The Texas Championships

About four months after I joined the Texas Rowing Center and their novice team, our coach, Saloni, started preparing us for the Texas State Championships to be held just four miles down the lake from our club. I signed up for four races, excited to try out my limited skill. In two of these events I would be in a solo boat, the races I was most looking forward to, because my performance would be completely in my hands. The other two races were in a four-person and an eight-person boat. Our team usually meets twice a week, but we moved that up to three times (Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays) several weeks leading up to this event. One thing I really love about sharing a boat is the camaraderie we develop. These are friends I would seriously lend $100 to if they needed it. The reasons people join this club vary from getting back in the sport after a long layoff from collegiate competition to having a bad knee that keeps them from running to simply wanting to lose weight. Regardless of the reason, we are a tight group who have formed a strong bond. It is an amazing feeling when we are rowing in perfect synchronicity, placing the oar blades into the water, pulling the boat through the water, and releasing the blades out of the water to slide forward, catching more water, all in what seems like one machine. It is an extremely meditative experience, because if you let your mind drift, your performance will immediately show this loss of concentration, affecting the entire boat’s performance. This total focus has a way of shutting down a rambling mind and instilling a sense of peace. The day before this race, we all rowed boats down the lake to the venue and shuttled each other back in cars. My first event that day was in an 8-person boat with both male and female athletes (mixed 8+). We also had a cox whose job is to inspire, coach, and steer this massive boat. The nervous energy was high, but we had done our homework to get to this point and just needed to apply it. We gathered our oars, placing them next to the launching dock as many other teams were scrambling to get their oars and boats to and from this same point. Nerve-wracking to say the least, but we succeeded in walking our boat overhead through the safety check to the dock and locking our oars onto our boat. Stepping into the boat, we strapped our feet in and pushed off the dock, following the cox’s commands. We left early, so we had time to warm up properly for this upcoming “all-out” performance. The weather was beautiful, with slightly hot but not-too-windy conditions, so choppy waves would not be an excuse for bad blade work. The race promoters called our boat with four others to the starting podium, where each boat was backed up to a person who held the nose of the boat steady before launch. We sat in our boat with our oars in the water waiting for the “Go” command, only to have another boat make a false start, earning them a penalty. I guess they were even more nervous than we were. The race director raised his flag in the air, yelled “Attention!” and then whipped the flag down with a “Go!” We were off, getting a pretty good start. Our boat was a little wobbly from some ambitious rushing. A good start is very quick but not too powerful. The power is applied progressively over the first five strokes, then the stroke is lengthened with this power to grab even more water for further acceleration. The key to speed is smooth power. A choppy stroke will just upset the boat, causing the nose to dig into the water or tilt to one side, slowing it in the process. Our race boat started to run nice and smooth after this less-than-perfect start, allowing us to catch up to and pass one of our competitors. We still had another boat that was holding its second-place  position firmly. We pulled as hard as we could, coming side-to-side. Surging ahead for a brief moment, then back to a tied position. Just as the 1000-meter finish line appeared, they slipped out of our grasp to take second place. We had bronze, so it did not feel like a total loss, especially since the boat that just beat us was the advanced team from our rowing club. Not too shabby for an up-and-coming novice crew. My next race of the day was in a four man boat (M4x). We hadn’t had too much practice together in this boat but were all in good physical condition and hungry to row. Pulling the boat into the water, we made it to the warm-up area near the starting line for some good warm-up drills. Backing the stern of this boat into the starting podium, we waited as the announcement of our club and rival teams could be heard over the intercom. The “Attention” command was given as we leaned forward with our oars, locking them into the water. The flag dropped with a “Go,” and we were off to a great start. We were up against four experienced boats, so we had our work cut out for us. Already ahead of two boats from the start and closing in on the third, we continued to pull the boat slowly but smoothly to their side. The red buoys became visible, indicating the last 200 meters of this 1000-meter race , so we really dug deep, nudging ahead of that third boat for a second-place win. My two last races in a single boat (1x) came after the four-man race (4x). My inexperience combined with my exhaustion reaped me no wins, but I held my own against some great athletes. I am looking forward to showing my increased skill level and stronger physical endurance next year.

