Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Some Thoughts on Patience

I spent the second half of my Maine vacation on Mount Desert Island, hiking by day and sleeping alone in a tent by night.  I was looking forward to some quiet time to reflect on the summer and get myself centered for the fall.  

I'm not much for meditation.  I'm too restless and results-oriented.  Instead, I walk.  I walk until I am too tired to worry anymore, and then I let the problems of my life swirl around in my subconscious and wait to see what new revelations emerge from those murky waters.

This year, I was thinking about patience.  It's not something I possess in large quantities.  I like to make things happen, force them into happening if need be.  The brute force method, my ex-husband used to call it.  This strategy has not served me particularly well.  The problem with brute force is that it causes damage.  It breaks things.  

Halfway up Dorr Mountain one day last week it occurred to me that in order to have patience, you have to believe good things will happen in their own time.  If you truly believe that, then you don't have to force anything.  Patience is about believing in abundance.  

The brute force method, on the other hand, is about trying to force good things to happen because you don't trust that they'll happen any other way.  The brute force method is about fearing scarcity.

This fall, I will affirm my belief in abundance.  I will focus on cultivating patience.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Congress Street

The summer after I graduated from college my boyfriend, who later became my husband and eventually my ex-husband, and I rented a tiny apartment at 439 Congress Street in Portland, Maine.  It was everything I wanted my first post-college summer in the (seemingly) big city to be.

Our windows looked out over the garden of the Unitarian church next door.  Every morning I would sit in my rocking chair and drink my coffee with the windows open looking down at the trees and flowers.  Most nights after work, the boyfriend and I would cook pasta in our tiny kitchen and then walk the loop around Back Cove.  On the fourth of July we watched the fireworks on the Eastern Prom and came home to light sparklers on the fire escape.  It was an exciting and beautiful in-between summer on the threshold of adulthood.    Everything we did together, we did for the first time.  I had the sense that someday I would remember the two of us in that tiny apartment on those humid summer days and nights from a vantage point of maturity and prosperity and know that those moments were the first seeds of my grownup identity.

That was seventeen years ago.  Almost half my lifetime.  Congress Street was grittier then.  There were fewer bars and restaurants and yoga studios.  And I was so much greener.

The trees in the garden of the Unitarian church are taller than the the fourth-floor windows of that old apartment now. I know because I walked up Congress Street yesterday, just hours after arriving in Maine for my annual vacation.

When the summer ended, I moved an hour west of Portland to pursue an ill-fated teaching career, and the boyfriend went back to school.  I was so lonely that fall, and my job was so miserable.  Some weekends the boyfriend would come visit me, and I'd pick him up at the Greyhound bus station in Portland.  We'd kiss at every red light on our way out of the city, and on Sunday I'd be sobbing when he got back on the bus.

I didn't feel sad yesterday when I was thinking about all of this.  Well, maybe a little.  Mostly, though,  I felt grateful to have been that girl and lived that life and had that love affair, and maybe a little bemused to realize how incredibly young and naive we were.

I'll never be that girl again, but I owe it to her to live my days as if I could be.  I owe her adventure and pleasure and possibility and hope.  I owe it to her to keep planting.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Failure, Humiliation and a Preemptive Response to "I Told You So"

It has been a rough couple weeks at the gym.  First, the day after I wrote my last post about how great I was doing at following my routine, I got sick and missed my heavy lifting day.  Then last week I had a migraine for a couple of days, and a couple nights of insomnia and felt pretty crappy.  I missed my track workout and my airdyne conditioning day.  I did manage to do my volume lifts one day and a modified assistance day, and then on Saturday I dragged my lethargic self into the gym for my heavy day.

I started by failing the first of my two heavy sets of squats.  I was supposed to do two sets of three reps at 235.  I did manage the first two reps of the first set, a PR, and then failed the third rep.  No big deal, really.  It was still a PR, which is progress.  But then, somehow, when I moved my arms out from under the bar, which was resting just fine on the safety, I did something to my elbow that resulted in shooting pain whenever I bent my arm.  I pressed on, however, because you don't need your elbow for squatting.  I took five pounds off the bar, rested for five minutes, and tried a second heavy set.  This time I squatted down and couldn't get back up at all, and I let the safety catch the bar a second time.

At that point, I was over squatting.  I also realized that I did, in fact, need my elbow for both bench press and dead lift, which meant I was over those lifts, too.  I was so irritated.  I suppose I could have stuck around to do whatever assistance work didn't require my arms, but I got mad and went home and took a two-hour nap instead.

