Sunday, January 27, 2008


There. I posted.

As you will quickly see, this article started when I returned from San Francisco before Christmas and before "life got lifey" as Aaron Hendon would say. Yes there were numerous valid reasons for the delay in posting but none mattered more than the writer's block that I feared would metastasize. I was convinced it formed a life-threatening tumor on the day that I searched desperately for a word in conversation and then just let my sentence awkwardly dribble away. It turned out to be nothing more than day three of a low, low carbohydrate experiment that temporarily turned me into a knuckle-dragging mouth breather. I did manage to finish 'Good Calories, Bad Calories,' which I plan to share with you soon. I celebrated with a text to Craig that said, "I finished the book. In truth, I'm just better than you." We aren't competitive at all.

A message to all mall waifs who possess a mighty stare-down in spite of their precarious plant on spike heels: Pause to ponder. I happen to wear full-contact footwear and I’m sturdy as heck. In my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, I spent my first couple of years face up on the floor thanks to the very efficient single leg sweep of Seattle SWAT officers which means I’m slightly better skilled at staying upright when challenged these days. Though, under most conditions I’m a more enlightening soul, I’m willing to cash in Karma on occasion, long enough to drop a shoulder. I’ll sincerely atone for your bruised ass later by way of a donation thoughtfully dropped in a bell ringer’s bucket on the way out. In the meantime you might want to consider that, attitude aside; you’re far too flimsy to hold the whole walkway. When faced with somebody built from the ground up of raw meat, you might want to stand down. It’s a thought.

Yes, I did spend four days in a mall remembering why I’ve spent 360 days avoiding it. Exhausted, I went home and mixed up endless batches of homemade chocolate balls which are healthy by the loosest definition to give as gifts instead. So nothing useful happened in my mall excursions other than finding the personal space issue I thought I’d misplaced. I’ve neatly spackled joint compound over my neurosis so that Michael is the only person who knows about and exploits my desire for a little breathing room. While he hovers as if planning to touch down on the top of my head when the wind shifts, I’ll screech “Yes, Organic Milk is good for you!!” agreeing to anything he says if it means he’ll back the truck up. So you can understand that grappling for me is just one big epic struggle to recapture personal space.

In a mall and bound for sales racks, the galloping of clothes horses willing to jump me like a water obstacle, makes me edgy. I cycle through video game scenarios where I plow forward stiff-arming and clothes-lining faceless zombies. The carcasses pile and then neatly disintegrate while a punk rock version of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman’ trickles from sound systems over and over again. I concentrate on finding the right button sequence that allows me to sweep one of them up, swing them in a circle by their Ugs and surround myself with at least an average 5’4” (plus the length of full arm extension) of sought-after serenity. It’s not an image meant for the front of Christmas cards but then I’m not Christian and I’m getting swept into the Christmas conga line of commerce for lack of a substitute holiday and any creativity on my part. I do, however, appreciate this time of year as an occasion to acknowledge the people around me, ponder the path I’ve taken and plot a course for next year that includes enough personal development to refrain from senseless mall outbursts.

Like a forgotten walk-on part in the Nutcracker, I hit all my marks in the role of ‘the puppet of commerce’ only to be dragged next into January’s annual accounting of revenue, progress, and personal growth that some of us call ‘resolutions’. Even if we hadn’t decided that a new year meant new resolve, a season of extravagant feasting and spending would naturally necessitate a certain recalibration. Generally our resolutions simply reflect how far we got yanked off course by shiny decorations and blinking lights. Following are some reflections of the year and goals for the months to come.

Balls to the Wall

Nowadays a workout would have to end with a disqualifying run to the nearest ER for me to fail to finish a workout but it wasn’t that long ago that I was still fishing around my brain for weasely ways out when things started to go very, very badly. Though the conversation to quit popped up a lot, my one and only ‘DNF’ came when I walked out after 17 of 25 wall ball shots in the final element of a chipper. I caved to the conversation in my head which kept daring me to quit and end my suffering. That and I just hated wall ball a lot. In spite of all the coaching cues, I kept throwing the damn ball instead of “jumping it up” which made the effort inaccurate and exhausting. After years of back pain, my upper body and lower body rode the same tour bus but kept their own solo acts. My upper body was the obvious headliner for no other reason than my body didn’t trust anything below S1 – the source of all my inflammation and pain.

Oh, JUMP the ball up. Got it. When I finally convinced my two halves to share a marquee the long ignored coaching cue finally made sense. Today, when I give the same cue to a client, I stare them in the eye like they’re autistic simply to avoid the legacy. I look for some amount of acknowledgement if not in their movements at least in their face.

With that, Wall Ball became far less miserable but I still had the stigma of #17. Don’t get me wrong, walking out taught me to never again listen to my brain which, by the way is spineless. Now whatever whiney noises it makes I just hum along to it like a workout soundtrack. I don’t think I really retired number 17 until July 6th when I finished Karen – 150 wall ball shots for time – in 6:13. ‘Caswallawn’ and ‘Mars’ got a chance to go balls to the wall on their first dance with Karen and it was memorable for them too. When asked about personal victories, Caswallawn said, “KAREN – Cause I never ever thought I could do it.” He also happens to have set goals for bettering his time next year.