 

 

An Ultra-row with Simon

A couple of weeks after my solo journey on that freezing lake, I was at at a party hosted by the owner of our rowing center, Matt Knifton. I was speaking to a few people about that awesome dam-to-dam row when he overheard and said, “You’re that guy who was seen rowing on the lake!” He got excited and shook my hand. The conversation about crazy rowing stories came up, and Simon Borchelt joined in. We were enjoying a few alcoholic drinks as I mentioned to Simon my past ultra-marathons on land and desire to do the same thing on water. He immediately asked if I wanted to take a two-man boat out and do this. I gladly accepted, and two days later I confirmed that this agreement was not just the booze talking. We met that weekend at 8 a.m. with energy bars, fruit, and sports drinks. I decided to use gloves because of my limited skill level (experienced rowers have calluses built up to protect their hands and more precise gripping technique to further protect them). Simon is a far more accomplished rower, having sculled since childhood. His father, Mark, was on the U.S. Olympic team  and now coaches the elite team at our club. Mark used to give Simon money for every mile he did on the indoor rower, so the motivation to succeed was well enforced. Simon and I pulled a boat out to the dock’s edge, and, with oars in place and food and water stored securely, we headed out. The weather started out nice, and there were not very many standup paddle boards, canoes, or other floating vehicles to navigate around. The water traffic can prove troublesome on the weekends, when the college kids and families are out in higher numbers. The combination of a sculling boat’s speed with the fact that we are rowing away from our visual path makes it necessary to constantly look back for obstacles that are in the way or headed into the boat’s path. We rowed to the first dam and turned back, passing the docks toward the other dam. This would be just the second time I had journeyed to this other dam. Simon and I had some funny conversations along the way, talking about ex-wives and places we have lived or visited. With this great company, reaching the second dam felt like a relatively short trip. Rounding the island and heading back to the dock (a 12-mile round trip), we hopped out of the boat to stretch and eat. After 15-20 minutes we headed out for lap two, reaching the first dam then back toward the other. My hands were already starting to feel raw under my gloves, but the rest of my body felt great. Simon was holding up well too. A few miles from the next dam turnaround, I discovered that Simon had only rowed one “dam-to-dam” distance before, so this was a new personal best for him as well. We reached the dam and headed back for another rest break on the dock, this time taking 20-25 minutes to recover before heading out for the victory lap. We were both still in high spirits, feeling just a little sore but ready to finish strong. We reached Tom Miller Dam (at Red Bud Trail) and turned back for our last meeting of the day with Longhorn Dam. The wind was starting to pick up, and my novice-level blade work was getting a bit sloppy, jerking the boat around at times. I pulled myself together as the wind increased the choppiness of the water surface, further testing my abilities. Simon was doing an excellent job of keeping the boat level, often correcting my blunders with a quick oar stroke. He was positioned ahead of me, so was able to give me great advice on my technique. I love surrounding myself with experts who test my abilities and teach me to improve. We made it back to the dock, finishing our 33-mile (36 miles on some water maps) adventure. Simon has since done this triple loop solo. Feeling much improved, I think I’m ready to try a solo quadruple loop. I’ll post it as soon as I do it!!

 

 

 

 

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Simon and I after our second “dam-to-dam” loop (22-24 miles down)

 

 

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Tired but happy to have completed the day’s challenge of a triple “dam-to-dam” row (33-36 miles).

