Taking Back Control

Taking Back Control

The following is a guest post from Courtney Rozen, a former co-worker and dear friend. She has transformed her life over the last few years thanks to a strong commitment to her health and wellness.

Courntey inspires others daily as a Weight Watchers leader and as a cardio and strength instructor in Binghamton, New York.

Picture it – May 2011, the spring wind blowing, a morning rain hitting my face, feet pounding the pavement and the beat of a song making me move one step closer, one step faster to finish my first half marathon.

That was a day I would never forget. I made it; I completed a goal I set out to do.

I cried and cheered along with my friends that “Wow! We just ran 13.1 miles”. I felt invincible!

If I could do a half, these other “little” races were cake. I went to run a 5K with my friends about a month or so after the half and I started out strong, feeling good, music moving me,” I got this” I said to myself.

The first mile came and went, “Okay, that’s nothing. Only 2 to go.” And suddenly it hit me: the panic, anxiety, the words “you cannot do this, you will never make it to the end.”

I walked about a half mile, then ran for a bit and then walked to the end. What had happened to me?

What had happened that I couldn’t complete a 5K especially after running a half marathon? I chalked it up to a bad day and said to myself, “There will be other races”.

The next 5K came and I volunteered to walk it with a friend who was not going to run the race but wanted to be a part of it.

The truth was I was too scared to run. There was no rhyme or reason for this, but my head saying “No”.

May 2012 came, the annual bridge run was upon us, and I didn’t do it. I never signed up. I never went because I had stopped running cold turkey – I just couldn’t.

My workouts were getting less, I was losing strength and endurance, my eating was spiraling and I was binge eating at night sometimes to the point where I would make myself sick. I was living a secret.

I was in a very dark place, yet to the world I was their shining star, motivating them to lose weight as a Weight Watchers leader and fitness instructor.

My clothes were getting smaller, and we know nothing feels right when your pants are too tight! I didn’t know what to do, until a road trip with my mom and a very long car ride home I admitted I needed help.

I told her I was too scared to run anymore and my fears had led to other bad habits, like secretly binging.

I said I don’t want to live this life like this anymore. I had lost 55 pounds and it was slowly coming back. I needed the strength to believe in myself again.

It was my turn to reach out and ask for the guidance that I gave to others. I called my friend and said “Please meet me at the park now and run with me.”

She was surprised by my call but she did. It was the hardest mile I had ever run. I wanted to literally puke after doing it, but it was a step in the right direction.

That night I went home and started a countdown chart I called “Taking back control.” I assigned myself minutes at the gym, and eventually added miles to my workouts.

I would cross them off as I accomplished each day.

It is now 455 days. While I still fight binge eating, I have not made myself sick. I just work out harder the next day or occupy my mind with writing in a journal or simply writing on my fitness page on Facebook.

In that time, I ran that May half marathon and beat my time by 1-minute! I did the Warrior Dash, a couple 5k’s, a 5-miler or two, and a 10-miler.

I have not let fear take over me, I have taken over fear by conquering it with “I can’s, I will, I have!” I am proud to say in 2014 I will run my first full marathon.

I did not ask anyone’s permission or conference with anyone about the decision. I just did it. I run for me and only me.

I love running with my friends in races and to just run and catch up. But this decision was something I needed to do alone to believe in myself, to challenge my abilities and to prove to myself you have come a long way baby!

Watch Your Numbers

Watch Your Numbers

The following is a guest post from Michael Deem, a fellow athlete from my CrossFit gym who is also training to compete in the Freeze Fest Team Challenge.

Michael was a rower for all four years of high school, attempted rowing in college, and quickly got distracted.

After more than four years of neglecting fitness, he’s relearning what it means to be an athlete.

With just over a month left to go until Freeze Fest, I’m not sure if I’m anxious or excited for my first (unofficial) CrossFit competition. (I had just started cross-fitting and so I didn’t have a clue what I was doing during last year’s Open Games, so let’s not count that.)

However, I can say with certainty that I am anxious almost every time I walk into the gym these days.

“Why would you be anxious to enter your athletic home?” you might ask. We have be training so hard for so long… and we still have almost 5 full weeks to go!

Personally, I am exhausted after every workout, almost until the following one. And I know the programming will only get harder. (This Saturday, after a full Olympic lifting regimen, we did Fran. Just for fun. Because we could.)

Honestly, it’s not the exhaustion or pain that makes me nervous. When I dig a little deeper, I realize it’s the fear of not stacking up, of not performing my best, of having a little left in the tank because I was too nervous at the start to mash the pedal into the floor – probably from exhaustion, feeding this vicious cycle on itself.

