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.

Review: “American Grit” / “Strong”

Last month, two new reality competition shows premiered on TV focused around the idea of mental and physical strength.  On paper, they seemed like they would be right up my alley.

Scene from AMERICAN GRIT on FOX.
Scene from AMERICAN GRIT on FOX.

“American Grit” on Fox, hosted by WWE superstar John Cena, takes four teams into the wintery wilderness to face a variety of military-grade and survival-themed challenges. Each team is led by a decorated veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces representing respectively the Army, Navy, Marines and Seals. The contestants meet the requisite mix of cliches that you would find on “Survivor” (i.e. the quiet but manly lumberjack, the huge but sensitive body builder, the glamorous but tomboy equestrian). However, each has a story of adversity that they have overcome and a deep desire to prove their mental fortitude.

Every week they compete in an ‘Evolution’ – a lengthy challenge in which the winning team is safe from elimination. For example, in the first week the teams had to carry a huge log through multiple obstacles for over 3 miles. The military advisors/coaches of the losing teams must pick one team member to send to the ‘Circus’ – an obstacle course that ends with an endurance challenge. The endurance challenge goes as long as it takes for someone to finally give up and ring out – they use a bell similar to the Navy Seals.  In the second episode, contestants had to do 10 burpees and then submerge themselves in ice cold water. This was repeated over and over until one contestant actually fainted. The teams over the duration of the series will slowly whittle down until only one team remains and its members will split a $1,000,000 prize.

Scene from STRONG on NBC
Scene from STRONG on NBC

‘Strong’ on NBC, hosted by American professional volleyball player Gabrielle Reece, features 10 females contestants all looking to get in shape and get strong. They are each paired with a personal trainer whose backgrounds range from boxing to MMA to CrossFit to Cirque du Soleil. In addition to their daily one-on-one training, the pairs compete together to save themselves from elimination. Then there is a second challenge in which the winning pair gets to decide who will face the other team in the elimination round. Finally, there is a 4-story elimination tower that the two pairs must race through trying to finish first to stay in the competition. The winning pair will split a $500,000 prize.

The challenges have ranged from sprints to bar hangs to bench press. They are not easy and are reminiscent of metcons that you would find in a CrossFit class. At the end of each episode, they show the transformation of the eliminated contestant and they have all been amazing. More importantly, rather than focus on pounds lost, they show metrics centered around the increase in muscle mass and decrease in body fat percentage.

So where do these shows go wrong? In both instances these are reality shows and so drama reigns. More time is always given to the bickering and the strategy. For me, that often is tiresome. I’d rather see on ‘Strong’ more explanation of the training methods used. Plus, they make no mention of nutrition, though one has to assume the contestants are following some plan to complement all the exercise. ‘American Grit’ is less concerned with the drama, but perhaps that is because the veterans that are coaching each team get to make the calls and John Cena has little tolerance for contestants who are disrespectful or whiny.

So where do they go right? When the contestants reveal their motivation and tell their stories of adversity, the shows both soar. It is hard not to start rooting for them when you hear, for instance, how one contestant on ‘American Grit’ broke both her hands and had to have her father feed, clothe and bathe her for two years. Or of the contestant on ‘Strong’ whose life unraveled when she found out that her husband was cheating on her.

Of course the contestants want to win the money, but most also are searching for that inner strength that has been buried deep inside. They want to be healthier both mentally and physically, and part of that journey, if it is on a trivial reality show, is to force themselves to dig deep and go beyond their normal day-to-day. They aren’t just watching, they are doing. And some of them needed a trainer or a coach, like a hard-ass former Marine, to tell them that they can do it and they believe in them.

I understand that need. I have a had a charmed life in the scheme of things and so I’m looking to become stronger, to face fears and push my limits. But I also rely on my coaches to make me uncomfortable, telling me to get back on the bar, do another pull-up or to keep going.

‘Strong’ sometimes feels a bit too formulaic, but there are moments of vulnerability that keep me interested in seeing these women succeed. ‘American Grit’ applied reality show casting 101 to start but when you submerge yourself in ice water or carrying a log for 3-miles, all the noise of these loud personalities are quickly drowned out by the realization that shit just got real. Plus, they get just a brief glimpse as to the training that are Armed Forces go through before they even start facing the evils of this world.

