Monthly Archives: September 2013

GoRuck Training Week One

I hurt. I hurt in so many places. Even my skin hurts. It’s funny how you think you’re in okay shape (I said okay, not fantastic) then you start a new program and you feel about as strong as a five day old kitten. I knew my upper body strength needed work, lots of work. But it’s amazing how five sets of 50 squats and 40 lunges will make you feel like your legs aren’t quite as up to par as you imagined either. Okay, maybe not you, maybe you’re doing those sets and yelling “Bring it on!” but for me it’s no walk in the park. Well, literally maybe because I do a lot of the workouts in the park but you know what I mean.

What began this week of sore muscles and bruised ego is the 6 Week Plan available on the GoRuck site. Having signed up for a GoRuck Light challenge in a few months, this seemed the perfect way to get my training going. I know it will be tough but I also know it’s necessary to prepare for my challenge so I can hang when the time comes.

I already publicly humiliated myself by writing about my start of the plan- the dreaded PT test. So let’s forget about that and move on. The plan is quite varied and includes rucks, weight training, circuit training, runs, cross-training (which for me is biking or swimming), challenge simulations, and, my favorite, rest days.

As I mentioned above, I was able to do a lot of the training in the large city park just a couple of blocks from my house. Pretty much all the runs, rucks, and bodyweight PT for Week One took place here. Weight training and swimming occurred at my gym and biking consisted of road rides anywhere from 10-25 miles.

GoRuck rule #1 is Always Look Cool (followed by #2 Never Get Lost and #3 If You Get Lost, Look Cool). I completely violated that rule as I bear crawled across what felt like the entire park but was only the proscribed 50m. I use the Runkeeper app to track a lot of my workouts and I used it here to mark off the 50m distance I needed for the exercises that took place on Day 2. Seriously? That’s 50m? Is this thing broken? That looks so far.

It was far. At least for doing bear crawls.  But I survived both the crawls and Week One. I was able to do most of the exercises as written but had to make a few adjustments to accommodate what I had available. For instance, instead of doing bench presses on Day 3 I used dumbbells instead of a barbell because I didn’t want to wait forever for an available barbell bench to open up in my crowded gym. I also used a 20# dumbbell for the log simulation workout instead of a sandbag because my GoRuck order had not come in yet (Ruck, sandbag, and fillers hooray!) The dumbbell was a bit awkward so I’m looking forward to using a real sandbag next week. The worst was when I accidentally smoked myself even harder than the training called for when on Day 3 I misread my printout and did three minutes of Strict Military Presses and Push Presses instead of one minute. Don’t do that. Seriously.

And now for Week Two… Wish me luck.

Vignette From a Canton Bar

The man leaned in a little closer to the table, his expression eager, his voice getting louder. “Yeah, me and my brother, we both go and try out.” He had been talking for a while, being seated at the table next to his I had been trying to tune him out and enjoy my lunch.

“Oh, really?” the woman sitting across from him said. “You’ve auditioned?” Was she really interested or was she being polite? I couldn’t tell. Her date had no doubts. She took a bite from her sandwich, she’d have time to finish before it was her turn to talk again.

“Yeah, a few times. The last time was up in Philadelphia and it was crazy. The lines for the auditions were so long, people started lining up the day before. It’s kind of sad really, all these people there who thought they stood a chance to get on American Idol. I mean, you should see some of these freaks.” He stopped to take a long drink from his beer, no doubt his throat was a bit dry from the talking.

“Well, the odds are pretty bad,” the woman said. Her voice was sincere, no hint that she thought he might be included in that group of sad people. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be seeing his face on tv ads anytime soon.

“It’s not fair. If you’re really bad you have a better chance of getting on the show because people like to see the trainwrecks. It’s good for ratings you know. But if you’re good like me and my brother your chances are much worse.”

“I’m sure you’re really good, you just have to keep trying. Some of those people have tried out dozens of times before making it.” She was really very sweet. They had been talking for several minutes, or rather he had been talking and she had been making appropriate replies.

He stood up and excused himself to go to the restroom. I watched the woman out of the corner of my eye. Would she make a break for it? I sure would’ve been tempted in her situation, what a total bore.

She continued to eat her sandwich, showing no sign of making any sudden movements for the door.

The man returned and sat back down at the table. “So, like I was saying, the fact that I’ve never gotten past the first audition is just craziness, plain B.S. if you ask me.”