Run Like the Wind 24 hour run

After passing on this race to do a rowing marathon that ended up getting canceled due to freezing temperatures, I discovered that the Run Like the Wind race had also been canceled.  Searching online to update my bio, I discovered that this race was to be held in February, just three weeks away. I had done very little run training, so the mere idea of standing on my feet for 24 hours seemed daunting. There was a 12-hour option, which I had won two years ago, but the temptation to defend my 24-hour title was offsetting much of my fears. With just these three weeks before race day, I hit the road with my best running shoes to get a 5-, 8-, 12-, and 16-mile run in the days leading up to this. I am a firm believer in avoiding overtraining, so even with a few weeks to prepare, I needed to be fresh before this long event. Standing at the event sign-up table, I decided to go for the full 24-hour event. There were many who had signed up for the 3- and 6-hour times as well, so I would need to keep my ego in check, letting them pass me on this one-kilometer loop until their events timed out. Many would agree that the real race in an ultra is the last half, so pacing is crucial. With a total of eight runs under my belt since the prior year’s win and seven additional pounds of fat and muscle on my frame, this was going to be a challenge. Brenda Carey and Brian Acree  joined me, doing the three-hour event. It was great to have these great friends to run with for the first quarter of the event. There were also some familiar faces from last year’s race here. I had my cooler loaded up with an electrolyte drink that would serve as my only form of sustenance for the next 24 hours. Solid food does not sit well in my stomach when running these events. There were 15 people signed up for this event, and many more opting for the shorter times, making this the biggest crowd in the last four years I have raced this course. This is still a small race compared to the Rocky Raccoon 100 I have also done twice. That race has close to 750 athletes running either the 50- or 100-mile distance. the Run Like the Wind offers a more intimate setting, so great conversations frequently occur. I really love sharing stories during these longer races. I’m a social person, so a full day, turned night, then day again is a lonely prospect without good company. The race took off with a familiar cheer, and we all headed down the soft, mulch-covered trail–a surface that really saves your body’s joints by softening the jarring impact that a street race would impose. Brenda and Brian looked great as they cruised ahead while I tried my hardest to run a very easy pace. In an ultramarathon, most people, barring the elite, take walk breaks to conserve their energy resources. I include a brisk walk about one third of the time, stopping only to do a quick bottle fill-up. During a race I never wear a watch, preferring to run inside my body’s intuition but always staying aware to keep my body moving so my average pace does not dwindle from a longer break than absolutely necessary. Brenda and Brian had strong finishes to their three-hour mark, leaving me with just 18 hours to go. I met a great guy named Jason, who proved to be excellent company the remainder of the race. He was attempting the 24-hour too, and our running pace was similar, so hours passed by as we shared different topics of conversation. He consumed an almost completely plant-based diet, so my veganism, the problems with Monsanto, the cattle industry, and environmental pollution were deeply addressed. His father sold cattle for a living and wanted him to take over the business, so that moral dilemma came up as well. As the 12-hour mark came around, I was starting to feel my undertraining. I was in third place and kept an even pace despite the broken-down feeling that was creeping up on me. Jason was hurting, too, but holding first place. He had never completed an event longer than 100 kilometers (62 miles), so we had celebrated his success with a loud roar. I eventually passed the second-place athlete around the 70-mile mark and, soon after, Jason, as he was stopping to eat and rest his legs. I tend to stay strong in these longer events as others start to fade. I’m not sure if this is a mental or genetic advantage, but I’m honored to possess it. Jason’s goal was to pass the 100-mile mark by 10 a.m., when the clock ran out, so I cheered him on as I passed by. With an hour left on the clock, Jason showed a surge of energy, fighting to reach the 100-mile mark. It was truly amazing to see him come alive after such a reserved period. Brenda had showered and come back to the race to cheer me on and get photographs for Vegan Health and Fitness magazine. I was feeling sore but pretty strong, finishing with 171 laps (106.25 miles). This was not the 115 .32 miles from last year’s race, but considering the lack of training and extra body weight, I was stoked. Brenda took pictures, and the crowd, albeit small, were much appreciated with their cheers. Brenda has been such a great friend and supporter since the first time we met at the PlantBuilt show in July 2013. I have since been helping out this great publication with my photography skills, covering events from cooking shows and restaurants to health expos and races. It’s an honor to help this magazine with a talent that I, as a child through young adulthood, had envisioned as a career. Since turning vegan almost two years ago, I feel that working with her has instilled a stronger purpose and outlet to reach athletes considering a plant-based diet. Jason ended up with 154 (95.70 mile) laps. I really hope he returns next year to make the 100-mile mark, or even win.

