Tag Archives: training

Thoughts on Camping, Crossfit and Culture: A Post in Which I Alienate Everyone

 

Camping

The kids and I have been in a tent in the Swiss Alps for five days, and this is the first day we’ve seen rain.

I feel thankful.

Last year was warmer, but we had the kind of dampness that crept into your soul, making you regret you put the words ‘Camping’ and ‘Switzerland’ in the same sentence, to the point where you contemplate trading months of marathon training for your own cozy bed.

This year is better.

While my nose freezes solid when the sun goes down, I learned that if I wrap my down jacket around my feet inside my sleeping bag, I will actually sleep the whole night through.

Crossfit

I am nervous about the race because I haven’t done as much long distance running as usual. I have been in the Crossfit Kettlebell program, training 5 days a week, so I’m interested (and anxious) to see how the kettelbell training translates into running 42.2 kilometers up 2320 meters.

I have more muscle this year, which while good, means I’m bulkier than the Nike-clad willow-trees jogging around camp. I’m hoping that my muscle and endurance will give me the edge once we hit the switchbacks.

Culture

Our first night in camp coincided with the American holiday weekend, which meant I could understand everything our neighbors were saying. It was strange, and honestly, kind of annoying. Sometimes it’s better when you don’t know what people are saying.

Little kids were running around screaming. Not simply using outdoor voices, which I totally support. Not simply calling to each other in play. But rather, the type of shrieking that should only be reserved for wounds requiring stitches, broken bones or abduction.

The shrieking lasted 3 hours.

Yes, I timed it.

But I couldn’t be too upset with them, because earlier in the day, I heard the father declare: “I don’t know why I had fucking kids anyway!”

He was serious.

In front of his wife.

In front of their friends.

In front of the entire camp.

In front of the kids.

*cringe

It gave me a little empathy for the shriekers.

On Monday, the Americans cleared out, and another family moved in. One man, two women draped in black, only their eyes showing, two little girls and three boys, who, when they weren’t playing soccer, were dutifully saying their prayers at the appropriate times.

I was curious about their family.

I automatically feel sorry for anyone involved in a strict religion–it doesn’t matter whether you’re covered head to toe in cloth or you’re a county clerk in Kentucky. I have come to feel that most religions damage more people than they help.

But I had the feeling as these women watched me camping alone with my kids in the mountains, they were sorry for me, with no man to look out for me.

Maybe I’m alienating every culture with this post–I don’t mean to. I respect the right of people to choose how they want to live, and sometimes I bruise myself trying to figure out my own way through life.

I just wonder how many people, whether they’re from the east or the west, are trapped in their lives, simply because they were born in a particular locale.

How hard is it to break from your culture, if you want to? How much of a choice does a person have? And how are we–any of us–brainwashed, rather than taught to view facts, experience life and think for ourselves.

How is the woman in the veil different from (or the same as) the cheerleader who marries the quarterback and brings Snickerdoodles to the church bake sale? Maybe she’s happy doing it, but maybe she’s simply playing a role that was written for her by someone else.

I know I have the typical Western mindset, but I think everyone should have the right to adopt a certain lifestyle/religion/culture or step away and question it.

I have the right to be myself.

And so many others don’t.

Or they don’t want to see that they can, because it seems impossible.

Because change, when you want it, is a lot of hard work, and sadly for many, it is dangerous.

For me, change means (among other things):

  • filling out paperwork in triplicate, three separate times, because you didn’t understand a phrase
  • thinking someone is angry at you, when they’re making a joke
  • telling people you’re warm and comfortable in your backpack, when you meant to say sleeping bag

Mostly, change means being uncomfortable at times, and yet feeling more at home than I ever have before.

The Marathon

Sometimes my life feels like a marathon. And maybe that’s why I run them. To free myself from negativity. To become attentive to the nature around me. To meet my real self along the trail.

The Ziel of the marathon is a high: someone puts a medal around your neck, a beer in your hand and everyone cheers; but it is not a finish.

It is a start.

The accomplishment is simply a mile-marker along the path of your life.

The life you want.

A happy life.

I wish that for every person.

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City Life

Charlie 13 weeks

My dog isn’t fat anymore.

He nuzzles his velvety muzzle against my neck promptly at 05:36 every morning. When I tell him to go lay down, he wanders around briefly before jumping on my bed. By 06:00 we are getting our exercise.

Normally, I would say we are taking a walk, but really, I’m just trying to keep him from killing himself. He lunges at every moving thing, except for trucks and mopeds, both of which he is deathly afraid.

