Sunday, April 27, 2014

Anywherefit Ireland Recap: Day 1

Colin collected me from the airport early Friday morning after approximately 18 hours of travel.  I was groggy, a little numb from the series of flights and time changes, but still excited about the opportunity to experience something new and exciting.  The weekend we had planned was to be a perfect balance of wilderness and civilization, blending raw, outdoor workouts with fine dining and traditional Irish pastimes.  The only thing that could muck it up was weather, and I was dutifully warned this wasn’t something to be counted on in Ireland.  But as we walked from the terminal to the car I had a good feeling.  There were clouds, but not dark ones, and the air felt light and breezy.  Something was telling me through my numbness that we would be okay with the weather.  It was right. 

First stop from the airport was the Colin’s gym, CrossFit Tipperary in the town of Clonmel, where I got to meet a few of the guys who would be joining me for the duration of the weekend.  The bulk of the groups wasn’t set to arrive til later that afternoon.  The box was great.  High brick walls on all sides, painted white but stained gray in parts from years of use.  Pullup rigs on two of the walls, and high hanging ring brackets coming out of a third wall above an endless sea of kettlebells.  It was clean, spacious, and had all the trappings of a killer place to train.

Right about this time my stomach was ready to eat itself, so Colin and I made the round of introductions in short order then shot off for some breakfast.  We went into town to a place called Nimh’s, which turned out to be a bakery in front and a cafĂ© in back.  I ordered the most enormous thing I could find on the menu…a full Irish breakfast plus potato waffles and coffee.  If you’ve never been to this part of the world, you’ve probably never experienced breakfast the way they do it.  Be it in England, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales, the standard morning fare is some variation of the following:  Bacon/rashers, sausages, baked beans, fresh tomatos, hash browns, mushrooms, white pudding, black pudding (“pudding” equals fried pigs blood, just so you know), and a fried egg.  While I still might prefer a 3 egg omelet most days, I love the UK and Ireland for maintaining this tradition.

After breakfast a few of us went on a small scouting expedition to one of the locations for Day 3 of the trip.  Colin said that his box frequented a small creek not far away that featured a jogging trail and a series of pools useable for jumping in and cooling off.  “Cooling off” in Ireland means “icing” in the rest of the world.  The area around the creek was beautifully forested and covered in green moss, but the water itself was freezing.  Despite my California roots, I’ve never been one to shy away from a good ice bath, especially since I knew my body could use a reset after all those hours on the plane, so in I went.  Correction, in we all went.  3 separate times.  That was the cool part about this: you run a ways, then jump in (shoes and all), run a ways, jump in.  It wound up being like a mini mud run, but with way less people and waiting in line.  At the bottom of the creek sat an ancient stone monastery where we were planning to do a fun workout on Day 3.  This part of the world is replete with relics like this, making it a dream vacation for anyone obsessed with history.
After our run I got checked in at my residence for the weekend, the Clonacody House.  This is not your average B&B, though that’s probably the way it’s listed online.  I’m talking an authentic Irish countryside experience—from the hundred-year old floorboards to the horses trotting and grazing out back.  This place was an absolute dream.  Helen and Michael, the live-in managers, inherited the place from Helen’s family awhile back and decided to turn it into a venue for travelers and events about 4 years ago.  They renovated the spots that needed updating and the resulting structure is no less than magnificent.  The main house stands 3 stories tall with a basement below.  The ground floor consists of a living room, drawing room, dining room, and kitchen, all of which boast 15-foot ceilings and ridiculously ornate moldings and finish.  The 2nd and 3rd floors hold all the bedrooms and baths, 7 in all.  The furniture is rustic and country inspired, with enormous Victorian bathtubs in all but 2 of the bathrooms.  Needless to say, I was stoked to be staying there.  Surrounding the main house are acres upon acres of land, including grazing fields, gorgeous trees and gardens, and an ancient barn & courtyard that serve as the work area for Michael. 

We agreed that I would lie down for a few hours to try and catch some rest, then head to the gym for a workout before the majority of the group arrived that afternoon.  I was definitely tired when I went down, but getting up 2 hours later was like coming out of a coma.  I had no idea where I was or what I was doing there.  For my money, the California to Europe experience is still the toughest jet lag there is.  Groggy as could be, I made my way to the box and started shaking out the cobwebs…


1000 meter row
5 rounds:
5 pullups, 10 pushups, 15 situps, 20 squats

EMOTM 10 minutes:
2 muscle ups
6 alternating pistols

100 meter overhead carry (100 kg)
*Every drop requires 10 deadlifts

By the end of this my brain was back on track, just in time for everyone’s arrival.  We had a whole host of locals from Clonmel, a group of 6 from Cork, a few from Dublin, and one from Spain.  As usual, people that were strangers kind of stuck to their own packs at first.  But by the end of the weekend we’d all be close friends.

