Gunflint Lake, February 2011.
I’m one month into my 50th year on this rock. I’m one month into training to move from Wave Two to Wave One in the American Birkebeiner 50k cross-country ski race. I’m calling it The Wave One Project. I guess I just named my mid-life crisis. Mid-life? I sure hope I don’t live to be a hundred. It’s not a pretty picture. Drooling into a cup at the cabin. Yeesh.
If you don’t like thinking out loud, go back to looking at kitten videos.
My annual 2016 ski race from Cable to Hayward went well. I skied myself (barely) into Wave Two for the first time since 2005. I’ve examined how that happened elsewhere. I identified some holes in the training plan. Namely, being too heavy, lack of intervals, and lack of strength training. I hired Jason Kask at Superior Performance to make me a training plan. I started it on June 1st. It’s nice to have a long-term strength and interval plan, along with all the expected volume from biking, running, roller skiing, and skiing.
I’m going to write about this mighty quest. Today, the question is why? Why do I want to make it into Wave One?
There are three reasons:
1) To improve my health.
2) To be an example.
Let’s talk about health. My family has a history of heart disease and high cholesterol. My pop is in his 70’s and rides his bike five thousand miles per year, runs a chainsaw for six hours at a time, splits his own firewood by hand (several full cords a year) and cross-country skis. He’s a fit son of a bitch, but if he doesn’t take cholesterol meds, his cholesterol is through the roof. I’ve got those genes.
In 2009, at the high point of my military career, I was at the high point of stress. I was at the high point for weight also. I once saw 209 on the scales. I was at the low point in volume for aerobic training that year, too. My cholesterol was sky high. My flight doc, Eva, scolded me (properly) and told me to lose weight or she was going to put me on cholesterol medication. I said please don’t do that; give me a year to drop weight. Naturally, I did nothing. A year later, true to her word, she put me on cholesterol medication to get my numbers down. The medications worked. But I looked in the mirror in 2010 and realized I was a fat guy who couldn’t control himself. So far gone that I had to take drugs to balance my sloth. I became the thing that I openly mocked. My powers of self-delusion are powerful.
Around that time, The Chef was having horrible heartburn. So bad it would wake her up. The doctor’s were suggesting surgery and other invasive solutions. She took matters into her own hands, like she does, and found a book called Clean. This doctor’s theory is that your gut is under assault in modern society. He has a program that resets your gut in one month. It involves removing caffeine, wheat, and other routine things from your diet. Eventually, you have a smoothie-type drink in the morning and another in the evening. One solid meal in the middle of the day. All of this to re-boot your gut. After that month, her heartburn turned off like a switch and never came back.
I did the program along with her as moral support. The program is not designed to be a weight-loss effort. But that’s what happened to me. I lost 15 pounds in a month. I kept working on it and got back down to around 175. That was a full 30 pounds down from the high number I saw before. “Normal” BMI for a guy my height is 175. I felt great. Eva let me off my meds to prove my numbers were down without meds. They were. I stayed small for three years or so. I keep meticulous records of every workout (for 30+ years now) and write down my weight every time I step on the scale. The graph shows the average of an entire year of those measurements. You can see my 2011 success. 2013 was the year I tried to PR in Grandma’s Marathon. (Being lighter makes you faster. It’s science. Physics, really. But overall health is my primary concern with less weight on the chassis as a performance side effect.)
You can also see that my weight has ballooned back up to previous levels. I haven’t been tested, but it’s a sure thing that my cholesterol numbers are bad. That’s not acceptable. I’d like to be around long enough that my kids have to wipe that drool off my face in the manner to which I’ve become accustomed.
Next, let’s cover my desire to be an example. In my (now finished) military life, I used to think about this quote by Erwin Rommel:
“Be an example to your men, in your duty and in private life. Never spare yourself, and let the troops see that you don’t, in your endurance of fatigue and privation. Always be tactful and well mannered and teach your subordinates to do the same. Avoid excessive sharpness or harshness of voice, which usually indicates the man who has shortcomings of his own to hide.”
I tried to be an example. I miserably failed at the last two sentences, since the list of my shortcomings is quite long. Nevertheless, I tried to walk the walk. But I seem to have forgotten that at home. I’ve become complacent as the chart of my weight shows.
I talk to my kids a lot about how life is like planning for a mission in the Viper. You work from the target backwards. You determine the target. When you’re going to hit it. What the weather is going to be like. Where are the enemy missile sites and AAA batteries? Then you work backwards in time to the Initial Point about 15 miles before the target. Then back to where you’re going to cross into enemy territory. Where will you hold before you push across that border? Back to when you hit the tanker for pre-push gas. Back to when you’ll takeoff, when you’ll start engines, when you’ll walk out to the airplane, when you’ll brief the mission, and all the way back to when you’ll wake up. Back to how you’ll train for that mission months, even years, before.
Fat guy in a little coat.
Any athlete or musician knows this process. For me it was a target. For an athlete, you work backward from the race or competition. For a musician, you work backward from the recital or the gig. The principles are the same. But for some reason, I’ve let myself off the hook. Sure, I’m plenty active. But I’ve let myself go. Physically, sure. But probably more importantly, mentally. I’ve lost focus. Commitment. Discipline. Desire. They’ve all been missing. Essentially, I’ve been exhorting my children to perform while I’m sitting in a folding chair, wearing a wife-beater t-shirt with Cheetos stains on it and cracking open another beer. Once again, turning into what I mock. “Do what I say, not what I do.” Pretty much the opposite of being an example. Time to turn that around and show the kids I know how to mission plan.
Sad proof I was in Wave 4 once.
Lastly, the sin of pride. I know how to ski. I’m pretty sure, at least. In 1985 I was the NH state champ, for Pete’s sake. But what have you done for me lately, Shmo? Sometimes the people around me at the Birkie just can’t ski. Just awful technique. I think this as they pass me, kicking my ass. I mentioned self-delusion, right?
When the Birch Scroll comes with all the Birkie results in it, I look at the age group podiums. I always make a little joke that I could win the women’s age 60-64 or the Men’s 75-79. Rubbing some salt in my own wounds. But the point is that those age-group winners are maximizing their potential. I would like to ski to my potential. I know I can ski faster. Sure, I’ve got gray hair, but plenty of aerobic mutants do. There are plenty of them in this town and they’re wicked fast. Last year, a trio of those guys passed me out by Ely’s Peak at Magney. I joked with them that I’d hang on for a mile or two. I lasted for two hundred meters. Pride, baby. I’ve still got some and I’m tired of it getting crushed.
So, I want to: get healthier, be a better example to my kids, and hold my chin up a little higher. There’s the “why.” I’ll cover the how another time.