If a dog across the street stares at him, he dislocates my shoulder. If an old lady clutches her Yorkie more tightly, he jumps at her. I’ve started taking our walks earlier, and avoiding well-known dog routes, in the attempt to avoid lawsuits.

My labrador was raised as a lazy country dog, and as such, he is completely bewildered by City Culture. City life means structure and discipline, two things at which I excel when it comes to Crossfit and marathon running but fail miserably when it comes to puppies and children. I console myself with the knowledge that someday I am going to be the most indulgent (*awesome) Oma the world has seen–as long as my offspring make it safely to adulthood.

We have moved from a country house that was dark and secluded, to a city apartment that is both bright and quirky.

When my labrador drops a ball at one end of the hallway, it rolls down to the other end.  My daughter and I had a hell of a time trying to find the most symmetrical furniture arrangement in a room where each wall has a different length and angle.

I still don’t know how to hang the pictures.

Our new apartment gives you the slightly dizzy sensation of living onboard a perpetually listed ship. It is one of the charms of living in an old building.

It is home.

Something about the doors reminds me of my grandma’s house, or maybe it’s the fact that after nine years of living in Germany, this is the first place I’ve seen with closets. The spires of two churches and the warped red roofs of the Altstadt fill the frame of my window. Everything we need, and don’t need, is within walking distance.

Slowly, we’re adjusting to the ever-present traffic; the antiseptic smell of the dental clinic below; and the damn pigeons that defile our little balcony. It is a constant war against pigeon poop up there.

Garbage goes out more frequently in the new apartment, or we are swarmed with gnats. For some reason, forks are a scarcity in our house, and need to be hand washed after every use; and every person who calls this apartment ‘home’ has to remember their keys.

The one who has most quickly adjusted to our new life is our fluffy little dog. He prances perfectly down the street on a loose lead every morning and like clockwork, shits by the steps of the church, which is housed in the ground floor of our building. I’ve learned to bring two baggies with me, because he frequently likes to leave something extra in front of the liquid smoke shop.

City living means the kids have easy access to swimming and the mall (very important for summer). I went for five days without driving my car, and nobody starved or actually died of boredom. And we can spend time with friends, without a major road trip involved.

Discipline is hard. Structure is hard. But with those things comes a certain freedom. And like any worthy endeavor such as weight loss, exercise or good health, the rewards are worth the effort.

So, we will HTFU, as our coach says, and press on in this new city life.

Now if I can just explain it to Charlie, when I take him to Doggy Integration School.


JungFrau

jungfrau finish kids

I squinted when we left the shadowy city streets and faced the sunny slope towards the mountains.  My long-sleeved shirt weighed 50 pounds, and I had to strip it off , and tie it around my waist in a way that its flapping wouldn’t annoy me for the duration of the race.

This was Kilometer FIVE.

I vowed never to run the JungFrau again.

Four THOUSAND runners corralled like feedlot cattle on the streets of Interlaken. It was elbow to sweaty elbow.

The 4,5 hour pacemaker blew by me like he was doing a 200 meter sprint. When the 5 hour pacemaker rushed past as if his shorts were on fire, I was concerned. When the 5,5 hour pacemaker caught up to me, I thought: “What the hell kind of race IS this?”

This, my friends, is a mountain marathon.

Willkommen in der Schweiz.

Bottlenecks. Staus. Runners coming to a complete and utter standstill on the trail due to sheer numbers. It was a tooth-grinding experience.

Facing the long slope to Lauterbrunnen, I said to myself: “This is NOT a race for time. Run your own race.”

With that thought carrying me through the frustration. I could finally look around and see exactly WHY I was running.

The sheer beauty of the mountains, the power and ruggedness, the full technicolor landscape; it saturates your mind.

Lauterbrunnen marked the halfway point, and as we passed through the town, there, near the campgrounds, stood my kids cheering. After briefly fantasizing of ducking into my tent, taking off my shoes and having a beer, I kept going, bolstered by my kids’ confidence in me.

We looped around Lauterbrunnen, and when we hit Kilometer 25 and headed up the mountain towards Wengen, everything went into slow motion.

You know a race is tough when walking is faster than running.

My strategy was this: run when you can. Walk when you’re dying.

Surprisingly, this worked.

And also surprisingly, I’m pretty good on the switchbacks.

I credit my CrossFit Bogatyr training for this completely.

I never felt out of breath on the climb, as I worked hard to stay upright, so my lungs could fill with air. And I was able to keep going up the mountainside by using my hams and glutes. I saw a lot of runners clutching their quads, trying to give themselves more power on the climbs, but I was in a different gear. Passing a lot of people on the climbs.

