Category Archives: General Stuff

Europa Orlando powerlifting meet

“Try a powerlifting meet,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.

That’s pretty much what happened and you know what? They were right. I did, and it was.

After working with CHP for a while, I started noticing my fellow athletes doing these things called powerlifting meets. The basic meet is simple: contestants get three attempts for each of three lifts: the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. Meets are usually organized according to weight class and age, and there are various federations with different rules on which age groups and weight classes are used, what kinds of equipment you can use, and so on. Everyone who competed seemed to enjoy it, and I was told multiple times about how much I could learn from going to a meet and just watching, even if I didn’t compete.

I thus made a mental note to find a meet that I could go to. I found that there were several powerlifting books on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service. I read through “From Gym Lifter to Competitive Powerlifter” and found it super educational, but I still wasn’t quite ready to make the leap. As it turned out, Matt had a choir trip lined up at Disney World, so when I learned that one of my fellow CHP athletes was doing his first meet in Orlando the weekend of Matt’s trip, I took the plunge and signed up for the Europa Orlando meet, organized under US Powerlifting Association (USPA) rules. The plan was that Tom and I would fly down Friday, I’d compete Saturday, we’d pick up Matt on Saturday night, and then hit Legoland before coming home.

With the planning done, I settled in to lifting, a lot, and worrying, more than I normally would have. My goals were simple: I wanted to complete the meet well.

As the meet approached, I started getting nervous about three things. First was my technique: each lift has specific performance criteria you have to meet. For example, on the squat, when you’re all the way down, your hip crease must be below the level of your knee (this is known as “breaking parallel” on the squat). Each lift is overseen by three referees or judges, each of whom can signal that the lift was good or bad by switching on a white or red light. You need two or three white lights for a lift to count. I was worried that my squats weren’t low enough. There are also specific verbal commands you must follow in sequence; I’d heard of people getting red-lighted for returning the bar to the rack before the command, for instance. I didn’t want to screw up, but I realized it was a distinct possibility.

Second, I had to get used to the gear. In general, most federations separate lifters into three groups: raw lifters use nothing more than knee sleeves and a weight belt; single-ply lifters can use special shirts and shorts that are, basically, Spanx; and multi-ply lifters can use special thick suits for the bench and deadlift. (These latter two groups are known as “geared lifters”.) I had knee sleeves, but needed to get a weight belt (which was a shopping adventure all its own; topic for another time) and get used to it. (For gear fiends: I ended up with an EliteFS 13mm single-prong belt, which I am gradually getting used to.)

Third was weight: both the amount I was going to be lifting and the amount I actually weighed. I could say “oh, I’m strong for a triathlete,” or maybe “but I’m fast for a powerlifter”; the fact is that I am still pretty new to both so I was intimidated by being around a bunch of seasoned competitors who would be lifting a lot more than me, and I realized about two weeks out that I was not going to make the 198lb weight class without extraordinary measures. I decided that rather than try to drop weight I’d just move up a weight class– which turned out to be a really good decision.

Soon enough, it was time to pack up and go. Was the hay in the barn? I’d soon find out. The Monday before the meet, Alex had me test a few weights for openers, so I had a decent idea of what I wanted to try. On the advice of fellow CHPers, I packed a gear bag with my stuff, snacks (protein bars, Fig Newtons, turkey pepperoni), a spare roll of toilet paper, and a few other odds and ends. Tom and I had a great flight down, with good weather and a smooth ride, and landed at Gilbert’s Winter Haven airport (HOVA, the FBO there, took terrific care of us throughout our stay– I recommend them highly.) We had planned to meet Rafe and Derek, two fellow CHP athletes, at the convention center but we arrived later than expected and they had other commitments, so Tom and I had a delicious dinner at the hotel and hit the bed.

