In it for the long haul, whatever that may be…

In the last post, too long ago, I vowed not to leave it to rest for too long, but failed. In actual fact, I doubled down, trying to overcome real physical limitations (my shoulder posture and my artificial hips). I got into WODing more often per week than had been my usual and getting physiotherapy twice a week to overcome shoulder and lower back issues.
This ambitious approach initially caused me to spend most evenings exhausted for a while, but I got into an even “keel” able to withstand the rigors of the exercise. I was able to do a reasonable job of snatches (again tempered by my physical limitations) and modestly heavy cleans and jerks. My back issues meant I had to lower my expectations a bit for deadlifts and squats. Strings of push-ups are now possible, and I can almost get a multiple number of pull-ups. In general, I should be satisfied, but of course I am just getting over the disappointment which led me to lower my expectations.

Then, the unexpected happened. Crossfit Kitchener surprised me with a 70th birthday celebration, on September 5. It was almost a complete surprise, and the push I really needed: acceptance I didn’t expect.

It has taken a month or so to return to realistic expectations, but I’m well along the recovery track for my enthusiasm.

birthday 2
I just returned from my latest and probably last trip to China. Unfortunately, Iron Dragon Crossfit was closed for relocation when I was in Shanghai. I did, however, find a suitable set of apparatus to stay fit with, which made the return to CFK easier.
I will now consider myself on a long haul. I don’t really think age is my main problem. It’s too many years of inactivity prior to 2011. My cardio response is good, well below my calendar age. I have done some heavy WODs which led to periods of real exhaustion – I don’t want to know what my peak heart rate was for these outings. What I DO know is that, with a bit of controlled breathing I could recover, and it seems that I haven’t gone blank or tossed my cookies like during my first Murph attempt so many years ago. I am almost completely off the meds that I had to start in 2002 when my hips crashed and everything is going smoothly. My life partner, Dianne and I, “guilt” each other into going and enjoying whatever CFK dishes out.
This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me

– Rachel Platten


LONG Time no post – gotta get ambitious again

Looking at the WOD. A mirror wall makes an interesting place to post...

Looking at the WOD at Iron Dragon. A mirror wall makes an interesting place to post…

Damn! It’s been a few sleeps since I posted in this darn blog. I will likely lose everyone of the few who followed me. I’ve been trying to stay fit and travel at the same time, no small task when you’ve got mediocre will. I’m determined to get into it more than ever before. I’m back in Canada in 2 sleeps, 32 hours elapsed travel time from tomorrow.

My lackadaisical approach to blogging this past few months has been paralleled by many interruptions to getting “5 a week” in. Having graduate students 4+ years beyond retirement is one excuse, and a belated revival of my research opportunities is another. I just have to reorganize. These things crept up on me.

I’m still in China, since October 31. As always, Crossfit Iron Dragon in Shanghai was a blast. It’s moved to new quarters not far from the old ones. If you go, send along an email to them, they are very welcoming. I can also give you directions from the Metro. I didn’t see too much in the way of enlarging the available WOD space for more participants at a time, but I did see some buff athletes and some innovation. One cool apparatus is a horizontal to super-vertical running ramp for learning to do inverts against a wall. It makes me wish I was in my 20s again. My cohort has missed a lot of opportunities to break bones and lower IQ from head injuries. We managed, though!!!

I brought along some elastic bands – good idea. My colleagues here have kept my dumbbells for me, GREAT. I got a “bug” which has cut into serious exercise for a couple days, but I could still work on those ancient joints. If only I could do something about the one metal hip joint that keeps me from doing even a mediocre squat.

There’s a Crossfit box in Beijing now, but I couldn’t arrange to go.

It’s really cool to have students and teachers constantly remark that don’t look like I’m in my seventieth year. However, one young lady “groped” my biceps when I wasn’t looking – embarrassing for both of us. I guess I owe this to Crossfit (an unexpected benefit and maybe all the more reason to try harder).

I have been teaching for the past month, and last Friday and today am doing a lunch with a posse of students who wanted me to host some English language conversation. The food is amazing, but some of the things are really unlikely to show up at the local resto: beef tendon, pork skin, chicken necks, “river fish”. It all tastes great, washed down with Tsing Tao and lots of “toasts”.  It’s paleo, sort of…

I know I’ll suffer for a few days when I get back home, but I can’t wait.

