the straps on the ruck as it'll choke you.


Many thanks goes out to the grounds crew for the City of Cleveland for the next evolution...low crawls through the grass as the sprinklers kicked into high gear. You'd think it was pre-planned by the cadre. I mean...it's a Light, right? Who doesn't want sprayed in the side of the head by a reclaimed water sprinkler while crawling on your elbows through wet grass?


And there went our 100% completion rate. We had a drop in the first 5min of the Cleveland Light. After that crawl, too, my bride had bloody elbows and a look on her face that said something like "talk to me and die." Got it. More crab walks were to come before moving up to the grassy, green area. Once there, we shed our rucks and split into two teams, putting our flags in the middle of the two piles of rucks...game time!


What came next was a game of mixing PT in with teamwork, a cornerstone of GORUCK...that being, working together as a team. For each round, the losing team chose a PT evolution for the other team to do. This was actually a lot of fun and some good PT as well but not the shouting kind. It really was all in the spirit of fun and I finally saw some smiles from my partner of 23+ years. Good....let's keep that up.
We circled the rucks prior to each movement/round
Cadre Geoff looking on as we did an overhead press of one of our teammates
For each evolution, we raced to form a letter. Each round moved closer to spelling the word "Independence"...the team first in forming their letter chose the workout for the other team.
After we formed our word, we formed up to head out and get the weight we'd carry for the rest of the day. We had a lot of inexperience in the group (as expected) so getting into formation was a struggle at first. Ranks, communication, teamwork...all a real mess there in the beginning but it started to come together pretty quick. Our first task was to find a silver Toyota that contained our sandbags...or "bombs" in keeping with the mission we were given. We found it pretty quick.



As soon as I saw it, I commented how it looked weighted down like a car would look like in Afghanistan if it were a VBIED...vehicle borne improvised explosive device...a "car bomb." Sure enough, that's what Cadre Aaron asked the team...what looked wrong with this car. Inside: 700 pounds of sandbags that our team would carry for the rest of the day, supposedly 4-5 hours (also per the website) in length. We got them out, put them on shoulders, formed up and headed on out. Team leaders were identified just prior to this and led us towards our next objective: Burke airport where the static displays are of a Navy Blue Angel and Air Force Thunderbird. Off we went. During this trek towards the Lake Erie waterfront, the "team" aspect started to form as we're supposed to keep it tight, within an arms length of each other and we had to change out the weights as we rolled along. Whether in a team leader position or simply on the team, it forces everyone to communicate and work together...or fail. There really isn't an alternative to working together and under stress, emotions definitely started to emerge. Still, we moved the best we could until reaching our objective at Burke Lakefront Airport.


My wife (on left) doing her part under one of the heaviest sandbags we had.

We were told to distribute the sandbags under the wings of both jets then got into formation, obviously for some more PT because: 1) this is a GORUCK event! and 2) we didn't make our time hack...we weren't even close.

That's me in the red shirt..my wife in the lower right in the gray shirt...being a trooper!
So there's this thing called the standing sit-up. I'd never done it before. We were told to find a person of similar weight/size and form up. I thought we'd be doing buddy carries that I was good with. I'd been practicing those! Well, the standing sit-up is when you get in sit-up position with your partner sitting on your toes and wrapping their arms around your legs/calves. Then, you sit up, arms/fingers locked behind your head and then stand up...all in one movement. It took me a few times to get this but I eventually got it. I don't recall the number but I think we had to do 20 of them and that number got reset multiple times because some couldn't make it vertical. Once done, we traded spots and our teammate had to do the same.




We thought it was time to move out after this BUT we were too slow forming up so instead of leaving, more PT, courtesy of Cadre Geoff awaited. He found a nearby fence that we used to get into a chair sit position then held our rucks overhead. I was wiped at this point and really struggled to keep that thing over my head. Overhead "anything" is always a struggle for me. As we did this, Geoff began another history lesson, something he did a lot of overnight during the Tough event that I really enjoyed and appreciated. This time, it was about the President's desk in the Oval Office called the Resolute desk. After the lesson, he made his way around showing us a photo of him and his SEAL team when they once visited the President in the Oval Office, adjacent to the Resolute desk.