Mars has memories of Karen, too. “It was a major workout with a great deal of intensity. I am not sure if it is the one that I am most proud of but it sticks out in my mind.” For me, it was Mars epic battle with Murph. It made him late for dinner but he finished it with assisted pull-ups and the will to see it through.

War Veterans

Andraste finished Murph this year too but then she’s always been one determined mother. No, I mean the mom kind of mother. When asked what she was most proud of this year she said, “FGB (CrossFit’s Fight Gone Bad Benefit for Prostate Cancer) and Lt Murph - it just felt good to finish them both! It also felt like such an accomplishment to make it through them - even if they were modified.”

On Veteran’s Day, Andraste’s husband attended the morning class and intentionally omitted any information about his workout. When she came in later, it was an ambush but she marched through it like a good soldier.

“Participating in the Fight Gone Bad prostrate fundraiser. earning my bronze medal for the Presidential Fitness Program. (I just got it and my certificate!),” Andraste said, not only meeting her goals but medaling.

Pulling Power

This is Seattle. We live in fowl weather on top of fault lines, we’re surrounded by water and there are clots of traffic at the threat of every unnecessary holiday Seattle Center is willing to hoot about. You can imagine my surprise the first time I failed to account for the ‘Opening of Boat Season’ back-ups or whatever ‘Hug a Wiccan’ holiday our overwhelming correctness compels us to observe. For those of you too busy whooping in anticipation of ‘Tree Pruning Day’ to notice that a 45 minute crawl over a bridge does not bode well for actual catastrophic forecasts. Consider that you will likely be sitting inches from where you started when the impending doom commences. Besides the bottled water and the batteries, being able to lift your own body weight might actually come in handy in cases of emergency. While in truth, being strong enough to wrestle away other people’s water and batteries then fleeing the scene faster is handiest of all, that’s a whole other conversation. Either way, let’s say that Pull-ups are a handy tool of Darwinian fitness and though they seem to be a common goal, they don’t inspire everyone in quite the same way.

Morrigan sounded least moved by the prospect. In listing her goals she responded, “Pull-ups probably sigh,” while Turris, whose main goal centers around earning a black belt in Akido, threw it in for my sake when he answered, “Pull ups? (this one is for youJ )” Andraste put it on her list, “(at least) one pull up, and real push ups and a jump to support on the rings. a lot of the upper body stuff - upper back and arms, etc. My baby (ok toddler) weighs over 40 pounds now and that's a lot to haul up a flight of stairs!”

I originally set a target of forty pull-ups but scaled it back to “some relatively impressive number that falls just one pull-up short of necessitating shoulder surgery.” Since, as far as I know, my case is still non-surgical – check! On September 5th, I secured 27 but more importantly the pull-ups helped me salvage a 19:14 Angie that my bum shoulder was threatening to destroy via the push-ups.

Jumping for Joy

Considering we couldn’t outrun a single natural predator even in our Nike Shox with a gullet of Gatorade and a sizeable head start, there were a lot of things that would have kept us up at night had we not managed to eliminate, tame or marginalize most of the things we had sound reasons to fear. You’d think then that we’d be well-rested. Now things that actually threaten our lives like white flour and sugar get joyfully added to our breakfast after a fitful night’s sleep pondering budgetary math problems and performance appraisals. When it comes to the question of fear then, I never know what boogie men are popping out of people’s closets.

Andraste pointed out her little monsters right off the bat. “Seriously, it's the pull up that scares me the most. And then of course, doing box jumps with the new boxes - the height scares me!” she said. I attest that it’s not the height that scares her but the fact that the platform is narrow. If I wasn’t the proud owner of the sturdiest ankles known to man, I’d be worried too.

You hear stories of people getting talked out of jumping but Mars, Like Andraste, needed a little coaxing up not down. We were both worried the day he tackled the box and conquered that fear. It was no surprise to me that that he answered, “Box jumps. That was an amazing morning. You helped me push through. Wow.” He’s been training for some time now but the only jumping he was doing was for cover. It’s something I understood, as well. Years ago I secreted myself in the gym with a Rebook step and had to build up to the height one riser at a time. People who have had back issues or have spent too much time running will tend to have sluggish hip flexors. Once I saw a little pep in Mars hip drive I pounced on the chance to get him jumping but I was just as nervous as he was because, frankly, you’ll either make it or you won’t and there’s nothing I can do as a trainer other than bandage bleeding shins.

As for me, if I had the cash I’d gladly pay a surrogate to shave two seconds off my 4:01 Fran time. Though I wrote ‘sub four Fran’ as a goal, it scares me whenever I think about it. The shoulder rehab is a handy excuse but I doubt it would be a factor given all the work I’ve done to get it moving again. But really, besides pristine shoulder health I’d be willing to list a sizeable retirement account, a really good hair day and a solar eclipse as requirements if it will keep me from doing that workout anytime soon. Yes, it’s wussy, and yes, I will get over it but probably not until a solar eclipse on a really good hair day.