Getting back to it after Rhabdo
June 22, 2017
Yesterday, Wednesday, 6/21, marked my first full workout after spending 4 days in the hospital from rhabdomyolysis. Doctor’s orders were to ramp up slowly.
I think my doctor and I have a different definition of “slowly.”
30 minute AMRAP
20 cal Assault Bike
15 Russian KBS (Rx as 70#, I went with 53#)
30 double unders (supposed to be consecutive… sure)
rest 1 minute
lather, rinse, repeat
Prob didn’t need that last night since that’s what AMRAP means.
Yes, coming back with a 30 minute AMRAP when it’s over 90deg inside the box is probably not my smartest decision. Then again, it’s not my dumbest decision either, so let’s go with it.
I lost my double unders after 17.5 where they were spectacular! Really, I went unbroken every round. During warmups I was flailing around, jumping backwards, getting no more than 2 dubs together. Our resident jump rope expert (literally – she won 17.5 worldwide) asked if I wanted advice. In truth I didn’t want advice, but it’s also smart not to listen. She told me to hold the handles completely in my hands, look forward and slightly down instead of up, and to synch my wrist speed to my jump. I tried a bit, and was able to get to 10 dubs. It was an improvement but not back to where I was before.
WOD – due to a shortage of bikes, I teamed up with a fellow tall guy and silverback. He started on the double unders. Cranked out the first 20cals in about 45 seconds at 85 RPM. Oops. That was too aggressive.
Just tried to hold a reasonable pace. I also focussed on not getting lapped by my teammate. I noticed that I was doing 20 cal per bike, which would lead to a couple of cals extra as the handle kept moving, he was running his session up to the next 20.
First 3 rounds I sucked at double unders. They were definitely NOT consecutive. By the 4th round I was sufficiently tired to relax a bit and knocked out all 30 consecutively. The rest of my rounds were consecutive as well. That felt really good.
I did slow down markedly. At one point I paused before picking up the kettlebell, and I think I zoned out for an easy 30 seconds before realizing it was NOT my rest minute. For the last round I had about 1:30 left after the bike and went non-stop to finish out the round.
9 full rounds.
There is still a long way to go to get back to my pre-Murph, pre-rhabdo, fitness level. There’s even longer to go to get to the Top-200 in the 2018 Open.
But I’m back.
and with dubs!
Getting Rhabdo from Murph
June 3, 2017
A bunch of folks, in comments and via DM, asked about my symptoms for rhabdo. One dumbass, via DM, pointed out that he didn’t like me bragging about the crossfit syndrome. I ain’t bragging about it. If anything I’m saying, “holy crap, this thing is real and can hit normal folks.”
I’m Joe average crossfitter. That I got hit with rhabdo kinda blows my mind. That’s why I posted about it. Murph is an intense WOD, but it’s not 2x more intense than what I do on a daily basis. Plus it was a decent day for it. On the first run I was actually a bit chilly. (shirt off because …. that’s how old guys roll)
swollen, rigid, extremely painful, biceps (both), for a couple of days, and slightly discolored urine.
Note – those were my symptoms. I’m not a doctor and have no idea if those were “defining” symptoms or could have been easily dismissed, let alone what other symptoms may exist for rhabdo.
and because I’m bored as hell in a hospital room, and I like telling stories…
did Murph on Monday. The push-ups this time were tougher than normal. My biceps were pumped and did not want to loosen up, but it didn’t feel like this was a totally abnormal situation.
On Tuesday I was sore and my arms (both) didn’t want to fully extend. They were hanging at about a 15deg angle from full extension. Both arms were a little painful but I could force them to full extension without screaming. On Wednesday things changed. My biceps were rock solid and hurt like hell. I’m talking pain. By “rock solid” biceps I mean – flex your bicep as hard as you can and feel your bicep, now flex even harder, then hold that for a couple of days involuntarily.
Pain? We all know what muscle soreness is, and this was something else entirely. Arms were bent at about 90deg. I could extend them a bit, not to full extension, but it was agonizing to move them past their comfort zone. I didn’t even try to tie my shoes. Thankfully, I work in tech, so nobody cares about a 50yo guy wearing untied sneakers. I also got on a plane to Pittsburgh. Putting my luggage overhead really hurt. Starting thinking that things weren’t right but also put quickly put those thoughts aside.
Thursday was an all-day meeting. Biceps were still solid and painful. Yes, I tried to lacrosse ball them to loosen them up. That’s what we do, isn’t it? I have no idea if this exacerbated the muscle degradation or not. I do know that it didn’t help at all.
Had to hold my laptop in my lap instead of the conference table because holding my arms up at table height was too painful. Me and my buddy, Google, learned a lot about rhabdo that day. On the one hand I was sure I had at least a mild case of it. On the other hand I was in Pittsburgh (really wanted to get home to take care of it) and there’s no way I’d freakin’ get something like rhabdo – I’m not that elite of an athlete. Also, it was only my biceps. Rhabdo can’t hit just 2 specific muscles. That seemed logical to me at the moment.
I think my urine was a little off-color, but I wasn’t sure. I’m color blind and have a hard time with shades of color. Pretty sure it was pink though. It was definitely NOT the brown color you see in pictures when you google “rhabdomyolysis” for hours which was another reason I clearly did not have it.
Dropping-in at local boxes while on business travel is like therapy for me. I love doing it because it usually makes my day, and I’ll go no matter what. I think it sunk in that something was definitely wrong when I told myself, “I literally can’t hit a WOD today.”
It wasn’t “don’t want to” but “I physically can’t workout”
I thought about asking the group but decided that asking for medical advice from Facebook is not a good idea – especially since I have repeatedly chastised people for doing so. Not that went out and I asked an actual doctor.
Friday – 7am flight. Could barely move my arms to put my shirt on. Now my shoulders and forearms were aching – though that could have been from using them in weird ways since I couldn’t extend my arms to reach anything.
Those jokes about T-Rex having little arms and not being able to reach anything? I don’t think they are funny anymore…..
Flew home, took some pain meds to keep things under control.
Friday evening – hit urgent care. Had to explain repeatedly that I understand the difference between muscle soreness and actual pain. One poor nurse who sweetly dismissed my concerns as being “a little bit sore after a workout” learned otherwise. The main indicator for rhabdo, CK level, came back at 19,000. Normal range is 40-350.
