On my 34th Birthday

Here I am on the day of my 34th birthday, sitting quietly in my kitchen post 5:15am workout, eating some bacon and eggs and reflecting upon the year that passed and the year ahead. The last 365 days have flown by, as time always seems to do, but yet were the most challenging to date both in my personal life and professional career.

The responsibilities at work have grown immensely and the expectations are higher than ever. Everyday I am tasked with being bold, aggressive and creative; and, at the same time, organized, diligent and transparent. My modus operandus is no longer able to be blanketed in a spirit of newness and learning. Mistakes happen but they are tolerated less and less and are more costly as I lead projects. While there is so much to improve on, I need to operate everyday with the confidence in my abilities.

The past year in regards to the gym was one of transition as I started at CrossFit Kingfield and introduced a whole new group of coaches into my pursuit of health and wellness. I went from pushing myself to compete to pushing myself to embrace the routine and seek transformation through my daily habits. This continues to get refined, especially as I am now working with a dietitian and rigorous about going to class Monday through Friday mornings and pushing myself to fully embrace an active lifestyle even on my rest days. I have to be patient and trust in the methodology and know that the desired physical changes will come.

Outside of work and the gym, I am hyper aware of my relationships, both social and romantic. With all this focus on myself, I have to push to keep looking outward and not to be shy or embarrassed about my personal pursuits. The friends that I want to surround myself with support my growth. And so too will the right partner. There is no point in hiding my passion for personal betterment, rather I need to find those who engage in a similar journey and who are willing to grow together.

All this boils down to the fact that on the start of my 34th year, I believe in myself. As Stuart Smalley would say, I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me!” Last year on my birthday I challenged myself to think bigger. This year, I want to act on those thoughts. I have the support and resources I need thanks to my work team, family, friends and coaches.

I am reminded of a scene towards the end of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Finch, the main character, has moved quickly up the corporate ladder from his lowly start as a window cleaner. He is now preparing to present his big idea to the boss, but all the other corporate underlings are plotting against him. Finch gives himself a pep talk that reflects his success throughout the movie – a strong belief in himself. Contrary to what you may assume, I don’t start my days staring into the mirror playing the Rocky theme and spitting out cliches to psyche myself for the day ahead. But more than ever, I tell myself, “I believe in you.”

Now there you are;
Yes, there’s that face,
That face that somehow I trust.
It may embarrass you to hear me say it,
But say it I must, say it I must:
You have the cool, clear
Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth;
Yet there’s that upturned chin
And that grin of impetuous youth.
Oh, I believe in you.
I believe in you.

I hear the sound of good, solid judgment
Whenever you talk;
Yet there’s the bold, brave spring of the tiger
That quickens your walk.
Oh, I believe in you.
I believe in you.

And when my faith in my fellow man
All but falls apart,
I’ve but to feel your hand grasping mine
And I take heart; I take heart

To see the cool, clear
Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth;
Yet, with the slam-bang tang
Reminiscent of gin and vermouth.
Oh, I believe in you.
I believe in you.

Interview w/ Danny Yeager

I met Danny Yeager, owner and coach at CrossFit Kingfield, just about a year ago. I was trying out various gyms and doing my own thing at Los Campeones and did a free class at Kingfield. As we spoke afterwards, I was struck by his sincere passion for helping people achieve a level of fitness that is sustainable to keep them healthy and moving throughout their life. Danny is known for his lion’s mane of hair and love for Star Wars, but in this interview we get to discuss his philosophy about coaching and wellness.

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Danny after finishing a workout during the 2016 CrossFit Open.

MMG: When did you start doing CrossFit? What about it sustains your interest and enjoyment?

