Category Archives: Fitness

Brain Pan

The air is thick with the stench of decay and the metallic tang of fresh blood which thankfully isn’t yours.  Your back is braced against the battered door, enduring each lazy, persistent blow from the other side.  You can feel as much as hear skin and nail dragging against the wooden surface, scrapping away layers of each.  In one hand you hold a smoking Glock 9mm, its magazine spent.  In the other the bloodied axe you liberated from the abandoned fire engine on Elm Street.  Both hands shake from the conflicting forces of adrenaline and exhaustion.  You close your eyes tight, trying to recapture your focus and sketch out a plan to survive the next few moments.  That’s when you hear the window shatter from the other room, followed by the shambling movement of creatures entering what had been your shelter, your haven, for the past six days.  But now your castle has been breached, your security compromised.  What next? 

We’ve all seen or censored the many incarnations of undead party crashers killing the mood at civilization’s orgy.  For decades the zombie apocalypse has infested every form of media and been flavored with every possible genre; fast swarming zombies, smart child zombies, night stalker zombies, romantic zombies filled with teenage angst.  The zombie craze has even given rise to a counter-culture of YouTube videos and wiki entries, supply lists and exercise routines, all offering insightful methodology for surviving your doom while maintaining a bikini ready bod.  Even the CDC got into the action and published a graphic novel and numerous follow-up blogs to ensure that the citizens of our once great (now mildly functional) nation are properly prepared for the worst.  Preparedness is great in theory, but I bet most of you don’t even have an escape plan for a house fire, much less have a backup plan for the end of the world!  Even here in the heart of earthquake country many people are not stocked with sufficient disaster supplies beyond the crank radio they got from a NPR pledge drive 6 years ago and the box of stale Ritz crackers in the cupboard over the fridge, so I’ll just assume most of you aren’t sitting pretty with a bug-out bag hanging ready by the front door.  You might be quite proud of your fancy new InstaPot and the cornucopia of post-Soccer meal options it offers but when the shit goes down it won’t be any better than foil wrapped roadkill cooking on the engine block as you floor the gas pedal to escape being brain tartare.  Bon appetite!

Now granted, there are those few dedicated individuals who are totally prepared for this (or any) eventuality and we lovingly refer to these people as “bat shit crazy”.  This is the demographic sweet spot that live on “compounds” and stress the importance of a healthy paralegal militia… er, I mean likeminded, proactive citizens embracing an old-world chivalry wrapped in a new-world order.  But despite the televised NRA propaganda that says these are the people that keep the world safe, anyone who’s ever watched Walking Dead knows these are usually the people that end up eating other people or at least pressing them into indentured slavery.  While this seems like very poor manners for god-fearing church goers, I must admit “thou shall not eat your neighbor” did not make the cut in the final draft of the Ten Commandments. Perhaps the editors thought that one was a no-brainer.  Ha, no-brainer, see what I did there… okay, never mind.

For the others out there, who think the zombie apocalypse isn’t plausible for the simple fact that brain sucking undead seem about as likely as rampaging unicorns with a disturbing horn fetish, you need to remember that the zombies (and kinky unicorns) are completely optional.  They’re all just window dressing in this scenario… like the faded floral print window dressing at grandmas that smells of saccharine and fried fish; sure, you could do without them, but they lend a vivid sense of place.  The true nature of the event, be it alien incursion, viral outbreak or dinosaur rampage, is just a single slice of the larger threat pie being served up.  First there is the simple destructive force of Mother Nature and the necessities of life made more elusive by a collapsing society.  Second but perhaps more problematic is “humanity”; not French Literature or Neo Impressionism, but human beings, driven to “Lord of the Flies” type shenanigans. The wackos of the world suddenly given free rein now that society is no longer around to keep them in check.  Sorry to say, but the meek shall not inherit the earth; they will either be forced to serve others or be served with a tangy BBQ sauce… or a bold seasoning rub if you’re caught in Kansas City.

