Monthly Archives: December 2014

The De-Vealing Process Begins

Holy fuck, I have to prepare for a half-marathon.

That’s the most disturbing of the thinks that I’ve thought since returning home from the Christmas holiday. I’m thrilled to be returning to something resembling normal life, but there’s also some terror as I realize that, if one of my goals for the year is to do a Spartan Beast, there’s a whole lot of doing that that entails.

The running, as I’ve noted, is the most intimidating bit of that. A Beast is 12+miles—essentially a half marathon. Now, I know that’s not actually going to be impossible—I worked my way up to a 10K in one training run this year—but it is also a bit mind-flobbling. When I started running last year, my goal was nothing more than a 5K—just enough to survive the shorter OCRs. I was even hostile to the idea of running lengthier distances.

The idea of a lengthy run is particularly bad right now, feeling as bloated and enormous as I currently do. Visiting my parents is an experience that is just a hair’s breadth short of force-feeding: There’s no feeding tube, but my mother’s pestering and emotional blackmail makes it very difficult to not eat literally every second while you’re there. Like, she’ll call out to you when you’re sitting on the toilet to make sure that you don’t need a few cookies to help you push. Someday, when I’m feeling far too sane, I’ll try to figure out the logic behind her reasoning. There’s no way it’s normal. I feel like veal, and that isn’t the way things should be.

Fortunately, I don’t yet need to worry about running yet—my plan is to start running training in earnest in March or so, as weather permits.

Up ’til then, it’s time to rebuild my fitness level. Although really, that’s being overly dramatic. Even though I feel kind of lousy, I’m pretty sure things aren’t really that bad. In fact, my first true workout since the trip (yesterday) went nearly well. It was an hour-long class, and I felt okay through about 45 minutes of it. (I was fully expecting to be spewing by the end of warm-ups.) It’s kind of an indicator that I tend to think things are a fair bit worse than they usually are.

I’ll be finalizing both some goals for the year and some monthly goals in the near future, but I know one of my January goals already. It will be pull-ups: I became able to do pull-ups for the first time early this year, and by the end of January I’m going to do five consecutive. I worked my way up to three this year, and yesterday I was able to match it. Hopefully with some regular training and a bit of weight down, five will be feasible.

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Nephew Counting

Well, I survived Christmas.

The best part was seeing my nephew. He’s 19 months old, and a big part of my fitness motivation. Basically, I don’t want him to know his fat uncle. Moreover, I’d like him to have a close relative (outside his mom and dad, who are cool) who doesn’t constantly model bad and often reprehensible behaviors.

Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot poster

Does this turn you on? If you’re my parents, the answer is “yes.” (Image via Wikipedia).

The second-best part was playing golf, and I like golf less than I enjoyed Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. It was on a plane, before smartphones, so I was a relatively captive audience, although my parents found a way out. At some point I got nudged in the ribs, and when I looked over, I found that they were distracting themselves by making out. Spending time with my brother (who does enjoy golfing) was good, although I wouldn’t have minded less to no of the golf bit.

But back to the nephew. At 19 months, his talking is developing rapidly. His vocabulary is a lot better than even at Thanksgiving. And he can even count… sort of. See, in his world, the numbers go 3, 4, 7, 8.

The wisdom of babes!

From here on out, I’m going to use my nephew’s counting scheme to count burpees.

I’m absolutely positive the trainers who teach the classes at my gym will see that my nephew’s numbers are far greater than their own and accept it.

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Running and Me

I don’t think I like running.

I like that I’m able to run, and I accept that it’s kind of a significant component of the obstacle course races that I’ve started to do and want to do more of in the future, and I even do it regularly enough (see below for caveats) that it would qualify as a hobby, but I don’t really enjoy it.

At its best, it’s a good diversion in a lovely setting. From where I live, both obvious running tracks are along the Lake Michigan lakefront, so on summer days when the temperature is pleasant rather than stifling, it’s lovely. Additionally, I work at home, so it can be a desperately needed way to not sit in front of a computer for a little while.

At worst, it can be frustrating and painful and not interesting. In fact, a few years ago it would have been completely impossible. I was heavy enough that walking often hurt (although that was solved by the time I started training running).

A couple of apps really helped me. At first, I used Active’s Couch to 5K. I’d say it was a good starter program. The initial runs were pretty light—1 minute of running, 90 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times, with 5 minutes of walking to warm up and cool down. For me, at least, that was a good starting point. It also has several “coaches” – character voices that tell you when to run and when to walk, and that shout encouragement (or threats). My favorite was the zombie. I’m not particularly obsessed with zombies in entertainment, but its threats to eat me were always amusing.