Normally, weigh-in for meets is done the day before. Because I didn’t arrive until after weigh-in closed, I had a 7am weigh-in time Saturday morning. I showed up on time and waited. And waited. And waited. The meet director showed up about 830, weighed me in at 205.6, and asked me for my initial attempts. This requires a little explanation: no matter what federation, age, or weight class you’re in, the basic structure of the meets are the same: lifters are separated into groups called flights, with the lightest weight being lifted first. The first lifter attempts a lift with whatever weight they want. Then the second lifter attempts his lift, and so on until everyone’s done. Your total score is the total number of weight moved for the best attempt in each lift. In addition, something called a Wilks score is calculated to measure how strong you are in proportion to your bodyweight.

To sequence lifters into flights, the organizers need to know what weight you’re going to try to lift for your first attempt. You can go up any amount on each subsequent attempt, but you only get three tries so there’s quite a bit of strategy involved in choosing good attempts. David Dellanave’s strategy guide was very helpful. I texted Alex my attempts and wrote them down: 115kg to open in the squat, 75kg for the bench, and 147.5kg for the deadlift. I was lifter 4 in flight 1, reflecting my relatively light opening weights. On a positive note, this guaranteed me an early start so I could get a lift in and then adjust as needed after watching the other competitors. In the flighting system, all the lifters in a flight do all 3 attempts before the next flight starts.

Rafe and Derek met me back in the weightlifting corner. If you’ve ever been to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, you know that it’s a perfect specimen of the large, ugly, dehumanized conference center species. The Europa expo floor was up front, with lots of bright colors and noise, but the powerlifters were tucked into a back corner, with bare concrete floors and loud music richocheting from the adjacent kids’ play zone and Zumba demonstration stage. Anyway, they were both very encouraging and we had a great time chatting while Rafe and I got oriented and got our gear together.

The meet officially began with a quick rules briefing, covering everything from the flight sequencing to what kind of underwear is legal under the required lifting singlet: “tighty whities or commando,” the meet director said, and he meant it, because sufficiently compressive shorts might provide a performance advantage. After the briefing, the MC began calling lifters to the platform for their lifts.

My squat opener went really well, despite a brief frisson of worry when Derek corrected my math mistake and told me that 115kg was not, in fact, about 230lbs– it’s 253lbs. I nailed it anyway. My second attempt went equally well: nice and smooth, with good depth. One judge red-lighted me for depth, though. I should have paid a little more attention because on my third attempt at 140kg, I got the dreaded two reds– one of the judges pointed out that my depth wasn’t sufficient. Derek, Rafe, my coaches, and I all agree upon video review that I broke parallel, but that’s no matter. The judges were tough but consistent, so I didn’t feel like there was any basis for complaint. 140kg was a new PR for me, so I was happy to get it even if it wasn’t a good lift towards my final score. Key learning: if you really bury your squat deep, so that there’s no question about whether you broke parallel, you have nothing to worry about.

Once my third lift was done, I watched the other flights squat. Rafe nailed his lifts, and then the heavyweights started theirs. Interestingly, we had a mix of ages– I think the youngest lifter in the meet was 15 and the oldest was 57. There wasn’t any real correspondence between age and lifting weight, either; some of the older guys (including the overall “best lifter” winner) were as old, or older, than me. It’s pretty amazing how much some of those guys could squat– I don’t remember what the heaviest weight I saw was, but there were 2-3x bodyweight squats being dropped like it was routine.

After all three flights finished squatting, the organizers needed time to shift the equipment around. One very nice thing about lifting in a meet is that other people rack, spot, and set the weights for you– a nice contrast to the traditional gym environment where you do it all yourself. While they were doing that, Tom and I went to walk around the expo floor a bit, then it was back for the bench, one of my weaker lifts. I have big legs and a strong back, but my arms and chest are small relative to the rest of me, so I wasn’t expecting huge numbers here.

I hit my first two attempts easily at 75kg and 80kg– a new PR. Derek pointed out a couple of technical adjustments to the lift during my warmups that really helped– I need to focus on squeezing my shoulder blades together, and on the press movement it’s actually more efficient to press slightly down towards the waist than straight up. I decided to try 85kg for my third attempt and just couldn’t quite lock it out, getting three reds for a failed attempt. Still, I didn’t feel bad about it given that I’d already hit a PR. I can definitely see that my 2015 goal of being able to bench my bodyweight is in striking distance.