Despite the name of my blog (or the resulting Google search results when trying to find my non-SEO optimized blog) I have only a rudimentary knowledge of actual survival skills. While I grew up with heroic visions of self-sufficiency my most grueling experiences have been things like the Spartan Run, so as long as the road to desolation has a clearly marked route and someone there handing me water every half mile I should be fine.  But even if I manage to survive the basic elements I’m not sure where I’d stand when facing off against bad guys with BBQ sauce.  Sure, I’ve geeked out on blades, owned a hand gun, learned plenty of self-defense but I question the level of violence I’m actually capable of; Hell, my friends still give me grief for my catch and release policy with spiders.

But I think at its heart this is the very question people take pleasure in wrestling with; do I have what it takes to survive?  What would you do to survive?  What would you do to ensure your family survives?    Do you have the intestinal fortitude to slather your body with putrid zombie gore to escape detection?  Could you make the hard choices for the people who rely on you?  Would you sacrifice your own humanity to prevail?

One classic scenario is set in the early days of the fall.  You and the family are fleeing the city in a car well stocked with more than just Ritz crackers and a labor-intensive radio.  You have food, water, fuel, blankets, med-kits.  The works.  The situation outside is already sketchy and while trying to flee to safer ground you come across a stranger on the side of the road begging for assistance, perhaps suffering from something as simple as a flat tire.  Do you pull over to render aid at the potential risk to your loved ones, and if so how much assistance do you provide?  Want to help with repairs?  Share a generous resupply of food and water?  Do you offer a ride?  Would your answer change if the stranger was female?  Had kids?  What if there were 3 adults and 2 kids?  Even if you’re inclined to be generous the realization that you’re now outnumbered becomes a concern… what’s to prevent them from just taking your well-stocked car once you pull over?   What if your own car breaks down further down the road and you find yourself in the reverse situation?  Would you hi-jack a Good Samaritan if it meant protecting your own family from being abandoned roadside?

Fast forward a couple days, you’ve survived the road trip and find yourself at the entry to a gated community that offers the chance for a real level of normalcy.  The catch is that due to limited resources they ask you at the gate “what useful skills do you have to offer the commune?” Keep in mind it needs to be something practical and useful.  Programming skills, worthless; we can’t even power the toaster (since NPR didn’t think to market one of those with a crank!).  Social media phenom with 50,000 followers on Instagram, who cares, most of them are now zombies or zombie chow.  Artist or musician, pointless; post-apocalyptic society has about as much use for the humanities as the Trump administration!  Accounting skills, well maybe, but how much skill is required to count cans of green beans or determine the exchange rate of bullets to toilet paper (it’s 10 to 1 for a roll of single ply and 25 to 1 for double ply quilted, just so you know)?   So, what do you have to offer?

Putting aside the unlikely premise of the zombie apocalypse there is real value in these types of mental exercises.  On the surface they teach us to be good little Boy Scouts and always be prepared. The CDC had it right in assuming that proper preparation starts with an awareness of potential need.  You may live in a zombie-free zone, but you can still be side-swiped by earthquakes, floodwaters, flashfires or Sharknados (hell, there’s been like 5 or 6 of those things already).  Imagining what we might need to survive these situations is more effective than a reminder to replace the smoke alarm batteries at the start and finish of the utterly pointless and completely antiquated Daylight Savings Time (not that I’m bitter).