Still smiling after 24 hours and defending last years title with 106 miles

Still smiling after 24 hours and defending last year’s title with 106 miles

 

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Three days till the Texas Shredder Bodybuilding show!

Over eight months vegan/gluten-free, and my body is feeling really strong! My old lifting records are being broken even as I have leaned down to sub-4-percent body fat. I will hit the stage around 3.6 percent, which will show a lot of muscular detail without sacrificing any fullness. I’m not the thickest guy out there, so I must rely on symmetry and conditioning to place well. I’m at my all-time best with three more pounds of muscle than I had in 2011 at a lower body fat percentage. The Texas Shredder Bodybuilding show is on April 13, and I’m ready to strut my stuff. Tomorrow is my last day of cardio; then I get to take it easy and cruise onto the contest stage at 9 a.m. Saturday morning.

The last few days of contest preparation involve dietary salt removal, carbohydrate loading, and a little dehydration. I’m not an extremist in any of these three dietary changes, but a big difference in physique can result when this method is done properly. Every person responds slightly differently to these adjustments, so trial and error with plenty of note-taking is a must to dial everything in. It may take a few shows before an athlete figures out the right formula for his/her body, which may explain why it takes a few attempts to win a competition. This will be around my twelfth body building show; I have placed second in my weight division three times and once won my division, but not the overall trophy.

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I am setting my focus this year on getting a win at a show that offers a pro card for the overall champion. I’ll be doing another show in seventeen days that offers this pro card, and have two others this year as well. I have my hands full this year! Here are some pictures that my good friend Teri took of me last weekend when she helped me with posing. She is an awesome coach and a great person.

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One of the best things about being vegan is that I can eat tons of food and still lose weight! Below is one of my awesome salads made with all-organic ingredients. I start with a big bowl of mixed greens, then mix in a low-calorie dressing and nutritional yeast. For this salad, I added steamed cauliflower and broccoli with a home-grown tomato, almonds, apples, and pears. Sometimes I’ll add  tofu or quinoa and lentils for some extra protein. My main source of protein has been plant-based protein powders. I have been using PlantFusion (AKA NitroFusion) for the entire diet phase as well as for my ultra-marathons the last few months. I love this brand because it is not gritty tasting like the others I have tried (really tastes like the whey I used pre-vegan) and it has an almost identical amino acid profile to whey. I mix it with almond milk, water, coffee, or tea depending on the time of day.
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Wish me luck! I will need it with all of the incredible athletes who have been showing up at these events over the last several years. Natural body building has been growing rapidly, and I love being in the mix. I was at the Texas VegFest last Saturday and met some fellow vegan bodybuilders who generously asked me to join them at the Naturally Fit Super Show. Get ready to see some herbivore beef on the stage July 26-27 with Team Plant Built! Check out www.plantbuilt.com and www.nitrofusion.us  for more info. If you are interested in information about a plant-based diet, Christy Morgan (AKA the Blissful chef) has a program specifically engineered to meet your needs www.WellnesReboot.com.

Would love to hear from you if you have any tips on vegan nutrition for athletes. Leave it in the comments!