When I looked at the stats later, I found that in my age group, I moved from 105th place to 80th in the last half of the race. That means I passed 25 of my competitors on those switchbacks. I passed a lot of men too. Probably because we were outnumbered 4 to 1.

When the switchbacks ended, we were on a narrow trail, single file. At one point we were stepping up from one boulder to another. It seemed like miles of this. And I kept thinking of the weighted box step-ups we do in Crossfit, and how I HAD to keep moving.

My legs were strong.

Runners were cramping up, crying in pain, sitting by the path waiting for the massage team to come to them, and I kept going.

Finally we were along the narrow ridge line, and I was happy when the bottleneck got so bad we had to pause, so I could look away from the stony trail and take in the mountains and glaciers. But it’s like sitting too close to a movie screen, your eyes just aren’t big enough to take it all in. And you wish that you could somehow absorb the majesty of it all and let it fill you.

My heart leapt when we reached KM 40. And when the trail broke wide open and began to descent, I had a burst of energy and sprinted the last 2,2km, passing a few more competitors.

Some of them tried to keep up, but my legs were flying, and I had a smile on my face.

I was going so fast, that I couldn’t see my kids. They jumped out from the crowd and chased me down the lane before I saw them.

The very best part of the marathon is finishing with my kids. They inspire me. They support me. And even if I had stopped at the halfway point, they would still cheer for me just the same.

I don’t know if I’ll have the chance, or the drive, or the time, or the energy to run another marathon. But if I do, the Jungfrau is at the top of my list.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Pixie in the Box

short snatch

No ponytail required

I’ve been looking at short haircuts on Pinterest for months.

That’s how I do things.

I agonize over decisions, whether it’s a haircut or a weekend road trip.

A bad vacation you can edit: “The hotel was really close to all the sights [and was right above the biker bar].

A bad haircut is right out there for everyone to see: “My, what an [*cough] interesting haircut.”

But I’ve always wanted a really short, Pixie-ish haircut, and not just because I like the word ‘Pixie.’

A short haircut can go from classy to wild with one swoop of the hand and a little gel. As a runner and CrossFitter, my hair was usually in a ponytail or some variation thereof.

I wanted a new look. Some ‘oomph’ to my hair.

But I needed the right ‘do.’

One morning, I found it. A very simple picture of one side of a woman’s head, her hair cropped short.

Bingo.

I downloaded the picture for future reference. Because someday, I would cut my hair short.

Someday.

But then later, I was out running errands, and I realized I had some time free, which is kind of a rare thing for me. I could, conceivably, stop at a place downtown and see if they could chop off my hair.

Why not? 

What held me back?

Myself, mostly, and worrying about what other people would think. It was a risk.

That’s the thing with risks–you need to take them once in a while. Sure, you can’t plunge blindly into something, but you CAN plunge. In fact, you should take risks sometimes, because without them, your spirit flatlines.

So, with my Pinterest photo on my phone, I walked into a hair salon. The girl with the half silver, half black hair escorted me to a chair, and strangely, I felt I was in good hands. Because a person with half silver and half black hair wouldn’t give me the traditional Franconian, old-lady hairstyle #3 (they MUST have a book of Franconian approved hairstyles somewhere).

I showed her the picture.

She asked a couple questions, stretching out strands of my hair.

“Kurzer,” I answered a couple times.

And then she went to work.

It’s the best haircut I ever had.

I nearly hugged the girl.

I deliberately did not publicize it on facebook right away, because I wanted to have the experience of walking into the box and seeing people react (whether for good or bad). Not that I cared, really, if people liked it. But the point is that I loved it. And I did it for myself, without worrying about how other people would see me.

Maybe the confidence from the haircut translated into the way I carried myself, but the reaction has been more than I expected. I’ve heard that I look younger and that I ‘rock’ the hairstyle; and I’m learning new German adjectives, like geil.

I didn’t lose anything with the haircut. But I gained something intangible. Something that never tangles or needs conditioner.

For men, a haircut probably isn’t very significant. But a woman’s identity can be wrapped up and braided on top of her head. And while I did love my long hair, this Pixie feels pretty damn good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Run Less and Still PR: CrossFit for Distance Runners

3 hours of running and hamming it up for the photographer

When a CrossFitter calls me crazy, I take it as a compliment.

And I have to chuckle.

These are the same people who will finish a WOD with bloody hands and broken bones. They hate burpees but still do hundreds of them–even if they’ve just had major surgery.

To be called crazy by this group is high praise–so I just smile and agree.

I am crazy: crazy for challenges, for living and feeling, for new experiences, for new milestones, for never quitting when the world goes to shit.

Three weeks ago I decided to sign up for a marathon for fun.