Another, perhaps more important, benefit from these scenarios is that they allow us to be introspective about an aspect of our psyche that most of us will never have opportunity to explore.  We are confronted daily with heart-wrenching tales of suffering from all around the world that we are powerless to affect.  Thinking about how we’d kick ass and chew bubble gum after the fall of civilization can become a cathartic exercise of empowerment; what is our measure of heroism and the value we place in maintaining our humanity? For many of us this is as close as we’ll ever get to facing real life-threatening choices; would we have the courage to rise from the shelter of a battle-torn trench to charge the machine nest pinning our platoon?   Would we have the conviction to run towards the burning skyscrapers on the verge of collapse to help those trapped inside?  Would we rush into a school on lockdown to face off against a school shooter? We want to believe we’re brave enough.  We want to feel like we have the right stuff to survive in this world against all threats, real or imagined. Since there are no zombies knocking at the door and Bear Gryllus isn’t hovering around challenging us to drink our own pee or sample live scorpions, our assumptions are safe from scrutiny. Hopefully we’ll never have to put up or shut up in the real world so for now we can ravel in thoughts of zombie carnage and celebrate our inner hero… along as he doesn’t step on any spiders.

 

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My Bedeviled Angel

A lot of people persistently struggle when it comes to personal fitness, and in recent days I count myself among their ranks.   On one shoulder I have the ripped Angel with the 6-pack abs sipping the kale smoothie and on the other shoulder I have the pot-bellied Devil chugging malt liquor.  In my world Angel typically wins out in the war on workouts; Devil has a better chance asking me to not shower then asking me not to work out, so instead he contents himself with sabotaging my shopping list and convincing me that the 2g of protein in the Peanut Butter Crunch, twice that of most breakfast cereals I’ll have you know, is a healthy source of protein for growing muscles, so thank you captain.    Angel, satisfied that I’m at least eating my vegetables, settles for a palm slap and a guilt inducing head shake whenever I have a chocolate chip cookie to “cleanse my palate” after dinner.  Left to my own devices I manage to keep them both in check and come out on the healthier side of the scale.  It is, however, a fragile balance easily disrupted by outside influences.  I once dated a girl that newly discovered you could order French fries with a side of gravy, providing a slice of Thanksgiving any day of the week.  Needless to say Devil was giddy with delight and Angel almost passed out while frantically Googling cardiologists.

One of the more serious external threats comes from the wee folk,… not the leprechauns pushing brownie bits samples at Costco but my precious offspring with narrow diets and youthfully unclogged arteries.  These little Devils have no problem feasting on the “bacon platter” for breakfast (that would be a platter stacked with only bacon).  They suck through Otter pops faster than a chain smoker.  They refuse to touch any food tainted with the smallest fleck of green down to trace amounts of dehydrated parsley found on the wildly unhealthy garlic bread.   They are the demon spawn of Domino’s pizza forsaking colorful vegetables and unprocessed proteins.  Worst of all is the fact that the little Devils require so much nit-picky care for the preparation of an acceptable meal that it leaves little time for alternative arrangements and just a bitter choice between choking down dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets with everyone else or working on a healthier alternative through dinnertime and scarfing it down between doing the dishes and chasing down little Devils for bath time.

Parental time management takes the greatest toll on the Great Expectations that is self-improvement.   Most successful workout routines fall into the time range of 45-90 minutes.  Trying to ease your P90X fitness guilt with a handful of sit-ups and a vigorous dash to the mailbox doesn’t fill the void.  I need extended activity; A prolonged cardio burn like running the bleachers at a football stadium which is problematic in the limited circumference of my current dwelling.  Inside this apartment everything is literally a 10ft radius from my desk.  When I had my Fitbit functioning in the previous house I could easily hit my goal of 10,000 steps just from multiple round trips up and down the stairs and delivering laundry to the four corners of the homestead.  It’s hard to make up that difference when time and space are so limited.  I need to either fill all free time with additional gym trips or multi-task when little ones are around, doing speed rounds of sprint tag with alternating pull-ups on the money bars between pursuits as lava monster.  Maybe I can install a giant hamster wheel out on the balcony.

I know some of it is inevitable; we grow up and then we grow out.  Our metabolism naturally slows down over time regardless of how much spice we spike our foods with.  Diets have to adjust to accommodate changes in our aging body and our fading activity levels.  At some point we have to realize our food intake no longer aligns with our daily calorie burn.  Continuing to eat like we’re teenage athletes makes as much sense as keeping those size 30 jeans believing that one day we’ll once again have the waist of a 20-year-old.

