Sunday, November 25, 2012

I May Never Learn

As the most loyal among you surely remember, I took up trail running about a year and half ago.  About a year and a quarter ago I gave up my new hobby.  Not a great deal of time passed there did it?  Well, after a couple stress fractures in my feet and multiple bike rides missed I decided it would be far better for me to simply walk everywhere.  Running seemed to be far better left to other people so I threw my shoes in the closet and fully intended to leave them there forever.  Oh 2011, how far away you now seem.

It's funny how time can blur the memory of painful experiences.  This summer it was suggested to me by the Little Italian that I should participate in a running seminar.  Awesome!  I love running!  I signed up and got ready for what I was sure would be a completely new and unique experience.

The running clinic actually did serve a useful purpose.  Specifically, a video during the seminar proved to be very informative.  Each participant ran past a video camera so we could have our stride analyzed by the coach who was there to guide us down the path toward better running.  I cringed when I saw that I ran like a gazelle that had been shot in the leg.  And the head.  I had some natural speed but how I ever got it out of my bounding, reach for the sky and come crashing back to earth gait is beyond me.  That was three months ago.  Since then I have have doing running drills and trying to work out the kinks in my form.  With four days off over Thanksgiving weekend it seemed like a good time to test my new found stride and my speedy new shoes out on the trail.

Black Friday sent many people to local shopping malls to fight with rabid consumers over deeply discounted home entertainment systems and other such "necessities".  I decided to forgo the melee and join a group of runners out at the USNWC.  This is where my weekend took a most interesting turn.  The leader of our group bounded off into the woods like a deer at a pace that seemed unsustainable.  This would have been a good time for me to get to know the other runners who showed up but instead I chased after him for four miles until my lungs jumped into my throat.  Much to my surprise, I managed to keep up with him kick for kick albeit with a much more labored effort.  When he announced that he was done for the day I was a bit disappointed but joined the other members for a slightly slower stroll along the rest of the trail system.  This is when I learned that I am able to crash without my bike.  As I descended a hill at a less than controlled pace I tripped over a stump hidden under the leaves and sent myself to the ground with an impressive thud.  Trail 1 - Dave 0.  Moments later I fell again and learned that I should probably look at the trail every once in a while.  The run as a whole was quite enjoyable and I managed to get eight miles in before calling it a day and propping my feat up next to the rapids.

The bit of trail rash on my knee and ankle looked much worse in the parking lot.  It clearly healed up a bit on the twenty minute drive home.

The USNWC is my version of Disneyland.  Braving the rapids is a far better proposition than having Mickey put his arm around me for a picture.  I don't know who they put in those costumes but they get just a bit too touchy-feely if you ask me.

Sunday morning I rose before dawn to slam a big breakfast and head to Crowder's Mountain State Park.  An 8am start ensured that we would roll out in the cold.

In case you are having trouble reading the temperature gauge let me clarify that it says 26.  26!!  I am way to poorly insulated for that temperature.  Do I look like an eskimo to you?  If I do you may want to  look up the word eskimo on Wikipedia because you are clearly confused.

From the very beginning I found myself at the front of the group.  Not because I am fast but simply because I have no ability to pace myself.  I see the trail, get excited and just go.  At the first turn around point that would have yielded a six mile run, I kept going.  I saw a big hill up ahead and thought it might be a good idea to run up it.  In case you are wondering, it was a bad idea.  At the top I waited for those who had not turned back at the first way point.  We decided to turn back at the next road crossing to give ourselves a nine mile total.  That would have been nice.  Real nice.  Especially considering that before this weekend I had not run more than a mile in the last year and a half.  At the road crossing I downed a Hammer Gel and prepared for the return trip the ranger station.  But no, someone had to talk me in to running all the way to the pinnacle.  I had no choice.  He forced my hand.  He said "do you want to run all the way to the pinnacle?"  What was I supposed to do?  Say no?  Apparently you didn't read between the lines in his question.  He was clearly calling me a coward.  

On to the pinnacle we went.  From the road crossing to the top it is mostly uphill.  The last push to the top is too steep to run and ends in a short rock scramble.  The group was down to three at this point so we paused at the top for a moment to look back upon the hills we had already run once and would need to run again to get back to the car.  It amazed me how far we had come.  Looking back at the hills two thoughts came to mind.  The first was that I was proud of having covered so much distance on only my second trail run since 2011.  The second........Shit, I have to run all the way back there!

