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!!!"