I thought I would share my squat failure video, since I think it is just as important to model failure as success.  I hesitated, though, because this may just be the most unflattering video of me in existence.  I hate how I look in this video.  (I think I look fat, and it makes me sad, and it makes me wonder if I really am going to have to choose between being skinny and being strong, and I would really like to be both as unenlightened as this is.)  Also, if you pay attention you can hear me pass gas on the first rep.  (You'd be surprised how many bodily functions come into play in weight lifting.  That's just how it is.)  And then there is, you know, the actual failure on the third rep.  So the bottom line here is, if you want to have sex with me, please do not watch this video.  Because you probably won't want to have sex with me after you watch it.  So just move along and watch some cat videos instead.  As for the rest of you, I hope you'll remember this video the next time you're worried about how you look in the gym and feel better.

So after all that, I went back to the gym tonight.  My elbow felt fine, so I figured I'd do my heavy bench and dead lift sets and then finish up with some assistance work.  Bench went great.  I went for two sets of three reps at 110 pounds, a PR, and got the first set before failing on the third rep of the last set.  Then it was time to dead lift.

I've been struggling with my dead lift.  On July 18th I got one set of three reps at 245 and then failed the third rep of the next set, but I was really close to getting that last rep.  I just couldn't quite lock it out at the end.  The following week on my heavy day I went for 245 again.  That time I could only manage one rep before failing.  I rested, tried again, and failed again.  I took 20 pounds off the bar, rested, tried again and couldn't get the bar off the floor.  It was a very sad day for dead lifting.

I thought the problem was probably psychological.  Frak thought so, too, but also suggested I might just be too tired after the heavy squat and bench sets.  She sent me an article about how I could change up my lifting days to be more rested for dead lifts (which I will probably do in the future).  So today, after not dead lifting at all last week, I figured I could get back on track.  I got the first set of three reps at 245, and they felt pretty good.  (Progress!)  But then after I put the bar down I felt some pain in my back.  It was weird because I didn't feel any pain when I was lifting, nothing that felt like an injury at all, but then as I started to move around a bit after that first set, I definitely felt a pain that is not normal in my lower back.

I immediately decided not to try the next set.  (I mean, I'm not stupid.)  I put the plates away, came home, and laid around with my trusty bag of frozen corn on my back for awhile.  I am pretty sure it is only a pulled muscle.  At least I hope so.  But what do I know about it, really?  I can move pretty well, and I'd say it's only about a four on the pain scale at the moment, although I expect it to feel worse tomorrow.

And this right here is why I have psychological issues with the dead lift.  It's a scary lift, and you can hurt yourself.

Ironically, I was just talking to my parents on Saturday about lifting, and my mother was telling me, as she usually does, that she didn't think this was a very safe activity for women.  So of course I have to go and hurt myself just days before I head home to see my parents for vacation.  I was thinking about this on the bus ride home from the gym.  I must admit, I was second guessing myself a little bit.  If this turned out to be something more serious than a pulled muscle, would it be worth it?  What if it was one of those back injuries you hear about, that plague you for life and keep you from doing certain kinds of physical activity forever?

But that's the wrong question, I think.  I mean, I thought about Brian.  He messed up his knee one day strolling through the woods with his son and couldn't squat for months.  You can't live your life worrying about risk.  You just can't.  You have to do the things you love, the things that make you feel powerful and alive, even if they can hurt you.  Because anything can hurt you.  Walking down the street can hurt you.  I hope my back will be better by the time I get to Maine so I won't have to have this conversation with my mother.  But if it isn't, that's what I'll tell her.

Friday, July 31, 2015

July Review and August Goals

My goals for July were to stick to my training plan and establish a consistent sleep schedule.  

Here's how I did with the training plan:
  • I was very consistent with my lifting.  I did all three workouts 4 out of 5 weeks this month.  This week I had to skip my assistance day because I had a bunch of stuff going on at work.  Still, that is 14 lifting days in the month, compared with only 6 in June.  It's paying off, as I am definitely getting stronger.  I've been struggling a bit with my dead lift, but I think that is more of a psychological problem.
  • I did 4 out of 5 conditioning workouts on the Airdyne bike and 3 of 5 track workouts.  
  • I skated 4 times this month.  Again, considering I only skated 6 times in June when the season was actually going on, this is not so bad.
It's not perfect, but it's pretty good.  I think it's especially good considering I spent a week in California on a business trip and still managed to get all my workouts in that week except the Airdyne sprints and the skating. 