She had missed her chance.

PT Test of Doom

I failed my PT test. I fucking failed my PT test. I’ve never failed a PT test. Not even my very first PT test in basic training when the drill sergeants smoked the bejeezus out of us the day and night before the test in order to make us fail. Okay, calm down, breathe, it’s not the end of the world. Yes it is, shit shit SHIT, how could I have failed a PT test? I’m a worthless piece of dung. I’m an embarrassment to women everywhere and for that matter the entire damn human race. How the hell did this happen?

Let’s go back a few days. I officially signed up for the GoRuck Light challenge, corralling some friends to do it with me. What did I need to do next? Oh, right. Training. Those push-ups that I never actually do and all. And sit-ups! When was the last time I did a true, blue sit-up and not some kind of crunch or sidebend or something? For that matter, when was the last time I did some kind of crunch or sidebend or something? I suck. What was I thinking? I’m going to get crushed.

Okay, mini-meltdown aside, I do need to get my sort-of-toned-but-could-be-better butt in gear and get to work. Not to mention my insipid upper body strength. One of the biggest challenges I find in training of any kind is that I don’t push myself hard enough. Not because I’m lazy but because I often don’t give myself enough credit, especially when I’m attempting something new and I don’t know how capable I really am. The kind of things that take place in a GoRuck Light challenge aren’t exactly new to me (although I’ve tried very hard to erase bear crawls from my memory) but it’s been a long time since I’ve done stuff like that.

Fortunately, since I’ve been obsessed with the GoRuck site since I first learned about the challenges, I know they have a six week training plan that is just the thing I need to get my training jump started. It sure doesn’t look easy but easy is not what I’ve signed up for anyway.

The very first part of the training plan is giving yourself a PT test. Officially it’s the Army Physical Fitness Test (or APFT) but it’s generally known as the plain old PT test. According to the plan, if you pass the test you are in good enough shape to start with the training program. Now, I know that I’m in decent shape (right? right?) so I thought I’d just skip the test and go ahead and start with the training. But I started to feel a bit guilty, like I was cheating by not taking the test. And I must admit that I didn’t want to take the test because I wasn’t sure I could pass. I had no idea what the standards even were anymore, the last time I took a PT test was over six years ago. I was always pretty good at them, I never quite maxed (achieved a perfect score in each event for a total score of 300) but I was always close and would sometimes get a perfect score in an individual portion like push-ups. But I also did push-ups and sit-ups back then. At least I’ve been running lately so I should be okay on that event.

So I thought, okay, you know you need to work on the push-ups and sit-ups so start doing those again and after a week or two take the test. But then I felt like I wasn’t being quite honest. The point was to take the test to establish a baseline and then take the test again later and gauge your improvement. Fine, I’ll take the stupid thing, dammit conscience, stop nagging already.

The APFT consists of three events: push-ups, sit-ups, and a two mile run. For the first two, you have two minutes to do as many push-ups and sit-ups as you can. But there are rules. For the push-ups, once you start you cannot touch the ground again (besides of course your feet and hands) or the event ends. If you need to rest you can only do so by either arching or swaying your back. No knees, no lying on the ground and gasping for air. For the sit-ups, the only acceptable rest position once you start is in the “up” portion, no resting on the ground or the event is concluded. The run is simple, you run for two miles and your points are calculated from your time. You have to get a minimum score of 60 (out of 100) on each event or you fail the entire test.

As I got ready to take the test, I started to feel a bit nervous. Not sure why, nothing would happen if I either failed or passed the test. The only damage or boost would be to my pride. I found myself stalling as my self-appointed time grew near but I chastised myself for being a slacker and finally got down to business.

First event: push-ups. Push-ups were historically my best event and certainly not as loathed as sit-ups. I had been wavering between being sure I would fail this portion because of my lack of training and being sure I would pass because hey, push-ups and I had a history, they had my back even if I had horribly neglected them for years. Turns out push-ups didn’t like being neglected and they kicked me to curb, they dropped me like a bad habit, they told me “Hasta la vista, baby.” I failed this portion of the PT test by one push-up. I was desperately trying to complete that last, fateful push-up when my muscles caved and I hit the ground. Test over. What. The. Fuck. I still had a shameful amount of time left and for a moment I considered just getting back up and trying to keep going. But that was cheating, I knew the rules. I was done.

