2013 AAR

Time to look back on this year, perform an after action review, and see where to go from here. This blog is nearly a year old. 

2013 was an amazing year. 14 obstacle races, one Goruck Challenge, one Light, two trail races, two road races, five Budo seminars, one Japan trip, and one GR Capstone course. A lot to experience and a lot to learn.

I have always despised New Year’s resolutions. If you want to change something, do it now. Why wait as the problem gets worse to start changing it on some special day on the calendar?

But, it is a convenient date to take stock and make plans. My Sensei asked us for a dojo AAR of three items to maintain and three items to improve. I can think of no better system for this, so I’m using this format.

For 2014-

Maintain:

1) Keep setting difficult goals and knocking them out. I realized some time ago that my 18-year-old self would have to pick his jaw up off the floor if he saw what I am doing now.

2) Keep encouraging others. Both on the course and helping the n00bs get themselves sorted out to make it to the course.

3) Keep attending at least one event a year that is about more than toughness or Budo. 2013 was Navigator. Planning Ascent for 2014.

 

Improve:

1) Limit long trips to about one a month, and seek out more local events. The time and expense of back-to-back cross-country trips takes a toll.

2) Get my ass out of bed on time and get my morning PT back on track. Evening workouts have been kicking ass, but AM has been more miss than hit.

3) Pay more attention to nutrition. It has more of an impact than I had been willing to admit.

 

In the Chinese Zodiac, 2013 was the year of the snake, a symbol of new beginnings, shedding the old skin so that the new can grow. I shed my preconceived limits and grew considerably this year.

When I first saw that the coming year is the year of the horse, I chuckled a bit, since my plans for 2014 involve ultramarathons, distances that were originally meant for equestrian races. Then I read more on it and found this:

The spirit of the horse is recognized to be the Chinese people’s ethos – making unremitting efforts to improve themselves.

Exactly what I had planned for the year to come.

To all of my readers, happy new year from the Monk of the Mud.

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The Language of Limitations: a response to “Fitness fails: Workouts you need to stop doing in 2014”

I came across an article on the workouts that we all “Need to stop doing.” (http://www.today.com/health/fitness-fails-workouts-you-need-stop-doing-2014-2D11792111) At first I took offense, then I realized that the article was not actually written in English, but in Excusese. Also known as the language of limitations, it is a dialect favored by those who desire a thousand excuses not to step up and try something rather than just one reason that it might be worth checking out.

I only speak the basics of this dialect, but here are segments of the article with my best go at a translation, and a few notes of interest:

Pole dancing. Yes, it takes skill, balance and coordination to spin around a pole upside down. And sure, it’s probably a heck of a workout. But aside from the fact that you’re expected to perform this “sport” in your underwear, pole dancing is risky (in some cases, devastatingly so). Pole dance forums regularly allude to bumps, bruises, cracked ribs and broken toes, says Dr. Ryan Stanton, a Lexington, Ky., emergency room doctors. That’s just the start, says Stanton, who’s also seen back, ankle and wrist injuries. “The majority of injuries are associated with falls,” he says. “And there’s also a risk of skin infections like strep and staph if the pole hasn’t been adequately sterilized.” Eww.

Translation: I don’t care that this is an epic core, grip and upper body workout. It is associated with strippers, and I don’t care enough to research its earlier history, so such things are beneath me. You have to do it in underwear because something that doesn’t sound demeaning (like a gymnastics leotard) is just silly. People who try things beyond their abilities can fall down. No workouts where you could possibly fall down are okay. Oh, and strippers are dirty, so I will think more about infections from this than I will about who used the bench press before me and didn’t wipe off his sweat.

Yoga mash-ups. “Yoga’s not good enough on its own any more,” says Stanton, a spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians or ACEP. “Now you have to turn up the temperature or do it on a paddleboard.” Or do it naked while suspended from the ceiling in a white “anti-gravity” bundle. Aside from being just plain silly, some of these yoga mash-ups can be risky. Stanton says he’s treated people who’ve passed out in hot yoga classes and warns that the practice can be dangerous for people with heart disease. Stand-up paddleboard or SUP yoga also carries a risk — of ending up in a video like this.

