Getting Started

After a few sessions of working with patients, clients, or athletes, I generally receive the same feedback…it goes something along the lines of “This is a lot different than I thought it would be” , to which I ask why’s that. The response is normally “I thought that I would be doing some really crazy, intense, painful exercises” and I usually elude to the pain train will be pulling into station soon.

This idea that for exercise and training to be beneficial it needs to be painful or exhausting is rooted deeply in our culture…no pain, no gain and all of that rhetoric is one of the main reasons that we fail on our journeys. I do believe that there is a place for the go until you puke mindset, but it is something that I seldom use and it’s only for certain circumstances.

More often then not, it takes months upon months working with someone until they are even physically ready to take on that type of training. The majority of that time in the first several months, my goals are pretty simple. 1.) establish trust with whomever I am working with and 2.) building a foundation for their journey (health/fitness/athletic performance).

Establishing trust is important because my goal with every person I work with is to empower them to be their own advocate and trainer. Once they trust me and understand the methodology and rationale for why we are doing what we are doing, then they will be able to begin to understand how to program their regimes and routines for themselves. My philosophy is Educate, Empower, Perform.

Building the foundation is where the nuance comes in to play. What does a good foundation consist of? I take an Occam’s Razor approach. At the simplest form, I focus on two ideas; 1.) movement patterns (are they balanced) and 2.) nutrition. Most issues can be resolved when we correct those deficiencies. I have talked about some of the testing and evaluation that I do in the How to Change section of the website. The goal is to make sure that we identify and correct imbalances in the body; eg if a person is suffering from back pain, the issue is probably a result of an imbalance above or below the area of pain. This is a bit of an oversimplification, but you get the idea. We want to find points of failure in the body and correct them. This can take some time and can be frustrating, but empowering a person to be their own n=1 is a big step in long-term success.

The same n=1 approach goes for the nutritional aspects. We want to empower a person to see how food affects them and then adjust from their. As a whole, it’s not a one diet fits all approach, it’s more nuanced than that, but the goal is to understand the relationship that a person has with food and to educate them on how it can effect them and their conditions (if they have one).

With all of that being said, if you are looking to change or your recovery process has been derailed or you’ve experienced setbacks, take a look at your foundation. Outside of trying to find the right professionals to help, one of the best things that you can do is yoga. If you are uncomfortable going to classes or if you can’t afford it, I recommend using an app. I personally use Yoga Studio on IOS and I have used Yoga Monkey on Android. Yoga Monkey was free when I used it, Yoga Studio costs a couple of bucks, but it’s well worth it. You can also utilize YouTube as another free yoga resource. It’s as simple as searching yoga or beginner yoga and you can find thousands of videos.

If you are a veteran, go to the Veteran Resource section and fill out the form and we will be able to connect you to resources in your area or work with you.

A New Vision

So for the loyal followers of the blog, you might have wondered where we’ve been for the past four months or so…I will catch you up to speed, but first, I would like to apologize for the lack of content. So, for the quick recap, I ran three Ultras, one full marathon, one half marathon, a few 5k and 10k races and I have determined a new direction for Arsenal of Hope.

As we kick off 2019, it took me a month or so to really reflect on what I accomplished in 2018. Running one Ultramarathon a month was probably not the best thing considering my lack of training, but I proved to myself that anything is possible when we have the right mindset for the task…it also helps to have the right tools.

In terms of Arsenal of Hope…it’s been a long journey into trying to define what we are…the goal was to bring hope to those who have lost it, but that is so broad in scope that it was hard to pinpoint our target, aside from the Veteran community. As I have gone through my journey of transformation; weight loss, mental clarity, running ultra distance races, and finding myself looking for new challenges to embrace, it got me going back to one ideal. I was able to do the unimaginable and run one ultramarathon a month with almost no preparation. I was able to do this through diet and lifestyle choices, as well as the fact that my background and education is in human performance. Before I entered the field of engineering, I worked clinically in rehabilitation, as well as in coaching and sports performance. I had the tools and knowledge in how to keep myself injury free and moving. I have helped people learn how to walk again and to find hope through applying movement science into their particular needs so they could, not only achieve their goals, but go further than they ever thought was possible. I gave a lot of people hope, but I never truly applied those ideals to myself. Nearly a decade later I did and I achieved something pretty amazing. I want to apply those ideas and principles to Arsenal of Hope, which is why our new purpose is to provide free health coaching, post-rehab training, and adaptive sports coaching for veterans.

Why post-rehab training? Often times in physical therapy, doctors and PT’s only focus on a problem area and do not look at the person as a whole and in chronic issues, the problem might not be the problem area at all, just a result of another area or imbalance. Additionally, doctors and PT’s have a limited amount of time to interact with the patient and there are usually constraints on amount of visits placed on PT’s by insurance companies. In my experience, being able to spend time and form relationships leads to a better understanding of, not only the condition, but the person as well. When these relationships are formed, you have a greater likelihood of educating and empowering the person to know and understand what the root cause of their problem is and ensuring that the issues are resolved permanently.

There is one more area that we are looking for Arsenal of Hope. I call it “the Green Team”. I have been able to inspire people, both veteran and not, to get out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves to try things that they consider to be extreme. I want to keep that same idea going with the Green Team. We will be looking to put together a group of Veterans who want to try challenges that defy their disabilities and inspire others to take action…this can be in the form of ultra-running, strength and fitness challenges (strongman or CrossFit style competitions), or it can be something esoteric and random like attempting to set a record in chariot racing or horseback archery.

In my attempt to run one ultra a month for 2018, I was fortunate enough to have sponsors who helped me accomplish that task because the logistics of it all can be cost prohibitive. The goal with the Green Team is to be able to mitigate those costs and logistical issues, as well as provide the training and coaching to make sure that the goals can be accomplished.

I’m looking forward to what’s in store for us in 2019.

Now get after it!

Ultra #9- The Devil's in the Details

So Ultra number 9 is over and it was quite an adventure to say the least. The race was the Dances with Dirt in Hell, Mi….and yes, there is a city in Michigan named Hell. Going into the race, I felt pretty good. I went into it open-minded with little expectations about finishing times because I didn’t know that much about the course. The description given was full of sarcasm (which I can appreciate), but in terms of how best to prepare, I didn’t really have a good grasp on. I learned many races ago to have my gear ready at least two days in advance or at least know what you have and what you need, so you don’t run into any surprises on race day.

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Per usual, I laid my gear out the night before. I was fortunate enough to have a race that was close enough to home that I would be able to sleep in my own bed, which was nice considering the early start. My load out was similar to other races with a few exceptions. I thought that I had UCAN, which I have used in the past few races with a great deal of success and I didn’t have any pickles/pickle juice.

I didn’t have time to get more UCAN in time and I forgot that I had given my last lot to a coworker and most races have pickles so I thought that wouldn’t be a huge issue either. Everything else in my loadout was pretty much the same…about a dozen FBombs, a couple packs of Smart Sweet gummies, extra shoes, socks, battery pack, ziplock bags, and trekking poles. The last two things I would come to find were crucial to me finishing in one piece. In terms of race vest, I was going to wear the Ultimate Direction Race Vest 4.0 and Ultra Belt, but at the last minute, I ended up going with the old reliable, Salomon Vest courtesy of my friends at FBomb. I didn’t like the way the UD vest was riding and I didn’t trust the velcro on the belt, so instead of risking an equipment failure, I opted for something that I knew was a proven commodity. Plus, UD doesn’t really have “husky” runners in mind when they do their sizing.

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The race started well before sunrise and all of the pictures I got of that are pretty much look like nothing but darkness. What it lacked in quality pictures, it made up for with adventure though. It was really fun running just by headlamp…it was pretty challenging at times because there was no shortage of low hanging branches and ruts. Needless to say, I didn’t set any speed records. The course had a variety of terrain to offer and I’m extremely glad that I brought trekking poles with me. They definitely helped in sections of the course like “The Dirt Ladder” and “The Stripper Pole”, but they also were pretty helpful in the multiple river crossings and swampy areas. There was also a section where you ran in the river…This is where I was glad I packed the ziplock bags.

