I just had an amazing day of competition yesterday. Several weeks ago, I saw the Illinois’ Strongest Man contest hosted by Dave Daly included a Viking Press, which was something I had always wanted to try, so I signed up for the competition. I wasn’t sure how the competition would go for me, but as always, I knew I would have a great time. I didn’t expect to win the Master’s Division. Though there were 2 competitors, I thought my chances were less than 50/50.
To help prepare for the contest, Dave Pankow of Pankow-Performance helped create a make-shift Viking Press to give me a feel for the event. Since each apparatus is different, it is impossible to perfectly replicate the event, but it was good enough to give me confidence. We also continued to work on deadlifts, and my boot camp training with Fitness Revolution of Wixom helped me with my speed, which is what helped me win the final 2 events and the overall division.
My competitor, Dennis, was outstanding. He beat me by 1 rep on the Viking Press and by 17 feet on the Conan’s Wheel. On the Viking Deadlift, he pulled the 12th rep just after time expired, or he would have tied me on the deadlift. Fortunately for me, he was credited with 11, but I knew it wasn’t by much.
The final two events, Farmer’s Carry and the Yoke/Keg medley, were what provided the win for me. The weight on the farmer’s was light enough to just grab and go, which helped on the turn, but I only won by 0.3 seconds. Dennis had been very fast. On the Yoke/Keg medley, I believe the time difference was less than a second, and the difference was likely a slight bobble Dennis had with the yoke half-way down the run.
Here is a compilation video of the events:
The event was fun, all the competitors were friendly, helpful, and encouraging, and to walk away with my first time winning my division felt wonderful, though after the car ride home, I couldn’t wait to hop into my Finnleo infrared sauna and my Amerec steam shower to help me recover.
Now, I need to prepare for Nationals in Las Vegas on September 16th & 17th. I will see Dennis there again, and I know I have a ton of training to do to stay competitive with him.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other…” Luke 16:13. I am not one to quote scripture, and I realize this wasn’t referring to running vs strongman, but it is applicable to so many conflicts in life.
New Year’s Eve heading into 2003, a friend of mine said he wanted to run a marathon before his 30th birthday. He was turning 29 in April, which meant that in Michigan, he had one marathon season to complete his goal. Determined to help my friend succeed, I told him I would train with him and run the Detroit Marathon with him. That summer, we spent most Saturdays or Sundays running 2 laps around a park with an 8-1/2 mile trail. Those were good miles and happy memories, though I ended up injuring myself in September, so I could not participate in the October marathon; however, Don achieved his goal.
In April 2004, my wife and I welcomed our daughter, so much of the time I had spent running the previous year was now focused on being a good husband and father. I think the jury is still out on how well I succeeded in that first year of fatherhood, but I did my best; however, my marathon training was less than impressive. When Don asked if I wanted to run the marathon that October, I agreed, as I figured I could whip myself into marathon shape in a couple months. Avoiding injury, I completed my first marathon in October 2004.
I took the next year off of running, as I had decided to try a career change which didn’t pan out, but for my 30th birthday, I completed the Flying Pigs Marathon in Cincinnati, OH. It was a fun race and one I intended to do again, but laziness and depression took over, so I took comfort in food rather than the miles that gave me release and a great time to work through the problems of the world. I didn’t complete any substantial distance for another 8 years when I completed the Detroit Half-Marathon after losing 50 lbs while working out with Fitness Revolution of Wixom. Completing that race was a gift to myself saying I had taken control of my health, wellness, and fitness.
I was so excited with my return to running long distances that I signed up for the Las Vegas Half-Marathon for November 15, 2015. It was to be my great traveling half-marathon, and I had intentions of shaving 15-20 minutes off of my time from the Detroit Half-Marathon. I logged miles every day during my lunch hour. I booked travel in April when I saw great deals. In May, I was pleased to learn I could help another friend achieve a goal by creating a relay team for the Detroit Marathon, which would serve as a nice warm-up for the Las Vegas Half. Las Vegas was going to be MY race, and then in July it happened…I met my new love and master of my exercise time and goals: Strongman.