So. First event and I had already failed the test. I considered just quitting then and trying to take the test again the next day. Start fresh and pretend this hadn’t happened. No one would know. But it did happen and I knew. If it had been a real PT test I wouldn’t have been able to just quit and try again the next day. Disheartening as it was to continue with the test knowing that I had already failed, that’s what I had to do. Besides, one point of these posts is to relate how a normal, not super athletically gifted, everyday type person gets ready for a challenge. If everything was easy, what’s the point?

Second event: sit-ups. I was kind of worried now. I’ve neglected sit-ups at least as thoroughly as I have push-ups and sit-ups were always my weakest event anyway. I hated them and would only start doing them as PT test time neared so I wouldn’t embarrass myself. I wasn’t horrible at them, usually scoring somewhere in the 80s but never maxed them either. Turns out that while push-ups had forgotten my phone number, sit-ups were more forgiving and gave me another chance. I felt bad about trash talking them, sit-ups were my boo. The swimming and biking had kept my core in good enough shape so I could at least fake my way through. I passed. Not a spectacular score but a passing one nonetheless.

Now for the run. I was pretty sure I had this but my knees could still make it a tricky event. I had done the push-ups and sit-ups in my house and as I headed out the door to the park for the run portion it started to rain. I started laughing. Of course it was raining, “if it ain’t raining, it ain’t training” was a saying I had heard way too much in my time in the army. If I hadn’t stalled earlier I might have gotten done before the rain hit. Just punishment for my slacker ways I thought. I haven’t been back into running for long, maybe two months. I had finally hit upon a decent workaround for my chronic and extremely painful IT band problem (taping my thigh an inch or two above the knee to almost tourniquet tightness) while I worked on trying to address the root problem through physical therapy. I was never a true runner’s runner but I had been decent enough and my failures in the PT test had only been failing to max, never failing to pass. I was pretty sure I had the run but then again, I had been pretty sure I had the push-ups too.

My route in the park was fairly flat but did have some very gentle rises and drops. The park itself is very hilly and usually when I run I make sure to include these to keep me honest but not for this test, no way. The easier course and the shorter distance resulted in the best time I’ve had since I started running again. Not only did I pass this portion, I scored in a respectable range. And my knees didn’t even make a peep. If I started the test on a horribly discouraging note, at least I ended it in a positive way.

In the mental AAR (after action review) that I performed on my walk home from the park, I tried to honestly assess my performance. My push-ups were abysmal, no getting around that fact. One reason I had pretty much given up on this exercise was that my right wrist (from prior injury and perhaps some encroaching arthritis) could get very painful from certain exercises, including push-ups. It felt fine after the test so that was a good omen. I need to latch onto the positive instead of wallowing in my failure. I also know that push-ups aren’t that hard to improve upon if one simply does them so I’m encouraged by that fact. Same with sit-ups. I had passed this portion, not with any score I’d brag about, but if I simply added them to my routine I’d be sure to show a lot of improvement next time I took the test. I had to remember too that doing well on the PT test wasn’t the end goal. Getting ready for the GoRuck Light challenge was. By working toward the latter I would improve on the former.

Even though I failed the test (I still can’t type that without shuddering) I’m going to go ahead with the six week program. I have enough time before the challenge that I can do it twice. Or maybe I’ll be so hardcore after finishing it once I’ll move on to the daily PT program on GoRuck’s site. As for right now, I’m writing this while performing some ACRT (Advanced Cellular Repair Technology, or beer) at my local pub, GoRuck style. Cheers.

GoRuck Light Challenge

I just signed up for a GoRuck Light challenge. Now I need to get in shape for it. I will admit that perhaps I should have reversed the order of those two but I’m always better when I have a terrifying deadline to work toward rather than just do something because it’s “good for me” or “healthy.”

I don’t think I’m in terrible shape now, I competed in my first triathlon last summer and several more since and I eat fairly decently. Really decently if you look past the wine and pizza. Mmmmm… pizza. But although all the cardio training for the swim, bike, run has increased my power in ways obvious (hills + bike = quads) and more stealthily (not sure where these biceps came from), my strength is still not nearly what it was in its heyday when my workouts focused on lifting weights and I just ran because the army made me. I’m not even sure I can do a push up any more.

Most of this problem is a result of lack of time, the favorite excuse of all of us who miss a workout or ten because of work, school, sleep, life. Keeping up with the three disciplines involved in triathlons has been tough enough for me. Two a days? Bricks? What are you people talking about? So even though I know strength training is good for me (and I like it, more than running for sure) it has still managed to slip through the cracks more often than not as yet another week went by and, at most, I had lifted weights once. A month. Damn.

