Saturday, November 24, 2012

Runner's Workout #1

I had hoped to post once a week, but last weekend got away from me. Everyone here was sick at the same time! Swimming lessons were missed. Workouts were skipped. Much sleep was lost. Oh my!

Now that things are settling back into a normal routine again, I think it's time to post one of my favorite workouts. This is something that you can make as easy or as hard as you want, depending on your fitness level and your goals.

  1. Warm-up run of one to two miles (2-4 km)
  2. Bodyweight intervals.
  3. Cool-down run of one to two miles (2-4 km)
I don't know if there is a better or more proper name than "bodyweight intervals", but it fits.

Normally runners think of interval training as a form of speed training. They will sprint as fast as they can for a minute, then walk for thirty seconds. This forces the heart rate up and down and helps build the fast twitch muscles. While a traditional interval is great for building speed, the rest of us probably want to improve our overall fitness. So here's what you do:

Pick a point about 100 yards (100 meters) in front of you. Sprint to it as fast as you can. Then drop to the ground and perform 10-20 reps of a bodyweight exercise. Good ones to use are burpees, pushups, jumping jacks, crunches, and bicycles. Do as many intervals as you can, but I would recommend no less than four. For more bodyweight exercises, Kemme Fitness has compiled a list of more than 80 variations to try!

We live a little over a mile from a quarter-mile (400 meter) track. Most tracks have markings every 100 meters for sprints and relays. This is perfect for doing intervals, too! I run to the track, go around at least twice (for a total of eight intervals), then run home.

I did this workout Thursday morning before we met the family together for Thanksgiving dinner. In about 45 minutes I burned over 900 Calories according to my Polar heart rate monitor.

I'll post again in a couple of days to review the Renegade Run, a new race in the area. See you then!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rebel Race Review

UPDATE 2 (2012-11-13): Rebel Race has banned me from posting on their Facebook page. Classy!

UPDATE (2012-11-13):  Rebel Race deleted the link to this review from their Facebook page along with some other negative reviews. I'm going to put it back and see what happens. Many thanks to Wicked Muddy for linking to my review and the NE Spahtens for allowing me to guest-post a review on their site.

On Saturday (November 10, 2012) I ran the Rebel Race in Haverhill, MA. What follows are my thoughts on the race: good, bad, and ugly.

I have to say, my feelings are mixed about this race. I had heard a lot of bad press about the races that this company organizes, but I've also seen a lot of good reviews. I really didn't know what to think, so I signed up when a discount code came my way and went!

The race was hosted by Kimball Farm. This is a working farm, which means you may experience some, shall we say, disagreeable odors. I spent a good chunk of my childhood at a friend's family farm, so I barely noticed, but others complained. This is really not a drawback in my opinion because some of the farms around here have awesome terrain for runs like this.

So here we go: First the good.

  • I have not yet run some of the bigger races like Spartan or Tough Mudder (they're on my calendar for 2013) so I'm not familiar with all of their obstacles. That said, Rebel Race has one of the most fun obstacles I have ever encountered: a long mud/water slide that ends in a three-foot-deep mud pit. You hit that pit so hard and fast that before you realize it, you're up to your neck in the stuff. Awesome! Ruckus has an even longer slide at the end of their race coming down from Mount Ruckmore. You land in a pile of straw but a mud pit like this would be much more fun!
  • The eight-foot walls were rather Spartan-like. There were few footholds going up, but the other side was just a smooth wall. Drop, jump, or hang off of them, your choice. Pretty standard fare.
  • The fifteen-foot ladder wall kind of freaked me out. I'm not overly fond of heights and this one gave me second thoughts. Going up was easy enough, but getting over the top and climbing down was hard for me personally. It definitely got my adrenaline pumping!
  • There was a cargo net over another fifteen-foot wall. Again, pretty standard, but still fun. It reminded me of the ones at Ruckus this past summer.
  • The terrain was more challenging than I expected! Kimball Farm has some serious hills that are really rocky and steep. You know the stories our parents used to tell us about walking to school, uphill, in both directions? This course felt like it was uphill all the way. My legs were burning about half-way through.

Unfortunately, that's where the good ends. Rebel Race has sparked a lot of controversy around itself over the past couple of years, and I don't think they've really learned their lesson.

