The Wave One Project (#7): Pep Talk

I lost 14 pounds in August. I woke up a month ago at 196. I woke up today at 182. I have Shelley aka “The Chef” to thank.

A month ago, she was already 40 days into a diet for some medical reasons it’s up to her to share. Anyway, I was watching her suffer while slurping some brews and she said, “Hey, I’m going to do a program called “Whole 30.” Why don’t you do it with me?” I said, “Sure, why not?” (Note: Don’t decide to give up beer because you are feeling good from drinking beer.)

No dairy. No grains. No added sugar. No booze. Interestingly, the only thing that really bothers me is the lack of cocktails. And I think the heavy lifting on the weight loss is getting rid of that and the sugar. I’ve been running my ass off (literally) so that helps, too.

The green apple.

It was a stated goal of mine to lose weight this year for Grandma’s Marathon and American Birkebeiner ski marathon reasons. But the underlying reason is that I have bad cholesterol numbers. And some labs prior to my June hand surgery showed I was basically pre-diabetic also. So, when The Chef gave me a pathway, I took it. Uncharacteristic for me to “do” instead of “talk.”

So, it worked. Kind of. My goal is to be BMI normal. That means 174 for my height. I know that if I get there, based on past information, my cholesterol and other blood numbers should be good. Not just because of the weight but because of the better diet that gets me to that weight. So, this post is a pep-talk to myself. I’ve been right here near 185 before. On the line between Fat Shmo and Skinny Shmo. In the past, I collapsed, and got large again. I’m going to avoid that this time. After a momentary celebration (yes, I’m going to empty the cabin fridge of beer into my face over Labor Day), I plan on continuing with this Whole 30 model until I hit my goal weight.

Also, if I hit my goal weight, I will allow myself to shave my beard off. Not saying I will, but I will allow myself the option.

So, you can do it, Shmo. Hitting the goal weight will make me faster, healthier, and will allow me to remove the pelt from my face.

I was cruising along at an unhealthy weight. And felt fine. That’s the problem. I wish I felt “bad” at an unhealthy weight. It reminded me of a flying analogy. I haven’t flown an airplane since March, so maybe I’m missing that, too.

In my previous life, you got gas airborne from a tanker. There are pilot director lights, which show you whether to go up or down, forward or aft, once you’re connected. Your wingmen can see how you’re doing from their observation positions on the tanker’s wing by looking at the “green apple.” The circle should be right at the point where the boom extends out of the shroud. Some guys I knew liked to cruise along with one “up” arrow lit. They didn’t want to be near the tanker, so hovered low in the envelope.

I’m a simple guy. I just fought like hell to keep myself on the “captain’s bars” in the center of the director lights. That way, my wingmen could see that I was right on the “green apple” the whole time. And by being centered, I could more easily absorb turbulence or a turn by the tanker. I had the most margin for error around me in the envelope. I was more resilient and able to avoid the ultimate shame: falling off the boom. If you did that, you bought everybody in the flight a drink at the bar.

It’s funny how I fought like hell to be on the green apple in my previous life. But when it comes to my physical health, I was perfectly happy to remain 25 pounds overweight. The equivalent of a red down arrow if I was on the boom. One small bit of turbulence away from disaster.

So, thanks to The Chef for getting me going the right direction. I’ll get to the goal, dammit. Who knows what turbulence is coming for us these days. And I want to be ready.

And, at “2 seconds per pound per mile” I should be able to run 40″ per mile faster.

(Narrator voice: He means to say “jog.”)

I’m headed out for a week on the Border Route Trail next week. Two years ago, I lost 8 pounds in 5 days on the Kekekabic Trail. So, walking through the woods should help me get small, too.

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The Wave One Project (#6): Fat Guy in a Little Coat

Disclaimer: I’m not a scientist or a statistician, but I did drink a lot of gin while writing this. Pop a Dramamine, because nausea is a side effect of reading precisely how mediocre I am.

Disclaimer to Disclaimer: Are there more important things happening right now? Yes. Am I going to ignore that right now? Also yes.

 

So, I was pondering how much scarier fast zombies are than slow ones this morning. I mean, A slow zombie? No problem. But fast zombies? I still remember the first time I saw “28 Days Later” in 2002 with the sprinting zombies. Yikes.