And it's not an easy program.  It definitely tires me out as much, if not more, than my typical schedule during the roller derby season.  Which brings me to my sleep schedule:  I did so great with my sleep schedule in the first three weeks of the month.  I followed it consistently, and for the first time in months I was having no trouble falling asleep.  Then last week I went to California, and this week I had a couple late nights, and everything got off track.  But I am confident I can get it back on track for August.  While I'm not naturally a morning person, I really do love it when I can keep this schedule because it is truly amazing how much you can get accomplished when you are getting out of bed at 6:00 every morning.

I only have two more weeks of training before I leave for my vacation in Maine.  So my goals for August are to follow my program until I leave, and then to do as much hiking as I possibly can while on vacation.  I can't wait!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Off-Season Existentialism

It doesn’t happen to me very often anymore, now that I am so long settled into a regular fitness routine in a city that is no longer new to me.  These moments of disbelief and gratitude.  I felt it last night walking to meet Nellie for our track workout.  It’s almost like an out-of-body experience when it happens:  I can remember so clearly what it felt like to be living my sad, disappointing, sedentary life in Maine and dreaming of something different.  Maybe I’d travel somewhere for work and see other women my age jogging past me on the sidewalk, or headed somewhere in their fancy work clothes.  I’d wonder, how did they get here?  And how did I get so stuck in a life I never wanted for myself?  The gulf between those (probably very ordinary) women and me seemed so great.  I had no idea how to bridge it.  I didn’t even believe it was possible.

Every once in awhile I remember how far I have traveled, and I am grateful.

This fall will mark six years of living in DC.  The first of those three years were full of upheaval: the divorce and its emotional aftermath, the move, the new job, the illness that eventually resulted in surgery.  The last three years I’ve spent as a DC Rollergirl.  Despite the apparent glamour, it’s not always an easy thing to be.  Like most truly extraordinary experiences, there’s a lot going on in the shadows: The relationships that fail because you only have time for a date once every three weeks.  The non-derby friends who drift out of your life because you keep canceling plans.  All the basic life activities you don’t have time for—sleep, grocery shopping, reading a book, the occasional cultural activity. 

Sometimes I wonder if roller derby is my life, or just a way to avoid life. 

Even now that I’m in my off-season and have a little more free time, I’m still working out four nights a week.  It occurs to me I’ve built a very nice wall of activity around myself these last three years.  It occurs to me that I may be just as invisible behind that wall than I ever was in my old body.  The extra time I’ve had lately has made me feel unmoored.  I see space opening up in my life, and it scares me.  What is there to fill it?  What if there’s nothing there to fill it?

It’s only temporary space, though, isn’t it?  This off-season won’t last long.  I think about balance.  Is that what I want?  I’ve always thought that balance is overrated.  Just another word for mediocrity.

I think about those dark days in Maine.  There was never a time I couldn’t visualize something different for myself.  I didn’t know how to get there, but I could always imagine where I wanted to be.  Now I can’t imagine anything beyond this routine of mine, which once seemed unattainable but now feels ordinary.

I know what I don’t want though.  I don’t want to live behind walls.  I don’t want to live in a box.

I think I need to open a window.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

My Off-Season Training Plan, Part 2: Professional Help

After getting my updated power lifting program from Frak and reading up on all the personal trainers at my awesome gym, I approached Michael Ungar because he specializes in Olympic lifting and sports conditioning.  I figured he'd understand what I was trying to accomplish with my power lifting program and would also know the best off season derby training.  When I met with him, I told him I wanted to:
  • Follow my power lifting program in order to prepare for a fall competition
  • Add additional derby-specific training that might not be addressed in the power lifting program
  • Figure out a conditioning program, including my regular Wednesday track workout with Nellie, to make sure my endurance is where it needs to be when I return to skating
  • Skate twice a week, focusing on footwork and agility
I told Michael I wanted to maximize efficiency so I didn't spend my entire summer in the gym, but that I could hire him to train me once a week.  I honestly wasn't sure if it would be possible to fit this all together without killing me--it seemed like a lot.  Michael took a few days to put it all together, and he came back to me with a program I can do all by myself.  (I was pretty surprised he didn't want to take my money once a week, but happy to save the money and really pleased with the program he put together.  He said if I was having trouble with it, I could always hire him for a couple sessions to make sure I was doing everything right.)