Tom and I made another loop around the expo and took a quick food break. Convention center food being what it is, I decided to stick with the snacks I’d brought. Then it was time to go back for the deadlift. If the squat is the lift I think is my worst, and the bench is the lift that is actually my weakest, the deadlift is my favorite. I’d deadlift heavy every day if I could. I opened with 147.5kg, easily hit 157.5kg for my second, and decided on 165kg for my third– in retrospect, I wish I’d gone a bit heavier because I felt like I could have hit it easily. Once I was done, I was able to take off some of my gear and relax to enjoy the show as the rest of the lifters did their thing. By the time the biggest guys in the third flight were lifting, Rafe, Tom, and I were in the spectator area cheering and howling as we watched the big pulls– several over 700lbs. It was really impressive to watch.

I stuck around for the awards ceremony because I figured Rafe might have won in his division. Turns out, he did.. and so did I.

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In fairness, this was because I was the only person in the 220lb 45-49 division, not because I lifted a massive amount of weight. On the other hand, I did lift a hell of a lot: 370kg, or 818lbs.


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That’s a good 50lbs better than my previous 3-lift total, good enough for a Wilks score of 238– just a hair below “intermediate” ranking and good enough to move me pretty close to class IV according to the USPA’s guidelines (at least at 198lbs, where I will be within a couple of weeks). This would have been an unthinkable amount of weight for me a year ago, so I am really thankful to Alex and the CHP coaches, the community at Fitocracy, and especially to Rafe and Derek for their on-site support, so to speak.

Takeaways:

  • I had a blast.
  • There is a surprising amount of technique in these lifts, but unlike football or baseball, the technique is mostly invisible. For example, knowing that part of a good bench is squeezing your shoulder blades together is impossible to spot
  • In triathlon, the gap between the winners and me is often so great that I find it discouraging– the magnitude of improvement required to be on the podium is sometimes so large that it seems out of reach. That wasn’t the case here; the huge amount of weight that the top lifters were moving was motivating and inspiring, not discouraging at all. I may never be able to deadlift 700 pounds, but seeing it done at the meet makes me want to deadlift however much more I can.
  • Tom is super excited about going to the gym and starting to lift. I am excited for him and can’t wait to help him get started.
  • When’s the next meet?

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Disney and Universal 2014 wrapup

A few more-or-less random thoughts about our recent trip to Disney World and Universal Studios Florida:

  • Universal is a see-it-once park, I think. We enjoyed it but there was nothing so compelling that I think we’d want to go back again in five years. On the other hand, all four of us had specific things at Disney that we looked forward to doing (among them: turkey legs, the Winnie the Pooh ride, Tower of Terror, and Space Mountain).
  • Having said that, the Harry Potter attractions are superbly done: decoration, character acting, costuming, and all the little touches come together to provide a very immersive experience. Just don’t expect to be able to drink a whole mug of butterbeer. (And don’t be surprised if the Forbidden Adventure ride leaves you nauseated for a couple of hours afterwards.) Getting early access by virtue of staying in a Universal property was well worth it.
  • We didn’t buy, nor did we miss, the front-of-the-line ride access benefit that Universal sells for $60+ per person, per day.
  • Disney’s MagicBands system works extremely well and made paying for things much easier– which, I suppose, is the point.
  • The FastPass+ system takes a little getting used to because you can get multiple passes at once, but there are limits on which rides you can stack passes for. Read up on it before you go.
  • We stayed at two “value” hotels: Universal’s Cabana Bay and Disney’s All-Star Music Resort. Both had nicely equipped, clean “family suite” rooms. Both claimed to sleep six: Universal provided two double beds and a twin pull-out sofa, while Disney provided a queen, a twin sofabed, and two single fold-out sleep chairs: not ideal for six-foot teenagers, but workable.
  • Disney’s on-property wifi was great at the parks, as was Universal’s. However, the Disney in-room wifi was unusuable– worse even than the worst of the Microsoft conference hotels I’ve had to use in the past.
  • EPCOT’s International Food and Wine Festival was going on, so we got some primo foods when we ate dinner there. I’d like to do the festival again, but with more time to savor the food.
  • Tom, Matt, and I all ran into friends at the parks. It’s a small world indeed.
  • We didn’t rent a car, so we used Uber for the move from the Kissimmee airport to Universal, then a cab from Universal to Disney, then Uber again. Orlando’s taxis are about a million percent cleaner than in most other cities, but Uber was cheaper and faster.