Translation: If you are looking for another level of your yoga training, you’re just being silly. If someone with a heart condition can’t do it, why should you take the risk? Oh, and falling down and looking silly is the most dangerous thing EVER. You should never do it, even if this means that you never try anything new.

Monk’s note: I have seen many people do anti-gravity yoga, and some have had great success at rehabilitating injuries that make standard yoga impossible. I have not known anyone who does this naked.

Gas mask training. It’s not just for firefighters and members of the military anymore. Now, regular old gym rats are getting their Darth Vader on by donning specialized — or Army-Navy surplus — gas masks in order to train for high altitude runs/climbs or restrict their oxygen intake for a much tougher workout. While proponents rave about the results (they also readily admit to “seeing stars”), Stanton compares the practice to “being strangled while you’re exercising.” Are you sure you want to run on a treadmill with that thing on, people?

Translation: I do not understand why people would want to use techniques that are uncomfortable. Yes, it can improve your physical abilities, but who cares about that if its uncomfortable?

Monk’s note: I have used resistance mask training. It helped a lot strengthening my lungs (I had pneumonia when I was little and my lungs never fully recovered) and helping me get to where I am. I recommend it highly.

BackwardsrunningAlso known as reverse running, retro running or “gninnur” (Yes, that’s “running” spelled backwards), backwards running may have gotten its start as a rehab exercise for athletes with pulled hamstrings. Today, though, it’s a trend, with races, a world champion and even an attempt to make it an Olympic sport. “That one’s really crazy,” says Jason Karp, an exercise physiologist from San Diego. “Humans are not meant to walk backward. It’s not how we’re designed. My major concern is that you’d trip and fall.” Not to mention strain your neck from looking behind you every three seconds.

Translation: I think it is silly, so you should not do it. Oh, and I think everyone is too stupid to clear their path of obstacles that they might trip over. Remember where I said any workout where you might fall is bad?

Stiletto workouts. Fans of this “fitness” fad say working out in sky-high heels can strengthen your core, improve your balance and give you toned, taut legs. But Neal Pire, an exercise physiologist and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, call this fitness craze  dubbed the “the world’s worst workout” by Prevention Magazine — unnatural. “When you wear high heels, you’re shortening your Achilles tendon, throwing off your center of gravity and putting stress on your lower back. And then there’s what happens in your feet.” ER doc Stanton is more blunt: “Anything in stilettos is an ankle injury waiting to happen,” he says.

Translation: I think it is silly, so you should not do it.

Monk’s note: While this one does strike me as odd, to each their own. The injuries listed would be results of over-using this style of workout.

MOB races. “Mud, obstacle and beer” endurance challenges like the Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash have inspired many a couch potato to get off their duff — at least for the weekend. But it doesn’t come without a cost. A study by the ACEP found that a single competition last June resulted in 38 ER visits for everything from chest pain to dislocated shoulders to head and face injuries to electrical burns to paralysis. Even worse, there have been a handful of deaths. “This is a really high risk activity,” says Stanton. “People train for marathons but Tough Mudders attract people who have no intention of training — they just want to get out and run in the mud. It’s risky enough for the person in good shape, much less someone who hasn’t run 3 miles in the last year.”

Translation: I know absolutely nothing about these events. I don’t know that under-trained people show up for marathons or that people do indeed train for obstacle races. I will make up a trendy-sounding acronym for these events, because I refuse to even do a Google search to find a term like “OCR”. Oh, and mention beer to make them look like drunken idiots. I will ignore the idea that this is an actual sport, and thus not compare the injury rates of other sports that result in many more injuries (football, perhaps?). Oh, and I will say this needs to go away and ignore that it is the fastest-growing sport in the world in terms of participation. Remember how I don’t understand why you would want to do anything uncomfortable?