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Every race I do, I have learned some valuable lessons and this race was no different. The trekking poles did help me a lot, but I think they also slowed me down at times. I think I relied on them a little too much at the end and I wasn’t able to really ever get back on pace. I also learned the importance of preparation. You can physically prepare for races, but the psychological factors are the biggest in Ultra distance races. Having the little things to comfort you can make a difference. UCan would’ve definitely helped, but having a couple packs of pickles would’ve been better. There was only one aid station that had them…so lesson learned. Smiling and encouraging runners will only make your situation better, regardless of how fast or slow you’re going or how you feel.

Ultra running is more about a mindset than anything else. Going keto/lchf has, no doubt, changed my life, but having the right mindset will help you get through anything. During this race, I made a couple costly wrong turns. I added about 10 miles to my race. The first wrong turn was completely my fault and the second one was not so much. It really didn’t bother me that much when I realized the mistake on both occasions…do you want to know my secret?

Once the sun came up, I decided to listen to an audiobook, so for the better part of the race, I listened to Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I’ve read this book a few times and it does a great job of putting things in perspective for you…listening to it had the same effect. A few wrong turns and some extra miles don’t really seem to be a big deal in the grand scheme of things, especially when you are listening about a man surviving FOUR different concentration camps. You almost feel lucky to put in the extra miles.

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At the end of the day, I met some great people and I pushed myself through a little adversity and I came out the better for it. My knee was a little swollen at the end of the race, but overall, two days removed from it, I could go out and run a few miles…however I won’t today. I have some weight training and yoga planned for today. My next race is in two weeks, so I’m not in a huge hurry to put down a lot of miles between now and then.

Ultra #8-...Better Late than Never

Ok, so I am a really behind in terms of getting this post up.  I actually ran this race several weeks ago, but I've had some issues getting this post up for a variety of reasons.  The race I ran was the Riley Trails Marathons which is technically not an ultra, but a traditional marathon, but because of how the race was set up, I was able to run an additional loop of the course and get my Ultra distance.  The race started at a place called Benjamin's Hope, which is a really cool organization that helps adults with autism and other disabilities live independently, here's the link check them out http://www.benjaminshope.net/; from Benjamin's Hope, we ran a mile and a half or so to Riley Trail's park, where you run six loops and then back to Benjamin's Hope.  I ran a seventh loop, which at the end of everything, I was right around 32 miles.  I inadvertantly ended my run on my Garmin just under 29 miles and when I realized it and restarted, I think it gave me another mile and a half or so.  

This race was different for me because I ran it completely different than any other race prior.  I had some drop bag issues, so I had to change up things last minute.  I was initially going to start the race running towards the front and push my pace a little more than in previous races.  Once I had my drop bag issues sorted, nature called at the worst possible time, so I was able to get to the finish line right as the race began.  I was still sorting out my race vest, so I was going extremely slow and a guy running next to me struck up a conversation.  For whatever reason, I was intrigued, so we kept talking while going at a slow pace.  This went on for the next three hours or so.

This man was in his 60's and had done more than 500 marathons and Ultra's...pretty much every race that you could think of, he's done.  I took the opportunity to learn about everything related to running events.  All of the races that I was thinking about doing, he was able to give me tips, tricks, or advising which races to skip.   It was a graduate level education course in races and I''m really grateful for that.  It really helps me moving forward.  

My wife had called around three hours and asked how it was going and when I'd be done.  It was then that it dawned on me that I needed to get moving.  I thanked my new friend for his time and knowledge and I picked up the pace.  The cool thing about this was how much gas I had in the tank because of the easy pace that I adhered to during my "learning experience" in the first part of the race.  

So I ended up running the rest of race and then some much faster and finished everything right around six hours...not bad all things being considered.  The big mistake that I made was that I got in my car and drove 2 and a half hours home without cooling down or stretching like I would usually do.  Fortunately, I was up and moving when I got home and the next day as well, so my recovery didn't suffer too much.  

I've been preparing for Ultra #9 which is in a couple weeks now.  I've been trying to keep my mileage reasonable, which for me means trying to stay between 30-40 miles a week.  I'm doing that because I've been implementing more weight/strength training.  I've been doing this because I realized that my engine is running pretty efficiently, but I need to add a little more power, so theoretically, being able to create more force/power should translate to the trail...so I guess we'll see soon enough...

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Ultra 7- Running Circles Around Expectations

So I ran Ultra #7 of the year a couple of weekends ago and I wanted to take a little time to reflect on it before I wrote about it.  Going into the race, I had really low expectations.  I had been dealing with some injuries, I didn't get a lot of training miles in leading up to it and I was still bothered by my performance in June's race.  The race that I was doing was a different type than I had done previously.  It was a race governed by time and not mileage...i.e. it was a 12 hour race, so I would have to run as many miles as I could in that amount of time.  The course itself was set up as 6.6 miles or something to that affect and it was pretty much all single track.  Going into it, I was thinking that I would just do my 50k and be done with it...I also figured that would probably take me 8 hours or so given how I felt going into the race.  

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I had put together my plan for the race, which was simply, run a loop and take 15-20 minutes to eat, drink and do some foam rolling.  If I needed to change socks or shoes, than do that as well.  Being that I have been taking a keto based fueling approach, nothing really changed in terms of race snacks, but I did add in some Smart Sweets gummy bears and a Quest cookie.  I wanted to break up the cycle I had of just FBombs (which I love) and pickles/pickle juice.  

I had never done a shoe or sock change, but it was a standard practice on long road marches in the army and that worked, so I thought I would try it out to see if it worked in this type of event.  

So I started the race in my Altra Timp and then after the first lap I switched to Altra Superiors.  I was concerned about the breathability of Timps and I didn't want to get swamp feet.  In hindsight, I should have just stayed in the Timps because the Superiors are the complete opposite in terms of cushioning.  If anything, maybe I should've started in the Superiors and then switched to the Timps after a lap or two.  That being said, I have another couple of pairs on Altra's with more cushioning like the Timps on the way....or so I've been told.  As a heavier runner, I feel that the more cushioning in the shoe benefits over the course of longer distances and I will test that theory in some longer races in the next couple of months.  For socks, I went again with my trusted CEP Compression Merino socks.  I alternated two pairs, which was probably unnecessary.  

Everything else was the same.  I used the Salomon Sense 8 vest and Hydropak sent me new tops for my water bottles (which had all cracked), so there were no hydration issues.  The only problem I had in terms of gear, was the zippers on the side of the vest rubbed the inside of my arms pretty raw.  Now that the vest has been pretty well broken in, I like it less and less than when I wrote my review of it.  The interior mesh has become pretty coarse and scratchy, which is not something that you want 8 hours into a race.  

Now that we have that out of the way, I want to talk about the race itself.  I ended up running 45.5 miles or so in the 12 hours.  I didn't stop after I hit the 50k mark...it was weird, around mile 35 or so, I felt strangely energized again and sore feet weren't really bothering me.  It was all kind of numb, but not in a bad, tingly way.  

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After my 4th loop, I realized that part of the course was on the Iron Belle Trail, which is something that I want to try to run/fast pack when it is completed.  It is a trail that goes from Michigan's Upper Peninsula all the way to Belle Isle in Detroit.  

The main thing that I wanted to discuss about the race was the people.  The race organizers were amazing and the runners were so friendly.  It was the first time I've experienced an environment like this.  I met a lot of different people with varied backgrounds, abilities, and with inspiring stories.  I think that was one of the reasons that I was able to go as far as I did.  Everyone there was great.  