It’s now 8:30 on Saturday night. Last blood test from this afternoon had my CK at 14,000 (up from 12,000 earlier). I don’t even know how many bags of IV fluids I’ve had by now. This is clearly a slow process.
I am still surprised that I have rhabdo. I’d love to learn more about what it really is and how it, seemingly randomly, can affect people.
April 17, 2017
had an interesting exchange with my mother this weekend. She was down for a visit.
A few years back, my sister (3 years olders) hit 50 and absolutely REFUSED to talk about it. It was a black stain on her life for over a year. Even today she won’t talk about being over 50.
Mom decided to make me turning 50 her central discussion point over the weekend. “Oh, I can’t say you are going to be 50 soon….” and “let’s not talk about you turning 50 since I know how much it bothers you….” etc.
I’m not thrilled to recognize that my youth is gone, that I’m on the downhill slope of time, but I’m still here. Quite frankly, I earned this shit!
I’m hitting fifty feeling pretty damned good. My resting pulse rate is ~45 beats per minute. I usually hold about 12-13% body fat. I can deadlift over 400#’s. I can still run a mile with a 5 in time – last measure was 5:45. I’ve been married for 21 years. I still love my wife. I adore my kids who are incredible.
I’m in a better place at 50 than I ever was at 40 or 30.
in my vernacular, “50? Fucking bring it!”
You want to get better? Do the work.
March 29, 2017
My first CrossFit Open was in 2013 although I don’t count it because I only hit 2 of the WODs. Technically I logged 1 rep in the third workout, 13.3 (wallballs, double unders, ring muscle ups), but that one rep was only for vanity. I headed in to shoulder surgery not long after I counted that one rep. 2014 was my only complete Open. In 2015 and 2016 injuries kept me from completing the 5th workout. Add to that, in 2015 I was only a few months away from from hip surgery and in nowhere near being in shape.
Even with the no-reps in 15.5 and 16.5, I had 3 years of data to look at, and I wasn’t very happy with the results.
In my age group, Men 45-49 years old, I was finishing roughly in the top-25% every year. Even as the pool of participants grew from 5,726 in 2014 to 14,175 in 2017 I would still lock in around that 75% mark. Granted, it hasn’t been smooth sailing. Right shoulder surgery in 2013 and right hip surgery in 2014. Hey! Who knew excessive swimming and running would screw up your body? I thought only CrossFit caused people to get injured. Nope. My injuries are all from pounding the crap out of myself after years of triathlon, running, adventure racing, and MTB and running epics. Lot of fun. Also a lot of wear and tear.
Leaving the 2016 Open I was disappointed. I was a little better at top 20% vs. my usual top 25%, but that was purely incremental. Odds are I would have fallen back to 75% if I’d been able to do 16.5. Thrusters/burpee WODs wreak a special kind of hell on my back. This will come up later in this discussion also.
If I was going to get better I needed to have a target. Being a master’s athlete I have an easily recognizable target, and, if one is going to have a goal, why not make it an audacious goal.?Yeah, I said fuck it and targeted the Master Qualifier – or finishing Top 200 in my age group. Let’s ignore that this would require in improvement spanning multiple orders of magnitude. As they say, “Dream Big or Go Home.”
I didn’t pick a goal that was Top-50 in California or some other region because I find those pretty meaningless. The Open is a worldwide thing, but I’m not going to Regionals as a 49 year old who is decent at Crossfit. Top 200 in my age group would be the goal.
What I didn’t have was the answer to a pretty basic question. “I want to make it to the top 200, but how the hell do I get there?”
Crossfit classes are great. With classes, I keep learning and improving. This tall, skinny guy (6’2” 170# in my prime running years) now weighs in at 200# and can squat, deadlift and clean weights I didn’t think were possible for me. That said, I’m still weak overall (225# clean, 300# back squat, 435# deadlift). It was obvious if I really wanted to get better I’d have to go outside the box, or outside of the box’s programming. I trust one coach a lot and asked her for opinions on what programming to start following. There are a lot of great choices out there. Some are free – weekly training programs, some are purchased. None already knew me though. I was surprised when Cheryl offered to run a custom program for me. I was stoked too.
It took us a couple of months to pull together because things were hectic for both of us. In that time I retested all of my lifts and benchmark WODs. I had improved on almost every one of them. Like I said, Crossfit classes are great, and consistency builds competence. Finally, in mid-June I had a program in hand that was tailored specifically to me. I was also a little bit concerned if I would stick with it. I like the atmosphere of a class WOD. I like pacing off of someone who is stronger or faster than me to make me go a little bit harder than my comfort zone would normally allow. By “faster” I mean barbell reps. Very few in my gym are faster at running. Trust me, if I could I would readily trade some of my run pace for some barbell endurance.
Let’s be honest. This was not an easy process. It took me a month or more to get the feel of doing my own workout. Our box is huge, so I could always find space. Initially it felt really weird when I would be doing pull-ups and wallballs next to a class of 30 people who were backsquatting. Then I started to like doing my own thing. It was just me and the clock. My coach programmed a lot of EMOM style WODs because she knows I needed the practice to stay intense and yet not burn myself out.
We had a lot to work on. I sucked at thrusters, HSPUs, wallballs, double unders, mobility of any kind, and any form of overhead work. My olympic lifting skills are pretty poor too. Tall, lanky, immobile and didn’t pick up a barbell until I was 44. That’s not a recipe for olympic lifting success.
I am good at running.
Have I mentioned that?
I’m also pretty good at rowing and on the assault bike. There’s an aerobic theme there even without looking too deep. Old habits die hard.
Back to the process. Did I mention that I also run product at a startup? Oh, and I have an amazing wife and two kids. My wife is awesome with my exercise addictions, but I still had to find time to bump up my workouts from 1 hour of a class to 1 1/2 hours at least. There were a ton of 4am alarms bells so I could get to the gym by 5am (opening time), warm up, do my work, cool down, cleanup and be on the phone for 7am conference calls. Oh yeah, I also run our China operation, so that’s some late night calls.
And travel? Since this training plan started there were 3 trips to China, 2 trips to Europe, and several jaunts around the US. Consistency was not easy to come by, but it was up to me to make it happen.
