Monday, January 30, 2012

Who knew running could be fun?!

I fell into the same rut that all of us do that I took running for granted. Running wasn’t to be enjoyed, it was another workout on the calendar that needed to be checked in order to get me to my next training objective or race…and then I got injured. Specifically, either due to over training/racing or poor mechanics I suffered a medial meniscus sprain.

Now, my knee had been bothering me for a while. I have had both lateral and medial menisci surgically repaired in that knee years ago so I’m accustomed to some level of discomfort with increased mileage and speed…but this had gotten ridiculous. I would be walking along and it felt like somebody slammed my knee with a baseball bat. I’d have to stop and double over and catch my breath. Thankfully this reared its ugly head at the end of my race season but hadn’t showed sign of getting any better coming into the new year. Now, as you can imagine, my doc knows me pretty well. So he knew I was gonna do that 10k on New Year’s day and I probably wasn’t gonna “layoff” the race. So, I got clear instructions “run my race…but if I felt pain in the knee…then bail out ASAP”. Sound advice. Sadly, I’ve never been known to take sound advice. I ran the 10k, no PR, and I was limping after crossing the finish. The doc was adamant now, “NO running, period for at least 2 weeks! You can swim/lift/ride but NO weight bearing on the knee or you’re gonna run yourself right into another knee surgery”. Ok…guess he’s not kidding…sounded easy enough. January is pretty slow for racing in NE and its normally freezing and snowing all month so I’ll just layoff and focus on other workouts. Easy right? No, not at all. With every day I felt I was getting fatter and slower. I had to make sure I wasn’t packing running gear for the gym or work in order to make sure I didn’t run (no Kinvaras=no running for Dutch). Then, my brain (however small it may be) kicked in: What are you doing? Don’t even think about running! You can’t deal with another surgery. When can I get back to real running? Is my season over before its already begun? Maybe this is the year I get back into bike racing? Oh yes my friends…the mind is a terrible thing…
Sweetest view ever
So 2 weeks stretched into 3 weeks, mostly because the weather was garbage and I was afraid to fall or slip and risk any more injury. With the 4th week of no running looming on the horizon because of crappy road conditions and mental blocks, I decided to go hit the treadmill for a 5k to see how I felt. No, not optimal but I just couldn’t go any longer without seeing how my knee would do. Honestly, at this point I’m trying to figure out what of my season I’d have left if I had to have surgery (um, extremist much?). And…I felt great! So...only thing to do next was to get some miles on the road. And, and, buttah! I felt great! I turned the 1st mile in right at 7mins flat and realized I was a little too excited for the run. Better to layoff and see how I felt with mileage. 5.3 miles in 39:06. No land speed record, but no aches or pains either...during or after the run. I honestly can't describe how great it was to look down and see myself going out for a run. I was grinning the whole time and...wait for it...I actually had fun on the run. I wasn't trying to make some mileage or hit some pace. I was just running because I could. It was fantastic...and duly noted.

Now where'd I put my Kinvaras....

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

If I can drag my fat, broken, old self out to train and race...SO CAN YOU!

I debated about whether or not to put up a "my story" post that would end up over in the "about me" tab of my blog but recently I've had alot of folks ask me about how I got to where I am...

So...about me...

I'm not an athlete...I want to be one. Growing up, I was that skinny little dork kid who was in chorus, played piano, was in the band, read everything I could get my hands on and was in theater. Or as I like to call it, completely invisible to any of the cool kids and ALL of the girls.

My sophomore year of high school I found the football team and the weight room. I was taken aback at how I could see change, in the mirror as I got stronger...and as I got noticed. My parents bought me my first bike (a Giant RS940 which I held onto into my late 20's and I still regret selling) then too. Cycling offered up a whole new world to me. I didn't have to be dependent on anyone, it was just me and the bike. It was then that I fell in love with cycling. I joined a local cycling club and then got involved in the local racing scene. I showed promise as a young cyclist and had aspirations of becoming the next Bernard Hinault or Laurent Fignon (look 'em up and remember I am French after all) and later Greg Lemond but my parents thought an education and a "stable" job were more important life pursuits. Enter the Army and college.

