Sweat and belonging

In fitness, there are no short cuts, It involves immense discipline and hard work — Mahesh Babu

For the last five Saturdays (make that four Saturdays and one Sunday), I have participated in the 2017 CrossFit Games Open. The Open is the first of three stages that lead up to the Games which I think happens late summer/early fall. I could be wrong. Yes, I’m horrible for not paying better attention.

On the CrossFit website, the Open is described as a five-week, five-workout competition held in late February in CrossFit affiliates and garage gyms around the world. During the five weeks, workouts are released online each Thursday, and each athlete has until Monday to perform the workout and submit their scores.

The CrossFit affiliate I go to is Prairie Crossfit. The owners, coaches and fellow crossfitters are a great bunch of people. But a little more on them a bit later.

The Open is where grassroots and the elite athlete compete together. This is where a person can determine how fit they are compared to everyone else in their age category. At this stage, for the majority of participants, it’s about having fun — if you consider trying to performing 55 deadlifts, 55 wall ball shots, 55-calorie row and 55 handstand push-ups in 13 minutes fun. It can be done. Just not by me, though. This was the Open’s Week-4 workout.

Participating in the event is also an opportunity to determine where your weaknesses are and to put together a game plan for next year’s Open. But doing the Open year-to-year is a great way to evaluate your fitness progress. If one Open is plenty for you, at least you have an idea of what you need to work on for your fitness goals.

Me? I just want to age as gracefully as possible and kick ass for as long as possible.

The last time I participated in the Open was two years ago. I skipped last year because my right shoulder was still recovering from an injury. No point in fucking that up if it wasn’t quite 100% yet. I hummed and hawed a bit before deciding to dive into this year’s Open. I have no regrets doing it.

Compared to two years ago, I know I’m stronger. My shoulder has held up to the workouts. Aside from the odd bruise and scraped skin, I’m injury-free as the Open wraps up for another year.

My muscular endurance is better. And there’s always room for improvement. I’m still stubborn as a mule. That’s never changing. Mental fortitude is a necessity in CrossFit and any other sport you participate in. As for the squats, I still need to have the hip crease consistently go below parallel but it’s better. Overall body strength is better. And while everything is better, everything is always open to more improvement.

I managed to do some things I thought I would mightily struggle with during the Open. For example, weighted walking lunges. I have enough issues with walking lunges, in general, without adding two 20lb dumbbells into the mix. Getting that knee to touch the ground is one of the banes of my existence. But I did it. Walked at least 135 ft. with the weights sitting on my shoulders. My legs were sore the next day but it was worth it.

I also managed to set a personal record (PR) in the snatch and overhead squat. 25kg is new PR if you were wondering. I wouldn’t consider my upper body strength exactly great. But it’s coming along.

There are lots of things to work on because it’s never too early to prepare for next year. If I made a list of goals, it would be substantial because they would all be baby steps working together to become physically stronger. All part of the plan to grow older gracefully.

Aside from the fitness goals, one of the reasons I participate in the Open is the idea of community. Every Saturday, during the Open, I got to sweat it out with my fellow CrossFitters who I don’t normally see on a regular basis. We cheer each other on, we support each other and celebrate each other’s successes, no matter how big or small they may be.

The folks I workout with, are great and interesting people. The knowledgeable coaches will cheer you on during the workout, but won’t hesitate (in a loving manner) to kick your ass if you need it. And we don’t just cheer each other on during the Open… we cheer, support and celebrate each other all year round. Camaraderie forged in sweat and determination to fight for every rep.

It’s true that you can’t pick the family you’re born into. But there are families you can choose to be part of. We all have a few chosen families that occupy parts of our lives. I’m fortunate to have this particular community as one of my chosen families and to be part of their family, as well.

Fitness. Friendship. Family. That is the community I belong to and love.

Flowers not needed

Yeah, yesterday was Valentine’s Day. Whoop-dee-fucking-do.

The day for overpriced roses, wine and dinner. And if you play your cards right, you just might get a little nookie for your efforts. But I think today would be far cheaper for flowers and dinner for the same effort and results.

Can’t be bothered with that nonsense. I’m not saying that because I’m lacking in the romantic partner department. If I was in a romantic relationship, I’d make the poor bastard eschew the commercial trappings of Valentine’s Day because he knows the way to my heart has nothing to do with giving me flowers and all that sappy shit.