Interestingly enough (or perhaps just because I’m a guy), one activity that doesn’t make anxious yet I do with more regularity is stepping on the scale even though I’ve increased my bodyweight 10% since starting this ordeal.

You read that correctly: Ten. Percent. I was about 200 pounds when I first got under the bar for Smolov Jr. Now, granted with more muscle and less flab, I weigh more than when I started cross-fitting. (I would say “210” if someone was daring enough to ask, but I was closer to 215.)

Embarrassingly, I gained almost all of it after Smolov, so I can’t say I “feel” much stronger for it. (Although, I wonder what it’s like to “feel stronger.” Do Olympic lifters and bodybuilders “feel” stronger when they wake up in the morning, instinctively sensing that they could flip the bed their significant other is probably still sleeping on with one arm? Or do they have to look in the mirror before they can grasp the magnitude of their strength?

More on that later.) I continued to eat like a racehorse, and gave myself too much slack over the holidays.

I fell into the all-too-familiar and ubiquitous trap: “I work out. I can afford another scoop of mash potatoes. My body needs it!… There are cookies on the team table?! Oh alright, I suppose I am heading to the gym after work.”

And now, to compensate and repent, I am cleaning up my diet a la Mark Sisson’s 21 Day Challenge meets Whole 30 and hoping this spare tire melts back away.

But the scale and the diet challenges and the flab all miss the point. You see, those aren’t the numbers that really matter – not when you’re an amateur, and not even when you are trying to “get in shape.”

Unless you are literally an All-American, Olympian, or professional athlete who must make a weight class within 2 weeks, your body weight is the wrong number to watch.

Assuming that weightlifting (not just lifting weights) is the optimal conduit to fitness (yes, over cardio), then the weight on your bar is what matters. (I despise call-outs to broad demographic categories, but, ladies, this applies to you, too.)

I realize that most join gyms to improve their body composition. I have. More than once. But muscles are literally fat-burning machines. “Body composition is 80% what you eat,” a truism in the Paleo community, is another way of saying that if you send your muscles (and nervous system) the right signals by putting the right food in your body at the right times and lifting heavy things quickly and regularly, they will literally burn the fat for you.

I can’t wait for my scale to break. If it was mine (it’s my girlfriend’s), I would sell it or bury it in my storage closet.

The scale sends the wrong signal. I don’t need to see that. And my body doesn’t need to hear that. It’s the wrong metric to focus on because it does not help me perform.

We know that watching other people’s numbers is counterproductive, but watching your own wrong numbers can be just as bad.

The way to “feel” strong is to be strong. Don’t wonder if you’re strong in the shower after a workout.

The mirror and the scale can’t tell you. If you lay it all out on the floor, every workout, you are strong – and will you get stronger.

Throw your scale away. Or, better yet, buy another one, put them about 6 feet apart, and then rest a loaded bar on them to check the weight.

Then deadlift until you break them or you can’t deadlift anymore. Watch the weight at the ends of the bar go up, and don’t bother to check your weight when you get home.

Aye Kalimba: Freeze Fest – Mission Accomplished

Aye Kalimba: Freeze Fest – Mission Accomplished

The following is a guest post from Kalimba Edwards, a friend, athlete, firefighter and self proclaimed “everyday soccer mom”.

Her current goal is to attempt one competition every month in 2014. She regularly shares her adventures on her blog Aye Kalimba – the training, the people she meets, the highs and lows, and the lessons learned.

Each month, we will catch up with Kalimba to hear about her progress. This month Kalimba tells us about competing in the Freeze Fest Team Challenge.

This past Saturday, my brother, Josh, and I competed in our first partner CrossFit competition. Overall I was very happy with our performance.

Josh had little over a month to prepare and learned a variety of the movements in the week leading up to the event.

He did awesome and really was the driving force behind our team. At the end of the day we were 37th out of about 60 teams but I wasn’t concerned with the ranking at all.

We won in my eyes because we did 21 pull ups and that was no easy task for us. The lifting events went well, the endurance/conditioning events went okay, and he carried me 50 yards twice so yeah, pretty much badass.

He’s a great partner and having an event to train for makes those 5:30am workouts so much easier.

I also had a great time cheering and hanging with my friends from CrossFit Rigor and TwinTown CrossFit. They are a great group of people and would do 50 more burpee box jumps to joke around with all of them.

When the day came to an end, Josh said he was excited to do another competition soon and I’m game as long as we are partners again.

Will I do another individual CrossFit competition? Probably not anytime soon. I do love CrossFit, but I’d rather use it to train for other events.

Events like, hmmm, boxing. Yeah boxing. March 1st. Unite to Fight at Uppercut Gym. Time to get my Rocky Balboa on!

