In June of 2012 I ran a 5k after training with my learn to run group from the gym I worked at. I performed okay considering everything, took 3rd in my age group and placed 39th out of 215 people overall. I ran a 4:30/km pace for the race, which was not a PB but decent.
Four weeks later I couldn’t run for three minutes. No one has ever been able to explain what happened but my suspicion is that during a swimming race with my wife I had a mild heart attack because it knocked me for a loop for a couple of days. Then the next week I got on a treadmill and couldn’t run. Nauseous, pressure in my chest, pounding, etc.
Once I got my echocardiogram and stress test it finally got figured out. I had not only a faulty heart valve (which I had my whole life and didn’t know it) but something called a dilated aortic root. Not completely severe requiring open heart surgery, but enough to affect things. In case you’re wondering what that is, it’s a swelling at the base of my aorta, the largest artery coming from the heart. If the swelling ruptures, then I’m dead. In minutes. Gone.
So what did that mean? No working out. No increased blood pressure. No exertion. Too risky, they said.
Imagine all the things you love suddenly getting ripped away from you. All the things you do that make you feel strong and accomplished. What you do for a living.
For months I tried to grasp it and had a really hard time. Workouts fell away. No idea what I could do to help myself. I felt weak and like a loser for not being able to practice what I preached. I’d try to lift weights and have to stop after ten minutes, even mild stuff. I could walk, but jogging for more than 5 minutes made me feel awful.
And I was scared. I had a little girl on the way and now I have another. I didn’t want to leave my family alone because I was too prideful to let go of the fact I wasn’t an athlete any more. I was scared of dying. So I stopped living.
Then I found out I could walk. That was a start. Got into race walking and did a ½ marathon walking in 2:45. 18 months ago. I remember I was very emotional at the start line. I was actually wearing a holter monitor at the time just in case anything happened. I never thought I’d be able to do that again but I was okay. And maybe, just maybe that meant I could do more.
So maybe if I can do that, I can start to jog. So I did. Started with 3 minutes jog, one walk. Like a beginner. Built up, one minute at a time. 6 minutes jog, two walk. 7 minutes jog, two walk. Every step I was paranoid about what might happen. I had to tell my wife exactly where I was going in case I didn’t come back. I had to work out at my studio only if someone else was there so if I collapsed they might be able to do something. But at least I was still working.
About a year ago I finally went to a respirologist who finally decided to red line my heart and see what happened in the hospital where I was safe. My VO2 max was still above 40 and I could push 195 watts on an ergometer (for about 20 seconds). After two years of not exerting myself. And I was good – tired, but good. That gave me hope. I got on the bike at my gym religiously, building up from 20 minutes bit by bit to 45 and then starting to push power numbers. Still afraid to run, plus it was winter anyway so I wasn’t about to start. Got to 245 watts for 20 minutes, or 3.0W/kg – not bad for someone my age who hadnt worked out hard for two years.
Why am I telling you all this?
Today I ran 6k. Continuous. For the first time in three years. The final 2k was uphill. And it felt fucking amazing. When I stopped at the top of my street and walked home there were tears in my eyes and I was pumping my fist. You know why? I never thought I’d be able to do that again. And this is from a guy who has run two marathons and over a dozen half marathons.
Three. Years. Imagine someone telling you it would take that long to be able to feel strong again. To feel like you were an athlete again.
I’m going to declare right here on my blog that I have entered a 5k race in September, and you know what? I’m going to beat that time I set three years ago. I’m not just going to beat it, I’m going to crush it.
How did this happen? Careful progression. Not taking my body for granted. Listening to it and backing off when I have to. But never, ever, ever stopping. Can’t do that? Find something else you can do. Not progressing? Change things up. Try. Try. Try. And try again. Just don’t stop.
Like one of my favourite motivational speeches says, life is this game of inches.
And I know, if I’m going to have any life anymore, it is because I’m still willing to fight, and die for that inch. Because that’s what living is. And I know when I add up all those inches, that’s going to make the difference between winning and losing. Between living and dying.
Fuck you heart disease. Fuck you faulty valve. Fuck you doctors who told me I can’t.
Nothing can beat you unless you let it.
So what are you going to do?
I’ll see you in September.
Apparently there is a certain portion of the fitness community that has learned nothing about the tragedy that took place about a year ago. Kevin Ogar, who was competing in the Crossfit OC Throwdown in January of 2014 severed his spine during the competition and is now paralyzed. A video of the moment it happened went viral and the whole fitness community mourned along with extensive analysis of what happened. By many it was considered a freak accident, unless you consider the fact that he was three workouts into a ten workout regime, likely already exhausted and throwing a heavy weight over his head. I’m not posting a link but it is easily found, and is disturbing.
First and foremost, this is not an article about CrossFit, bashing anyone or doing anything other than taking a look objectively at the situation. From what I have read nobody can seem to properly determine if Kevin’s spine was just ready to snap, or if he was hit by the bar (or both) – either way, it is a horrible accident and my thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.