This was my 7th marathon, and in the past, I would run 5 days a week, building to a weekly total of 45-50 miles before the taper. My short runs were anywhere from 4-6 miles, medium runs of 8-14 miles, and long runs of 15-20.

This year was different, however. With only 3 weeks to prepare, I managed one decent long run (18 miles) and one medium run (12 miles). I did one short run of 6 miles and one medium run of 8. That’s it.

Except for CrossFit, 5 days a week.

Last year, I did CrossFit 2-3 times a week and ran a LOT. This year, I rarely miss a WOD, and run very little outside of class.

The result is that this year, I had a PR of 4:05:51, which is 15 minutes faster than the year prior.

You read that right: 15 minutes faster.

Wait, you might say…what ELSE have you been doing?

I changed my diet this year: 1) I didn’t eat cheese before the race. Cheese causes inflammation in my joints, so if I eat it (or a lot of dairy) I’ll have knee problems while running. 2) No nuts! Nuts make my body hurt. I can’t explain it other than that. 3) I adhered to a strict diet, particularly the week before the race, eating only lean meats, veggies and no sugar whatsoever. However, I DID eat toasted marshmallows the night before the race, but my kids assured me it was considered carbo-loading, and was thus ok.

Carbo loading with Noah

Carbo loading with Noah

The only mistake I made during this race was to wear socks that I’d not tested in training. The compression socks were great for my calves (which had been tweaky during my long run) but they were too slippery, and on the downhills, my toes slid into the front of my shoes. When I pulled off my shoes at the finish line, my toenails were blue. (The race doctor said they’ll probably fall off, but that I’m tough, so I can handle it–this from an Austrian is definitely high praise, even if he wasn’t a CrossFitter).Imst2

Aside from my nightmarishly blue toenails, I did a lot of things right.

  • I left my watch at home. With no numbers to scold me, I could stop and do air squats whenever I felt like it. Best of all, I was relaxed!
  • I didn’t crumple at kilometer 30. In the past, around mile 18 or between kilometers 28-32, I start to get weary. This time, I changed my mindset: Instead of thinking “Oh, hell, this is where I bonk, I thought, “Wow! I’m almost done!” Before I knew it, I was crossing the bridge to Imst.
  • I wore a hat. It was an unassuming green sun hat sitting on a shelf, and I bought it on a whim. When the sun came out blazing, my eyes were shaded and my head was cool. I tend to WHITHER in the sun, so this hat saved the day.
  • I visualized kettlebell swings. During the uphill portions, I found myself breathing the same way I do during kettle bell swings. I thought about the WOD where we went heavy and did 100 of those suckers; and so, I kept visualizing myself doing KBS 100 at a time. The breathing was the same and even the muscle groups I used were the same: my core, my hamstrings and my ass. It all worked together on the uphills so that instead of fading, I ended up passing people. I could literally hear my coach’s voice saying, “Do NOT set those kettle bells down! Do NOT stop!” So I kept going when other people were walking. They might’ve been faster on the straightaways, but I was certainly better conditioned because of CrossFit.
  • I had fun. When the race is over, the bling doesn’t matter, it’s the experience that gets ingrained in your soul. What I remember is the empty village with one old lady on her balcony clapping for ME–and how she LIT UP when I waved back and smiled. I was running for her, along with the many others who’ve nestled into the cozy part of my soul.

Overall, it was an excellent day, an excellent race and an excellent run. I finished, smiling and laughing with my kids, and afterwards I soaked my feet in the Freibad. Later, I had three gluten-free beers, two steaks and a bag of peanut m&ms. My reward.

The kids took some silly pictures that I will cherish forever.

Imst3

 

Imst4

Our first camping trip.

My best race ever.

A new way of marathon training.

A new way of life.

As Rob says: It’s all good. 

 

At the finish line!

At the finish line!

*Official results: I placed second in my age group and in the top half for women overall.

Next stop: Switzerland!!

 

 

 

 


How CrossFit Changed my Running

Bulgarian Split Squat

Last year I was a thirty year-old male named Kevi Williams, at least, according to a translation error while anmelding.

It’s too early to tell who I was this year.

As I stood in the Sunday sunshine, waiting for the starting gun and wearing traditional CrossFit black in a sea of neon, I was nervous because:

a) I’ve only taken two ‘real’ runs in the past four months, the longest of which was only 40 minutes long.

b) Instead of training runs, I’ve been swinging kettle bells and doing many, many back squats.

c) It was a 10k (which means ‘fast’).

d) People (especially Germans who have sport clubs for things that aren’t even sports) are pretty serious when it comes to racing. Plus, they usually practice.