The run back to the car was fast and fun.  We picked up the pace as we felt the end coming closer.  My legs felt like concrete but I pushed on ever faster to see just what I could do over the succession of small hills.  When we reconvened at the park entrance we had covered 11.6 miles.  I'm pretty sure that is the greatest distance anyone has ever run.  Don't look it up, just assume I set some sort of record.  

So how did I spend the rest of my day?  Recovering.  I have found that there are two very specific things that need to be done to help sore legs regain their snap.  The first is an ice bath and the second is a cold sushi compress.  By placing copious amounts of sushi directly into your stomach its magical healing powers can travel straight to your legs.  Ask any doctor and they will tell you this is true.  Wait, about that whole doctor thing......maybe you should just take my word for it.

Those pasty things in the middle of the picture are my legs.  The little white bits are ice cubes.  And yes, I was nude when I captured this image.  Ladies, you're welcome. 
Oh how I do so love the magical healing power of sushi.  I love sushi and Instragram.  
Just those two things.  

So why am I running again?  Thank you for asking.  I always appreciate questions from the audience.  As you may recall, there wasn't a whole lot of race news around here in 2012.  I only entered a handful of mountain bike events this year and have decided not to enter any 2013 unless someone makes a very convincing argument.  A very strong case would have to be made.  Something along the lines of "Hey Dave, do you want to go to a bike race.  I'm driving." In the meantime, I have decided to take on a few competitive running events.  My first will be held in six days.  I have signed up for a seven kilometer trail race at a park near my sprawling urban estate.  Being an American, I'm not really sure what a kilometer is.  I heard from a reliable source that kilometers are like miles, only shorter.  My plan is to simply run until somebody tells me to stop.  And for you, my faithful public I promise post-race analysis and pictures of me in tiny running shorts.  You're welcome once again.

The Words That Can't Be Spoken

Sorry folks but that title is only funny to six people and if you aren't laughing right now then I fear you didn't make the list.  Believe me when I tell you that you don't want to know.  You are better off not knowing.  But damn was it funny.

And that is how most road trip stories go.  Inside jokes for those who were there that may never be understood by anyone else.  That is how it has always been and that is how it should be.  In the case of my recent trip to Tsali, I wouldn't have it any other way.  But you are here and you deserve to be entertained so take a little trip with me down blurry memory lane.....

A band of seven left Casa de Stumpy bright and early on Saturday morning just two weeks ago.  With three cars loaded with bikes and gear we were set for the long drive toward the mountains.  I would like  to believe that I drive an awesome car.  It is a Corolla 'S' after all.  The 'S' stands for awesome if you assume the fourth letter in every word bears the greatest importance.  Either way my little silver rocket ship led the charge West.

Shocks?  Yeah, my car used to have those.

Four hours in any vehicle will leave most mortals a bit weary and perhaps a little brain dead as well. Before hitting the trail it was determined that we would need a few provisions to get us through the day. A quick stop to a local convenience store seemed to do the trick.

 Apparently, this is the perfect energy drink for the outdoor enthusiast.  Conveniently decorated in winter camouflage in case we decide to hide the bottle somewhere 800 miles north of our destination.  

I don't have anything to say about that.  Just kidding.  This product, found in finer bathroom vending machines, is the perfect compliment to everyone's favorite outdoor energy drink.  Somewhere in South Carolina someone is reading this and taking notes.  That makes me sad.

So what happened when we hit the trails?  Awesome single track for miles, that's what happened.  You didn't come here to read about that did you?  You did.  Oh.  Well, fine.  Let me tell you that Tsali is one of the fastest, flowy-est, up, down and around-est trails I have ever ridden.  I don't really care that my second grade english teacher would be really pissed at me right now.  No one said anything about my blog being part of my permanent record.  Besides, I already graduated so it's too late now.  I've got the diploma to prove it.  Somewhere.  It's probably next to my AC/DC tapes.  Hmmmm, I might be screwed.

Tangent?  Nope, totally focused.

After a few miles of soaring along lake-side trails on a perfect autumn day we had all worked up a mighty hunger.  Thankfully we rented a cabin with a grill so we had the perfect setting for a meat filled evening feast.  Of course, a quick trip into town was required for the acquisition of more provisions.

 Despite the fact that I had turned my hat to "race" position, I made very little progress.  