The difficulty does kind of ramp up surprisingly at week 4 or 5. In most weeks, you’ll add a couple of minutes to your running time (with a corresponding reduction in walking time), but there’s one week where I think the running time and the lengths of the individual running intervals almost double. I’m not sure if that’s scientifically sound training strategy or just a bug; I survived, and it did prove to be a big psychological hurdle once it was cleared.

The app isn’t all that interesting once you’ve gone through it, so this year I switched over to Zombies, Run!, which I’m thrilled with. (I really don’t watch other zombie movies or TV shows or read zombie books, I swear!)

Zombies, Run! is ostensibly a game, although I consider it more of an audiobook that the listener is a character in. Namely, Runner 5, a silent individual who has made his or her way to Abel Township after the zombie apocalypse and who now performs a variety of running-based missions in order to justify his or her continued presence.

Each real-life training run is a game mission, and each mission has maybe 9 minutes of content (interspersed with music from the player’s phone, so it totals about 30 minutes—or an hour if you set it to long run mode—with a radio mode that lets you continue running and tracking the run when the mission is complete.

The missions are really engrossing, though. The app does a great job of bringing characters to life and creating the atmosphere of a desperate but hopeful post-apocalyptic society, with dangerous enemies both zombie and human. It’s engrossing, delivering moments of sadness and joy, and more importantly, it earns them.

The “game” elements—collecting supplies that you can use to build a settlement—is almost an afterthought. The settlement itself doesn’t seem to affect anything. The features related to tracking are useful but kind of what you’d expect if you have a rough idea of a smartphone’s capabilities, and I’m certain that other sources can tell you about them better than I can. The audiobook part, however—that’s what makes Zombies, Run! awesome.

I’m not currently thrilled with running, although that has a lot to do with the aforementioned caveat: I am definitely not into running enough to be a winter runner, and I haven’t done any running since the Milwaukee Spartan Race at the beginning of November. I’ve done a couple attempts as workouts this week while visiting my parents, and the rust really shows. This summer, I worked my way up to a 10K; in the past couple days, I couldn’t run more than a few minutes without needing to walk.

I have done a couple of pure running races—both 5Ks, and both in support of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (where I happen to volunteer). The first one, last year, was kind of a preliminary preparation for OCR. I figured if I could manage that, then with a bit more training, I’d be able to manage a 5K OCR. I did, finishing in 28:17. This year I dropped to 26:24. It’s weird to have a time goal—any other running-related goals I have are for distance and are directly related to OCRs, but I do kind of feel like a 25-minute 5K is within the realm of feasibility.

(Yikes, almost 900 words on running. Yes, I’m desperate for some non-family time!)

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Holiday Anxiety

I really hate this time of year.

SOP for the holidays for me is visiting family: My brother’s in-laws at Thanksgiving, and my parents at Christmas.

I should stop doing that second one.

There are a lot of issues involved, which I might delve into at some point, but for now, let’s just say that the relationship continues only because of biology, and that it has strained biology more than Todd Akin.

Anyhow, it always leads to a lot of anxiety, and for me, that typically leads to eating junk. This year it’s been particularly bad. It started probably a week before Thanksgiving and it will end (hopefully) the day after I get home.

I feel massive and bloated and gross and like my athletic performance (such as it is) has collapsed. Workouts, especially for the past couple weeks, have felt extraordinarily tough, even though they’ve been pretty typical in terms of what we’ve been doing. I’m kind of terrified for when I get home and have to make a critical assessment of where I am relative to my goals—those May races will seem a lot closer once the calendar says 2015.

It’s probably too late to do much this year, but for the future, does anyone have any ideas about countering this anxiety-related gorging? Whatever my strategy was this year, it failed miserably, so I’m looking ahead to next year.

(Unless I can somehow bait my mom into an evil and blatantly and provably untrue political rant, and then point out that it’s evil and blatantly and provably untrue, and then she tells me to never speak to her again, and this time I make the correct choice in response to that situation, in which case it all becomes moot.)

