Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goodbye and good riddance, 2008

You're finally dying, you hag, but you can't die soon enough to suit me. You and I have been together for such a short time really, but it seems like that first night was a lifetime ago. I looked into your face under the cold Kentucky moon and it seemed like a whole new world was opening up for us.

When our love was new, you made me feel 20 years younger.  With you by my side I was making more money than I ever had. My mental health was strong. I started working out, eating well, and losing weight. I looked better than I had in years and people noticed. I ran in my first organized road race and actually finished.

Then, for reasons I'll never understand, you turned on me.

You took my job.

You destroyed my credit.

You threw me into a new career just as the economy was going into the crapper.

You opened the door and let depression back into my life - I started going to Wendy's and to bed instead of the weight room and the treadmill.

You strained my sanity, my home, and my marriage to the breaking point.

If I'm sad about your death, I'm sad that you don't have a heart to break. I wish you could feel some of the suffering you brought into the world.

You taught me a lot 2008, but hurt me more. One day I might look back and be glad we met, but tonight I'm satisfied to know I won't have to spend another minute in your company.

I have a New Year. Been preparing for her for several weeks now. We'll work together and try to undo some of the damage you have done. She'll be going with me when I return to the gym. She's going to work with me to rebuild my career. We're going to spend time healing relationships with my family, my wife, my God, and myself. Who knows, we might even make the world a little better place than the one you are leaving behind.

I have seen quite a few come and go in my life. some of them were bad, some were great. But as a year 2008, you sucked.

2009, we'll be together soon. And I'm going to work my tail off to make you a great one.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Just Another Day?

Back when I still believed in church, Christmas was a transporting season for me. The deepening darkness of Advent as Mary and Joseph made their way to Bethlehem, the Silent Night lit by candles in children's sleepy hands, the tears of gratitude, the Epiphany of the Magi -- the journey of the Nativity me deeply as I joined fellow Christians in celebrating the traditions our people.

I still believe in Christmas, but the church became more of an obstacle between my Savior and me. The sentimental nostalgia of Christmas became an idol that turned my eyes from the grace of incarnation. Much to my surprise, I left Christianity to find Christ. I'm glad to say he hasn't been hard to find.

It has been a very difficult season since my last post back in September. Losing my job put our family in dire financial straits. There have been fearful nights spent wondering which bills would be paid and which creditors will have to wait. Stress over money is the great destroyer of marriages, maybe even greater than adultery, and Mrs P and I have felt the strain in our selves and in our relationship.

We lost our beloved Molly the week before Christmas. Our sweet faced Golden Retriever had reached the point that her tired legs would no longer lift her. I held her face in my hands when her trusting eyes closed for the last time, and we wept together as the doctor gave her the merciful injection and she quietly drew her last breath.

Before we knew our little old Lady would not see another Christmas, we added a new member to our family. A retriever puppy named Jake has joined our menagerie. He terrorizes our cats, torments our shoes, and has not let us sleep through a night since his arrival. He is a complete pain in the neck, but an hour doesn't pass in our house but he gives us at least one reason to laugh. Mom says God must have known how much our home would need some extra joy this Winter and I am sure she is right.

Working for the Duck is hard - much more than I expected. When they said it would be difficult, I thought that meant I would have to work hard, and I welcomed that challenge. What I didn't really expect was that even after working very hard, I might still not see much money for a long time. So far, I have mostly had to be satisfied with intangible rewards. There are plenty of them, but they don't impress the bill collector much. Our families have been very generous with their help, but I hate being a 48-year old man who still needs to ask for money from the grown-ups in my life.

And my running -- I ran a 5K this fall, set a new PR, but haven't done any exercising since. My mind and body are both less healthy because of this, and I am resolved to return to the gym where I found such strength in 2008. After three months as a salesman I can say for certain that I'm going to need all the strength and courage I can get.

So yesterday was not the most festive Yule we've had in the Pennsy house. Mrs P and I had agreed not to exchange gifts, but we had some packages from loved ones to open. A neighbor had left a basket of baked treats on the porch. But the holiday cheer was short-lived. The clear blue sky and warm sunny day seemed to mock my longing for a White Christmas as the puppy and I walked through the neighborhood that was still muddy from Christmas Eve's hard rain.

I thought to myself, "This isn't Christmas. This is just another day."

We came home to a house whose usual disorder has been made even crazier by Jake's energy and our own lethargy. Mrs P and I decided that rather than spend the day grieving, we would give one another a day of housekeeping. Our modest goal was to bring order to our bedroom.

We sorted laundry, shelved books, swept corners, moved furniture, and sorted through piles of un-boxed jewelry and unmatched socks. Shoes were stored above the puppy gnawing zone and clothes were taken to the washing machine. When we were finished, we had fresh bedclothes, a visible floor, and at least a few more square feet of clear space on top of the amoire.

Jake and I went outside for the last pee of the night and I contemplated Sirius, the brightest star in the east being pursued by the three wise men of Orion's belt. I took a bath and slept between clean sheets with my beautiful wife and our oh-so-patient cats as the puppy at last settled down for a long winter's nap in his crate.

I reached out to touch Mrs P in the dark as she slept, and I knew that this Christmas was not just another day. God has blessed me with love everywhere I turn. My family, my neighbors, my new colleagues at work - I am the least deserving creature on earth, yet I am the richest man I know.

Just another day? Nah. Take away the ham and the wrapping paper and the tree and the snow and it is still Christmas. The Grinch has taken all he could take, but somehow or other it came just the same.

There are plenty of babes in mangers in this world. Sometimes we all feel like travelers without a place to rest, banished to the stable while the world celebrates in the warm light of an inn where we have no place. Troubled days have passed and others will come, but on Christmas, even if it's only for an instant, the still small voice will remind us if we listen that we are richly blessed beyond anything we can ask or imagine. 
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD's hand double for all her sins.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:1-5)
Merry Christmas, Y'all.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fit for Life

Fitness isn't always about running or lifting. It's also about living.

Since I wrote last, I have passed my licensing exam and am now aughorized to sell life and health insurance in Kentucky. I made it to the gym a couple of times while I was studying. I actually felt guilty about wanting to workout when there was so much to learn. I actually went for a 3 mile run as a reward one day. My how life has changed!

I have met with some of my new colleagues several times in the past week. I am amazed at how positive and enthusiastic people are. I'm used to a much more subdued attitude at work. I like this new approach better.

I'm also working on a play, The Little Foxes here in Lexington. I made this commitment before getting laid off, so I really wasn't anticipating that I would be learning a new role and a new career at the same time. I'll be asking a lot of my brain and my body. A year ago, I would not have believed I had a chance. The gym and the road have taught me differently.

My blogging hours are necessarily limited these days. I'll try to keep in touch. Right now my biggest struggle is cramming workouts in between all this other stuff. I can't afford to lose my conditioning this fall. I'm playing double-headers for the next two months.


Monday, September 1, 2008

"Life is What Happens to You..."

"...while you're busy making other plans."

I remember the first time I heard "Beautiful Boy" on Double Fantasy, John Lennon's valedictory masterpiece. My friend Tom and I wept together in his dorm room as we heard the music and grieved the fallen poet.

I knew intuitively that his words to his young son were true -- 28 years later, I know it from experience.

