Road to St. Cloud – Team Training

This past weekend I saw the amazing, harrowing documentary film “Meru“.  It is about three American climbers – Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk –  who were the first people to scale Meru Peak, a 21,000-foot Himalayan mountain in India. The film had me riddled with anxiety the whole time as I wasn’t sure if they were going to make it or if some tragic accident was waiting to happen.

As the end credits rolled, I was in awe at their drive and commitment to each other’s success. I was also struck by how mentally strong and focused they were and how much trust they had created. The three of them were the definition of a team. Each taking the lead at some point up the mountain. Each contributing their individual skills and compensating for each other’s weaknesses.

The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011
The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011

The film doesn’t get much into the weeds about the technical aspects of climbing. However, it is clear that this trio had to be in constant communication with each other. One mistake could be fatal as they clip in, clip out, give each other rope, take one step up and one step over to get to the top. They had to cheer each other on as it got harder and harder to get up that peak. They also had to be brutally honest and keep each other in check. Their success was their trust in each other, their ability to be vocal, but also their ability to listen to one another.

Over the past two weekends, the coaches at Kingfield have organized a Saturday training sessions for the athletes competing in the Granite Games. My team attended both and it has been a fast lesson in communication. While I got to know my teammate Nick during the trip to Nicaragua, it is a relatively new friendship and we have never competed together before. I have been in some classes with our other teammate Jarrod at Kingfield but we too are still getting to know each other. To belabor the point, Nick and Jarrod had never even met until two Saturdays ago. We are three relative strangers trying to quickly unify ourselves as a team.

In the first training session, the coaches wasted no time in making sure we were communicating with each other, or learning what happens when you don’t. The workout for time was as follows:

  • 50 deadlifts (135#)
  • 50 hang power cleans (135#)
  • 50 shoulder to overhead (135#)
  • 50 toes to bar
  • 50 handstand pushups
  • 300 double unders

Your team could break up the reps in whatever way you wanted. However, for the first three movements, the bar was not allowed to touch the ground. This meant that if you wanted to switch with a teammate during the deadlift, you had to somehow pass the bar over to your teammate.

Like the others, we found it easiest to have one person on each side of the bar. We decided that when the person had done as many reps as they could they would say “Switch”. The two guys on either end would grab the bar and say “On” and then that person who just went would take over holding the end of the bar and teammate #2 would go to the middle of the bar and grab hold and yell “Off” when they had a secure grip.

It was a simple system yet complicated by us not knowing each other well enough yet to instantly read each other’s signs. And as the clock progressed, we learned how you had to be very loud and clear no matter how tired you were getting to make sure the teammates knew when to take the bar or to let it go. We never dropped the bar, but we were not running smoothly.

This past Saturday for the second training sessions, we were off to a bad start as Jarrod was nowhere to be seen. He bartends and works long nights. A phone call after he was 15 minutes late to training revealed that he was still sleeping. He proved his commitment though by rushing over to the gym and getting there 1-minute before the workout started. He had to go cold into the following:

  • Event 1 – Burpees to 6′ target (7-minute time cap)
  • 10-min Rest
  • Event 2 – Each teammate had to do 30 calorie Row, 20 Deadlift (225#), 100 Double-under, 30 Shoulder-to-overhead (85#), 30 Pull-ups.  One person followed the next through the sequence and two people could not do the same movement at the same time. The event had a 20 minute time cap.
  • 10-min Rest
  • Event 3 – 70 Snatches @ 85# and 70 Clean & Jerks @ 85# (8-minute time cap)

Each event had its own challenges and required that constant support and communication that are so important to a team’s success.

In Event 1, we decided to each do 7 burpees and then switch. I was to keep count the whole time to make sure we did not lose track. We picked a number that we felt was doable for all and left everyone with enough wind in their sails to get through the whole event without faltering too much.  We ended up with 146 burpees total.

In Event 2, we identified that Nick should be the leader and go first. He was awake and energized and feeling strong. Jarrod, having woken up thanks to the burpees, went second as he could move faster through the deadlift than I could. The goal was to have everyone finish, but also to as a back-up figure out a strategy that would get us the most total reps. And if you ended up having to wait for the person ahead to finish a movement, it was key that you support and encourage them to keep everyone motivated and moving.

In the last event, we decided to each do the number of reps we were comfortable with. We had learned the week before that you have to check the ego at the door. If you are getting close to being spent or failing a rep, you have to let your teammate tag in rather than waste time trying to prove you can get one more rep. We all want to win but we can’t do so by “hogging the ball”.

We also learned when we got to the clean and jerks how we all need to be on the same page and have a clear understanding of the rules. I thought the movement was just power cleans. Nick knew it was clean and jerks. Jarrod was not sure and just following our lead. We would have been corrected by a judge very quickly in the competition but it would also have been to our detriment and a waste of energy if we were doing the wrong movement. And yet we did so anyways and did 70 power cleans. It was practice so it was fine. But those type of mistakes are huge on game day.

