"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Longest Streak

(Not on this creek...but within walking distance of it, which is close enough! :D)
Carlos had had to work all week because as a registered nurse, both of his jobs require him to pick up some holidays. He spent the 24th in Dialysis Land while I went to CrossFit to do the 12 Days of Christmas WOD, which didn't sound too bad on paper until you realized that it builds up just like the Christmas carol.

Ex: you do one L-pull. Then 2 man-makers and 1 L-pull-up. Then 3 box jumps, 2 man-makers and 1 L pull-up.
You know, like the song.
It took me 38 minutes and 3 seconds to do the whole thing. I also got confused and did the order of each set backwards, which made it harder. It also meant that when I realized I had gotten mixed up, I tried to fix it and ended up doing the #10 sequence twice. *face-palm* My heart rate was at an even 160 bpm for the entire 38 minutes it took me to complete.
I still somehow managed to finish third in our class, which was a pretty large group!
Carlos had to work in ER Land yesterday, Christmas Day, so I had signed up to work in ICU Land myself because I preferred that to spending the holiday sitting at home alone. (Carlos's family lives in Florida and mine in Puerto Rico: we do not have family local to us and the few friends we have were either also working themselves or spending the holiday with their families.)

Mom and the aunts went balls-to-the-wall with gifts this year. This was everything they sent us.
We opened gifts on the 24th when Carlos got home from work. 
Christmas in the veterinary ICU tends to be a nightmare for clients, patients, doctors and techs: a lot of death, a lot of uber critical, a lot of end-stage disease, a lot of tragic emergencies. I walked into work bracing for the worst while reminding myself that I was there at will: I had chosen to work on this day, so I was going to turn this into an adventure in the best way I possibly could. Plus, I got to work with most of my favorite people which was half the reason why I had signed up to begin with. :)

Since no patient photos, have a picture of the Zombiekins thinking he was completely camouflaged against this black blanket...lol
As it would turn out, I had three patients that were both very stable illness-wise and very easy to handle temperament-wise (in fact, all three were freaking adorable.) We had a handful of critical emergencies but most of what came in was simple to fix and we were able to send most of them home to spend the rest of the day with their families. Every single client that walked in the door with their pet was patient and understanding when there were long waits to be seen, which was a wonderful change from holidays I've worked in the past. To make it even better, most of them outright thanked us for being there to help them. It was so, so wonderful. It just set the tone for one of the most harmonious holidays I have ever worked in 11 years in veterinary critical care. 

It made up for this past weekend, which, with the full moon + pre-holiday + meteor shower + solstice, had been pretty much exactly what you would have expected...
...which was this. Sunday 12/23 left me so agitated it took me a full 24 hours to recover stress-level wise.
My FitBit confirmed the tale that was Sunday. I did not work out on this day: this was just at work!
It registered an extra 557 calories burned. Just from walking and stressing and lifting and cleaning.
(One of my 4 patients was a 60 lb Lab that couldn't walk and another had eaten 4 lbs of chocolate and was a constant mess of diarrhea who was loopy out of his mind from the insane drug cocktail we had to give him to control his chocolate-induced tachycardia.)
So yes: Christmas Day in the ICU was magical for me in the best way possible. :)

To make it even better, Carlos and I ultimately did make it home from our jobs at a reasonable time, where we put together a quick dinner and sat down by the gas fireplace with glasses of wine to eat. 

He had to work again today (he'll finally be off tomorrow!) but I was free, so I headed to CrossFit this morning for the Strength class, after which I stopped by the globo gym to do today's powerlifting programming. 

Arnold presses during a different Strength class. Coach A took these pics and featured them on the box's website. <3
I was working on four sets of 3 reps of squats at 85% of my 1RM (in this case, 165 lbs). I had struggled through the first set when I realized that it would probably be easier if I paid closer attention to my bracing. Which I did for the second set, but I was still super slow and sticky coming out of the hole on the third rep. I took a longer break this time, grumbling to myself as I leaned against the barbell to play impatiently with my phone. Long rests of up to 3 minutes, sometimes more, become a necessity when doing higher weight lifts. You don't realize what a difference it makes until you try to cut your rest time short. Hahahaha...been there, done that, got the T-shirt. With today's kind of effort, I was waiting at least 2.5 minutes in between sets. 