I purchased templates for RP Diet and got my nutrition on point too. Every time I see someone’s meal prep with on Instagram with all of their meals perfectly proportioned, in individual containers and laid out to coincide with their training calendar I’d get a little jealous. Some days I can get to the gym at 5am. Some days it’s 5pm. Some days I get notified of a meetings that obliterate all training time. It sucks, but I also love startup life.
So hours and hours later there was clear improvement. My ability to rep out wallballs was improving. I still sucked at thrusters. I hit a few PRs here and there. I still sucked at thrusters. I improved a lot on my lifts. I still sucked at thrusters.
Cheryl consistently programmed new variations of workouts to push me into areas where I had to dig deep and stay steady. She had me doing a lot of dumbbell work: snatches, overhead carries, stuff to get me balanced. She also insisted that I work on my double unders. A lot. Until I actually had them again and could rep them out.
And then December came. Who knew it would have been a good idea to get a flu shot?
I lost almost the entire month of December being sick twice. That wrecked me. A chunk of January was lost too. Of course my whole family was sick too. And work stress? Oh no, that didn’t let up either. By now I had shelved my goal of hitting the Top-200. In all honesty it was a pipe dream anyway. I wasn’t really sure if the new goal should be top-500 or top-1,000. December and January really kicked my ass.
Come January I registered for the Open and watched the days click by. The best part of all of this was how calm I felt. Although I commented on the ubiquitous “what will 17.1 be?” threads, I didn’t really care. Bring it Castro. I was as ready as I was going to be.
17.1 dumbbell snatch/burpee box jump overs
My lower back locks up when I do a lot of flexion/extension with it. It’s becomes real pain. This workout really hit on my problems. I didn’t finish in the 20 minute time cap mainly because I couldn’t bend over and pick up the damn dumbbell. The round of 50 was excruciating. That said, I was only 12 reps shy of completing it. Even if I had wanted to there was no way I could re-do this one for a better score.
WOD: 2,880th place. Top 20%
Overall: same…. it’s 17.1.
17.2 lunges / T2B or bar muscle ups / dumbbell cleans
I like stuff like this. I’m not great at lunges, but they fit into that “embrace the suck” mindset. I can string together toes-to-bar, and I do have bar muscle ups. I did the workout once in Barcelona and got 3 rounds. After flying home on Saturday I did it again and added another set of lunges to that tally. Could have had a couple of bar muscle ups, but I screwed up and started doing toes-to-bar instead.
WOD: 918th place, top 6%
Overall: 1,494th place, top 11%
17.3 chest-to-bar pullups / squat snatches
Although I have the motion for butterflying C2B’s I can’t hit my chest to the bar because of bad shoulder mobility, so I kipped all of them. My snatch is not the best, so I stalled out at 135# not getting any lifts there on Friday. This pissed me off. My personal best is 145# (or so I thought), so I should have been able to hit at least 1 at 135#. Thankfully my coach didn’t correct me. My personal best was only 125#. I still didn’t realize that when I went back in on Sunday and hit 4 reps at 135#. Instead of jumping from 95# to 135# I did a rep at 115#. Clearly that paid off.
WOD: 2,776th place, top 20%
Overall: 1,606th place, top 11%
17.4 deadlifts, wallballs, rowing and HSPUs (repeat of 16.4)
This would be my third time doing it this year. In 16.4 I got 2 HSPUs – had plenty of time but really bad HSPUs. this year I PR’ d that by 2 reps in January and by 13 reps in February, but neither of those were to the standard or while being judged. For 17.5 I got 12 HSPUs and 8 no reps. I tried to re-do this one, but at 30 reps of deadlifts I quit the WOD. A re-do was not in the cards.
WOD: 1,428th place, top 10%
Overall: 1,409th place, top 10%
17.5 thrusters and double unders
I was still calm as hell about this announcement. The absolute knowledge that there was nothing more I could do to change anything is so calming. Thrusters and double unders: my thrusters still suck, but they are a LOT better. My double unders are awesome, well, for me. On Friday I hit this one straight through and struggled to a 21:00 finish. On Saturday I mobilized, got a massage and strategized. Coming in to Sunday my plan was to go 1:45 for the first five rounds and and 2:00 for the last 5. EMOM style. It worked. I finished the WOD in 18:18 for close to a 3 minute improvement
WOD: 1,645th place, top 12%
Overall: 1,282nd place, top 9%
BOOM!!!! Top 10% for my age group.
If you want to see what this looks like graphically here ya go….. That doubleheaded arrow is what we like to call “improvement.”
Let’s be honest. With those results I wasn’t even close to hitting the top 200 in my age group. That said, I’m really stoked with how things turned out. The road has been rocky to say the least, but this is clear proof that hard, consistent work pays off. It’s also proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
When we started this journey, my coach Cheryl was very clear, “to be great in CrossFit you CAN’T HAVE ANY HOLES in your game. You don’t need to be perfect in everything, but you MUST be GOOD in everything.” She built a training program that kept my wheelhouse movements in my wheelhouse and dramatically improved the areas where I was weak. As she also mentions, “Ron, you did the work.” That’s true, but I needed a guide, and Cheryl totally kicked ass getting me here.
Am I better at everything? The proof is in the results. 3 of the WODs this year were definitely out of my league in previous years. The pain in 17.1 was real, but I got to a good enough score to keep me moving forward. I knew I would not do well in 17.3, but hitting a PR weight 4 times was enough to keep me from falling too far down the leaderboard. And 17.5. Thrusters have always been a problem for me, and last year I didn’t have double unders. This year I was able to do the thusters in sets of 5/4 and went unbroken on several rounds of double unders.
There is still a lot of room for improvement, but clearly I am better at everything.
Oh yeah. Next year I cross the threshold and enter the 50-54 age group. If you know me and assumed that I was tracking my progress in this Open relative to the 50-54 age group you’d be right. It’s only simple math.
What does the math say? I wouldn’t have hit top-200 in M50-54 this year, but I would have finished in 332nd place.
11 months is a long ways off. My kids need me. My wife needs me. My job needs me.
But I’m still gonna keep fighting. I will be in the Online Qualifier in 2018.