  • Parking was $10 per vehicle, cash. Seriously??? This is a money grab, pure and simple. They could probably make more money by raising their entry fee by $5, but then it would be reportable to the IRS. When you park and hand the attendant a $10 bill, who knows where that money is going. Am I being too picky and cynical?
  • Lines at the check-in table were insane. I quickly realized that the bottleneck was that there was only one person running for shirts for all of the lines. I think there were eight people in front of me when I got there, but it took nearly 20 minutes to pick up my bib and swag.
  • The person who checked me in never asked for my "death waiver". They had a stack of blanks on the table, but never said anything to me about it. Sloppy.
  • The swag amounted to a white cotton T-shirt and a small bag. My bib had a bag-check tag included, but I just shoved everything in my CamelBak because my heat was scheduled to start about seven minutes later.
  • Did I mention a bag check? Yeah, the line for that was longer than all of the checkin lines, combined. I didn't even try to go there.
  • Part of the swag included tickets for food and beer. I joked about free beer and the attendant said, "Oh no, the beer isn't free! The ticket simply allows you to purchase food and beer from the vendors." WTF?!? Every event I've been in, except for one small local run, had a free beer for every racer. In my mind, this is just another money grab.
  • Let's talk about lines again, this time at the obstacles. The slide and the rope traverse had extremely long and slow lines. Put another way, my course time on my watch was a minute more than an hour. On my GPS, which pauses the track and timer when standing still, read around 40 minutes
  • Most of the obstacles didn't have any attendants that I could see. Just for safety's sake if nothing else.
  • Speaking of safety, the last major obstacle was horrid. Rebel Race's signature obstacle is the "Rebellious Rope", which is a rope traverse over a body of water. You hang from it and pull yourself over the water. If you fall off, you get wet (and muddy). Sounds like fun, right? I was really looking forward to this one given that Kimball Farm is located on the Merrimack River.

    This was not the case at all. The ropes were suspended over a rocky pit that was filled with round hay bales. A quick lesson in hay baling from this old country boy is probably in order: Round bales are up to six feet in diameter and top out at one ton (2,000 pounds) per bale. Round bales are preferred to square bales because they are more tightly compressed, which means they are very hard. Does this sound like something you would want to fall on? Not so much...

    At their highest point these bales were about eight feet below the ropes. It appeared that they were just thrown in the pit with a bucket loader, so it was possible to fall ten feet or more before landing in between them, possibly on the rocks. And that's exactly what happened.

    One poor runner got 90% of the way across and fell. Seconds later they were calling for a medic. I didn't see it happen or get a good view of the person who fell, but I'm guessing a broken ankle or leg was the result.
  • The worst part? I didn't see a single EMT on site. Not one. When that person fell off the rope, it took fifteen or twenty minutes before I saw ATVs driving up the hill or heard an ambulance siren. The big-name races, which Rebel wants us to believe that it is one of, have at least two or three ambulances on standby and ATVs or Gators gassed up and ready to go. Injuries do happen—that is a fact of nearly every sport. We will judge you based on how you handle these issues and right now, Rebel Race has a failing grade.
Will I run this race again?

I have been struggling to answer that question, because the race itself was actually a lot of fun. However I think the bad outweighs the good.

Rebel Race has a lot of problems that need to be solved. Safety is paramount. People do get hurt participating in these races and that's just a simple fact. You can get hurt playing any sport, so this is not a knock against obstacle racing at all. How an event organizer steps up to deal with accidents tells the tale, and right now their story doesn't have a very happy ending.

Lines are bad. I heard someone say that the wait at the rope traverse was over an hour. That is completely unacceptable!

I'm going to post a link to this review on their Facebook Page and hope that they don't censor it as they have many others. They seem to be adverse to negative reviews and delete posts that they don't like. Maybe if they read them and heeded what their participants say, the race would be better.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave your feedback in the comments.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

First Post!

It's rare that I get to say the words, "First post!", but this is, after all, my blog...

I have thought about starting a blog in the past, but I never knew what to write about. My family? Well, only my family would be interested. Computer programming? Yeah, I've been a geek since the days of the Apple ][+ (crap, now I feel old) but there are so many better technical resources out there, and I really don't want a blog to become a collection of personal bookmarks. Photography? Again, there are already a lot of resources out there, but I will probably slip a few tidbits of knowledge in here. Physical fitness? Ah ha!

A bit over a year ago a good friend of mine, who also happens to be named Paul (go figure...) got me into running. At first it was a painful experience, but with time and the right pair of shoes I started to enjoy it! Then came cross training, a membership at the local YMCA, boot camp, and yes, races!

I do not claim to be an expert on fitness. I'm just a guy who has been traveling down a path to better physical condition, self discovery, and a longer—more active—life with my beautiful family.

If you have read this far and are still here, Thank You! My introductory post is going to run a bit long.

So, the big question: Why a blog? In this age of Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, do blogs make sense anymore? I think they do, obviously, or I wouldn't be writing this. Social media is about sound bites—short memorable messages—and not long-form essays. As a child, I hated writing essays and now I'm doing this voluntarily. My mother and my English teachers would be proud! Or faint in surprise. I'm not really sure which...