Right then, my phone vibrated and, speaking of sprinting, told me that Grandma’s Marathon has been canceled. Damn. My daughter signed up for the half this year and I was going to run my 14th edition of the marathon. They’re going to hold a “virtual event” so you can still get the all-important T-shirt. I have a T-shirt hoarding problem. But Marie Kondo better keep her damn hands off my T-shirts. I will address this problem in my own sweet time. *looks lovingly at 1983 New England High School Cross Country Championships shirt*

But this begs the question: Do I enjoy running? Do I actually like xc skiing? Or do I only like them because of my annual events? My Grandma’s Marathon? My American Birkebeiner ski marathon? (Don’t even think about whether they’ll cancel next year’s Birkie. *dry heaves*) Of course, I like to run and ski, even without a race. But the Grandma’s cancellation leaves a big gap in my head. For decades now, one of these two events is out there about six months in the future, waiting.

But you know what doesn’t suck? My annual look back at my year in fitness. So, strap in for an episode I call: Fat Guy In A Little Coat. Wherein, I try to answer this question: How does a chubby guy in his 6th decade run his 3rd fastest Grandma’s Marathon and ski his 3rd fastest American Birkebeiner in the same year?

2020 Birkie

Fat Guy in a Lycra Suit

 

Grandma’s Marathon

How did I run my 3rd fastest Grandma’s Marathon? This is an easier question to answer than the one about skiing. There’s a pretty direct correlation between my running volume and my fastest marathons. So, my fastest race was 2002, followed by 2013. This year I ran 498 miles between January 1st and June 15th. This ties for second in running mileage. My three highest volume years are my three fastest.

Grandma's Thru 2019

Grandma’s Marathon: Fastest marathon year to the left

Within the cohort of my 4 biggest volume years, there’s a direct correlation between my weight and finish times. As long as I ran near 500 miles to prep, my weight (from fastest to slowest) was 171, 172, 176, and 180. My BMI trips from overweight to normal at 174 for my height. Of 13 editions of the marathon, I’ve been overweight all but 3 times. In 2003, I weighed 172, but weight isn’t everything, as I ran well under 400 miles to prep and that was my 6th fastest.

Two more things stick out for my top 3 marathons. The volume of intervals I did is higher for the faster ones. Also, faster marathons had more races in the leadup to the marathon. You have to train fast if you want to race fast. One thing stuck out on these two topics this year: hills. A lot of intervals this year were done on hills. And I didn’t bury myself and make my eyes bleed. I just ran them, I didn’t go out and hammer them. I don’t want to say I enjoyed them. But just running repeated hills was a lot easier than flogging myself through Yasso 800’s for four months. The racing I did included a mad event called Last Runner Standing that Andy and Kim Holak put on at Spirit Mountain. One 4.2 mile lap starts at the top of the hour every hour and you go until you can’t start a new lap. 660 feet of climbing per lap. I managed six laps before I quit for 4000’ of climbing.  This was just two weeks before Grandma’s. I worried that was stupid at the time, but now, it seems like a good thing. I just ran up hills. My headspace was pretty relaxed all spring, and look what happened.

So, I ran within 6 minutes of my fastest almost 17 years later. So, the lessons learned (again) seem to be, in order of importance:

  • Run a lot. Like 500 miles worth.
  • Lose weight. Normal BMI is skinny for me.
  • Run Hills. Seems to pay off and wasn’t so mentally draining.
  • Run Fast. This means races and intervals that aren’t hills.

Yeah, Grandma’s is canceled. But this is still a path to summer fitness.

 

American Birkebeiner

Skiing isn’t as simple as running. Did you ever notice there aren’t world records in skiing? There’s no 50k world record because there are too many variables. There’s fitness, wax, skis, and technique all in the mix. It’s complex, but I still want to figure out how I had my 3rd best Birkie this year. I measure that by using “percent back.” This is a measurement of how fast I went compared to the winner. On pure time, this was actually my second fastest year of 16 tries. But percent back allows a year-to-year comparison regardless of fast or slow conditions. Percent back is also how you get your wave assignments. You wave is determined by your best result in the previous three years. This year I had to have a good race to keep my Wave 3 start because my fastest previous result was three years old. I damn near made it back into Wave 2 this year (58.5%) but at least I salvaged my Wave 3 with a 61%.