YEAGER: I found CrossFit I think around the summer of 2005. I was working out at the Colorado Athletic Club and a guy I knew there said he was doing this thing called CrossFit. He was opening CrossFit Denver soon and wanted to know if I wanted to join him. His workout was wall balls and ring dips and I thought to myself, “That’s stupid. I know that’s not going to make my biceps bigger.” So I went back to curling because I wanted bigger arms. Fast forward 11 years and look where I am. Doing CrossFit. For me I always remember that story and think back on it frequently because it reminds me that if my first reaction to something (which it generally is) is negative or dismissive, it would behoove me to take some time figuring out exactly why I think something is stupid, and see if I can have an open mind about something.

When you ask me what sustains my interest this is a bit of a loaded answer. First I am a coach. That is what I love to do. I am passionate about helping people develop a lifestyle that will help them live and move better. Currently I have spent the last 18 months creating/collaborating/developing a space in which people can pursue health and fitness. It has been an arduous process but 100% worth it. So to answer your question, this is what drives me and motivates me everyday.

However, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was some intrinsic personal motivation as well. CrossFit for me is very therapeutic. I enjoy pain. It is inevitable when it comes to CrossFit, but I truly believe it is how we deal with that pain that shapes who we are as human beings.

MMG: What motivated you to become a coach?

YEAGER: The people I work with motivate me. I am not motivated in watching other people workout because I believe we can all get to a place of greatness if we work hard enough and sacrifice enough.

My true heroes are the people who show up at Kingfield even after a hard day and bring light and enjoyment to everyone around them. And to be clear, that doesn’t mean being super fluffy and giddy just because. Fuck that. If you have had a hard day and just want to workout with a few familiar faces, but are still capable of encouraging people around you with a silent fist bump and nod of recognition, you are a badass in my book.

MMG: What has been a personal highlight for you as coach over the years?

YEAGER: Hmm. I can’t name a singular moment. I can say that the relationship I have developed with everyone here as well as the overall growth of Kingfield as a community has been a huge highlight for me. Watching our coaches grow up and create their own identities within our gym has been very satisfying. I have always said that no one remembers who won regionals last year, but they will remember if you are an asshole or not.

MMG: When did you decide to make the leap and own your own gym? What was the deciding factor?

YEAGER: Man that was a while ago. I remember staring to write a business plan in early 2011. I knew I wanted to create a place where people actually got fit and didn’t have to pay upwards of $400 a month to workout regularly. I tried to open an affiliate at the Calhoun Beach Club where Willis and I worked. They decided it was not a good idea so Willis and I decided to go out on our own. I remember coming home one day in the summer of 2011 and Amanda decided she was going to give her two weeks notice. It was at that point I thought to myself, “Holy shit. I guess I better stop messing around and actually do this because otherwise we will be on the Top Ramen and Party Pizza diet real soon!”

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MMG: What is the tone and atmosphere that you are working to create among the coaches and athletes at Kingfield?

YEAGER: Great question. I answered this question long before we affiliated. I knew that I wanted coaches who were top notch at what they do, but also were not afraid to make mistakes. That part was crucial. If someone is terrified of failing, they won’t make it. You have to be willing to ask for help when needed, seek answers when they are not readily available, but also believe in yourself enough to grow and try new things.

The greatest line I ever heard from a coach was from Mike Burgner when he said, “I wake up everyday with the same mindset. In the morning I say to myself, if I’m not ready, at the age of 65, to change everything I know about coaching for a better and more efficient way of teaching my athletes, then I should no longer be a coach.” That has always resonated with me because it stresses the true importance of coaching – the athlete.

So I have taken that into the tone of the gym and the community. At Kingfield I would say that we are not interested in claiming the accomplishments of others. When you succeed, that success is yours because you did it. The process or journey in which you took to get there is yours. We don’t give a shit about accolades. As coaches we know that if we continue to do what we do, provide an inclusive community in which we only ask that you show up, we will accomplish more than we ever thought we could. And it will happen because we did it together.

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Danny being cheered on by his wife Amanda during the 2016 CrossFit Open.

MMG: Who do you look towards for coaching and mentorship?