Up until I was five or six years old, I was a string bean. Oh how I wish I could turn back the clock on that! At some point I started to gain weight. I became less active and more introverted. I was picked on mercilessly. Endlessly bullied. Yeah, the big bad "B" word that everyone is so afraid of talking about today. Sadly, the bullying was not limited to the other children in my class—a couple of my teachers treated me the same way or turned a blind eye on the ones who instigated it. If I retaliated in any way, I got in trouble, not the person who actually caused the problem. This was my life right through high school.

I was the one wearing hand-me-down clothes that everyone laughed at.
I was the one wearing thick glasses.
I was the one with large ears that everyone flicked like a paper football.
I was the one you saw getting beat up on the playground during recess almost every day.
I was the one with no real friends.
I was overweight, depressed, and unable to do a damn thing about it.
I felt like no one cared.

Trust me when I say that childhood depression is very real. I survived it—barely. If you're a parent, understand this one thing: Children have an extremely fragile psyche. They feel everything you and I do, but they do not have the experience to understand how to process it, which makes the feelings that much more intense. They don't have the words to describe what they're feeling, which is why they lash out. Listen to them. Observe them. Don't be so wrapped up in your work that you don't have a relationship with your family.

After high school I went to a community college. That was actually enjoyable because I found people with common interests. No one bullied me! Amazing! Even though I felt better about myself, I still was heavy. I had no direction or willpower. Quite often lunch consisted of two Bacon Double Cheeseburgers from Burger King from the drive through on my way home from class.

After that I transferred to RIT as a sophomore. I used the weight room and other facilities, but the trainers there were mostly other students, so they really couldn't give me the help I so desperately needed.  While attending RIT I met this girl... She accepted me for who I was. I was shocked that such a pretty girl could see past all of the defenses and excuses I had thrown up over the years. She actually wanted to help me improve myself. Someone wanted to help me? Really? Why? Am I worth the bother? She must be crazy.—those were the thoughts going through my mind at the time.

After college I moved to the Boston area for a job. And the girl.

Okay, okay, mostly the girl!

At that time I had hit my peak of about 250 pounds. My blood pressure was high (190/80). My cholesterol was high (250 or so). The doctor warned me that I was at high risk for a heart attack and all sorts of other nasty things. Yikes!

The doctor told me to start walking every day. I did that. I even started lifting a bit. By the time I got married three years later I was down to 175 pounds. I know, losing 75 pounds is a lot, but it wasn't healthy. I was basically starving myself. My face looked gaunt in our wedding photos and I still had a lot of belly fat. I was dehydrated. Over the next seven years I gained back a fair amount of that weight. I think I peaked at 215 or so. I wasn't really weighing myself regularly, but when I did, the number scared me.

At that point I started to walk again. It helped, but not much. I needed something more. I decided that I would run. Yeah, out of the blue. I had never been able to run my entire life, and here I thought I could start the next day. How well do you think that went?

I got about 100 feet down the road and nearly passed out.

Okay, that was a bit of a buzz-kill, but I kept trying. I was able to do a mile after a few months, but my knees and hips were bothering me all the time. I remember reading somewhere years ago that when running, ever footfall puts about a half-ton of pressure on your joints. I was feeling every ounce of that.

I talked with a friend of mine about this and he suggested that I change my shoes and my running style. He said that I need to land on my forefoot and not my heel. I would need different shoes for that because normal sneakers are built up too high. At his suggestion I bought a pair of Vibram Five Finger shoes. I don't think I could have gone any more radical than that! I read all those warnings about starting with shorter distances and completely ignored them. The first time I ran with them I felt phenomenal. I think I ran three miles that day. I had no joint pain!

I woke up the next more and couldn't move. My calf muscles were shot. It took about a week of ice and ibuprofen to take care of that, but I realized that my joints were fine. This was just my muscles getting used for the first time. Or overused and abused in this instance. I started back at it and built my distance back up.

The same friend told me about these military-style obstacle races that he'd been running. Words like "Spartan" and "Tough Mudder" were unfamiliar to me. He said that we (both of us and our spouses) should sign up for this one called "Ruckus". We'd like it, he promised...

The end of this story is really just the beginning. I'm about 185 pounds. I bought size 36 pants for the first time since I was 14 years old (I just turned 40). I'm nearly off my blood pressure meds after 12 years. I have completed five races in the past year, and I'm already scheduling for next year.

This blog is my journey. It is about who I've been, who I am, and who I hope to become. It's about my amazing wife and supportive family. It's about inspiring others to achieve what they think is just out of their grasp.

Thank you for joining me.