The race results and 5 months plant based

Happy post-New Year, everybody! One of my biggest resolutions this year was to continue my quest as a vegan, attempt to beat my old race times, and place better at the next natural bodybuilding show. Well, the first goal of beating my last 12-hour race time at the Run Like the Wind race went extremely well. It is run on a one-kilometer wood chip trail, and your laps are counted by an electronic sensor. I actually signed up for the 24-hour race this time. I not only beat my 12-hour race time by two kilometers but went on to win the 24-hour race. It started on Saturday at 10:30 am and ended on Sunday at 10:30 am. I felt great most of the time with no urge to take a break. I just ran and power walked till the clock ran out. There was a discrepancy on the lap counts, so I did not realize until the next day that I was just one lap away from breaking the course record! Next year I plan to crush it.

Currently I’m gearing up for the last big race of my self-imposed season. It’s called the Rocky Raccoon 100 and will be held in Huntsville, Texas, on February 2. I took a solid recovery after my last race, focusing more on weight training. My weight lifting has been great between training runs, except that I’m struggling to make solid lifting records. This is probably because my caloric consumption has been slightly lower and my sleep has frequently been under seven hours a night. I’m sure that all of the running has sapped my caloric banks as well. I am being very diligent about getting enough protein, and my muscle mass has stayed intact as my body fat has decreased. I’m loving the NutroFusion protein powder right now. I am stuck at work a lot and sometimes forget to pack enough food. This stuff mixes really well and tastes like chocolate milk.

                                                     Right after 115.32 miles. A little dehydrated but still cocky

Something I’ve read about vegan athletes is that their creatine consumption is much lower than that of a meat-eating athlete. Creatine is a molecule that is manufactured in the body from three amino acids. It’s essential to producing ATP, which is responsible for muscle contraction. Natural bodybuilders commonly supplement their diets with creatine as I have in the past, but have not since my vegan adventure. It will be interesting to see if my lifting improves after adding creatine to my diet again and dedicating my full resources to weight lifting for the Naturally Fit Super Show on July 26 and 27. Either way, the running is great–and most importantly, I’m really happy that no more animals are being harmed by my appetite or lifestyle.

This experiment was to dedicate myself to a plant-based diet for one year, but I now feel sure that I will never eat an animal product again for ethical reasons, no matter how my performance is affected. I feel sorry for the creatures I have harmed in the past and now have a desire to improve the lives of these living beings from this point forward. My life sure has improved  since this plant-based decision.

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If you’re interested in transitioning to plant-based eating, my girlfriend, Christy Morgan (AKA The Blissful Chef), has a one-month wellness program that is designed for this purpose. For more info check out  Wellnessreboot .com. Here’s to eating and lifting like a gorilla!!

The Tough Mudder & Teamwork

On October 7 I entered a “Tough Mudder” adventure race with Christy, Ben, and Josh. Josh drove down from Dallas the day before the race and stayed with Christy and me. Ben met us at my place, and we started our epic (1-hour) journey out of Austin to the race site. This event is basically an obstacle course on steroids. We were told by some friends that a man had been helicoptered off the course the day before because he was shocked in the head by the “Electric Eel” and went into seizures! The Electric Eel is an obstacle that involves crawling on your knees and elbows in the mud through a maze of hanging electrical wires that zap you if you accidentally touch one of them. Jesus, I was wondering what I had gotten myself into.

Click here for a photo of Christy drenched in the mud pit!

It was 12 miles long, which did not pose a problem for me in relation to running, but some of the other obstacles really slowed things down. It was also really cold!! We swam through water and trudged through mud. We were wet practically from the start. There happened to be a cold front moving in, so the combo was brutal, especially with the never-ending wind. I have run much harder races before, but this one takes the cake for “interesting.” I think I’ve had my fill of knee-bruising wall climbs and elbow shredding in the claustrophobia-inducing “Tube Crawl.” The Electric Eel will not be forgotten anytime soon.

Here’s the team post-race after devouring Thai food at Tatiya’s.