Getting older, and shorter
March 20, 2017
Had to get a new doctor. My previous doc left to start a medical device company, not that I saw her more than a couple of times. New doc insisted on a physical, so it took forever to lock down an appointment.
- I’m an inch shorter
- I’m “close” to the point where doc will hassle me about my weight
- new doc doesn’t have a clue what fitness is
The shorter bit really stinks. Back in the Navy I measured in repeatedly at 6’2″. My old man was 6’2″, so this was a point of pride for me. Granted, I only weighed about 160 pounds, but I was as tall as the old man. Now, I’m only 6’1″ and, technically, a little shy of that. I don’t have an L5-S1 which disintegrated a while back, and L2-L3 is lacking. L4-L5 was repaired years ago, and it’s probably well deflated again. Sure, I live with intense low back pain daily because of all this, but I was doing a great job of denying the fact that I’m not as tall as I used to be. But no longer. It’s official. I’m 1 inch shorter than I used to be.
I hate saying, “than I used to be.” I don’t care if I turn 50 on my next birthday I hate saying, used to be”
Per my handy-dandy scale I was at 12% body fat this morning. I did a dunk tank test a while back with the results aligning quite well with the body fat scale, so I roll with it. Sure, it’s going to vary a bit, but my body fat % is somewhere around 12%.
New doc pointed out that my BMI was “pretty much OK” and “if it creeps up much above 26, we’ll have to talk.”
Really? Are you kidding me? (normally I’d say, “Are you fucking kidding me?” but I’m trying to swear less).
I’m damn near 50 years old, I’m 6’1″ (excuse me while I wipe away a tear over that one), I weigh between 195-200#’s, I have 12% body fat, and you are going to say anything about my weight because my BMI is over 25? There is not one single person on this planet who would look at me and think, “dude needs to lose a few pounds.” I’m lean. Most people think I’m still a runner because, duh, lean. Skinny. If you noticed earlier, as kid (young adult), I stood 6’2″ and weighed 160#’s. I’m not now, nor have I ever been big. Never.
In all honesty, and knowing nothing about this doctor’s quiver of clients other than she said, “I deal with a lot of older people”, I’d bet I’m in the top-1% fittest in her portfolio.
So, </rant> for now. I’ll get the blood work done that she demanded, but I’ll be finding a new doctor soon.
March 17, 2017
Getting Better – is really simple
March 15, 2017
2017 vs the 3 previous years. 16.1 was clearly an outlier, but the Overall speaks volumes. Consistently 75th percentile in 2014, 2015, and 2016. I know, top 25% doesn’t suck, but it wasn’t enough for me.
Then I hired a coach who programs specifically for me, knowing my strengths and weaknesses, and I busted my ass. 17.1 and 17.3 are both BAD workouts for me. They don’t fit anywhere into my wheelhouse. With 2 out of 3 workouts in the Bad category, I’m still 15 points better…. just shy to 90th percentile vs. 75th.
Hire a coach.
It’s that simple.
The Open is Fucking Perfect Just the Way it is
March 12, 2017
It may piss a few people off, but so what. Here goes.
I’m fed with the whining and crying and gnashing of teeth over how the Open is unfair or Scaled should be treated with more respect or the weights are too heavy for all but the elite athletes.
The Open is what it is and it does a great job of telling you where you rank compared to other people your age, rank and serial number.
Anyone who has looked at the last 200 years of the CrossFit Open knows what happens. The weights get heavy, Castro puts out some nasty rep scheme with a smirk on his face, and a whole bunch of people do shit they never thought they could do because they force themselves to push just a little bit (or a lot) harder than they would have during an average Friday WOD.
Sure, the Open is supposedly about seeding the elites (the youngsters, the Teams and the Masters) for a shot at the Games, but for 98.6% of Men aged 45-49 the Open is as far as we are going to go. Only 1.4% of us hit the top 200 and reach the Masters Qualifier. Realistically only 0.28% have any real shot of getting to the Games. The Top 200 only matters for the Top 40 when it comes to making it to the show. For the masses, the Open is a way to put our fitness on the line 8 to 20 minutes at a time.
Yes, I said “last 200 years”- the Open has been around that long. Trust me. I know things.
It’s not fair that muscle ups appear except that it is. It’s not fair that someone who Scaled a WOD is ahead of you on the Leaderboard, expect that it’s pretty clear that they are, overall, fitter than you are. It’s not fair that the snatch weights jumped from 95# in round 1 to 135# in round 2. There should have been 20 pound jumps not 50. I’d complain about the jump from 135# to 185# in round 3, but why complain about something that doesn’t affect me in the slightest?
You paid your twenty bucks, and you knew something nasty was going to come your way.
17.1 was pure pain for me. Lowering a heavy dumbbell after snatching it and then doing box jumps is a perfect recipe for the muscles in my lower back to revolt, and they did. I was 12 reps shy of finishing that thing, and the last 50 dumbbell snatches were pure agony. Luckily I’m old, have good insurance, and a steady, though meager supply of Oxycontin.
17.2 was almost wheelhouse. I only wish it had been a 20 minute AMRAP because lunging is fun and the longer we go the better I do. Plus, I’ve got bar muscle ups. I don’t have them to perfection, but I have them. That distinction allows for a pretty big gap between the haves and the have not’s.
17.3 was a reminder that I am not in the top 10% of fitness like I was after 17.2. Years of no mobility and pounding the crap out of my body on the road and trail mean I don’t move well. Well, that ain’t 100% true. I move really well in a straight line. I am still a better runner than almost anybody in my gym. It’s amazing how vacuuming cartilage chunks out of my hip a few years ago decreased pain. Back in the day I could hit top 10 in a triathlon, but that was life in a straight line. The snatch is vertical up to get the bar moving and vertical down to get under said bar. It’s that damned change in direction that gets me. And my shoulders suck.
17.3 kicked my ass because I don’t snatch well. It turns out that 135# was a PR for me for a squat snatch. Sorry purists, but we call it a squat snatch because power isn’t allowed. I don’t make the rules. If I did I would have allowed power snatches. On Friday I hit 17.3, cruised through the 95# snatches at a moderate pace and then failed to hit 135# even once. Yeah, that pissed me off, but I also know the truth. As much as I’ve worked to get better over the past year, and I have, I still need a LOT of work to get to even halfway decent on the snatch. During my redo on Sunday (yes, I do the WODs twice) I hit 135# four times. Would I have done that in a class WOD? No. Did I learn something? Oh, hell yes.