(BREAKING NEWS: I did NOT salvage my wave. Just after I wrote the above, the Birkie released the Wave Seeding Chart for 2021. My 2020 race result puts me into Wave 4. This Year of the Rat really sucks. They must still be trying to shrink the waves because of the new start venue. Previous year Wave 3 was 58.5% to 71.5%. Now, that entire band falls outside of Wave 3 seeding (46.5% to 57.5%). That’s a dramatic change. Stings to ski my third best race and go back a wave.)

How is a fast (for me) Birkie possible when I was as fat as I get? I put on 15+ pounds after Grandma’s and became a superhero I like to call “Maximum Shmo.” I raced at 192 pounds. Maximum Shmo doesn’t work in the running world, but somehow gets away with it on skis. “Fat Guy in a Lycra Suit” shouldn’t work.

Screen Shot 2020-04-02 at 6.25.42 PM

American Birkebeiner: Fastest skiing year to the left

The biggest thing that sticks out is I skate skied more hours prior to the race than I ever have before. Well, in 2017, I skied 51.5 hours vs. 47.9 hours this year, but naturally that was the year they canceled the Birkie. So, this year was the most ever. Strange, since Yellowstone was problematic having low snow levels and taking a shuttle up to the Plateau for a once-a-day ski. I was also out sick on my couch in January with no skiing for two weeks. I did have a lot of time off in December and January, so that helped. It just didn’t feel like a lot at the time. Maybe I do like to ski. (My 4 highest volume years are all in the top half of the 16 years I’ve raced.)

Another outlier was that I didn’t do a single interval during all those miles. Not one. Just skied. Like the Dumb Runner satire on the internet: Old Guy’s Marathon Training Plan Just a Bunch of Running.  

Two other things that are remarkable. The Birkie Trail itself was the best I’d ever seen. Hard and fast. But we all had the same conditions, hence the percent back measurement. Also, I had new skis for the first time since 2004. I skied every race from 2004 to 2019 on the same pair of Fischer Skatecuts. I have new Fischers this year, but a new pair of skis doesn’t mean they’ll be better. So, good trail and new skis were unusual, but probably not significant. My skis have always run well and this year was no exception. Probably thanks to Mr. Fluoro wax, not because they were new. It’ll be interesting to see how the new rules against pure fluoro will change how my skis run. This year, my skis got faster and faster all the way to the end.

Rollerskiing isn’t a magic bullet. But I added skate volume and rollerski volume together and it’s pretty dramatic that the overall volume for my best Birkies is a lot higher than for my slower Birkies.

Another new thing was that I took the DXC Birkie Bus to the race for the first time. I slept all the way there. And once at the race, had a warm spot to wait. Really short walk from our parking spot to the crappers. Didn’t even need to do the bag drop thing. Left my gear on the bus and got it after the race. Bus was a nice place to put on dry clothes after the race, too. I’ve never really thought that the night of sleep before a race really matters. The several days prior, sure. But the night before, you get what you get. Lowering my expectations for the race night sleep helps me ignore jitters if I don’t sleep well. I’ll do the bus again. Mostly because it was fun and convenient and took another car off the road. But I doubt the napping helped my performance significantly.

Here’s where hills come in again. Because we had a decent snow year, I went to my favorite trail a lot: Magney. Magney is hilly. I skied more at Magney than I have in several years. It’s hard for me to search my training log for names, so I can’t really quantify it. And I can’t really quantify elevation easily. But I’ll say this: the Birkie hills felt smaller to me this year than they ever have. I didn’t say easy. I just felt like I got over them easier. Good skis, good trail, but still, they felt easier. I credit Magney and the hills. I read somewhere once that it took 100 V1 strokes to climb Bitch Hill at the Birkie. One year, I counted, and it was 100. This year, I did it in 70. Not science, but at least it’s something. For the record, it takes me about 140 paddles to climb out of the hole after Elys Peak at Magney. So, thanks Magney and to the City of Duluth for the good grooming out there.

