Friday, April 17, 2020

Fitness Is... Getting Sick

Fitness Is…

Getting sick.  And recovering.

A while ago I interviewed a doctor who posed me a singular question to help me understand the body and its immune system. 

“What happens,” he asked, “when you get a splinter in your finger and you don’t pull it out?” 

“It gets infected,” I responded.

“Right,” he said. “The skin gets red and the body produces puss.  Why do you think it does that?” 

“To… get rid of the splinter,” I answered, cautiously.

“Exactly. It produces the puss to extricate the splinter. Now, the important question.  Which is the illness… the puss or the splinter?”

The point he had so elegantly made was that most of us think about sickness completely backwards.  We see someone wipe their nose or have diarrhea, and we think those are the elements that need to be fixed in order to regain health.  In reality, those symptoms are the body’s way of FIGHTING whatever it is that infiltrated it. A fever is the body raising the temperature to kill an infection.  A cough is the body expelling foreign chemicals or toxins from the lungs. If the splinter is the cause of the infection, why spend our time trying to stop the puss.  Or the cough. Or the fever.

He went on to explain to me that the body actually has two immune systems.  The first, known as the cell-mediated system, is the one responsible for fighting the infection on the front lines. This is where the body sends white blood cells to the affected area to consume infected cells and expel them via snot, puss, mucus, whatever.  The second, and far more flashy system, is the antibody system. This is where our body creates an imprint or memory of a specific illness in certain cells, to more efficiently fight that illness in the future. This is how we develop long term immunity.
“The trick,” he said with a smile, “is that these things are intended to work in tandem. Without the cell-mediated response, the body isn’t capable of developing the exact antibodies it will need in the future. This is why vaccines don’t produce the same level of immunity as contracting the actual disease… the body didn’t go through the entire process of fighting off the infection.”

The realization for me at that moment was major.  What I had previously understood as “sickness” (meaning the symptoms) was not only natural, it was necessary. Without going through the process of fevers, congestion, etc, my body wouldn’t get the “reps” it needed to build a robust and intelligent immune system.  I had been demonizing my body’s natural defense mechanism against the billions of pathogens, microbes, and bacteria that exist in the world. What good was all the organic, gluten free food I was eating to fill my body with the vitamins and nutrients it needs if every time my temperature went above 100 I took a pill.  That’s like mobilizing for an hour every day but never lifting a weight. Technically you’re always ready, but you’ll never be strong.  

The cost of this misunderstanding is enormous, and twofold.  

First, when we strip ourselves of the opportunity to defend against a whole host of maladies, we increase the likelihood of sustained toxicity or infection in the body.  Remember that every fever, cough, and runny nose is the cell mediated system trying to rid your body of some abnormal or toxic element. If it is no longer allowed to do this because we took some anti-symptomatic medicine, we may be trapping the toxic element inside our cells.  

For example, the worst thing you can give a smoker is a cough suppressant… you’re removing the best chance they have to get the tar out of their lungs.  Such blunting of the cell mediated system over the course of a lifetime leads to a) an unpracticed response team living in b) a perpetually toxic environment.  Combine that scenario with a medical establishment that loves doling out antibiotics and antivirals like Halloween candy, and it’s like putting a rookie SWAT team in the yard of a maximum security prison… not a great recipe for long term health and sustainability.  In cases of extreme toxicity, the body will resort to quarantining certain areas of abnormal cells, barricading them off from the healthy tissues while it figures out what to do next. This is called cancer. 

Granted, smoking is an extreme case of acute toxic poisoning.  There are a host of other instances where the outcome isn’t so obviously harmful because our body is pretty ingenious at finding ways around the obstacles we present it.  But we also need to remember that we live in a world where even our most basic interactions with the environment are growing increasingly toxic. The air we breath, the food we eat, the radio waves we live amongst; all of it is consumed, filtered, and dealt with on the cellular level.  When we establish a practice of blunting our body’s most basic defense mechanism against these things, the garbage is going to start piling up. Enter a malignant bacteria or a novel coronavirus, and you might find yourself in a dumpster fire. 