Overall, a successful trip (good flight, too!) but boy, am I glad to be home!

 

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Thursday trivia #108

First, my thoughts and condolences are with the families of the pilots killed in the Westwind II crash at Huntsville yesterday. 
  • I don’t normally post on political topics here… but if you believe that six key IRS employees just happened to lose all of their email, at the same time, in a manner that’s not recoverable, then I have some hope and change I’d like to sell you. Government agencies and large companies pay large sums of money to prevent exactly that type of occurrence.
  • This looks pretty interesting: “Loss of Signal: Aeromedical Lessons Learned from STS-107
  • Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the first successful demonstration of an autopilot. We’ve come a long way since then.
  • Having two teenage sons both driving has reacquainted me with all the reasons I don’t like auto insurance companies. Every six months, when I write that check, my dislike for them peaks.
  • I’m loving the World Cup, but oddly I don’t care much about soccer in general. Go figure. I must be an American.

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Thursday trivia #107

  • “Learned helplessness” is totally a thing, but perhaps some people are more prone to it than others
  • If I were critically injured, I would be totally OK with having my blood replaced with freezing salt water to “pause” my metabolism long enough for the ED docs to fix me up. 
  • In the past two weeks I’ve started watching 3 new shows: Longmire, Orange is the New Black (thoroughly enjoying it so far), and Halt and Catch Fire (atmospheric, but they muff a lot of technical details and the MacMillan character seems a straight ripoff of Don Draper). However, that’s all about to go by the wayside for two reasons: my “pre-order” list at Amazon is about to blow up with new books, and the World Cup is starting today.
  • Hopefully the airplane will be fixed in time for our scheduled trip to Perrysburg. If not, second prize  is the Fathers’ Day Weekend Inferno at Anaheim Chili.

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Training Tuesday: more of the same

[ I know this is a day late but the draft was sitting on my computer at home and I couldn’t post it yesterday. C’est la vie. ]

My weightlifting training should have been pretty easy: I had a daily eating plan and a scheduled list of workouts. All I had to do was stick with that schedule. The effort involved, of course, came from actually lifting the weights (and, sometimes, getting my lazy ass off the sofa and going to the gym). That is one of the key aspects of the Fleet Feet TRI101 program for me: the training schedule is laid out, day by day. In theory, all you have to do is follow it and you will, almost inevitably, get better at the individual events. But what if you deviate from it… for example, by mixing in races? I guess I’m going to find out. My first multisport event was on Saturday: the brand-new Mountain Deux aquathlon (a rather stupid name; it’s a ~5K trail run followed by a 200m swim).

I signed up for two more sprints, too: the Tarpon Tri in Houma (200m swim, 10mi bike, 5K run; super flat course but August in Louisiana, yikes!) and the RaceVermont Sprint in Shelburne, Vermont (where I’ll get to see Julie and her family, and for which I had to rent a wetsuit— Lake Champlain is cold!) I am a little nervous about the Vermont race because it’s a longer bike distance than I’m used to, and the swim portion is 500m of open water. It’ll be a fun challenge though.