After a long day in the saddle (bike, not penny pony) we all needed a little high quality hydration.  Any beer that can be purchased in half gallon quantities is good by me.

What a feast we had.  Our band of riders ate steaks and sweet potatoes until we nearly burst.  Reliving our afternoon ride with beers and tales of single track joy would have made for a fine evening on its own.  But, a little extra help was brought along in the form of chocolate cake.  Cake eaten with reckless abandon.  I know what you're thinking.  The last time I ate cake, horrible things happened.  But you see, I did not partake on this occasion.  Consider that painful lesson learned.  Fortunately, one kind soul among our crew made Dave-friendly chocolate brownies.  What do you get when you take wheat and dairy out of a brownie recipe?  More chocolate without the gluten hangover or the dairy, well.... you know.

Long into the evening we drank and laughed and at one point even took turns wearing a coon skin cap.  There are unconfirmed reports of....well, let's leave that to the walls and the wind.  There are also numerous incriminating photos of the events that unfolded that night but those will remain in my private collection until the day I need them most.  I'm not ashamed to say that when I run for president I'll be using those photos to secure at least a handful of votes. I'm not exactly sure how the electoral college works but I'm fairly certain that six votes will nearly guarantee me North Carolina.

The next morning we rose to frost on the ground and legs ready for more pedaling.  A quick departure from the cabin after a hearty breakfast put us in position for a second great day in the saddle.  Tsali is a magical place because it gives you the mountain experience without the death march climbs so often found in western NC.  I will leave you now with one scenic photo that will remain without any humorous caption.  A simple picture of me staring out across the water and the hills.  I will return to those hills again accompanied by an endlessly amusing cast of characters each time.  New stories will be told with jokes meant only for those who were there because that is what these trips are all about.  That special bond that can only be developed through shared time on the road.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

An Autumnal Poem

Twas the morning before Tsali and in front of the apartment
gathered numerous bikes of a varied assortment.

Shifty bits, squishy bits and different wheel sizes
prepared for a weekend full of surprises.

Off to the mountains on this crisp autumn morn
four hours on the road to talk about porn.

Three cars in a caravan headed due west
to the part of the state that I do so love best

So many hours and so many miles
but somehow never a shortage of smiles.

For this is how weekend adventures get started
with jokes about dorm rooms and the young broken hearted.

At the trailhead we gladly stretched our stiff legs
and leapt to the dirt for which Stumpy begs.

A ribbon of singletrack next to the lake
just hard enough to make our legs ache.

I hit the first climb with six friends in tow
to ride here and there and then to and fro.

With the wind in our hair and the sun overhead
we forgot about the city from which we had fled.

The peace of the mountains brought calm to the masses
but our firm cycling saddles did give us sore asses.

So back to the cabin and a grill filled with steak
and several gallons of beer for goodness sake.

No trip to the mountains would be complete
without just one joke about what we eat.

There were no crisp veggies for us to partake
but there was more than enough dark and rich chocolate cake.

As the hours grew long and the bottles grew lighter
we lost our ambition to pull an all nighter.

With footy pajamas and soft coon skin caps
we all settled in for long evening naps.

The dawn would bring bacon, fried potatoes and eggs
and hopefully for each of us a fresh pair of legs.

Yes we had a second trail system to ride
as joy is a condition this dude will abide.

But as with all trips this one too would end
so I'll leave you with one final thought my dear friend.

If you're going to cheat on your diet with decadence
make sure not to leave any photographic evidence.

The same person who vowed to be the official trip photog
might be the same one with a humorous blog.

This is certainly neither the time nor the place
to keep an unnamed coach from saving face.

No this is a prelude to a fine post to come
but if you get all the jokes you've already won.

You see those who will enjoy this poem most
were there in the mountains with a most lovely host.

A little Italian with a big happy dream
of a fine autumn weekend with her favorite home team.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

My CrossFit Journey

I was recently asked to tell my story in print for a local CrossFit affiliate.  As the story appears to have been well received I am reprinting here.  Enjoy.

As 2009 came to a close I was sick.  Again.  And it seemed to be an all too regular occurrence.  At the time I had an outside sales job where I spent most of my time on the road and ate most of my meals in restaurants.  I was swimming several days each week before going to the office but "fit" is definitely not a word I would use to describe myself at that time.  Worst of all, I was slowing down.  I spend as much of my free time as possible riding my bicycle but it seemed that as 2009 drew to a close I was doing so at a slower rate than ever before.  As I rounded the corner into 2010 I knew something had to change.  It was about that time that my wife installed a pull up bar in our house and challenged me to duel.  I lost.  I was so weak that I could barely get my chin over the bar once, let alone multiple times.  I had seen enough. 