The second cost of misunderstanding sickness is cultural.  Rather than viewing symptoms for what they are (natural and necessary), we see them as something to avoid.  Something to fear. Think of the old NyQuil slogan: “the nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, aching, coughing, stuffy-head, fever, so you can rest medicine.”  It shifts your focus away from what’s happening in your body (fighting something off) to what those symptoms are preventing you from doing (getting sleep).  Pretty clever marketing, but we eat it up. We dread the common cold, we scamper to CVS every fall to get the latest flu shot. Why? Because, heaven forbid we get sick.  Heaven forbid we miss work or school, or have to lay in bed for a few days while our friends are at the gym. It speaks to the broader impatience that has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, where we expect immediate relief from annoyance, disturbance, and discomfort. We are spoiled. We are soft.  

Instead, we rely on medicine to control symptoms and upon a sterile world to prevent infections.  A world, I will remind you, that is less sterile than it has ever been, regardless of the gallons of hand sanitizer we bathe it in. We are progressively unequipping ourselves to handle even mild infections, and, more generally, we are off-loading the responsibility for our health.  We demand a treatment for everything, a vaccine for everything. We grow unacquainted with illness, and begin to fear it in all forms. There is no perceived risk to chronic lack of self care, because it’s no longer a personal responsibility. Health is now a collective responsibility. We think that by preventing people from feeling symptoms we are protecting them, but really we are weakening them.  Day after day, year after year, we are giving them fish. But where are the fishermen?

There has never been a better example of this phenomenon than the Coronavirus pandemic. The models from every country experiencing this thing have shown, more or less, the same result: it is HIGHLY contagious and RARELY fatal.  The CDC has published findings that only about 20% of the exposed population show symptoms that would prompt them to go to the hospital and get tested. That means that the 646,000 confirmed cases in the United States actually reflects closer to 3.2 million exposures.  That means the 28,000 total deaths equates to a fatality rate of about 0.007, or a little more than half a percent. The same calculation applied to New York (the worst area of infection) puts the local death rate at exactly 1%.  

Now, in gross numbers that’s still a lot of people dying... hence the response from world leaders and public health officials.  In viral terms, it’s about 7 times as deadly as what we deal with every year during cold and flu season when massive amounts of people get sick.  In the United States alone, the CDC estimates that influenza has resulted in between 9 million – 45 million illnesses, 140,000 – 810,000 hospitalizations, and 12,000 – 61,000 deaths annually since 2010.  That’s a death rate of 0.001, or about a tenth of a percent.  

In an effort to save lives, infectious disease experts around the world immediately honed in on who COVID-19 was killing and discovered that the disease seemed to predominantly attack the elderly and infirm.  99% of fatalities in Italy had 2 or more pre-existing conditions, or comorbidities.  These are chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, hypertension, emphysema, age, etc.  The same criteria has applied to 95% of deaths in New York. What does this mean? It means that, while the illness is not harmless to the young and healthy population, it usually is not deadly.  But it is extremely deadly to the sick, frail, and elderly. Do we know what else is extremely deadly to the sick, frail, and elderly? Not to sound callous... but almost everything. Any sort of trauma. Complications from surgery. The flu. These are high risk populations living in a world full of risks.  This shouldn’t be news to anyone.

This information is critical to understand because it highlights how we, as a society, naturally function.  In so many cases, it’s the role of the strong to shield the weak from many of the risks they might otherwise encounter.  This is no exception, but the way we’ve been directed to do so in this case is misguided. The way the strong can protect the weak from something like the coronavirus is by going out, getting sick, and getting better.  Period. Those with pre-existing conditions quarantine at home while the rest of the population goes out and lets their immune systems do the work of establishing herd immunity. Hospitals should cancel elective procedures to prepare for a surge of cases, but since the population that would ultimately need the intensive care is locked up in their houses, those beds will remain largely empty.  We know this works because it’s the way respiratory viruses work every year. The virus runs its course when enough of the population has encountered it, dealt with it, and developed immunity. By sheltering the entire population in place we are preventing the strong from encountering the virus and prolonging the life-cycle of the pandemic. This increase in time duration actually raises the likelihood that it will eventually run across someone in the at risk population before it’s done.