Even with those 4 reps at 135#, come Wednesday my overall ranking will plummet. Let’s be honest, it should plummet. Not having a decent snatch means that I’m not a well rounded Crossfitter.
The choices are pretty simple. Like everyone else I know, I balance my health (this winter was hell), my career (startups are fun…. and insane), my family (there’s a reason I’ve been married for over 21 years), and then my fitness obsession. Last year I hired a coach. She upped my game by an easy 10x, but if I want to really kick some ass I’d have to be in the box twice as much. Can I do that? Do I want to do that?
So closing this rant by getting back to the headline. By week 3 every year I settle into a pretty tight band (+/- 10%) of where I’m going to end the Open. From what I’ve analyzed most people do the same thing. If you are a top 1% athlete or a 20% athlete or a bottom 30% athlete it works out over the course of 5 weeks. Nobody hits the Master Qualifier or Regionals by accident. That, my friends, is why Castro’s lovechild turns out to be pretty darn near perfect.
On a good note – you now have 12 months to make things different for 2018.
Don’t be sad… ‘cause 3 out of 5 ain’t bad. Death Ride 2015.
July 12, 2015
81.5 Miles on a bike, 10,500 of elevation, 3 mountain passes.
0.0 miles of bike training beforehand
Is that the worst title I’ve ever used? I think so.
OK, on a whim I signed up for the Death Ride. It’s prettier title is “Tour of the California Alps.” I don’t know of anyone who uses the prettier title.
My buddies have been trying to complete the Death Ride for several years, but it’s a really tough task. “How tough is it?” you ask. Why thank you. That’s a GREAT question.
The Death Ride, in total, covers 5 mountain passes, with 15,000 feet of elevation gain, and 129 miles. It’s done on a bicycle, and, technically you have 15 hours to complete it. I say “technically” because the course closes at 8pm. That’s a hard stop. The course officially opens at 5am, but a lot of people leave much earlier than that.
When you are climbing 5 mountain passes and riding 129 miles most people need all the hours they can get.
Craig and Eric have attempted the Death Ride several times. For a myriad of reasons they had not hit all 5 mountain passes. That’s what happens in events like this. Things go wrong. Maybe you get a flat tire, or your stomach goes South, or you just have a bad day. It all happens, and it all has to be reckoned with.
Of course the best thing to do is train hard for the event. “If you fail to prepare you prepare to fail.” Or something like that.
I did not train. Nope. Not at all. Not even a little bit. I don’t have specific numbers, but it has been 6 years since I have been on a bike for any distance. Even then it was only 25 miles or so.
OK, that is not entirely correct. I did not train for cycling or for endurance. I do CrossFit up to 6 times a week. I just finished a squat cycle that added 40 pounds to my front squat, and I do have a 20+ year background in ultra distance events. I’m not a newbie to this stuff, but I had not done any sports specific training. I do know how to hydrate and eat during multi-hour events which is absolutely critical to success. That said it was pretty nuts to take my current background and sign up for the Death Ride.
Oh yeah, and I also had hip surgery 10 months ago where the doc had sucked over 50 pieces of floating cartilage out of my hip that I had ground off internally over the last 20+ years of doing long runs and rides.
Why did I sign up? Why the hell not? Really, the answer is that nonsensical. Normally you have to sign up months in advance, and the rush to sign up is a madhouse. This year they sold off some open slots from people who had cancelled which I happened to see a couple of weeks ago. Two weeks ago. I signed up for a 14+ hour, 15,000’ of elevation gain bike ride two weeks ago, and I don’t even have a road bike anymore.
After some hassle getting out of town on Friday we made it up the mountain to the town of Markleeville a lot later than planned. Gotta roll with it.
I was camping in the back of my wife’s SUV. Craig had his tent. Eric was sharing his tent with his girlfriend. Normally I wouldn’t allow cohabitation like that, but this time I let it pass.
Quite abnormally I passed out like a rock. I was really tired from a lot of stress and not much sleep. We had done the math, really, we made a spreadsheet to calculate ride times (average uphill speed, time at rest stops, average downhill speed per segment, etc.), and we came to the conclusion that we had to be on the road early. Like 3:00 am early.
I woke up at midnight and really couldn’t get back to sleep. I dozed a bit before my alarms went off at 2:30am. Sleeping in the back of an SUV with a small mattress is NICE!!
We drug out of our respective beds, made coffee (thank you JetBoil and Starbucks Via). It was cold. Not freezing temperatures but cold all the same. I overheat quickly when working out, so I chose to go fairly light. Bike shorts – no tights or leg warmers, sleeveless bike jersey, fleece vest, and a yellow bike windbreaker. I also had full finger bike gloves and was carrying fingerless bike gloves for when it warmed up. Vee was AWESOME! Her car has a 4-bike rack, so we stashed our 3 bikes on it, and she drove us to the start. That saved us from adding a nasty little uphill if we had left from the campground.
We hit the road at 3:20am. That is early and dark. I had to buy a headlight for my bike and was pleased with how well it threw light for only costing $18. The course is a touch deceiving at the start. It begins with a nice downhill followed by a gradual uphill. Remember, I haven’t ridden in 5 or 6 years, so I needed the warmup. I was layered pretty well. Then a few miles in reality hits.
You take a left turn and start heading up Monitor Pass. I would say that Monitor is beautiful terrain, and it is, but in the dark with only a tiny bike headlight you can’t see much. A couple of miles up Monitor, Eric cruised ahead. These are individual efforts. It’s great to stay together, but it’s not realistic especially when one person in the group is woefully unprepared. Craig hung with me for a while.
Not too far up the road I had to bail down to my smallest chainring. Did I mention that I’m riding a mountain bike?