In February of 2010 I decided to make three major lifestyle changes all at the same time.  I don't do anything half way.  I changed jobs, diet and exercise routine all a once.  The job change was motivated by the diet change.  I needed to get out of restaurants and put myself into a situation where I had more control over the  preparation of my food.  I gave up my sales job and put myself into a position that allowed me to  prepare all of my meals at home.  I went from eating 8 meals per week in restaurants to 0 just like that.  I instantly started to feel better.  A simple description of my current diet will better help you to understand why I felt so much better.  I eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit a little starch and no sugar (is there sugar in syrup? Crap).  If this dietary prescription sounds vaguely familiar to you, it should.  No more processed foods, no dairy, no junk food.  I made the decision to buckle down and eat only what I should.  And what do I drink?  Water.  I avoid all soda, energy drinks and any other sugary liquid pretending to be a satisfying beverage.  I do still enjoy coffee in small amounts but I drink it black.  People teased me a bit saying that I was skinny and didn't need to eat healthy.  I always found this to be  strange as the people who said this were almost always overweight and quite often were slurping down a diet coke.  I also started to eat more.  Not all in one sitting of course.  I now eat five times each day.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner still hold their same level of importance but have slimmed down a bit in terms of their size.  I added a snack in between breakfast and lunch and another between lunch and dinner and found that my mood and my appetite stayed level all day.  When dinner arrives I skip dessert.  Why?  Perhaps more importantly, how?  This is all much easier than you might expect.  When you start eating the right foods in the right amounts you feel so good all the time that you don't want to break that cycle.  Funny how that works.  But diet alone didn't cure me.  I mentioned that my fitness regimen changed as well.

It all started when I met a large man named Andy.  At 50 years old he looked like he could rip the head off a bear and then make the bear apologize for the mess.  I was accustomed  to seeing 50 year old office rats wearing "executive cut" shirts so seeing a man at this age more fit than most 20 year olds was startling.  He took one look at me and knew he had a challenge in front of him.  He asked me about my history with weight lifting and seemed confused when I told him I hadn't done any.  Not recently, not in college, not in high school, never.  He laughed when I pointed out that his dog was bigger than me.  And thus began my journey with CrossFit.  

It was hard.  Damn hard. And I hated it.  I couldn't seem to do even the most basic elements of any workout.  I did pull-ups with rubber bands.  I lifted an empty bar.  And kettle bells?  Don't get me started on kettle bells.  I hated those things.  I could get them off the ground but I couldn't stop them.  I nearly threw myself right out the door when I tried to swing them and often wished that I had.  One month in I was sore every day.  I would limp into my office and had trouble lifting my arms far enough to reach my keyboard.  My hands hurt from the bar.  My butt hurt from the squats.  The only thing that didn't hurt were my ears but I was pretty sure we could find a way to change that.  Only a few weeks in I was ready to give up.  But then something strange started to happen.  The once empty bar was adorned with bumper plates yet seemed lighter than when it was empty.  The pull-up bar that once seemed so far away was like a new toy that I couldn't let go even though the rubber bands were no longer holding me there.  The kettle bells stopped controlling me and I started controlling them.  And even though I was still smaller than the dog I had managed to put on ten pounds of muscle.  That was two and half years ago.  Two and half long years of getting up early to go to the box.  Two and half years of trying to explain my eating habits to my coworkers.  Two and half years of getting better.  

I'm not sick any more.  If I do get sick, it lasts only a moment.  I'm not weak any more either.  I'm happy to challenge my wife to a pull up contest on any given day and I am not ashamed to gloat when I win.  And the bike?  I'm faster than I have ever been.  Faster than I was at 22 and certainly faster than I was before I walked into Andy's gym so long ago.  And the story will continue.  I'm at a new box now working out with a new group of coaches and friends.  From the fittest of the dragon slayers to the most terrified of new athletes we support each other until the last person yells "time".  It's the community that makes it all worth while.  Yes I feel great.  Yes I am more fit than most people my age.  But I'm not there for that any more.  I've put myself on a path toward better health and make sure that every terrified new athlete who is afraid of the bands, bars and yes, the kettle bells knows full well that is all worth it.