I think it's important to have a plan. I also think it's important to recognize an opportunity when it comes along.

I think I have seen such an opportunity. I have decided to try to be an insurance salesman. Gross? Bizzare? I don't think so.

Here's what I want from what's left of my life:
  1. I want to help give Mrs P the kind of life that my wandering career and modest income have never made possible.
  2. I want to go to bed every night knowing that someone's life is better because I got up that morning.
I spoke with a splendid person from an insurance company that I believe in. (I don't want to mention any names, but you've seen their duck on TV.) One with products that are affordable and necessary. One that doesn't make money by scaring people. I've been a policyholder myself for several years. I've been studying all weekend, and I'm taking the licensing exam as soon as I can.

It's an entrepreneurial opportunity that's way out there where the ice is thin. Commission only. You're only paid to produce, not just for showing up. I could fall right through into the icy water. Or I could learn that this is a chance to have the living and the life that I have wanted for myself and my family. Mrs P and I have had several long talks about it. We're both a little apprehensive and a lot hopeful.

She believes in me. How can I fail? I believe we're going for it.

By the way, I ran 2.4 mi in 30 minutes yesterday. That's a 12:30 per mile pace, and a new personal best. "Every day, in every way it's getting better and better."

Thanks, John. You'd have been a great Pennsyltuckian.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Better Part of Valor

It occurs to me that a certain discretion is called for when blogging about an ongoing job search. I'll try to touch the highlights without any dangerous details.

I have had a couple of interviews this week, a couple of miles at the gym, and a lunch or two with folks who care. Not a bad way to go about changing my life, I guess.

The hard part is keeping control of your own search. I'm tempted to panic and grab at the first lifeline that's thrown in the water. Tempted, but I'm resisting. Looking back, I realize that I have spend a lot of years trying to be the man I thought I ought to be, and not the man I am. As If I knew better than my Creator what a proper Pennsy ought to be.

I spoke to a friend today about a job offer. I asked her what she thought. "Is that what you want to do with your life?"

"No, not really."

"Well then, DON"T!"

Too simple to be true, don't you think? I have a plan. I'll let you know how it works out.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Lunch break update

Started with a good run this morning, actually. I want to teach my legs to move faster, so I did treadmill intervals, 10x3:00 intervals alternating between 4 & 5+ mph. I wound up doing 2.25 miles in the 30 minutes, setting a new low pace of 13:20 per mile. That's as fast as I have run so far.
Date           Time           Pace     MPH   
08/09/08    3.11            14.18    4.23   
08/25/08    2.25            13.33    4.50  

This tells me two things -- 1) my cardio strength is improving and 2) I've probably been running too slowly. Judging from the way I felt after the half hour, I think I could have finished 5K. Maybe I'll try intervals on the 5K trainer program Wednesday morning.

The safety of the treadmill (and the appeal of all those flashing numbers) lets me push myself harder than I do on the road. After all. If I pull up lame on the treadmill, I'm surrounded by help. If something goes wrong on the road, I'm writhing in a ditch at 6:00 in the morning.

Since I made the decision to make running part of my body transformation strategy and less of an end in itself, I don't feel so wimpy about running inside. I'll try to do my long weekend run outside just to keep my chops up, but for now, sweating is more important.

I'll worry about tearing up the roads when I'm a little leaner and meaner.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Five Stages of Getting Canned

  1. Denial - Ah... a meeting with the boss. They're going to reward me for sticking with the company through this difficult period.
  2. Anger - Ten years for nothing? Long nights and going the extra mile for Nothing! Screw those people!
  3. Bargaining - Ok, maybe there's a way to change their minds. What if I just sold on straight commission for a while, just to prove my loyalty until business picks back up.
  4. Depression - I deserved this. I should have done better. He had no choice but to fire me. Now I'm done for. That job was the only thing I knew how to do.
  5. Acceptance - I had a job. Now I don't have it anymore. I may never really understand why that happened, but it isn't going to kill me. I'm going to take the lessons I've learned and use them to find my next job.
Today is the last day of the time I've budgeted for grieving about my lost job. I have done all the cussing and blaming and explaining and weeping I care to do about it. I have (with the help of my old boss) come up with an explanation for my dismissal that doesn't involve blaming or bashing the company. And of course, I have engaged in a certain amount of self-destructive behavior - missing sleep, eating garbage, skipping workouts.

Tomorrow I start my patented Pennsy Finds a New Gig Plan ®. I have a schedule for the coming week - one that treats looking for a job like it is my new job. I'll work out, clean up, and do house chores first thing, then work in my home office from 9:00 - 4:30. After that, I'll put work aside and set about being a husband, neighbor, and father figure to our small tribe of cats, Molly the dog, Dennis the fish, and anyone else God's infinite sense of humor sends our way.

I'll apply the things I learned as a sales manager, building a marketing plan based on defining my product, targeting the most attractive markets, and aggressively pursuing customer relationships.

Does this story belong on Pennsy Running? In a way, it does. This program is going to test my fitness on all levels - physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. The fact is, this kind of challenge is the reason I started running in the first place. Not just to be thinner, but fitter. More able to meet the challenges of life, whether that means the ability to get my family out of a burning house (one of my favorite definitions of fitness) or finding a new job.

As usual, I plan to make this page part of my discipline. I want to post every night to keep myself accountable. Feel free to nag at me if I don't.


The image of Dr Kübler-Ross's model is from The Outlaw Torn

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One Door Closes...

The recession has come to Pennsyltucky. Pennsy got layed off yesterday. (I also had a really good run in the morning, but frankly, the day's events kind of overshadowed my best time ever in the mile.)

I had a good job, making great money, working for super people. But the truth is, it never really touched my heart. I gave it everything I could... everything but my passion.

The boss was sad to let me go. We like one another, I think. But I was an expensive middle manager. Cutting me loose will probably save the jobs of a couple of guys who might have a harder time than I will getting a new gig.

I'm sad too, of course. But there's a part of me that is hopful. I wonder if God has a place for me where I can feel that fire again. Who knows... maybe even picking up towels in a gym someplace.

I'm taking the opportunity to create my own future. There is a dream inside me. I haven't found the words to wrap around it yet, but maybe some time running and lifting will help me find them.

"In my Father's house, there are many rooms." Time for me to jog down the hall and peek through some new doors.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Champion Among Giants

I'm watching the amazing women's marathon from Beijiing. Heres a shot of the leader, Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania. (image from let' As I begin this post, they have been running almost two hours. I am amazed at their courage, their physiques.
I cannot imagine the exhilaration of leading such a race. The leader  keeps pulling away, the chase pack keeps trying to reel her in. It's a classic and primal contest. I have a feeling that the marathon is about 30 percent ability and 70 percent will. That's the impression I have from watching the handful of marathoners I have known. It is certainly what it looks like on the screen.
Watching an entire marathon is a unique experience. It unfolds slowly like a screw turning a tiny tick at a time. The numbers fall as the screw turns. 10 miles. 20 miles. 2 hours.
Mrs P says that they look like they are miserable, like what they are doing hurts. It probably does hurt, but I see something else in their eyes. Determination. Each has a goal and a plan to reach it. The goal is out of their sight, the greatest obstacles are as present as their own hearts. I see warriors who refuse to be defeated. Not by weather. Not by fatigue. Never.
The runners whose pain is so great that they must drop out have their own courage and tragic glory.
My God. She just ran into the stadum. She is all alone. They were actually unrolling the tape as she ran past. What an amazing thing to witness. What an inspiration. 38 years old.