Being physically fit was a staple in being a successful Airborne Ranger Infantryman but to be honest it killed all my desire to race on weekends or for fun. My life was more about training specifically for the kind of torture a soldier's life brings than trying to get miles as a "runner". One of my roommates however was a long distance runner and and of course talked me into going out on a few long runs with him which got me thinking about running long distances. But then my Battalion Commander threw out the "marathon challenge" to see who could ramp up their training to run the inaugural Atlanta Marathon. A challenge? Um, ya...I'm in. That first marathon was an experience and I dragged myself to a 4hr finish. That kind of lit the fire for wanting to run and sure there was a stretch in there where I jammed in a few marathons and triathlons but I never took it seriously or trained that way. Not to mention, due to my "have to be better than everybody" attitude led to a number of serious injuries and surgeries that always required my doing some type of rehab from injury so I never really got to enjoy running or cycling.

Due to a career ending injury (a misdiagnosed broken ankle, originally called a severe sprain, that I continued to train and run on for months until I killed the bone tissue) my time as a Soldier came to an abrupt end. Now, because of an active lifestyle and quick recovery time, I could (and did) eat anything I wanted. I LOVE food. My mom is a great French cook and my father (a dyed in the wool Georgia boy who could give Paula Dean a run for her money) introduced me to chocolate and butter. Which to be honest, is the staple to making any recipe better. However, the lengthy recovery from the ankle in addition to my continued eating like it was the Apocalypse, led to me throwing on the pounds. And...the additional pounds aggravated the pain I'd been suffering in my lower back for a couple years. It got so bad that I had difficulty getting out of bed on my own. That resulted in trips back the docs for x-rays, MRIs and analysis...which, led to my finding out that the pain I'd been feeling all this time was due an undiagnosed broken back and pelvis (L4, L5 and S1) that had healed incorrectly. Now, I have a lot of people tell me they have no idea how I could've dealt with that but let me tell you that, a: I have a high tolerance for pain and b: (and most importantly) there is no such thing as being pain free when your job is to be an Infantrymen. That job makes you do things to your body that it was never meant to do...and that results in pain..daily and often. But you're taught to "suck it up and drive on". I mean where else are you expected to throw yourself out of an airplane, strike the ground at roughly 22 feet per second, wearing in excess of 100 pounds of gear and then walk under that load for 6-10 miles, to THEN attack the enemy?

My impression of a weeble-wobble

I got depressed. My level of activity was was next to nothing, my personal life was going to crap and my job, post Army, wasn't particularly fulfilling. I turned to the one thing I did love, food...any and all of it...which led me to balloon up to 245 pounds with a 38 inch waist. My increased size made me feel terrible about myself. There is only one picture that shows me at my heaviest (I put it up here to prove I was that size) and that's because I had no idea it was being taken. I was so ashamed of myself that I would either step out of or completely refuse to be in photographs! To add insult to injury (or the reverse I guess), the extra weight made it even more difficult for me to get around. The docs were telling me that I should look into walking with a cane or consider getting my back fuzed. I had to get cortisone shots to help with the back pain. I couldn't believe where I'd ended up. I was the "I can do anything", "No Fear" guy and now I'm just another old fat guy!

That led me to some doing some research into my options and getting in touch with some great doctors which included my favorite that told me "well, if you weren't so fat, you're back wouldn't hurt so much. You could spend time in the gym strengthening your core and that would help support your spinal column. You're too young and if you fuze your spine now, you're likely to have to continue it over time." You know what? He was absolutely right and that was just the kind of kick in the butt I needed. Unfortunately I went about my weight loss all wrong with a routine of ephedrine, a restricted calorie diet and excessive amounts of working out. I shrank to 158 pounds. That weight, on my 5'10" frame made me look like gaunt. Ya, I was thin and relatively pain free but I was nowhere near healthy nor living a healthy life. And of course, led me to falling off the wagon and start putting weight back on again...swelling back up to 198 pounds. Sure, I was down from the 245 but I was still overweight and looked like crap...and the cycle started all over again.