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OCR Report: 2014 Miller Park (Milwaukee) Spartan Stadium Sprint

Me doing the Gauntlet at the 2014 Miller Park Spartan SprintThe Miller Park Stadium Sprint (November 1, 2014), happily, was much closer to the experience I was hoping for. Apart from a slight misadventure picking up a rental car to get to the stadium (I was leaving early in the morning, so I rented at O’Hare. O’Hare has what it calls a bus and shuttle center, and I thought that would have the shuttles to the car rental places. It didn’t.), getting there was no problem.

And once I got to the stadium, things were pretty easy. (I may not have parked right, since I was expecting to have to pay and didn’t, but oh well) it was fairly chilly and the stadium’s retractable roof was open, but it wasn’t that bad, and the weather did warm up nicely as the day progressed.

Instead of letting a mass wave go every 15 minutes, the race had 15-minute waves line up, but they only let 15 or so of us go at a time, maybe 30 seconds apart. That seemed to help reduce line-ups on the course. There were only two points where I felt my progress impeded by crowds, and both of them were minor. One was while we were carrying water jugs through the bleachers, which kind of forces a single-track situation. While possible to go up or down a row, there were handrails for the stairs between rows, which created choke points. But like I said, they were minor ones.

The second crowd-related slowdown was at the third and final 8-ft wall, where there were lines of maybe 5 people. (By that point, I wasn’t in sprinting form; I wasn’t complaining about having a bit of a breather.)

There was a nice variety of obstacles, even though many of them were more exercises than objects to negotiate. I’m okay with that; heavy jump ropes with your feet strapped together or medicine ball slams are kind of my idea of a good time. And it’s not like there weren’t plenty of obstacle obstacles as well.

I was a little sad that rowing machines weren’t one of the obstacles. I’d heard that a 500 meter row in 2 minutes is often used and dreaded by many. For me, though, that’s kind of in my wheelhouse. My gym uses rowers often, and they’re probably the thing I do best. I was fully expecting to have sonnets written about my form, and be plucked from my machine and decreed a Spartan Rowing God, sort of how the stories go about how every famous actress in the 50s got discovered in the supermarket. Alas, it was not to be.

There was one obstacle that I just didn’t get. It was a wheel that you were supposed to strap to your feet and wheelbarrow your way across the floor. The Velcro on my straps never held, though—and that was a common problem. Eventually I just kind of dragged the wheel behind me. Some instruction on how it was supposed to attach, or maybe just better equipment, would have been welcome.

Overall, though, the race provided some good information about where I’m weak and strong. I wound up doing three sets of burpees, on the traverse wall, spear throw, and rope climb. I wasn’t able to climb the big wall that gives this blog half of its name unassisted any of the three times it appeared on the course, but I got closer with each attempt, suggesting the issue may be more technique than physical. The Hercules Hoist, on the other hand, was not a problem, and even made me feel zesty. The stair climbs—of which there were a fair amount—were kind of strange. They didn’t seem too bad during the race, but man was I sore after.

It was also a lot of fun.

I’ve seen some online complaints about the race. Some were related to the medals (which did have an embarrassing typo declaring them from the “Sparian Race”) and some about other things. I’m not sure how much of those complaints were people being genuinely put out by something and how much were people trying to feel Important on the Internet. I do know that any issues that I had with the race were minor—nitpicks, really—that do not dampen my enthusiasm for the experience or my excitement for the races I’m planning next year.

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OCR Report: Warrior Dash Illinois 2014

This is going to be a periodic feature here at Fat Boy Big Wall: reports about the OCRs, and maybe other events, that I take part in. I’m going to try to take a somewhat journalistic approach-no unjustified hyperbole or superlatives. On the other hand, I will be sharing my opiniony bits, which are, of course, opiniony bits rather than facts. Hopefully they’ll be useful, or entertaining, or a nice distraction from work.

Me jumping over the fire at Warrior Dash Illinois 2014

Look at me, jumpy-jumpy in my very ill-concieved shoes and shorts.

The Illinois Warrior Dash (June 14, 2014) was my first-ever obstacle course race. That figure has since swelled to two—so keep that in mind.

To give you a sense of my mindset going into it, the Warrior Dash was my focus for about 9 months: I set some goals for it, and I was hoping to use it as a benchmark for how I was doing, fitness-wise. In that respect, it really didn’t succeed.

There were several logistical problems that contributed to that. I don’t know exactly what happened beyond some rumors that I heard when I got there or that I read online afterward, so I don’t know truly know the full story, but what I heard was that there were issues with building some of the obstacles and filling some of the mud pits, which meant that the early heats got delayed, and all of the later heats cascaded as well. I didn’t hear any official announcement about this, which is kind of surprising in retrospect. There was an excellent sound system blasting the generic get-pumped party music that you hear at any race. It would have been nice if the race organizers had used that to provide information as well, although maybe it was provided by a contractor with strict agreements on precisely how it would be used.