I’ll be tuning into both each week.

Reverse Dieting (aka I’m Not Bulking)

After the 60-day challenge at my gym came to an end in early April, I weighed in at 165.8 pounds and my estimated body fat percentage dropped to 9%. While at the beginning of the challenge I had made a bigger goal for myself that by Memorial Day I would lower my body fat percentage below 10%, the reality is that when I look in the mirror I feel I look too skinny and lanky. I’m 6′ tall and I look more like a marathoner than a CrossFitter. Personally, that is not the aesthetic I want to achieve nor one that will support me in the gym and under the barbell.

I met with Emily Field, a registered dietitian, post-challenge to discuss my results and where I wanted to go next.  We discussed getting more dialed in with my nutrition in a productive way that could be sustained beyond 21-day sugar detoxes or 60-day challenges. Understanding that I wanted to put on weight but remain lean, Emily recommended we track my macros (protein, fat, carbs) and use a Reverse Dieting strategy over a 12-week period.

According to Emily, “Reverse Dieting is a form of positive metabolic adaptation in which the body responds in a favorable manner to increased food intake. Reverse Dieting is achieved by steadily increasing macronutrient intake and is designed to prime you metabolically without gaining excess body fat. Essentially, we are coaxing the metabolic rate to retune to normal  to what it was before you dieted in the first place.”

In short, we will increase calories slowly and methodically over time so that we minimize potential body fat gain and maximize strength and lean body mass gain.

PFC

Emily reviewed my typical daily food intake and identified that I was undereating.  To correct this and ease me into an increased calories/macros, she has prescribed a daily intake of 125 grams of protein, 60 grams of fat and 175 grams of carbs, which equates to 1,750 calories.

This is my second full week tracking macros. Here’s a sample day from my eating diary:

P F C CAL
Eggs (2) 14 9 0 137
White rice (1/2 dry cup) 6 0 70 304
Peppers & onions (1 cup) 1 0 7 32
Salami (1 oz) 8 8 0 104
Protein shake 24 1 2 113
Banana 1.3 0.4 27 117
Mason Jar Salad:
Balsamic (2 tbsp) 0 0 6 24
Diced tomatoes 0.9 0 2.6 14
Banza chickpea pasta (2 oz) 14 3.5 32 216
Chicken (4 oz) 23 1.5 0 106
Mozzarella (1/4 cup) 7 6 2 90
Baby spinach 2 0.3 2.5 20
Bear Naked Granola (1/4 cup) 3 5 28 169
Brocolli slaw (1 cup) 2 0 5 28
Beef sirloin roast (3 oz) 18 11 3 183
Protein shake 24 1 2 113
GOAL 125 60 175 1740
ACTUAL 148 47 189 1769

 

I’m a habitual eater so tracking isn’t that hard. I use a Google Docs spreadsheet and there is a lot of copying and pasting.  Meal prep helps.

Over the last 10 days, I’ve quickly learned that you can eat your fill of vegetables – the greener the better, white rice is your friend, bacon and salami are delicious, but a chicken breast has less fat, and chocolate chip cookies are loaded with carbs.

I am definitely eating more now than compared to just two weeks ago, but this is definitely not bulking.  My macros don’t feel limiting and they do allow some flexibility if I want to indulge here and there. However, you really have to consider your intake carefully. It’s not a buffet approach to eating. You can eat well but it’s not a free ticket to go hog wild.

In addition to tracking macros, Emily has noted that in Reverse Dieting it is extremely important to take progress pictures so that you can see the affects of the increased calories/macros on body composition. In addition, taking waist measurement (about 2 finger widths above your belly button, around the smallest part of your midsection) at least twice per month so you can track progress in body composition changes. We are keeping this data and pictures on file using a file sharing service.

Again, the goal is to gain weight while maintaining a low body fat percentage. While it sounds like the two ideas conflict, Emily has assured met that with Reverse Dieting and gradual changes to my macros it is very doable. I’m excited to see the results!