Sunday, December 19, 2010

Friends , Funerals, and Finding the Path

As I sit down to write this I am in my father’s 220 year old farm house. My feet are up on a green chest that used to hold all our winter gear when we lived on the Mortland farm in Searsport. The wood stove from that farm is here as well and it is just as adept at cranking out heat as it was on cold winter nights in Maine. These small things are reminders that life is cyclical and from whence we came so too do we return in some form or another. There are always differences in these scenes, obviously I am in Vermont and not in Maine, My wife is sitting next to me, one of my good friends is up here with us, and I am 25 and creating the life that I want to lead. If you have been reading my blog you can refer to the previous post to get a sense of what is going on. The other difference, the one that is painful and natural is that my Mother is no longer in this world. She passed away two weeks ago with her family around her.

This post is not about that moment, or really about her, it is about the days leading up to it, the days after, and learning once and for all which of your friends will be the steadfast loyal ones that you thought you grew up with. It is about transitions and it Is also about me driving a big ass truck.

Some of you might know that hanging out in hospitals is a miserable experience and there are very few things that can make it tolerable. One of the few things that can make it even remotely bearable is having a place to go that is close by and in no way reminds you of the immense craziness of life. I am fortunate to have amazing friends that went out of their way to help me, and my family out. It is hard to put into words the bonds that are forged between some people as they grow, platitudes and clich├ęs just don’t cut it. Ian put me up in his home, made sure I was fed, had a place to sleep and injected some semblance of normality into an otherwise insane situation. He managed to do this and talk about what was going on as if it was a normal part of life (which it is) without making a big deal out of it, or constantly asking “how I was doing”. Being at Ian and Jim’s was key to my mental wellbeing throughout Mom’s last hospital stay.

There is a saying: “You are the sum of your five closest friends”, if this is the case then I am one intensely amazing human being, If I am the sum of my ten closest friends then I am the most blessed man on the face of the earth, and it turns out that that may just well be the case. Every single one of my friends, I mean the ones that I truly give a shit about, made sure that I was Ok, checked in at some point and offered their help if me or my family needed it. I was overwhelmed by this outpouring of support and solidarity. The friends that I have surrounded myself with are amazing people and I am humbled beyond belief to have such a strong bound with so many truly good people.

Anna and I decided that it was best if we transport all of our big stuff to Vermont for storage, we realized that it is best to minimize future complications by dealing with things immediately. There are always items that fall to the family to care for and carry with them for the rest of their days. In my case there are antiques, chests, a handmade (by Mom) all wood table, and a giant cast iron wood stove. Anna and I reserved a 16ft truck with Penske, when we went to pick it up all that they had was a 26ft truck, guess who got to drive that to Vermont! We drove down in driving rain and snow, my buddy Justin drove our car and helped us load and unload the truck. Why should these little things matter you ask? It is a transition, a rite of passage and a cathartic experience.

After the death of a loved one there are considerably different and conflicting emotions vying for supremacy; Sadness, relief, confusion, anger, acceptance, loss, and determination. When we packed up the items of mom’s that are now my responsibility and transported them to Vermont I felt a sense of cleansing and of closing. I had done my job beyond reproach and now I am able to sit down and ask myself “Where do I go from here”. I am pleased with my answer and I think that you will be as well.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Stages of Grief and Sprints

Just a heads up; this is a pretty personal email, I am letting you guys know what is going on in my life and how I am dealing with it.

I am back in the USA right now, this should be a good thing, going back home is always cause for joy and celebration, or at least it should be. I am back in the U.S. because my mother is losing her battle with cancer and I want to be near her as the end comes. She has been fighting for two and half years, throughout this emotional roller coaster she has never once given up fighting, even when she has been exhausted, and painfully sick from chemo she has never given up. And as the end approaches she stubbornly refuses to bend to the disease. I could say more about the situation, and her disposition, but that is not the point of today’s post. The point of today is to talk about the stages of grief and how I hold onto my mental clarity and work through crippling emotions by pushing my body.