It might be good to explain that. I have a 1998 Specialized Stumpjumper Pro that I love. It’s a hardtail (no rear suspension), and the front shock is basically shot. It kind of works, but not well enough for actual trail usage. A while back I put a pair of Continental GP tires on it which are road bike tires that fit a mountain bike wheel. I’m not talking MTB slicks. These tires are 25’s which are just as narrow as a regular road bike. That helps the rolling resistance tremendously. A couple of challenges, the MTB frame is not great geometry for a road bike, it doesn’t descend or handle very well, and it has a very low top speed. I still have the original MTB chainrings and rear cassette on it. Yep, that cassette is 17 years old. Yikes.
I have driven over Monitor Pass many times, but riding it on a bike is a very different experience. First off – it hurts a lot more to pedal than to push on a gas pedal. Trust me on that. Second – you don’t notice the “micro-terrain” as much in a car. The short steep sections are really tough on a bike. The hill just kept going and going and going.
To show that you ascended each pass, there are 5 aid stations that put a sticker on your race number. The first rest stop on Monitor Pass hands out stickers starting at 5:30am. We had turned onto Hwy 89, the road to Monitor, at 4:03am. We reached the aid station at 5:20am, and they were already open and handing out stickers. Cool.
Let me explain the course a bit. You ride over 5 mountain passes, but you actually ride over 2 of the passes twice. With Monitor Pass, and the next pass – Ebbets Pass, you ride to the top, down the other side and then back. For the fifth pass you just ride to the top of Carson Pass. Yeah, “just.”
So we had one sticker. We stopped for a bit, filled up water bottles, and grabbed some munchies. Craig got a hot chocolate. That was nice and warm.
Next you ride uphill just a bit more, The rest stop is in a clearing that is just below the actual summit, and then you go downhill.
Holy crap!!! The backside of Monitor is a downhill cyclists dream. I know this because a few guys passed me going well over 50 MPH. My mountain bike is not good for descending, plus the front breaks were squealing like mad (because I had just installed new pads on Thursday and had not tested them), and my hands were FREEZING! I could not feel my hands and was really worried that I would not be able to brake when I needed to. That downhill scared the crap out of me.
It also took all the heat out of my body. At the bottom I was shivering so violently that I could not hold a cup of hot chocolate because it was splashing all over the place.
As we pointed our bikes back uphill to ride the downhill we had just done I realized that I was in a world of hurt. My legs had absolutely no power. I couldn’t generate any force.
Let me explain for my CrossFit friends. If your max snatch is 185 pounds, and you load a bar with 245#’s you know you are not going to lift it successfully. It’s too big of a jump. A bike ride is a completely different thing. While I haven’t ridden in years, it is possible to get on a bike tomorrow and ride 100+ miles. It hurts like hell, but you just take it one pedal revolution at a time.
I had no power. I could barely get uphill, so I told Craig, “don’t even wait for me.” I was riding so slowly that I was getting passed by literally everyone. Even a person on an elliptical bike passed me. What the hell is an “elliptical bike?”
Let’s be honest. It makes total sense that my body was incapable of getting up that hill quickly. I had been on a bike for almost 3 hours, and the ability to put out power for hours and hours is totally different than doing heavy cleans in a 20 minute AMRAP.
And I’m 20 pounds heavier than the last time I rode. It’s a good 20 pounds, but it’s mass nonetheless.
Of course I took that moment to throw myself a full blown pity party. I whined to myself and complained to myself and decided that when I got to the bottom of the other side of Monitor I would go straight back to the campsite and call it a day! Screw this bike riding over mountains nonsense. I was done. Hell, I shouldn’t have even started. This was totally stupid.
The only challenge, of course, was that I had to get UP to Monitor Pass before I could descend the other side and quit this ride.
Then I looked at my watch.
It was maybe 7am. I was pissed off and frustrated and….had 13 available hours before the course closed. What was I so pissed off about?
Right about then it also dawned on me that I was hungry as hell. I had downed a couple of Gu’s, but I had not eaten anything solid. I know me, and I need solid food to keep going. Gels are awesome sources of energy but insufficient for my personal furnace.
That pity party went the hell away. Right about then I hit the water station coming up the backside of Monitor and decided to add Gatorade to my fluids. Great choice. I needed the calories and the sweetness. I wasn’t going any faster, but I felt better. I was finally at a decent altitude and was able to appreciate the beauty of the Eastern Sierras. Truly stunning.
Also at that water station I jettisoned some weight – full finger gloves? Gone! Long sleeve jacket that I have not worn until today since I bought it 20 years ago? Gone! Flashing rear light that I don’t know where it came from in the first place? Gone! I am not carrying you guys ever again. That was a mental boost too.
I rode. I rested. I rode. I rested.
At some point a guy passed me and yelled, “OH MY GOD!!! Is that a 1998 Stumpjumper Pro M2 frame?!?!?! I loved that bike! That’s my favorite frame of all time!!!” Yes, yes it is a 1998 Stumpjumper. Seeing that he loved my bike so much I offered to trade him for the sweet looking Cervelo he was riding, but he declined. I guess he didn’t love my bike all that much.
At a few points I walked. Oh well, just keep moving.
Left, right, up, left, right, up, up, up, and then it was there, the summit and the quick downhill to the Monitor aid station and my dream – potato chips…
I grabbed handful after handful of there salty, solid goodness. I had made it to the top of Monitor at 9:00am and had plenty of time to spare, so I focused on fueling. Potato chips, gummi bears, and bagels with apple cinnamon cream cheese. If it looked good I ate it. There was no rush, so I relaxed, ate, and drank until I was ready to go again. Getting back on my bike felt good. That surprised me. The short uphill out of the aid station stressed my legs a bit, but the downhill was worse.
It was warm which made the descent better, but it still took a big toll on my neck, shoulders, lower back and hands. I tried to just enjoy it and keep my speed in check. It was a huge turnaround from that descent down the backside of Monitor.
I also was able to view the recent fire damage. It’s awesome that we were still able to ride. Granted the fire is out, but it could have seriously impacted the ride.
At the bottom all of my earlier internal wailing about quitting this ride after 2 passes was long gone. I turned left with everybody else and followed the river to the next pass.
It’s a very slight uphill of about 2 or 3 miles to the next aid station which is also the lunch stop. I cruised at my pace and decided to take an extended break. I was still digesting the solid food from the top of Monitor, and I needed a bit of time before tackling the next mountain pass, Ebbetts. I sat and rested for 15 minutes or so just hydrating and relaxing then it was back on the bike.