From a day I was squatting 160 lbs for reps, to correct depth. :D
There was a guy doing military presses on the Smith machine next to my squat rack. I had just unracked my barbell when I realized he had been about to switch out the plates on the machine, which meant that he had to walk past the end of my barbell. I paused with 165 lbs across my shoulders and glanced at him, "Go ahead," I said. I could wait. He shook his head. "No, I'll wait," he said. 

I nodded, took a deep breath, braced, and sank into the hole, keeping my chest up and upper back tight. Grind back out of the hole as I breathed out. Stand up straight, deep breath, brace again, and back down into the hole. I repeated this one more time, then took a step forward and slammed the barbell back into the hooks on the rack. That had been SO MUCH EASIER when I concentrated on bracing properly!

I turned around and thanked the guy for waiting. 

"You are super strong!" he said. "How much is that?"
I had not been expecting a compliment. I grinned, "165."
"Jesus. I don't even come close to that. I don't train legs enough."
I chuckled. He got to work on his machine and I went back to fiddling on my phone to kill time until my final set. 

You hear a lot of stories about women being deliberately bullied/picked on/intimidated by men during their lifts in the gym, but so far (*knock on wood*) all I've experienced is genuine respect and admiration. And it doesn't get old, especially when you consider yourself a fairly shy introvert.

The day was so absolutely gorgeous when I walked out of the gym later, that I decided I must go downtown for a run too. I swung by the house to eat and change into my thermal running gear first.

At 3:30 pm with the shadows lengthening as the sun made its way closer to the horizon, it felt chillier than the 47 degrees my car's thermostat was reading when I pulled up to Baker Park in downtown. But I knew I'd warm up within the first half mile of running. So I donned my windbreaker and headed out. 

And took photos, as I always do during these runs. Long-term readers will remember that this habit started with the "Today's Run" series back in the summer of 2013 when Lily was recovering from her annular ligament injury and I started running consistently in order to stay in shape. My way of staying accountable was to take photos during my runs and post them on the blog. Taking pictures while running has become deeply ingrained since then, and while I don't always post the photos online (if I do, it's usually on IG), I love having them to look back on and remember especially beautiful days where I just went the fuck outside with my music and my thoughts and pounded the pavement for however many miles I felt like going. 

At the start of today's run.
I usually swing by the library to grab a drink of water since the outdoor water fountains are turned off now in the wintertime. It's become a habit to take a selfie in the library restroom so I can compare progress over time. My quads have come a long way since I started taking these pics for funsies! Lol
"Purr more hiss less." This made me laugh.
These two doggos were insistently barking at another dog standing quietly next to her owner across the street. The other dog looked so confused, like "Why are those dumb-dumbs barking at me?"
I loved that you could see the streak in the sky mirrored in the water.
This view doesn't get old. I take a photo every. single. run.
There was a surprising number of people out and about. The clock tower was chiming Christmas tunes. <3
My weeping willow on the right, all naked for winter.
You don't need to be on the beach to capture a perfect sunset!
Baker Park, headed back towards my car.
I realized as I got back into my car after my 3 miles that this has been my longest outdoor running streak to date. I've been consistently running since May. In the past as soon as temps dropped below 50 sometime between October and early November, I'd flee indoors for all exercise other than riding. This winter I've been trading riding in for running on some days because running is my time to just enjoy being in my own headspace with my music and no distractions. It's been an amazing thing for keeping the creeping fingers of SAD at bay so far, and I'm loving every second of it.

It's also how posts like this one later get written. ;)

Driving home. <3

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

WW: Gracie Media

These are never wordless on my blog but I missed Media Monday in favor of this post that I'd been working on for 3 weeks (!!), so I chose to fit these in on Wednesday instead. XP

These are from last Thursday.

How do you know if your gaited horse is engaging correctly? 
When her withers are higher than her croup, like dis.

Leg yielding towards the rail on a circle.

3 legs in the air. :)

I swear I work her evenly in both directions; Carlos just has a knack for snagging us mostly in one direction.
Any media is better than no media though, and his is usually outstanding anyway. :)
And some video clips:

Monday, December 10, 2018

Another One for the Record Books

Facebook reminded me last week that I posted this in December of 2012, right after we moved from South FL to MD.
It is still true today.