Off we went. We headed north across the city en route to some train station along the Cuyahoga River. It took awhile to get there. Eventually and after a few wrong turns, we arrived along a steep, grassy slope and given a good 10min break to go to the bathroom and chill. After this short break, it was game time again. Imagine a game of charades with an empty ruck on the person's head doing the motions then once the word is guessed, the same person rolls down the steep hill towards the pink ruck followed by sprinting back up the hill...not always an easy task when your equilibrium is thrown amuck!



This went on for awhile and we all got 3 to 4 turns at charades and rolling. The losing team (ours) had the pleasure of getting in the not-clean Cuyahoga River down by that fountain.


And we're off! By this point, I think everyone knew we were going a bit long, probably not in the 4-5 hour expected range of time. Fine by me, really, as we had no place to be except for dinner and a big fat burger after we were done. We started making our way back to the starting point at the Fountain with a fresh set of team leader/assistant team leader. We knew it was later in the day pretty soon as we were marching right through the early hours of nightlife in Cleveland as city-goers were sitting down for dinner on outside patios, doing their best to enjoy a beautiful evening in a bustling and revitalized downtown Cleveland. For us, we were struggling a bit to stay together. If you ever attend a GORUCK event, there is a common rule: stay an arms length apart from each other. Don't spread out. Well, we kept spreading out so we got stopped and put into an uncomfortable (and embarrasing, I might add, given our audience) position to prevent us from splitting up. I think they called it an elephant walk. You can see why in the photos below. You had to put your ruck or sandbag between your legs and the person behind you had to grab onto it. Honestly, this couldn't have ended soon enough. The most we could do was shuffle very slow until someone dropped the weight and then we stopped...again and again and again.



Once we went a few blocks like this, we got the weight back up and hoofed it back to the Fountain and starting point, nearing the end of the event. We formed up and without hesitation, we found out we had some penalties to pay for our slow pace throughout the event. It got paid in the form of 8-count body builders with rucks on. Our reps didn't count until we could get ourselves together as a team. Often, the count didn't go 1 through 8 and instead bounced all over the place. It was up to us to pay attention, follow instructions and do it as a team.

We had one our teammates' son join us for a few 8-counts!
Once we hit our number (20, I believe), we were done except for one of our teammates who gave us a solo performance of the National Anthem as many of us sung along. (thank you!) With that, Class #1217 was a wrap with 38 of 41 finishing the SIX hour event. hehe! It was 8pm, I was starving, and as soon as we got our patches and got our group photo, we'd be out of there!

Cadre Geoff delivering my patch. I didn't get a photo after the Tough event so I'm thankful for this one. "Thanks, Geoff!"

I couldn't wait to say two things to her: 1) I'm sorry I pulled you into this!, and 2) I'm so proud of you for not quitting.

Before we took off, we gathered around for our group photo in front of the fountain.


So legs that broke out in bumps from the wet grass, two bloodied (scabbed) elbows, a left numb thumb, two blistered palms and two knees that also bled, my wife did it. We talked a lot on the way home and after dinner about the event, the different emotions we saw in our team and what worked and didn't work. What we didn't talk about was if there would be another event for her in the future. That question was best left for a later day after the days of Neosporin and healing was finished. I didn't end up on the couch but I couldn't touch her much, either, since lubed up knees and elbows kinda prevent that! I had a great time at the Light, a blast at the Scavenger the next morning and overall, an epic Tough/Light/Scavenger July 4th weekend. In the words of my wife on her Instagram account yesterday:

"These pictures make me proud! The GORUCK Light challenge was the hardest thing I've ever done. I've still got skinned up knees and elbows, blisters on my hands and a numb thumb. But, I dug deep and did it! Sometimes you have to strap in, ignore the pain and get it done."

Photo Credit: Many thanks to Sean Frost/Nicole Richardson and Cadre Aaron for the awesome photos!