Fall is fast approaching and I’ve done my last triathlon of the season so I thought now might be a good time to get back into the gym. I want to keep a maintenance level going for the swim and bike and continue to work on my run but I should have more time for weightlifting in the triathlon offseason.

Enter GoRuck. I just learned about GoRuck in a recent Washington Post article in which the author describes his experience doing the GoRuck Challenge. It sounded amazing. And amazingly out of reach for me. While I am a veteran and was always near the top of my unit in PT (physical training) I am anything but hardcore. But… I like a challenge and I am pretty tough mentally. I think. But physically, with injuries both old and recent (and fine, I’ll say it, I’m not as young as I was) I think the GoRuck Challenge is a bit out of my reach. I really liked the idea of the teamwork though and thought the whole concept sounded great. The fact that the cadre who lead the challenges are all Special Forces combat vets is a huge motivating factor as well. It would be an honor to carry logs for these guys.

So the idea of the GoRuck Challenge was a no-go but about two weeks later I was telling someone about the article I had read. I looked up the GoRuck site to find more information for him and lo and behold I discovered the GoRuck Light! Shit, I think this is it. I can do this! I think. I can, right? Sure I can. Really? No, no way. Screw you, I can too. But your wrist, your knees. Fuck ‘em, they need to suck it up.

I loved the idea of teamwork that GoRuck promotes so my first move was to gather my own team. I’m lucky to be the friend of one of the most bad-assed women I’ve ever met and I knew she’d be down for this. I sent her a message and received a simple “YES” in response. Her boyfriend was also in. Feeling more confident (what can’t you do when you have good friends?), I registered for a GoRuck Light challenge about four months from now in the city where my friends live. If I was going to drag them along with me it was only polite that I was the one doing the travelling to get there. The fact that this city is in Florida and it will be winter then didn’t even factor into my decision. Or maybe that was the biggest part of deciding to do my first event in Florida instead of my home state of Maryland. I need to stack the odds in my favor as much as I can. The next few months are going to be interesting. Stay tuned.

My Mother

You would’ve probably noticed her accent first. I never heard it. All my friends did and new ones would ask me where my mom was from. “New Zealand,” I would say, waiting for their reaction. I was very proud of this fact, my mother was different from the others, she was special, and not only did I know she was special her accent told everyone else she was special too.

She was short. I would say petite but I can almost hear my practical, no nonsense mother laugh at trying to pretty up short. Short, buxom, slightly overweight with an apple shaped figure that she generously passed down to me. Her nose was short and slightly arched and just a tiny bit askew. She had dark brown eyes framed by dark eyebrows that she would comb with an eyebrow brush after powdering her nose and applying lipstick. Her hair was short although the photo albums we kept tucked under the couch showed pictures of her with waist length hair in the early ‘70’s. I loved her hair, thick and dark brown almost black and soft and threaded through with silver. “You kids put that gray there,” she would tease and I felt glad that I had helped make her hair so pretty. I knew she didn’t mind about the gray and preferred to have it if it meant she had me too.

My mom was smart. She knew everything from what to feed an orphaned baby robin to how to butcher a deer to how to knit a sweater for my older sister in the green-and-gold colors of her high school football team. She could make jelly from the blackberries I picked in the fields near our house and fried chicken so well I can still never eat it without thinking “Not as good as Mom’s.” She read all the time and our house was full of books. The only thing she couldn’t do very well was spell. Americanized after decades living in the U.S., she would still sometimes slip in that extra “u” in “neighbor” or “color.”

Animals flocked to her and she charmed them without even trying. All cats liked her lap the best and all dogs listened to her when they never behaved for my dad. She had grown up on a dairy farm back in New Zealand and she was an animal lover, as we all were. Black and white photos from her childhood featured dogs and cats as much or more as people, just like mine do.

She could also be distant. That very practical nature and no nonsense attitude meant there was also little time for whining or special treatment. She never yelled or engaged in outward displays of anger when she was mad; her weapon was biting sarcasm, another aspect I got from her. But the flip side of the quick sarcasm was a quick wit and she could be very funny too, a further trait I’ve assumed I’ve inherited; perhaps my friends would tell you different.

She’s been gone for 30 years and I still think of her every day.

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