If you work hard at something long enough, eventually your results start to unfold in the most amazing way.

Thanksgiving week was one of those weeks.

It was a streak that ran the length of the entire week, with me hitting PR after PR (PR = personal record.) Wednesday, however, was the best day of all.

Coach A posts the next day's WODs and Strength programming the evening before at exactly 7:00 pm. At 6:30 pm, you can usually find me counting down the minutes until the time I can go online to check what we'll be doing the following day.

On Tuesday night I excitedly read through the programming...and gulped.

My powerlifting programming for the following morning was supposed to be intense as well with all three lifts on the menu: squats, bench press and deadlifts. I had the option of skipping powerlifting and only doing CrossFit, or vice versa. But I really wanted to work on all 3 lifts in one day (it doesn't come up all the time in the powerlifting programming) and I also really really wanted to re-test my 1RM for the squat at CrossFit. So I decided I'd do both workouts: powerlifting first, where I'd save some gas in the tank for later, and then go to CrossFit afterwards.

My squats at the globo gym were pretty. I was really happy with my setup, which is starting to shape up like that of someone that knows what she's doing. What does that mean for me? It means that my setup is becoming predictably consistent (aka I go through the same motions every time I get under the bar) and that I'm bracing and lifting the bar off of the rack in such a tight way that the bar initially feels light regardless of how much weight I put on it.

Why is this important? Because your setup and the way you initiate your lift can determine the success of your actual lifts.

I would get to test this out later in class. :D

I went home, showered, ate a snack, and then headed for the box.

I won't deny I was a little nervous this time around. I really wanted to one-up my 1RM from last time, which had been 185 lbs. However, though it felt better after the morning's workout, my entire lower body was consistently sore from all of the squatting the powerlifting programming was having me do (4x/week) and I wasn't 100% confident I'd even be able to reach the 185. My plan ultimately was to just listen to my body and see how much I could do without overdoing it.

I played Daddy's Groove & Jaxx Da Fishworks' "I Stay True" song on the short drive over to the gym.

Which meant I walked into the box PUMPED. Lol

Coach D was teaching this class and he took us through a short warm-up before we walked over to the squat racks to get to work.

We did one warm-up set with the empty bar, and then it was on to adding weight. I was happy with the weight progression I ended up choosing (which involved a calculator because I cannot math in my head, especially when working out!) because I was able to put to use everything that I've learned about my own strength and how to reserve it for maximum efforts.

For the initial 5 reps, I started with 141 lbs: I can do bodyweight (135 lbs) for 10 reps without issue, so I wanted to choose more than that while still being conservative so I could have plenty of gas in the tank for the one rep efforts that would come at the end.

The 141 lbs felt light for the 5 reps. I finished, re-racked the barbell and added load, jumping up to 155 for my following 4 reps because I know 155 is easy for up 6 reps depending on the day. Again, not a max for that set of reps. Coach D stepped up to spot me when I got ready to unrack the barbell.

Again: easy. For my 3 reps, I only added 5 lbs to jump to 160 because again, I was not trying to max out during these reps. Coach D again spotted me.

I came back out of the hole with so much force that the barbell bounced slightly on my shoulders as I pushed back into full standing position on the third rep. I re-racked the barbell. "That was light for you!" Coach D observed.

"I'm thinking about adding 15 lbs for the two reps," I said to him.

"I think that's perfect," he confirmed.

So I added 15 lbs. 175 guys. Only 10 lbs from my previous 1RM of 185...and I was going to do it for two reps.

I waited my two minutes before going for it again, watching the other ladies in the class do their squats while I rested and listened to the music playing over the gym loudspeakers. Coach A and Coach D have excellent taste in music and their selections are usually spot-on (for me at least!) with what we're doing in class.

5 Seconds of Summer's "Youngblood" started to play right as I put my hands on the barbell.

"Remember the words you told me, love me 'til the day I die..."

I smiled involuntarily. The first time I heard that song, I was absolutely killing it during a deadlifts session and it's become one of my favorite lifting songs. The lyrics have absolutely nothing to do with anything going on in my life; I just really like the singer's voice and the thumping bass beat.

The video, however, effectively illustrates the way I feel when I hear this song: like a badass.