However, apparently the people who run the OC Throwdown didn’t learn anything, as this year they decided to have their participants jump over successive hurdles that were set at heights way too difficult to get over, resulting in many competitors falling – it is unknown if any of them seriously injured themselves but judging from what I was watching it was highly likely. There was a video that went viral about it and many people within the community complained that it was irresponsible and idiotic (which it was), and you would think that the organizers of this event would have known better. By the way, if you want to see the video, it’s here.
Maybe if just one person had stood up and reminded them of what happened the year before and simply refused to do something so risky they might have changed their whole workout and everyone could have done it safely. But that’s not cool, and it’s not hardcore, and it’s not something that you can post on YouTube.
This article is about the responsibility we all have towards our bodies, and the stupidity that sometimes arises when people get competitive. I can’t count the amount of people I have dealt with who have experienced major injuries, usually because they decided to “push through it” or they wanted to “suck it up”. Your body sends you signals for a reason, and it usually isn’t to tell you “hey, maybe you should think about stopping.”
I have many people on my Facebook feed who perform (to be blunt) horrible lifts. Absolutely brutal lifts. But they get the weight up and cheer themselves and get tons of likes on Facebook and Instagram of course. One poor girl who is all of 21 regularly hurts herself and almost brags about it, and then two days later posts videos of herself lifting, and the only thing I can see is her knees buckling and her spine ready to collapse. She doesn’t realize that in 20 years – or sooner – she’s likely going to be suffering.
Tragedy comes in many forms, but to me one of the most tragic things is seeing a mistake made and then doing absolutely nothing to correct it simply for the sake of ego. You only get one body and one life. You have a choice if you want to let yourself live it to its’ fullest for the whole time you’re on the earth, or possibly have that one moment of glory (or one moment of stupidity) and pay for it for years. I’ve fallen victim to it myself when I was younger and stupid. Many of my friends who have “tweaked” things 20 years ago have recently had to have surgery to resolve things and can’t do what they want to do any more. It’s inevitable if you keep treating your body like a punching bag.
I’d rather see people lifting 50 pounds less and able to do it for 20 more years, which is why I run my practice the way that I do. I’ve taught women in their 50’s to lift over 150 pounds, but do they really need to do more than that? My people squat and lift and push and pull just like anyone else, but they do it with care and responsibility to the body, and funnily enough they rarely have a problem, now and ten years from now. I fix people who have had crippling injuries on a regular basis – the only people I’ll refuse to work with are those who haven’t learned the rules of the body and to respect what it tells you and do something about it.
Strength isn’t something that you can easily define. Figure out for yourself what it means. Hopefully it doesn’t mean sacrificing your long term joint health for the sake of making one massive lift, or almost killing yourself to be able to pose on a stage for 30 seconds, or dehydrating yourself so you can have abs just that much more visible for a photo shoot, or doing something idiotic to be able to post an edgy video on the internet. Wake up.
As always, comments are welcome.
It’s never nice when a client has to stop working with you for whatever reason it may be. Recently I found out that one of my long term clients, Russell P had to move to another city. I thought as a result I’d take the opportunity to write a quick tribute to him, because the way that he approached his training made my job really easy, but can also serve as an example to anyone out there who wants results on how to get them with some help from a trainer if you feel you need it.
Listen to and Trust your Trainer
When Russell and I met, he had been training for a marathon and managed to get Achilles Tendonitis. At the time I was working for a chain gym and he asked for someone with a running background and who knew about injuries. As luck would have it, I do well with both. At our first meeting Russell outlined his training program and one of the first things that I did was cut his mileage in half immediately. Now, Russell had eight weeks before running his first marathon so he thought I was crazy.
But, he listened. We strengthen and mobilized his ankle and got him back into a regular running rhythm and eight weeks later he completed his first marathon. It wasn’t fast, but it was done. Russell was simply trying to do too much too soon and his body was fighting back – quite common with runners.
Two years later running the same race (where he beat his old marathon best by over 30 minutes) we had a goal established that he probably could have tried to push more, but he chose to listen and just hit the numbers we had talked about, which is what brought him success.
Russell could have easily done something else or told me that he was doing what I asked and done something else, but that’s not like him. He has always trusted in the process. We do get input from each other, but the whole point of having a coach is to have them tell you what to do to succeed.
Just Show Up
I can probably count on one hand the amount of times Russell and I missed a session with a last minute cancellation. Even if he was hung over, tired or just generally stressed he still always showed up. Sometimes we wouldn’t get the best out of him that day, but what we did was always better than doing nothing. Once he committed to a race, it was there and 100% done. Before he decided to leave we had his goals planned out into 2016.
He was also excellent at following his programs without overdoing it or doing anything silly. If we had an off day planned, he took it – or if he had to make up for a run he missed he put it there. He never did too much again after that first injury.