One of the first observations made about my training prior to strongman was I was doing too much, and it was hurting my goals, as I wasn’t giving my body enough time to rest. While it was difficult at first to not run during lunch, I soon found that I enjoyed a relaxing lunch, and I often made healthier choices for lunch as I made time to prepare a salad and grilled meats. The downside was I could feel my cardiovascular endurance starting to reduce after a few weeks, but I could also feel great gains in strength, and my body was becoming more muscular and responding better to the workouts and increased rest.
After the strongman competition at the end of September, I had about 3 weeks to get ready for the Detroit Marathon relay, but my desire to run was no longer there. I was participating in more bootcamp classes again, which helped my cardio, but I was not in a runner’s shape any longer, and it made me start to second guess whether the Las Vegas half would happen or not. In fact, I was concerned whether I would do well on the shorter distance of the relay. Fortunately, Frank, a friend and trainer, suggested switching legs with me on the relay, so I could run just 2.9 miles. In conversations with Frank and Dave in the weeks leading up to the relay, it became clearer that I needed to opt out of the Las Vegas Half-Marathon and pursue my other opportunity to train at a strongman gym while out there.
Sunday, October 18, 2015 at 3:30 AM, I awoke to get ready for my last run with the word “marathon” associated with it. I met Frank at 4:30, and we started our drive to Detroit to arrive before the roads closed. We relaxed and talked for a while before heading to the starting line to meet our teammates, Suzy and Sara, and then we all went to where we needed to be. Suzy took the starting position. Frank went to the start of the 3rd leg at mile 12.8. I rode a bus to the start of the 4th leg around the 19 mile mark. Sara rode the bus to her position as the anchor for the relay on the 5th leg with the final 4 miles.
For the next 3 hours as Suzy and Frank made their way through the course, I thought about running, took a nap, thought more about running, and talked with a few people on the bus. I could feel that I wasn’t as excited about this race as I had been for other races, including some 5k distances, which was about what my leg was to be. I knew this race was going to be my retirement party for my running master.
As Frank approached the exchange chute for me to start my leg, I took his picture to remember the moment. I jogged most of my distance, but I felt the need to walk a few times to relieve pressure I felt in my chest. I stopped to take a picture of the Belle Isle Aquarium, and then I finished my leg of the race and sent Sara on her way to the finish. I was done, and I had finished trying to serve two masters.
When the bus returned me to the relay meet-up, Suzy, Sara, and Frank were waiting. We collected our finisher medals then posed for a picture in front of an oversized course map from the race. Suzy’s goal had been met. Frank helped us achieve our goals, and for me, I definitively knew my long distance running days were over. I felt peace and closure.
Today, my daughter put a question with which I have been struggling into very simple terms that made it easier to evaluate my options. I will have to remember her question when facing similar questions of what to choose when faced with two options, but before I reveal her advice, let me give you the backstory.
Last November, I decided to sign-up for the Rock ‘N Roll Las Vegas Half-Marathon, which is run on the Las Vegas Strip in the evening, so the participants get to enjoy the lights of the strip. It looked like a great race, and a friend in the area commented about how fun it was. I had just completed the Detroit Free Press International Half-Marathon, and my training seemed to be pointing in the direction of general fitness, so another half-marathon made sense.
In May, a friend announced that she would like to put a relay team together for the Detroit Free Press International Marathon, and since I like to help people achieve goals, and it appears I would be running no more than a 10k, I helped put a team together figuring it would be a good warm-up for the Las Vegas half.
In July, I got my first taste of strongman training, and I was hooked. On August 3rd, I started a 7 week program of strength training with Dave of Pankow-Performance, and one thing that Dave identified with my training that needed to change was I was doing too much. In addition to boot camp classes, crewing for hot air balloons, volunteering on an urban farm, and other physical activities, I was doing 4 miles per day during my lunch break. He advised me that the best gains are achieved while resting, as the body needs an opportunity to recover. It was difficult, at first, to relax and be mindful instead of always being busy, but I became accustomed to it, and I even found pleasure in relaxing lunches. Through Dave’s training and diet recommendations, I met the goal of competing at 242 lbs, and I exceeded my expectations in the competition; however, I could tell my running endurance had decreased during those weeks.