YEAGER: I look for people who challenge me. My wife does this everyday, but our marriage is something that requires me to constantly work on improving myself and how I communicate.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise when I say that I think I’m pretty awesome. I would say that I use to think that success was found by forcing your ideals, opinions or methods on others, while at the same time making it known we are better than others. Well low and behold, I have learned the hard way that living with that kind of mentality doesn’t lend itself to any sort of calm or peace.

So my mentors are people who lead by example. They are vocal for sure, but also patient. As I get older I realize that you can’t be a complete asshole all the time. People are not attracted to that. So I need people in my life that are willing to understand that at times I need to think I’m right, but will eventually realize there is probably an easier, softer way. Amanda always says more is not better. Better is better.

MMG: What’s the best piece of advice you have received as an athlete?

YEAGER: Know your limits and accept them. Because when you know what you are not capable of, you know exactly what you are capable of. That allows for growth and consistency, which is the true secret to training – consistent, slow growth.

MMG: What does a typical week of training look like for you?

YEAGER: My weeks are pretty crazy as to be expected. I don’t have a specific set number of workouts I have to hit each week. I have a coach who does my programming, and he has a general rule that I should workout when my body is ready too. Typically that is anywhere from 5­8 sessions a week.

In terms of type of workouts, I have been spending the better part of the last year working on my imbalances. I have been carrying heavy things a lot more, spending time on quality movement rather than quantity, and working on being more well rounded in my training.

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Danny with his teammates at the 2015 Granite Games.

MMG: How does diet and nutrition factor into all your training? Do you follow any plans or have any rules that you follow in terms of eating and drinking?

YEAGER: Well recently I have had a bit of a scattered schedule, but I always train 5 days a week, probably 7­ to 9 sessions per week. I have a coach who programs for me, but I also add some things I want to do or work on. In terms of eating and drinking, I feel like it is important to spend around 8 months a year on a plan and 4 months trying to cut yourself some slack.

Next week I start working with Emily, so I am sure that will be more structured than my current plan.

MMG: What other factors are important to you in your overall physical and mental wellness?

YEAGER: I always try and stress to people that we are just working out. CrossFit does not define who I am. If CrossFit were to go away tomorrow, I would still know at my core who I am as a person and a man.

MMG: You often talk about the importance of CrossFit for its focus on functional fitness and how it helps us move outside the gym. Earlier this year you went on what looked like an amazing trip with Amanda to Hawaii. How did your time in the gym enhance your trip?

YEAGER: It was very useful. There wasn’t anything I didn’t feel like I couldn’t do. More than anything, we develop a lifestyle in the gym, and if anyone has gone on vacation since starting at Kingfield, they realize that their decisions day to day are influenced by what they want to accomplish in the gym. I would say that is what I notice enhanced our trip the most.

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Danny with his wife Amanda.

MMG: Amanda is not only your wife, but also your workout partner and coworker. How has that relationship contributed to your success as a coach and business owner?

YEAGER: Well, we communicate very well with one another. I try and tell her that I’m not always wrong, but most of the time she is right. Damnit! But in all reality we are very lucky to be able to see each other as much as we do. Truthfully we don’t get much time together ever. We are usually surrounded by people or have very busy days. So we make sure to do things like walk the dog together, go out and eat, or just spend time not thinking about power cleans.

MMG: I usually don’t do this, but I appreciate your “nerd” spirit and wanted to do a short rapid fire. Who is your favorite superhero?

YEAGER: Raphael, ­red Ninja Turtle.

MMG: Name one superhero power that you wish you had.

YEAGER: I wouldn’t mind being Captain America.

MMG: DC or Marvel?

YEAGER: Marvel.

MMG: Favorite Star Wars character?

YEAGER: Yoda.

MMG: Who shot first – Han Solo or Greedo?

YEAGER: Han Solo.

MMG: Favorite video game?

YEAGER: Nintendo ­- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2; Super Nintendo – ­ NBA Jam; Nintendo 64 ­- Tony Hawk/Wayne Gretzky NHL Ice/Goldeneye/Diddy Kong Racing; PS2 ­- Tony Hawk 4/Killzone; and PS3 -­ Uncharted 2.