And after the winners come the rest of the heros. Limping. Cramping. Gasping for air. Battling agony. These women are giants.

Tomescu-Dita. What a name. What a champion.
The Marathon seems to be to be the most Olympic of events. All nations competing at once. Nationality seems to fade away. The parochial "where are the Americans" of the announcers no longer matters. It may not be great television, but it is great drama.

It makes a Pennsyltuckian want to run.


Pennsy's Bookshelf: The New Rules of Lifting

I read too much. Too many books and not enough doing. At this moment, when I ought to be at the gym for my Saturday morning sweat-fest, I am instead writing about reading.

My brain has always been my favorite muscle and it shows, but it is always easier for my body to follow when I understand what I am asking it to do. So here's a book I got myself as a birthday present, and the authors are teaching me a lot.

The New Rules of Lifting is organized around two lists. One is the list of twenty rules based on common sense and a good humor. The last is "If it's not fun, you're doing something wrong." The narrative voice of New Rules... belongs to Lou Schuler who has a rare combination of expertise, humility, and humor about himself that keeps the text light and effective.

The other important list - the one that provides the spine for the functional part of the book is this one:

  • Squat
  • Bend
  • Lunge
  • Twist
  • Push
  • Pull
These are the basis for all human movement. They are also the basis of  the programs designed by Alwyn Cosgrove. They are simple routines, designed to be achievable in an hour. The way they are designed applies several principles.
  • Periodization - stick with a good program for an extended time, then switch when your body starts to adapt to it.
  • Variety - don't repeat a workout. Try to lift a little heavier, a little faster, a little more powerfully each time you go to the gym.
  • Compound movement - do a full body workout every time. 
  • Using muscles the way they were designed to be used - There aren't a lot of situations where you will be required to stand still and bend your elbow under a heavy load the way you do with arm curls. On the other hand, bending over and picking up heavy stuff is a daily part of life. Strengthen your arms as part of a bigger movement like a deadlift or a clean and press (honey, can you pick this up and put it on the top shelf for me?)
  • Intensity - Work hard and fast. Because the workouts are so simple and so short, loafing through them is a waste of time. Rest between sets is built in, but as Schuler points out, Work = Strength + Speed. I've been watching olympic lifters lately and they exemplify this principle as much as anyone. It isn't just that they move amazing amounts of iron off the floor - it's that they move it so fast that they can hop underneath and push it up over their heads. 
I am going to try the Fat Loss program. There's also one for strength and one for hypertrophy (that's muscle growth.) It looks hard, which I like. It also lasts a long time, also a plus. I have been experimenting and learning, but now I want to get a little more focus into my training. There's a whole year's worth of workouts. I don't know if my attention span can handle that kind of discipline, but if it makes me pretty, that may be motivation enough.

There's also a version for women whose subtitle is Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess. I have not read that one, since that isn't really the look I'm after, but I would be surprised if it doesn't share many of the qualities of the one I have. 

The authors don't speak very highly of running. I find this to be pretty common among resistance advocates. Runners tend to speak ill of the weight room too. Typically, I have managed to delight in two antagonistic activities. Since I haven't really found a guru who says much about combining them - except for old Arnold Schwarzenegger who used to run a lot while competing - I'm going to have to find my own way to reconcile them.

And now, off to the gym. Seriously.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Working Out for the Long Haul

I've been taking a break. The race on Saturday was a real high for me. It also left my legs and butt pretty sore and tired. Yesterday was my first trip back to the gym after four days off and I felt it. I did Pullups, Woodchoppers, Lunges, Bench Press, and Deadlifts, but when I tried to run, my legs were so wobbley that it felt like the treadmill was turning over. Not hurting, just absolutely out of gas. They wouldn't hold me up or move me forward.

Good time to call it a night.

So here's what I mean about the long haul. I have this long-range goal. I want to be a personal trainer some day. If I can get there, I think I could put together a very persuasive sales pitch - starting with before and after pictures.

The reason I've been thinking about during this break is that I have started to feel a little distracted. I change workouts every two weeks. I finish a 5K and start thinking about the next 10K. I read about this or that exercise, and immediately throw it into the mix to try it out. Those are all good things for a beginner to do, I think - and I am aware that I'm still very much a beginner at all this - but looking back over the past few weeks/months I think I've started to lose focus a little. I want to be a body builder. I want to be a runner. I want to be a powerlifter. I'm like a kid who can't decide between being a cowboy or an astronaut.

Fact is, if I want to be any of those things, everything I do for the next couple of years needs to be focused on transforming my body. I'll do that by running and lifting and yoga-ing and whatever else comes my way, but that new body is the city at the end of my yellow brick road. I need to build a new body. Along that road, I'll learn the things I need to know in order to help other people turn their lives around.

So I've decided not to fret about the 10K on Labor Day weekend. Especially since I still have jelly legs 5 days after a 5K. I am working on a simplified program that I can stick with for the long haul. I've been laying a foundation - turning myself into a fat burning engine. Now it's time to learn how to operate the machine.


The beautiful photo of an Arizona highway is by Stefano Roddaro and is available on stock.exchg

Monday, August 11, 2008

Moving Forward Toward 10K

A new distance looms, and I have a plan to get there.

Speaking in broad terms, I intend to follow Jeff Galloway's program of long weekend runs to extend my endurance and two shorter runs during the week to maintain my conditioning. I'll use weight lifting, yoga, and the elliptical as my cross-training workouts to keep the fat-burning engines chugging. I'll start tonight with Squats, Deadlifts, Lunges and a three mile run/walk on the treadmill.

While the writers I've studied disagree on the priority (based on personal focus) all seem to agree that if you are going to combine leg work with weights and running, you should do them on the same day so those muscles get their full two days of recovery time.

On upper body days, I'll do dips, pushups, bench, clean & press, and cable woodchoppers, a new addition that I'm putting in to work my core. Here's a good illustration of woodchoppers from
I understand that I've set a very ambitious goal for myself here. I will need to pay close attention to what my body has to say about doubling my longest run in three weeks. If the legs don't want to go, I'll find a race in the autumn to work toward, but I would really like to do this by Labor Day. 

Sunday, August 10, 2008


PlaceName Age Div/Total Time
1 Jacob Korir 27 1/213 14:34
2861 Pennsy 48 128/136 44:06
There it is. I finished 2861st out of 3209 runners, 128 out of 136 in my age group. My time was 44:06. That's more than a minute and a half faster than I ran back in May. I took two walk breaks, both during the second mile. I didn't time them, but I don't think either was much longer than a minute. Mrs P was there at the start and the finish. She also made her way to the half-way turn to cheer me on. My wife is the bomb.

No chasing anyone this time. When I felt myself tempted, I just raised my gaze up to the horizon and ran along to my own tempo. I wore my iPod, and that may have helped me to stay within myself. There was a woman I paced myself with for a mile or so, but I let her go when I took my first walk break.