Derby-Specific Strength Training
Michael gave me additional derby-specific strength training exercises to add onto each of my regular power lifting days.  (No extra days in the gym that way!)  These are all lower weight, higher volume exercises (generally 3 sets of 10 reps per exercise) that isolate smaller muscles or muscle groups.  Michael grouped them into supersets, which maximizes efficiency.  There's core work (plank and situp variations), which you would expect for derby.  There's quite a bit of upper body work, which Michael explained would help stabilize the shoulders and neck to prevent injuries.  I had never really thought of upper body training as being important for derby because we focus so much on our legs and hips, but we do a lot of jostling with our shoulders, too, and the sport definitely has its share of shoulder injuries.  And he said strengthening the neck would help with stability if you get hit in the head, which also happens.  It made perfect sense as soon as he explained it to me.  Lastly, there are some single leg exercises, like box step-ups and reverse lunges, which help with both balance and power.  

It's perfect.  I love it.  Well, to be honest, I am not crazy about all the low rep, high volume stuff.  That stuff is the reason I used to hate strength training before I started lifting heavy.  It is painful and boring!  Even so, understanding how each exercise is important for derby makes a huge difference.  I might not love every exercise, but I know why I'm doing them.  And I'm already in the gym doing my power lifting anyway, so it's not like I have to make a special trip.

I told Michael I wanted to keep doing my weekly track workout with Nellie.  (As much for the social time as for the conditioning.)  He said that was fine and that our 200-meter sprints would be my "long distance" for the week.  

My second conditioning workout is sprints on the Airdyne bike.  He gave me a progression for the next eight weeks and told me to do all the reps even if they are slow and painful.  Week 1, last week, was 8 sets of 15 seconds sprinting at 100% effort followed by 45 seconds of slow pedaling, aka active rest.  Yesterday's workout was 8 sets of 30 seconds with 60 seconds active rest.  It was so hard!  But I shall persevere.

Michael said in August I should add a third conditioning day--another bike day or short (15 second) sprints on the track.  

Here's a video that shows a very fit lady doing Airdyne sprints and looking like she's going to die.  It makes me feel better about myself because that is how I feel when I do them, too:

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

My Off-Season Training Plan, Part 1: Power Lifting

I'm taking July and August off from roller derby to give myself a real, albeit still rather short, off-season.  This is the longest break I have taken from roller derby since at least the spring of 2012.

My off-season training plan has a lot of pieces to it.  I was a bit overwhelmed by all the moving parts until I turned to a personal trainer at my gym to help me put it all together.  (More on that next time.)  But before turning to the trainer, I asked to Frak to update my power lifting plan. I am hoping to do another competition in the fall sometime, so the off-season is a great opportunity to put lifting front and center.

The program I have been following for many months now is a modified version of a lifting program called the Texas Method.  It's a three-day-a-week program with high volume the first day, assistance work the second day, and heavy lifts the third day, although I have been known to divide up the accessory work and do half on volume day and half on heavy day when I don't have time to get to the gym three times a week.

But now I am on derby break and have no excuse for not getting to the gym three times a week!  Which means that Frak was able to beef up the program a little bit more.  Here's the plan:

Volume Day:
Squat and bench are both 5 sets x 5 reps at 85% of whatever weight I lifted on my preceding heavy day.  This is basically the same as it was before except the percentage is adjusted (from 90% to 85%) because my heavy day is getting heavier.  Frak added Romanian dead lifts for 3x8.  I had only been dead lifting on my heavy day, so adding this variation will help improve my form, strengthen my back and get me a little more dead lift volume.

Accessory day includes front squat, overhead press, dumbbell row and lateral pull-down, all of which I had been doing already most weeks, plus dumbbell bench.

Intensity Day
My intensity day was one set of five heavy reps for squat, bench and dead lift.  Frak told me to add 5-10 pounds and instead to do two sets of three reps.  I'm making this switch for my next heavy session.  Because my June lifting schedule was so erratic, I wanted to get one good, solid heavy day under the old program to build my confidence before adding more weight.  I did that last Friday and was pleased with my progress.  I did 210 for squat, which is one pound more than my one rep max at the competition I did in December, plus 102.5 for bench and 240 for dead lift.