The Crucible of Competition

The following is a guest post from Michael Deem, a fellow athlete from my CrossFit gym who also recent;y competed in the Freeze Fest Team Challenge.

Michael was a rower for all four years of high school, attempted rowing in college, and quickly got distracted.

After more than four years of neglecting fitness, he’s relearning what it means to be an athlete.

For any regular reader of Man Meets Goat (or anyone who has stumbled upon on and been blown away by one of my guest posts—anyone?), you will know that I have competed before.

I became familiar with athletic competition in high school as a rower, but I never got comfortable with it.

Michael and his teammate Katelynn at Freeze Fest.

I still distinctly remember and can feel the slow, uneasy curdles of nausea rolling through my stomach when I imagine myself lining up next to five other boats for a 1,500 meter sprint.

I didn’t know how much they had trained or where their pain thresholds were, but I knew mine.

And I knew we were about to find out definitively whose was higher and who was more willing to push theirs.

I am thrilled to report that the days, hours, and minutes leading up to the Freeze Fest Team Challenge and the individual events felt nothing like this.

Sure, I got a few butterflies in the warm-up area at the thought of walking out in front of the crowd to attempt a clean PR or to show my friends their first kipping pull-ups, but they immediately flew away when my partner and I took the platforms as the well-worn paths from countless hours of metabolic and strength training lit up in my brain.

My first take away from my first Crossfit competition is complete trust in the programming at my gym: Everything was manageable but challenging because the programming taught me how to challenge myself; and to be confident in my abilities.

With that new-found confidence, I recognize the need to push myself even harder in training, the need to go even further out of my comfort zone if I want to be even more competitive, if I want to push my athleticism even further.

Perhaps the biggest difference between partaking in and spectating at any athletic competition is your visibility to the correlation between work done in training and capacity for performance on the big day.

I need to constantly remind myself of that correlation as I train for my next competition (with Jeremy) in June.

I am particularly excited for this competition because it is an individual competition: just me and my ability – my willingness and preparedness to lay it all on the line.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to have a partner for my first athletic competition in over five years.

I am sure the nerves and nausea would have returned in full force had I been on the platforms alone. (Actually, I’m not even sure I would have signed up.) But now I am ready to enter the crucible of competition alone to see what I am made of alone.

Our head coach actually “never encourage[s] athletes in the gym to compete.” Not because he does not want them to, but because he wants them to work tirelessly at their fitness for themselves. Not for the gym, or a coach, or a trophy, or a team.

Not to beat another contender or arch rival. For themselves. However, he is elated when one of his athletes decides to compete because that athlete will invariably train harder. “The competition people work under pressure,” and you need pressure to make diamonds.

I am not doing Crossfit to compete. Rather, I will continue competing to discover why I am doing Crossfit.

If it was just to get and stay in shape, or just to make new friends in a new city, I could coast through class. I wouldn’t need to push myself. I wouldn’t hunger for the burn deep in my legs and lungs.

But I do. Perhaps I am just the kind of guy who needs to keep working towards something, like a shark, always moving forward or he dies.

The fire is still alive and I must quench it.

Aye Kalimba: I Wasn’t Going Down Without a Fight

Aye Kalimba: I Wasn’t Going Down Without a Fight

The following is a guest post from Kalimba Edwards, a friend, athlete, firefighter and self proclaimed “everyday soccer mom”.

Her current goal is to attempt one competition every month in 2014.

She regularly shares her adventures on her blog Aye Kalimba – the training, the people she meets, the highs and lows, and the lessons learned.

Each month, we will catch up with Kalimba to hear about her progress.

This month Kalimba tells us about competing in the Unite & Fight Charity Boxing Match.

Where do I begin? Let me start with the fact that Unite & Fight was one of the most fun events I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending.

From the moment I walked into the gym the staff and crew were amazing. It was well organized, entertaining, and everyone was encouraging. Alex Freese is probably one of the coolest guys I have ever met.

I’m not saying this just because he’s a fellow firefighter but also a kick ass boxing trainer with a great sense of humor.

He put together an amazing event, much respect is due. All the trainers at the gym were super motivating, helpful, and friendly.

Lisa Bach, the owner of Uppercut, is one of my new idols. She’s about as baddass as they come and her no nonsense approach to running a successful business is something that I need to study diligently.

I would like to say thank you to everyone at Uppercut Gym for putting together such an awesome event for charity. It was an absolute pleasure to be a part of it…

…until that bell rang. And I got my first real punch to my nose.

Okay, I’ll bring it back a little. When I arrived at Uppercut Gym I signed my waiver and was told to get my uniform on and go take pictures.

The first picture was a solo head shot type pose. My arms folded in front of me and a serious look on my face.