Photo from a recent race, weighing 170lbs
So, I took a deep breath and focused on getting in shape the "right way". It just so happened that my best friend was getting into running and wanted my help in her training and then running a local 5k. I now had a goal on the wall and a training plan ensued. I think we trained for somewhere around a month leading up to the race and I have to admit, finishing that race, exhausted, drenched in sweat and salt and being ecstatic to finish under my goal time was one of the most fulfilling moments of my life. I had a time mark on the wall that I could build on. That same year I won entry to the Chicago Triathlon (I still need to share that story) through Polar, the best heart rate monitors on the planet and to which I owe so much (still need to share that story too) and I was hooked. That re-lit my competitive fire and I got into training and racing full bore. I now average 20 plus races a year (check out the race resume tab) and haven't looked back. I take great pride that people now refer to me as the "crazy, fit guy". By no means do I look like I want or race to the level I'd like (ya, there's  blog post coming for that too) but I can appreciate how far I've come and what I've accomplished. I have not arrived arrived here easily however. The past 2 years of training and racing have been peppered with poor training decisions, injury and self doubt (I am REALLY great at the self doubt part) but I work at it everyday because I'm nowhere near figuring out the right formula for me. I fight my own demons about my weight, my build and my performance on a regular basis. the end of the day its not about the failures, but the success and that's what you have to focus on to continue growing as an athlete and a person.

I hope to make "Fueled by Iron" a place to talk honestly about my experiences with training, racing and trying out new gear en route to my ultimate goal of competing in an Ironman Triathlon.  I really do believe that a positive outlook and never say die attitude can lead you to be successful in any endeavor and I hope my journey and story here will help motivate others to get off the couch to not only become active but competitive too. There are 3 mantras that I use as constant motivation to get me through training, racing and life: "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger" (soon to be a tattoo on me), "Be smart enough to know you're stupid" you need to realize what you don't know and ask for help, "There's only two ways to finish a race: crossing the finish line or being carried out on stretcher" and "You can throw up when its over". Look, if I can drag my fat, broken, old self out to train and race...SO CAN YOU!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Working out sucks...well it does but the payoff is more than worth the effort

We all think working out sucks. Yes, I know that we can enjoy it at times and the result is worth the effort but anyone who makes time to train is aware of the list of excuses we or others use get out of a workout or working out all together. Well, Chuck Runyon, CEO of the Anytime Fitness 24/7 gym franchise, has written a book that gets to heart of all the excuses we use or have heard. His "Working out Sucks" and more importantly the bi-line "and why it doesn't have to" is a snarky, multi-pronged approach to address the excuses and how they don't pass muster when it comes to getting your training done. Look, this is not some fluffy, huggy, touchy-feely, self help book. This is a no holds barred, tell it like it is, take charge of your life kind of tome.

Runyon opens the book by citing...and then promptly ripping apart all the excuses for not working out. His ripping apart can range from giving you examples of people who prove the excuse wrong (i.e. there are people missing limbs that struggle but DO get workouts in, what are you complaining about?!) to even addressing people that have provided terrible examples to our pursuit of a healthy lifestyle (he even goes after Oprah Winfrey...yes, OPRAH WINFREY!!!).

But Runyon is no dummy in his approach either in that he doesn't just hit you in the face with his "quit being weak and just go do it" writing, he realizes that in order to make REAL changes you're gonna have to change ALL aspects of your life. He brings in Brian Zehetner (MS, RD, CSCS), who writes about proper nutrition and offers fitness plan advice, and Rebecca Derossett (MSW), who talks about the best way to address and beat the psychological challenges that short circuit our thinking from becoming physically fit and nutritionally sound.

The last section of the book focuses on an easy to do 21-day fitness and nutrition plan to get you pointed in the right direction. While the workout plan isn't for someone who's been working out for a while, I think it can provide a great resource for things to add into your existing routines. I mean, you can never have enough new things to try right? And since we're ALWAYS looking for healthy snacks and meals to eat to keep us on caloric track the last section is just the ticket.

One of these copies can be yours!!!
Now, I've written all this not only to tell you my take on the book (no, I have no desire in starting "Dutch's Book Club"...but if I did this one be one of the first I recommend!) but to SHARE the book with you. Yes, I have 3 copies to give away!!! Unlike working out, entering my contest is easy. Just leave a comment with what you do to overcome the excuses to not workout. For an extra entry, tweet "I entered to win the @rangerdutch contest for the @anytimefitness book #workingoutsucks" with a link to this post. Winners will be chosen by a random number generator and announced on the 31st of January. Thanks for taking the time to read my go workout!