After competition, I went back to 2 days of boot camp training and 1 day of strength training (focus on squats and deadlifts), and it became more obvious that my running had taken a toll, but I also realized that my fitness goals had changed. Before strength training with Dave, my goals were to lose weight and stay active in runs. After strength training and having competed, I have more definitive goals:
Learn form and technique for strongman events
Become stronger throughout my entire body
Lose weight to compete at the 220 lb weight class (a definitive goal with a time requirement based on an April competition)
When I learned that one of our relay team members needed to drop out of the race due to a work commitment he had just been assigned, I started to question my running plans. To make up for his absence, I would likely be running/walking 8-10 miles instead of 6-7 miles. With less than a month between the Detroit marathon and the Las Vegas half-marathon, the increased mileage and need to train additional miles for the half made me realize I would likely miss valuable training sessions with boot camp and strength training as I recovered from the runs. Though the next strongman competition is not until April, I am not sure I can afford to miss multiple sessions to focus on running (in addition to days I will need to miss for work commitments).
Concerned about what I had gotten myself into, I decided to look at alternatives, and thanks to StartingStrongman.com, I learned of a gym in Las Vegas with open strongman training on Sundays from 12-4. After contacting Justin Purcell (who runs the training), I began to weigh my options. Because I respect his opinion and training knowledge, I asked Dave what he thought, and he said that if my goal was to run the race, he understood seeing it through to the end, but if I was concerned about being prepared, then I could opt for a relaxing vacation or I could train at Purcell’s facility. I thanked him for his input as it respected my desire to retire my running shoes with a final race, but he also gave me an option I hadn’t considered: rest.
This is where the wisdom of my daughter comes:
I had just finished checking her grades and saw that she currently had an A+ in every class, so I thought I would ask her a problem solving question: Based on the fact that I have not run for distance in more than 8 weeks, should I run the half-marathon (even if I am not ready) or should I go to the open gym strongman training? Grace’s answer was simple and would make my friends / trainers proud:
What will best serve your fitness goals?
At 11 years old and with no experience in fitness (aside from soccer and dance), my daughter summarized my internal struggle with a simple question that helped me see the answer more clearly. My fitness goal is to be competitive in a strongman competition, so if running the half-marathon jeopardizes that goal by trying to run it if I am unprepared, then I need to choose to let the race go in favor of pursuing my goal for April and, hopefully, years to come.
So, what is my decision? In 11 days, I will complete my relay leg in the Detroit marathon. At the completion of the race, I will evaluate how I feel and how long I think I will need to recover. If I struggle to complete my leg or if I feel my body will require significant recovery, I will bow out of the Las Vegas race. If I feel spectacular at the end of my leg and I am able to return to a full workout by Tuesday or Wednesday, I will do the race. Right now, I am leaning very heavily towards not running, as my legs were toast walking 3 miles after squats, lunges, deadlifts, and Nordics this morning.
It has been 4 weeks since I started training with Dave, and I have gained much more than muscle. Each workout, I learn more about myself physically and psychologically. Both of these will help me become a better person and strongman competitor.
1st Lesson: Rest,Relax, & Recover.
Before I started, Dave told me that I needed to stop doing my 4 mile walks/runs every day at lunch time, as I wasn’t allowing my body to recover. At first, it was difficult for me to accept that I was harming myself by doing more exercise, but after a week of resting when not in the gym, I found my workouts were more consistent and stronger in the gym. Because my workouts were stronger and more consistent, my body has been responding with gained strength and definition. Also, I am more confident in my ability to produce because I have respected my body’s needs. Last Sunday, I tested my limits by doing a gym workout Friday, Strongman workout Saturday, and an obstacle/mud run with a 25 lb backpack of bricks on Sunday. My performance on my Monday morning workout was week, and my body was sore and poorly recovered all week,
In work and other parts of life, it will serve me well to remember that working many hours and submitting the same quality and quantity of work as I would if I take time to rest does not benefit anybody. I may think I am perceived as a hard worker for putting in extra hours, but time without productivity (or worse hindering productivity) is not admirable.