As an aside, during the winter, I tried to quantify how “hilly” each of our trails were. Here’s what I came up with from my fitness trackers. I have a little issue with the Birkie Trail’s numbers. My Garmin says one thing and that’s a lot less than the Birkie Trail advertises on their website. I’m curious what everybody else gets for total elevation on their fitness trackers. (My numbers aren’t perfect, skiing different loops, etc. but it’s a rough take in a “meters of elevation gain per k” measurement) (Another caveat: sometimes my Garmin and Strava don’t match, even though they both come from Garmin)

Boulder (11k of skate trails)                                                        6 meters/k

Snowflake (all 13.1k)                                                                  14

Lester (all, including playground)                                           18

Magney (3 laps + Skyline lot up/back)                                    21

Grand Avenue     (2.3k loop)                                                      22

Birkie (Garmin) 947m                                                                 19

Birkie (what they advertise) 1398m                                         28

If I believe my Garmin, and I’m not sure I do, than Magney could be hillier per k than the Birkie (21 vs. 19). But not if I go with the advertised Birkie elevation gain (21 vs. 28). Magney and Grand Avenue are as steep as it gets in Duluth, if you’re trying to get vertical in prep for the Birkie.

So why can’t I break into the top 2? Well, part of it might be that my fastest races were both over 15 years ago (2005 and 2003). But I’m encouraged by the fact that my motor stays pretty much the same through the passing years. Mediocre, but consistent, at least. I’m not giving in to Father Time yet. Two things stick out from those fast years. I did a notable amount of strength training sessions, even though I didn’t ski near as much as I have lately. And, I was Skinny Shmo on the two fastest years (under 180) vs Maximum Shmo (over 190). Strangely, it seems there’s no middle ground. (I only count one race in the 180-190 range.) My slowest 8 of 16 Birkies, I was Maximum Shmo. Maximum Shmo only makes it into the top 8 races 3 times. It’s more important for my overall health to note that I have an insulating blanket of winter fat 11 of the 16 races. I’m only Skinny Shmo 5 times. And none of those were down to BMI of normal. So, I’m always overweight at the Birkie.

Other things that are notable in my two fastest years were ski races prior and intervals. So, just do all the things! Simple. Here are the Lessons Learned for skiing based on a surprising good year.

  • Ski A Lot. Greater than 40 hours of skate skiing prior to the race.
  • Lose weight. I’ve never been BMI normal for Birkie. Always overweight.
  • Ski hills. Grand Ave and Magney. One manmade, one natural. That’s handy.
  • Do more weight training. It’s a strength/power sport. And good for old people.
  • Ski fast. Race a lot and do intervals. I avoid it because it hurts. Wimp.

 

Summary

The good news is that my Lessons Learned going into this year for the two big events (well, no Grandma’s) are pretty similar.

Birkie

  • Ski a lot.
  • Lose weight.
  • Ski hills.
  • Do more weight training.
  • Ski fast.

Grandma’s

  • Run a lot.
  • Lose weight.
  • Run hills.
  • Run fast.

Also, let’s take a step back to look at the whole 2019 calendar year and whole ski season. For a calendar year, it’s pretty easy to compare using my database. This was my third biggest year of volume of training (hours) all the way back to 1983 when my records started: 267.6 hours. Biggest year was 2016 (313.1 hours) when I hired a coach to help me train for the 2017 Birkie. So, obviously that Birkie was canceled. #2 was 2015 at 303 hours. Pretty sad that only two years since 1983 have been above 300 hours. Good junior skiers are doing twice that much. Pros do three times as much. Day job is getting in the way of my hobbies. It’s good to have a bronze finish for volume for the year, since I slumped for a couple years in 2017 and 2018. I track my weight every day. These two slump years correlate to two years of gaining weight. I need to keep my weight down. So, it’s good that training a lot and losing weight are my number one and two lessons going forward. The two lessons complement each other.

IMG_5306

2019 Overall Training Volume stopped the 2-year slump

Ski seasons are harder to assess because they cross over calendar years. But the 2019-2020 ski season was good. (I crunched the numbers and was within 5k of the record, so I went out and skied one last time at Snowflake today.) I skied 806.8k for the year in 2019-20. The most I’ve ever skied. So it wasn’t just good. It was the best. My second earliest Duluth First Tracks were this year (November 15th on the manmade at Grand Avenue) and finished out as an April Fool today. That’s 5 calendar months of skiing. I live in the right place.

img_0552

If you’ve read this far, I have two things for you. First, you are a sick twisted person. Second, I hope you stay healthy and take this time to think about what essential means for you. For me, among other things, essential means having public open space to recreate in the outdoors. Fitness and sanity are out there. That’s vital, even without training for a race. I used to think old timers were full of crap when they’d say they didn’t care about results. They were just happy they could keep running and skiing. Now I realize they were on to something. Does that make me an old timer? Don’t answer that.