Yeah, you can be the greatest
You can be the best
You can be the King Kong banging on your chest

You can beat the world
You can beat the war
You can talk to God, go banging on his door

You can throw your hands up
You can beat the clock (yeah)
You can move a mountain
You can break rocks
You can be a master
Don’t wait for luck

– the Script

A Much Delayed Omnibus Post – What’s New and What Isn’t

A selfie at the Ontario East Regionals

A selfie at the Ontario East Regionals

For the second year, I was in the audience for the Canada East Regional Competitions in Toronto, Ontario. I have several observations. The supporting cast, from the judges to those who set up for the WODs, were  incredibly competent.  “Stuff” went ahead on schedule.  Crowds were involved.  For a Canadian, the individual women were THE highlight of the competition.  They were, quite literally, warrior goddesses.  Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, Michelle Letendre, Abigail Guerrero, the list is very long.  Athletes who should go to the “big  show” were eliminated by the allocation of only two slots for continuing.  Nonetheless, the competitive level of the WODs made them really gripping.

On three occasions this Spring and Summer,  Dianne and I were welcomed into several boxes.  In late March we were welcomed by Crossfit St. Catharines.  Ahmed Saleh, a former-CFK colleague, facilitated the visit, and we were delighted with our welcome.  A highlight of this visit was meeting Ashley Smith, a giant in a compact package in Ontaro Crossfit circles.  Part of the WOD (a partner WOD) was a “deadlift hold”, alternating the keeping of a heavy weight aloft as long as possible while the partner (Dianne) did something else.  In May, I did an energetic 6am WOD at Alchemy Crossfit in Hamilton. In June, Dianne and I were six-time guests of Crossfit Taranis in Victoria BC, during a visit with our daughter Leigh Anne and son-in-law Brent.  Sully, one of the main Principals of the box, gave some great advice in progression to rope climbing, and Dianne and I had some fun doing farmer walks with heavy kettlebells.  Their little dog, Captain Awesome, stole my heart and made me lonesome for my little Zena.  This box was abuzz with team Taranis training prior to the Crossfit Games:  more athletic gods and goddesses.


After the week that was – in Victoria BC

My own woes centre around the continuing battles with my shoulder posture and the tightness caused by my artificial hips.  The “ground” part of  “ground to overhead” for me is still in the future.  I’m still requiring several inches of plates under the bar for movements like deadlifts and squats.  I am getting closer to putting my hip crease below my knees.  I was cleared to run, but I’m not supposed to take long strides (as if I could!).  I’m skipping constantly, and hope to conquer double-unders soon.  I’m nibbling at these limitations, so maybe at least some of them will come.  Rob, my go-to physio guy has made it a quest,  to take me where I haven’t gone for 14 years.   I can grab a rope with my feet, another quest “in progress”.  My life partner in Crossfit, Dianne, has serious knee problems.  She is arranging major bracing to stave off the likely need for major knee surgery.

Hanging out at CFK

Hanging out at CFK

On a lighter note, there are now a myriad of other competitions beside the Crossfit Games.  Friends from CFK are participating in UG competitions, Tough Mudders, and even a new “in house” Friday competition.  My daughters are regulars in these competitions, which gives me and my wife a great sense of pride, and an ultimate goal to be able to do all of the typical movements myself, even if only in our personal space.  Run, climb, pull, squat.  I’d rather be in occasional pain from this journey than the alternative….

Am I wrong for thinking out the box from where I stay?
Am I wrong for saying that I choose another way?

I ain’t tryna do what everybody else doing
Just cause everybody doing what they all do
If one thing I know, I’ll fall but I’ll grow
I’m walking down this road of mine, this road that I call home

– Nico & Vinz

ANOTHER Silverback Throwdown – Kevin Simpson at CFK

Kevin Simpson is a very successful and inspiring member at Crossfit Kitchener.  At 60, his 2014 Opens placing qualified him to proceed to the next phase of the competition, and he regularly Rx’es our WODs, which are typically at a standard for much younger athletes.

Here, in his own words, is Kevin.

“Celebrating my 60th birthday this month prompted me to write this.  I know I’m preaching to the choir and everyone is familiar with the story of  ‘CrossFit saved my life! – blah, blah, blah’.
So much of success is simply showing up and saying yes to the opportunities.  In the midst of a new injury I felt a small twinge of  ‘is this the end of good times?’.  Then I pr’d my dead lift and the next week I rose to the challenge of doing at least 20 unbroken pull-ups.  Progression is still possible!

Kevin doin' it on the pullup bar.

Kevin doin’ it on the pull-up bar.

I’ve been to a few CrossFit boxes in the past 3 years (US & UK) and I’m realizing that not only does CrossFit Kitchener have terrific coaching, programming and facilities but CFK is the best I’ve experienced.  I appreciate the enthusiasm and dedication, hard work and support of Pauly, Lars, Bill and Mark.  It’s helped me prove that ‘age is just a number’.”
Kevin Simpson

A self-assessment on my ongoing Crossfit experience

The two-year long CrossFit experience has been revelatory for me. For those seniors who are on this journey, I’d like to relate my experiences.