So, how would this have looked if we hadn’t sheltered everyone?  Look at the five US states who didn’t do so: Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.  If you compare them with other states that have a comparable population density (Oklahoma, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Montana) you’ll see increased growth rates for the disease in the non-shelter states (Iowa 9% vs Colorado 6%, Nebraska 10% vs Nevada 6%, for example). However, the average death rate of confirmed cases in those 5 non shelter states is 2%, compared to almost 4% in the sheltered states.  That means that the disease is infecting people at a higher rate in the states that are not sheltering, but killing people at a lower rate. This is because the increase in infections is almost certainly born by the healthier population. People that know they are at risk are going to stay sheltered regardless of the order. These states are not reporting any issues with their hospitals being overrun and their economy hasn’t skipped a beat.  What they are achieving, is a fast track toward herd immunity.

Another example of how a non-shelter plan might’ve looked could be found right here in California if we rewind the tape a few months.  A new study being conducted at Stanford University is investigating the possibility that an early wave of coronavirus hit the state back in November, December, and January when many residents reported harsh flu symptoms. "Given the state's unprecedented direct air access to China, and given its large expatriate and tourist Chinese communities, especially in its huge denser metropolitan corridors in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, it could be that what thousands of Californians experienced as an unusually "early" and "bad" flu season might have also reflected an early coronavirus epidemic, suggesting that many more Californians per capita than in other states may have acquired immunity to the virus." It might explain why California, a state with 40 million people, has seen the same number of cases as states nearly a quarter its size in Pennsylvania and Illinois. If this turns out to be true, California would have unwittingly developed a level of herd immunity without a noticeable uptick in deaths, hospitalizations, or demand for protective equipment.  It did so, however, with a noticeable lack of hysteria, facemasks, and social awkwardness.  

But you need to have a population that is willing and able to be sick in order for this to work.  Going back to our cultural fear of discomfort, we know that if given the choice, no one is going to sign up for that job.  2 weeks of symptoms for a lifetime of immunity? We’d rather hunker down for 12 months and wait for a vaccine to shield the strong and the weak all at once.  Nevermind that this disease is something that nature is already proving it can manage. Nevermind that doctors have found effective ways to treat critical cases with drugs and methods we already have on hand.  Even the strong and healthy would rather take the risk of bankrupting businesses and increasing personal debt than they would of getting sick.

On the other hand, there’s the possibility that our population is already so sick and frail that we wouldn’t be able to handle it even if we were willing to try.  It’s true that California also happens to be one of the fitter populations in the country on average, and the natural method of combating viral infections works best when you have a population that is made up of healthy people.  If we look at just one of the pre-existing conditions that negatively impacts outcomes from the coronavirus (obesity) we see that, as a whole, we may have a problem. According to the most recent Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data from September 2019, adult obesity rates now exceed 35% in nine states, 30% in 31 states and 25% in 48 states. Mississippi and West Virginia have the highest adult obesity rates at 39.5% and Colorado has the lowest at 23%. That’s right, the LOWEST obesity rate in any of the 50 states is 23%. 

A study done in 2014, conducted by an international consortium of researchers led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, looked at obesity AND overweight populations (BMI of 30+ or 25-30) and estimated 160 million Americans fall into one of those two categories. Nearly three-quarters of American men and more than 60% of women qualify. Sadly, it’s not just the adult population – nearly 30% of boys and girls under age 20 are either obese or overweight, up from 19% in 1980.  Now, we all know BMI is an imperfect measuring tool, but 160 million people is a disgustingly high number, no matter how you slice it. And that’s data from 6 years ago.  