One of the unique things about this race was its start time. The gun was at 8:30 PM. I don't actually remember the sun going down, but I was dark when I finished. At around 2.5 miles, right about the time my leg blew up last time, Bruce Springsteen came on my headphones singing Born to Run. I just started laughing and running. Bruce got me almost all the way to the 3 mile split. After that, I took off my headphones. I wanted to hear everything. The crowd clapped and encouraged us from the shadows as we jogged, walked, and rolled our way into the light and over the line. No accolades. Just Mrs P and God and Me, all three knowing that something kind of special was happening in the cool Kentucky evening.

No injuries to report. My glutes are sore, but I always find that kind of encouraging. I figure that if I'm working those big old butt muscles hard, then I'm doing something right.

So I feel very good this morning. I am proud ofcoming back, and grateful for Mrs P. I really don't think I would have kept trying if it weren't for her believing in me.

I'm not kidding myself here. I know I'm not ever going to be competitive. The men who win in the 50 & 60 year old divisions are running about twice as fast as I do. I may not ever hear my name called at the award ceremony, but after the way I lived most of my life, every step I take is going to be a victory.

 Today is a day off, then tomorrow I'll resume training for 10K on August 31.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Last workout before Saturday's 5K

Last night I ran a simulated 5K on the treadmill after my Yoga class. I wanted to squeeze it in so I could have two days of rest before Saturday night's race. Of course after all that yoga I was plenty warmed up, but I still did a quarter mile of easy walk/jogging before starting the 5K Trainer program. I ran the simulation in around 46 minutes (I forgot to record the actual time) which is just slightly slower than my peresonal "best" which tore my legs up for months afterwards. There were probably five walk breaks in there of one to two minutes each.

Rather than shower at the gym, I jumped in the car, stopped to pick up a Gatorade and a bag of ice, came home, filled the tub with cold water, dumped in the ice, and sat down in the cold bath for about 15 minutes, dreaming I was actually in a chilly mountain stream in the Catskills.

This ice bath trick is something I read about in a couple different places. I also checked in with my marathoner friend whose eyes rolled back in her head in extacy at the very thought of plunging into a freezing tub. I did it Wednesday morning with a little ice, and Thursday night with a whole bag. I could probably have used another bag, to be honest, but my goal is therapy not machismo so I'm working my way up to the hard stuff. I leave my compression shorts on, not so much to conserve body heat as to protect a bit of manly pride when Mrs P walks in on her fat old husband whose - um - "Wee Fellow" has shrunken to the size of a cashew in the icy tub.

While soaking, I ceremonially presented my bride with a yellow "LIVESTRONG" bracelet. I picked up one for each of us at Dick's Sporting Goods (a fine Pennsyltucky corporation, by the way). Unlike many of the online merchants for whom Satan is preparing a special chamber in Hell, Dick's sells them for $1 each - same as

The totem is appropriate for us in several ways. Mrs P is a social worker who has spent plenty of time counseling cancer patients in hospice care. Like every other family, we each have a long list of loved ones who have fought the disease over the years. And like everyone else, we are always struggling to find a little more strength to do the work God has given us to do in this world. Knowing that this little yellow rubber band links me to my bride, and to thousands of people who have fought to stay alive -- it inspires me.

Tonight I'll get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow we'll do some household chores, and then in the evening I'll make my way downtown to the starting line. My goal is to finish the race without getting hurt so I can continue training for a 10K run at the end of the month. In spite of the fact that I'll be wearing a timing chip, I'm just going to let that take as long as it takes. (though it would be nice to finish before a few of the walkers, anyway.

I'll probably spend some time looking over this post. One of the best things about a blog like this is that it helps me remember and learn hard earned lessons.

And no chasing coeds this time!!!


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Finding the Inspiration to Keep Going

Unlike men of better character, I have always found it easy to quit. On projects. On relationships, On jobs. On myself. Yesterday morning around 5:36, I came very close to quitting on the whole stupid idea that I might ever be fit.

I had taken a week off of any workout at all. My legs hurt. I was tired and depressed and I really wanted to take one last shot at running in the 5K this weekend. Since the race is Saturday night, Wednesday morning was really my last chance to try if I was going to get two runs in before the event. Tuesday night I laid out my running clothes before bed. Wednesday the alarm went off at 5:00. I spent about 15 minutes waking up, then about 15 minutes getting ready.

Outside in the dark morning it was comfortable. There was cool in the air from the evening's rain and the streets were quiet. I walked for about five minutes. So far so good. I tried a little jog for a block.

The pain shot through my right calf and I pulled up. "That's it," I thought. "I'm done. I can't run on it if it's hurt. Hell, I probably can't run at all." I turned around and started limping back home in my clean dry shirt.

Then two of the people I had spent my weekend with caught me up short.

During her visit last week, Mom gave me a book, Keep it Simple by Terry Bradshaw. It isn't a very good book. Brad's shtick is that he's just a big dumb hick who says funny stuff. Well he is big, but he's not dumb. He probably stopped being a hick several million dollars ago, and the stuff he says is sometimes funny but sometimes it's just goofy. So no, I didn't care for his book. But by the time I was finished, I really did like him. His writing is so odd and quirky and genuine that his character delighted me much more than his style annoyed. And here's what I took away from his delightful, annoying book...
  • Life can be hard
  • Love can seem impossible
  • Keep living
  • Keep loving
  • Never give up
He talks about his divorces. There are lots of references to his transition from the Boy Wonder of little Louisiana Tech to the benched former starting quarterback of the never-won-a-thing Pittsburgh Steelers. He has been dumped by wives, booed by strangers, bullied by bosses, betrayed by teammates, and he has never given up. Instead of limping home in his clean dry shirt, he got back up and got back to work.

During the weekend's depression over not being able to run, I went looking for inspiration online and started watching YouTube videos of Lance Armstrong. Just about everyone knows his story by now. A hard charging up-and-comer, America's next great cyclist washes out at the Atlanta Olympics and learns he has cancer. A lot of cancer. 40% chance of survival type of cancer. He goes after cancer like he goes after a mountain on his bike. It tries to kick his ass. He could have limped home in his clean dry shirt. He kicked cancer's ass instead. And he's been kicking ever since.

I thought about those two brave men. They weren't better than me. They had stronger, younger muscles sure, but it wasn't muscles that got them back on their feet. It wasn't their principles or their up bringing. I was raised by good, hardworking people who taught me right and wrong. Where did their strength of character come from?


Muscles get stronger when you use them. So does courage. They chose to act courageously. They practiced persevering, staying hopeful, setting their jaws and moving their feet. And never going home until their shirt was soaked.

So that's what I did. I turned my self around and I limped till I could walk. I walked till I could jog. I jogged till I could run. And by the time I got home, my stinky soggy shirt told the story. Three miles before breakfast. Then a long cold soak in a tub of ice water. Ahhhh...

I have decided to take the advice of two guys I got to hang out with this weekend.

Keep it Simple
Live Strong

Friday, August 1, 2008


That's what my training feels like this week. Like chopping through vines with a dull machete.

Running is all I really want to do, and each run leaves me with sore calves and ankles, a stiff, limping gait, and the nagging feeling that the dream may not happen. I don't know if my legs will ever be able to run me around the Bluegrass.

I've tapered my weight lifting way down to save energy for running, but instead I just feel logy. I guess these feelings of doubt are part of the journey, just like the achievements. That perspective ought to give me some comfort. Ought to.