2nd Lesson: Slow down, Focus on Form, & Listen to My Body
Coming into training, I knew my form would be one of the areas with which I would need assistance, as I had seldom practiced lifts like the deadlift or squat. I figured I would be fine with the bench press, but I learned there is much more than picking things up and putting them down.
Given that I am naturally strong, most of my life I have been able to lift things, though the form would not be approved by most. Letting my ego and natural strength drive me, I have a difficult time really evaluating what work capacity is appropriate for me. While I can physically lift most of the weights I put on the bar, I am learning to back away from the weight and the ego to find a challenging weight that is light enough for me to focus on proper form with each repetition. This Saturday, I finally backed off on pressing events to allow myself some successful lifts, and on the car deadlift, I asked to take off 50 lbs so I could end the day with a good lift. I must continue to practice this as it will allow me to enjoy the sport much longer than if I push myself and injure myself.
In life, I must know when to say when. Whether for work or personal relationships, it is okay to say “no” or “I am at my limit.” It will allow me to be a better employee and friend if I know my limitations and clearly express them to others. I will be better at the things I agree to do, and others will h
ave better understanding of when I might need help.
3rd Lesson: Set a Goal and Don’t Do Things Detrimental to the Goal
My goal for the competition is simple: complete 1 successful lift on each event. If I perform better, great, but goals of placing higher will be for future competitions.
While I have been observing the rest, relax, and recover instructions, I learned that completing the obstacle/mud run was counterproductive to my goal because it prevented me from training as hard and as well as I could have on Monday. I ran the event since I had paid for it months before, but now I know that for the next 4 weeks, my extra activities need to either be neutral or beneficial to my goal. I cannot afford to be working against myself.
In life, when I have a deadline or goal to achieve, I need to stop taking on extra work until my goals are met, unless it can be done in a way that doesn’t interfere with my work. Working with others on projects that achieve mutual goals is great, but offering to help do work to be a nice guy doesn’t meet my obligations.
While there are many more lessons that have been learned, these three have sounded the loudest over the weeks, and I am sure they will repeat for the rest of my life.
For over a year, I worked out 1-2 times per day and tried to push myself hard on each workout. I saw results from my efforts, but I was likely over-training. In the last 3 weeks, I have followed Dave’s instruction of resting when not in the gym, as “gains are achieved outside of the gym.” During these last weeks, I have felt more rested, and I have had more time to pursue other things. Tonight, I needed to do a supplemental “workout,” as my wife had noticed my body was a little stiffer than usual, so she suggested we go to Yin Yoga at Luminous Life Yoga in Wixom.
In years past, we did yoga together with some frequency, and Laurie eventually became a certified yoga instructor, but I did not share the same passion. While I supported her pursuit of happiness in taking and in instructing yoga, I preferred workouts I considered to be more challenging to strength or endurance. I wanted my workouts to have results that could be seen by others as well as myself. Yoga is the opposite of that, as many instructors will remind a class to not look at what another person is doing for comparison, and “be sure to not should all of yourself.” For my wife, yoga provides a great physical, emotional, and mental release. For me, I often have a hard time letting go and being with myself in the moment and the pose.
Tonight, Yin Yoga hit the spot. My shoulders, back, and legs have been very tight lately, and while I am warming up more than I ever have before a workout, I can still feel tension build in the muscles. When Laurie described Yin as an hour long stretching and relaxing class, I wasn’t sure if I could handle the slow progression of the class, but I knew I needed the release of tension in my muscles.