This means that the percentage of people we have walking around this country that would qualify as “low risk” is somewhere around 70%.  And that’s only if we consider obesity. Add in the non-obese who have conditions like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, those coming off cancer treatments, and anyone who smokes cigarettes, and you see where this goes.  The “strong” among us who would be tasked with taking on the virus and developing immunity are woefully outnumbered by the “weak.” 

The sad part is that so many of these conditions are magnified by our own sedentary and malnutritious choices.  In his “Five Buckets of Death” lecture, CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman shows that chronic diseases like the ones mentioned above account for 80% of deaths annually in the U.S., whereas microbial, genetic, traumatic, and toxic events combined account for a mere 20%.  The difference between the bucket holding the 80% and the ones holding the 20% is that we have a measure of daily control over our risk level. He calls it “the willful divide.”  

Through our own actions and ignorance, we have built a society incapable of dealing with even a mild public health crisis, let alone a major one.  We progressively poison ourselves with genetically modified foods, trap ourselves indoors staring at computer screens, suppress our immune system’s natural efforts to expel every toxin, and demand that our medical community come up with a solution for the mess we’ve made.  We think that bacteria and viruses are monsters that viciously attack us and our way of life. The truth is that our way of life invites destruction. Louis Pasteur, the father of germ theory, said, “The microbe is nothing, the terrain is everything.”  Fix the terrain and you fix the problem. Build a society of strong, healthy people and you have an army of well equipped immune systems to handle almost anything nature produces.  Continue to sit at home, eating empty food, and suppressing symptoms; you have a herd waiting for a plague to strike it down.  

In spite of everything we are doing to undermine the natural process of health and immunity, nature is still finding a way.  We are still beating this pandemic, even in places where no stringent mitigation strategy is in place. After all, the body wants to heal. It adapts, learns, and overcomes better than anything ever grown in a lab.  In most cases, we just need to get out of its way. If we start embracing sickness as part of the adaptive process and stop trying to skirt the momentary discomfort it entails, we put ourselves in a far better position to protect our society long term.  Combine that philosophy with exercising regularly, spending copious time outside, and eating real food, and you produce a population that will experience life in a natural rhythm rather than a state of constant fear.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Fitness is...

The Good Life

What is it, where can you find it, and how do you live it?

Let me begin by admitting that “the good life” probably means something slightly different to everyone.  I can’t possibly presume to know what is most important to each and every one of you, let alone unlock the secrets to achieving those things in a single article.  But what I can do is strip away the garbage heap of myths, stereotypes, and misnomers the vast majority of us fall victim to while striving for this promise land.  If I have to generalize a bit in the process of doing so, please forgive me. 

Let’s start with the “What”…  What is the good life?  When most people think of the good life, they envision retirement.  Golf, a book by the pool, the overall absence of work.  They imagine a life when they will finally have the money, time, and resources to travel the world or spend more afternoons with their kids and grandkids. I think for most, the good life is some form of a utopian vacation. 

Myth #1: The good life is location/activity dependent.  Actually, these are irrelevant.  Your happiest moments can occur in the home, on vacation, or at work.  They can happen while reading a book, running on an abandoned trail, or watching your favorite TV show with your spouse.  If you think back to some of your favorite memories, you’ll probably realize that there aren’t many consistencies when it comes to location, activity, or even the people you are with.  The only constant is your state of mind.  If you’re stressed or distracted, the most incredible location on earth will appear plain and even irritating.  If you’re relaxed and tuned in, everything is beautiful.  This state of mind is the critical marker.  Putting yourself in it more often is the secret to living happier and better.

Second, where is the good life?  Or, to put it better, when?  At one time or another, most of us have been sold the idea that the good life is something we have to wait for.  “You gotta pay your dues,” they say.  That’s why kids are put on a track for retirement at age 12, when they’re told their grades in middle school will determine their placement in a quality private or prep school, which will then determine their chances of getting accepted to a fine university, which will then allow them to pursue a quality masters degree, which will then open up doors for a PhD or professional position, where they can finally start paying off their student loans, re-establish their credit, and begin saving for a house, after which they can start having kids and start putting away money for their college tuitions, and so on.  Meanwhile the life they want to live is on layaway until all these other responsibilities are handled. 