To introduce everyone to each other and the AWF experience, we headed out to the Clonacody House for our first workout of the trip.  Colin has rigged up an old van with pullup bars and support posts, so finding a spot to do a workout was as simple as finding a place to park.  We did so on the back grounds of the estate, setting up the following for everyone:

20 minute AMRAP:
10 toes to bar
25 meter walking lunge
10 burpees
25 meter walking lunge
10 ring dips
25 meter walking lunge
10 burpees
25 meter walking lunge

We set this up so that the toes to bar and ring dips were on opposite ends of a 50 meter stretch, that way the lunges were the way to transition from one exercise to another.  The rings we hung from an enormous and gorgeous oak tree looking out towards the mountains.  By 3 or 4 minutes in the moaning and groaning had started, as it is wont to do, but soon everyone found their groove and was able to continue through to the end.  Afterwards we went inside for soup and salad and had a round table discussion about programming, nutrition, recovery, and travel.  During the course of the workout and discussion, everyone became visibly more at ease with one another and began to open up.  This is always a good sign so early in a trip.  Beyond that, however, the discussion itself was really, really interesting.  People were raising questions about everything from supplementation to recovery cycles.  We even talked about the difference between motivating forces for competitors and those seeking health and wellness.  It was probably the easiest and most enjoyable open forum I can remember. 

Most everybody was ready to call it a night after that, but a few of us ventured into town for some late dinner.  Not much open on Good Friday in Ireland, but we were able to snag a table at a local Indian restaurant that proved delicious enough.  The plan for the morning was to be up early enough for breakfast and to be at the box by 9:00 to train.  After that, we would be hitting the road!!!

Anywherefit Iceland 2014 Details

In case you weren't already aware… AWF Iceland 2014 is coming this August.  Back to the land of fire and ice, but in a way never done before.  Ice climbing on Europe's largest glacier, exploration of the  remote eastern coast, and beach training are just the beginning.  21 locations in only 12 days!!! There are 20 spots remaining as of now.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fitness Is...


Every action.  Every statement.  Every thought.  They’re all inputs.

Think of your body as a super computer.  Every waking moment it is gathering data, deciphering meaning, and formulating responses.  It’s constantly evaluating potential threats to its existence like hunger, injuries, enemies, and environment.  It’s measuring temperature, calculating distances, and adjusting for balance.  But for all the external stimuli your body is asked to process on a daily basis, what it’s registering from the inside can be ten times as important.  You see, your body also keeps careful track of your subconscious.  Your emotions, attitude, and inadvertent thoughts provide the backdrop on which every other input is analyzed.  If you’re in a bad mood, it will feel like the world is stacked against you.  You hit every red light, your boss is 3 feet up your ass, and your kids don’t appreciate anything you do.  If you’re in a good mood, you might notice the Lamborghini across the intersection, the quirky tie your boss is wearing, and how your kids have their mother’s eyes.  The same reality exists in both scenarios, but the interpretation of it is drastically different.  Multiply that experiment by a lifetime and you can imagine the divergence. We’re all just a million hits of a hammer; you better believe the attitude of the artist makes a difference. 

How does this affect fitness?  If you keep telling yourself you’re old, tired, and sick, that’s what you’re going to be.  What you think, you’ll soon say out loud.  And what you say out loud, you'll eventually carry out in practice.  Because your brain is largely influenced by habit and repetition, the thoughts you replicate most will wind up ingrained in your subconscious.  Your body will sense them even when you don’t—like the high electric whine of a TV on mute or the color of the walls in your bedroom.  Your self-image essentially becomes the product of background noise. 

The tricky part is you don't get to keep it to yourself.  Remember, everyone else is a super computer too—the signals you send out are being constantly gathered, deciphered, and responded to.  If you’re sending out hurt, they’re going to see hurt.  If you’re sending out old, they’re going to see old.  They're going to see old, process that information, and act accordingly.  Wait, it gets worse.  The feedback you get from your peers is an input in itself. The way they treat you is an indicator to your brain of who and what you are.  So if everyones looking at you like you've got one foot in the grave, your body processes that data and responds, “See, I knew I was old.”  This is the formation of your identity in a nutshell.  Thought begetting action, action begetting thought.  A cycle of computation and response that begins and ends with your own subconscious opinion of yourself.

Exhibit A: The guy who tells you how sore you’re going to feel once you hit 30.  He’s the same guy that’s going to tell you how sore you’ll feel when you hit 40.  And how you’ll probably die from knee pain at 50. 

“If you think 25 is rough, wait til you’re my age… I’d kill to be 25 again.” 

“Enjoy your 30’s while they last, it’s all downhill from there.” 