Over time we even learned that we had to factor in two weeks after any major race in order to let his body rest and gave him time to recover and do nothing for a while. This should never be a problem for any coach because all you’re doing is giving the body what it needs after a big performance, which is recovery.
My point is that 98% of any success is just showing up. Many time it would have been easy for Russell to text me and say he couldn’t make it, but his training and progress were a priority that he made time for and as a coach this is something that makes it a lot easier to get results.
Any good coach will be able to plan out a schedule for a client, but Russell was especially good at thinking ahead and long term. Not only would he plan for what he was going to do workout wise when he was away, he made it a priority or scheduled workouts with friends while he was travelling. His family lives in England and even when he was over there for a week he still got his workouts is because he planned what days he was going to do them ahead of time.
We also planned his race schedule year to hear with one big goal (last year it was riding a bicycle from London to Paris, this year it was a ½ Ironman triathlon) and didn’t change it. He already has his priorities scheduled into 2015 and is committed to the process. There are little goals along the way, but the main focus can’t be month to month – it was to be one event and I always prefer if it is an annual goal, not a bunch of them (maybe twice a year at most).
Doing this ensures that your focus is always on the main event you have prioritized. It doesn’t mean that you can’t do a 10k race on your way to a marathon goal of course. And that brings me to my final point:
Roll With The Punches and Be Realistic
Sometimes life gets in the way. Russell and I at the beginning of the season had a ½ Ironman triathlon scheduled for the end of his race season (his first). However, the way that the summer fleshed out and with many work and life changes we both mutually agreed that it wasn’t a good idea to push for the distance when the training he was able to do would have resulted in a less than 100% result. He still completed his first Olympic distance triathlon with flying colours and hit all of his goals along the way.
Sometimes you need to assess if your life can really manage to get you the training that you need. I run into this quite often with fitness competitors who have jobs, families and lots of stress and have a hard time sticking to things. Health and well-being in my opinion should always be the top priority, and things like races and shows aren’t going anywhere any time soon. If you have to put a goal off temporarily due to something getting in the way – do it.
Want to do a ½ marathon but couldn’t get in your long runs? Try setting a PB at the 10k distance instead. You can still get a fantastic result and maintain your training and health, while also lowering your stress at the same time and taking pressure off so that the training that you can manage to get in isn’t wasted.
I hope that this brings some perspective into your own training. I’ll miss working with Russell on a regular basis a ton (we’re going to work together coaching virtually in the new year), not only because we have had a great relationship face to face but also because of all of the reasons labelled above that makes doing my job well so much easier. If you have a trainer take a look at the list and maybe there might be one thing that you could honestly say you can step up and improve a bit. I’m sure your coach will thank you for it and be able to get your results to you that much faster.
Also, if you’re reading this and are interested in coaching, my virtual services are available for the month of December at a 20% discount – five months for the price of four. Contact me for more details. Have a fit and healthy holiday season!
One of my jobs over the past 15 years has been coaching runners of all shapes, sizes and ability levels towards whatever goals they might have in the running world. I have coached Boston Marathon qualifiers, 1:30 half marathon runners, and many, many people towards doing their first race straight off of the couch as well as walkers. I’ve personally done two full marathons, over a dozen 1/2 marathons and every other type of race over the years.
My belief is that anyone can accomplish their goal given proper progression over time and appropriate stimulation of strength and endurance combined.
Ottawa Race Weekend on May 23rd, 2015 is one of the best races in North America, and offers every type of race from a 5k right up to the full marathon. Most years I have 1/2 a dozen clients participating, and I’d like to offer for you to join my client roster with some online runner coaching from January 1st right to Race Day.
The good news about this service is that most of it is done via virtual support, which can save my clients money and time – get all of the guidance you need to without having to come into the studio and train in person.
What is included with coaching:
- An assessment of your goals and current ability with a realistic goal setting strategy for your race.
- Weekly workouts programmed month to month with distances, paces and skill workouts outlined in detail (hill work, tempo work, interval work and others if needed).
- Adjustment allotted for treadmill users and cross training suggestions for people who don’t want to run all of the time!
- Constant feedback and adjustment to schedule if needed due to time constraints.
- Race Week and Race Day coaching including nutrition tips and course strategy – know exactly what you’re going to do before you do it!
- Support and follow up continually for the duration of your program from start to finish.
As a special promotion for Ottawa and the month of December, anyone who is attempting Ottawa Race Weekend (or any race in May) can receive coaching beginning January 1st up to and including Race Day (and afterwards) for only $299 plus HST. This is an incredible value for the runner in your life, or if you are even thinking about participating in Race Weekend (or doing another race in May elsewhere). Get your spring running fitness set right away in January!
If you want to see or contact references of past success stories or have any questions feel free to contact me through the web site or at email@example.com, or simply call me at 613-252-2972. I look forward to helping you reach whatever goal you are working towards.