There were also random signs posted along the trail to encourage people or to lift their spirits.  At one point during my third loop, I heard an ice cream truck...or at least the song that you would hear from one.  I thought that I was hallucinating...maybe dehydrated, but we weren't far from some busy roads so it wasn't outside of the realm of possibilities.  So I kept running and at one particularly hard climb, I'm running with a few people and as we get to the top of this hill, there's a race volunteer with a cooler passing out popsicles.  They had a little speaker playing ice cream truck music.  It was little things like that, that made this race experience truly unique.   

Seeing that I was able to go further than expected and farther than I've ever run has me reinvigorated and ready to take on Ultra #8 in a few weeks!

Ultra #6- The Gambler

"You gotta know when to hold'em, know when to fold'em, know when to walk away, know when to run...."  That pretty much sums up my experience with the Two Hearted Trail Ultra....I'm a couple of days removed from the race and I'm still trying to process what I went through.  This race wasn't like anything I have done before..not because of the distance, but because what was going on inside my head.  I had the mindset of getting out and enjoying myself in this race....maybe getting some pictures, enjoying being in nature, but none of that actually happened.  

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It has been a very long time since I have been to Michigan's Upper Peninsula or as we Michiganders refer to it as "the U.P.".  It's a different world up there to say the least.  It's landscape is gorgeous, but that is pretty much the only thing that is up there...so if you love mother nature and hate having a cell phone signal, than this is the place for you.  If you do decide to visit, buy everything that you are going to need before you cross the bridge, because there are no real modern conveniences there such as...stores...sure there are a few gas stations that serve as the super market and maybe the occasional pharmacy, but that's pretty much it.  Oh and I can't forget that there is a bear farm which is, in essence, a petting zoo with only bears.  I didn't have time to stop, but it is now on my bucket list for places to visit.  

Now that my PSA for UP tourism is over, I will talk about the race...so this race was not my best and I'm not really sure why not.  Physically, I felt prepared and psychologically, I was really looking forward to it.  I thought I would be able to get some great pictures and videos for the website and I would have fun being out in nature, but that changed the night before the race.  I mentioned earlier that the U.P. is the Bermuda Triangle for cell phone signals and I think that's where it all went south for me.  When I picked up my race packet, I had a signal, but that location was about an hour from where the race was.  I texted my wife that I had just picked up my packet and I was going to find my campground and the race start, etc...things that I would normally do before a race...find the starting line so I wouldn't get lost in the morning before the race.  

My WAZE app was working just fine and got me to the campsite and helped me find the starting line, then I thought I would see "the falls" and then head into town.  What I didn't realize was I didn't have a phone signal that entire time.  So as I drove into Paradise, I noticed a cell tower and shortly after, my phone started blowing up.  I had several voicemails and texts from my wife.  I immediately thought the worst...something happened to one of the kids and I was five hours away.  Thankfully, the kids were fine, it was me that had my wife worried.  I hadn't given her any of the race info and everything I sent after, I just picked up my race packet, didn't go through.  She couldn't get a hold of me for several hours and didn't have any of the pertinent details about where I was or how to reach me...which is something that I always do...."GOTWA"...my military readers will know what that means, for those of you who don't know, that's an acronym for a five point contingency plan....think of it as what we would do before cell phones.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I felt vulnerable.  My family means everything to me and I felt pretty helpless to do anything if something were to happen.  I'm not sure why it struck me like that in that moment, but it did.  It didn't help that the race was taking place on what I can only describe as the Forest Moon of Endor.  It might as well have been in a galaxy far, far away as well.  

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That night, I hardly slept and it was not a great even for me.  I had a water bottle break and the aid stations were pretty far apart.  The race itself started at about 37 degrees, continuing my streak of sub 40 degree starts, but the temperature climbed to the upper 80's with a lot of humidity.  Normally, the water wouldn't have been such a big deal to me, but the humidity took its toll.  

 

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There was one point during the run that I found some unusual looking animal waste.  I had come across it over a couple miles and I was convinced that it was either a bear or moose or worse....the famed North American Woodland Ape.  I didn't physically hit a wall, but I wasn't enjoying myself.  I wasn't in the right frame of mind...there are a lot of variables or excuses that I can make, but I won't.  I withdrew right under 20 miles.  

I'm still not really sure why...the race didn't feel right, my mind wasn't in the right place...it was like an out of body experience.  It was a bittersweet experience for me, but I won't let this setback stop me.  So often in life, we hit a set back, a wall, a plateau, or a bump in the road and it derails us.  This hiccup won't stop me, it's just going to force me to find a creative solution so this doesn't happen again.  

For Ultra #7, I will be doing a timed run, so it will be over the course of a day to see how many miles I can run.  A new and different challenge....I've also ensured that it will be in a place where I do have a cell phone signal.

Ultra #5- What did I get myself into?!?

I just finished Ultra #5 this past weekend.  For the second month in a row, I had to piece together my Ultra because of logistic and scheduling issues, however I have a few races next month to choose from so I should be getting back into a proper ultra then.  All that being said, I completed my 5th Ultra of the year and for that I'm excited.  One of the races I did this weekend, the proceeds were donated to Team RWB.  It's a great organization dedicated to getting veterans active and exercising.  https://www.teamrwb.org/  Because of this, there was a very heavy veteran presence at the race.  It was the first time I was able to really interact and share my story at a race, so I was really grateful for the experience.  

Going into the race(s), I really didn't feel great.  I was still feeling worn out, but seeing all the Team RWB shirts was pretty energizing for me.  It took me about 8 miles to really feel good and loose and to find my rhythm, which is a little longer than it typically takes.  I will talk about that more in the next podcast, so if you want to hear more about that, you have to listen...

 

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The conditions were pleasant, overcast with temperatures in the low 50's....which makes this the highest temperature that I've ever raced in.  I have no complaints about any of it and it was a good experience.  Also, it might be a new place for me to come and train just based on the variety of terrain available and the beautiful views.  

At the end of all of the races I had right around 28 miles, so I managed to cobble together my ultra and I had some good experiences as well.  I'm looking forward to the next race where I can just have to worry about the race itself and not getting the mileage that I set out for to make an ultra, but with that being said, the past two months allowed me to share the experiences with my family and to interact with a large group of vets.  

 

Glad to be done...now to cool off in lake!

Glad to be done...now to cool off in lake!

Finding Your Stride

As I'm nearing the halfway point of the year and subsequently my one Ultra a Month quest, I find myself struggling.  In a recent podcast, I talked about consistency being the key when going through lifestyle/behavior change and trying to balance consistency in all areas of our life can be difficult.  In fact, it can be downright overwhelming.  Trying to balance a heavy training load, working full time, family schedules and logistics, and trying to consistently post podcasts and blogs leaves little time to decompress.  Realistically, I know that this is self-imposed because my core responsibilities are my family and providing for them, everything else is optional.  I know that there are a lot of people out there trying to figure out how to balance.  When I first began this journey, I was fueled by the excitement of starting something new, but now that I'm almost halfway into it, that initial honeymoon phase has worn off.  This is not uncommon with any lifestyle changes, so don't feel down.  

The first thought that a lot of us have is to start to eliminate the optional things.  This isn't a bad idea in all cases, however when we are trying to make healthy changes, this optional things that usually get cut first are the very things that we are trying to accomplish our goals...i.e. not going to the gym anymore, eating more and more cheat meals or becoming lax with our macros...pretty much everything that happens between the third and fourth week of January.  

So let's talk about another option.  For me, lately, I have found myself becoming more and more fatigued and tired without being able to recover.  The engineer in me began going through a root cause analysis.  On a side bar, I have found that implementing some Six Sigma principles into solving health and fitness issues is pretty effective, but I will go into that in a later post.  So as I went through my FMEA or HFMEA as I refer to it, I came up with a few different issues.  

First, doing two weeks of two a day training took a huge toll on my body.  I did a podcast on this, but to summarize, most of the time in training, more is only more, not more is better.  Secondly, I had a few bad nights of sleep...as in I did not sleep well or long enough and lastly, I was not eating enough.  