But the goal of this city race wasn’t to go fast, per say, but to have fun (if possible); represent CrossFit Ansbach (since I was wearing the t-shirt); and to test how my CrossFit Training has affected my running.

I’d been a runner for about four years before I succumbed to CrossFit’s siren song. My running had changed during that time, especially after reading Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run (who DIDN’T start barefoot running after that?!) and slowly, I was able to change my form to a minimalist style: barefoot shoes, forefront strike. That slow evolution strengthened my arches (a previous weakness) and significantly helped my knee problems.

Now I was adding CrossFit.

I remember Rob once saying that you have to use your ass when you run; and at the time, I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. However, it IS possible to run 4 or 5 or even 6 marathons without ever using the biggest single muscle in your body.

What a waste of potential.

At last year’s race, I’d only been CrossFitting 2 or possibly 3 days a week for 4 months. This time, not only did I have another year under my significantly smaller belt, but I’ve been at the box consistently 5 days a week, doing the Bogatyr training program, which I love because while my life goes to hell, it makes me feel good to be part of a group of ‘warriors.’

CrossFit isn’t simply doing some kind of exercise: it’s about mastering movement.

Mostly, you’re using your hips, core and ass–and when you do it right, it feels right.

These foundational movements are also utilized in minimalist running technique.

That was the biggest difference for me.

When others were wilting on the long, hot stretch with no breeze, I was keeping my shoulders back, my gaze up, and my hips open.

When ‘in the groove’ my core floated along, and I felt light as my feet pushed the ground away behind me.

Mid-race, I was picking people off, staying strong and increasing my speed until the final sprint at the finish.

After the race (and this morning) I could feel it in my butt, which is something new (of course–that COULD be leftover from Saturday’s Bulgarian Split Squats; but my legs didn’t feel tired at all.

I don’t know how Kevi Williams did this year, but as for CrossFitter Mama, when she crossed the finish line the clock said 54 minutes (not bad for a chick turning 41 this week); and she finished strong and smiling–like a Bogatyr should.

It was a PR.

Next stop: Swiss Alps.

After that…the sky’s the limit.

As long as I can take my kettle bells.  

 

 

 


Strength and Nutrition Challenge

keri rack pull

As if life weren’t challenging enough, I signed up for the strength & nutrition challenge at the box. This “stupid-easy” challenge has turned out to be a battle of wills between my healthy new self and the slothful old self who occasionally wakes up, yawns, and inhales a portion of pommes mit mayo.

I blame it on the health clinic.

You would think a place where getting people ‘healthy’ would have more fresh options besides bananas and chocolate.

I have to credit the little cafe though–it’s probably the only place in Germany that doesn’t sell alcohol, though that might be due to its proximity to the drug rehab facility.

But you can buy your cigarettes, schnitzel, pommes, soda and ice cream.

My new self would carry an emergency pack of tuna in her purse; but I haven’t become as organized as I’d like to be. Like spores, my ‘to-do’ list asexually reproduces every time I turn my back. I don’t even bother writing things on my calendar any more until after the fact.

Thus, I am failing the challenge so far.

However, I have learned that this nutrition thing really does work. My worst WODs this past month were ALWAYS after I’d been eating badly.

Always.

Ironically, the worse I eat, the more I sleep. It’s as if my body knows that fat, salt and sugar require more down-time for storage.

So, I am pounding my fist on the table (again) and saying, “Enough!”

From here until my birthday (where I WILL eat cake), I am going to stick to the eating plan.

I have to remind myself that I AM an athlete–and by the way, I have a mountain marathon in September. I can’t pack on any weight at all–even muscle or my knees will go on strike.

It’s hard to get rid of old habits. But I need to keep in mind the person I want to be. This is a huge time of transition in my life, and I’ve got to start snipping the strings of things that are holding me back, which in this case, means french fries.

This challenge has proven more difficult than I thought it would be. But I want to get rid of my cravings, and I want to give my body the very best so I can perform the best.

I’ve discovered that nutrition really does affect all areas of my life. When I’m eating properly, my mind feels sharper, I’m more energetic, and this sounds strange, but when I look in the mirror, my eyes seem brighter. If I DO get that face-to-face interview for the job that I want, then I want to be at my very best.

When I feel good, I’m more confident, and I can handle the pressures life is throwing at me.

When I feel bad (from eating junk), I become a weepy puddle. That’s not a good look for me.

So, after I finish drinking my coffee this morning, IF I’m hungry, I’ll go find some fresh veggies to fuel my day.

I know my old self is going to rear her ugly head; and I can anticipate a fight.

May the best girl win.