I have a 5K training run scheduled tomorrow morning, after two days off. I'm hoping that the rest will help my legs to come back. I really don't want to limp for three miles in next week's race, and I also don't want to blow it off.

Yeah, I'm listening to my body like the trainer told me. I just don't care for what it has to say today.

Thanks for sticking with me. I'll go chop some more vines now.



Monday, July 28, 2008

Post #100, Training to Run

Trust me, I am as surprised as you are. Other than my marriage with Mrs P, I have never been this faithful to anything. Six months of exercise. 100 posts. Amazing what the fear of death can make a man do, huh?

New Chapter. Pennsy's second race. In two weeks I am running in the 5K Midsummer Night's Run benefiting Lexington's Central Baptist Hospital. The race is run at 8:30 at night on August 9th, hence the catchy name.

Since my last race, my regimen has focused on strength and building muscles. I have been very successful in moving toward that goal. Now I am shifting gears. My goal for the next 12 weeks is to drop 5 points of my Body Fat Percentage. My lifting will be targeted toward maintaining cardio intensity and muscle mass. And I intend to run and run and run.

I have done well with two-week plans. Now, I'm building an ambitious five-week plan with two milestones. A 5K in two weeks and a 10K on August 31. I will make a decision about that second race after the one on the 9th.

My intention is to work at maximum intensity in three day cycles - two on, one off. Lift Heavy, Run Hard, Rest Well, and Repeat. I'll be lifting to set a new PR every time. I'll be running to build and maintain endurance toward running those 6.2 miles by Labor Day. And everything I do will be done with fat burning in mind.

One reason for a simple exercise plan is that I want to spend a lot of time learning and practicing better nutrition, not fidgeting with workout plans. I have done a fairly good job at getting rid of the things I shouldn't eat. Now I intend to learn more about the things I should.

August around the corner makes me feel a little melancholy. It always has. As a child, I knew that there was still plenty of summer left, but school was coming just the same. The other side of that coin was that while I loved baseball on the brick streets and camping in the Pennsylvania woods, I also really liked school. So along with the sadness there was anticipation. My yearly calender has always been tied to that academic year. Ninteen Septembers of shiny shoes and new pencils can do that to a man. It feels right to make this a time for new beginning. More precisely, a time to continue the good work God has begun.

And a moment for a prayer tonight. An artist I love and admire is giving birth to twins tomorrow. They are going to have a great life, but first their Mom is going to have quite a day. God bless you Gennet. You're going to be a great American mom. Go down that road.

Ok everybody. On your mark...get set...


Groovy Century-mark road sign is from

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sometimes Working Out isn't the Most Important Thing

Woke up Wednesday morning with that most absurd of ailments, the summer cold. Consequently, I have backed off my program this week to let my body do its thing. I even missed two days of work. I was a little depressed this week, but nothing dramatic. I think it was probably an organic thing - wacked out body chemistry caused by fatigue and being sick.

Wednesday afternoon, Mother P arrived from PA for a week long visit in KY. We spent some pleasant time together while I lounged around trying to stay awake. At one point eating a sandwich left me so exhausted I had to nap. And the whole time I'm telling Mom how much better I feel because I'm exercising.

God's sense of humor, at work again.

Today I feel a lot better. I'm going out for a run/walk, then hitting the gym for some fun lifting, just some play time to get the blood flowing again. Won't be setting any records today.

I don't take time off lightly, but sometimes there are important things (like getting well or a visit from Mommy) that deserve some space in my life. It's kind of reassuring that I can take time off without going insane, being racked with guilt, or putting on 5 lb.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Weak and STUPID

Yea, this lolcat picture pretty much says it all. Except the hapless kitteh is smarter than Pennsy was. Yesterday was not a good workout for me. OK, I'm reminded of the old "A bad day fishing is better than a good day working" bumper sticker, and yes it applies here as well, but I did have a bad day in the gym.

My first warning sign was when I could not execute pullups. I don't ever do these very well, but yesterday I could barely do four in a row. Dips were fine. I set up to do my pushups, but realized that it was Bench Press day and decided to save it for the bar. Maybe if I had done my pushups I could have seen the day coming and switched off to resistance bands. Instead I made my way to the bench.

So that's when I first noticed I was weak. Here's where I got STUPID.

I started out with the empty 45lb Olympic bar and did 5 or 7 reps just to get the muscles moving. Then I would add 20lb and do another mini set. This is the way I make my way up to working weight and it has been successful with all the other power lifts. Trouble is, yesteday I lost track of how much I had on the bar. I would do 3 or 4 reps and if it felt good, I would add weight. So yesterday I managed to go 10 lb heavier than I intended, and 30 lb heavier than the most I had ever done for 5 reps. STUPID.

Good news: completed 4-1/2 reps at 185. Bad news: 1/2 a bench press rep is a very bad thing, especially when you're too STUPID to ask someone to spot for you. My muscles gave out. I lowered the bar carefully onto my chest. Tried one last time to push the bar, and was transformed into a post turtle.

It was too much weight to try to sit up with. I had clips on the bar to keep the weight from sliding off, so I couldn't just tip over. And with a 180 lb steel bar laying across my chest, calling for help was problematic at best. I thought I would try rolling the thing down onto my lap, which I managed to do. Of course now I was sitting with a weight on my lap that I could either dump on the floor, or try to stand up under. I could not execute either.

About this time, two of the guys saw me flailing my legs while my shell remained balanced atop the fencepost and they came and helped me. "Dude, ask for a spot if you need some help."

Yeah. That's what anybody who wasn't STUPID would do.

So I stripped 50 lb off the bar and did 5 sets of 10, then 3x10 close grip presses at 95. The rest of my bench press day is done with dumbells (appropriately enough) so I had no more life threatening episodes, though I did feel particularly un-manly - expecially if you define a man as a thing with muscles and a brain.

The end of the story is that I woke up this morning with a cold. Yes a cold in Kentucky in July. What a treat. so I was feeling weak last night because I was getting weak. Not because I was turning into a little girl, but because my immune system had better things to do at the moment.

I got the message and ignored it. STUPID.

So now it's 1500 degrees outside, I'm in my living room, missing work with bleary eyes and a sore chest, and I think I'll take a day off at the gym.

I don't think there's anything wrong with my routine. I mean I think I can go four days straight by working different muscle groups. The fatigue was probably my system gearing up to do battle with whatever today's microbe is -- but I'm going to pay attention during the next cycle through. I may be better off doing two days then a rest day.

I'll definitely be better off being less STUPID.



Monday, July 21, 2008

The Pennsy Workout

This is the training program I'm working right now. I've fine tuned it a little based on what I learned in the first go-round. The goal here is general fitness, endurance, and muscle mass.


Each day focuses on one power lift. I start the lift of the day with an empty bar and slowly build up to the day's weight for working sets, usually with three or four reps at each weight. Then I do 5 sets of 5 reps at the heaviest weight I can lift. There are long breaks, two or three minutes between each of these sets.

The exercises that accompany the power lifts are meant to support muscle groups critical to the day's lift. So Clean & Press is followed by arm and shoulder work. Squats go with legs and lower back. Bench Press day is chest and lats. Deadlift day hits upper back, glutes and wrist grip.