Myth #2: The good life happens in the future.  Two problems here:  Number one, this implies that the bulk of your life is meant to be spent preparing for something that isn’t guaranteed.  That’s a pretty big gamble if you ask me, especially if you’re offering your health and sanity as part of the buy in.  Number two, if you think you’re going to spend your whole life as a worker bee, then all of a sudden flip the switch and turn into a character from Jimmy Buffet song, you’re crazy.  Building a happy state of mind, like everything else, takes practice. You have to teach yourself to be relaxed, grateful, accepting, and, most important, present.  These behaviors must be honed over years until they’re habits.  That means if you ever want to live the good life, you need to start now. 

Finally, the “How”… How do you live it?  The default answer to this question is to work less and play more, but that doesn’t always work.  Follow my logic here:  We take time off work to take more vacations, do more date nights, and visit more colleges with our kids.  We do all the things we think we’re supposed to do to enjoy life to the fullest, while at the same time trying to ignore the reality that all of this costs money, money that we really don’t have enough of.  Eventually, the bills pile up and we go back to work to try and buttress our bank account with enough income to stay comfortable, taking time away from the vacations, the dates, and the kids. Which means we’re back at square one.  The harsh reality is, unless you are in the top 1 percent of the population, you probably can’t afford to purchase the good life.  The good news is you really shouldn’t have to.

Myth #3: The good life is expensive.  It’s not.  We already established that location and activity are not the most relevant factors at play here, so stop trying to equate the good life with pina coladas in Belize. In reality, living the good life requires nothing but tuning in and appreciating the basic joys around you. The hand picked flowers your mother used to gather for you, the Cheerio necklace your daughter made in kindergarten, the annual Thanksgiving day football game you used to play with your buddies… these things cost nothing, yet they’re probably among your most cherished memories.  Start focusing on the things in your life that retain value beyond dollars and you’ll see that wealth doesn’t create anything, it merely magnifies that which was already there.

The way I see it, there are two major obstacles preventing us from overcoming these myths.  First, we are chronic, hoarding, consumers.  We define ourselves by our possessions and our ability to further possess, so it’s easy for a travel, jewelry, or car company to convince us that living the good life requires time-shares, diamond earrings, and a Mercedes Benz.  Since we are obsessed with the idea of preparing for the future, it’s also no small wonder that we are willing to mortgage our health and sanity in the short term to attain these things.  

The second problem I see is that we’ve forgotten how to enjoy simple things.  Despite the allure of beachfront sunsets, the pillars of your life shouldn’t be big, bold, and Instagram worthy.  They need to be basic, humble, and grounding.  Our future-lust has us bypassing countless opportunities to appreciate our lives as they currently stand because we’re either too busy to notice or we assume there’s something better coming down the pike.  This is presumptuous at best and lazy at worst. 

The difficult part is that change is tough, and habits learned over a lifetime are hard to break.  If I’ve learned one thing about people in my years as a competitive athlete and coach it’s this: they are who they are until they want to be different.  If they’re the type of person that’s too preoccupied to take a lunch break, they’re probably the same person that’s too preoccupied to pick their kid up from school, and they’ll still be too preoccupied to enjoy the fruits of their labor in retirement.

Bottom line, you have to choose change.  But where do you start?

Spoiler alert: Here’s where I make my pitch for fitness. 

First, committing to a healthy lifestyle forces you to acknowledge that you have at least some measure of control over your daily life.  Every piece of food you eat, every weight you lift, every time you skip a training session: those decisions directly impact your fitness.  This realization will transform the way you look at every day with respect to your body.  Where workweeks used to be something you had to struggle through, now they mean 5 solid days of getting to the gym.  Where you used to be “it can wait til next week” guy, now you are “take advantage of every opportunity” guy.  And that type of mindset doesn’t compartmentalize, it will overlay everything you do.  Suddenly every lunch break is a recharge and you’re jumping at the opportunity to pick your kid up from school.  The daily nature of training forces you to tune in your life to everything that’s happening now.

