Saturday, September 20, 2014

Fine Tuning the Machine

"Everything is connected. Separation is an illusion."

Is that true? I think so. All seems connected to me.

If true, then there is no division between our mind, body, and spirit. Mind IS body IS spirit. Hambone connected to the thigh bone connected to the brain bone, etc.

So if I'm going to fine tune the spirit, gonna have to fine tune the body, and vice versa.

Nine months ago, I saw a picture of myself on the beach with my kids in Tampa from the previous year. Truly humbling. There it was, bulging over my waistline in all it's middle aged glory. My gut.

I've always considered myself fundamentally skinny. Scrawny, actually, and I would say that description has been apt for virtually my whole life. I was Daniel Laruso taking on the Cobra Kai of life. I'd been between 165 and 172 lbs for as long as I remembered, regardless of my diet and exercise patterns. I've generally eaten healthy, exercised fairly regularly, and I just stayed the same. Always had. Always would.

At least that's what I thought. But this picture of me on the beach begged to differ. That was a gut, my friend. That was abdominal fat. That weren't skinny no more.

My encroaching middle-agedness had reset my metabolism without my permission, and I had gained an extra 10 lbs, a slow creep that had occurred over the last 3-4 years. I looked in the mirror one day after a shower and realized that I had become Flabby Man. Wasn't giving my wife much to look at.

Luckily, this blunt epiphany coincided with one of my chief 40th year goals: running a marathon. I started training, and I had new motivations. Spring was in the air. I started jogging 4 days a week, continued playing basketball the other three days, I felt my fitness level improving. I had a heroic turn in the Colfax Marathon Relay, where I ran the anchor leg and improved our team's place by 139 positions. I ran the Bolder Boulder a few weeks later in a personal best time. But the gut wasn't going away.

And then something else happened. Playing basketball one day, I went to throw an overhead pass and felt a stabbing pain in my left shoulder. It resolved within minutes, but soon began recurring everytime I attempted an overhead throwing motion or full extension of my left arm, which was a bummer but which of course didn't stop me from launching threes from the cheap seats.  I'm right handed after all.

Soon I put two and two together. I had a rotator cuff tendonitis. As I was improving my cardio fitness, I was atrophying in my upper body strength, something I'd never had much of to begin with. My full theory is that my infraspinatus muscle of the rotator cuff had taken a major hit when I had my left sided cervical disc herniation, which led to my discovery of kidney cancer. The weakened innervation led to muscle atrophy, for which my other rotator cuff muscles had compensated until they began to atrophy as well. My cardio training had pushed my weak rotator cuff over some threshold. (That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.) A gut, shoulder pain, cancer: dude, I was getting old! Not even 40 yet.

I have a friend who is a PT, and he did great work with dry needling and targeted exercises to strengthen the weak rotator cuff. I noticed a pretty immediate improvement.

But a lifetime of inattention to my upper body fitness was still catching up to me. I wanted to start lifting weights. but I really didn't know how to craft a work out that would meet my needs: build upper body strength while rehabbing a shoulder injury and simultaneously training for a marathon. I called a local gym and spoke to their personal trainer. He immediately dismissed me: "What you're asking is impossible. I can't help you."  Well, okay then.

So I called a different trainer, and this time I struck the jackpot: Mick. Mick fits the archetype of friend-mentors of my life. Guys in their mid-50s who have bucked the status quo, possess an inherently holistic approach to life, and have achieved success and balance amidst suffering. I doubt I could have a found a trainer more in sync my goals and my general philosophy of life. I told Mick I didn't want to be huge, just toned and balanced. Unlike the other guy, Mick was on the job. Mick hits the core hard. He does mostly body weight exercises and plyometrics. He focuses on nutrition as equally important to reach my goals. I've found him to be inspiring, challenging, adaptive and supportive.

For three months now, I've been working with Mick about once a week. It's been challenging, educational and exhilarating. I'm pleased with the results.  Are you?

I wish. Now, I'm never going to be muscular, but I feel stronger, more balanced and toned than ever before. The gut is mostly gone. Still working on the six pack abs. More of a hot water bottle right now, but getting there. My wife seems to like the results. Bonus.

The trick now will be maintaining, especially after the marathon and through the winter months. (I'll be heading back to basketball at that point, which is--almost literally--the only thing that can get me out of bed at 5:40 a.m. on a winter morning.) But unlike at any other time in my life, I feel like I have the basic knowledge and motivation to keep at it. I've gotten myself off the launching pad. Just got to steer the rocket now.

There are several other important facets of my goal to optimize physical health, namely healthy eating, healthy sleep, meditation, and yoga twice a week. (Flexibility is not a natural ability I have, so improving my flexibility through yoga has both literal and metaphorical value to me.) I'll share more on these components at another time.

I'm getting to bed tonight. Gotta rest. We'll see if Mark version 40.0 can reclaim his title in the illustrious Shaffer Stampede 5K tomorrow morning.

Edit:  I did indeed reclaim the Shaffer Stampede title today, against a field of 50 or so people, primarily composed of children and octogenarians. Funny thing: my goal was to get 20 minutes or below. Result? 20 minutes and 0 seconds. Mission accomplished. Barely. But still a win.

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