There was another system used for race announcements, but it was kind of a joke: it was located at the starting line in the far corner of the field, and you couldn’t hear it at the end of the starting corral. So if it provided useful information, I didn’t hear it.

Once I got onto the course, capacity was a serious problem. Several obstacles had long waits, and one of them was crowded enough that I thought it was a safety concern—it was one where you climb up and over a wooden structure, but there was a pretty big gap between the last support slab and the top. I figured I could probably give myself enough momentum to pull myself over, get my foot safely on the support on the other side, and not kick my neighbor in the face—but only two out of the three. Since two out of three would have left someone on the ground writhing in pain, I wound up climbing down in a safe but annoying manner and skipping the obstacle.

I assume the obstacle capacity issues were worsened by the late start, but there were some other capacity issues that seem really unnecessary. At the start, for example, we were let go in waves of about 500 people, and we ran through a wide-open field… which was closed off with flags so the course was only wide enough for about three people.

The section in the woods was even worse, although perhaps more understandable. It had large sections that were only wide enough for a single person. Unfortunately, it was also slick, wet clay. The result was a long chain of people, no one able to pass but no one able to move beyond a slow crawl without breaking a leg. By the end, many people started simply started ignoring the course and cutting through the woods to bypass this short but lengthy journey.

I didn’t, but I don’t blame them. By that point, the warrior dash was an ordeal but not a challenge. The experience of using trees to support myself as I trudge down and back up a slick hill really didn’t tell me anything about myself, which is the experience that I was looking for.

That’s too bad, because if I can take that expectation out of the equation, I did enjoy the experience: being in a semi-race atmosphere, dealing with obstacles and mud and the out of doors, and the whole eventness of it all. It wasn’t really the challenge I was looking for, though. The obstacles tended to fall into two categories: climbing over things (with some form of support) or crawling under things. At the fitness level I was at, the obstacles weren’t particularly challenging; the real challenges were artificial, crowd-related ones.

I will say that I was pleasantly surprised with their post-race response. They received a lot of complaints—I watched the Facebook page for a few days afterward with that petty, self-righteous glee you get when you feel like someone’s getting a come-uppance. But in an email afterward, the company acknowledged responsibility for the problems, and they didn’t try to deflect criticism by pointing out how the event raised money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which I was expecting. They also offered half off another registration for any of their other events. I’m not planning to take them up on it, but I can accept that things go wrong, and that feels like an appropriate level of response.

Overall, I could see it as a fun social event or a good introduction to the world of obstacle course racing. It wasn’t the experience I was hoping for, but it may be the right one in some circumstances.

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The CuddlDud Onslaught

There is a downside to working out: CuddlDuds.

CuddlDuds ad

This ad, and near variations of it, appear with high frequency in the train stations that my train passes or stops at on the way to the gym. The ad confuses—and I’m embarrassed to say, angers—me. For the first time, I can empathize with how my dad behaves whenever somebody talks about kale, or when he has to listen to parade commentators pretend to be excited about how one of the balloon characters has personally touched their lives, or when somebody suggests that black people shouldn’t be shot by police: there’s nothing in his experience that would let him cope with those ideas, and since he’s perfect his level of experience is right, so those foreign ideas are obviously wrong and the only proper reaction to them is to yell at his family about them.

Okay, maybe I’ve got less empathy for my dad than I claimed.

But the point is: I’m confused. Is everything the model wearing a CuddlDud? Or just the pants? And if it is just the pants, how do you layer them? Do pants layer?

And do women really want to be infantilized by the name of the clothes they wear? Or are the CuddlDuds so comfortable that they won’t care.

And then there’s this bit of the ad, from the lower right corner:

CuddlDuds ad cropped

Wait, CuddlDuds are intimates?!

That confuses me even more. I mean, I barely understand my own intimate apparel. (I wear boxer-briefs, so that does add a level of complexity.) How am I supposed to comprehend these intimate CuddlDuds that are layerable and may or may not be outerwear and also might include a hat? I very rarely wear a hat when I’m in my underwear.

It’s a good thing I enjoy going to the gym, because if I didn’t, I’m not sure how I’d withstand the CuddlDud Onslaught.

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