Further, the work ethic needed to push past limitations and physically improve the human body is truly humbling.  You can’t fake it.  Every measure of progress is earned through an accumulation of hard efforts.  Sticking to a diet takes will power, sacrifice, and restraint.  Getting up at 6 in the morning to train takes discipline.  You won’t succeed at either unless you’re fully committed to the idea that this is what you want to do.  That philosophy becomes part of you when you train every day, and it will lead you to start appreciating the simpler elements in your life.  Don’t get me wrong… you’ll still have an appetite for the finer things; they’ll just cease to be the definition of success. 

Finally, and probably most importantly, the balance found in a strong, healthy body breeds happiness.  From the physical capacity to move without pain, to the confidence you get from a positive self-image, to the endorphins you get following exercise, fitness truly is the foundation of the good life.  The more often you find yourself exhausted and proud, the healthier your mental state will be, and the more likely you’ll be satisfied with who you really are. 

So… what is the good life, where do you find it, and how do you live it?  Better start looking inward, because it’s happening now and it ain’t slowing down. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas WOD!!!

In keeping with our family tradition, the Morrisons headed to southern California for the holidays to spend time with my dad's side of the family.  With relatives in town from Minnesota, Virginia, Colorado, and New Mexico, we were well represented.  Training-wise, I was on rest week, so I wasn't trying to go crazy working out.  But with all my cousins in town we couldn't completely ignore fitness. We typically get in at least one workout as a family during vacation and this year we took it to the parking lot.  It had all you really need: space, a wall with varying heights, and a little bit of a slope.  A sandbag, bumper plate, and a kettle bell was all we needed to fill in the gaps.

So fun getting to train with family!!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sutter street wall balls

We had a break in the rain today and I've been wanting to take the 30# medicine ball for a spin, so I went to an alleyway over off Sutter street in Historic Folsom to do the following WOD:

10 minute AMRAP:
10 wall balls @ 30#
10 handstand pushups
10 walking lunges @ 30#

The alleyway is across from the old powerhouse, and I've probably parked there at least a dozen times when shopping or eating on that street.  The exposed cinder block foundation makes for great wall space whether you want to do handstands or anything else, so I took advantage.  I only managed 6 rounds in the 10 minute timeframe, but the 30# ball definitely made it tough.  Check the video below.  

Friday, November 28, 2014

100 lb tire drag uphill at Lake Natoma

Today I took our 100# tire out to Lake Natoma to try and drag it up the hill.  I drilled a simple eye-bolt through the center of the tire so that connecting the webbing wouldn't be an issue.  Normally this hill is reserved for running intervals because of its length and loose footing, but I've been wanting to try to haul something up it for awhile.  I expected the tire to be a challenge because the surface wasn't at all smooth.  Sure enough, it was getting caught on rocks and roots, throwing me off balance the entire time.  But these issues made the workout that mush cooler.  I was forced to constantly re-evaluate the best method of getting this huge awkward object up and down the hill.  (For the record, carrying is much easier than dragging.)  Sometimes doing something that is inherently inefficient will teach you a lot about how to operate efficiently.  Or just beat you into submission.

Upon completion, I played around with some other fun exercises you can employ with a tire of this size.  Presses, lunges, squats, even thrusters.  Getting a handle on the thing overhead is a bit sketchy because you're trying to set your hand position while inside the tire--not exactly the same as lining up your hands on the barbell.  There are a dozen other variations of exercises that can be done with an old tire, so if you have one lying around don't get rid of it!!!  Throw it in the back of the truck and go have some fun.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Anywherefit Ireland Recap: Day 2

Day 2 of AWF Ireland was when our training really kicked up a notch.  We met at CF Tipperary just after breakfast on Saturday with a full slate planned:

1 mile run (Irish miles, which turn out to be closer to 2 or 3 miles for every 1 American mile)
5 rounds of calisthenics:
5 pullups
10 pushups
15 situps
20 squats

Handstand hold technique

Deadlift 5 x 5
Floor Press 5 x 5

Glute Ham Raise 3 x 10
Strict toe to bar 3 x 10
Ring Row 3 x 10

The goal of this session was to practice some things that people don’t typically get to practice (handstands, floor press) and challenge the body with some heavy stressors (deadlift, glute ham raise).  We opted out of conditioning because I wanted to save everyone’s lungs for our beach WOD later in the day. 