In terms of grief I would say that I am in the “Anger” phase, my emotions run a bit higher than others, so most of the time this translates to incandescent rage. This morning was one of those mornings when I woke up ready to fight an angry rapid badger, I tried to get a handle on my emotions, I called my wife, tried to write and eventually I gave up, I was too pissed off at the whole situation that I could not function. I decided to swing home, I have a cold and I have to stay at a buddies place until it goes away, to see mom and check how she was doing.

I talked with her for a while and made her a couple of smoothies (about all she eats now). She got tired and fell asleep. I left the house, sad and angry. I had to do something to regain myself again, so I went to the high school football field to rock a sprint workout. I have always found that physically working helps me to get a handle on whatever emotions are overwhelming me. Sprinting is far healthier than sitting in a chair and letting my sadness and anger tear me apart from the inside out.

I pulled up to the football field and jogged down the hill, it was one of those crisp and sunny November days that seem to be unique to New England, the air is clear and feels like it could heal anything, but if you turn into the wind it has a bite that cuts into your lungs and reminds you that winter is cold and right around the corner. I went through a quick warm-up and broke my workout up like this:

5x20m--- Sprint, walk to the start, sprint again.

5x60m--- Sprint, walk to the start, sprint again.

2x100m—Sprint, walk around the field, sprint again.

I sprinted hard and fast, I relished the wind biting into my lungs and ripping through my throat. It felt like the act of sprinting was cleaning out all the negative thoughts and the indecision that had gripped me the last couple of days. My head began to get clearer and I started working through the specific issues that were troubling me; My mom’s wasting sickness, my inability to help her, my wife’s inability to be in The U.S. right now (teaching contract), the intense difficulty I have focusing and getting work done. I addressed these things and started working through them while I forced my body to work hard and move fast.

I know that this is only a quick fix, an adjustment that allows me to focus for the rest of the day. But over the course of weeks and months I will be able to work through the burden that this places on me, and soon I will be functional and happy again. Other people that go through this sometimes languish for years. I have no desire to be debilitated by the natural passing of my mother. Yes the situation is shitty, and I would change it if I could, but to spend my time railing against the injustice of it only serves to keep me in a vicious loop of self-pity and rage. I hate what is going on, yet I have spent enough time getting to know how I work to know how to help myself. I go outside and I push myself hard, I use that time to work through my troubles and over time I will become healthy again.

This is not the last word on the subject, the next couple of months will be hard, and I may miss posting for a while. Know that I will be back. Remember to examine how you cope with difficult situations, when the shit really hits the fan you need to know how to get healthy again.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Comfort Zones

I have found that most people (myself included) need to be in their comfort zone in order to function at their optimal level. This is fine, I really have no problem with that, live isn’t about constant conflict. What I find is a problem is when people shut down completely when they move beyond the borders of comfort. I am back in the US right now, and since being back I have been able to assess how much my comfort zone has expanded.

As I stated above there is nothing wrong with being comfortable, that is when a teacher gives solid lessons, the carpenter creates dependable buildings, and the mason builds solid walls that will last a hundred years. In comfort zones life is solid and dependable, what needs to be done is obvious and life is a comfortable routine. This is not a place where innovation happens, where conventions are destroyed and where we are forced to raise above who we are and what we are comfortable with. Once we force ourselves beyond what is normal and safe we are given amazing opportunities to improve our lives and those lives whose lives are tied to ours.

Before I moved I was comfortable in my routines, as vigorous as they were, and I was happy with my surroundings. When I moved to Norway I was not that comfortable, Norwegians are a bit closed off, I didn’t speak the language, and I couldn’t work until I got a visa. I had two options; close myself off and hope that things work out, or put myself out there and actively pursue the life that I wanted. When I look at it that way, I only had one choice. Fortunately for me the gym that Anna and I worked out provided the catalyst for expanding my comfort zone while challenging it’s boundaries. Ganddal AK is filled with a great group of men, some that I train, and some that have become supportive friends.