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Charlie is Antiviral

Washing the dishes with the best seats in the house.

“This is how we’re going to get through it. Looking after our neighbors. I guess we’re all neighbors now.”

– Charlie Parr (March 25, 2020)

 

I was on my computer when the governor started his press conference today. He said there are 243 ICU beds in the whole state. The population of Minnesota is 5.6 million people. 243 beds. I thought about the hospital scenes in Italy. A priest died after he sacrificed his respirator so a younger person could have it. Thousands are dying around the world. More will die.

I freaked out a little and went for a run. I ran up past Holy Rosary through the snow. Up to Bagley to the little platform overlooking the city at the high point. A ghost town. People crossing the street so they don’t have to pass each other on the sidewalk.

We’ve had some troubles this year. Some health stuff. A death in the family. But, it can always be worse. I know people with Parkinson’s. Multiple sclerosis. People who had a child die of cancer. Our issues have been routine in comparison. I’m 52, but I just learned something this last year. I knew it in my head, but I finally knew it down in my plums: Every single person you meet has troubles. Burdens you can’t imagine carrying. You’d think I’d have learned that by now, but hey, better late than never.

Then this virus hit.

I got back home from my run in the deserted streets. It was eerie. At one point, I ran down the middle of the road past UMD. No people. No cars. Outside with fresh air, sure, but I felt unhinged.

As my little family unit sat around the table for supper, I remembered that Charlie Parr was doing a livestream concert, safely alone, broadcast from Duluth Cider. Anybody who knows me, knows I’m Charlie’s biggest fan. (You’re a bigger fan? I will fight you.) We hooked up my wife’s phone to a Bluetooth speaker. We started to eat right as he started “Heavy” which is my favorite song from his latest album. Maybe because I just learned how to feel empathy about burdens.

I know it’s heavy, she said
But you gotta go
And take it with you
Down the road

and then

The future ain’t tomorrow
It’s happening now
Listen to the changes
Feel it in your power
And I know it’s heavy
But I gotta go
And take it with me
On my way home
 

Heavy
But you gotta go
It’s heavy
Just bring it home

Something in me broke. I’m not sure why. I’m untouched by trouble. Maybe it was the drumbeat of bad news. 243 beds. Empty streets. My kids doing classes online. Standing six feet away from people. People losing their jobs. People struggling to breathe. People dying. This shit is fucked up.

I know it’s heavy, she said. But you gotta take it with you. We all do.

We kept eating and kept listening. Charlie didn’t get any real time feedback in an empty venue. But trust me, Charlie: You done good. Someone on Twitter said it was the concert of the year. Yes, maybe of a lifetime. From that silent, livestreamed, empty cider hall. For people that needed to feel togetherness. At one point, the screen said 2300 people were watching the performance.

All four of us washed the dishes while Leo the dog hoped we’d drop something and Charlie sang “Temperance River Blues.” It’s a little love letter to Duluth and the North Shore. I’ve even learned to play a crappy version on my own guitar. The chorus tonight made me realize something. I don’t want us to feel togetherness out of fear. I want us to feel togetherness out of love.

Duluth is lost in a mist

that escapes from underneath the streets

and hides faces and doorways

and makes the lake seem loud

the waves roll and crash and retreat

 

My home is where my love abides

My home is where my love abides

My home is where my love abides

My home

He closed the concert with a song called “Jaybird.” Then he packed up and said goodnight. He joked that maybe he should do everything on YouTube. “I could be a YouTuber,” he said. “I could make ‘content.’ I could go viral. No, wait that’d be bad. I want to be antiviral content.” The socially-distanced person at the back of the room made a one-man call for an encore. Charlie balked under the circumstances. I knew why he was nervous.

I’ve seen Charlie Parr in concert dozens of times. He often ends with an a capella version of “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down.” I’ll never forget the first time I saw him stomping his foot and hollering that song. It was the ballsiest thing I’d ever seen. Well, he belted it out tonight, unsure if it would work. I wasn’t sure either. By himself in an empty hall. Topic maybe too close to the bone.

There ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down
There ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down
When I hear that trumpet sound
I’m going to rise right out of the ground
Ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down.

Charlie Parr first destroyed me, then made me proud to live here, and, at the end, built me a spine. I’d say the last song worked.

 

 

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