During class, Ray, the owner and instructor of the studio, instructed us to let go of what we had been carrying around with us all day physically and emotionally. Allow ourselves to be in the moment and to enjoy the class. Breathe into the poses and stay focused on our breaths. If we were forced into shallow breaths, back off because we are working too hard. If we felt like we could do more, take the pose to the edge of comfort, but don’t feel like we have to do more than what we feel good about. Essentially, take time to care for an to love ourselves, even if it was only for an hour.
At the end of class, my shoulders, quadriceps, and back were all much looser than when I started, and I had set aside some of the stress of the day. I was better prepared to prioritize my evening to meet my needs and to be prepared for tomorrow. When I awake and go to do some fun lifting in the morning, I will be doing so with a body that is better prepared for the taxing workouts I have ahead of me tomorrow and all weekend.
Remember: take time to love and to take care of yourself and breathe.
No, I’m not talking about the seafood mussels; rather, I am fortunate to work for a sauna and steam room manufacturer, and l believe in the benefits of heat bathing, so I have purchased and installed an infrared sauna and a steam shower in our home. Though both make me perspire almost as much Frank’s great bootcamp class at Fitness Revolution, they achieve the sweat in a different way, which lends themselves to being used differently.
Most days, I choose to use my Amerec steam shower, as it is integrated with my existing shower. About 15 minutes before my workout is scheduled to finish, the steam generator is programmed to preheat the shower. By the time I make it home, the shower is 110 degrees and ready to soothe my aching muscles and sometimes sore joints. During construction, I added a shower seat to let me relax while in the heat. As I enter the room, I add a few drops of Eucalyptus oil which both invigorates and helps to clear my sinuses (have been having allergy issues the last couple days).
The heat from the steam shower is warm and soothing, much like a hot tub but without the chemicals, need for extra maintenance, or constant drain on electricity. The heated, moist air feels great on the skin, and I feel both physical and mental stress start to melt away in the heat. Because the temperature is relatively low and most of the heat is transferred to the body through the water vapor, the heat doesn’t penetrate too deeply into the muscles, but when I use it almost daily, it helps to keep my body, skin, and mind fresh, clear, and ready to approach each day with vigor.
Today, I will be using the Helo B820 Far-Infrared sauna before I go with Dave to train on strongman events. I have had a very tight supraspinatus which can limit my lifts as it clicks and causes some pain in my left shoulder. I have regular massages, which work wonders on it, but while hot air ballooning the last two nights, I have felt a little extra tension in the muscle, and far-infrared heat, unlike steam, penetrates 1-1/2″ into the muscles and tissue of the body, thus it helps as a pre-workout warm-up to increase circulation to the area and to loosen the muscles without excessive stretching. Since far-infrared begins working as soon as it is turned on, I can use it for 20-30 minutes without preheating, which helps when on a tight schedule. When my muscles feel a little more fried after a workout, the infrared helps to release tension deeper within the muscle, so I will often fill a couple glasses of water, turn on a movie I can watch on the TV I can see from within the sauna, and spend as much time as I need taking several innings in the sauna until I am feeling like a million bucks.
I am excited for today’s workout, and I am happy that I get to use both the sauna and steam today to prepare for and recover after the workout. My evening and weekend will finish with another night of ballooning (crewing tonight), so I need to be physically ready for lifting, pulling, and towing everything for the setup, launch, landing, and packing of the balloon for Wicker Basket Balloon Center.
To me, “rest” is a word with a twisted meaning. Examples:
“Do what work you can, and I will finish the rest.” OR “Eat whatever you want, and I will eat the rest.”
Dave has challenged me to encourage a healthier meaning of the word “rest.” For over a year, despite recommendations by the great trainers at Fitness Revolution of Wixom, I would not take a rest day. The day after completing the Detroit Half-Marathon, I was back in the gym for a 6 AM metabolic workout. Dave advised me that if I want to see significant gains, I must allow my body to rest and recover.
As much of a challenge as I may find it to honor my rest days, I will work on relaxing and recovering for the next many weeks. I know my washing machine will be happy to not have so many loads of stinky, sweaty workout clothes to wash.