I must admit yesterday wasn’t spent cursing that fact it was Valentine’s Day. Refreshing considering the past few years were spent wondering why the hell everyone in the first world needed a special day to show their significant other that he/she is loved.

I spent the morning and part of the afternoon hanging with my CrossFit peeps at an in-house Valentine’s Day couples CrossFit competition. I wasn’t competing, I was cheering. A couple of my friends asked me why I hadn’t entered.

Well, because I wanted to see what it was all about.

More like I wasn’t sure if I could find someone who would do the competition with me. I was assured someone would have stepped up to the plate and joined in the fun. You won’t place in the top three with me as your partner. But I would guarantee camaraderie and shits and giggles of the highest order.

Also, my shoulder injury is almost healed. No point in putting myself in a situation where I could inadvertently re-injure the shoulder. That would also be the reason I won’t be participating in this year’s CrossFit Games Open. Kinda bummed about that. I really wanted to do it again after last year’s experience. I’ll still checkout the WODs and maybe give them a go with some modifications during one of my workouts. Next year, I’ll do the Open. I’ve got the year to get stronger and make some gains.

Anyway, it was fun to watch the teams compete and get a look-see at how a couples competition works. If they do a Valentine’s couples competition next year, I just might go searching for a partner. I know the folks at the gym/box would be more than willing to ‘match’ me up with someone.

After the competition had ended, I went home, watched some Netflix and finished watching the Star Wars prequel trilogy for the first time ever. Now, I know why Jar Jar Binks was so reviled.

I’m also re-acquainting myself with the original trilogy. I’ve watched Star Wars: A New Hope already. Interesting watching it again after 30-plus years. I had planned to watch The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi but they were put on hold for Secretary starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The movie is my one nod to Valentine’s Day. No point in acknowledging Valentine’s by watching some sappy rom-com.

Something a little more subversive (according to what Hollywood standards could bear in 2002) was in order. Secretary just happened to fit the bill although I wouldn’t have minded watching more subversive material because I have that kind of sensibility. Sure, the movie had what one would consider a happy ending but the journey getting there was interesting. The two main characters were damaged enough to make it engaging for me to watch. Let’s be honest, you can’t possibly go wrong watching Spader’s and Gyllenhaal’s performances. They’re such great actors.

Enough of Valentine’s crap. This week promises to be busy and I have the emails to prove it. Also, some of my characters for the next novel seem to be vying for my attention so I’ll need to set aside some time to play with them. Naturally, they want my undivided attention just as other parts of my life are gearing up to monopolize a fair chunk of my time.

Never fails. Been this way since I started writing. I shouldn’t be surprised anymore. And I’m not. Thankfully, this is the first time it doesn’t annoy the hell out of me that I have projects pulling me in different directions. I think it’s due to where I am in the creative process and my approach to it. It’s been easier to roll with it despite what life may throw at me. I’m pleased with this personal development.

There are other reasons for the change but I won’t get into it. A little too esoteric, I think. A handful of people know what the change is and they’re excited for me. Last Saturday, I told one friend that I felt like a 5-year-old on a perpetual sugar high. He laughed. He laughed even harder when he asked me after I did my morning workout, what else was on the docket for the rest of Saturday and I replied that I would be reading porn. Nothing fazes the man. He has learned not to be surprised by whatever comes out of my mouth. He figured I was doing research for a future writing project.

Well.. yes and no.

Anyway, I got a busy week ahead. Let the good times roll.

Running for a cause

I am a night owl. So, getting up at six in the morning can be a struggle. Thankfully, I don’t do that too often.

Yes, I could go to sleep earlier but when The Bourne Ultimatum is playing until 12:30 am, getting seven hours of snooze time goes out the window.

That’s pretty much how it played out this past weekend. I had every intention of getting a good night’s sleep the night before the CIBC Run for the Cure 5K run yesterday morning. I did get up at 6 am. Of course, it was dark outside. Sigh. Welcome to autumn. Things started looking better after 7am as I drove towards Shaw Park for the run.

Considering this was my first time participating in this event, I wasn’t sure what to expect. First order of business was trying to find a parking spot. Easy enough to find parking when you arrive there about 7:15 am. Then the big question was figuring out how to pay for parking using one of those parking ticket-issuing contraptions. Someone said parking was free. Then someone else had asked one of the organizers and returned with a resounding ‘You have to pay for parking.’ Thanks City of Winnipeg for not waiving the parking fees for one day. Oh, well.