By this point my personal Angel, who was meant to be the model of health and virtue, is on the verge of surrendering.  When the Devil upends Angel’s kale smoothie and pokes him the belly like the Pillsbury Doughboy he no longer seems to mind.  I suspect his becoming a little too chummy with his devilish counterpart and the temptations being whispered in his ear.  It’s only a matter of time before he’s stretched out on a recliner during 8oz curls and using the devil as his serving wench.  Time for more stretchy pants.

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Dry Run (fiction)

I remember lining up for my first race beneath dark clouds with the promise of rain. “Piano Man” played over the sound system mixing with the energetic announcer who counted down the time until the next wave of runners. I was corralled near the inflatable starting gate with my fellow participants bouncing and stretching to ward off the chill. There was a buzz of nervous conversation and eager anticipation. The annual Folsom Lake “Mud Run” attracted crowds from all walks of life, eager to get down and dirty. I looked around at the faces of strangers and felt a sense of kinship as we shuffled towards the starting line waiting to begin our adventure. Everyone joined in for the final countdown that ended with a long blast from an air horn. We were off.

Twelve years later, there is no place to go. All here is quiet and still. It would have been race time and already the temperature is in the low 80s, promising to be well above the October average of 84. If we hit the 90 degree mark they probably would have issued an evap warning, and cancelled the race anyway. That was just one of the many reasons the race might have been cancelled. I knew the chances of having one last race was slim but I was hoping to end on number 12. I always liked ending things on an even number. It just felt right.

That first race was in 2010 (I liked starting things on an even number too). The Mud Run wasn’t the longest or most difficult race out there. The emphasis was more on fun with a few challenges sprinkled in to keep things interesting. This was more my speed having not competed in anything since high school swim team, and never being a big fan of running in the first place. I was so nervous when that air horn sounded that my mouth ran dry and I almost hyperventilated before the first obstacle, a cargo net climbing structure.   Once I powered through that, putting aside any fear of heights, I was able to settle into the race and set a better pace going forward. Next up was the first of three mud crawls; vast pools of chilled chocolate colored water. I spider walked through the waves it to protect my knees from the gravely bottom, but still emerged dripping wet and coated with a thin layer of diluted mud. I remember feeling uncomfortable with the weight of the water on my clothes and the sticky mud caked to my shoes.

I would grow to miss that feeling more then I knew. The oil based mud they started using in the pits were predictably slimy but were meant to be easily absorbed by the skin leaving just a residue of colored dust. More often than not though perspiration would prevent absorption leaving it to clump in oily rivulets that were difficult to wash off and contaminated what was left of the lake water. Eventually the pits were lined with a gel bottom to simulate the texture of mud though without the muddy mess, or oil slicks in the lake.

If nothing else we knew eventually the Mud Run would have to be moved. After just my second year racing they had already started affectionately referring to this as the Folsom Puddle. The lake levels started dropping quickly as the drought worsened. Each year there was optimism that the rainfall would come to fill the lake and the snow packs would return to keep it stocked. But even the consecutive El Nino years in 2015 and 2016 weren’t enough to make up for the dry years and rising temperatures. By my third year they stopped bringing in the water tankers for the post-race rinse-stations. I remember the decadent use of water prior to that; miles of hoses snaking from a network of pipes, big inflatable structures set up like old car washes that you walked through to get clean under constant streams of liquid water. By my fifth year even the water cups they hand out along the race required purchase of premium wristbands, as well as a deduction of rations two years later.