Ebbetts starts out nicely, a gradual uphill through a tree shaded canyon. Then it gets freakin’ nasty. My legs were out of energy. I just didn’t have the power to push hard continuously for hours and hours. That’s something that requires multi-hour endurance training. I think it’s clear that something I did not have is…. multi-hour endurance training.
Oh well, just do what I can.
A couple of miles up a guy had made his own cheering station complete with signs of motivational quotes. He also had written “Only 5.9 miles to the top!”
Damn! 6 miles to go? I assumed I was averaging about 4 miles per hour, so that meant the best I could expect was about 1 and a 1/2 hours to go before I could hit the summit and get my next sticker. That put me at the top at noon (12:00pm).
Did I mention that I don’t have a bike computer on this bike? I have no idea of speed or distance. The only thing I had was my watch. Gotta love the Timex IronMan watches.
Like Monitor, riders crest Ebbets, then descend the backside of Ebbetts and reclimb Ebbets for their 4th pass. Race organizers will not allow you to descend the backside of Ebbetts after 1:30pm, so I was within the necessary window.
At one really steep switchback a young guy on a really expensive Specialized came alongside me and asked, “Wow, what year is your bike?”
“That is awesome! I work for Specialized and we love to see old bikes out on the road.”
Again – an admirer who had NO intention of swapping bikes with me.
Up and up and up, left and right and up. I had to walk a really steep section where I was only a little bit slower than the people actually riding. I was down to my bright purple sleeveless vest and heard someone yell,
“PURPLE!!! DO YOU NEED ANY TOOLS?”
My reply, “Thanks! No, I don’t need any tools, but I could use some legs. Got any of those?”
10 people laughed. None offered to give me their legs. I’m sensing a theme here.
Another guy said, “Man, you’ve made it a long ways keep it up.”
And I had to tell him, “Well, I haven’t even been on a bike in 6 years.”
“What? And you chose Death Ride to get back into cycling? You’re a freakin’ beast.”
Look, everyone out there was hurting. Some were just hurting at a faster pace. I did not encounter any attitude, which is a great thing.
At some point my watch read 12:00pm, and I still wasn’t at the summit. For a while now I was seeing people riding down the hill which meant they had summited Ebbetts, ridden down the backside of Ebbetts, ridden back up Ebbetts and were on their way to the 5th and final pass. Wow. Impressive.
Then the sign, “Aid Station Ahead.” Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
I just couldn’t walk into the aid station, so I mounted up, rode in, and got my sticker.
It was 12:30pm. The cutoff to descend for my 4th sticker was 1:30pm. I could wait an hour and still get that 4th sticker, but I had a better option to choose from.
I knew I could descend Ebbetts to Hermit Valley, get my sticker, and then get back up Ebbetts. People around me who had just done so were saying that the backside of Ebbetts was much easier than the front side, but I still had to get across the bottom of the valley which included a couple of hills, not mountains though, to get back to our campsite.
I knew I “could” do it. There was no doubt in my mind. That 4th sticker, and corresponding 4th summit, would have been much cooler than only 3, but it would come at a cost. That cost was recovery time.
Did I want to put my body into such a deficit that it took me weeks to recover?
After I did the Davis Double Century (200 miles) in 2001 it had taken me literally months to recover. The combination of high mileage and 100deg temperatures seriously tore me up.
Death Ride….. What was more important to me? 4 passes or getting a 300 pound back squat before my next birthday? Getting a 300 pound back squat is much more important to me.
The Death Ride is awesome. I was in a great mental place, and I knew that the Death Ride was just a whim. It’s not my end goal. Going for that 4th pass was more than I was willing to pay, so, after eating a HUGE amount of Oreo’s and potato chips, I pointed my bike downhill. You know what? I was happy and completely satisfied with my decision. I’d made it to the cutoff with plenty of time to spare, and I didn’t need to shred myself for this one.
By the way, do you know how delicious Oreos are? They are incredible. After 9 hours on a bike they are even better. Walking to get those Oreos a guy stepped in my path and practically yelled, “You made it!!!! I knew you would. Awesome work man!”
I had no idea who it was. Then it dawned on me. It was the guy I had chatted with on the uphill who had said, “wow, you’ve come a really long way for this being your first ride in 6 years.” I think my being at the top fired him up a little bit.
The downhill was beautiful. It hurt like the last few because my bike isn’t built for this stuff, but the views were ridiculous. I kept thinking, “Really? I get to live so close to this stuff? Damn, I am so lucky.”
There were also a lot of people still climbing Ebbetts. After a few minutes of downhill I knew that none of the remaining people would be able to make the cutoff in time.
Unfortunately I saw the remnants of a bike crash too. Some people were slowing riders down. Fine with me. I asked a guy if everything is OK, and he said, “yes, he seems to be stable.”
There was a guy laying in a ditch being attended to by several riders. He had that telltale position of one hand holding his other collarbone, but he looked overall pretty good. Descending further I saw an ambulance, a couple of motorcycles, and a fire truck coming up the mountain.
This is remote area. It’s a one lane road to the summit of Ebbets, and it takes a while to get medical attention to some areas. The organizers are AWESOME about getting as much coverage as possible given the area they have to cover.
The emergency vehicles also slowed down the traffic behind me, so I wasn’t getting passed by a billion downhill kamikazes, which was really nice. Still I had to take a break and get some feeling back into my hands about halfway down.
Just as I started rolling again my front tire blew. Thankfully it did so at 2 MPH instead of 40.
Whatever, got to fix it. I forgot how crappy my pump is though. New tube, check for debris in the tire. Then pump, pump, pump…. What a piece of junk! I normally run at 100 psi, but I think I maxed out at 50 PSI. The tire wasn’t seated well, and it was squeaking. But I had to move, so I descended slowly. After a bit some guy in an IMC-RST jersey said, “Hey! Its you!”
Granted, it’s not the most eloquent I have ever known Eric to be, but he was right. It was me!
I was so stoked to see him. It was my confirmation that he had achieved 4 passes, the most he had ever done. Honestly, that really fired me up.
He also has a much better bike pump than I do which I immediately borrowed. Thanks Eric!