Monk’s note: The author’s obvious lack of knowledge and attempt to discredit obstacle racing particularly irritated me, considering the number of people who have used these events, and training for them, to improve not only the health of their bodies, but the health of their minds and spirits as well.

Stability ball stands. Balance or stability balls have been a fixture at gyms for years. But lately, more and more people aren’t just using them for crunches or stretching, but for hot dog moves like standing atop a ball while doing bicep curls or shoulder presses. Can you say recipe for disaster? “I’ve seen contusions to the sacrum and lower back,” says Stanton. “I’ve seen people hit weight machines, hit benches, hit other people.” Stanton calls the tendency to push the fitness envelope “testosterone syndrome” or the “jock effect.” “People get to a gym and try to do more than they’re capable of,” he says. “But gravity always wins the day.”

Translation: Stupid people can do it wrong and fall down. Thus, no one should do it.

Monk’s note: Above anything else, don’t let articles like this limit your ambitions. Use common sense. Try new things, don’t do things that are way beyond your abilities, and above all have fun. If you love your step-aerobics class, do it. If you are intrigued by races up the side of a mountain, rock-solid holds off a pole, or yoga poses on a surfboard, check them out. Train hard, train smart, build your abilities over time, and go do it!

Don’t let limitations be the language of your life.

What No One Sees

There are things about the challenges and training I do that everyone sees. The photos from the far-flung places I’ve been. My name on the “You did it” board at the gym. The black belt. The stack of finishers medals and T shirts.

But there is so much more that no one sees.

No one sees the man hobbling up a hill on blistered feet, running numbers of the distance left to go and the time left before he will be pulled from the course, and giving all he’s got to hobble just a bit faster. Feeling a blister break open and having to fight to keep from bawling like a child.

No one hears the quiet prayers, half whispered and half cried, begging for just a little more strength. Just another mile. Just another hundred yards.

Another step. One goddamned step.

The pain, the self-doubt. All the times of looking like a fop in front of teachers whose approval matters to you. The re-injuries from some newbie at a seminar who couldn’t remember you were already injured. The countless hours trying to figure out details that everyone else seems to get without a second thought.

But there is another side that no one who has not been through these things will ever see. Mixed in with the pain and disappointment, there are moments of the most extraordinary kindness.

The aide station worker who, with a smile and a kind word, hands you a cup of soup, while the look in her eyes clearly says, “You look like hell.”

The bystanders who cheer the loudest for the poor souls who can barely keep moving.

The training partner who sees you screw up the technique for the thousandth time, but gives you the chance to work on it again and figure it out.

The teacher who will spend an extra 10 minutes working with a white belt, even if they doubt he will ever amount to anything. 

The racer next to you who checks in and offers a word of encouragement as he passes, helps you over a wall, gives up his own finishing time in order to stay with you and make certain you can make it through.

Those who finish a grueling event, and then turn right around to go find teammates who are still on the course.

The further I go into more difficult challenges, the more I see what mankind is capable of. What we will do for each other, what we can be at our best. The darker the situation, the brighter the spark of humanity seems to shine.

A long time ago, one of my teachers told me that the more he trained, the more he was able to become truly human. I think I am finally beginning to see what he was saying.

Take My Advice…

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I have seen a lot of people struggling with the myriad of contradicting food and exercise advice that seems to flow around us. Carbs make you fat. Carbs fuel your long runs. You need to do everything aerobically. You need to do everything anaerobically. Only use body-weight exercises. Only use free weights. No, only use machines. Stop running and lift. Stop lifting and run. No, follow my plan, for which you will pay me three easy payments of $29.95!

In too many cases, they get so confused about what to do, that they simply stay where they are and do nothing. Paralysis by analysis.

Its even worse for newbie athletes, as 90% of the advice is based on the assumptions that you need to lose weight, you mainly care about your appearance, and you don’t really care about what you can DO. I turned off one workout-advice video when it got to, “Why would you do this? You don’t really need to be strong here, and this won’t help your 6-pack, here, do this instead!”