MMG: Nintendo or Playstation?

YEAGER: Nintendo.

MMG: Super Mario Brothers or Legend of Zelda?

YEAGER: Super Mario Brothers.

MMG: Favorite action movie?

YEAGER: Bad Boys 2.

MMG: Van Damme or Segal?

YEAGER: Van Damme,­ especially in Street Fighter. He makes everyone want to follow him and go up river. YouTube if you don’t know. You’re welcome.

MMG: How do you define strong?

YEAGER: I have said this many times before, but strong to me is how you show up. It is how you approach things mentally. Can use use failure to motivate you, or do you let it keep you down? Strong is the ability to do something that you don’t think you can do, or you don’t want to do, but you show up anyway and give it hell.

MMG: What is your favorite lift, movement or WOD?

YEAGER: Handstand push ups and power cleans.

MMG: Finally, what is your goat?

YEAGER: My lungs. If I am stopping or slowing down in a workout it is usually because I can’t breathe.

Murph 4.0

“Murph” has become synonymous for me with Memorial Day. For those unfamiliar, it is a workout named in honor of Lieutenant Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL who was killed in combat.  The workout is a 1-mile run followed by 300 squats, 200 push-ups and 100 pull-ups, and then finished with another 1-mile run. The prescribed workout is to complete it while wearing a 20-pound weight vest. CrossFit gyms across the country take part and, despite it being the toughest, longest workout that I will do each year, it is my favorite.

Obligatory post-Murph photo op.
Obligatory post-Murph photo op.

This year was my fourth go around and I completed it once again with the weight vest, but for the first time at CrossFit Kingfield. With a continually growing community, it was fun to see so many people attempt the workout for the first time. No matter whether people did “Murph” with a partner or did it scaled or just moved slowly, they put in the work and the sweat and the effort.

I did very little to prepare specifically for “Murph” this year. I’ve been going to class five times per week but we’ve done little in the way of push-ups or pull-ups recently and this was the first time I put on the weight vest in a year. To try and counterbalance the lack of preparedness, on Sunday I made a concerted effort to eat clean and was asleep by 9:30pm. I had a eggs and bacon and white rice and protein shake a few hours ahead of time for breakfast on Memorial Day and I did my best to do some mobility work before the workout started. But last minute efforts don’t really save you from the slog of this workout.

I was in the second heat of the morning with 12-15 others. Quickly, or perhaps I should say slowly, I fell to back of the pack on the first 1-mile run. The vest is not very comfortable while running as it keeps slamming against your chest but I kept moving and it took me 10 minutes and change. I note how long the run took as it emphasizes how I then spent the next 46 minutes working on the squats, push-ups and pull-ups.

I started with a rep scheme of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 squats. Early on the push-ups were troublesome and I had to break them up into small sets. People around me were moving at a good pace and I had to remind myself that the point of “Murph” is to finish, it is not a race. Nor did it make any sense to compare.

With no stalking horse in mind, my attention kept turning to the clock. While I realize I said it was not a race, I did want to make sure I maintained a decent pace. Feeling that I was moving slowly, I switched up the rep scheme to 30 squats, 10 push-ups, 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, 5 pull-ups. Instead of the 20 rounds I marked on the board, I was now at least able to cross out two at a time.

The community members were amazing throughout cheering myself and everyone else on. Eventually I was the last one in my heat left in the gym still working; the others had either finished or were on their second 1-mile run. As I chipped away and neared the end, Coach Danny came over for to provide the push I needed to wrap up the last of my pull-ups and push-ups. By this point, my hands had developed blisters and one actually burst and I was dripping some blood on the floor and on the bar. He told me not to worry about it and keep going. “Let’s do these 5 pull-ups one a t time. Ready. 5-4-3-2-1. Good. Again and we are going in 5-4-3-2-1…”

Finally, it was time to run (or jog) again and I was out the door. I repeated to myself to just keep moving. Don’t stop, don’t walk, just keep the pace. As I arrived back near the gym for the last 400-meters, I was amazed at Louis, Jake and Ron who had just completed “Murph” started running with me. Mostly quiet but here and there words of encouragement as they saw made sure I kept the pace. With the last 100 meters and the end in sight, I started sprinting. It was not to show off, but it was a second wind, 20 seconds of courage, thanks to everyone’s cheers and applause to finish strong.