This is not solved simply by eating more and taking a few naps.  I have a race coming up this weekend, so I need to maximize my time leading up to it while also making sure that my body will be able to perform.  This means I will be doing a lot of active recovery work this week, some light runs, a lot mobility work, and enforcing a strict bedtime.  

I don't want to oversimplify the solution or how I came to that, but I want to make it easy for you to identify your failure modes.  I am working on my HFMEA template, but until then, write down what you are going through.  If you are tired (like myself) start there and then write down everything that you have that is taking up your time.  Work, Family, Friends. Write down what you are eating, how much you are sleeping, and what your activity or exercise habits are.  This might take a few times to find an order that you like, but just writing things down will help you visualize (or actually see) all of the variables that are playing into what you are going through.  

 

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Here are a couple high level places to begin when looking a variables that play into how you are feeling.  Keep in mind that these are starting points and can be broken down deeper individually.  For me, I used training because it is one of the variables that apply to me, but yours may be simply activity or physical activity.  Keep in mind that the body does not know the difference between working out at the gym and working at the house or doing yard work.  

Diet can also be modified.  For me, I opted more for energy balance, but you can modify yours to be macros, if you are struggling with weight loss or keto/lchf specific goals.  There are a lot of different ways you can deep dive depending on what you are trying to root cause.  For training, I used training load and HRV because of the specific volume that I have been doing, but again, you can break it down to other variables or factors under physical activity.  Sleep is pretty self explanatory, but you could also look at quality in addition to quantity.  Lastly, I used psychosocial as a broad spectrum category to cover  how I'm feeling and interacting with everyone/everything...family, work, friends.  Again, it's another category you could take into a lot of different directions.  The whole idea not being to start a debate or discussion, but for you to have an idea for starting points and then you can develop it to fit your specific needs.  

So now you have a starting point to help get back on track and to help you find your stride.  

Ultra #4- Not Your Typical Ultra

Each month, I usually choose a few different races because of the scheduling and logistical issues that can pop-up last minute.  With the kids having sports and activities, my work schedule, and everything else that goes into being a grown-up, my schedule can change at the last minute, so I try to have contingencies in place just in case.  April was just one of those months.  The race I initially set out to do, happened to fall during a weekend where some previously cancelled soccer games were rescheduled to, so I had to be a little flexible.  

In the past, I have talked about how to include your family in with your positive lifestyle/behavior changes.  To this date, my youngest kids have not been to any of the races that I've been in because they are young and races are usually out in the middle of no-where and they take me a work day of time to complete...not a great recipe for fun for kids.  Initially, this would have been the same for this race, but fate intervened.  

My kids are pretty fortunate to go to a school that gets involved in a lot of great community activities.  One of the things that the physical education department there does is gives the students the option to run a kids marathon during the Martian Marathon.   This was scheduled a week before my race, so I figured that I could run the half marathon for a training run and then I would be able to run the kids race with them.  It would be an awesome opportunity to get in some good training and have my kids see what I've been doing with the races and then run one with them.  

A couple of weeks prior to my race, fate intervened and the gods of rescheduled soccer games showed their ugly faces and it looked like I was not going to be able to do an ultra in April....not being one to give up easily, I started thinking and I remembered that an ultra marathon is technically any distance greater than a marathon...they just normally begin at 50k.  So I started to look at the race details and the kids race began at 11.  With the half marathon starting at 9, I had ample time to run that and do the kids race.  The marathon began at 730, so I would need to finish in four and a half hours in order to be able to run with them in their race.  So my plan was to run the marathon and then run their race with them, which would put me a little over 28 miles for the day...so in my mind, that would be my ultra for the month.  Technically speaking, I will be running an ultra, just not in the traditional sense.  

So here's the down side, I have run all 50k's to this point.  My fastest time to date being seven and a half hours, which if you do the math is a little over 31 miles, which is only about five miles farther than a regular marathon.  So in order to get to my kids race in time, I would have to run a 4:30, which would be a personal best...by a very large margin.  

I was a little concerned, but I did have a few things on my side.  The main factors being that I have continued to lose weight and get faster through the training and the second being that the race is where I run a lot, so I'm familiar with the course.  There wasn't going to be a lot of mud or bad road conditions to deal with.  The weather was also supposed to be nice...mostly sunny and in the 50's, which would be a pleasant change as well.  

So race day approaches and I feel confident that I can complete it in four and a half hours.  I had a lot of things going in my favor, plus I just got a new race vest, courtesy of FBomb and some sweet new merino wool compression socks from CEP.  I prepared for the race the same as the other ones, but I didn't have to stay in a hotel, so I thought the home field advantage would be a help....it did not.

 

 

So on Friday night before the race, Mother Nature decided to play a joke on me and storm in the middle of the night.  This woke up the dogs and the kids...the whole idea of sleeping comfortably in my own bed was just a myth.  Mother Nature continued her games all through the morning as well...in an effort to add fuel to the fire, she thought she would drop the temperature as well.  

What she didn't take into account was the fact that I have run races in negative temperatures and she would need to do more than 30 degree temperatures, rain, and the occasional wind gust to stop me...does she not listen to the podcast, I am armed head to toe with Merino wool.

The Martian Marathon is normally a pretty full event, but the weather conditions more than likely effected that.  My goal for the race was to finish in time to get to the kids race to run with them....so sub 4:30.  I also wanted to push myself and I didn't want to stop for fuel or to refill for at least half marathon.  Those were my two goals for the race.  

I didn't factor in that this wasn't like a trail race where you would have an aid station 3-7 miles, this was more of a road race and there were water tables pretty much every two miles.  So I carried around a liter and a half in my vest, but I didn't really need to use it much because I could just run by a table and grab a cup without stopping.  The other nice surprise was the race vest itself.  I could easily stash my gloves and get to my FBomb packets without slowing down or stopping, like I have had to with the UD vest I wore in my first three races and a few others that I have tested.  For me, that made a big difference.  In fact, the first time I actually stopped, was to go to the bathroom and refill my bottles was almost 18 miles in.  Another first for me.  

For this race, I pretty much prepared the same as I did for the previous three races.  The big caveat was that I only brought FBombs with me...I didn't bring pickles or pickle juice, which I normally do.  I really started to feel it around mile 20...I was getting really tight...specifically my hamstrings.  In terms of energy, I felt pretty good, but my muscles were starting to get really tight.  I normally would have some exogenous ketones/BHB salts, but they were in my drop bag, which was in my car because I didnt' need a drop bag for this race.  I think that would've made a difference if I would have had that in place of the pickles.  

My pace did slow after mile 19, but as I got closer to the finish, I started to pick it up again.  My wife had called me around mile 23 and was asking me where she should park.  That boosted my spirits and provided me with a little boost.  I knew that if I picked up the pace a little, I might be able to see them at the finish line.  Because I run in that area a lot, I knew how long it would take me to finish.  When I made the second to last turn I could hear the music from the tents and that boosted me a bit...when I turned the last corner to take me to the finish line, something came over me and I ran that last 400m as fast as I could (in hindsight, it felt a lot faster than it looked on the video).  As I crossed the finish line, I saw my wife and kids at the fence to the left of the finish line.  I leaned over the rails and hugged them.  I ended up finishing the race in 3:51...almost 40 minutes faster than my goal.

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It meant so much to me to have them there and share to share in that moment.  We had a little time before their race...in hindsight, I probably should've run a little slower because that half an hour or so between my finish and the start of their race was brutal.  All of my muscles seized up.  Because I'm only fueling for these races with fat or keto macro rations, there was nothing that I could really eat from the race venue and I had given away all of my FBombs to people I had met before and during the race, so I was in pretty rough shape.  I was also freezing.  I didn't factor in the time between races for layers so all I had was another merino base layer to in my car.  Not the best planning on my part. 