How to get through all of this without losing your mind: Don’t over-think it, and just do something. Or, as a friend put it more bluntly, “Quit mind-f***ing it!!!”

You know where you stand now and what abilities you want to improve. Pick a program. Whatever one looks good to you. Stick with it for a minimum of 8 weeks.

OK, 8 weeks down. What worked, what didn’t? Learn from that, learn what works for you. Don’t be surprised if you go back to it when nothing else seems to be working.

Is there something else that you want to focus on?

Pick another program, for at least another 8 weeks. Rinse and repeat.

“But I can’t find a program that covers everything I need!” Neither can I. But if i cycle through 3 programs that each hit at least half of what I’m working on, I have more than covered everything over the course of 24-48 weeks, shifting off as I get through each program. I have found it much more effective to cycle through adequate programs, rather than spending all my training time searching for the one perfect system that has it all.

“Why not change it up every day, rather than 8+ weeks at a time?” Your choice, there are many who shake things up every day. But I appear to be a slow learner, and it takes me about a week to learn a new program (and all the movements it involves) and run with it. It is easier to sort out what is and is not working when you have several weeks worth of changes to look at.

Above all else, do SOMETHING. Don’t fuss too much over making certain that it is exactly the best thing in the world, as long as it is moving you forward.

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Honorable Mention: Rugged Maniac Southern Indiana and Savage Race Texas

There have been a few races recently that deserve a write-up, but I have struggled with how to go about it.

In my mind, all of the OCR world forms a spectrum from the fun, relatively easy mud runs to the horrendously tough, soul-stomping challenges that teach you what you are made of.

The events that rip out your soul and beat it with a sledge hammer- those are easy to do a write up of. What I conquered, what I got mangled by, what I learned, all at the front of my mind.

The other end of the spectrum: Fun as all get-out, some difficulty, but often hard to find a focus as to what it developed in me, what deserves to be said, etc. With that said, here is the story of two such races.

Rugged Maniac

Held at a ski resort with reasonably hilly terrain, atmosphere of the other athletes was good, obstacles were fun but not all that noteworthy. The water slide is the only one that really stands out from most other races.

One of the athletes was a young man who had lifted a lot of weights, but admitted he had never run more than a mile. I slowed my pace to match him and encouraged him on, and we both got through it.

The other standout memory was not actually part of the race, but the mechanical bull in the festival area.

 

Savage Race

Let me start with my one criticism of this race, because I really did like this one and I want to get this out of the way: $25 each for race photos. Really. And you only managed to get one. I see.

So, all the readers must take me at my word that I made this look GOOD… Photos here stolen from Savage Race’s Facebook page.

I had assumed that the Southlands in November would be a safe bet for weather, but the weather turned just a few days before the race and it was cold, wet and nasty, and the rain kicked up just as we were entering the starting corrals.

I did something I almost never do: I skipped the first obstacle. It was an ice bath, I was unsure of doing it at the very start of a 10K, so I went around it. Doing it again, I would have done the obstacle, the cold passed quickly as I got moving. It didn’t matter much, as the next obstacle had me on my back in cold water less than 100 yards later.

A lot of obstacles were familiar with modifications. The slip wall with a shorter rope, so you either need a running start to grab the rope or have a teammate boost you up. Running up a halfpipe to grab a rope that you must climb vertically from that point on.

Their signature Sawtooth monkey bars were situated after so much slick mud that very few people made it across. Although in fairness the weather is more to blame for that than the race director.

The upside down cargo net over a slip-n-slide was cool, and gave me a lot of ideas for home training. Lie on your back and pull yourself up under the cargo net.

The last obstacle was the electrified low crawl. Myself and the three I had teamed up with along the course got on line just in front of the wires, someone said GO and we all charged in. I got tagged at the back of the skull and it slammed my face solidly into the ground, all the other shocks I got going through were minor.

 

All in all these were both REALLY fun races, and I do recommend them. They are much more like Warrior Dash in the sense that it is a good time with some challenge involved, rather than the other races that are an epic challenge that happens to be fun for us crazies.