Workouts since my last post:

  • Tuesday: in TRI101 class, we had a 40-minute group run scheduled. It was 88° when we took off, but I still managed 4.0 miles in 40:04. I’ll take it, but maaaaan, I was sweaty when we finished. I also had a swimming lesson, which went poorly— I am still having a hard time getting my stroke and breathing coordinated, and the drills Lisi taught me mostly just made me frustrated that I wasn’t doing them well.
  • Wednesday: I took a short ride to test my new cadence/speed sensor. Just under 7 mi in about 31 minutes.
  • Thursday: I had a root canal around noon, so I wanted to get a run in early. A local group of runners meets at Bridge Street for a 4.5 mile run, so I dragged out of bed at 0515 to join them. There were storm clouds building when we stepped off, then we started getting a really impressive lightning display about 1.5 mi into the run, so we cut it really short. 2.67mi in 23:14, which felt great— that’s very close to my “good” 5K race pace. The threat of getting zapped by lightning obviously helped, given my pace on the last part of the race. I love it that the watch gathers enough pace data to show the two (short) intervals when I took a walk/water break— those sharp downwards spikes.
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  • Friday I swam 600m: in 3 sets:100, 400, and 100 again. I haven’t been doing the drills that Lisi prescribed, which means she’s been fussing at me.
  • Saturday was the Mountain Deux. See my full report here.
  • Sunday I had planned to do a brick, but wasn’t feeling well so I punked out. The schedule had a programmed day off anyway so I didn’t feel too badly about it.
  • Monday I had another swim lesson with Lisi. She introduced me to the notion of holding a steady stroke count, as well as giving me a whole bunch of drills. I swam about 450m, plus at least another 300m or so of drills. Then for fun, I took a bike ride through part of Limestone County— beautiful country scenery, followed by a big rainstorm once I was safely at home with the gear put away. This was the farthest distance I’ve ridden so far, just over 12 miles, and after finishing it I feel better about the Vermont distance.

This week I need to focus on getting in the pool!

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Does getting a root canal hurt?

tl;dr: not as much as the tooth hurt before the root canal

For years I had one tooth that would, very occasionally, make a popping or clicking sound— very faint, but since it was inside my mouth I could feel it. I couldn’t figure out why so, as one does, I ignored it. Then last July, it abruptly became very sensitive to heat and cold: Toothmageddon. I went to my dentist, who referred me to an endodontist, Matthew Friedt, who told me “keep an eye on it.” It seemed to get better, so I left it alone. Then came “Toothmageddon II: The Revenge.” A couple of weeks ago, the heat sensitivity returned with a vengeance, along with the popping sound; eating anything above mouth temperature would make the tooth throb for hours. I immediately made another endodontist appointment, and yesterday was the big day.

I found a lot of contradictory and confusing information online about root canals, so I thought I’d summarize the process, at least the way my endo did it.

First, he took a couple of X-rays and confirmed, by using both heat and cold tests, which tooth was afflicted. Interestingly, the nerves that sense cold tend to be the first ones to die off, which is why I lost the cold sensitivity. The tooth was definitely heat-sensitive, and Matthew used an optical microscope to examine the tooth surface and saw a few small cracks. Once he had verified that he had the right tooth, he shot me up with plenty of lidocaine (or whatever the cool kids use for face numbing), let it percolate, and then started working.

The work phase was simple: he clamped a little metal ring on my back molar and used it to hold a dental dam and frame, which was a new experience for me. Then he drilled a hole in the top of the tooth and used a series of super-fine probes and drills to clean all the tooth-guts (that’s a technical term) out. Once he finished this phase, I got another X-ray so he could verify that everything was out. Then using the same series of probes, he filled the nerve channels in with some sort of rubber or epoxy or something, then added a cone-shaped plug that sealed the hole in the tooth and tamped the material down. That was it; I didn’t have anything stronger than topical anesthesia, and he didn’t prescribe any antibiotics or pain pills.

After I left I noticed that the entire right side of my face— all the way up to my right temple— was as numb as a steak; my jaw was super stiff from holding it open, and my neck and shoulders were tense from me tensing them. I went home, had a protein shake, took an Advil and a leftover pain pill from Toothmageddon I, and napped for a couple of hours, followed by a light dinner and some Netflix. Now I’m back to normal.