An Overall  Developmental Perspective

Feelin' good in the neighborhood

Feelin’ good in the neighborhood

The beginning of March 2014 marks the end of two years of active participation in CrossFit for Dianne and me. I can’t speak specifically for her. We have different issues, but we keep each other “in the game”. On days I’d prefer to stay home, she lays the “guilt” on me and vice versa. Once in a while we both agree to skip a WOD, but that’s not too often. For much of this second year, we have been aggressive about going. We only stay home when the muscles (my shoulder; her hip and knees) won’t respond to ice or muscle rub.

I think it is fair to say that, for myself, there was a period of about two months during this past Autumn where I needed to rest two days for every two or three days of participation. A couple of times, I skipped a longer period, to recover. I thought this might be the sign of inevitable aging. I now think otherwise. While the jury (me) is still out on this rest/workout rotation, I seem to have found an aggressive new equilibrium. I’ve now completed several week-long cycles where I don’t take a day off except for other necessary activities:  skiing or an extra hour of yoga. Is it possible that I’ve managed, through perseverance, to increase my poor old body’s ability to recover more quickly?  I sure hope so!!!  Our program designer, Lars, seems to have worked out a set of weekly progressions that is working well for me. This past week we did CrossFit Open WOD 13.1 which is a 17-minute time limited succession of 40 burpees, 30 snatches (45 lbs), 30 burpees, 30 snatches (75 lbs), 20 burpees, 30 snatches (100 lbs), 10 burpees, AMRAP snatches (120 lbs), with those weights in brackets for Masters men over 55. In the days before, including yoga and a weight class, I had lots of opportunities to hurt my shoulders, and they survived. The experience of 13.1 did not cause injury, and I was biting into the third burpee section of 13.1 at the time limit. A month ago, I had trouble with single bar weight snatches. It wasn’t pretty, but this encounter has satisfied me that I have met my objective of fitness gains for year 2, despite all the setbacks. For my year 3 anniversary, I will attempt 13.1 on my own, to see if I can complete the third snatch set in the time limit, AND be more “tidy” in burpees. This puts flesh on the planning of fitness gains measurement.

What has worked

My fitness levels have increased way beyond anything I would have imagined. I can keep up with WODs which could only be described as really nasty: pushups interspersed with other muscle and aerobic challenges, too many combinations to count. When I started 2 years ago, I could barely do 5 pushups and for weightlifting, ground-to-overhead was about 55 lbs. That is now a distant memory. I no longer use a small box to do burpees. They ain’t pretty, but they are getting better.  My flexibility has improved to the point that I can now use the stirrups on the rower. I have to work twice as hard to get good rowing times, but I’m continuing to see improvement there as well as an increase in the loads I’m able to lift.  My front rack still sucks, but I go there anyways.  I’m “in the pack” on reps and times for most WODs, including the amount of scaling I require.

What hasn’t worked yet

There are many things I still can’t do properly.  Some of these shortcomings are due to my physical limitations in my hips. A less-than-complimentary “colleague” reacted to my description of “Murph” with my scaling, by saying, rather emphatically, “you DIDN’T do ‘Murph’ then!”.  So much for leaving egos at home…… That’s the special package seniors have to be prepared for, and it actually makes me more determined.

My squat is improving. I am likely to get my hip crease below my knees, soon.  I still can’t go to the “floor” on weights. I start about 6 inches above the floor, meaning I’m more successful with hang cleans and snatches, but I’ve dropped closer by several centimetres, probably the easier part of that evolution. I’m not rope climbing nor am I “kipping”. I can pick up a kettlebell from the ground now, and I can hoist a bar from the floor as long as it weighs less than 95 lbs (awkwardly). I must deadlift from a short ways off the floor, in order to be able to pull significant weight. I am still working on unassisted pull-ups, using bands, negatives and ringrows. Toes to bar and knees to elbows are a long ways off, but I’m going to get there. Because of the extreme variety of activities to perform in CrossFit, it is vexing to lose ground on a movement like, say, Turkish get-ups. I’m increasingly determined to squeeze in extra gym times to “iron out” activities like TGUs, wall walking, pullups, T2B, K2E, etc.

What I’ll probably never do

Significant numbers of impacts and heavy impacts are out, because of my artificial hips. I’m not supposed to skip, period. I do singles, but on a budget based on the numbers of reps, and double unders will remain verboten. I’m also not supposed to box jump – I step, and can currently step 20”-22”. That’s about it. I do shuttle runs, but I row instead of distance run for the same reason.