The speed is perfect for powerlifting. The fact that it had just randomly come on right then was so appropriate in my world, there were no words for it. As in, if my life was a movie and it had a soundtrack, that is the song that would have played in the movie at this moment that I'm describing!

Coach D saw me getting ready and again came over to spot me.

I slipped under the barbell, shifted my shoulders underneath it so that the iron was resting right over the top edge of my scapulae, and pointed my elbows down to create a shelf for the bar with my traps. I took a deep breath, straightening up as I made my body rigid, bringing the barbell up with me to unrack it in one smooth movement.

"You push and you push and I'm pulling away, pulling away
From you
I give and I give and I give and you take, give and you take..."

The barbell felt...light.

Right foot stepped back, left foot stepped back. I glanced down to make sure my feet were even, then eyes went back up, looking straight ahead as my mind went still. I inhaled again, tucking in my abs...

Say you want me
Say you want me
Back in your life
So I'm just a dead man crawling tonight..."


Down into the hole.

I came to a grinding stop right below parallel...then ascended back out of the hole as I exhaled.

There is so much in common in the sensations between diving and squatting heavy. Even the breathing, that releasing of your breath as you swim towards the surface where you'll be able to inhale again, is the same.
I locked out at the top of the squat again and noticed the barbell bounce slightly again across my shoulders with the power of my body straightening under the weight of the load. I again inhaled, braced, and sank back down into the hole. Pause at the bottom, swim my way smoothly back up to the top.

"Good job!!!" Coach D said, as he helped me re-rack the bar. "That's still light for you!"

"What do you think of adding 10 lbs?" I asked.

"Go for it!"

I quite literally danced around the barbell to the beat of Youngblood as I added two more 5 lb plates to the bar.

Guys. I was going for 185 lbs for my first single, with two more singles still to go.

Same process as before. I unracked the barbell but in my giddiness over confronting 185 lbs again, I had not braced appropriately and it felt heavy. Dauntingly heavy. I did not step back to initiate the lift though: I knew what I had done wrong and there is nothing that says that once you unrack the barbell, you have to commit to it. This isn't like jumping: you actually do have time to identify your mistakes and correct them before initiating action.

So instead, I re-racked the bar so I could release it entirely, paused for a moment in order to clear my head once more, took a breath, got underneath the bar again and went through my usual mini ritual.

You cannot botch your setup when you start moving so much weight.

This time when I inhaled to rise up and unrack the bar, it felt light. It's crazy how starting off properly can make such an enormous difference in how the weight feels.

"You've got this," Coach D and the inner voice in my head said at the same time.

I stood still, exhaled slowly, then inhaled sharply, braced, and sank into the hole....

...and pushed that bar right back up like it was 30 lbs lighter.

Coach D helped me re-rack the barbell again...and once the bar was safely in its place, I bounced up and down around the squat rack while he laughed over my ecstatic joy.

I would go on to move 190 lbs for my next single.

And then I added yet another 5 lbs and made 195 lbs my bitch for my new 1RM. 195 was, finally, hard. It took every ounce of strength in my legs to push that barbell back up inch by inch, with Coach D shouting encouragement. My heart was pounding as we re-racked the barbell but if it could have been measured in megawatts, my grin could have lit up my entire island after the hurricane.

"Good job!!!" Coach D said with a grin, as I again bounced up and down around the squat rack like an 8-year-old, chanting in a sing-song voice, "I beat my max by 10 lbs!"

We were done with that part of the WOD...there was still a whole other part to go!

And it involved running. :D

It was a cold day. We were going to be doing a running version of the hero WOD "Diane." While I've been running outside in colder weather than ever before this year (because blecch the treadmill!!), my cutoff is 40 degrees. Anything below that is a "nope." The high for this particular day was 36. I was originally going to request to row the running portions of this WOD but on a whim had decided to toss into my gym bag a long-sleeved wool shirt, a fleece hat, my running sneakers and a cropped sleeveless hoodie by Doughnuts & Deadlifts that I am totally in love with as an extra layer for running outdoors.