We can’t meet this weekend due to schedule conflicts. I think we need to find an activity outside of the gym to get to know each other better and form that crucial bond. Maybe we should go rock climbing?

Motivation by Way of Laziness

Two Sundays ago I was at CrossFit Kingfield for the regular 11am class.  We had done our warm up and then worked on a 4 rep max in the push press. As the end of class came near, it was time for the main workout of the day.  With a 15-minute time cap, the WOD was 5 rounds of  the following:

  • Sprint 100 meters
  • 15 Thrusters
  • 7 Handstand Push-ups

Like most people, I hate thrusters. The squatting and the pushing, the up and down, it makes me want to hurl.  However, the more challenging element for me was going to be the handstand push-ups.

We loaded up our bars and found a place on the wall for handstand push-ups (HSPU). The only problem was that I had not done one single HSPU this year. In fact, my experience before 2015 was limited to doing a few strict here and there (emphasis on few).  I had done plenty of handstand holds this summer, but always by way of a wall-walk to get into position.










Rightly so, Amanda, who was coaching, did not want us doing HSPU facing the wall. We were to kick-up into a hold, but I was totally out of practice with my handstands and was hesitant to kick-up into a hold.

Amanda encouraged me to give it a try.  Yet I stood there hemming and hawing and regressing into my irrational fear that I was going to break my face.  A fear that I had gotten over in the past but that was rearing its ugly head again.

I asked what the scaled movement was and she said that it was dumbbell push presses.  “F@ck that!” After 15 thrusters, I did not want to do dumbbell presses.  And yes, I am aware that handstand pushups are very taxing on one’s shoulders, but they sounded much better than the alternative.

And thus in my attempt to avoid the dumbbells, I got out of my head and kicked up into a handstand against the wall. It wasn’t pretty as I started with my head on the ab mat on the floor, but I was able to push out of that into a handstand hold and then do the HSPU from there.

I don’t know if it was some sort of mental Jedi trick that Amanda played on me, but out of the pure laziness of not wanting to touch the dumbbells and deal with more weight than needed, I found myself doing HSPU in the WOD. Amanda gave me some tips about kipping and I was actually stringing a few in the row.  I ended up doing 24 in total, which was probably 20 more than I had ever done at one time.

This past Monday the WOD was “Diane” and suddenly I was doing 21 HSPU in a row in the first round.  It’s probably cheap for me to say I was being lazy and thus kicked up into the HSPU.  The fact was I had for a moment lacked confidence in my own abilities and had forgotten how capable I was of doing these movements. Eventually with my training I want to get to a place of complete “Yes!” where I don’t question or hesitate. I just do.

Running Stairs with the November Project

This past Friday morning, my alarm clock started blaring at 5:45am – much earlier than usual. I had decided to check out the November Project, a free community workout held over near the University of Minnesota boathouse on Friday mornings. (They also meet on Wednesday mornings between the Mill City Museum and Guthrie Theater.) The meeting time was a very specific 6:27 AM and so I hauled my butt out of bed, splashed my face with some water and headed over to check it out.

I first read about the November Project in Outside Magazine back in 2013. The article explained how a grassroots fitness community grew out of two former college rowers doing workouts together to keep each other motivated. They would run stairs together and slowly and surely the group got larger and larger thanks to word of mouth and social media. Eventually, the idea spread way beyond the Boston area.

A November Project workout at Harvard stadium.    Photo: Bojan Mandaric
A November Project workout at Harvard stadium. Photo: Bojan Mandaric

Today, according to their website, November Project is “now present in multiple cities in across four time zones in North America, the movement is using a simple sense of accountability to motivate and encourage people of all ages, shapes, sizes and fitness levels to get out of their beds and get moving.”

My Granite Games teammate Nick met me in the parking lot near the boathouse. It had rained the night before and the sky was still a bit overcast and gray.  There were about a dozen young twenty-somethings in workout gear gathering together. Among the group was a familiar face – Jake from my CrossFit gym – who randomly was also their for the first time too.

Nick and I were greeted by Ben, Cyndi and Holly. They skipped handshakes and went straight for a hug to say hello and welcome us.  A quick warm-up lap and then we all met at the set of stairs that lead down from East River Parkway to the boathouse, which the group affectionately call  “King Kong.”  There Ben, the charismatic ringleader, who had brought the November Project to Minneapolis, explained the day’s workout.


The workout was as many rounds as possible for 33 minutes of the following:

  • Run all the way up to the top of the stairs and back down (300 steps total)
  • Run half-way up and back down (150 steps total)
  • Run all the way up to the top of the stairs and back down (300 steps total)
  • X number of Burpees
  • X number of Hoistees

When you got to the burpees and the hoistees, you were to find a partner to do them with. You could choose whatever number you wanted to start at for the first round, and then add 2 to that number for every subsequent round.

Hoistees were new to me and Nick and led to much comedic effect. You and your partner had to grab each other’s hands, lower yourselves down until your butt touched the ground and then stand back up and jump.  Our timing was off on the first few attempts, but eventually we got into the rhythm.  Ben encouraged everyone to loudly yell “hoistees!” with each rep.