There’s no load, I can’t hold
Road so rough this I know
I’ll be there when the light comes in
Tell ’em we’re survivors

Life is a highway
I want to ride it all night long
If you’re going my way
I want to drive it all night long

-Tom Cochrane

A retrospective on joining (and staying with) Crossfit

One night in Shanghai... With Mark (the owner/trainer) and a colleague, after WOD 2013/11/03

One night in Shanghai…
With Mark (the owner/trainer) and a colleague, after WOD 2013/11/03

Recalling the past 20 months since Dianne and I took up Crossfit,I remember distinct stages where certain opinions or attitudes predominated. I wonder if each of us, especially late converts to the sport, have stages similar to mine.

  1. The pressure to join.  For three or four years, my three daughters harangued Dianne and me to try CrossFit.  Concern over injuries kept us away. Finally, the pressure became unbearable, so in February 2012 we signed up for CF Kitchener’s “On Ramp” training.
  2. Taking the bait.  (March-April 2012) On Ramp was very exciting and new.  Whatever we did, our instructor, Dianne, was encouraging and helpful.  We finished with a half-Cindy.
  3. The “honeymoon”. (April-October 2012) WODS were attempted, with lots of scaling.  We went every day and became obsessed with going. This lasted for about 8 months, and included (for me) visits to other boxes, around the World.
  4. The reality check. (November 2012 – May 2013) During a scaled Murph, I tossed my cookies…ambition met reality.  WODs were always interspersed with skills demonstrations, whose numbers seemed to increase every day:  rope-climbing, “kipping”, handstands, other “over-the-top stuff”.  It was somewhat overwhelming.  I also found that my artificial hips created a lot of problems:  running and skipping became rowing, reaching the floor is almost impossible, burpees required an intermediate box.
  5. Coping with that reality. (November 2012-May 2013) My posture sucks from too much hunching over a computer for too many years.  I didn’t seem to have enough time for correction of all these basic flaws.  I’m retired, but lots of “stuff” kept interfering.
  6. The first big injury. (January2013 – May 2013) In the process of scaling up the work, I seem to have overdone my shoulder more than a bit.  It will probably need fixing.  I had no reason to suspect it could happen: repetitive strain.  Not to worry. I’ve suffered several sports injuries:  a crack in my pelvis, a broken tooth from being punched by a ski pole, several bad concussions, a chronic rotator cuff injury, nagging tendonitis.  The ultimate was the wearing out of my hip joints:  the head of the femur became necrotized , necessitating replacement of the joint by titanium implants.
  7. Reassessing the “game”. (June 2013-present) My shoulder injury made me slow down and reduce to 3-4 times a week plus weight class.  I am doing a lot more posture training on my own:  working on a front rack, knees out and screw my feet into the floor for squats, elbows in for push-ups, etc., etc. and spending a lot of time watching videos and practicing.  I’m away from the box, so I have to concentrate on these things.  I love the gym, but I needed more of this other stuff to make the gym time better.
  8. The good side. (ongoing)  My wife has similar issues (although still has her own hips), caused by too much violent activity practiced incorrectly for too many years.  We both appreciate the patience of our CrossFit colleagues. We both still hate to miss.  I’m in China right now, with no Facebook and no CrossFit.  I have a Tabata timer and a set of adjustable dumbbells.  After 8 days off to give my shoulder a rest and recover from a cold and with only dumbbells and body weight exercises, I’m planning to hit China’s only CrossFit box in Shanghai next weekend.
  9. Levelling out.  I’m now seeking a slow improvement in performance, coupled with sustainability, sort of an aggressive cruise control state. As the picture above would indicate, I DID hit that box, Crossfit Iron Dragon, on November 3 and 4, 2013. At Iron Dragon, we did a pretty good “chipper”. Everyone was immersed in it for between 35 and 55 minutes. Because I had been travelling, I hadn’t done a real WOD in more than 2 weeks, and yet I felt good and performed quite well, within my own personal limits. My shoulder behaved, and post-WOD I was able to comfortably walk several kilometers through Shanghai neighbourhoods and take a very long Metro ride back to my hotel. I would NEVER pass up a chance to “iron out” the travel “kinks” in this exciting way.
  10. Summarizing. I’m pretty happy that I can drop into a box anywhere at any time and really enjoy working myself into exhaustion, at a level (admittedly scaled) that would have been impossible for me even 20 years ago, and fifteen minutes after, I’m pretty much back to normal. This is actually very exciting for an old guy – unbelievable, in fact!! All-in-all, this last 20 months has been a life-changer.

For the time being at least, calendar age is just a number, not a condition.