Case in point: D&D cropped hoodie over Smartwool long sleeve, Virus International compression tights, and my Altra sneakers. Spontaneous photo taken by Carlos during one of my runs in downtown.
Actually...this is the exact same outfit I wore for Diane!
Different day, different run, different Smartwool shirt, different Virus pants, same cropped hoodie, same sneakers. 
It was indeed cold outside but there was no wind and it was sunny. I ultimately decided I would run.  I threw on my additional layers, swapped my Nike Metcons for my Altras, set up my barbell with 111 lbs (a weight that I knew I could lift for 21 uninterrupted reps to start with) and grabbed a pair of 10 lb dumbbells: the scale for the handstand push-ups was seated shoulder presses. Coach A explained the scaled distances for the running portions. The RX (prescribed) distances were 1 mile, 800 meters (1/2 mile), 400 meters (1/4 mile), 200 meters (1/8 mile). The scaled distances were 800, 400, 200, 100 meters or even 400, 200, 100, 50 meters. Rowing was the other alternative for those that couldn't run that much. Coach A just wanted participants to choose distances that they could complete without having to stop to walk. I had no qualms about running the full distances: running a full mile straight has not been an issue for several months now.

So the unscaled version of Diane was: 1 mile run, 21 deadlifts, 21 handstand push-ups (or dumbbell shoulder presses); 800 meter run, 15 deadlifts, 15 handstand push-ups (or shoulder presses); 400 meter run, 9 deadlifts, 9 handstand push-ups (or shoulder presses), and finish with a 200 meter run. We had a 25 minute time cap for this portion of the WOD (aka we had 25 minutes in which to complete the whole thing).

It was a small class on this day. B, J and I were the most advanced in this group, with B and J being light years ahead of me, especially when it comes to upper body strength. J has competed in the CrossFit Open and B is able to do RX movements and weights for pretty much everything. I was not surprised that it was just us three choosing to run on this day. B took the lead and I found myself pacing easily with her, while staying an even 10 strides behind her. J was several lengths behind me. We all ran in silence. I had brought my phone and headphones; I slipped them on while running and swiped over to SoundCloud to Mau & Ricky's Mi Mala.

Yup: I tend to start runs listening to slow songs to keep myself from going all out at the beginning.

"Quien iba a pensar que con la misma lengua
Estarias tocando timbre en otra puerta
Quien iba a pensar que con tu billetera
Estarias comprando pan en otra tienda..."

I was surprised, though, when B made a sharp turn at the point where the initial mile could be scaled to 800 meters. I actually stopped in my tracks for a moment, debating scaling the distance too. J was still a ways behind me and I wondered if she'd scale it as well. I have never scaled running distances for CrossFit though...it is thanks to CrossFit that I discovered that I can, actually, run a mile straight through without pausing to walk. It still amuses me though that I, the girl that used to be the literal WORST runner in PE class (legit last every. single. time. we had to run for anything in school) is now considered among the fastest runners in the box.

During one of the running WODs over the summer, Coach A had said, "Let the fast people start in front," and everyone had stepped behind me, "Nicole should go first." I had looked around in surprise. This was a pretty large group...but I was the only Nicole in the class. "Wait, what?"

Or that other time when we were doing Beowulf, which has a half mile run at the beginning and at the end, in addition to rowing. I love rowing but it is NOT my strong suit. I am the literal slowest rower in the entire box right now. Beowulf is a benchmark WOD and it is the toughest thing I've completed to date...and I finished in second place that day in the largest morning class against some of the gym's longer-term members, my placing being exclusively to making up time during the running portions of the workout. I had flown past Coach D at the end of the WOD, feeling (and apparently also looking) completely recovered and he had exclaimed in a somewhat reproachful tone, "You're such a runner!" Given that he is into lifting heavy things and not cardio, it wasn't exactly meant as a compliment...but I also knew he was half-joking and I had laughed.

Me. A runner.

It blows my mind.

And so now in the present, I realized just how tight that time cap was going to be at the full distances. I had a choice:
a) Scale and make the time cap for sure, knowing that I had chosen the easy route.
b) Go for the full distances as planned and potentially not make the time cap...but truly challenge myself.

There was no reason to go easy when I knew I could do the more challenging version and potentially still succeed. "I might not make the time cap...but I'mma try," I thought fiercely. And so I turned back in the direction of the mile and kept on running.  It wasn't long after that I realized J was no longer behind me: I was indeed the only one going for the full running distances in this WOD.