These "assist" exercises are done at max weight with very short breaks, just long enough to catch my breath. 3 sets of 10 reps each.
DB Curls & Arnold Press Combo
DB Lat Raise, Ben Lat Raise Supersets

Hip Abduction/Adduction Supersets
Straight Leg Deadlift
Front Squat

DB Incline Press
DB Decline Press
Close Grip Bench Press

DB Incline Bench Pull
Good Morning
Barbell Shrug
Low Pulley Cable Row
DB Wrist Curls
DAILY WARMUP (on lifting days)

These daily exercises are all bodyweight movements. I vary the sets and reps depending on what hurts, what feels great, and what I don't want to wear out. For example, I don't do the lunges on Squat day or if my ankles are hurting.
Assisted Dips
Calf Raise
Assisted Pullups

Ideally, I would like to do four days with two days rest. That rhythm gets broken up by soreness, schedules, and the calender. The reason for the long rest is to make room for a long running day. I also work in a sabbath day when I don't run or lift at all. Since my running program is a seven day cycle and my lifting is a four day one, variety is sort of built in.


This is pretty straight forward.
Monday - training run
Tuesday - cross train, bike or elliptical
Wednesday - training run
Thursday - Yoga, no running or weights
Friday - day off
Saturday - long run
Sunday - day off
The long run is designed to stretch my endurance. Everything else is about maintaining conditioning and fat burning.


I work stretching in between reps so I have something to do besides pant and pose. I always stretch after a workout or run. I never stretch without warming up the muscles involved. I take a good, indulgent long time to stretch as gently and thoroughly as I can. Then I sauna, shower, and go home to eat protein and complex carbs. (meat and plants)

The whole deal takes about two hours. By spreading the work over several days, I'm getting more recovery time, increasing strength growth, and spending less time in the gym each night. Things are working well right now as I prepare for a 5K on August 9th. If nothing breaks, I'll be ready.

That's actually a good goal. I want to finish my next 5K without breaking anything. Unlike my first one where I knocked myself off the road for two months.

Maybe I'll take a skateboard along, just in case.



Good advice from Brad at Promatx - Your body is telling you something. Listen to your body, and you won't go wrong.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Slow and Steady

Six Month Progress Report.

I'm not sure how to interpret these numbers except to say I am determined to keep going.

My weight loss slowed a lot in the second quarter. Part of that is just the natural tempo of weight loss. Part of it is because my cardio training stopped almost completely after I hurt my calf. I'm back on the road now, and running slow and steady. The third quarter should see a lot more fat burning that the second.

The biggest changes are in my biggest problem areas. Waist, Hips, and Thighs all have slimmed and tightened considerably - though an objective observer would hardly describe any of them as "tight" just yet. My chest measurement hasn't changed much, but trust me, the shrinking man-boobs tell a whole different story.

I think it's weird that my right arm is so much bigger that the left. I would prefer to be symmetrical, but I'm not far enough along to worry too much about fine tuning my physique. Maybe next year.

The two big numbers for me are Body Fat Percentage, and Lean Body Mass. I am shocked and delighted at the amount of lean weight I have added. Not so happy with the way way the body fat percentage hovers between 31 and 32. Again, I expect my return to cardio training will make a big difference there. In my opinion, if I take care of these two metrics, weight will take care of itself.

I am grateful for the second chance God is giving me. When I left the gym today, a lady smiled and said "You're doing a great job. Y0u should be proud. Have a good day."

I smiled and thanked her, "Oh thanks, Ma'am. I'm having a great day!"




Body Fat %

Lean Mass

Resting HR


L Biceps15.516182.5
R Biceps1616.5193.0
L Forearm12.512.25130.5
R Forearm131313.750.75
L Thigh29.53026(3.5)
R Thigh303026(4.0)
L Calf20.252020(0.25)
R Calf20.52020(0.5)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Yoga... Is it for Me?

Thursday night I kept a promise and went to my first Yoga class at Promatx. I popped out to Walmart and got one of those long rubber mats, - not a fancy schmancy one like this handsome young man from has. I put on something stretchy that wouldn't let my personals pop out of the bottom of my shorts when I was upside down, and trundled off to class like a kid on - well, the first day of class.

I was about five minutes late (faux pas) and the only spot was in the middle, right in front of the teacher. This turned out to be an ok spot because it gave me multiple views of what the poses I was approximating were supposed to look like.

So what was my first yoga class like? The teacher spoke softly while an eclectic mix of new age, and smooth jazz music played. I was one of three men in a class of maybe 20 people. The lights were off, so the only light was the ambient glow that came in throught the open doors. The students were a mixed group. Some seemed to be pretty experienced, others were struggling. Some heavy, some lithe. Some were very focused and others were carrying on a pretty constant conversation under cover of the music. I definitely didn't feel like the odd one out, but I got a sense that people were checking out to see if I was there to learn or to check out the bendy women.

I got my mat situated and joined in with the warm ups that had already started. These were familiar to me. Poses like the Cobra and Downward Facing Dog had been part of my acting classes in school. There was one called Cat that the lady in turquoise is doing below. This is actually something a physical therapist taught me when I hurt my back. There was a gentle relentlesness to the poses. They appear to be still, but each is actually a movement a little closer toward perfection. I had a sense of big stretches - like when the teacher invited us to try Pigeon where you reach back over your heads and grab your upraised foot! Then there are the thousand tiny muscle adjustments when trying to hold my balance on one leg like a heron. It was sometimes strenuous. There is a lot of upper body strength required. But it is also forgiving. When a pose is too hard, you can back off without accusation from the teacher or the group. Since each pose is a journey, you just go as far as you can go today.

Yoga doesn't require a lot of gear which may be one reason guys don't get into it as much. I was glad I had a mat, though I wish it were about 10 inches wider. My shoulders are a little broader than the material and I had to go off onto the floor for some of the movements. I didn't get a strap, which it turned out I needed, but the teacher let me borrow one. I didn't get one of those foam blocks either, but I don't know what I would do with one at this point anyway.

I did not have any sense of spiritual consciousness or mumbo jumbo, but when the class was over and I was out walking in the sunlight, I really did feel refreshed and a little more - I guess the word would be present. I felt a little more awake and alive than I did before. Yoga is a legitimate physical workout, but the afterglow is very different from the spent exhaustion I feel after a run or a good session in the weight room. I could have done either of those things after my class, but I didn't want to interfere with the strange new feeling I was experiencing. I think Thursdays are going to continue to be Just Yoga nights for me. I like it, and I want to know more.


These images are from

Rawganique - an online source for hemp products
The Yoga Learning Center - an online resource for learning about yoga with lots of images and video
DK Images, an online encyclopedia of images

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Running and Weightlifting - Torn Between Two Loves

I love running. I love the feeling of freedom and the lightness of it. Every step feels like a victory to me.

I also love weightlifting. I like powerlifting because the goal is so present and clean. Chose the weight. Move it from here to there. Simple and beautiful, in spite of all the screaming and swearing and puking. I like bodybuilding too. I don't imagine I'll ever be fit enough to compete, but I really like seeing my body develop shapes and forms where once hung arms and legs that resembled boiled bratwurst.

But here's the thing. Powerlifting and bodybuilding are about adding muscle - adding weight. Getting bulkier and heavier. Running, or at least endurance running is about getting lean and light. Efficiency and balance, just enough muscle to keep the bones moving forward. Marathoners are often very strong people, but they don't have the kind of physique you get from bench pressing twice your body weight.