Overall I was pleasantly surprised with everyone’s aptitude on the handstand holds.  The groups from Cork and Tipperary both showed impressive body awareness and responded well to the small corrections made to positioning.  We practiced drills from the wall first, encouraging everyone to keep only their toes in contact with the wall while reaching for the ceiling.  Then we moved away from the wall and used partner’s arms to form a front and back wall for the athletes to balance between.  People were really starting to feel the way their hands could control the entire body after this. 

The deadlifts and floor press are always crowd pleasers.  Who doesn’t like to lift the heaviest things possible, right?  Even with everyone’s glutes ripped up from the walking lunges the night before, we saw multiple guys pulling 190 kg for sets of 4-5.  And again, impressive technique and attention to form was shown by all.

After a quick break for lunch, we hopped in the cars and took a 45 minute drive out to Ardmore Beach on the western coast.  This is a very popular spot when the weather is nice, which it definitely was during my visit.  In fact, just about every local I talked with made sure to tell me just how lucky I was to be in the presence of such sunshine.  Call it California karma. 

The coolest part about this beach is that you can drive the cars straight onto the sand.  So we plodded the CFT van down near the water and marked off 400 meters along the beach.  At one end we left the van and the pullups rig, and at the other we set up barbells with 115# and 75#.  Halfway between we set up 24 kg and 16 kg kettlebells.  We then split up into teams and did the following workout for time:

200 pullups
200 meter buddy carry
200 kettlebell swings
200 meter buddy carry
100 squat clean thrusters
200 meter buddy carry
200 kettlebell swings
200 meter buddy carry
200 pullups

We also had to overhead carry all of our weights back with us on the return trip.  Because some teams had 4 and others had more, we made a rule that anyone not carrying a weight or a person had to be bear crawling.  What an awesome workout this turned out to be.  Beautiful scenery, beautiful weather, teamwork… it was everything you want from fitness all rolled into one.  The only thing that could’ve gone better was if my team had won the WOD.  As it turned out, we were about a minute off the pace.  But that didn’t stop us from leading the charge into the Irish Sea when everyone else had completed their turns.  Nothing like a nice ice bath to help the legs recover!!  And boy was it icy. 
Drying off and warming up didn’t take us long, so we decided to stick around Ardmore for a cup of coffee at a local bakery.  Colin secured us free reign over the place’s back garden, so we couldn’t have been more comfortable.  Just 20+ crossfitters chillin’ out back sippin’ tea and coffee.  No big deal.  This was a great opportunity for those of us who hadn’t spoken much yet to get to know each other better.  We talked about programming quite a bit, but also the growth of fitness in general throughout the world and in Ireland.  It’s no surprise that the patterns I saw in the States are starting to form over here as well.  It’s only a matter of time until it’s everywhere.
After heading home and getting cleaned up, we all took to the town for a wonderful meal.  Again, with Colin’s knowledge as our guide we struck upon an awesome restaurant with a quintessential Irish Pub attached to it.  Naturally, this was the opportunity for me to taste my first official Irish-born Guiness draught.  If I’m honest, it tasted more or less the same as the ones I’ve had back home.  But I still had to do it.  The food was great as well, with people ordering everything from crab cakes to fish and chips, sirloin to roasted duck.  I had no complaints with anything pertaining to food the entire weekend, the fare was phenomenal. 

With one last day remaining, and it including a mountain assent, everyone decided to turn in early.  I was pretty wrecked myself, so I was happy to save the carousing for another time.  The plan for Day 3 was to hit the ancient monastery just after breakfast, then swoop lunch on the way to the mountain for the afternoon. 

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.