“I’m too old for that shit.  When I was your age, though…”

This guy pisses me off.  What possible benefit does he gain from repeatedly pointing out how horrible it is to be old?  I get why he’s doing it—by explaining the difficulties of age to someone younger, he makes it impossible for them to pass judgment on his current physical condition—what I don’t get is why he thinks by doing so he absolves himself from the universal need to not be a lazy piece of shit.  (And yes, it is a universal need)  Because, despite what his cupboard full of Captain Crunch and Pepsi Cola are indicating, his body doesn’t like being fat.  In fact, it dislikes being fat a lot more than it dislikes being old.  Problem is, he’s been telling himself and everybody else how old he is since before he can remember and he can't find his way back.  That’s how they know him.  That’s how he knows himself.  Tell yourself you’re young and you’ll start feeling younger.  Feel like you’re young and you’ll start acting younger.  Act like you’re young, and who’s to say you’re not? 

Exhibit B: The guy whose life is busier and more tiring than yours.

“Enjoy being a student, Blair.  Once you’re out in the real world, it’s a whole different ballgame.”

“Ahh, the single life.  I remember having all that free time.”

“Wait til you have kids, bro.  You’ll never sleep.  Kiss your body goodbye.”

This guy is a lot like Exihibit A, only instead of obsessing over his age he believes that life has left him no time or energy to take care of his body.  Please.  You’re telling me that no one in your office has time to work out?  Or that wives prefer a pudgier, weaker version of the man they fell in love with?  Pretty sure that’s false.  Pretty sure I watch parents with kids of all ages find time to crush it in my gym everyday.  It must be that your particular situation is more difficult than theirs.  Or maybe not.  Maybe it’s not the job, the wife, or the kids that are holding you back.  Maybe it’s you.  Maybe you’ve just been telling yourself the same, tired story so long it’s infected your hard drive.  Maybe if you’d told yourself a million times that health and wellness was non-negotiable, that it would only enhance your ability to do your job, be in a healthy relationship, and provide for your children and grandchildren, then you’d be finding ways to stay active instead of finding excuses not to. Burpees by the crib, lunges up the stairwell, 15 minutes of pushups and pullups in the garage after work. A million hits of the hammer.  It all adds up.

Again, I know why Exhibit B is doing it.  I just want him to realize that life is never going to get easier, and overweight is never going to feel invigorating.

Exhibit C: The guy who’s always sick or hurt.

“I must be coming down with a cold.  I woke up a bit congested and can’t seem to shake it.”

“I have a bad back and bum knees.  Been that way since I was a kid.”

This guy’s a little different.  His issue isn’t with physically getting to the gym like Exhibits A and B, it’s with his expectations while he’s there.  Regardless of the day, the workout, or the situation, he will find some way to let you know he isn’t at full strength.  He’s jet lagged from a business trip.   Or has caught a bug that’s “going around.”  It’s always something.  Just so we’re clear: I’m not advocating that sick people and invalids should come into the gym and hurt themselves trying to break records.  But if every knick, scratch, or stuffy nose becomes a reason to underperform, you’ve got a problem.  You’re deliberately setting low expectations and reinforcing the message that it’s okay to suck at your training.  Just so we’re clear: It’s not okay to suck at your training.  Part of fitness is the ability to perform in less than perfect conditions, to rise to the challenge of an off day or a bad night’s sleep.  But, more than that, it’s about establishing a consistent set of expectations.  Sending the message over and over that it’s okay to be terrible will only ensure that you’re terrible.  Sending the message over and over that you’re capable of success in spite of negative circumstances will make you a warrior.  This is where the truly fit separate themselves: their expectations don’t allow for petty excuses.  They know they won’t be at their best every day—that’s just a part of life—but they never blame away that down cycle.  They wear it and move on.  Every performance is progress.

All of these guys essentially suffer from the same mental fragility.  Rather than acknowledge they're choosing to put their health and wellness at risk, they find external reasons to excuse this behavior, thus absolving themselves of the responsibility.  This is cowardly.  Also, it sets a dangerous precedent of non-accountability that doesn't exactly come in handy when you find yourself battling colon cancer and obesity later in life.  At that moment, blaming McDonald's for being too convenient and inexpensive isn't going to help you stay alive.  Better to check yourself now and start reforming your subconscious identity.  

The best part about building a mentality like this is that you’ll find yourself feeling sick, tired, and hurt less often.  Because your subconscious forms the backdrop on which your body processes all sensory data, reducing focus on illness, fatigue, and injury is going to decrease likelihood of your feeling that way.  You’re not sick, you just have a runny nose.  You’re not hurt, you just have a sore ankle.  These maladies no longer hinder your performance any more than a bad song on your iPod.  You can go from invalid to indestructible in one thought-generation. 

At the end of the day, nobody wants to feel tired and sickly.  Nobody wants to be treated like they’re past their prime.  But obsessing over the limitations inherent in those qualities will only propagate them.  Thought begets action, action begets thought.  Your mental approach to fitness has to be positive and forward reaching.  It has to learn to ignore everything except that which helps you improve.  Call it selective computation.  Or the rehabilitation of your warrior self-image.  The beauty part is, when you start to believe it, everyone else will too.