We got back on the road descending to the lunch stop. Of course he descended much faster, but I was in a great mental place and really cruised it in. Surprisingly, I passed several people too.
We grabbed sandwiches and chilled at a table in the shade. He looked great and was ahead of schedule. He wanted to leave the lunch stop no later than 2:00pm.
We got on the road at 2:03pm which gave him 2 hours to get across the valley and to the next aid station at the start of the last climb where the cutoff is 4:00pm. I only had to ride across the valley and about 1/2 mile up the last climb to get to our campground. Much of that distance is downhill, but there is a tough uphill coming out of Markleeville and going to the starting line. That hurt.
I took a break for a bit on the uphill. A guy, in a large group, came rolling by slowly, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “C’mon man. Back on the bike. You got this.”
He didn’t know me, or that I was basically done, but his encouragement was a necessary spark. I got back on my bike and crested the hill to enjoy the downhill that followed.
Rolling into the Woodfords rest stop I knew that I only had a mile to go. Still, I had been out there for 12 1/2 hours. I was tired, and I wanted to be done. I guess Eric was still fueling up at Woodfords for his last climb. Later he told me he said “hi” and waved, but I was in my own zone. I walked through the aid station and rode up to our campground.
It felt so good go be off of that bike!
I chilled out. Sucked down the last of my Gatorade, made a cup of coffee, and started my writeup as I waited for Craig to appear. A couple of hours later he did. “5 Passes” finisher pin in hand he was DONE!!!
It was so awesome to see that he had made it. 5 full passes. No need to come back again. He also said that he felt pretty good and had stayed on top of his food and hydration all day except for the very last climb.
We chilled out. He was happy that I had cleaned up the camp in order to drive home that night. We had paid all of $18 to have the campsite for another night just in case, but we wanted to get home.
Eric rolled in an hour or two later, also a 5 pass finisher. Seeing friends accomplish their goals is so motivating. I was stoked to have spent the weekend with these guys, been their for their success, and to have pushed them to wake up EARLY and get on the damned course. No offense, but they have a history of sleeping late.
Eric’s girlfriend, Vee, was cool enough to have a beer waiting for him which I’m sure he really appreciated. Her friend, Shannon, asked if I would be back next year to finish off all 5 passes.
Me? Hell no.
I had not been on a bike in 6 years. I had hip surgery 10 months ago. I had just ridden over 81 miles of nasty terrain, climbing over 10,000 feet of elevation, and having been on course for 12 solid hours. I had only done CrossFit to get into shape for this ride, and I had 2 significant downtime periods after shoulder and hip surgery.
I have none. Sorry folks, but if you can show up to one of the toughest rides around with NO training and this much of it – you’re solidly a badass.
Yeah. I’m calling it.
I wanted to hang with my best friends, do a multi-hour event, and see just how effective CrossFit is as a tool for general fitness.
Oh yeah. I’m not even sore today. I hadn’t been on a bike in 6 years. I rode 81 miles. I struggled and pushed myself really hard for 12 solid hours, and I’m not even sore. There’s a little twinge on the top of my right calf, but my legs feel great. I almost hit the 10am workout this morning I’m feeling that good.
Guess what? CrossFit works.
CrossFit Open Scoring – part 2 or “Why is that guy who did Scaled AHEAD OF ME on the Leaderboard?”
March 16, 2015
In part 1 of this series we covered the CrossFit Open Leaderboard and the difference between:
Now that 15.2 and 15.3 have come and gone there is a another lingering question that seems to vex people
“If I did all of my WODs Rx, why is someone who did Scaled ahead of me on the Leaderboard?”
As in part 1 – first off – don’t check the Leaderboard until Wednesday. If you check it on Friday at 9am and think that “the algorithm is wrong” then you are on crack. It will look like there are some messed up rankings, but what you will really see is a small sample size creating a messy total. Things work their way out once all scores are entered. Before then things are messy.
OK, here’s our topic for the day.
There are 3 groups of people in the Open
- People who ALWAYS Rx their WODs
- People who ALWAYS Scale their WODs
- People who do a combination of Rx and Scaled – 1 week they Scale; the next they Rx.
Group 1 will always rank higher than Group 2. Full stop. End of story. If you always Rx you will have more points than someone who always Scales. Even if you only do 1 rep of Rx on every WOD you will always get more points than someone who Scales every WOD.
Here’s the rub. Group 3 (some Scaled and some Rx, in any combination), may rank HIGHER than someone who always Rx’s their WODs.
By WHY? you ask…. I heard that Scaled ranks LOWER than Rx!!!!!
Yeah, within each WOD, a Scaled workout ranks lower than Rx, but Overall is a different story.
Let’s illustrate with 2 people.
- Person 1 does all of their WODs Rx.
- Person 3 did 15.1, 15.1A and 15.2 Rx but they did 15.3 Scaled. You guessed it, they don’t have a muscle up.
There are about 8,000 men in the M45-49 age group, so let’s assume both Person 1 and Person 3 are Men aged 45-49… (it makes the math easier). Let’s say the mid-point for someone who does 1 rep of Rx in each WOD is right about 4,000th place in this age group.
Here are the points each Person achieved in each WOD. Note: this is not their “Score” or the number of reps they did – this is their finishing position within each WOD. i.e. Person 1 was in 4,000th place in each WOD, and person 3 was in 500th place in 15.1, 15.1A and 15.2. In 15.3 Person 3 had the best Scaled and finished in 4,001st place.
Whoever has the fewest total points is ranked higher Overall.
Between these 2 people the math shows us that Person 3 would be ranked higher Overall than Person 1 even though Person 1 did all of their WODs Rx. If you sort the Leaderboard by “Open Week 3” (i.e. 15.3) then Person 1 will be ranked higher than Person 3 because Person 3 did 15.3 Scaled.
It’s when you look at their Overall scores (i.e. the sum of their Points), that Person 3 ranks higher overall than Person 1.
One can argue if this is the “proper” way to calculate scores, or if there should be a separate Leaderboard for anyone who ever Scales a WOD.
I’d offer that this is pretty legit. Someone who is generally fit but has a big goat (i.e. muscle ups) should rank higher Overall than someone who is generally less fit even if they have 1 muscle up.
Care to comment? Click here and leave me a comment or question at the bottom of the post.