And then I immediately collapsed on the ground and someone very kindly helped remove the vest.

Despite being last in my heat, I beat my time from last year and it was my fastest finish to date doing it with the weight vest.

2013 00:49:25 Rx
2014 01:12:50 Rx + Weight Vest  (20#)
2015 01:15:30 Rx + Weight Vest  (20#)
2016 01:08:42 Rx + Weight Vest  (20#)

“Murph” allows for an amazing display of community, both in a small discreet way like the guys running the last 400 meters with me Kingfield but also on a larger level as thousands upon thousands of people across the country honor our armed forces by enduring some blistered hands, sore legs and tons of sweat to say thank you and show our respect. It is not political, it is certainly bi-partisan and it definitely feels purely American.

Watching the Scale go Up

For the past six weeks I have been working with Emily Field, a registered dietitian, on my nutrition and diet. We have set a goal for me to gain 10 pounds over three months without drastically changing my body composition, which means maintaining a body fat percentage below 10%.

Each week, Emily prescribes my daily macros and caloric intake. She has provided a recommended list of foods but there is flexibility in what I can eat and drink. I can have a burger or a glass of red wine if it fits my macros. Obviously one can’t go hog wild or it will be difficult to consume the needed amount of protein and carbohydrates if I choose foods that are high in fat. Emily’s methodology is for me to gain weight in a slow and measured way so that my body composition doesn’t go out of whack (a.k.a not suddenly putting on a beer belly). Here is a look at the prescribed macros over the past six weeks:

Protein Fat Carb Calories
Week 1 125g 60g 175g 1,740
Week 2 125g 60g 175g 1,740
Week 3 150g 80g 175g 2,020
Week 4 150g 100g 200g 2,300
Week 5 150g 100g 200g 2,300
Week 6 175g 100g 200g 2,400

While 1,740 calories per day in the beginning seems low, Emily correctly diagnosed that I was under eating and not even consuming that many calories despite going to CrossFit classes four times per week.

The increase in carbs and calories in the first few weeks kicked my metabolism into high gear. As you can see on the chart below, despite eating more I actually lost weight. In response, Emily said, “You’re earning ‘unicorn status’. This refers to the phenomenon that a few handful of people experience – increase in carbohydrates and overall calories WHILE dropping in weight and inches. This warrants another increase in macros. Eat up, hopefully this will slow things down a little and we can get your weight to stabilize.”

Things have stabilized and I have gained weight over the past two weeks and so the scale is finally going in the right direction. weight

And so as you see the daily macros, you might be wondering what does that specifically look like? How much food am I eating? Here is a day ripped from my food diary earlier this week as I am not consuming 2,400 calories:

 ProteinFatCarbCalories
White rice (1/2 dry cup)6.00.070.0304
Chicken sausage15.08.02.0140
Eggs (2)14.09.00.0137
Mozzarella (1/4 cup)7.06.02.090
Protein shake24.01.02.0113
Banana1.30.427.0117
String cheese5.05.00.065
Carrots (1.5 oz)0.50.04.018
Pork muffin (2)33.638.08.4510
Baked oatmeal3.44.922.5148
Turkey burger (2)44.020.00.0356
Sweet potatoe2.00.126.0113
Peppers & onions (1 cup)1.00.07.032
Vanilla Ice Cream (6 oz)2.010.024.0194
Protein shake24.01.02.0113
TOTAL182.8103.4196.92450

It’s a good amount of food. I workout at 5:15am in the morning and so by the time I am back home by 6:30am, I am ready for a big breakfast. I try to bring lunch for work and I find it easiest to bring a lot of grab and go items – banana, carrots, cheese, etc.  I tend to eat just three times per day rather than small meals throughout. I get home from work by 6:30pm / 7:00pm and so dinner is followed pretty quickly by dessert.