And so I continued on, alone, past the office buildings along our gym's one-mile route, crossing the main street that runs through the complex, and on towards the warehouses that line the homestretch. Just me and my music against the pavement and icy breeze.

As I hit the last quarter mile of the homestretch, I looked down at Endomondo on my phone. I was about to complete my first mile in around 8 minutes.

When I was 14, despite hating running because I was the absolute worst at it, there was also a part of me that wanted to love it so badly. Whenever we had running in PE, I would take off as fast as my feet would go, reveling in the feel of flying on my own two feet...and would make it exactly 1/4 of the way around the track before I had to stop, gasping for air, my heart feeling like it was about to pound its way out of my chest, my legs burning, screaming for me to stop. I had always wanted running to be as effortless as it felt for those first few meters, to be able to harness that feeling for miles and miles. To be able to go on forever without the burn and the pain.

I had thought back then that it was an unreachable goal. That runners were born, not made.

It was a crazy juxtaposition to the present, where I was the only one running the full distances now in this workout because I was the only one that believed at that moment that she could do it.

"And believe in yourself so fucking hard that no one can ever take it from you."

And so I smiled now at the end of this first mile as I incrementally accelerated my pace until I was outright sprinting as I made the final turn around the warehouse section, our gym now within sight. That afterburner feeling, where my legs feel like powerful pistons relentlessly propelling me forwards, is unlike anything I've ever experienced in my life before.

Do my legs and lungs still burn? Oh hell yes, especially at the speed I was going. But part of conditioning yourself is knowing just how far and for how long you can push yourself beyond that burn, knowing that you will recover from it.

And that's how I FLEW back into the warmth of the box to my waiting barbell. I kicked off my cushy running sneakers (because feet as close to the floor as possible for deadlifts for stability) and removed my fleece cap (so the heat from my exertion could escape: I would overheat otherwise while doing deads and shoulder presses and I did not want to be dripping sweat when I ran back outside because cold air) and got to work on pulling 21 deadlifts as quickly as correctly possible. I then sat on the floor next to my barbell and got to work on the 21 dumbbell shoulder presses. I finished, set the dumbbells down, shoved my feet back into my running sneakers, yanked my fleece cap back onto my head, and sprinted back out the door to run the next half mile.

And so on and so forth.

I didn't pay attention to what anyone else was doing. I knew everyone would finish before I did. As I sat down to do my last 9 shoulder presses, B walked past me and grinned, silently mouthing "Good job!!!" I grinned back. Her encouragement meant so much right then!

I got up, glancing at the timer above the gym doors. I had two and a half minutes in which to complete 200 meters if I wanted to finish within the time cap. My brain was beyond the point of being able to math my current pace over distance in order to have an idea of whether that was enough time or not...it didn't seem like a lot of time, so I took off, flinging myself back outdoors into the wall of cold air that was waiting for me and me alone.

It was just 1/8th of  a mile.

I hit the pavement outside flying and dug in, realizing that I might be breathing hard but there was still plenty of gas in the tank. I sprinted to the mark on the asphalt that indicated 100 meters, turned around in one leap and ran back towards the gym, pumping arms and knees as fast as they would go, the tears from my speed streaming backwards from my eyes as I ran headfirst into the stiff, cold wind.

I flew back into the box. Everyone was there waiting for me. I glanced up at the clock as I ran past it and gasped when I saw my time.


"Holy shit!" I exclaimed. Not only had I made it within the time cap, I had done so with a minute to spare!

"GOOD JOB!!!" everyone else exclaimed.

I came to an abrupt stop in the center of the gym and doubled over to catch my breath for a moment. My lungs and core were on fire from the exertion while my extremities felt icy from the cold air outside. I needed a moment for my body to choose a temperature and settle down...which really only took half a minute: within the shelter of the box, my body chose warmth and broke out into a sweat as my heart pumped the hot blood from my core out towards my arms and legs, down to my fingers and toes.

Feeling like I was radiating heat along with joy now, I walked over to the gym member board where I victoriously wrote down my time and weights lifted for the WOD before going over to my spot on the floor to break down my barbell and put away the equipment used.

Once that was finished, I returned to the board.  A new PR section had just been delineated the day before, so gym members can keep track of their personal bests.

My squat 1RM was the first number on the board.

"Nicole 195# 11/21/18"