While I wouldn’t say it was fun it wasn’t as bad as I had feared, and it is nice to be able to enjoy non-room-temperature food without pain. I very highly recommend Dr. Friedt; he explained very clearly what he was going to do, then he did it efficiently and quickly (the whole process from arrival to departure took a little over 2 hours).

The More You Know™…

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Training Tuesday: slow progress is still progress

One of my fellow TRI101 participants shared this excellent article about building on your strengths in one event to bolster your weaknesses in another. I don’t really feel like I have any special strengths in running or cycling, other than “can complete required sprint distance.” But on reflection… that counts too. I definitely feel like my swimming is improving, though, and cycling the 10-15Km routes we use for training has been getting easier: an excellent sign that I need to go either farther or faster. The TRI101 program is scaled for participants who start at a low fitness level, but we are now at the beginning of week 6. If I stopped right now, I’m confident that I could finish a sprint triathlon, which is great news— now I just need to work on doing it faster.

The week’s training:

  • Thursday: 250m swim + swim drills. Slow, but better than nothing. I just wasn’t feeling it that day. As Karen, one of our coaches, pointed out, some days are better than others, and sometimes the best thing to do on a bad swim day is cut the distance short.
  • Friday: I swam 100m without stopping— a big deal for me, since I hadn’t been able to do that before— then 5 x 50m intervals, then another 100m. The intervals are 25m slow and 25m as fast as possible. It was a good workout, and I felt much better than I did after Thursday’s swim.
  • Saturday I did a short run/bike brick with a couple of classmates: 8.5 mi on the bike in 44:26 and 1.1mi running in 11:34. On the bike I spent a while riding slow circles waiting for all our party to catch up, so I didn’t take that time too out of sorts. I also went to the pre-race brief for the Mountain Deux aquathalon, which is this coming Saturday: a ~5Km trail run, followed by a 200m swim. Should be fun, except for the “trail run” part.
  • Sunday I swam with two TRI101 peeps: 100m warmup without stopping, 400m with minimal rest, then another 100m (which I did as 2×50, with the same 25m slow/25m fast). This was the first workout I logged with my new Suunto Ambit 2s triathlon watch.
  • Monday I had a bike fitting. That’s a topic for a post all on its own; look for it next week.

So, the watch. Anyone who knows me knows what a gadget nerd I am. I saw a mention on Facebook of a big watch sale mentioned at the DC Rainmaker blog, so I started poking around and was fascinated by the idea of a GPS-powered watch that could track my workouts for me— something I’d been using my phone for, with varying degrees of success. After reading his über-review, I decided to get an Ambit 2S. As much fun as it would be to have the barometric altimeter in the Ambit 2, it wasn’t worth the extra money. It arrived Saturday, and first thing Sunday morning I strapped it on and headed to the pool. Here was my reward: a more-or-less accurate record of my swim activity. I say “more or less” because I think it miscounted laps a couple of times, and the “total distance” column in the laps table doesn’t match the “distance” field at the top. I will be using it for cycling and running in the next couple of days and can get a better idea of how it works but I am most interested in the “multisport” mode for triathlons. I’ll be using that at Mountain Deux next week. The watch can pair with heart rate monitors, cycle sensors, and all sorts of other goodies that I will eventually add.

First swim

The upcoming week’s training should be good stuff— running tonight and Thursday, swimming Friday, and a bike/run brick Saturday. There’s a group that meets Thursday mornings to run a 4.5mi road course; I might join them to get a little distance in on the theory that if I can run 4.5 miles, it’s not that much of a stretch to run 6 miles, which means that I’d be in striking distance of running a 10K once triathlon season calms down some. On the down side, I also have a root canal Thursday (after running), so that may slow me down a bit. Hopefully I’ll bounce back in time for Mountain Deux on Saturday!

 

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