That enthusiasm, which started with the hugs at the beginning, was maintained throughout. It was hot and sweaty and totally exhausting. My calves and quads were burning with every step.  But people were constantly high-fiving and telling each other “great job” and  “keep going” as they passed each other on the stairs.

At the end of the workout, we all got into a 1-minute plank position and we were instructed to maintain eye contact with someone else. The workout was about more than just yourself. It was about connecting with the community. When time was up, it was a round of applause and more sweaty hugs. To some it could seem off-putting, even cult-ish. To me, this group has organically created an atmosphere of “Yes!” that I have found to be a great approach to life.

It was a really tough workout but so satisfying. I completed 4 rounds, which equals 3,000 steps or approximately 250 flights of stairs.  It’s hard not to feel good about your day when you start it with that kind of energy and output.

I’ll be headed back this Friday. You should join me.

Hitting my Macros

Last month, I started attending classes at CrossFit Kingfield.  After five months of doing my own thing and not being consistent with any of my training, outside of attending a weekly yoga and boxing class, it was like I hit a giant reset button.  I had to be humble and take a step back in regards to all my lifts and recognize that my form and technique needed work. In addition, my numbers had gone down.  I was doing many of the WODs scaled rather than Rx.  The phrase “Use it or lose it” seems to apply.

But I was okay with this. I feel like the new gym has given me the opportunity to reexamine all my lifts and fix issues right away so that I don’t continue down a path of little progress and failed attempts. Coach Chris has met with me for the past two weeks one-on-one to drill the Oly lifts and all the coaches have noted progress just over the past month. But there is still a lot to learn and lot more improvement needed.

Strength, or lack thereof, has always been an issue for me. In addition to consistent and focused training, the most difficult piece of the puzzle for me has been nutrition. I’ve lost weight in the last six months as I am constantly underfed. My Paleo adventures in the kitchen have led to some amazing recipes and meals and definitely a lot more vegetables in my diet, but it has failed to provide enough calories and carbs.

With all that said, Coach Danny and I met to discuss my short-term and long-term goals. At the top of my list is getting competition ready for the Granite Games in September. We mapped out a training schedule, but it would all be wasted effort if I don’t fix my food intake. Knowing I need to eat more, Danny recommended I hit a daily goal of 200 grams of protein, 70 grams of fat and 260 grams of carbohydrates.


These three are macronutrients, or macros, which provide calories or energy.  Interestingly, carbohydrate provides 4 calories per gram, protein provides 4 calories per gram and Fat provides 9 calories per gram. The McKinley Health Center does a better job than I can of explaining macros in this article.

So how do I hit these numbers everyday? That’s a good question and one that I am trying to figure out. I bought some staples to have on hand in my freezer and pantry, like white rice, chicken breasts, eggs and bacon. I am also relying on two protein shakes per day to help hit that 200g goal.  With any new diet, it takes some trial and error to get it right.

Here’s a glimpse at my breakfast and dinner yesterday:

Protein Fat Carbs
Eggs (2) 12 10 0
Bacon (2 slices) 5 7 0
Eggo Waffles (2) 4 7 24
Jasmine Rice (1 serving) 3 0 40
Cooked Shrimp (1 cup) 18 0 1

I have a mix of some food higher in protein and some food higher in carbs. Even after these two meals, I am still shy of my goal. It definitely takes a lot of experimenting and some research to figure out the best food combos. Plus, a lot of planning out meals ahead of time. In terms of resources, I have found a few that have been helpful so far:

  • – a simple website that allows you to easily search and save meals that fit into your macros.
  • MyFitnessPal – the app and website allows you to keep a daily diary of your food intake. It utilizes crowdsourcing to help you easily find everything from brand name items to generic meats and vegetables to enter into your diary and see the nutritional content.
  • – While the website will try to sell you on online coaching, the blog has some good tips about measuring food and counting calories.

In addition to these websites and apps, I’ve been on the look out for articles to get smart on tracking my macros. Here’s a good article from Breaking Muscle that explains the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) approach.

Overall, the main takeaway is that I need to eat more or I am just going to be spinning my wheels at the gym wondering why I’m not getting any bigger or stronger.


Tracking Water Intake

As per the direction of my remote​ coach, Amanda from Central Athlete, I’ve been tracking my daily water intake for the past 30 days.

She asked me to make it a daily goal to drink 84 ounces of water.  The science behind the number is that it is approximately half my body weight (175 pounds) in ounces. To track my water, as mentioned on her before, I use a free iPhone app called Waterlogged.

You can see in the chart below that I have been inconsistent this past month.  I missed the mark 12 out of 30 days.

water intake

I am going to focus over the next month to hit 84 ounces all thirty days in a row. Hopefully the warmer weather will make more often grab for an ice cold glass of water because I sometimes forget, especially when I am busy with work, to take a sip.