In this environment I was able to expand my understanding of Norwegian cultural and physical culture, it was within that gym that I got a bead on what I want to do, and how I want to do it. I was being challenged to integrate with the culture in the gym and expand that culture. I did the only thing that I could, I rose to the challenge. I began training a great group of young men, and bringing in the tools that I know leads to functional fitness I was able to expand the gyms training spectrum. In the beginning a lot of the guys wondered what the hell I was doing; some even thought I was a dumbass. I stuck to my guns, explained how I train and why, now I have a reputation for doing “crazy monkey stuff”, but it is monkey stuff that works and people get behind. By moving beyond my comfort zone I have been able to carve out a place for myself while expanding on my abilities as a trainer and a man, and now that I am back in the States I am more confident in myself and my interactions. My abilities and technical knowledge as a trainer and coach came under question, by guys who know when something is bullshit, and I was able to move beyond my comfort zone, and show by example that I know what I am doing. Now the gym has a great mesh of Powerlifting, Strongman training, and Athleticism.

I know now that I can move beyond myself and influence the environment to better myself and the people around me. If I had just sat in the house, waiting to work and crying about it I would not have solidified my goals and come to know and understand an amazing group of men. I know I have learned a lot from them, about training and life, and I feel as if I have taught a lot. Only when we move beyond the normal range of our interactions do we get the opportunity to see who we are and to alter that for our and others betterment. Challenge your comfort zones, move beyond what is normal and start forging your own path. Change usually doesn’t happen all at once, it is the result of thousands of alterations, start now, and move onto something better.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Four ways to make informed decisions

I have been running around the internet reading lots of blogs from self-described “fitness professionals”. This has been a horrifying experience for me, and I am rather pissed off that there is so much misinformation out there, but it is the internet, I shouldn't be that surprised. Sadly for the general population there is a massive amount of misinformation out there when it comes to training (and many other things), and it seems that there are a lot of trainers contributing to this by writing terrible articles based off of one poorly done study, or on erroneous information that on closer inspection is counter intuitive.

Here is an example: Lifting within 30% of your one rep maximum (1-RM) for ten reps is the same as lifting 60-80% of your 1-RM for four repetitions. This study was conducted on untrained men for ten weeks and it focused on their forearm flexors and extensors. First off new trainees respond positively to just about any training stimulus, the muscles and nerves are being challenge so adaptations will occur regardless of what is done. These progressions will stop very swiftly unless the trainee engages in a intelligently designed, progressive plan . Secondly the forearm flexors and extensors are very small muscle groups, they respond to stimulus differently than say the quads. If the study had focused on the legs and ran longer than 10 weeks I can safely assume that the results would be more in favor of training in the 60-80% range. The problem with a limited study such as this is that misinformed people will use it as training guidelines. These people will stay weak for years, and they will not know why they are not getting more athletic, stronger, and faster. In one way they deserve it, if they had verified their sources or made informed choices then they would continuously be getting good results instead of mediocre results that correspond to their previous lack of effort. If these people do not eventually change their ways I have a very hard time feeling any pity for them. If a training plan isn't working then some thing is wrong, find out what it is and fix it. I do feel for the people that are trying to become informed and are running into heaps of terrible training information while lacking the ability or knowledge to pull out the slivers of good information.

In all things that you do, you need to make informed decisions. There are no absolute experts in anything, just those that are more informed then others and take the time to continuously add to their knowledge. How do you find good solid training information? Read blogs, read studies, find trainers whose clients are getting the sort of results that you want. You could also check out my buddy Isaac Wilkins, who set me onto my current path, you can find him here:

In the interest of expanding your knowledge here are "Four ways to make informed decisions":

1. Read as much as possible: What are the common threads or themes? How do they tie together? What seems to be the consensus?

2. Use Wikipedia for the references, not the actual article (If you don’t know this, god help you).

3. Find someone you respect and ask them. This is pretty simple; use your contacts to get accurate information from reliable sources. This does not mean “My step sisters friend Guido said that this guy down at the bar told his buddy John that this other dude told him…(insert BS here)”.

4. Does it feel right? If the information or advice seems wrong or a little bit off chances are it is. Listen to your gut. Say you want to “Lose that gut and get Six Pack Abs”, is the plan to do this “Easy”, will it take “Four Weeks”, and is it the only “Truth”? If you want to get strong and lean then it takes time and effort. Nothing worth doing is ever “easy”; some amount of effort and dedication is required.

These are just a few ways to increase your awareness and aid you in making informed decisions. Start implementing these in your daily life, and you will notice that the quality and fallout of your decisions will improve.