Real fighter status. The second was the “stare down” with my opponent. This was the moment I first met Nicole Carle.

She walked up to me with a smile on her face and shook my hand. She seemed kind, even gentle, someone who should probably be my friend.

(FYI, I think everyone should be my friend and I don’t think that is a boxer mentality, but there I was.) Our stare down was intense.

For a whole fifteen seconds I looked into her eyes so deep I think I saw her soul. The whole time my bottom lip quivered like a scared puppy, but I don’t think she noticed.

She did probably notice my stuttering, fragmented sentences, and my nervous creepy laugh. I bet she wished she could of ran out of the gym. Or maybe not.

Aye Kalimba: I Wasn’t Going Down Without a Fight

Next, I went to chill out and get my mind right in the warm up area. I’m sitting there with my headphones in listening to Three Six Mafia because I’m trying to get my “northside mind frame” when I realize I’m in the wrong warm up area.

Rookie mistake. I grab all my sh!t (said like James Franco in Spring Break) and move to the Red Team area.

I spent the next three hours rotating between getting hyped watching my teammates kick ass and shaking in my shorts watching them get hammered on by the blue team.

Guys and gals I had never met before became my best friends in those three hours.

I was chatting to everyone, no surprise there. A common theme for pretty much everyone was “trying to relax” which never really worked.

I would sit down and put my music on for 30 seconds then hear the crowd scream and jump up.

I would say my “fight or flight” reflex was in full gear during that time.

I began to warm up a couple fights before mine. I was punching the focus mitts with my trainer from Uppercut.

Fellow firefighter Leonard Crawford and Sean Thomas were there to help me out and I’m super grateful for them. Everyone was giving me really good tips.

I was feeling pretty good in the minutes leading up to the fight.

“Come on, you wanna go?” I said with my gloves up to Alphonzo Vasquez (a 20+ year boxing veteran and trainer at Uppercut) who was warming up like a champion.

“Naw man, I see those back muscles,” he said laughing.

“They are all for show.” I responded back. I wanted to say, “Yeah, I CrossFit” but I didn’t.

It’s my turn now. I see Nicole go by with her crew. All I can hear is my heartbeat and someone behind me saying “relax”. The announcer says “Aye Kalimba” and I start my entrance.

Now, I’m not saying that I love attention but I did enjoy the walk in. I mean, really, how could I not? Everyone cheering for me.

People giving me high fives. I stopped and talked to little Clara, letting her know woman can and should be strong.

The crowd was hype and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t eating it up. In fact if I could of danced around the ring for the three minutes and maybe told a few short stories I would said I was be in my element.

Aye Kalimba: I Wasn’t Going Down Without a Fight

Then the bell rang. I ran out like I was going to do something serious and immediately was punched in the nose.

Then I took a hook to the temple. Honestly, every time I went to punch her I got punched in my face and I couldn’t figure out why.

It wasn’t until I got home I remember Alex telling me during sparring that I need to “hide behind my shoulder.”

Nope, I was just walking right into her fist. It’s funny now that I think about it, last night, not so much.

I wanted to walk right out of there after that first round. Everyone was talking to me.

I couldn’y hear anything. My head was pounding already and my nose was stuffed.

I really thought my nose was broke. That’s what happens when you’ve never been hit before I had nothing to gauge the pain against. All I knew was I didn’t like it.

Round two was more of the same. I heard people yelling for me to hit her and all I was thinking was “I might as well hit myself.” I felt like I was getting the crap beat out of me.

Round three I took a couple to the head and mentally I was done. I was thinking “Let’s just forget this whole thing.

Can’t we be friends. Request me on Facebook, I’ll send you some funny or motivating pictures.”

“You alright?” The referee says to me grabbing my hands.

“Not really.” I said back.

“I’m going to talk to you for a second,” the ref says to me.

“Yes, what do you want to talk about? Let’s chat till the bell rings.” I’m thinking.

He lets my hands go though and I have fight again.

I end the fight standing. I landed some body punches. In my mind I got my ass handed to me. When I watched the fight back it wasn’t as bad as what I thought.

I think she went easy on me. If so, I thank her for that. She did tell me I punch hard so maybe I did land some.

“You see that? You want some of that?” I said to Vazquez when I came back to the dressing room. Everyone laughed and I was happy because I didn’t get my sense of humor beat out of me!

There is one thing that made the memory of all of blows fade. My son, Tyheem, hugging me and saying, “Your awesome mom! Next year I’m going to train and do it with you.”

That’s what Aye Kalimba is all about. That’s what this mom lives for. Inspiring people, especially my children, to try things that scare them. To chase their dreams no matter how crazy they are!