By the time the kids race had started, the race organizers did not plan for the conditions.  The kid race was went trails, through the park, some sidewalks, and then back through more muddy trails...all of which was one giant puddle.  I thought my youngest son and daughter would be going pretty slow, so it wouldn't be too painful to jog with them...I guess wrong.  When it was time to start, they all took off like a shot.  Fortunately for me, my daughter couldn't maintain their break neck pace and slowed down...unfortunately for me, she wanted me to carry her for about a mile of their race, which I gladly did.  We did run the last quarter of a mile together holding hands...it's probably my favorite memory of my racing adventures so far.  I finished the races with just over 28 miles, technically, an ultra...

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Ultra #3-Playing the Fool

Race #3 was a lesson in humility for me.  I found myself south of Cleveland again for the second month in a row.  One of the most unique aspects of that part of Ohio is that if you look at the Google Maps view of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park it looks like a giant forest, but if you removed all of the trees, you would see something that resembles the Grand Canyon... 

Going into the race my goal was to not finish last and I felt so confident, I thought that I would be able to finish in under six hours...the keyword here is thought.  Mother nature was up to her old tricks again and in the week leading up to the race, there was heavy rain.  I was not aware of this because, in typical race day weather for me, the temperature was below freezing.  This actually didn't bother me because every race I run moving forward will be warmer than the first one I ran in January.  

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The race consisted of four, eight mile loops and was said to be pretty smooth and well marked.  I've come to a realization that every race director says the same thing because it is usually their home course, so what they say is well marked...is generally not always the case.  I also had asked if I should bring trekking poles with me.  I was told no because the course was in really great condition, despite all of the rain.

So the race started and it was around 30 degrees.  It was supposed to warm up to the upper 40's later in the morning, so I was excited for that possibility.  The first lap I did relatively fast...somewhere around 80 minutes.  The ground was frozen, so it made for a smooth, hard surface.  This was not going to be the case for the rest of the race.  

Halfway through the second loop, the ground had begun to thaw and the other shorter distance races that had begun were clearly taking it's toll on the course.  The second loop took longer than the first because the thawing course started to get soupy.  I was still pretty confident that I could come in around six hours though.  

Once I began the third loop, it became very clear that I should have brought the trekking poles.  The course had the same consistency of cream of wheat or grits...the inclines and declines became an adventure to say the least and I wiped out about a dozen times.

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Running ultras teaches you a lot about yourself.  There's an inherent struggle to covering all of the miles, but when you add in mud covered inclines and declines, it adds an additional layer of torture.  When you embrace the struggle you get rewarded in a lot of different ways.  Sometimes it's an increased level of self-awareness or confidence and sometimes the reward is beauty of mother nature.    

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Loop three was brutal, but I was motivated to finish and not come in last.  Fortunately for me, my oldest son had come with me and I called him from the trail and asked him to get my trekking poles from the car.  So when I finished loop 3, I had time to get fueled up with some Salted Chocolate Macadamia FBombs and half of a Keto Brick.

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The fourth loop was a killer, but the trekking poles helped.  It was by far the hardest race I've done to date.  The course conditions were brutal, but the views in the woods were breathtaking at times.  It's definitely lit a fire under me to continue to train hard because I want to be more competitive in these races.  I do know that in order to do so, I will need to keep losing weight...at least 50 more lbs, which would put me around the same weight as when I was in Romania playing soccer.  

 

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Recap for Ultra #2

Ultra Race #2 is in the bag now and I'm happy to say that I finished!  When I was running the last leg of the race, I was doing the last big climb of the race and it dawned on me that it was almost 10 years to the day of my hip surgery.  That was a pretty humbling moment for me.  I don't want to over state what I did, because I did finish last, but I will say that my goal was just to finish the race.  When I was about to start the last loop of the race (13.1 miles), a race official came up and said that there was a cut-off time because they only had a limited time to use the park.  That really lit a fire and I told him that I didn't care and that I was going to finish whether they were there or not.  So with that being said, I finished the race.  

 
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I learned some valuable lessons from this race.  The first thing is that I need to learn how to run down hills.  The downhills for me were actually harder than the uphills.  The second is that I need to fuel more than I did and I need to work out the timing for that a little better.  I burned somewhere between 6000-7000 calories, but I only took in around 2500 calories.  This was more my fault because I wasn't taking note of what I taking in.  My goal on this has been to utilize fat as the primary fuel, so I have plenty of F-Bomb packets and walnuts to provide energy and pickles and pickle juice to help with electrolytes.  I also had two 500 ml water bottles that I wore in my race vest.  I did find that the amount of water was appropriate for the needs of the race.  However, I did find that the pockets of my race vest were not easy to access while I was running, so I am currently investigating other vests.  For those who are curious, I am using the Ultimate Direction Hard Rocker vest.  

 

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Another important component to my race was making sure that my joints where supported and maintained  alignment.  I also was worried about my feet and make sure that they were going to hold up.  I am concerned about plantar fasciitis, as well, so I was pretty well taped up with RockTape under my running tights.   If you're familiar with RockTape taping methods, I had my left IT Band and knee taped, both feet taped for plantar fasciitis, and a spiral chain taped on my right left.  I was concerned with the external rotation of my right leg which was effecting my gate and causing some the swelling on my right foot.  So needless to say, I was held together with Rock Tape, but it definitely helped.

The last thing I wanted to talk about is the shoes I wore.  I mentioned before that I was concerned about my feet holding up and a big part of that was my footwear.  I have never liked shoes with a lot of cushioning, but I needed to find something that could provide a little more cushioning because I am still a "husky runner" to say the least.  I also wanted a shoe that had a lower heel to forefoot offset.  

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I generally prefer a zero drop, but the ones that were available I didn't really care for or didn't fit me well.  I opted for the Under Armour Fat Tire 2 with the Boa System closure.  They worked great and I didn't have a lot of the foot issues that plague a lot of people.  I didn't get any blisters or hot spots, which is pretty impressive because I only had a couple of days to break them in for the race.  They also have an integrated gator, which is important to keep out rocks and debris.  

For the next race, I am thinking about adding trekking poles for the second half of the race, but I'm not sure.  My goal for the next race is to finish with a little faster time.  I'm hoping to break the 8 hour mark.  I think with revising my training plan, that will be possible.  The race was tough, but it was worth it.  My hope is to keep improving my times and refining my training to best prepare for the next race.  

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HRV Podcast Notes

I wanted to follow up with a few notes on HRV.  From time to time on the podcast, I may go down a rabbit hole on certain things and I tend to talk fast when I'm discussing things that I'm passionate about, so for the sake of my listeners in Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa, I am adding some notes and additional resources to follow. 

HRV is the variation in time between your R to R interval or more simply the variation of time between heart beats. 

 

Here's a visual example courtesy of iThlete's website

Here's a visual example courtesy of iThlete's website

This variation is important because it is controlled by your autonomic nervous system (ANS).  When there is greater variation, it in essence, means that you are relaxed and able to perform at a high level.  When there is less variation, it means that the parasympathetic nervous system is running the show...this is not a good thing because it regulates the fight or flight response.  So without knowing it, your body is in a state of stress.  This can have an adverse effect on us in a variety of ways.  It can affect your ability to perform, can alter your mood, can increase your likelihood of injury, and can impede your weight loss, if that's the journey that you are on.  So the ability to track and monitor it can be a big deal.  With that being said, it is not the be all, end all metric.  There are a lot of things that can effect our HRV for the positive (eustress) and negative (distress).  These stressors can be physical, mental/psychological, and emotional.  

One of the reasons I think HRV is important when we are, not only training for sport or events, but for behavior and lifestyle changes is because it forces us to add in mindfulness to our routine.  This can be in the form of meditation, controlled breathing, or yoga.  These types of activities can positively effect our HRV or increase it.  These things are important in our journeys, whether it be helping in recovering from tough workouts to keeping us mindful and grounded.  I do need to say that because you do need to take a common sense approach to implementing HRV into your tool kit.  If you are under heavy allostatic load (you've been training hard, a lot), don't think because you can increase your HRV by doing some yoga or meditation, it's ok to ramp up your training again.  Allow yourself the time to recover.  HRV is a great tool to help you train smarter, which is sometimes counter-intuitive.  