Five minutes later, heading towards Shaw Park, you could hear music blaring and see all the kiosks putting the final touches to their displays before the participants and their friends and family slowly flooded the place.

When I woke up at 6 am, the temperature at that hour was eight degrees. It didn’t feel like eight degrees. Maybe more like three degrees. The 20km/h wind didn’t help. But everyone who had arrived was excited and quickly started perusing the kiosks for freebies and purchasing last minute items like gloves to keep the hands from getting too chilled. I had forgotten to bring gloves but decided to tough it out. Besides, once you start running, everything warms up pretty quick.

Shaw Park is home of the Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball team. I have to admit that this was the first time visiting the facility. I’m not much of a baseball fan. Sorry. But, I had a good look-see of the venue when I was submitting my donation forms to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation folks. I’m happy to have raised over $1,100 for breast cancer research.

On the way back to the meet-up location for my running group, I popped by a Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation display for breast cancer survivors. There were piles of shirts specifically for survivors to pick up and wear if they desired. The shirts were the pink versions of this year’s Run for the Cure shirt that 95-99% of the participants were wearing yesterday morning. I wasn’t planning on wearing the white Run for the Cure shirt but I saw the pink shirts. One of the volunteers asked if I was a survivor. Yes, I am. She gave me a shirt. I suppose it would be easy enough for anyone to lie to the volunteers about being a survivor but that would be dishonest and despicable.

I pulled the t-shirt over my hoodie and met up with my friends. They loved the pink shirt. I explained to them how and why I got the shirt. They were very surprised to hear I am a survivor but very happy to see how well I’ve done since the diagnosis and treatment. Again, being a cancer survivor is not something I regularly offer up as a tidbit about myself. I’ve never defined myself that way.

But yesterday, I decided to let fellow pink shirt-wearing survivors know I was one of them and that we are fighters by nature and out of necessity, and that we are here for each other.

After the pre-requisite speeches and a Zumba-inspired warm-up, the runners took off first at the blare of a horn that sounded like it belonged in a NHL hockey arena. A few minutes later the walkers marched off, too. There were no maps of the route made available prior to the run but it didn’t matter since there were plenty of route marshals banging tambourines and cheering on the runners and walkers. It was probably a good thing I didn’t know the route. I just kept moving and there were plenty of runners around me.

When I saw the finish line about 500 metres away, I had enough gas left to find a higher gear and make a run for the finish. It was felt great to be able to go into a higher gear. I guess I’m ready to try speed work. But I think I’ll wait until next spring to try that.

The pace seemed oddly fast. And it turns out I shaved some time off my fastest pace so I’m quite happy about that. Now, I can go back to my turtle pace over the winter.

After the run, the gang went for a post-run breakfast at The Original Pancake House where everyone except me fuelled up on coffee. I went for water and orange juice. Everyone went for orders of buttermilk pancakes, eggs and bacon. I had a dish called Deluxe Hangover Omelette which consisted of eggs, cheese, ham, tomato, green peppers and pepperoni with a side of hash browns and three buttermilk pancakes. Not sure if it’s good for hangovers but it was definitely tasty. I almost inhaled it.

Our group instructor took the opportunity to ask me how long I had been running. Prior to June, I had no training and made a point of balking at the opportunity to run when given the chance. For whatever reason, she was very surprised and commended me on my ability and fitness level. She said she never saw me struggle with the group runs. I joked with her saying she hadn’t heard me breath while I was running. Finding a breathing rhythm has been occasionally frustrating. But I’ve decided to let my body fall into a breathing rhythm on its own without me forcing it.

Regardless of my perceived breathing bugaboos, the instructor threw out the idea of training for a 10K race as my next step. She firmly believes I can tackle a 10K run. I’ll think about it. That’s another five kilometres to the five I’ve already run. Ack. Maybe I’ll work on my endurance over the winter.

Anyway, it was a great post-run meal and conversation. It was great to get feedback from the instructor about her observations regarding my progress over the past eight weeks.

Now, I can start winding down and create a new training schedule for the winter. It’s still a ‘no’ to outdoor winter running when the snow starts falling. No. No. No.

I think I need a hot bath with epsom salts.