Over the past six weeks, I have realized that when I get my carbs and fat from foods high in gluten and sugar (i.e. bread, cookies, etc.) that I don’t feel as satiated later and I can’t eat as much. For example, a #10 Hunter’s Club from Jimmy John’s with no mayo is 67 grams of carbs. It is a protein heavy sandwich but that takes up a 1/3 of my daily allowance of carbs. Or even more extreme, the chicken salad sandwich from Panera Bread is 9o grams of carbs. I’m trying to be more diligent about cutting back on these types of food and making sure I just meal prep for success.

I weigh myself  ever Monday morning as part of my tracking with Emily and hopefully the number on the scale keeps going up!

I’m Not Competing

The origins of this blog was centered around an innate desire to compete, which was awakened within when I attended the Granite Games as a spectator back in October 2013. Over the course of two years, I competed in my first powerlifting meet, Freeze Fest, the Dakota Games, small throwdowns and eventually the Granite Games. I even attended CrossFit camp and trained alongside Olympic gymnasts and weightlifters and CrossFit Games athletes. Through competition I learned about myself and gained much needed confidence to take risks outside the gym.

This year though I have made a pointed decision not to compete, despite the allure of Lifto de Mayo, SISU Summer Throwdown and even a return trip to the Granite Games. I realized with competition, especially as an amateur and a full-time job, that the ebbs and flows were a distraction to my day-to-day training. I would focus for two to three months to prepare for the competition and hit a peak of PRs, nerves and excitement. Immediately after, I would crash, need to deload and I would throw diet out the window. It was not sustainable and adding stress to my life.

athletic legs of young sport man with sharp scarf muscles running on staircase steps jogging in urban training workout or runner competition in fitness and healthy lifestyle concept

Since the end of last year I have worked hard to create a routine that I can stick to for 52 weeks out of the year rather than fits and bursts. For the past month, I have settled into going to the 5:15am class at CrossFit Kingfield every morning, Monday through Friday. I then take the weekends off, only doing some light activity as the nice summer weather allows (i.e. biking, paddleboarding, etc.).

This adjustment to my schedule causes me to happily fall asleep by 10pm at the latest, which is early but trust me there is nothing else going on at that time, especially at least during the work week. I am also then awake and fed and showered and at my desk by 8am, which has allowed me time to better prepare for the litany of phone calls, emails, meetings, property tours, etc. that fill up my day.  The office is quiet and the phone usually doesn’t ring and so I can actually think and organize my to-do list.

Not competing this year has also allowed me the mental headspace to focus on my nutrition. I did the 60-day challenge at my gym and that has spilled over into a much more prolonged effort to figure out how I can better fuel my body for all this activity in and out of the gym. I have been working with Emily Field, a registered dietician, to address the fact that I have been chronically under eating for the past few years. With her help, I am now doggedly hitting the prescribed macros and am slowly increasing my daily caloric intake with the goal of putting on ten pounds. While some may think it is nice to weigh what I did in high school (165 pounds), it is not very helpful when you are trying to deadlift, squat and press more weight. I want to eat great food, but I also want to eat the right kinds of food in the right amount of portions so that I can perform better and look better. While I have thought a lot about nutrition since this blog began, I have not given it the thoughtful time and focus it deserves.

So while I see all the pictures pop up on Facebook of these competitions throughout the year and feel a tinge of envy that I am not out there on the floor doing sandbag runs or handstand push-ups, I am also happy about the decision I have made. I know I will compete again, but I plan on being better prepared next time and that starts by taking a step back and strengthening my base. You can work on skills and movements but, at least for me, it is all for naught if I don’t have a body that is performing at its full potential. I believe this dedication to my diet, sleep and routine will help me get where I want to be.