I love to run, but I'm never going to have that runner's body. On the other hand, I am big and getting stronger. I could have a fairly decent set of muscles in a couple of years.

So to whom should I give my heart. How to choose? What to do? Nothing different, I think. I love them both. The gym and the road both treat me well. I try not to neglect one for the sake of the other, and I almost never cheat on either of them. What the heck. How many times does a fat 48 year old get to have a wife he loves and two sweethearts on the side? I think I'll just enjoy them all while my heart can still take it.


The photo of Pennsyltuckian wrestling dude Kurt Angle is from

I found the exultant track meet dude on a Google image search, but was unable to find him on the page referenced. The link led me to an intriguing site called Fitness Black Book whose author has an affinity for photos of lady's bottoms and some strong opinions about weight lifters and their macho shenanigans. I don't know how much I agree with him, but I like his writing. I don't really have the energy for the bottoms, though.

Course Correction - Working Running Back In

“He who loves, flies, runs, and rejoices;
he is free and nothing holds him back.”
- Henri Matisse

Yeah, that's how it feels to be Pennsy today. Running on Saturday gave me such a rush that I decided to try it again, on the streets this time. I did a mile and a half around the neighborhood at sunrise yesterday morning. Started with a long slow warmup walk, about 12 minutes, then an easy jog for the rest of the way. The ankles were a little tender, but not painful. Molly and I shared a quarter-mile cool down after my run. I am really encouraged.

I plan to run every other morning, gradually building up to four miles over the next four weeks. There is a 5K here in Lexington on August 9th and I registered for it on Sunday.

The weight work will take a backseat to running for a while. I'll stick to the plan, but I may put more recovery days in rather than going four days straight with two days off.

I'm really excited and grateful to be running again. As much as I would like to look like a bodybuilder, I really think my heart is in running right now.

It's funny. A year ago, I could not have imagined getting to a place where I actually missed exercise. God's sense of humor knows no limits.


Thanks to photographer Kelly Angard for the Matisse quote and for this great photo on Flickr.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Evaluating My Workout Design - Oh, and RUNNING!

Four days straight, now time for a day off.

Yesterday's workout was kind of mixed.

LIFTING - this workout needs some tweaking

I increased my number of assisted chinups - came within one of finishing 3 x 5. I also was able to do Calf Raises for the second day in a row. I'm not using any plates at all yet, so there's only the 20 lb weight of the machine on my shoulders, but it still feels good to be able to do them again. Assisted dips went fine. I will decrease the counterweight once I can finish three sets of chins. It's just easier than jumping down and moving the pin six times.

Deadlifts. Here's 'Becka Swanson schooling the boys at the gym.

World Strongest Woman - "becca Swanson" Deadlift - More amazing videos are a click away

My own efforts went ok but I need to warm up more gradually. I only did two warmup sets at 95 and 135 before starting my 5 x 5 @ 185 and the increase in weight was too fast. I need to get the blood flowing into that lower back before pulling the heavy weight. I'll put at least two more sets of two or three at maybe 145 and 165 before starting the working sets.

I don't think I wrote this workout very well. It just didn't make kinetic sense to me - it didn't feel right. Doing Deadlifts and Bent Over Rows and Good Morning's together set off warning bells in my lower back. No harm, but too close to the red line for my taste.

Three of the exercises in my plan were just odd. I tried doing Forearm Curls with a barbell, but just could not find a way to stabilize my arms to isolate the forearms, so I switched to Dumbell Wrist Curls with my elbows on the bench instead.

Doing Pullovers with two dumbells was hard work, but strangely, I could not feel which muscles were working. I concentrate on keeping my elbows at a fixed 90º angle so my triceps do not get involved in the movement, but couldn't really feel which muscles were actually rotating my shoulders. I need to do some research on this one.

Friday I forgot to do pullovers. Yesterday I forgot to do barbell curls. It was an oversight, not a deliberate cut. The only reason I can think of is that they don't make any sense to me in a workout designed to increase my performance in the Deadlift. I do not remember what the rationale was in putting them in in the first place, but I think I'll move them or lose them.

I'm going to make some minor changes to this day's plan. The order is very important here because the lower back is so involved and I have a history of bulging disks and Sciatica down there. I also want to take a good look at the actually exercises I'm using. I would like to be more focused on muscle groups that 1) are critical to performing the Deadlift and 2) are not hit very hard on any of the other three days. Since today is a rest day, I'll take some time to work on this and try putting the changes into next week's routine.

RUNNING!!! -Listening to my heart.

I planned to ride the recumbent bike yesterday. I just couldn't do it. I didn't want to sit down. I went for a walk on the treadmill instead. To my left, an athletic young woman was running intervals. To my right, a handsome young dude was running at a pretty impressive pace for someone as muscular as he. I reached out my hand and touched the speed button on the console. 3.2. 3.5. 4.0. 4.8. I was running again.

At first I ran carefully, taking inventory of all the parts that had ached and torn and screamed over the past two months. No alarms. No twinges. I glanced up at the television where someone was talking about something. I don't remember what. I looked out at the mirrors, all the way across the gym, but I don't remember looking at anything in particular. Mostly I was just hearing the footsteps of the people around me.

I forgot I was hurt.

I forgot I was running.

It was the greatest feeling! I don't know how else to describe it. I just sort of went somewhere else. From time to time I would start to feel winded, and I slowed down to an easy walk for a while. When I felt better, I would speed back up. I ran intervals like that for half an hour, setting an easy 15 minute pace. Just about what I ran in the 5K when I got hurt. Only this time I was run/walking without looking at the time or the distance. When my body said slow down I slowed down. When my heart said go, I went. Thank you Jeff Gallaway. I have been waiting for this run since I tore my calf on May 17th.

Oh happy day. Pennsy's running again.


The weekly check in was encouraging. My weight has been up and down this week, but yesterday was resting nicely at 352, as low as it's been since I started working out. My body fat percentage is also at its lowest, 31.1%. My lean mass is up slightly to 243. Next week I'll get out the tape measure and update all the my body composition numbers. I expect that I'll see some big changes there. Base on the fit of my clothes and the comments of folks at work and the gym, I look a lot different than I did a few months ago.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Lifting the Weight

I am learning to manage the work/recovery cycle.

I intended to take yesterday off, but when I looked at the workout I had planned, I could see that none of my sore muscles were the ones I would be focusing on, so I went on to the gym after work.

Yesterday was all about the Bench Press. This is and arm curls are most teenage boy's favorite lifts because they turn your chest and arms into babe magnets. They are great exercises when integrated into a more comprehensive workout plan. On their own, they pretty much just make the parts you see in the mirror look good when you're shaving.

Here's 8 time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman ("Light Weight!", "Yeah, Buddy!") showing you how the big boys do it.

Ronnie is a great champion and a real character. He hoots and hollers when he works out and seems to have a lot of fun training. His story is inspiring. He competed for many years, always a top finisher, but almost never a winner in big time bodybuilding before finally winning Olympia for the first time in 1998. One of the most famous parts of his schtick in the gym is this quote:
Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder, but don't nobody wanna lift no heavy-ass weight!
I was talking with Mrs. P about that yesterday. It struck me as a really profound observation. In a world where you buy a pill to make you thin or a car to make you sexy - where you can borrow money you haven't earned yet to by things you'll never really need - where the mantra often seems to be "if it's too hard, don't do it". You want to be rich? Buy a lottery ticket. Want something you can't afford? Use the Visa card. Want to be happy? Pay a shrink. It's refreshing to be reminded by someone who knows that you can't make your dreams happen if you aren't willing to do the work.