 

Here is an example of training load from Polar.  This is from Polar Personal Trainer, which is no longer available, but this is similar to what is out there on similar types of software.

Here is an example of training load from Polar.  This is from Polar Personal Trainer, which is no longer available, but this is similar to what is out there on similar types of software.

I want to clarify what I said about it being counter-intuitive.  There are some days that you might feel great, but your HRV indicates that you should take it easy that day and there are days you might feel poorly, but your HRV says you're ready to go.  

 

HRV from Apple Health Kit via Apple Watch.   Their HRV can be a little tricky because the lower end means your ready...it's not color coded like most HRV programs.  

HRV from Apple Health Kit via Apple Watch.   Their HRV can be a little tricky because the lower end means your ready...it's not color coded like most HRV programs.  

There is a lot of fascinating aspects of using HRV.  I am trying to keep it simple though.  I understand that there are a lot of nuances to it, but for the average person, you just need to have a working knowledge of the color wheel; specifically three colors.  Think of it like a traffic light.  Green means go, Yellow means caution, and Red means stop.  

There are a lot of good HRV apps and programs available.  I'm not affiliated with any of them and my advice to you would be do your due diligence and explore what works best for you.  One of the nice features with a lot of the apps is that they sync with other health or training apps, so you can decide on a program or app that works best for you.

Here are some additional resources that will explain HRV (probably better than I did).  And if you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

Enjoy....

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/heart-rate-variability-new-way-track-well-2017112212789

https://hrvcourse.com/heart-rate-variability-vs-heart-rate/

https://www.myithlete.com/what-is-hrv/

https://www.heartmath.org/articles-of-the-heart/science-of-the-heart/article-explains-importance-of-heart-rate-variability-for-your-health/

 

Experimenting

There are a lot of reasons why I don't like pre-planned life change programs.  You know the ones...90 day fix or 60 days to be the best version of you or 21 day solution.  For legal reasons, I'm not calling any particular one out by name and I think that they can even be beneficial in their own way.  For me though, it doesn't allow for a lot of experimentation or trial and error.  The structure of the programs can be good for people, but at the same time, when you are unable to adhere to it, it can derail you.  The other thing is that the time allowed might not be long enough for the body to make the promised or expected physiological changes.  

I am rapidly approaching the one year mark since I have adopted a keto lifestyle.  I have also hit a plateau.  For me, I understand that there are several reasons for this and so I am trying to understand why.  I have gone back to my process of recording what I eat and drink with MFP to see if it is what I'm eating.  I'm also in the process of getting a new blood ketone meter, so I can make a focused effort to tracking those metrics.  Additionally, I have upped my training, so my weekly mileage can vary from 55 to 75 miles a week.  If I was just shooting from the hip, I would wager to say that I am not eating enough, but I'm going to go through my process and experiment to see.  I will also look at the my macro ratios eventually to see if I should tinker with those.  

In addition to exploring my nutrition, I plan on experimenting with actual training.  Right now, I am following just a general ultra marathon training program.  I find it helpful and it's fun to experiment with pushing myself at different paces; half marathon, marathon, and race pace.  It's been a fun way to push myself mentally and physically.  As the year goes on, I will alter my training between races or probably two races.  What I mean by that after my next race, I will switch from running 5-6 days a week, with a little mobility work and very little resistance training, to only running 3-4 days a week, with more focus on strength training.  My plan is to play around and experiment throughout the year and see what results I get.  

I do know that as I continue to lose weight and build my "cardio" base, race times will get faster, so I wouldn't feel comfortable saying one method is preferred over another until I level out, which could take over a year.  So we will see.  The beauty of this whole thing is the process and learning about how you react to different things.  This is how we create long term change and we cease to be working towards a lifestyle goal and start to enjoy our lifestyle.  

Leading from the Front

In past posts, I've discussed some influential people in my life and how the examples set forth by them have, in turn, changed my life.  I strive to do the same.  For a long time, I relied on knowledge and experiences to make me a credible source of information, in terms of health, wellness, exercise and sports performance.  My experiences as an athlete, both collegiately and professionally, gave me credibility as a coach and my degrees and certifications lent me the same when I was working in health and wellness.  

The problem with that is you have to really get people to buy into what you're saying, particularly if you don't pass the eyeball test...which I did not.  Sure I could get by in the powerlifting community, but that was pretty much it.  Even though I had the base of knowledge and experience to help people, I had to take time to convince them of that.  Last year when I started the ketogenic diet, I did not tell anyone.  Having spent the last couple years beaten down by my appearance and getting tired of having to convince people that I actually knew what I was talking about, I just stopped talking.  A year removed from that, I am in a position where I actually have a platform to speak, but it wasn't my words that gave me credibility, but it was my appearance.  

Raising kids is a crazy journey.  If you wonder why they do the things they do, look no further than yourself.  I see my behaviors mimicked by all the kids, regardless of their developmental age group, whether it's silliness or sarcasm, or unfortunately, raising my voice.  I am cognizant of all of these things and I am continuing to work on this because I do want my kids to be able to the best versions of themselves and not the worst version of me.  As I have made lifestyle changes, my kids have noticed.  They know that daddy doesn't eat the same food they do; specifically pizza.  That's when I realized that they were taking notice.  My ten year old had said to my wife, "There's so much more pizza left over now that dad doesn't eat it" and my three year old daughter asks why I don't like pizza anymore.  I tell her that I still love pizza, but I eat a different kind; which is true.  I do love the Real Good Pizza brand and I will have that sometimes when they get pizza.  

I don't make a show of my dietary changes because kids notice everything.  They also know that daddy gets a lot of steps everyday and that I run a very long way.   This has prompted them to ask for activity trackers of their own.  I never showed them, but one day they heard my wife and I talk about how many steps I get in a day at work versus what she gets.  Than they started asking questions.  I got my 10 year old a vivosmart 3 for Christmas and my 6 year old had to have one as well, so we got him the vivofit jr 2.  We are able to have family scoreboard via the garmin app and the app for the vivofit jr has a lot of great features.  You can incorporate chores and reminders for them and there's a story mode, where each day they meet their activity goal, they can go another chapter in the story.  My son uses the Star Wars one and he runs around the house when he gets home from school just so he can get enough activity to see what BB-8 does next.  It's pretty cool.

Now this post is not an advertisement for Garmin, but it is more to show that there are ways to include your family in your journey and get them thinking about lifestyle choices without forcing it upon them.  Now I'm not saying to make your kids go keto, we don't do that with our kids, but we have re-examined the role of processed carbs in their diets and worked to find alternatives for them to eat.  They are also trying to be like dad and making choices to be more active, whether they realize it or not.  And this actually forces me to think more about moving around during my work day, so  there is a great reciprocal effect that this can have.  

You are the best example that your kids have.  They observe everything that you say and they do and will mimic those behaviors whether they realize it or not.  If you don't like the way your kids are behaving, the first thing to do is look at yourself.  

Make a Note....

Five Minute Journal...White Board...Post-It Notes...Trapper Keeper...whatever your vessel of choice is, it is a necessity to keep us on track.  As I have previously discussed, writing down our goals, micro and macro, is one of the most effective ways to keep us on track.  For me, I write down my long-term goals and then I start to map out the process I need to get there.  So setting both macro and micro goals.  It doesn't have to be very detailed, in my experience the details will work themselves out in the process.  

When I set a weight loss goal, that amount of weight that I am trying to lose is the macro goal.  Setting the micro goals is how I get there.  When I started I would write out the macronutrient ratio that I wanted to stick to, the supplements/vitamins that I needed to take, and when I would eat(if I was doing intermittent fasting).  As this became habit, I switched from writing this down daily, to doing it once a week; usually on Monday mornings.  