My friend Luke started running with me on my fourth race. Though he was an avid runner he pretended to “bow to my experience” and let me set the pace. It was good to have the company after my previous solo runs, having someone to playfully mock and challenge along the way also pushed me beyond my own sluggish pace. I fared better with some of the more physical obstacles, such as the sandbag pulley or the medicine ball carry, but he was quicker over the walls and, of course, running between obstacles. Ironically the one destination Luke dreaded the most was the lake crossing. Having the lean runners build he was left with no defense against the mountain snow melt that filled the lake, and back then late October mornings would be chilly in their own right. As we descended down towards the lake shore Luke would begin his ritual of psyching himself out and sprinting in little circles trying to raise his core temperature. It made no difference in the end though, he would still squeal like a little girl as soon as he took that first deep step that submerged him past his private parts.

Each year, the course would adjust as the distance to the lake shore got further and further away replaced by fields of cracked earth broken up by the occasional tire tracks. The boat ramps once filled with recreational speed boats and jet skis were replaced by quads and dirt bikes.   On my 10th run the lake was officially dry. The lake crossing obstacle became the last real mud pit, however since it was covered in plastic to prevent evap it wasn’t much different from the gel bottoms in the other pits. It seemed fitting to make that my final race, and mark the passing of Folsom Lake.

Ironically Luke had a different reaction to the news and after a four-year absence he decided to run again the following year as a way to thumb his nose at the lake crossing that used to taunt him. He was convinced this would make everything better and I felt compelled to join him as long as he promised to do it the following year so I could end even. It was a rather poor performance for both of us as we were feeling our years. My unexpected entry hadn’t left me much time to train properly and Luke’s health issues had degraded his runners’ physique.   This left us with ample opportunity to laugh at each other as we struggled with even the easier obstacles; floundering over the short walls, getting stuck in the crawling tubes and drunkenly stumbling across the balance beams.   We got a better work out from belly laughs then from anything the course had to offer. We had fun doing backstroke in the gel pools and dancing over the fire strips, one of the new obstacles added to replace the mud. It was all well worth the price of admission.

Today was to be our last run. Tickets were just about to go up for sale when we heard about the plans to renovate Folsom Lakebed. They promised the event could continue, though probably by a different name, once the construction was complete. It made no difference; Luke’s doctor didn’t green light him for another race anyway, he thought it would be too much of a strain on his kidneys. Maybe it’s for the best though. The memories we made last year would be hard to match. Maybe that’s a more fitting end to our Mud Run days; to remember the better days of joy and prosperity and be optimistic for the rain to come. An optimism that would be easier if hadn’t ended with an odd number.

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Mud Tougher

I have another million dollar idea; Have people pay me to be tortured. No, no, really, this is going to work. I’ll electrocute them, submerge them in ice and push them off high-rise platforms. And they’re going to love it. The best part is I’ll convince them it’s actually good for them. I’ll make them run from one evil obstacle to the next so they feel like they’re exercising but I’ll keep them close enough together so there’s really no cardio benefit. I’ll make it a competition so people will strive to be the most beaten up. They will glory in the pain. Blood and bruises will be the badge of honor here so I won’t have to waste money on fancy trophies. We can even mix it up, sometimes I’ll keep it simple and just pelt them with colorful dyes, make colorful toxic clouds for them to run through, and make it feel like a party as I deafen them with an upbeat dance mix. Maybe I’ll put a fictional spin on it and make them feel like the last survivors of a zombie apocalypse or gladiators sentenced to death in a fiery arena. I’ll find some people that enjoy role-playing to dress up as zombies or Spartan’s and have them beat the snot out of people that generally mock role-playing. How sweet is that?! And again, they’re going to pay me for the privilege.

People seem to have lost interest in something as mundane as running; since the dawn of man we have run quite naturally towards prey and away from predators. Who wants to spend money on that? But throw in some back-breaking labor and a mud puddle or two and you got yourself a money-maker. All I need now is an iron clad liability release form and some legal small print about consulting a doctor before arriving for your time of torment. Actually compared to an Iron Man, no one will blink an eye at the abuse I’m signing people up for. This might just be a short-lived fad that I can cash in on quickly before people realize what they’re actually paying for. I can’t imagine anyone signing up to do something like this more than once. Nobody is that stupid.

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