To me, "lifting the heavy-ass weight" isn't just hoisting hundreds of pounds of iron up and down. It's the actor who spends hours perfecting an accent or a cook who works for years to get a sauce just right. It's the student who starts cramming the first week of class, not the week before finals. It's the husband who stays and learns how to love his family. Lifting the heavy-ass weight is doing what it takes to be good at what you love.

I don't expect I'll ever look like Ronnie Coleman. I am way to vain about my hair to wear that look, But I take him to the gym with me when I go. He reminds me to laugh between sets, to refuse to give up, and to keep on lifting the heavy-ass weight.

Yeah, Buddy!


Thursday, July 10, 2008


If you are truly interested in size and strength, you need to train your legs. -- and one of the best leg exercises is the barbell squat. In fact, heavy squats have built the foundation of some of the greatest strength athletes in history.

Here's a look at the great John Davis squatting at Ed Yarick's Gym in Oakland, California in the 50s -- and that's how you should be squatting: full and deep.

No monkey business there, just pure power development.

I don't recommend squatting with a board under the heels but it seems to work for John Davis, who was Twice Olympic Weightlifting Champion (1948 and 1952) and Six Time Senior World Weightlifting Champion (1938, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951).

From Old Time Strongmen.

The second of the four powerlifts I'm working on is the Squat. If the Clean and Press is complicated, the Squat is as simple as it gets. Take it off the rack, take it down, take it back up. There is really nothing else that works your foundation the way a heavy squat does. Your upper body is always working to hold form and to keep balance. That's a lot of iron laying across your shoulders. Your lower body is driving force down into the earth, pressing the planet against the barbell. I feel it the most in my glutes. This lift will literaly work your butt off. The quads support the weight on the way down and keep you from sinking too far into "the hole", but the glutes and hams do the work of moving the weight back up. It is a massive exercise, and one of my favorites.

I did the lifting part of my workout as planned, but my upper body was still pretty sore from yesterday, so I decided to skip the warmup. I did push out some dips and chins though. There is this marvelous machine that allows weaklings like me to do these exercises with the assistance of a counter-weighted platform. That way, you don't have to actually move your whole body weight. Here's a video from ExpoTV explaining how it works.

I have worked my back and arms enough now that I can execute these movements using the maximum available counterweight. From here on, the task will be to strengthen those muscle groups and lower the counterweight until I can lift my own bodyweight. That's going to be a while.

I'm taking tomorrow off to give my muscles some time to recover.

Great news! I ran/walked a mile on the treadmill. The calves complained a little, but I treated them with respect and together we all made it to the one mile mark. I also did a few minutes on the stair climber. That one really showed me that my conditioning has suffered a little during my recovery.Like the dips and chins, I'll build up my time gradually.

When I was stretching, the lady who leads the Yoga class came up to me and suggested that I try that to increase my flexibility. I think that's a great idea. The class meets on Thursdays and I think I'll try to work it in. I'll have to find a mat somewhere, I guess.

Halfway through the four day split and I have to say it feels like this is a pretty complete workout. I have that healthy afterburn soreness in my legs, shoulders, butt, and arms. Not the pain that says something's hurt, but the soreness that says you did some good hard work and need to slow down a minute to recover.

It's encouraging to be back up running - even if it is only two minutes at a time. The desire to run is what keeps me in the gym I think. I have this fantasy about running down a quiet country road on a Saturday morning. I pass horse farms and cross bridges over trout streams, whispering prayers of thanksgiving to the God who gave me the chance to run. I'm looking forward to making that dream come true. If a twenty-minute mile is the first step toward that sweet Kentucky morning, then I thank God for that too.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Great beginning

I started a new routine focused on bodyweight warmups and four powerlifting movements. The workout went very well.

Pushups 10
Crunches 35
Superman 10
Repeat three supersets

Plank, Front, Right, Left
One of each for time

Lunge 3 x 10

And then two resistance exercises designed to get me strong enough for Dips and Chinups...
Lat Pulldowns 3 x 10
Wide, Mid, Close Grips One set of each
Triceps Rope Pulldowns 3 x 10
I'm within a couple of plates of lifting the full stack on both these machines. When I can do that, I should be ready to move up to the real thing.
This went very fast, not much more than half an hour, and is a pretty good full-body workout in its own right. I've been wanting to add bodyweight work to my skill set, but my bodyweight is a lot more than any other weight I'm lifting at the moment and the prospect has been pretty daunting. This workout left me feeling ready to go, but not worn out. I'll try to use the assisted dip/chins machine tomorrow and test how close I am to actually completing one of those exercises.

Today's powerlift is the Clean and Press. Here's Vasily Alexeev executing it with a mere 507 lb.

I want to learn this movement very well before I start messing around with very heavy weight. I did 5 x 5 with 65 lb. When you watch Alexeev, you will notice that the first part of this lift is explosive. You pull the weight with your legs, then your shoulders with enough velocity that you can dip under it and catch it on your chest. Alexeev's deep dip shows the kind of force and strength required to actually throw 500 lb up in the air, then catch it and stand up straight. The big man has a little stutter start to the press. I can't tell if he aborted a bad lift, or if he was just showing off by adjusting his grip. In either case, he finally shows you the last part of the lift which is to press the weight over your head.

We mortals don't get to bounce the weight off the platform when we're done. We have to reverse the whole dance, lower the weight to the floor, and then do it again.

So you can see that it's a complex lift with about 30 different ways to get hurt built right in. I'm starting slow.

The rest of the workout supports some of the muscle groups that are required to execute the lift. I did 3 x 10's of a Dumbell Curl to Arnold Press combination movement I thought I had invented this, but check out my new hero on the Gray Iron Fitness Blog.

I also did 3 x 10 supersets of Lateral Raises and Bent Over Lateral Raises (lifting dumbells up to the side like a very strong, sweaty bird)

The first brutalized my arms, especially the forearms and shoulders. The lat raises had them nearly paralyzed. I felt the famous "Pump" for the first time. It was very cool. ( I was horrified when I returned the dumbells to the rack when I realized that I had been doing my lat raises with 10 lb weights. My arms were on fire! I felt like Hercules! But like the treadmill, the iron never lies. I'm not so macho as I thought I was. I'll take it up just a little next time.

Again, this part of the workout didn't take very long either -about 45 minutes. A much more realistic length than what I had been doing.


Ah, my old friend the elliptical. We meet again. I came for a low impact butt kicking, and was pleasantly surprised at how well it went. The 30 minute interval workout was not really intense, but it got me soaked clean through and finally got my heart-rate up into the pounding zone. The whole time, I was fantacizing that I was running. It felt nice.

Some stretching, hot sauna, a check of the scale and a steaming shower and I was out the door in a little over 2 hours, (not three like my last routine.) If I got up the gumption, this is a workout I actually could do in the morning before work. But to be honest, that's a lot of gumption.

Time will test and proove its value, but I think this is a very effective workout. Tomorrow? Squats...


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