I have to say that the single most impressive thing about this event was the camaraderie. This is one of the biggest reasons that I prefer ultra-marathons to shorter races. When you travel a distance that requires you to walk certain amounts, you end up getting into conversations with people you might otherwise have never met. There is a kinship produced from challenging the same course together, and you end up wanting to help your new friend complete the distance. I carry extra headlight batteries, ibuprofin, electrolyte capsules, nipple band aids (trust me, you need these), and something sweet to eat if your friend starts to bonk out from carb depletion. In the “Tough Mudder,” everyone makes sure that their fellow humans get over, under, and through the obstacles as well as make the distance to the finish line. I love it. Now, time to train for my 12-hour “Run Like the Wind” race in two months and the Rocky Raccoon 100-miler in four months. I might need some help getting through these :0). “Ouch!” and “Yay!” at the same time!!

My recovery has been much better since this shift in eating. I trained legs heavy the day after the race and today I feel great. Not the usual lethargic energy and deep, bruised feeling I usually have. Things just keep getting better as I near 44 years of age.

Fat loss and the fluctuating scale

At least half the people I see in the gym are trying to lose weight. I can’t tell you how many times a person will say “I went low-carb, and I’ve already lost three pounds this week!” What many people don’t realize is that carbohydrates hold water in the muscle and liver. We are 75% water, so there can be a significant loss in body weight when carbohydrates are pulled out of our diet. This is NOT fat loss.

True fat loss occurs after this initial loss of carbohydrate-induced water retention. There are 3500 calories in a pound of fat, so reducing your caloric intake by 500 calories a day is a good guideline for losing a pound of fat a week, assuming that the level of activity remains the same. Burning an extra 500 calories a day with added physical activity is also a great guideline for losing this pound of fat. A combination of these two approaches is best. I do not personally recommend that somebody try to lose more than two pounds a week, because muscle loss is possible. Muscle is our primary motor for burning fat, so it’s imperative that we keep it.

the scale and fat loss

The scale is not the best way to track your weight-loss or weight-gain progress because too many factors are at play in your body when you step on the scale.

People get upset when they have been sweating their butts off doing cardio and the next day the scale shows a weight gain. Again, we are 75% water, and our bodies like to keep it that way. When the body goes through a period of dehydration, the kidneys will release hormones to control the further loss of water. When we drink water later, our hormones will be ready to hold this water temporarily adding to our body weight.

Keep in mind:

* Stress from long, hard workouts increases our cortisone levels, which also increases water retention. The scale will often show a weight loss after a few days of rest, when the cortisone levels decrease to normal levels.

* It’s common to gravitate to sodium-rich food when carbohydrates are reduced in the diet, which will have you retain water. Sometimes we over-replace salt lost through sweating.

*If you are training with weights in a gym or indulging in other weight-bearing exercise, you will probably gain muscle, which is awesome but will make the weight scale go up. Muscle weighs more than fat.

These are some of the reasons why I do not put much faith in the scale when it comes to short-term fat loss. I weigh my clients frequently to determine their hydration but average out these readings over a couple of weeks to determine true composition changes. I highly recommend the use of “skin-fold calipers” because they make it easier to determine if this weight loss or gain is from fat or muscle. Skin-fold caliper readings are not affected by water levels in the body, so the calipers give a more accurate reading of body composition and fat loss.

I hope this article has helped you understand that our bodies are constantly fluctuating in weight mainly because of water retention. This is why it is important not to take weight measurements too seriously when you are trying to lose fat, but instead to rely on more accurate forms of measurement, like skin-fold calipers. Also you can tell by how your clothing fits and how you feel in your body. And diet is most important when trying to lose weight or fat, which we will talk about in another post!

I personally have been through these weight-loss issues when preparing for bodybuilding shows and know that if you don’t truly understand why they are happening, it can take a tremendous psychological toll on you. The key is to understand that all the factors mentioned above can give you a false reading of true fat loss on a weight scale and it is important to rely on alternate forms of measurement to determine true compositional changes.

If you have a sound diet and exercise program in place, don’t give up, no matter what the scale in the bathroom says. You will win at the end!