The same was with my training and exercise.  I do use a specific running plan now, but when I started, I would write down what I wanted to do that day and then I would do it when I was able to fit it in.  Now I will set my training goals at the beginning of the week and base them around my running schedule.  My non-running workouts mainly consist of mobility work and I try to incorporate a push, pull, press, squat, and lunge.  Some days I will throw in some more specific exercises if I feel that I need them, but for the most part, I keep it pretty simple.

I use the same process at work.  I will write down whatever it is I'm working on and then break it down into smaller tasks.  It's a easy and effective way to increase productivity.  This is nothing that is ground breaking or innovative, but it is a proven method.  If you are struggling with maintaining your resolutions and or staying focused on your goals, get a pen and paper and start making notes.

"Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right." —Henry Ford

Built for Speed or Comfort?

As I continue to go through the daily grind of work, training, and life in general, I can see how easy it is to let things slip.  Most all of us do it...sometimes it's something at work or maybe a project at home that you've been working on for nine months...and sometimes it's our resolutions.  For those who follow the website, you know that I am not a fan of resolutions, but I also understand that it is a part of our culture, so I will make reference to them.  We are moving into the third week of the new year and this is where the rubber starts to meet the road.  My advice to you is to keep your eye on the prize.  Lifestyle related choices are generally binary in nature...yes or no.  I will choose to go to the gym or not.  I will choose to eat this or I won't.  

There's great power in our daily routines, but new routines, like the ones started on January 1st aren't yet a part of our established daily routines.  If you are struggling with this, than let me make the decision for you.  Choose whatever yes it is that gets you closer to your goal.  By this time, we are getting tired of going to the gym...take the thought process out of it.  Get there and start slow and after you get going, I promise that your mood will change and you will get back on board.  If you can't get into your workout, than choose a class where you just need to follow along and not worry about self-motivation. 

When it comes to food choices, choose fat.  It is almost impossible to eat too much fat.  Start your day with your coffee or tea and add in MCT Oil or whipped butter.  That will help start you off right.  Believe it or not, the more fat you eat, the more satiated you will feel.  This will make your food choices easier.  

So now getting to what got me on this subject...I was thinking about something that one of the trainers at the International Performance Institute told me what I was younger.  IPI was a part of what now is known as the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.  It is where you do the strength and conditioning aspect of training.  I can't remember the guys name, but I've never forgotten what he told me.  He said, "You're either born fast or you can train to be fast.."  This sparked my curiosity and it was one of the things that had led me to go into Kinesiology later on in my life.  Some of us are born with genetics that predispose us to one thing or another.  Some people have the biologic/genetic make-up to be swimmers or distance runners or power athletes, based on our body types.  Some of us metabolize foods more efficiently than others, e.g. how our bodies respond to carbohydrates.   

With that being said, we can take our genetic or biological cards and we can put in the work to improve our hand.  Through biomechanical analysis we can see what we need to do to make ourselves more efficient runners or through metabolic testing, we can see what and how we are burning as fuel.  With that data, we can build programs to improve ourselves.  So regardless of how we are built, with the right data, we can achieve our goals.  I'm not saying that if you are a 5'10" guy, with the right training you will play in the NBA, but with the right data points and training, we could help you dunk.  If you are wanting to lose weight or even develop a "beach body" we can achieve that if we know how are body reacts to our macros.  

If you are struggling with where you are at and not reaching your goals, don't give up.  Take a step back and look at the data.  Are you tracking your macro ratios?  Are you getting the recovery time that you need?  How's your level of physical activity?  Most of the time, the answer is right in front of us.  Also, you have to be persistent and persevere.  It will take a little sacrifice to get to where you want to be.

"Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak."

-Thomas Carlyle
 

What I Learned Running my First UltraRace

So this past weekend, I started on what is going to be my first ultra race of the year.  My goal is to do one a month for the entire year.  Additionally, my goal is to run these races while using fat as my primary fuel source.  Ultra running while utilizing fat as a fuel source has been done before, but this has been done by people who were already runners...I am not a runner and I'm still on my journey to lose weight.  All rational thought processes say that this is a horrible idea, but the same rational thought processes have told us that a low fat diet is best for our health. 

I felt very confident leading up to the race.  I knew that it there was a chance that the temperatures could be in the single digits, so I planned and trained accordingly.  I worked through how I was going to layer my clothes and I created a hydration and nutrition plan that would sustain me throughout the race.  I was comfortable with the distance and I had planned on it taking me between 6-8 hours.  I knew I wasn't going to set any speed records and I didn't plan on doing that.  

On the Monday before the race, my son got sick.  He was projectile vomiting and had a tummy ache.  I thought it was because he drank too much punch at his brother's birthday party that day.  (He kept sneaking back to the punch bowl having different relatives fill up his cup which I estimate to have been at least 7 times)  At around 2 am that night, my stomach didn't feel right so I went to the bathroom...it was at that point that I began to my own display of gastro-intestinal pyrotechnics that would continue for the next two days.  By Thursday, I was able to finally eat a meal and hold down water.  This was at the same time as the "Bomb Cyclone" was hitting.  Temperatures were dipping down into the negatives.  I was able to get out for a warm-up run and I felt pretty good, all things considered.  

The plan was to go out on Friday night and stay the night and wake up early for the race Saturday.  I normally pack light, but for whatever reason, I was just throwing clothes in my bag.  I had packed more for that night, than I had for an entire week of vacation last summer.  It was going to be, at most, in the single digits and I couldn't find my running tights that I had trained in, so I had to stop and find some.  It was more chaotic than I wanted it to be.  We left later than we wanted to, but made it to the race sight to register that night.  I got my number and packet and we went back to the hotel to eat and then sleep.  As I was laying out my clothes and equipment at the hotel, I realized that I couldn't find my top two layers.  I had planned to wear three layers.  My long sleeve merino base layer (which I've mentioned before), a quarter zip merino mid-weight top and a Nike running hooded quarter zip jacket that was meant for cutting wind in the cold weather.  This was how I trained and I knew that it was going to keep my warm even in the single digit temperatures.  Now I couldn't find those top two layers.  I didn't freak out, I had packed enough to know that there was something else that I could wear, so I tried to relax before I went to sleep.  After everything was laid out and I got to bed, it was around 1 am.  

I woke up around 530 and started to get ready.  I had my trusty merino base layer and I ended up wearing a GoLite wind shirt with a heavy cotton sweatshirt.  It was not ideal nor what I wanted to wear, but it was my best option.  So I packed up all of my gear and my drop bag, drank a liter of water and were off to the race.  We got there about 20 minutes before race time.  The temperature was -1 out.  I was a little nervous because it had been quite a week leading up to the race and I didn't have a high degree of confidence in my layers, but I knew I had enough water, fat, and pickles/pickle juice to get me through the race.  

The starting line

The starting line

So the race starts and I kept to the back because I wasn't in any particular hurry and I wasn't planning on setting any speed records.  After a couple of miles, I was really just blown away with the being out in the woods and how it almost looked otherworldly.  

I'm at the very back on the right at the starting line.  

I'm at the very back on the right at the starting line.  

This is what it looked like on one of the more flat portions of the course.  

This is what it looked like on one of the more flat portions of the course.  

After a while, the only thing I could hear was my feet hitting the snow.  It was so peaceful and serene.  I realized that I hadn't been alone in nature like that in over a decade.  Than I realized that I really was alone.  I couldn't see or hear anyone.  I knew that the first aid station was supposed to be four miles or so in.  All of my water had frozen, so I was carrying 4.5 liters of ice.  Fortunately, my pickle juice was not frozen all of the way, so I was able to make it to the first aid station where I could attempt to thaw out my water bottles.  Even though the temperature was in the low single digits, I was actually kind of warm and I was sweating, which made the heavy cotton sweatshirt freeze, so that was also a new and interesting experience.  Throughout the run, particularly the back half of the course, I just felt like I was sinking.  This is to be understood because even though I have lost around 130 lbs to date, I still weigh right around 260, which makes me over 100 lbs heavier than the typical ultra runner.  This doesn't bother me, but it was just interesting to see how the effect that had, particularly on the back half of the course which was lots of hills and powdery snow which at times went up to my calves.  I felt like I was running on a beach for a better part of it the last half.  

Also, during the back half of the run, I the distances between aid stations did not feel right.  I chalked it up to a lot of twists in the terrain and all of the hills, but it turns out that I had made a wrong turn and followed the wrong path.  It's easier than you might think in the winter time, not that it is a point of pride for me.  When I got in, I checked my Garmin GPS and I added an extra 10 miles to the loop.  That might seem hard to do, but I really was just enjoying myself out in the woods.  It's not often that I get that kind of solitude in nature.  Normally when I run, its in the city or from city to city.  Some of the routes I take put me through parts of Detroit and Dearborn that is abandon and run down, so the solitude isn't that foreign, but there are always sounds in the city.  Being in the woods like that, it was just a surreal experience...even though I was running in single degree temperatures.  

By the time I finished that loop, I talked with race officials and they weren't sure if I would be able to do the second loop by the cut off time.  I also didn't have a headlamp and the back half of that course was pretty gnarly in the day, so I can't imagine what it would have been like in the dark without a headlamp.  I decided that it was best that I end when I did.  I hate to DNF or drop from the race.  I know I could've finished, but I would've probably crawled across the finish line at 10 at night.  I felt that the risk didn't justify the reward because, if I'm honest with myself and everyone, one year ago, I would get out of breath walking up stairs or tying my shoes, now I'm running ultramarathons.  I know that I have another race coming up.  One that hopefully I won't have a gastro bug before and one that I will have all of the right gear and maybe the weather will not freeze my water.  

The reality of this is that in real life, sometimes we DNF or drop.  Sometimes that happens with our diet or exercise, sometimes it's in our personal or professional lives.  These things happen, but these things do not have to define us or be the cause of our demise.  We don't live in a binary world of ones and zeros and we don't need to live our lives accordingly.  It is what we do next that will help shape our outcomes.  I have another race in a few weeks.  I am two days removed and I'm back at the gym training to prepare for the next one.  I am a little wiser now and I have learned from my mistakes.  I am continuing to better myself, in spite of what some would perceive as a failure.  I will keep putting my right foot in front of my left and I will be ready for the next race.  

 

50k finish.jpg

Show Me the Way!

Before we get going here, I have to say Welcome to 2018!  My hope for you all is that you resolve not to have resolutions in 2018, but if you have already made them, I'm confident that by February you will have forgotten them.  With all sarcasm aside, I do want to apologize for the time between postings.  It has been a great holiday season, for the most part, and I'm taking 2018 by the horns! 

I have been extremely fortunate in my life to have a lot of great mentors.  I have discussed this in the past, but I was thinking about something this morning that brought this to my mind.  I wanted to talk about one of the most influential and motivational/inspirational people that I had the pleasure of serving under while I was in the army.  He was a bit of an anomaly to me.  We lovingly called him the Dragon Master....not because he had a fire breathing fury, but because of his love of Dungeons and Dragons.  He had a laid back way about him the way that you would think of him as a surfer and not as someone who had a coveted mustard stain on his jump wings from a combat jump into Panama.  In fact, I only saw him raise his voice in anger one time; the other times he would raise his voice was when he was telling stories about being a young ranger clearing buildings in Panama with a SAW (squad automatic weapon, not the yard tool).  Then he would break out into the Van Halen song "Panama".  It was pretty entertaining.  A lot of people liked the Dragon Master because he was a laid back Senior NCO, which is often a rarity in the world of the knuckle draggers, but for myself and the few that had the pleasure to serve directly with him in harms way, we loved him for a different reason.

Before I continue, take a quick inventory of the people in your life that you consider close.  What would you do for those people and what would they do for you?  What's the worst situation you can imagine to be in and what role would those people play in helping you get through?  I leave this non-specific because different people we are close to play different roles in our lives.  We could be a parent or the child, the boss or the employee, or the friend coworker or sibling.  The roles will vary by person.  I speak in reference to the Dragon Master in terms of he was my boss, but he never asserted himself that way.  He is one of the few people that I would go to the gates of Hell with...and I...we volunteered to have that privilege. 

People pay thousands and thousands of dollars to go to seminars or to take classes to learn how to manage and lead people in organizations.  When I was working on my MBA, I took leadership and management classes that tried to teach these things, but none of them really grasped the concepts and lessons that I learned from the Dragon Master.  I could share stories about his composure and leadership in combat, but that's not what set him apart.  The story that should be taught in leadership and management seminars or in MBA coursework for anyone who wants to lead or inspire people is not one of adventure, courage in the face of danger, or an act of heroism.   It's quite the opposite of that.  

During one particular deployment, our team was required to live in a particular austere area.  With that being said, we were afforded the opportunity to stay in a lovely house/compound of a Ba'ath party official who no longer had use for it.  It really was a nice home, but with the condition of the utilities in that area lacked basic utilities, like running water.  This meant that we had to build our own bathroom facilities.  I won't go into the finer points of this, but I will just say that anything that wasn't consisting of a number one, went into a barrel which you would have to burn once said barrel got too full.  This was a duty was shared by everyone except the Dragon Master.  He of course, being our leader, was spared this so he could have more time to work on becoming a level six wizard or whatever he chose to pursue.  

Work is prioritized, but always done.  So if you were out on a mission or patrol or any number of things that could and would happen, work was always done when you returned.  Weapons and equipment cleaned and ready, ensuring your position is guarded and you have established lines of communication, then whatever "house work" is needed (poo burning), then you can eat or sleep or have down time.  There was an idea of what a schedule would be like, but mission requirements would never really allow for it. 

I had just come off a patrol that should have been routine, but because we were playing tour guide, which should've been a simple eight hours, turned into eighteen.  We were pretty exhausted when we got back and fortunately for me, it was not my turn to burn any waste.  It was around 0300 when we got back and I remember taking off my gear and laying down.  I woke up a couple hours later and it was really quite.  I figured it would be a good time just to have some alone time.  So I got my boots and stepped outside.  To my surprise, I see the Dragon Master out there with a five gallon can of JP-8 stirring a barrel full of waste.  I walked over to him and tried to take over, but he wouldn't let me.  He told me to go back and get some more sleep.  I couldn't do that, so I grabbed another barrel and started another fire next to him and got to work.  

The Dragon Master did not lack courage or bravery, he is up there with the best of them.  I've witnessed it.  There is no shortage of bravery or heroes in the military.  There are countless stories across countless wars that can share those acts heroism.  And yes, maybe they inspire people.  For me, it was the humility of the Dragon Master, that inspired me.  I never once saw him eat or take care of his own needs before one of his guys.  The fact that he would do the tedious tasks that he did not have to do nor were required of him and he would never make a show of the fact that he was doing it.  

Not many days go by that I don't think about the Dragon Master and the other guys I served with.  I wonder if he knows the impact that he had on us.  When I look at the changes I have made in my life and the effect that it has had on others, I can't help but think about the Dragon Master.  He led by example, it didn't matter about his awards or achievements, he just did the job and we saw him do it.  It wasn't until after that deployment that a lot of us learned about all of his awards and achievements, but that didn't change the regard that we held him in.  For me, I have degrees and certificates that say that I should be an expert on health and fitness and nutrition and everything related, but I was not living that example.  None of those pieces of paper helped reach or inspire anyone until I started embracing the change that I have been going through; which is switching to a low-carb, high fat diet.  That was the first step into opening up the door to reaching people who are in the same situation that I was in.  

If you don't have a Dragon Master of your own, don't panic.  There is an easy solution.  Put the needs of those people in your life who you are responsible for before your own and put in the work...all of the work, not just the stuff that will get you recognition.  There is no easy solution except the solution itself.  That's not meant to sound cryptic, it's just what it is.  If you are trying to lose weight, follow the steps that we have laid out here.  It's that easy.  The journey isn't always, but you just have to put in the work and then it will seem easy.  Don't over think it, just do it.